Fortis Living measures the positive impact of Fierce on its leaders

In this blog, Kate Hunter, head of Learning & Organisational Development, at Fortis Living explains how the housing association has used Fierce as part of its leadership development programme. Kate also reveals the positive impacts that have been measured for Fierce by the Worcestershire-based not-for-profit.

The background to our Leadership Development Programme at Fortis Living

Fortis Living commenced its leadership development programme for its 42 strong senior management team in April 2017 and it was scheduled to run for 12 months initially (and included 5 formal learning sessions).  The development of the Leadership Programme was informed by employee engagement results and data collection around leadership and management behaviours (for example, from workforce planning).  It is extensive work that demonstrates commitment to our Leadership Team and the leadership programme’s design and development.  The model of this leadership programme is one of continuous improvement with development needs that emerge from earlier sessions being fed into the design of subsequent sessions.

It’s all about opportunities for learning

The Leadership Development Programme has provided many opportunities for participants to learn and improve.  In the formal learning sessions, the group have learned about themselves, models and concepts.  The group has also participated in experiential exercises that were related/designed to enable the group to develop relationships and experience/s as a leadership group and develop their own leadership mindsets and how these can be applied to the business context and current challenges.

Members of the group who have made effective use of their Personal Action Plan have had further opportunity to learn by reflecting on their own practice. 

How does Fierce fit in?

We worked with Sarah Vogel from PDA to develop a bespoke session for our Leadership Group, which touched on elements of our Fortis Way (values and behaviours).  Crucially, we wanted Fierce to help address some areas that had been identified by the Leadership Group themselves around developing an accountable mindset, better decision making, better collaboration across boundaries, and a more confident approach to difficult conversations and dealing with poor performance.  Sarah put together an engaging day with plenty of delegate participation and opportunity to practice using the models – this coupled with Sarah’s lively and inspiring delivery style made for a learning experience that was both practical and memorable.

Fortis has been using Fierce to its advantage

Fortis has been using Fierce to its advantage

Sarah has also worked with us post-event around ideas for embedding the models into what we do and how we can measure this.  We measured immediate post-course feedback and again at 8 weeks after the training to check-in on the embedding and sustainability of the models.  The results showed positive shifts in key areas for us. 

In line with original objectives, the group have also identified the following three areas as significant benefits of the programme to date.  Fierce has allowed our Leaders:

·         the opportunity to meet and network with leadership colleagues.

·         the opportunity and space to think about their own development in terms of the models.

·         provoked learning from other leaders in the business through conversations.

There were also some great examples on the day of:

·         developed decision-making input from leaders across the business (breaking down silos).

·         recognised need for collective solutions focus and problem solving.

·         peer networking – as it provided an opportunity for leaders to ‘mix’ with others from across the business that they don’t usually work with.

Some Key ‘Fierce’ Measures

Following our Fierce session, some key outcomes are that leaders now either ‘consistently’ or ‘role modelling’ the following behaviours:

·         76.5% of leaders now involve other people in problem solving and developing strategies which will impact them.

·         65% of leaders use conversations to learn & grow personally, acknowledging there is always room to develop.

·         88% of leaders take personal responsibility for tackling tough challenges, not waiting for others to do it for them.

As a result of the Fierce Training, Fortis Living leaders have also experienced the following positive shifts in:

·         Confidence – 76.5%

·         Motivation – 82%

·         Knowledge – 88%

·         Ideas – 94%

·         Skills – 88%

Stockport Homes' new homes for Fierce

PDA's Sarah Vogel catches up with developments at Stockport Homes as it puts Fierce into action across the organisation:  in its new HQ and its staff on the front line dealing with customers in their own homes. 

I was excited recently to visit the brand new HQ of Stockport Homes Group and chat with Liz Chadwick, its people and organisational development manager, about the impact of their new home and all things Fierce, as they continue to roll it out across the organisation. 

Wow! what an amazing new home they have! One thing I noticed as I waited for Liz in reception was how SHG colleagues were coming out from behind the desk and actually greeting visitors, using laptops to help advise customers where to go next and where to wait. It was really good to see the engagement and positive energy that created.

(They also have a lovely new coffee /food bar on the ground floor which contributes a lovely relaxed atmosphere   and the coffee is GOOD I can vouch for that).

Liz gave me a tour round all floors and explained how the layout and design was encouraging collaboration and conversation across departments as well as being a fresh and comfortable place to work.

And fast forward a few weeks and this week I have been co delivering Fierce with Jacob McEvoy from OD in the spanking new training/meeting rooms. Not only one of the best equipped and airy rooms I’ve ever worked in (fab coffee again) but also Lorraine from facilities on hand to help with everything we might need to make the workshop go smoothly.

Fierce in action on the ground

And we’ve just updated the on-going case study of our work with Stockport Homes as they implement Fierce Conversations inside and outside the new HQ. .

The update specifically focuses on the Repair 1st division of Stockport Homes, responsible for upkeep and maintenance.

The trades people here are on the frontline dealing with tenants in their own homes.

What’s clear is that Stockport Homes has found an effective way to widen the conversation so that the division’s workers feel their opinions count.

Management and tradespeople now have monthly meetings: the Staff Voice. This isn’t a place for management speak, but a place for straightforwardness, listening, and coming up with solutions.

Repair 1st's Staff Voice Meeting in action. Inspired by Fierce.

Repair 1st's Staff Voice Meeting in action. Inspired by Fierce.

As Billy Grimes, a plumber with Repair 1st, says in the case study, the meeting helps convey that everyone is on the same side.

“And we all want to make a change. We all want to support the organisation and going through the Staff Voice group is the perfect way to do it.”

Here are my lessons from this case study update:

·       Implementing Fierce helps clear away some of the barriers that may have been there in the past.

·       Fierce helps you get to what you need to talk about.

·       Fierce demonstrates that everyone has a stake in the conversation.

You can read the case study update here. 



Using Fierce to deal with 'whoever shouts the loudest'.

In this video blog, PDA's Tasha George deals with the real life situation of a new employee snowed under by competing demands on their time. Their default has been to respond to 'whoever shouts the loudest'.

That employee has then asked for help. But in a resource tight business, the idea of transferring somebody internally to help has created its own problems. Nobody likes losing a team member.

Tasha says this common pressure and the internal rivalries it creates could be confronted by using the Fierce Conversations principle of interrogating reality. Then a proper assessment can be made of the rival claims for extra help. And compromises can be reached.


Don't Dodge Discomfit

In our August video blog, PDA's Sarah Vogel shares insights from conversations with clients about how putting yourself into uncomfortable situations is crucial.

If you avoid discomfit, then current problems can turn into bigger situations. Grievances and disciplinary situations that could have been prevented are allowed to develop their own momentum.

Sarah looks at how conversations and mediation can play key parts in allowing organisations to get out of a potential grievance culture. And the ability to lean into discomfit is part of individual people's and their organisation's strengths. 

Your Mental Health: are you surviving or thriving?

It's Mental Health Awareness Week (May 8th-14th #MHAW17) and the theme this year is “Surviving or Thriving?” The focus is on mental health as being not just about the absence of mental health problems but our right to a state of wellbeing and contentment. In this guest blog, Emma Marks looks at questions we all need to be asking ourselves about our mental health.

What do the words “mental health” conjure up to you when you hear them? More than likely you might picture someone in distress,  perhaps someone who is violent? You might feel awkward or unsure of the words and what they actually mean? Or, if you yourself have been touched by mental health problems either in person or by someone you know or care about, it might make you think of sad and troubling times and it may even give you a feeling of fear and anxiety.

However it may surprise you to know that we all have mental health. No not mental health problems (which is probably what you might have been thinking of ) but mental health. Just like we can all have physical health we can all have mental health. However we are still not comfortable with the term mental health, we would far rather talk in softer perhaps more fluffy terms like “wellbeing” or “emotional health”. I don't think this has helped us to understand how important it is for us to be aware of our own mental health and that of our friends and family.

One of the first things I say to people when I run “Wellbeing and resilience” courses is the importance of being aware of their own mental health. This doesn’t have to be anything onerous or complicated. It can be as simple as scoring how you feel on a scale of 1-10 (10 being very good and 1 being awful). Once you get into the habit of reflecting on your emotional health you are then able to move onto the next stage of identifying what it is that you can do to enable you to get to the higher end of the scale rather than the lower end.

There seems to be a never ending supply of self help books that can tell you how to achieve the golden goose of happiness. However in my experience part of being content and emotionally well is not about forever chasing after a false dream of constant happiness or telling yourself that when you achieve x/y or z you will then be happy. It is rather accepting that life has its ups and downs and that we all have good days and bad days.

We can still “thrive” and achieve our goals whilst we have bad days as long as our days don’t then turn into weeks, months, or even years. One part of identifying for myself and others about what makes us “thrive” is an acceptance that at times life, and how we feel about it, can be very hard for all of us; no matter what our background or experience. When we are able to accept this we are then able to look at the next step of how we put in place things in our life that will help us work towards achieving the optimum amount of 10/10’snor at least 8/10’s in the following weeks, months and years.

If you are interested and looking at ways to increase your mental health and wellbeing, I would recommend some online resources from some of the excellent UK mental health charities. There are some really good resources online (as well as some dodgy ones).  These two links from the Mental Health Foundation and Mind are a good place to start.

So in this mental health awareness week take a minute to have a think about your mental health and ask yourself are you surviving or thriving? And remember we all have the capacity to thrive but sometimes we may need some help to get there and that’s OK and it is what makes us human. 

Emma Marks has worked within the mental health sector for over 20 years in both the NHS and in the Statutory and Voluntary Sector. She currently works for a mental health charity as well as working freelance as a Consultant. 

Lessons of Living Fierce

              Fierce Facilitator Sam Netherwood

              Fierce Facilitator Sam Netherwood

Sam Netherwood is a trained Fierce facilitator. Here he talks about the lessons he's learnt from living Fierce and its power to change behaviour and create learning

I don't believe that you ever become 'Fierce'. It's not a finish line that you cross or a destination you arrive at.

Using the ideas, principles and models is like creating a tapestry.

Each time you engage in a Fierce Conversation, ask a Fierce question or listen with Fierce intent you weave in another thread - another lesson learnt, another take on reality, another invaluable discovery.

We can always become more Fierce; continually developing our capability to tackle our toughest challenges, provoke learning, more deeply interrogate reality and enrich our relationships.

Fierce has taught me that accountability for our success in work and in life starts and ends with the person we see in the mirror. Including accountability for the quality of the conversations we have, and the connections we create, is the foundation of everything.

Becoming more Fierce hasn't been easy for me but it has been profound. I've ditched long-held beliefs, left a job and lost friends (well, acquaintances really). But for all that I've let go I travel more lightly, creating more space for the experiences, learning and people that mean the most. 

"Mastering the courage to interrogate reality" and the idea that "All conversations are with myself and sometimes, involve other people" are two fundamental elements of Fierce which have become part of my every day life.

The first is a principle of any Fierce Conversation. It enables sense-making, insight generation and double-loop learning. It's a principle that challenges assumptions, underlying beliefs and opinions. The second is a transformational idea. An idea which encourages you to speak to your own context and challenge cognitive biases. Both generate insight, both catalyse un-learning and both create change.

There are some valuable lessons that interrogating reality and having conversations with myself have taught me. These lessons, and Fierce questions, have led to new discoveries, better relationships and greater success.

Lesson One: Hold people able 

Believing that others can handle the truth is at the core of any Fierce Conversation but, in reality can be more difficult than the concept. For me - this is where courage comes in. It takes little boldness to involve yourself in water-cooler conversations about a colleagues' [perceived] poor performance or talk behind smokes screen about all of the poor leadership decisions that lead to one failed initiative after another. It takes guts to stand side by side with the person who needs to hear "it" and speak in your real voice. It takes courage to give someone the whole truth and to really hear what they have to say. 

We can't expect to explore someone else's reality unless we are prepared to give our own - when we hold people as able to hear the truth and offer us the same in return. The Fierce questions I ask myself, and sometimes ask other people:

How would I feel if other people weren't holding me able to hear "the truth"?

What am I pretending not to know?

What am I not saying that really needs to be said?

Are the real issues really on the table?

Am I saying things I don't mean to speed things up or be polite?

Lesson Two: Unplug from the 'comparison machine'

Much of what we do in our life and work is subject to scrutiny and ranking. We compare ourselves to our colleagues, friends and celebrities based on likes and shares. We also compare our working practices, knowledge and organisations to benchmarks, to the world's "best companies" and upper quartile performers.

Comparison isn't bad, but it often fails to interrogate reality; as we stand on the outside looking in at the glossy successes of other people and organisations. When we observe and compare, we do so through our own context window. A context window that is prone to skewing and manipulating what we perceive to be true.

As wonderful as our own narrative is, it is exactly that: our own. When we're looking for new ideas, inspiration or new thinking we need stories. Stories that we can only capture through meaningful connections and conversation. 

This is a lesson I've learnt the hard way. Working in learning & organisational development I've often compared and benchmarked excessively. Viewing the achievements of others through a lens that tells me only what I see or hear, not what is really happening beneath the surface.

When we only observe and assume we uncover very little reality. Sometimes, we draw a conclusion based on our own context and neglect to ask a vital question. We move on before we've really asked and really listened. To quote Susan Scott, "conversations take time, but everything else takes longer."

The Fierce questions I ask myself, and sometimes ask other people:

Who am I not talking to?

How will I work out what is true and what is [politics, propaganda, marketing]?

Is my context working for me?

What assumptions could I be making here?

What else could also be possible/true ?

Lesson Three: Discomfort is not only necessary, it's powerful

Hand-in-hand with my first lesson - to become more Fierce you need to hold people able – you also need to get comfortable with the fact that sometimes, that’s going to be uncomfortable. Let’s face it, being open about reality can be hard. How many conversations about the things that really matter have we completely avoided, let alone the times we edited what we were really thinking?

Whilst mastering the courage to interrogate reality, you must also master the courage to convey your own. To speak it clearly, to those who need to hear it, at the very moment it needs to be said. Often, the greater the apprehension and discomfort before the conversation, the more powerful and valuable the conversation itself can be.

It can be hard tell your manager you disagree with strategy. It can feel like it's not your responsibility to tell a senior leader you feel the company is about to implode. It can set your heart racing when you need to tell someone that they're making you unhappy or to approach a tough subject with someone you know is going through a period of struggle.

To genuinely interrogate reality and tell our truth, we need to venture into uncharted territory; to be out of our depth. It isn't somewhere most people like to be but, in the words of T.S. Elliot, "if we're never out of our depth, how do we know how tall we are?" We'll never know the true value of interrogating reality unless we step up and give it a shot.

The Fierce questions I ask myself, and sometimes ask other people:

What are the conversations I'm avoiding?

What is the price I'm paying for putting these conversations off? [time, energy, success, health, love]

What part of that conversation did I 'edit'?

Where should I invest my time to build better relationships?

What's the content of my 'water-cooler' conversations and why am I only having them there?

To re-emphasise and re-quote Fierce founder Susan Scott:“Conversations take time, everything else takes longer”. It’s well worth creating a little space and time for the conversations you need to have with yourself.

Sparking Conversations at Stockport Homes

Fierce Conversations is helping teams at Stockport Homes to hold effective meetings to manage change, determine priorities, and ensure differing perspectives are heard and respected.

Liz Chadwick heads up the organisational development team, which had adopted Fierce as part of its leadership development approach and its engagement priorities. “I have been really impressed how a simple question can spark a great conversation,” says Liz, of the Fierce Conversations approach.

Top right: head of organizational devlopment Liz Chadwick, spreading the word about Fierce. Other images of Stockport Homes' team discussing Fierce.

Top right: head of organizational devlopment Liz Chadwick, spreading the word about Fierce. Other images of Stockport Homes' team discussing Fierce.

Liz points to one example with Stockport Homes’ Neighbourhoods Service. They’ve been putting an ‘Engagement Plan’ in place that would assist them to communicate and manage some significant changes (including a restructure and joining of two teams into one) that they will be facing over the coming months and in the lead up to a move to a new HQ. 

And the simple question the team asked themselves was: ‘What’s the most important thing we should be taking about’.

 Liz explains:

 “This generated a lively and passionate discussion, where the unsaid was said and--to quote Fierce founder Susan Scott--before the conversation ended the change started to happen.”

 Liz continues:

“Since then the group have utilised Fierce’s beach ball model with the wider management team and staff, exploring perspectives to produce collaborative solutions. 

They have also become self-sufficient with this process, so I no longer facilitate the sessions, they do them themselves, checking in with me from time to time to discuss progress.”


Case Study: Fierce at Stockport Homes: the organisational development team

When Sam Netherwood, organisational development (OD) business partner, and the OD team at Stockport Homes were designing their leadership development framework they knew what they didn’t want.

It was a ‘no’ to any approach that was too theoretical and which might leave some managers struggling with implementation.

Stockport Homes is an Arm’s Length Management Organisation (ALMO) with over 30,000 customers. It manages and develops housing on behalf of Stockport Council, owns properties as a result of property development, and manages others on behalf of private landlords.

Sam and the team need outcomes in engagement and continuous improvement against the backdrop of a changing environment. They came across Fierce being used at another housing group, and then met PDA’s Sarah Vogel to discuss the approach.

Fierce at Stockport Homes (clockwise): Sam Netherwood and colleague Liz Chadwick from the OD team, some of the 70 Stockport Homes people taking part in Fierce training, Liz Chadwick, Rob and Chris from corporate services are putting Fierce into action in their daily activities,  PDA's Sarah Vogel delivering a Fierce workshop. 

Fierce at Stockport Homes (clockwise): Sam Netherwood and colleague Liz Chadwick from the OD team, some of the 70 Stockport Homes people taking part in Fierce training, Liz Chadwick, Rob and Chris from corporate services are putting Fierce into action in their daily activities,  PDA's Sarah Vogel delivering a Fierce workshop. 

Sam Netherwood takes up the story.

“We realised how much of the elements of that leadership development framework Fierce would deliver. And not only would it deliver in terms of the principles in helping us to drive a consistent leadership culture in the organisation, but it gave you practical models.

“It mirrors what we want to try and achieve in our approach to organisational development… that is all centred around conversations. Conversations are the heart of changing an organisation. It’s the heart of developing people, it’s the heart of recognising their potential and using it.”

 As of April 2016, seventy Stockport Homes people with line management, supervision, and business partnership responsibilities have been on Fierce workshops. Another seventy staff are learning Fierce Conversations this summer. The OD team is following up their progress with evaluations and work to embed learning.

Sam explains further:

“Fierce works on a number of different levels, so for a start we are using the coaching model. We are using the [Fierce] questions: ‘What are the most important things we should be talking about?’; ‘What conversations are you avoiding?’.”

 Fierce can help staff find answers to questions and problems they routinely encounter. “So it has practical applications for us far beyond the delivery of the workshops and the energy in the room. It really works on a practical level, long term,” Sam says.

“Fierce aligns so uniquely with everything that we set out in the leadership and development framework anyway, the principles match perfectly to a change environment.”
— Sam Netherwood, business partner organisational development, Stockport Homes

 Sam and the OD team are seeing Fierce work in others way.

1.      Succession Planning. The Fierce delegation approach of ‘decision trees’ is beginning to be used as a development pathway as part of succession planning.  And using Fierce is also reducing the need for additional courses and cutting through the jargon of ‘talent management’ and ‘horizon scanning’. “Each time where we spot a gap, we define the requirements, find a person, and use the decision tree to get them there,” Sam explains. “These pathways we’ve put in place are almost all experiential—we’re not putting a person on an [additional] course.”

 2.      Focusing management meetings. The Fierce method of ‘beach ball conversations’ (where people are given the space to give their own viewpoints) is helping change key management meetings. The managers’ forums are moving to be more think tank based rather than ‘a communication exercise’. Sam explains the approach;  “…to take a problem or an issue that needs solving, perhaps at a senior management level, and bringing those managers together to ‘beach ball’ the problem, work out a solution. “

 3.      Getting managers on board to the organisational development agenda.  Fierce is helping Sam and the team get organisation-wide backing to the employee engagement agenda so key to Stockport’s OD agenda.

And Sam notes

We said look this is completely different way to approach leadership development. This is part of a much wider cultural change in terms of leadership behaviour. But at the same time it is delivering models that… the moment you leave these workshops you can go and start to use.

“Fierce aligns so uniquely with everything that we set out in the leadership and development framework anyway, the principles match perfectly to a change environment.”

This is the first part of our case study on Fierce at Stockport Homes.


14 Years of making sure conversations are #Fierce

Susan Scott and her team at Fierce Inc are celebrating 14 years of Fierce Conversations. Susan has led the drive to make conversations in the workplace really meaningful: helping people communicate more effectively in every aspect of their lives.  

In this podcast, Susan looks at the personal challenges that lay behind the creation of Fierce, and its transformational ideas and principles. And she looks to the future of leadership where connectivity and transparency will be key. You can find out about our next Fierce workshops here.



Midlands Academy Staff benefit from Fierce

Staff at The City Technology College, Kinghurst Academy in Solihull in the Midlands are benefiting from Fierce coaching, and there are plans to use the approach for some students later this year.

"Fierce has helped me be more aware of my emotional wake"

"Fierce has helped me be more aware of my emotional wake"

Debbè Reilly, associate leader at the academy with 1500 pupils, says:

“Our aim is to be the best we can be. The Fierce coaching model is a great tool to help people reflect on their practice and help them pin point where things are going wrong.”

Initially, Debbè attended a Fierce taster course, and then arranged training for the academy’s leadership team.

“They liked it as well and wanted it rolled our across the school,” she notes. Debbè and her colleagues now use the approach in staff coaching and support.

Debbè explains:

“I am a better listener, and far more patient and understanding with people by reminding myself to look at the ‘context’ within which others are operating.

Fierce has helped me be more aware of my 'emotional wake' and  has made me do a lot of  'stop, think, talk'.”

Debbè  says career progression and performance are just some of the areas that have been the focus for Fierce Conversations.

CTC Kinghurst Academy's senior leadership team will be working with the heads of faculty to train them on the principles of Fierce and the tools available.

And in the summer term, Debbè will be working with students on how to use Fierce skills in their own conversations.

From zero sum to win-win with positive influencing.

PDA’s Sarah Vogel says influencing is not an adversary sport with winners and losers. Organisational change means you need to demonstrate an influence that is positive for you and your colleagues.

Individuals can no longer rely on what we would call ‘position power’ within organisations as businesses become flatter.

Job titles that may have conveyed authority have either disappeared or often don’t carry their past aurora of power.

But we still need to get things done. And so we still need to have influence.

And to have long-lasting influence in an organisation, we need to bring people along with us.

"your influencing will diminish if you indulge in  fake consulting "    -Sarah Vogel PDA

"your influencing will diminish if you indulge in fake consulting"    -Sarah Vogel PDA

This is a mindset thing: if you aim ‘to win, no matter what, at all costs’, it may affect your style, may impact aggressively and damage your relationships in the long term.

If you always press your agenda and aim for win-lose people may comply, but could be resentful.

And your influence will diminish if you indulge in ‘fake consulting’ when you have already made your mind up.

Real influence is not a zero sum game in an organisation, with one person winning out over another. Positive influence is aiming for win- win for you and your colleagues.

Positive influencing sees you taking more responsibility for your actions and trying harder to understand the other party’s interests and agenda.

Zero sum game playing is best left on the sports field.

Stop the silence: turn grievances into conversations

PDA's Sarah Vogel gives her thoughts on how organisations need to aim for a ‘non grievance culture' where people in conflict talk to each other.  

Often in organisations, when problems arise in relationships between individuals and formal grievance procedures kick in, the people with a conflicted relationship are told not to talk to each other.


Line managers’ fear of not adhering to internal procedures also means that any attempt to sit down and talk about the conflict doesn’t happen.


I think that has to change.


Trying to resolve issues, by telling people not to talk to each other, seems to be plain illogical.


And the vast majority of ‘grievance’ cases taken out just do not work in resolving conflicted situations.


Organisations need to make it easier for people to informally resolve things. There needs to be a drive towards a ‘non grievance’ culture where the last thing we ever think of is to throw grievances around like confetti whenever we are upset by something or someone.


Leaders need to be courageous in nipping things in the bud and encourage a culture of transparency and openness in their own teams, with their colleagues and peers and of course up the line to senior execs.


The Harvard Business Review article ‘A culture of candor’ by James O’Toole and the late Warren Bennis is brilliant at naming this issue. We often recommend it to clients. In it, Bennis and O’Toole point out:


"This task begins with creating norms and structures that sanction truth telling. Such organizational practices as open-door policies, ombudsmen, protection for whistle-blowers, and internal blogs that give voice to those at the bottom of the hierarchy can help”


Mediation can be part of this drive away from a grievance culture. It helps to create a safe space to explore the roots of the conflict and also what needs to happen to resolve it. You can learn more here.


Training leaders and managers to have clear, honest and direct conversations can really help build their confidence, which is hugely important in helping them to grasp the nettle and get on with difficult conversations.


I believe if we can help managers and leaders drive this culture change, it can help improve productivity, attendance, engagement and retention, and create a culture where people do not fear feedback, and talk things through, openly and honestly. Before it gets so bad that things crash and burn.


It is heartbreaking when we are called in to help an organisation resolve a conflict and it emerges that the situation has been brewing or festering for years. All that time living with upset, stress, hindered performance and compromised results could have been avoided if things had been tackled sooner and differently.


Part of me understands that sometimes people may feel threatened by each other or afraid of speaking out, but I think organisations could help to facilitate informal resolution conversations rather than just keep people apart.


Keeping people silent won't work.


The first steps in mediation.

In the first of a series of blogs on mediation, we look at the initial steps in the process.  

What if the working relationship between two people in an organisation breaks down? Mediation can be a solution, and is one of the key services that PDA offers.


An organisation may ask for help when a working relationship is in difficulty, communication is stilted or has stopped entirely.


And many organisations now use mediation as part of their grievance process.


The mediator will tell the participants about the process, and then to invite them to voluntarily participate.


David Cripps, PDA's director leading our mediation services, says:


“This is very important. Each individual’s involvement in mediation needs to be voluntary. Mediation will not work if one side is forced into the process.”


The mediator will also find out about the conflict, and before proceeding, ensure that this is a situation that can be potentially helped through mediation.


If both parties agree to take part in the mediation, they will receive a confidentiality contract, and arrangements will be made to arrange the mediation day.


Expectations and approaches around mediation are all important. Mediation is commonly described in terms of conflict resolution, or resolving conflict. The other way of describing mediation is talk in terms of conflict engagement.


That’s the way it has been described by Professor Bernard Mayer, who practises, studies and writes about mediation.


David Cripps says: “I think Bernard Mayer’s ideas that mediation should be about engaging with the conflict are very important.”


If you only talk in terms of getting a resolution you might solely focus on achieving an outcome without properly addressing the underlying conflict: seeing what is about, what is driving it. This might then result in just a short term resolution rather than a lasting outcome.”

Delivering Fierce Conversations at the University of Sheffield

Sheffield University The University of Sheffield’s Learning and Development team is putting the ideas and principles of Fierce Conversations into practice across the university.


PDA’s Fierce trainers worked with ten members of the Learning and Development team so that they could then train their Sheffield colleagues independently.


Jane Ginniver, HR Manager, Leadership & Management Development, at the University of Sheffield, says:


“The flexibility of the Fierce model is what has made it so appealing as our staffing groups are so diverse - this model is relevant for everyone.”


Jane notes some of the commitments participants have made following their training include:



• To stop putting off tackling tough challenges

• To not put off talking to a team member where there are problems – nip it in the bud!

• Think more about the impact of interactions with staff.


Jane explains:


“Since September 2014, we have facilitated Fierce Conversations in a variety of formats for 57 of our staff. Another 60 people are booked in to attend over the next couple of months. We are aiming to ensure all our managers access the Fierce 'Foundations' session in the next 2 years, building on this with the conversational models for specified staffing groups."


You can find more details about Fierce here.