News & articles

Home/News & articles/

Choose your words carefully

be careful with your words - forgiven not forgotten

Choose your words carefully – they can bless and encourage people or hurt them. And can be remembered for eternity…

How many times have careless words, thrown away by a colleague or manager, left you with a sour taste in your mouth?  Some of us even remember times from our childhood when a friend, peer or adult said something that left a deep impression on our memory.  In these days of the instant message, the quick email or tweet, it’s even easier to cast words into the world without much thought.

Yet we need to think carefully before speaking – none more so than in the pressure-charged atmosphere of the modern workplace, where urgency and sometimes overwhelm can leave us little time to think.  This applies to both the every day and also to the more obviously important conversations like appraisals and performance reviews or planning sessions.

If we get it right – our words can encourage, bless, positively challenge and motivate others.

If we get it wrong – at best it can create a mental ‘ouch!’  At worst, it can pierce the confidence of someone and create the conditions for a downward slide in motivation and performance.

So – in the heat of the moment when words are burning the tip of your tongue to be spoken – take a deep breath, bite your tongue and just play out in your head the words and the tone you were planning to use to test it for ‘sting’. Never release words in anger in the heat of the moment. And in planning for the bigger conversations – consider the outcome you want from the conversation – perhaps someone who is clear on what they do well and with a plan to improve on some specific areas, and who feels motivated and empowered to make those changes, and plan your words carefully to achieve it.

Be careful with your words.

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

victim mentality“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” -Charles Swindoll

It’s easy to play the victim in today’s world – “They did this to me” or “Why does this always happen to me?” or “It’s not   my fault”. This mindset is self-limiting and disempowers you, and frankly leaves you feeling weak and helpless.

What would happen if you took full responsibility for everything that happens to and around you? If instead you asked questions like “What can I learn from this?” or “What can I do with this now it’s happened?” or “What’s my next step, now?” or even “How can I turn this around into something useful?”

Notice how liberating and empowering this new mindset can be. Sure, it’s okay to take a moment to express a frustration. Then get over it, move on and choose your new path forward. That’s how you create the life you want and feel more positive.

When I took responsibility, it changed my life.  Or more accurately, I changed my life, career and whole outlook.  I still have moments of weakness and indulgent self-pity – and mostly, after a very brief wallow, I get up, face forward and decide ‘What’s next?’

Try it out for yourself and let us know how you find it.

Race for Life – Cancer Research UK

Race for Life

It’s not everyday I say I’ll run a race. I really don’t enjoy running and am not yet very good at it (I can only run for around 3 minutes at a time as I write).  But Race for Life raises money for Cancer Research UK – and I’d say that brings some Humanity to Work.  And that’s what I’m here to do…..

So on 21st June I’ll be donning my trainers, pushing through some mental and physical barriers and running (mostly) the Race for Life.  I’m already learning a lot about myself as I do some training…. and I know there will be some lessons on the day.  Human beings are amazing, powerful beings. I know that the sea of humanity and encouragement will carry me a long way on the day.  And the thought that the money raised might help prevent one premature death from cancer…. well that makes the effort more than worth it.

If you’d like to sponsor me, you can find my page on

Bringing Humanity to Work.

Thank you.  Jo.

Towards effective People Management & peak performance

management pyramid


How does your organisation prepare people for management responsibility? In a recent rough and ready online survey we conducted, we found that only 36% of people managers had received any formal management training before starting their first people management role

[1].  Leaving the 64% majority to learn ‘on the job’, presumably.

That’s a pretty staggering statistic, if it proved to be representative of the general manager population.  Without training, we’re asking people to take on a completely new responsibility, with its own discrete skillset, without any preparation.  Like handing over the car keys to a complete novice and saying “Drive” or asking an incredible classroom teacher to take on the leadership and administrative responsibilities of a head teacher role.  It doesn’t make sense, does it? Essentially, there’s an assumption that ‘everyone knows how to do it’, and that’s a big risk to take with your organisation’s most precious resource: Its people.

As a manager, your job evolves from just being the ‘doer’ of a task to being responsible for managing these three key resources to achieve a goal: Money, time and people.  And you may still have to balance that with performing a specific role. Take the example of a copywriter in the marketing department of an organisation Phoenix has worked with.  Promoted to head of a small team, she not only needed to produce copy herself, she now needed to manage others to do the same, and support them in prioritising, communicating, developing in their roles. An entirely new skillset, and in many cases an undervalued change in role.

The problem is that many organisations just tack the management side of the role onto the existing role, perhaps not even understanding that there is a difference in skillset and provide little training or support to do it, and then wonder why things are perhaps not running smoothly.  In the case mentioned above, the copywriter’s organisation wisely invested in a development programme for new line managers from Phoenix, resulting in improved confidence, capability and a deeper appreciation of her new role.

Is management right for everyone?

First of all, not everyone wants management responsibility, but they may still want progression. So what opportunities is your organisation providing for people who want progression, development and a sense of responsibility – without managing people?  Secondly, for those who are willing to be managers of people, how well are they prepared for this new and different role?

In our survey, formal management training (or the lack of it) had a significant on how prepared respondents felt to be a manager of people. Unsurprisingly, over 63% of those who had no training felt either ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ prepared to be a manager of people.  Only 36.5% felt ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ prepared.   These figures more than reverse for those who had had management training:  Here, over 76% felt ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ prepared.

 LM prepared graph

So why does ‘feeling prepared’ matter? Well, it’s just one indicator of how engaged and motivated an employee is in their work. And there are many proven links between employee engagement, morale and retention level.   All of which have financial implications.

Other clear benefits of providing good quality training include:  Setting clear standards for what is expected from people managers, demonstrating the value and importance of the role as separate from the technical aspect, and most importantly, the creation of effective people managers that add value and drive the organisation’s performance.

The dangers of poor management

The effects of poor management on an organisation can be huge, 0066rom missing objectives and poor product quality, to financial losses and the impact on people.

According to the Hay Group as quoted in Personnel Today, “One in five UK workers is frustrated in their job, and the fault rests with their Line Manager.” The frustrations as quoted included a lack of authority to make decisions, poor handling of underperformance and the inability of managers to create productive working environments.[2]

Another piece of research by KRI (Kenexa Research Institute) in 2009 stated that “Only 50% of UK employees rate their managers as effective, according to a survey of 22,000 staff in 18 countries.  According to the survey, “being a ‘good manager’ has a significant impact on the engagement levels of staff and their overall perception of the company.  Employees in the UK define a good manager as someone who keeps his or her commitments, evaluates employees’ performance fairly, makes use of employees’ ideas, quickly solves problems and practices open, two-way communication.”[3]

The CMI recently published a survey of 750 of the UK’s top leaders, which identified priorities for where managers needed to excel in the next 10 years to ensure the UK economy is able to grow and compete. To quote, “The biggest rising priorities identified by managers include building partnerships and networking (cited by 87% and 78% respectively); creating agile teams and tackling underperformance (85% and 77%); using social media (79%); and managing complexity (76%).” Interestingly the research then looked at the perceived skills gaps, with many of the above skills showing as the biggest gaps.  In fact, team management skills ranked as the third lowest rated skill amongst twenty assessed activities, where “34% are ineffective at decentralising decision making, 27% at creating agile teams and 24% at tackling underperformance.”[4]

How to equip managers with the skills they require

It’s pretty clear that further development and support is needed to improve the performance, quality and ‘future-proofing’ of the UK management population.  The next question is ‘What and how to equip our managers with the skills they require?’  Our survey told us that even for those that had received training, fewer than 22% said it was adequate for them to manage staff effectively.  A further 65% said it was only partly adequate. So there is room for improvement.

A variety of topics had been covered in the training received by respondents, which Phoenix categorizes into two broad areas:

–           The ‘legal’ side of management, which includes administrative/HR/procedures, critical for the smooth and legal operating of the business

–           The ‘performance enabling’ side, which allow managers to get the best out of their people in order to meet the organisational objectives

In our survey, the most common topics covered in training were coaching skills, setting objectives, managing different learning styles and different personality styles. Of course, there is no way of measuring the quality of the training provided or the level of support to embed it into the business, so no way of knowing why so few respondents said it was adequate.

So what would we recommend?  Phoenix has developed the ‘Great Line Manager Model’ to illustrate the key skills required within the ‘Performance enabling’ management skillset:

LM model

Essentially, to get results, you need to set & communicate clear goals, then delegate effectively and support staff with managing their workload and prioritisation. And you need to develop your teams to deliver effective performance through the use of feedback, coaching, development reviews and an understanding of how high performing teams work.  Both of these require an understanding of individuals’ different learning styles or preferences to get the best out of them.  And most of us aren’t born knowing these skills, we have to learn them! Underpinning all of this is the development of self-confidence and emotional intelligence, and building trustful relationships between managers and staff.

Our experience tells us that the ‘sheep dip’ approach of delivering a ‘one hit’ training in everything, all at once, to a big group, rarely works.  Instead we tend to adopt a modular approach over a period of 3 – 5 months, with half day small-group sessions interspersed with one to one coaching, action learning sets and an expectation and opportunity to embed the skills learned in the workplace in between sessions.  It can be adapted to all levels of management, builds on live workplace examples and experience, and creates a real focus on the value of the role of the manager.  It gets great feedback, scoring an average of 9.3 out of 10 for ‘overall rating’ over the last 4 years, and more importantly delivers significant and sustainable changes in capability.

So wherever your organisation is currently in terms of developing management capability, take a moment to reflect on how you could improve the effectiveness and preparedness of your people managers to deliver peak performance through your organisation’s most valuable asset: Its people.

For more information, get a copy of the survey results summary or to discuss your needs with Phoenix, contact us on: or call 020 3417 9284.  

[1] Source: Personnel Today, 30/7/08

[2] Source: Personnel Today, 27/11/09 (

[3] Source: CMI (

 [4] Survey conducted by Phoenix Training & Coaching td. In September 2013. 64 respondents across gender, age group, industry who either are, or have been, managers of people.

Effective Goal Setting

It’s a New Year! Time to make those resolutions—or is it? 

Effective Goal Setting

Goal targetNew Year’s resolutions…they are a waste of time and I don’t make them! Why? “Resolutions” made at   a time when social pressure and an arbitrary date in the diary dictate that we “should” decide things, are doomed from the start. A controversial viewpoint, you may think? Well, let’s start with the facts:

–          Around 43% of people make New Year’s resolutions.

–          Of those, close to 4 in 10 have broken them by the end of January, while a further third only keep them up for six months.



I have a theory as to why. First, New Year’s resolutions are made using our conscious mind—the logical front brain part—which, like a captain of a ship, sets the direction for the crew. I’ll come back to the crew in a moment.

Secondly, most of the time New Year’s resolutions are not actually goals. How many of us set New Year’s resolutions like, “I’ll go to the gym three times a week,” or “I’ll give up smoking” or “I’ll create a better work-life balance”? These are not goals.

Why not? A goal is an outcome, not the thing or action you do to get the outcome.  Sometimes the actions themselves may not excite us, but a great goal should! So ask yourself why do you want to go to the gym three times a week? What will stopping smoking really do for you? Getting the right higher level goal can be a powerful motivator and push you through the actions you’ll need to take in order to succeed.

In the example—“I’ll create a better work-life balance”—what does a “better work-life balance” mean, specifically? To increase your chances of success, goals need to be S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound) and positively stated (i.e. what you want, rather than what you don’t). They also need to have action plans that will help you achieve them. To increase your chances of success, you need to have the right number of goals—enough to excite you and few enough that you can channel your energy into each one you’ve set.

And here’s the fundamental, pivotal thing about setting successful goals: They need to be powerful and motivating enough that you are driven to overcome any obstacles that crop up on the way. Bob Proctor, international coach and motivational speaker, said, “Set a goal to achieve something that is so big, so exhilarating that it excites you and scares you at the same time. It must be a goal that is so appealing, so much in line with your spiritual core, that you can’t get it out of your mind. If you don’t get chills when you set a goal, you’re not setting big enough goals.”

His point about the spiritual core is critical: Remember the captain and crew analogy?  Think of the crew as your spiritual core, your unconscious system. It needs to pull in the same direction as the captain for the boat to arrive at its destination. If the goal isn’t congruent with your core, the crew won’t work with you to achieve it.

The New Year’s resolutions that you set at five to midnight, or in the haze of the morning after the night before, will have been made without a genuine plan to achieve them and probably won’t be very compelling. Can you imagine a world class company like Microsoft or Apple setting goals on 31st December that they haven’t thought about and made a plan to achieve? That would just be another name for wishful thinking! Successful companies have to align their global resources to achieve their goals, and so do you, using the full resources of your mind and body.

But, it is good to set goals—the right ones. Research shows that people who clearly set goals or make resolutions are ten times more likely to achieve them than those who don’t explicitly make them.[2]

So, how can you check that the goals you’re setting are important enough? There are four great questions you can ask yourself, and it’s worth taking the time to go through all four, writing down your answers:

The Four Powerful Questions

  1. What will happen if you do achieve this goal?
  2. What will happen if you don’t achieve this goal?
  3. What won’t happen if you do achieve this goal?
  4. What won’t happen if you don’t achieve this goal?

These questions will help you to map out the consequences of achieving or not achieving your goal, and with that knowledge you will get a sense of motivation and importance. If at the end of the exercise you’re not highly motivated to achieve your goal—it may be the wrong goal to set and you probably won’t take the required actions. Very quickly you could be beating yourself up for not doing something you were never fully aligned to do!

Having said all of that, this time of year is a good time for clearing and making room for new seeds to grow. It’s nature’s rest time—the leaves are gone, the fields lie empty, many animals hibernate—and in nature’s cycle, it’s an essential phase before new growth can come. For we humans, it’s a great time to do the “maintenance jobs” we have in our lives—the clearing out, the repairs, the “down time” we need to give us the energy for the growth phase. That could be physically clearing out the junk we’ve accumulated, finishing outstanding jobs, or maybe letting go of emotional baggage that’s been weighing us down. By clearing this stuff out, we make room for newness; we clear the soil for planting. We give ourselves a chance to grow even more vigorously towards our goals.

Nature works in a cycle of rest, rebirth, blooming, shedding and rest again. What makes us any different? How can you make room for growth in your life? What earth do you need to clear? And what seeds do you want to plant?

I’d encourage you to think beyond the coming year too. Some seeds take longer to grow than others and bring richer fruit and rewards that make the wait worthwhile. If we only focus on what we can harvest this year, we’ll be missing out.

What do you want to plant this year that will bring you fruit and reward in the years to come? Which areas of your life do you want to blossom more in the future? Whether it’s your career, relationships, personal development, hobbies or health, consider what it is you actually want and how you’ll know when you’ve got it. Take a few minutes to dream about achieving it—what you’ll see, hear, feel and say to yourself in that moment. Mental rehearsal is a powerful tool in motivating yourself. And flexing the mental muscles is a great way to get the captain and crew working well together.

Have I just talked myself into setting New Year’s resolutions after all?  Not quite, but I have paused for a moment to think about how I’m going to prepare the ground for success this year and beyond, and what seeds I’m going to select based on the flowers and fruit I really want to enjoy at the end of the growth season. And I know that choosing the right ones is critical to my commitment to take action and to increasing the possibility of fully achieving them.

So, good luck with choosing your resolutions, and enjoy the fruit of your labours when it comes!


Checklist for Setting & Achieving Successful Goals:

  •       Choose the right ones and the right number to motivate you
  •       Use the 4 powerful questions to help you decide
  •       Imagine achieving them and align the captain and the crew towards the goal
  •       Create your action plan
  •       Identify potential obstacles and make a plan to overcome them
  •       Identify the resources that could help you—that might include a coach to help keep you motivated and on track
  •       Keep taking action
  •       Enjoy and reward yourself for your success!


Jo Wright of Phoenix Training & Coaching Ltd. is an experienced management development consultant, trainer and coach, and is a qualified Master Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming. For more information about her services, or for coaching support to help you set and achieve your personal or business goals, fill in the contact form on the website.


[1] Source: The Telegraph, 20th December 2008

[2] Source:  Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers, by John C. Norcross, Marci S. Mrykalo, Matthew D. Blagys, University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 58, Issue 4 (2002).

Real life learning: Volunteering and “step-changing” your organisation’s potential

Volunteering in Africa buildingAs I landed and emerged from the plane, an onslaught of ‘new-ness’ hit me:  The nauseating stench  of diesel fuel, the thunder of flights landing and machinery running, the throngs of people bustling about their business, the sheer number of buildings and grey shapes looming in the early morning light, the colours from the advertising boards jarring at me from everywhere. And that was just the airport.  Waiting for a bus to take me to my destination, I was overwhelmed by the ‘bigness’ of it all, and the variety of people waiting alongside me for the bus.  The locals seemed unfriendly, making no eye contact and standing in silence, clutching their bags against unknown threats, the evident tourists trying to appear nonchalant and confident in this unknown land.  No one spoke, everyone hunched against the early morning cold.

I was filled with a sense of dread and horror at coming to this unfriendly, cold and grey place. What had I done? It was culture shock in the extreme – I was hit by a sense of displacement and unreality, shying away and almost cowering against the unfamiliarity of my new home.


And where had I come to?

London Heathrow, returning home from a three week trip to Namibia in Southern Africa, where I volunteered at a wildlife sanctuary in the open countryside and 40 degree heat.

The contrast between my simple life on a Namibian farm and Namibia’s colourful people, with Heathrow’s grey people and super technology, had shocked me into seeing the UK from a new perspective.

After 3 weeks of life in simple conditions (a permanent tent, with an outside shower and toilet block, little electricity, and a ‘shop’ that opened on the farm only twice a week selling a few soft drinks, beer and other simple pleasures), hard work (working 8 hours a day doing anything from preparing food, digging animal pens, painting fences, testing the electric border fences on a 3 mile hike, or checking the camera traps) and caring for animals (including babysitting a baby baboon overnight in my tent), the shock of ‘modern life’ in the UK was a gross incongruence.  Something had clearly changed in me during this volunteer experience.

So what had changed, and how?   Was it the physical work – steady, and sometimes hard?  True, I left with blisters on my hands from digging the new mongoose pen, and from handling the blunt knives we had to prepare the animal food, and innumerable scratches from the ubiquitous thorn bushes.  I lost some weight from the constant activity and simple but tasty food, and I was tanned from working outdoors in the hot African sun.  So there was physical change.

The emotional and intellectual change was even more important.  Life was very simple on the farm.  With little electricity, it seemed wasteful to use our headtorches to stay up late, so early nights and rising with the sun became a new habit.  It was quiet (beyond the noise of the lions roaring, the peacocks ca-cawing, the sheep bleating and the baboons chattering), and there was nothing else to do and nowhere else to be.

It left time and space for that most human of things: Building relationships.  Staff and volunteers mixed, a shared value and goal bringing us together from across the globe – British, Australians, Mexicans, Norwegians, Belgians, Swiss, and South Africans. Ages from 18 to 60 or so.  All here to work and to experience something completely different.

Did I like everyone there?  No.  Did I respect their commitment and efforts to make a difference in a land far from home?  Yes. Did we rub each other up the wrong way at times?  Oh yes.  And yet the simple work gave me time to reflect on my own reality and experiences, and to look at the relationships and my contribution to them in a new light.  I noticed an almost tribal urge and desire to be part of the group, and a temptation to fit in by defining others as ‘outside’ the group.  I noticed the alliances being formed, and then the friendships, sometimes between unlikely pairs!  I noticed people’s ‘true selves’ emerging as they settled into their new environment. I was surprised and delighted by the impact a 22 year old from Switzerland had on me – her sheer positivity and smiling nature brought such simple joy to me and others. I discovered things about myself that I liked, and some that I didn’t.

After only a few days I noticed how important the little pleasures in life became:  To have a cold or even cool drink of water, the shower at the end of the day to wash the dust away, a piece of fruit as part of a meal in a country which is mostly desert and grows little fruit or vegetables.  I appreciated the pleasure in finding a spot in the shade where the breeze might find me during our lunch break.

I also had some incredible experiences handling beautiful animals – baboons, a tame cheetah, caracals and meerkats, to name but a few. And I got ‘time out’ to reconnect with life – real life, away from the mundanely familiar routine of work and home in the UK.  It’s changed my outlook upon coming home – my relationships, my approach to work, and how I think about a range of things.  I grew as a person, learned new skills and became more self-reliant within the context of the team I worked with, and it’s enabled me to see my life at home differently.  Not bad for a 3 week trip.

So, how could we in the business community benefit from volunteering?  Well first, its link to employee satisfaction and engagement are well known.  And the experience of volunteering itself develops leadership and communication skills.  In research by “Power Skills”1, interviewing 90 women in leadership positions, they discovered that:

  • 83% of participants reported that they acquired, improved or developed their leadership skills due to volunteer participation
  • 78% reported improvement in their communications skills
  • 62% enhanced problem-solving skills
  • 57% improved organisation/ multitasking
  • 53% enhanced marketing skills

So just imagine the potential for organic leadership development, by doing a volunteer placement, and for the satisfaction and engagement reward of creating a positive and visible impact on a community…..   And what if, to make it a ‘sure thing’, you added a structured leadership development programme, facilitated by experts, pre, during and after your placement?  Now you’re really maximising the potential for your team and for the recipient community.

Phoenix can help put in place just such a programme to support any of your CSR initiatives or programmes, in the UK or abroad.

Bringing Humanity to Work logo

Phoenix is all about ‘Bringing Humanity to Work’, in these three ways:

  1. Humanity at Work
    Building & sustaining positive relationships, Releasing your authentic leadership style, Igniting & releasing individual & team potential, Celebrating the power of diversity and working styles
  2. Harnessing your Personal Humanity
    Identifying your values/ passions/ goals, Setting life & career goals, Embracing the power of choice, Igniting personal growth & change
  3. Creating Positive Change in the World
    Harnessing business to support charity & community, Linking business and communities for joint growth and learning, Role modeling humanitarian spirit (& reaping the benefits!)

Our work is underpinned by these key values and principles:

  •       As human beings, we all have positive intentions, and different ways to achieve them
  •       We’re all capable of positive change in ourselves, and in facilitating it in others
  •       What we learn in life, we can bring to work, and vice versa

Phoenix believes in facilitating “Change that is more than skin deep”

  •       Facilitating learning & change for life
  •       Enabling sustainable deep change
  •       Linking the learnings at work and personal levels for a ‘total human’ impact

We can help you to develop these key areas, step changing business relationships and leadership skills to deliver better business results.  We go way beyond the brief to create real change and to open eyes and minds to potential and possibilities.

To find out more about our Leadership programmes, facilitation or coaching interventions, contact Jo Wright on or 020 3417 9284.

Let’s really bring humanity to work – in every sense of the phrase!