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. 

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.

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.”

"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.


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’

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.

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


‘There’s jobs out there Jim but not as we know them’ James Hick tells BBC Radio 4

There is an interesting snippet on BBC Radio 4 today from James Hick, UK managing director of ManpowerGroup Solutions. He tells us how positive the outlook is for employment and how companies of all kinds are searching for new talent in their pool. James describes this non-traditional workforce as much more part-time and self employed. It is a flexible resource that can be hired in smaller chunks. For individuals this means that we can chose our work life balance but we also need to pay attention to our own development and continually evaluate our career paths. For companies, it is even more important to have robust conversations with the staff we have, in order that we keep the best and brightest and recruit people who will improve results and work well for sometimes small snippets of time.

In James words ‘it is a puzzle’ – I would add that it is easier to solve with help!

You can hear James Hick on BBC Radio4 here

Trevor Howard’s 10 Top Tips for Leaders

Following a conversation over lunch with the inspirational Sarah Vogel whilst I was back in the UK on a recent visit, Sarah asked if I could pass on some of the lessons I have learnt over the years on managing staff. My Number 1 Rule of Management

 “You’re only as good as your team and its weakest member”

 2. Passion

This starts with you as leader, if the leader doesn’t have the passion for the job, you can be pretty sure that the team won’t either! If you don’t have the passion for the job, find a job that you do. Work is a whole lot easier when you are passionate about it. Only hire people with passion for the job, it’s easy to train staff how you want the job done but near impossible to train them to have a passion for it.

 3. Staff Come First:

Despite being a very customer service orientated industry, I believe staff come first. Sounds a bit controversial when everyone is telling you that the customer rules?  However for me, if your team is unhappy, how will they ever deliver the kind of customer service that you need to have a successful business?

4. Get Them Onboard:

Over the years I have tried many ways to manage groups and by far the most successful has been by ensuring that your team are involved in as many decision making elements of your business that you can. If they have input they are far more likely to take ownership and work to ensure that it is a success rather than just what they have been told to do. I personally cringe when I see management that still rule by fear!

5. Ownership

Probably the best piece of advice I have ever had, is to pretend the business you work in, is your business! Now I work for local government and there are so many policies to abide by, but I do my best to make sure the whole team try to act as if it was their gym. Our motto is “if you wouldn’t do it in your business, it’s not right for this one either”.

6. Goal Setting and the 1% rule

“You don’t need to reinvent the wheel”  so to encourage the team to make improvements I set them monthly challenges of improving a particular area and to see if they can make at least a 1% improvement. Invariably they achieve a lot more as they brain storm and try new ideas. You need to allow the team to make mistakes otherwise they will stop coming up with new ideas.

By doing this kind of exercise each month, they understand exactly what we are trying to achieve as it is measured and we achieve a lot more overall over the year as a result.

7. Team Strengths

Just like a sporting team, your staff will all bring different strengths to the team. We work hard to use people to their strengths and to get them to help the rest of the team who are weak in this area. Example, I have a staff member who is brilliant with computers. We get her to improve our systems and then organise training sessions with the rest of the team over a period time to bring them all up to speed. Just like a sports team, there is no point playing your team out of position every week! Also just like a team coach, some team members will need more direction or coaching whilst others just need support and encouragement. Your job is to identify this.

8. Lead by Example

I chuckle to myself when I see episodes of Undercover Boss at just how out of touch that some bosses can get. Granted I don’t run a big business but I do my best to make sure that I understand any of the issues that the team are experiencing, whether this is different shift patterns, problem customers or something as simple as cleaning the equipment. If your team know you are willing to do the task, they at least know that you experience the same problems and it’s a great way to stay in touch with your team and customers at the same time.

9. Bigger Picture

You often hear staff complaining that management are all idiots. This is often down to a lack of communication. I try to include the team in as many issues as possible as explained earlier. I also like to give each of them a chance to swap roles for a few days/hours where possible to give them a better insight and to share as much information with the team as possible. This gives them a better understanding of what we are trying to achieve. As mentioned earlier you also need to allow the team to make mistakes as part of the learning curve otherwise they will not want to challenge themselves.

10. Have Fun / Reward

Whenever you talk about rewards, the immediate thought is about monetary rewards. However this is often not possible, I find a good old fashioned Thank You can be just as effective. It’s very demoralising  for staff if all we do is find fault, so I prefer to catch them doing good things and praise them in front of everyone. I also use a selection of thank you, well done cards etc and those going beyond their role often get rewarded by being allowed to leave early or have a longer lunch break where possible. Usually by me doing their job for that period, but most importantly we try to have fun in jobs. A happy team is a productive team.


Trevor Howard is an expat Brit now working in Perth, Western Australia as a Health & Fitness Manager. He worked in the construction industry for 15yrs where he originally trained as a bricklayer before making his way into construction management. With sales and management experience also gained in the retail sector, he finally landed a dream role as Team Manager of Londons only professional Rugby League team in 1994 where he stayed for 10 years.  Following the birth of his daughter he moved to Perth where despite not knowing anyone he quickly rose through the ranks of sales once again to leading a team of over 40 staff in the Health & Fitness industry, winning the award of Best Gym in Western Australia in 2010. He often gives talks to students at Perth TAFE as well as being a member of the Fitness Australia Regional Commitee Team.

You can find out more at

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’

Are surveys useful or should you have the conversation instead?

Karen Meadows, Owner of Safety In Action, is looking at launching a new service for parents who are considering which pre-school nursery to send their children to and we have been talking about how best to find out whether the service is one that is in demand. We both think so but what is the most accurate and speedy way to find out?  

Karen is thinking of using Survey Monkey to put together a questionnaire that can be sent out to parents. Whilst an online version may be quick in terms of collating the results for Karen, it may be that going into places where groups of parents can be spoken to face to face would result in a more compelling conversation with Karen and she can find out much more about the types of things that affect the parents decision.


Its got me thinking about the value of the conversation...and does Karen need numbers and figures to give the new project the go ahead or juicy indepth content that will help shape the project? I would be interested to know if anyone else has used online surveys at the product development stage –and were they useful? Or do you think face to face conversations are the way to go?


You can find out more about Karen Meadows and Safety In Action here