The National Learning Institute

Bob’s Blog Category

My view of the universe…


A new word – Pronoia!

May 1, 2015 No Comments

A short post this week – - I was reading a newsletter from Dan Ariely and came across this wonderful new word – Pronoia. Here is what Dan says about pronoia. What do you think?

“If I had to pick a mind-set to pursue, it would be pronoia—a state that is the opposite of paranoia. As I recently learned from Wharton professor Adam Grant, pronoia is the delusional belief that other people are plotting our well-being or saying nice things about us behind our backs. Now there is a wonderful way to experience life.”

It’s all about your frame of mind.

Listed by Babette E. Bensoussan
Executive Coach, Competitive Intelligence Expert, Author, Entrepreneur, Director, Adjunct Professor

Leadership strategies for women

Leadership Strategies for Women: Lessons from Four Queens on Leadership and Development

February 14, 2014 No Comments

Paul Vanderbroeck, a historian, former HR Executive and Leadership Coach has written a fascinating book on leadership; to be more specific, on leadership strategies for women.  See my review at

Negative leaders

Negative impact of powerful leaders

February 6, 2014 No Comments

This just in from my good colleague Alastair Rylatt of Smarter Better Business.

Management research indicates that leaders who verbally dominate a team can reduce levels of communication and standards of performance. Specific findings include:

  1. High levels of formal authority invested in a team leader can contribute to autocratic tendencies which can dominate social interactions and reduce team performance.
  2. When team members were reminded that they have the potential to contribute to team success, adverse impacts of power were less dominant.
  3. The greater the awareness a leader has of their perceived power, there is an increase in  likelihood that they will demonstrate behaviours that assist team contribution and participation.

Reference: Plunkett Toss, L., Gino, F. & Larrick, R. 2013, ‘When power makes others speechless: The negative impact of leadership power on team performance’, Academy of Management Journal, vol. 56, no. 5, pp. 1465-1486.

Office grumbler

Taming the toxic office grumbler

January 28, 2014 No Comments

Some interesting points here on how to manage the office grumbler ….

Read Article

Feedback phrase

Feedback – why is this such a dirty word?

December 25, 2013 No Comments

“Let me share some feedback with you . . . “

Talking with a colleague recently, she was bemoaning the fact that whenever her boss said “Let me share some feedback with you” the resulting “feedback” was always negative or bad news.  This got me thinking about the word “feedback” and others such as “excellent”, “awesome” and indeed “share” and why these words have lost their original meaning and taken on a new one.  They’ve also probably lost much of the impact they used to have before they became a popular word in our day-to-day business lexicon.

As Brian Evje recently pointed out recently in 6 Ways to Talk like a Leader  “When too much is described as ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’, ‘unbelievable’, ‘epic’, or ‘incredible’, very little actually is.  Overused superlatives wash out true meaning.”

When “awesome” becomes the norm instead of a response to something that’s truly awe-inspiring (Were you really awe-struck by that or was it just really good?) or when “brilliant” is used even on performances that, while above average, still are not blinding in their effect, we minimize the impact of an appropriate use of superlatives. We dilute their effect.
Not only do they wash out true meaning, unfortunately they often have a negative or less positive impact on the receiver than was intended.

Unfortunately “feedback” has become synonymous with “negative comments” to the point when a manager says “Let me give you some feedback”, the immediate thought that comes to the employees mind is “Oh no, what have I done wrong now?”.

And yet we all need and crave feedback.  So how does a manager provide both positive and negative feedback to encourage rather than discourage an upward motivational shift with his/her employees?

Use of the best or most appropriate words and phrases is the best place to start.  For example, the most important word to avoid is “feedback”.  One way of replacing this is to use a phrase that can make feedback 40% more effective.

Bullied at work

Are you being bullied into cheating at work?

November 8, 2013 No Comments

According to Bernard Marr, many employees are being bullied into cheating in regards to their KPIs or performance measures.

Setting irrelevant or inappropriate performance measures has long been a bug bear of mine. Unfortunately, many KPIs are written by someone outside of the area (sometimes HR) to meet organisational objectives that have been forced on them. and so have little meaning for the employee. Worse, as you intimate, because they have such little relevance to real achievements (outputs) many employees and managers start working on how they can fudge the figures rather than measuring their own achievements meaningfully.

As a management trainer, I have managers use the following approach to setting and agreeing performance standards with their people:

The idea is to take a standard PD, turn it into outputs that have to be achieved, then add performance measures – a simple process and very effective. Once these outputs and performance measures have been set in discussion and agreed with each employee, it’s far easier to track performance against the agreed standards and take any necessary corrective action if the standards are not being met. The key here is that the performance measures are set by asking the employee questions such as “When you are achieving the outputs agreed for your position, how will you know? What will you see? What will others see? What will I see? How will you measure your success?”(The criteria the employee must set these measures with are quality, quantity, time and/or cost).

Such an approach creates real ownership of both the outputs that are to be achieved (set by the organisation) and the measures of success (set and agreed by the manager and employee consultatively).

I also have a similar approach to following up on these measures during performance reviews.

All in all, I’ve found that over the last 30 years, managers and organisations who take such an approach have better results, higher productivity and more motivated employees.

Out to lunch

Out to lunch – skipping lunch puts your mental health at risk

November 7, 2013 No Comments

This just in from my colleague Alastair Rylatt. Having worked in an organisation (and culture) where it was insisted that employees take a lunch break, I saw first hand the positive impact a healthy lunch break can have on one’s productivity – it seems from the following that it can also have an impact on one’s mental health.

Skipping your lunch puts your mental health at risk!

Beyond Blue estimates that 3.8 million Australian workers are putting their mental health at risk by not taking their lunch break. Of those who say they do make time for a proper lunch break, 72% said they either cut it short, postpone it until mid-afternoon, or simply eat at their desks.

CEO Kate Carnell says it is time to reclaim the lunch break. “We know from the research that it’s really important to have regular breaks during the day, to get up, to move around.” “If you don’t both your physical and your mental health suffers and interestingly so does your productivity.”

Reference: Australian Broadcasting Commission, News, Friday the 25th of October, 13.33pm.

Recruitment process

Hiring a new employee – the most important decision you’ll ever make as a manager

June 17, 2013 No Comments

There have been a number of articles recently on this topic, with some good suggestions for improving the selection process.  The most recent “Is This the Perfect Way to Hire?” by Jeff Haden suggests having the candidate do some work prior to the interview.  I too have found this to be invaluable.

Haden suggests asking the candidate to prepare answers to the following three “behavioural” questions prior to the interview:

  • What do you know about our business and industry?
  • How did you come to learn that what we do is important to our clients?
  • What is your favourite aspect of our business, and why?

Whilst this is an excellent approach, the questions are definitely not behavioural.  At best they will provide an indication of the applicant’s research skills (and keenness for the job), but they will not tell you whether the person can do the job.  Here are three behavioural questions actually used by a pharmaceutical production manager who was hiring a new chemist:

  1. Solving problems requires more than good plans, it means taking action.  Please give an example of a time when you were able to take meaningful action in solving a practical problem.  Describe the problem and what you did to solve it.
  2. What has been your experience in giving explanations or instructions to another person – for example training, delegating, relaying information etc.   Please describe how you have explained one of these to another person.  Write out the actual words you used.
  3. Given the nature of science, things don’t always work out or pass as expected.  Give an example of a time when your results were out of specification.  What did you do?  What was the outcome?

This production manager had three critical job criteria:

  1. The ability to problem solve
  2. The ability to provide clear direction to supports
  3. The ability to take appropriate corrective action when product is out of specification

Can you see the difference between these three questions and those  asked by Haden?

The candidates were asked to submit their answers (10 lines or less per question) prior to the interview.  From an initial field of 12 candidates who responded, the manager found three that met her criteria precisely.  She then interviewed three outstanding candidates.

Because recruitment is the most critical managerial decision you will make, it is well worth your time taking the time to adopt this approach.  It’s also in the potential employee’s best interest as he or she will know that they really do have a manager worth working for.



What To Do When You become The Boss

“What To Do When You become The Boss”- revised edition!

May 17, 2013 No Comments

“What To Do When You Become The Boss” is about to come out in a revised edition.  The book has now sold over 40,000 copies worldwide and been published in Australia, UK, India, China and North America, so I’m quite excited.

A big “Thank You” to all those who have bought and are using a copy.

In response to many emails from readers, I’ve added three new chapters to this edition:

  • How to manage the Social Media
  • How to manage Change
  • Remote and Virtual Teams

It’s expected to be ready for publication in Australia by the end of May and other countries shortly after that.

If you’d like more information, please email me at


Common ground

How to reach agreement when there appears to be no common ground

April 16, 2013 1 Comment

I recently spoke with someone who was having difficulty handling people who had opposing and seemingly entrenched views.  She had to help them reach agreement where there seemed to be none.

People often suggest, “Find some common ground, before discussing the differences”.  True, this is good advice, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

My tip for handling opposing viewpoints is to first focus on the process of the communication rather than the content.

For example some years ago I was faced with one of the most challenging conflict situations I’d ever encountered.  My client had asked me to get about 40 disparate people to agree on the development of a policy (for the emerging industry sector they were managing) within one day.  The object was to agree a new policy for the development of grain fed beef in Australia and I had all of the stakeholders in the one room – farmers, wholesalers, retailers, government agencies, the minister, animal welfare groups, etc. etc. – they all had a different viewpoint.

My strategy was to:

  • split them up into 8 tables of 5 people      (comprising mixed stakeholders)
  • spend the first hour developing a set of      ground rules on how we would run the day
  • each table had to come up with their      suggestions, then I ran a plenary to draw up the final list

What was happening with the process was:

  • firstly the focus was on process (ground rules)      not content (the new policy) for the first hour
  • secondly, each table of disparate stakeholders      had to work together to achieve a result – they actually built some new      relationships and developed rapport where previously there was only      antagonism and suspicion – they actually got to know one another better
  • thirdly, the whole room could see that by      being co-operative and working together, they could achieve a result

Needless to say, we got a result at the end of the day.  We had the agreement on the new policy.

This focus on process can work equally well when you only have two or three people – just needs a little bit of creativity (and pre-planning until one becomes comfortable with it).  I’ve used this in so many different situations and contexts all over the world and it works.