I told you so….

Some people accuse Tom Peters of overstatement, but with hindsight, that can certainly not be said about his 1999 prediction of the looming white collar revolution. 

He saw it coming, although maybe not the way it is playing out today. The angry reaction across the globe to the effects of globalisation, unfairness and the elimination of base level jobs was predictable, but is depressing nontheless. 

So what should our reaction be? Certainly not, as some are advocating, to turn the clock back and console ourselves with “the false nostalgia for sh…y jobs” (TP c2000). 

We have to set the true brilliance of the human imagination to working out how we can create gainful employment for everyone. A new logic is necessary. 

It would be even more depressing if we had tried out everything that Tom and other visionaries have proclaimed., but the truth is, we havent. Or not enough…..That’s our mission!

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Have you got the development habit?

With the world of work these days in constant turmoil, individuals must have their own coping strategies. Here are five to keep on your agenda.

  1. Know Yourself: Stay in touch with what you are really good at. Take surveys and, above all, get others to tell you what they see, both your strengths and weaknesses. Although it is always good to work on your weaknesses, don’t forget your strengths make up your present Brand. They give you a strong platform to build on. Developing mastery in your areas of strength means you can stand out in your profession, which is always a good insurance for the future.
  2. Be on the lookout for different future possibilities: Don’t assume that the future is going to be just like the past +or- a bit. Every now and then, there will be a game changer in your industry, like an Uber or an Air BNB. Make sure you stay tuned in to what’s going on in your industry and profession, by joining networks, social media groups, blogs and magazine subscriptions. Keep talking and asking.
  3. Set up your own Personal University: There is a wealth of knowledge and experience out there. What we all need is our own network of contacts that can keep us on track. Maybe you need subject matter experts who can share their wisdom, maybe you need someone to be a coach or mentor, maybe you need someone to hold us to our commitments. Work out what help you need, and ask for it!
  4. Use work for development: Training courses are important, but your work place is where you get serious about using new ideas. Every work assignment you do can be a development experience if you do it in a way that stretches you. Reframe your project slightly so that you end up doing it differently, or simply reflect on things as they happen. There’s a world of experience out there – exploit it.
  5. Celebrate and keep moving: Please do pat yourself on the back when you’ve reached a development milestone – you may even have a member of  your personal university to help with that. But don’t forget, development is a mindset, not a destination. Once you reach a new level, you can see what else there is to know.

Watch out for new material on this subject soon and sign up to get on our mailing list here.

The world of learning is changing

In traditional personal development, you develop goals around current career roles you aspire to.  With the robotization of just about everything, and the relentless pace of change in business, who knows what will happen to our jobs in the future? In the future shape of personal development we anticipate trends and position ourselves to be ready for whatever roles emerge in the looming reshaping of jobs that is ahead.

There’s loads of stuff out there

There was a time when you could only get development input from teachers, books, libraries. No longer. The good news is there is massive choice of material – You Tube, Google, your favorite guru on Twitter, TED Talks, the Khan  Academy….The bad news is you can get overwhelmed with input.  In the future shape of personal development we get good at finding new content to fit our needs – this should probably get taught this as a topic in it own right!

Personalised learning

We all have our own reservoir of experience that we have accumulated over the years. So how do we build on what we’ve got, to get to our next level?  Personalised learning is the answer – TPC’s assessment process finds what the next level of development is for us. That’s what we use our excellence audit for,  and we advise drawing on the opinions of others, to provoke us what to do next.

Personal University

What keeps you moving forwards? Who do you know who can help you?

  • People you know, who know things you don’t know, are a great place to start.
  • How about people who would approach situations in a completely differently to the way you do?
  • Maybe what you need is someone to keep your honest, and do what you say will do?

Building up a tranche people who complement you, who can join you on your development journey, is an essential aspect of the future shape of personal development. They are a key part of the self development picture.

Work Based Learning

Adults’ natural inclination is to solve problems that matter to them. Learning that is situated in your workplace kills two birds with one stone. It gets the job done, and it stretches your thinking so that you develop yourself. Our TPC action learning methodology shows you how to incorporate learning into your daily business.

Our Excellence Academy exploits all of these concepts. It’s TPC’s version of the future shape of personal development, and it’s affordable an accessible to all. Sign up here for our next webinar. or register for the next program here.

“Can you get people to want to be better?”

Lots of people ask this question, and my trite answer is yes, there is something as a leader you can do. But only when people feel it is in their interests to be better. When there is something in it for them.

I am thinking of my teenage nephew, who is incredibly bright, but who underachieved academically for most of his school years because he wouldn’t apply himself to subjects he found boring. The penny dropped that self-improvement was in his interests, when he discovered the fascination of digital animation. Against all the odds, he won himself a place on a highly prestigious animation further education course, only for it to dawn on him that he didn’t understand the subjects of mathematics and physics well enough to pursue his beloved animation qualification.

Having shunned these subjects at school, he is now working like the blazes to make up for lost time.

You can probably think of colleagues at work who (like my nephew) have much more potential to contribute than they do. But what can you do?

All motivation is self motivation, Tom Peters”

If you want to get your people to pick up the self development baton, are you brave enough to do what one of our clients did? When putting together our latest development programme, he refused to take the standard route and assign people a project to do. “I would be delighted if people choose to do a project, but I’m much more interested in them developing in whatever way works for them.” This was a bit of a leap of faith from him, but gave participants a real confidence boost, and fired up the best people to step up and take responsibility.

As a leader, you can only set the agenda, and then encourage and support people in their efforts. But the energy for change has to come from the person themselves.

Hear how we incorporate this philosophy into our excellence academy at our occasional free webinars. Sign up here and we’ll invite you to the next one.

Does the future of your work life worry you?

Do you run a small business and want to support the on-going professional development of your key people, or are you an individual professional determined to keep yourself at the leading edge in your chosen field? Constant and radical change is the norm for every professional in every sector: a recent Deloitte video describes this as The Big Shift.

Yet most professionals these days work in small and medium sized businesses without access to the dedicated in-house personal development services provided by big companies. That leaves the professionals themselves and those who employ them with a dilemma – what can you do if you are determined to stay in step with the rest of the world and need some structured support in taking on the challenge?

Tom Peters Company’s solution is to flip the problem by drawing like-minded professionals into the dilemma. We have launched an individual professional excellence program and have piloted it for two years with existing clients. The online version of the Excellence Academy, launching later in the year, supports committed individuals or small groups of professionals to create and execute their own radical development plans.

Our early clients are reporting significant mindset shift in their participants and have seen obvious personal and professional growth over the period. Further, they believe that the approach has benefitted the whole organization in getting professional development onto the management agenda across the business.

Specific benefits have emerged:

  • Most of the learning take place by reframing existing work assignments into structured learning projects which produce beneficial results for the individual and the business.
  • Practicing action learning on real work assignments becomes a habit, which can last a life time – a fantastic investment for the individual and the organization.
  • The program has four action learning cycles over a 12 month period, with regular inputs and provocations from TPC and systematic monitoring of what is being achieved and what is being learned. This structured approach makes the learning sustainable.
  • Senior people, managers and professional associates, act as participant mentors which is a powerful personal development experience for them, too.
  • Management’s visible and active involvement in the learning process sends an important messageto the whole organization that professional development is a priority here!

So far this program has been available to SMEs in a blended learning format with a mix of face to face delivery, group video conferences, individual participant and mentor coaching, and regular on-line inputs and updates.

We will be piloting an online version of the program in early 2016. Are interested to know more?

Sign up here for our next webinar, where we will explain the program and take questions from you.

Learning that ‘Sticks’

People always come away from your events all fired up. But how do we keep that energy going for longer back at work?” CEO, Design and Build SME

Long term value added can undoubtedly come from participating in well structured training and development events with the usual mix of expert inputs, experiential exercises and group discussions. Some participants go as far as acknowledging them as life changing experiences. But client comments like the one above are more common in my experience and should give rise to serious food for thought. How can we do a better job of helping people to take responsibility for their growth and development back in the workplace, whether or not they have regular access to set piece T&D events?

Here are some of the questions we have been asking ourselves:

Why should people be bothered?

Adults (and most children, come to that!) only really learn what they want to learn. Yes, they may slog away at prescribed learning – maybe new regulations or preferred methodologies – but only if they have decided this knowledge is going to make a difference to THEM and their lives. Why bother should be the first question we ask about any subject we are trying to plug – and so should our participants.

What problem are people trying to solve?

Humans are naturally programmed to solve problems we encounter in our lives. Just think about what happens when you talk to interested colleagues and friends about something that continues to baffle you. People come up with different angles, suggest alternative ways to approach the problem, and if you are lucky, put forward alternative solutions that look good enough for you to try. Solving real life problems is where the vast majority of us pick up our most meaningful learning. If what we are trying to learn is focused on problems we really want to solve, we are much more likely to stick with it.

What do people need to learn?

How can we know what new knowledge or skill another person needs? In the good old days, when we wanted to get a cadre of people to take on a change at work, we would set up a standard ‘sheep-dip’ training program and transmit the same body of knowledge though the same medium to everyone. Engineers or accountants or production managers are all the same, right? WRONG!!

We’ve all got our own unique cache of knowledge and experience, and we’ll always begin work assignments by drawing on that. And then we realise there’s a gap. We can’t quite get the solution to work because we are missing vital pieces of the jigsaw. The learner is the only person who can describe what their gap is. They may not express it brilliantly, but they can describe what is not working for them and what they want to be able to do. “How do I?” is an open invitation for others to contribute their expertise, and their input is welcomed. If only T&D inputs were delivered and received in that context!

Helping learners to ask the right questions for them is a key skill for learning professionals.

Who really cares?

Your bosses may say they are committed to your growth, but how can you tell if they are serious? What do you see them doing to support your personal development? How much of their time do you see them devote to this? Do they help you to understand and connect with the direction the business and/or your profession is taking in the future? Do they work with you to set up work assignments that involve learning experiences that will help you? And do they devote time to connecting you to people who can help you to grow? It’s much more than writing a cheque to pay for set piece courses. Are they prepared to put some of their skin into the game? That’s how we find out if they really care!

What does 21st Century Learning look like?

The response to the dilemma posed by this SME Chief Executive felt quite bold and adventurous when we started out. We had to shift our thinking from ourselves to the learners and their motivations to learn. The energy to drive the learning forwards had to come from the participants.

Sure, we have an excellence model and use a group launch event, but the underlying purpose is for individuals to choose learning targets that they care about to take back and work on in the workplace. The topic choices are theirs. They choose a mentor from a nominated list of influential people who can help them to create relevant experiences from which they will learn and grow. The following year is spent researching, executing and reporting back on their learning experiences. It is Experiential Learning, but not as we had previously known it.

The test of success is whether the participants continue to take responsibility for their own learning after they graduate from the program. The signs are encouraging and by the end of the first year, a second group has been commissioned. The client is delighted with the participants’ progress and is making structural changes inside the company to install this approach to talent development into the company culture.

So What for You?

Speaking personally, this experience has shifted my mindset towards my work fundamentally.

How about you? If you are a manager, learning practitioner, or an individual making your way in your profession, how do you see the world of training and development changing for you?

What are your 2015 resolutions?

We’re piloting our Excellence Academy at the moment. Week 1 looked at the essence of excellence, which is that it begins with having a stretching ambition. Week 2 looks at being a business person in  your chosen  profession.

Take a look at our slides here:


Yes, but…how can mundane work be WOW!?

Who Thinks that the Work Matters?

Execution, the all-important “LAST 99 PERCENT” according to Tom Peters, is rarely given such high priority in practice. In our experience, it is the people who do the planning and strategizing who usually grab the management attention while the people who deliver the products and services often feel second class.

Excellence requires a combination of systems and passion, right? Yet, when our system routinely throws other people’s plans “over the wall” for execution, we wonder why the doers often show a lack of passion for their work.

So, can people be expected to be passionate about the nitty-gritty business of getting routine work done? “Most certainly” says Valarie Willis, Tom Peters Company’s leadership, innovation and project management virtuoso. We asked Valarie to give us some tips on how to make this happen.

Tactic One: Closing the Big Disconnect

People will naturally feel their work is mundane if they don’t see value in it and it doesn’t connect in their minds to a vision of the future that they aspire to and share. When people do not feel part of the bigger picture at work, which is common, there is a big disconnect to be overcome. And that affects the whole process, from planning to delivery.

So, when you are planning a project at work, take Steven Covey’s advice and “start with the end in mind.” Think about the people whose help is needed to resource and support the project, where could the project be piloted, who are the likely mainstream implementers, who will be the main customers of the project? etc? etc? Then think, what do I have to do so that all these people can become as passionate about this project’s success as I am?

Invite your implementers into the project discussions earlier rather than later. Allow them to make their input. Allow them to see for themselves how their part in fulfilling this project connects to their big picture.

Case Study: Help the Dots to Connect

A client of mine who worked in a marketing department was tasked with building trust and improving communication across multiple remote facilities. She knew from the outset that a “top down” solution—no matter how brilliant—would not work and that local buy-in was essential.

Her approach was to invite some people from each location to get together to talk about why and how communications and trust could be improved. These people were invited to become ambassadors at each location for the coming year. They discussed what changes would have to be made, and shared what these changes would mean for their home departments and for the organization as a whole.

The team came up with many novel and effective ideas to improve communications. An example? On the same day, at the same time, in each location, the ambassadors hosted communication sessions, featuring their local talent, using video shot in the field, and of course, serving food. Over their year as ambassadors, they incorporated a variety of fun activities and this approach got people around the business connected in ways that would have been impossible before.

The real key to success was that these sessions always happened as scheduled, were always one hour long and always ended on time. Honoring the commitment showed cross-location communication was important. Ownership and trust built up steadily through the year. When the first year was up, a serious team celebration was held including new members who had volunteered to take over as ambassadors for year two.

Tactic Two: Owning the Execution

Projects are fertile arenas in which human beings can be creative and flourish at work. Encourage and help your people to see their routine assignments as a series of projects, NOT a never-ending conveyor belt of mundane tasks. Each piece of work needs to have a specific goal, a timeline and a predefined outcome for a ‘customer’. Projectizing work, as we call it, helps people to take ownership, and by reframing their projects, i.e., setting themselves new goals, timing and outcomes, sets up the opportunity for people to enrich their work by adding small causes they do care about.

Case Study: Taking Ownership of your Project

A recent delegate at one of our WOW! Projects Labs, a HR manager from a leading UK retailer employing many part time and casual workers, was struggling to meet her store’s absence and lateness improvement targets. When we introduced the idea of projectizing, she was keen to convert this soul-destroying daily grind for her people into work they could get excited about. Her solution was to convert it into ‘the great place to work’ project. Instead of struggling to control errant employees’ behavior, she reframed the store environment and culture as the problem. This gave her HR team a completely new agenda, and in turn, gave her line managers the chance to engage with their people in some new and very different activities.

Why not try these ideas for yourself the next time you are assigned a soul-destroying job. Projectize it, decide who the customer is, what a good outcome would be for them, and set a target completion date. Then reframe and convert it by adding something you do care about and have passion for completing.


An extract from this article appeared in the latest TP Times. Sign up if you’d like to receive future editions.

Can I help?

Have you ever seen someone fall over in public? If so, you’ve probably also seen them pick themselves up, and hurriedly mumble “I’m fine,” if anyone approaches them offering help. I’ve done it myself on many occasions over the years. This scenario offers a microcosm of the dynamics going on in any helping relationship; as Edgar Schein describes in his wonderful book Helping, there is a complex interplay going on between helper and helped, and unless both parties get that right, the offers of help will be shunned, even when they are really needed.

The penny-dropping moment with this book came when it dawned on me that those of us offering outside consulting support are, in our own way, proffering help to our clients. If I had a dollar for every suggestion or proposal I had submitted to “solve” a client’s problem only to be told that it wouldn’t work, or that I was taking the wrong approach, I’d be a wealthier person today! Had I really taken enough time to understand the problem, or to build up sufficient trust and respect between us?

And yet, when the client/helper relationship works, it can work exceptionally well. I will never forget the first proposal with a new client following a lengthy investigation into his situation. “So you’re telling me that I am the problem,” he mused. “Well, that’s good news, because the one person I know I can change is me. It’s persuading hundreds of others to change that is much harder.” He became our best client ever. And yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize that we struck lucky with this guy, finding each other at just the right time. He was actively looking for help and we came along with a practical approach that appealed to his belief system.

I’m seeing now that getting to the point where your help is both needed and welcome takes time, and should be factored into any intervention. It might seem time-consuming, but it is time well spent.

How are you at giving help? Or receiving it?

Why an Excellence Academy?

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “white collar revolution” before—Tom Peters used the phrase in his Reinventing Work series of books. And like so many of his predictions, the idea of a revolution transforming the world of the white collar worker, in much the same way as blue collar work had been in the preceding decades, has now become a mainstream concept.

Whether your country’s economy is recovering from the ravages of the global recession or is still bumping along the bottom, the White Collar Revolution will continue unabated. We all face the challenge of thriving in a world where our work will change in ways we can scarcely imagine.

For example, Google is intent on acquiring leading-edge technology SMEs that are pioneers in advanced robotics and/or exploring concepts like machine learning and systems neuroscience. Google hit the headlines earlier this year when they bought UK start-up DeepMind whose expertise is general purpose learning algorithms. While this intellectual property can undoubtedly improve Google’s search capability, the longer term impact it could have is massive, prompting prominent observers to warn (again) of job destruction at a faster rate than new jobs can be generated with mass middle-class unemployment leading to social unrest! I.e., a White Collar Revolution!

Other commentators are predicting that future economic strength will depend on creating jobs that go way beyond logic and require a significant element of human ingenuity and creativity—jobs that are worth the high wages that we require to support our accustomed living standards!

If you weren’t already convinced, these trends up the ante for you, not your employer, to take on responsibility for your personal development. In these revolutionary times, it’s a survival imperative!

Excellence is NOT an institutional choice. Excellence is a PERSONAL choice.

Watch out for more on this topic at this blog, and sign up for a webinar on Friday 23rd April at 9am EST.

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