Fierce Conversations O2 – small chunks and remote learning


Remote Locations

We know from talking to you about our Open workshops that there are times when face to face workshops are not a practical option – it could be for budgetary reasons, remote locations or a diary that is so jam packed a day’s training can’t be shoehorned in.


Fierce Conversations O2

So we are thrilled to be offering Fierce Conversations O2 – virtual instructor-led training that is delivered online in 2 hour chunks.


The content is the same as Fierce Conversations and involves virtual break out rooms, a live facilitator, e-workbooks and online chat rooms to connect with one another.


The sessions are interchangeable so you choose which Conversational Model  you would like to work on first. You can even use them to complement face to face programmes in a sustainable way to embed the learning over several sessions.


We will be hosting taster sessions in the New Year so look out for more details and if you would like to know more sooner then please email

"It is's ALWAYS personal!" by Sarah Vogel

Got talking

I sat next to a man on the train yesterday and inevitably (I am an extravert you knowww!) we got chatting about ‘what we did for a living’: he was an engineer by profession, a contracts manager on the railways, and was on his way to a monthly meeting with his client in South Yorks.


 "Sorry we are letting you go"

As we chatted he started to tell me about a man he had worked for many years previously: a senior manager who had a reputation (well deserved it seemed) for being an unpleasant man and one people didn’t like to work with. My new friend recounted that at one stage he had been involved in several redundancy meetings chaired by this senior manager. In these “sorry we are letting you go” meetings, as soon as the redundant person became distressed, he always said “It’s not personal!”


He said that hearing this stock response over and over again made him feel sick. He told me: “changing someone’s life like that in an instant IS personal!”


Every time he was in a meeting and heard the man say those words, it rankled and angered him until one day he decided he could work for him no longer and left for another job.


If I stopped the story there it would be a great example of people leaving managers not organisations…and also how things change gradually, then suddenly. But there was more…


Consider everything is Personal as a Manager

The man proceeded to tell me how that whole experience had changed him as a manager and changed him as a person. He told me how he knew he was a better manager nowadays, considering everything he did with his team as ‘personal’, relationship orientated, human. He was committed to always putting the people issues first.


Shooting myself in the foot a little here but I love hearing how people learn these big important things, NOT on courses but as part of their every day life experiences.


Schools in UK to become “Fierce” with better conversations

Schools throughout the UK are beginning to seek – and see the benefits of – alternative tools in order to improve standards and achievements that could ultimately effect the success of their students' futures.  

PDA, a training and development company based in Birmingham, has recently seen their own programme – called Fierce Conversations – make a presence in our schools. It is championed by senior staff such as Nicole Fowles, an Advisory Deputy Headteacher for 19 schools in the Borough of Solihull.


Fierce in the Schools (FITS) is already commonplace in the USA. Deli Moussavi-Bock, the Director of Training for Fierce in the Schools, tells us that transformations in schools can begin and end with the conversations that people have everyday, which is what Fierce is based upon. She said: “Taking Fierce programs to schools in sustainable, meaningful ways is integral to our unabashed vision to build a better world, one conversation at a time.”


She continued: “For students, it's about equipping them with the skills to navigate and drive the quality of their education, the success of their future careers and personal lives and the health of their families and communities. They are future stewards of our planet.”


Nicole Fowles spoke to us about implementing these changes within our own schools and how Fierce fits in with that: “The various models in Fierce cut across several strands of school improvement and directly relate to raising standards. Key aspects including curriculum, assessment for learning, professional development and leadership are all encompassed within the various programmes.”


In fact, Nicole – who is taking her Fierce Conversations Accreditation with PDA so she can bring her passion to school leaders and students – has already trialled Fierce within the classroom. What she noticed was that students quickly sought out conversations when they wanted feedback or didn't fully understand a subject within class. She noted: “This improved their learning across the curriculum because they made the connection of how important it is to have that conversation about their learning and the benefits of doing so.”


She concluded by saying: “Teachers already have the desire to move learning forward but what if we instilled this desire in future generation for themselves and gave them methods for real empowerment? [Fierce] is not more of the same. It brings innovation to fore and will require bold and courageous application.”


Further information on Fierce Conversations workshops can be found on or by calling PDA on 0207 503 1400. The next workshop will be held in Manchester in June 2013.

Top 5 things to help managers deal with underperformance


Karen Findlay (HR Manager at St Monica Trust) and Sarah Vogel ( Co-director at People Development Associates) share their best tips…



1. Develop a positive mind set about tackling things


Many managers fear the worst and worry ‘what will happen if…’ In fact they almost certainly fantasise in their darker moments that world war 3 will break out if they dare to tackle x about their performance


So why are these kind of conversations avoided? Popular reasons we get told are:


It will make it worse: I don’t want to open up the can of worms

it will spoil the team atmosphere

They have too much on their plate right now to deal with this

I have too much on MY plate right now to deal with this

No one’s ever told x before, why should I (how should I??)

I don’t have time to plan how to get the conversation right


The likelihood is it is almost certainly costing managers more NOT to tackle it, (in terms of lost business, team morale, the insidious spread of underperformance, their own reputation) than it would to tackle it and get it resolved. So before you even begin, develop a positive mind set about the conversation.


After all, what we all want is to bring about a resolution. What could be bad about resolving things? A good, healthy confrontation conversation is not about ‘giving someone a good telling off, putting them straight or getting it off your chest’. It is about both parties explaining their side of things and having some space and time to work out together how to resolve it.


Remember: the mind set you take into the conversation, will affect the results you get.


2. Talk it through with your line manager and HR


An early conversation about underperformance can often avoid cases developing into formal processes. So as soon as under performance is spotted talk it through with your manager and or HR. Consider what options you have and how best to have the conversation with the individual.


Ask your manager and or HR about how they think this person may react and what strategies you could adopt to deal with these. Be clear what the support mechanisms for you are in this. Canvas their support. Often people fear taking a performance case to the formal stages as they worry they will not get the backup they need, and this may be unfounded.


So DO talk it through with someone who’s not involved. Ask them to challenge your reality and perception. Rarely does the worst happen. Our catastrophic imaginings can just be a reason to continue to leave it, letting it grow, build and spread….


3. Become skilled at having ‘the conversation’


Many people fear fluffing it up in the first minutes of a conversation.


Look at the 7 Fierce principles and think about which ones could help you. Consider where you want to start your conversation. Practise saying out loud what you want to say. Ask an independent person to listen to what you plan to say and tell you how it sounds.  Remember you will need to be light on your feet when handling the resulting conversation. You can’t script the whole thing (which under confident managers will want to do), you have to stay connected and use your intuition, and work out together what the next steps will be. Most of all master the courage to interrogate THEIR reality.


4. Get support as you take someone through a process to improve their capability


Anyone who’s ever had to take a member of their team through a capability process knows it is a bumpy and arduous road to travel: energy sapping, time draining and generally not on anyone’s ‘fun things to do at work’ list. But remember, successful outcomes are reached ‘one conversation at a time, gradually then suddenly’ and hanging in there in this long game of performance improvement is exactly what we need to do and support managers in doing.


One of our clients who has been really successful at sustaining a great positive performance culture runs ‘performance clinics’ for any managers having to take someone through capability. They get to meet up and discuss how it is going with HR, let off steam, get support (and constructive challenge if they want it) and generally realise they are not alone.


Remember it’s like joining the under performer at their bus stop and taking them on the journey to get them to where you need them to be.



5. Practise what you preach


Any organisation wanting to develop a performance culture where it is safe for anyone to raise issues, where people are encouraged and supported to resolve them as quickly and effectively as possible and where it generally feels like the Mokita* count is low, also needs to make sure that there is an upward flow of feedback too.


Do you encourage team members to tell you when they are off track? Are your  teams encouraged to name the unnameable? Are real issues raised and tackled at meetings?


If not, then managers in middle or first line positions will not feel best able to tackle their own teams and individuals. Leaders in the organisation may need to demonstrate by example that they too do what they are asking others to do. Attend the same training, be in the room, ‘here, prepared to be nowhere else’ and ask tough questions like


‘what’s getting in the way of our success and happiness?

What would you do if you were in my shoes?


*Mokita: a Maori word meaning ‘that which is known but never talked about’

Becoming conscious about the power of conversations……by Nicole Fowles


 Engaged in a conversation

I have just come in from walking in the snow and being engaged in a conversation with a very old friend. Immediately, I am compelled to write this short reflection about my connection to the conscious power of conversations.


I reflect on content

During my talk with Cheryl, we talked about all sorts of things but as I reflect on the content, much of it filtered down to the relationships we have (or could potentially have) with others; both personally and professionally. We know the conversation is the relationship but I wonder whether people realise that the majority of conversations that hold any meaning are also about relationships in one guise or another. Go on – try it! The next time you engage in what you would consider a meaningful conversation, reflect on the content and it is my guess that much of it centred on some form of relationship with or about others.


The potential that bounces around Fierce®

There was much dialogue about the notion of ‘Fierce conversation’ and the potential that bounces around it. What if we had more of these conversations? What if we had them with particular people? What if we mastered them and could identify them from a distance? So very often, we notice that a conversation was powerful and created a positive outcome after the event, when the ‘outcome’ appeared and revealed itself. How could we make it so we fostered these conversations and they became ‘normal’? Are they already normal and we just needed to give them more status and value? If they became part of the everyday experience would they still warrant the title of ‘fierce’ because maybe these conversations would no longer be different?


No single conversation is guaranteed to change your life but one conversation could

It is useful to pause here and recognise that we must go back to the principles of ‘Fierce’ and remember that no single conversation is guaranteed to change your life but quite simply, one conversation could. The reason I felt compelled to write this was because I believe the conversation I have just had with my friend Cheryl may have done just that. As a result of that conversation, I am writing this. As a result of that conversation, I have a list of items in my head that I am working out how I should set about putting these into action. How? Who? When? Where? It goes on……And, as a result of completing these actions, there is a strong possibility that my life is going to change – for the better.


What makes a conversation 'Fierce'?

So, what makes a conversation ‘fierce’ and sets it apart from a good conversation? The short answer is – nothing. Fierce conversations are good conversations and they can come in many shapes and sizes. But I suppose it could be said that not all good conversations are fierce. For me, I think good conversations come naturally most of the time. I doubt if I would have written such a bold statement a year ago but the fierce conversations I have engaged in since have helped me to become more confident with identifying and recognising this. Moreover, it is that recognition that is as important as having such conversations in the first place.


This learning is a blessing

All of this learning has been a blessing and the mission begins to spread the idea of not only having these conversations but developing a deeper understanding about WHY this is so important. The truth about human nature is people want to know why – why have conversations about having better conversations? The debt I owe to individuals such as Susan Scott and Sarah Vogel is the realisation that we can and should be far more competently conscious about the power of conversations. The ‘why’ factor for me is about enriching relationships and generating positive life chances but I am sure there is a whole raft of ‘why’ factors out there and I sit and wonder what may be pertinent to others.



In some respect I come full circle to the Foreword written by Ken Blanchard in Fierce Conversations. It all just seems so obvious. We all have conversations and we have them all of the time; they are intrinsic to who we are. True. However, the difference lies in becoming conscious and generating awareness about the nature and power of those conversations. The company Fierce sets out to do this but I am also advocating that on a very individual level we should all be doing this. Surely then, conservations become vehicles to change our lives for the better – one conversation at a time.

Learners of today are the Leaders of tomorrow and I can assure you ……….they are Fierce! by Nicole Fowles

Nicole contacted us at PDA after reading (and loving!) Fierce Conversations. At the time she was a Deputy Head at a local Primary School but has since taken up a post as Advisory Deputy Head teacher at a collaborative of 19 schools in the Borough of Solihull. She joins us on our open Fierce workshop in Birmingham this month to take her Fierce Conversations Accreditation so she can bring her passion for this powerful work to school leaders and students. Here she tells us what happened when she started to use Fierce in the classroom:  

Journey begins with Fierce®

Through my own journey of engaging with ‘Fierce’ and under the guidance of Sarah Vogel (PDA Ltd), I had the opportunity to trial some lessons with learners between the ages of 8-11 years old. This revealed several insights into the possibilities that delivering ‘Fierce conversations’ could bring to our young people. In addition, the potential it has to impact pedagogy, assessment and apply more readily what we know about the learning process. This is just a brief outline of the effect that the sessions had on the classes and also the implications it raises for teaching.


 'Outstanding' Elements

The sessions encompassed some key elements of what would be considered ‘Outstanding’ under the Inspection Framework 2012 and these were: Passion, High levels of pupil participation, Thinking skills, discussion skills, high level questioning and Challenge. Pupils were learning something ‘fresh and new’ and this led to higher engagement and generated an air of curiosity about what they were learning. Due to the content being fairly challenging in the form of the FITS Field guide, I adapted the material and created new resources while maintaining all key principles and messages. This ensured that different learning styles were included and much attention was given to the style of delivery and the range of activities available.


Understanding Mokitas and asking for feedback

The skills that pupils learnt through this programme began to transfer to other areas of their learning as well as their lives. An example of this came through them understanding about ‘Mokitas’. I shared with the children how we could use this within other lessons and invited them to express how and when they might apply this concept. Within the same week, they were asking for feedback in areas such as mathematics and being more vocal about what they didn’t understand. In short, the number of conversations they actively sought out increased. They became confident to interrogate their view of their own learning as well as become more open about what they struggled with. This improved their learning across the curriculum because they made the connection of how important it is to have that conversation about their learning and the benefits of doing so. Being so ‘real’ about their learning can be alien for many children because they spend a lot of energy doing the exact opposite. This is down to their desperation to ‘look smart’ rather than actively engaging in their learning process (See Carol Dweck – Self theories and Mindset).


Provoked my thinking

As a teacher, leader and educationalist, this really provoked my thinking about how the system maybe partly responsible for un-doing the ‘Fierceness’ already so very apparent and present in our young people. The polarised standpoints we take on this issue, when the world of Business (apprentice programmes and young enterprise) is literally crying out to Education to equip young Leaders with these skill sets is at the very least disappointing. The same can be said of other areas of Teaching and Learning with a prime example being questioning. By the time children reach upper Key stage 2 we used ‘Higher order’ questioning techniques to support progress and thinking. Teachers labour over the fact that they want pupils to ask more questions themselves, yet, my experience in early years education tells me that young children are excellent at asking questions that start with the words ‘Why and How?’ Therefore, what happens in-between? What messages do we give these young leaders? It really is a crucial debate to be had! Having said all of that, I am thrilled at the prospect of having a real and tangible solution at hand. Even though there is some way to travel, what a positive and enchanting pathway lies before us!


Realisation hit me like a truck

After I had completed a number of sessions with the youngsters, the realisation hit me like truck one day as I went about my daily leadership walk between class to class just checking out the learning and visiting staff. On entering the room a voice projected itself over the tops of heads…”Miss, have you come in to teach us more about conversations?” As I scanned the room I realised that pupils had stopped in their tracks and were waiting eagerly for the reply. Some turned to look at me; some looked at the plucky young man who asked the question, some just froze mid- task and didn’t make a move as they were sitting on a table with their class teacher. “Not today, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a Fierce conversation with someone else.” Even before I had reached the end of my sentence, a wave of disappointed sighs and expressions exploded across the room. As I walked down the corridor and back to my office the expression on that child’s face stayed with me. His image spoke to me and immediately I contacted Sarah to set up a time to feedback about the materials. Some may say how effectively he interrogated reality – he wanted to know then and there – what I am learning today? Oh – and is it going to be relevant because that ‘conversation stuff’ helps me at school and at home. This is extremely profound because it is something that teachers everywhere battle with. Walk into any school and you will find committed, hard-working teachers that share a common issue and that is called trying to develop pupil ownership. There are whole companies and methods just dedicated to improving pupil engagement and participation. It certainly sent a shockwave through me!


I embark on the facilitation programme

I am about to embark on the facilitation programme and feel humbled by the outlook of where this could lead. Not solely for myself, my family, my friends and colleagues but for all of those young people and young leaders who may just get to hold onto their ‘Fierce’ nature. They somehow could get the chance to let it blossom, receive some guidance and above all, be supported in and allowed to have the conversations that could change their lives for the better. That alone, without question, should give us the reason to take this forward.


360 ways to measure Influencing....well nearly.

People Development Associates measure Influencing

Ask people around you

Some of the best opportunities for seeing how much you have developed as an influencer can be done with a 360 degree feedback questionnaire. What this does is ask people around you – at all levels – to comment on your influencing so if this is done before and after your training you can compare the scores and get a quantitative as well as qualitative score of how you are doing.

Get a brilliant questionnaire that works online

We have been working closely with Reactive 360 for several years and find their online 360 questionnaire brilliant! They have created questions that reflect the 6 tools we know make a great influencer so you can directly relate your learning to how it is being put into practice. You provide the names of the people you want to nominate for feedback and then they will be sent the questionnaire. You also comment on your own influencing and this is all collected and presented in a way that can be as detailed or as broad brush as you prefer. You are rated according to frequency of doing a particular behaviour so the feedback is easy to score and there is also space to provide comments if people want to elaborate or give some particular information.


Look at the results with someone

Its your call – when the feedback is in, you can look at the feedback and comments and do with it what you will but our suggestion is that you talk it through with a coach, mentor or colleague. This can help to see patterns and talk through any learning points that may catch you by surprise.


Comments are generous gems

Lightbulb moments are often presented in the comments section – these blank slates are spaces for people to offer their contributions and some interesting things can be prompted after looking at the set questions.


You are greater than the sum of the parts….

We love the 360 questionnaire and the insights it brings, but we do know that the feedback is a snapshot of your influencing. For this reason it is a juicy rich measure and one that should be looked at but not treated as the absolute truth.

Try our mini measurer and the results will be emailed to you!

Tension HR Headache? Let PDA bring you some Fierce© Relief

Such a good summit we are back again!

Let us bring you Fierce relief from those tension HR headaches at the HR Directors Summit this month! It’s a lively meeting of minds in the human resources world and is structured in such a way that you can work on your own issues as well as investigating current trends. Last year PDAs Co-Director, Sarah Vogel, led a Masterclass to a packed audience ( standing room only) and this year we have a stand so we can meet you all and spend some time finding out what you want to work on this year and what conversations you want to be having.

Improving results by having the conversations that matter


Where to find us

We are at Stand 40 at the ICC Birmingham, 22nd and 23rd January and you can find out more at

Highlights for the summit this year

  • Assessing the increasing strategic importance of HR as organisations move from recession proofing to future proofing by redesigning their structures, leadership and talent.
  • Best case practice for organisational transformation,  assessing value, competency and capacity in your company and communicating change to employees.
  • New methods of talent management for a diverse and increasingly globalised workforce.
  • Analysing the importance of leadership in promoting sustainable growth.
  • Discovering the winners of the HR Distinction Awards 2013.

Dates for your Spangly new calendar

The dates for the 2013 PDA workshops are below, the venues are yet to be confirmed and we will make sure the details are on the website as soon as we have booked them. We will no doubt be visiting our friends at The Studio, Birmingham and Manchester and if you have any suggestions for great venues across the UK then please do let me know!  

Fierce Conversations 2 day Workshop

March 19th/20th Birmingham

June 11th/12th Manchester

September 24th/25th London

December 3rd/4th Birmingham


Influencing Skills 2 day Workshop Venue TBC

May 1st/2nd

July 23rd/24th

Oct 16th/17th


You can book a place on


Being brave...appears in unlikely situations as Bromford Housing demonstrate

I was really struck by a blog I read today by John Wade at Bromford Housing ( you can read it here). In it he talks about the opportunity to be brave at a time when people could wallow in moaning about the changes that are taking place to social housing. I particularly like the way he acknowledges that not all new and creative plans will work - but some do, and that buys time to work on more new ideas.  

This indeed takes bravery and I recognise a big dollop of it in John  and his colleagues at Bromford. I am watching with admiration.


Trevor Howard tells us why he does like Mondays!

In my blog about leadership, I briefly spoke about having passion for your job and hiring passionate people. I was reminded once again this week about how important this is if you want to succeed. We have had a few resignations at our work place in the past few weeks and staff were once again confused as to why I wouldn’t be applying for a higher position, especially as it came with a better salary. The decision was a “no brainer” for me personally, as the role would involve a lot more hours dealing with machinery and maintenance issues and a lot less dealing with customers! Let me explain.  

On leaving school it was drummed into me to get a trade so I had a better chance of being employed and whilst I did well in the construction industry, I wish someone had told me to find a job in something I had a passion for instead! Over the years I have come to realise how much I love keeping fit and talking to people, so I am now in an ideal place in my current role as a Health & Fitness Coordinator / Trainer. One of the challenges I love is to find out what my customers are passionate about and yesterday I had another great experience with this. A customer that is known more for his surly appearance at the gym proved yet again how you can’t judge a book by the cover. In a conversation with him I managed to find out about him being a mature student as well as teaching in History and Politics. His passion for the subject was infectious and we ended up having a great conversation. Today he was all smiles when he attended the gym and I thanked him for his insights and the stimulating conversation. Guess we’ll be seeing a lot more of this side of him now. I certainly wouldn’t be getting this from working with pool pumps and air conditioning! I think I’ll forego the extra cash and carry on doing what I love.


When you work in a role of something you are passionate about you start to look forward to Mondays and the rest of the week instead of wishing away most of it waiting for Friday. As most people work 40 hours or more a week, surely you are not only short changing your employers but more importantly yourself. Life is too short to be wasting it waiting for the weekends. If we put so much effort into finding a partner to love, why don’t more of us do the same with our jobs?


Not sure what it is you have a passion for? Talk to the team at ContactPDA. Over the years they have helped others to find a new direction or rekindle the passion for their current role. Not only that, but the all the staff are all very passionate in their own jobs. Here’s to Monday mornings.


by Trevor Howard, Health and Fitness Coordinator at Bayswater Waves, Perth.

Swinging from trees? Yes please with Rachel Haslam from Team Academy

I have to admit I was sceptical when I found out the PDA away day was at an outward bounds centre and would involve team building and problem solving. I was under the false impression that I wasn't going to learn anything and wasn't going to enjoy it. How wrong I was! Rachels welcome was warm and engaging and very quickly I realised that our team was going to gain a great deal from the day which was crafted perfectly between thinking sessions and activities.  

The photos on our facebook page are evidence that we did indeed cover some scary and stretching physical challenges that we got most from working as a team, but I was surprised at how much learning I got from the day - and have continued to glean after the event.


Rachel, Babs and Jim are a skilled team of facilitators and I would recommend them whole heartedly for intact team development and individual leadership work.

You can find out more about them here


We are glad it's chips - McCain Case Study

McCain Foods is using PDA’s influencing skills programme to support the work it is doing internally with the ‘It’s all good’ campaign. The campaign covers both the way McCain produces food and the way it does its business. “We want to ensure that everyone who comes into contact with McCain, both internally and externally, has an ‘It’s all good’ experience,” says Helen Hudson, head of learning and development at McCain Foods (GB).  

Like many businesses, the family-owned food manufacturer with 1650 employees in Britain has a much flatter business structure than in the past. This means that instead of looking up to hierarchies and authority for direction, employees increasingly have to take responsibilities and influence others themselves.


Helen Hudson says: “We want to get people influencing to build and maintain relationships as many people now work across the business with colleagues in other areas who they don’t have authority over. We want to give people the skills to influence without authority.”


Positive Influence

“What we want is to give people skills to be accountable and responsible for all their activities: to have positive influence,” Helen explains.


Helen says its PDA’s emphasis on positive influence that ties in with McCain’s It’s all good ethos. “The environment PDA create helps raise people’s self awareness about how they impact others. People may think that they are influencing in a polite way, but it may in fact be in a negative way. Feedback is encouraged throughout the 2 days from all participants.”


Interactive and relevant

McCain is using PDA’s two-day workshops followed up by PDA’s one-to-one coaching sessions for its staff. Attendees also take part in a 360 degree feedback programme before the programme and six months later so that they can see what results they’ve achieved.

“We’ve had really, really positive feedback,” says Helen about the experience of McCain people who have taken PDA’s influencing programme. “The workshops are very interactive and the tools that people learn can be applied immediately in work.

“Helen also adds that the positive results are seen in the way people change how they approach issues at work. “People are saying that they are doing things differently since they’ve been on the PDA workshop which is helping them get better results.”


Some feedback from the delegates

‘I wouldn’t have made the changes if it hadn’t been for the course’

'It has gone well, I have been Direct and it worked – she was fine with it'

‘I have put the idea from the last group exercise into action and things are going to change as a result’

'It's been working quicker than I thought it would'

‘The metaphor has really helped’

‘I got the most out of [this course]’

'My manager said I am getting better at speaking up in team meetings'

‘[someone who was on the course with me] heard me on the phone and said I was using making requests and it sounded good’

‘I think this coaching session has been useful’

I am amazed how much it helped, instead of it being left on the desk it was dealt with straight away

‘I do think this is the only course I have been on where I have thought yes I can do this’