Behaviour and Bella

Bella, our six month old Golden Retriever, is always learning. Anything we do (or don’t do) tells her something and she learns from it – for better or worse.

Raising and training a puppy has, for us, involved lots of reading and watching videos in an effort to “get it right”. I’ve come to believe that a lot of it comes down to the particular disposition and personality of the dog you choose. However, we certainly have learned some key lessons that seem to make the biggest difference. The core of our approach comes from the teachings of Cesar Milan.

Here they are:

  1. Your own tone and energy is important. Be self aware and manage your emotional state. Exit a difficult situation, when you feel frustrated.
  2. A tired dog is a good dog! Find ways for her to get lots of exercise everyday and she will be happy, healthy, and well behaved. She will tend to get into mischief when she is anxious from pent up energy. This can commonly manifest itself as chewing, barking, or digging. Swimming and wrestling will burn more energy than walking, however, dogs are hardwired, based on their genetics, to walk in a pack everyday – so make sure you do this. And make sure you are leading on the walk or your dog will take the lead, resulting in her having anxiety associated with being the leader of the pack.
  3. Redirect from undesirable behaviour, such as chewing a shoe or hand, to a toy or chew rope.
  4. When she bites your hand, even just a bit, say “ow!” and pull your hand away. This is what her litter mates did to tell her she was playing too aggressively. If it happens a second time, turn your back and even consider leaving the room to ignore her, thus letting her know that rough play means play time is over.
  5. Reinforce desired behaviours. Use treats and praise for good deeds. Even when she does them on her own – for example, when she automatically sits at the curb, before crossing the street on a walk.
  6. Be the alpha. Go through doors first.
  7. Be the hand that feeds – and takes away. Practice taking food and toys away, while she is eating or playing. Then return the food or toy, so she associates the removal as something temporary and thus not something she needs to get anxious about.
  8. Use lures, not force of pushing or pulling. Present opportunities for her to make choices, but stack the deck, so the chances of her making the “correct” choice are better.

I’ve found that I have a much more attuned sensitivity to behavioural cues and responses, as a result of paying attention to our interactions with Bella. It’s also made me aware of the challenge of always “being on” and making sure we are following the rules ourselves – never mind Bella following the rules.

Consistency is so important. Consistency is critical. Consistency means making sure these rules become habits – just as much for us, as for Bella.

HR Metrics: From Data to Results

Today I had a really nice lunch with a friend who is a Director of Human Resources.  We ate at Mahoney & Sons, right down by the water at the edge of Coal Harbour.  It’s a sunny day today; perfect for enjoying lunch on a patio with views of Stanley Park and the north shore mountains.

Among the many things we talked about, we discussed some of the merits and pitfalls of “HR metrics”.  For the benefit of those readers outside of HR, HR metrics are often toted as the means by which to show the relevance and legitimacy of the HR function.

As a bit of background, HR continues to languish in this struggle to achieve the status it aspires to, among other areas of the organizations of which the functional group is a part.  Common complaints include:

  • HR’s lack of understanding of “the business”
  • A focus on transactional administration, rather than providing strategic leadership and advice to the business
  • A reactive, rather than proactive stance
  • An inability to communicate how what HR’s costs do to drive top line and/or bottom line financial performance

A popular article on this topic can be found on the Fast Company website: Why We Hate HR.

So, during the conversation with my friend she shared some stories of her experiences implementing HR metrics when she first assumed her role as the leader of the HR function.  As the Director of HR, she reports into the Chief Operating Officer and wanted to demonstrate her team’s ability to be a value adding partner to the organization.  A truly great idea!

However, she quickly realized that while the metrics she was able to capture and report were interesting, there was very little that could be done by HR to impact these measures.  This brought me to share my thoughts on the trajectory from data to results with her – and I thought I would take a moment to share them with you here as well.

Here’s how I see it…

1.  You start with DATA

This is the raw material you are working from.  You need to consider what data to capture, why this data matters and what it might tell you, who and how it will be captured, stored, and kept clean.  This could be qualitative or quantitative, however, the goal is typically to have quantitative HR metrics.

2.  You then analyze the data to arrive at INFORMATION

By looking for trends and patterns, doing statistical analysis, and comparing to other data sets you can start to arrive at new insights.

3.  You can use this information to make different DECISIONS

In most cases managers are looking for information that will allow them to make better decisions.  Or a cynic might suggest, managers are just looking for information that will justify the decisions they’ve already made.  Either way there is an opportunity for the data to tell a story when it becomes information – a story that can (1) increase the effectiveness of a decision or (2) decrease the effectiveness of a decision.

4.  Your decisions are sometimes followed by ACTION

Robert Kegan, Harvard Professor and author of Immunity to Change was in Vancouver recently to speak at a BC Organization Development Network event.  He started his talk, which you can see here (Video: An Evening with Robert Kegan and Immunity to Change), with a question: “If 14 frogs are sitting on a log and 3 decide to jump off, how many are left?”  Dr. Kegan encouraged us to resist the temptation to respond, “11!”  His point being that there is a big difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it.

In an organizational setting this is extremely common.  This issue is often labeled as an “inability to execute strategy” or a “failure to implement change”.

5.  Your actions will lead to RESULTS

Your actions will definitely lead to some kind of results.  Let’s hope they’re the kind of results you were hoping for!  When they’re not, we kindly call them “unintended consequences”, but really the outcomes may be disastrous in some cases – many executives have lost their jobs based on the results achieved being different than the results desired.

Linking this back to the topic of HR metrics specifically… if you are gathering HR data (e.g., turnover ratios, absenteeism rates) you should be aiming to be able to do two main things:

(1) move the needle on the HR results – to influence them in the desired direction

(2) demonstrate the link between moving the needle on these HR results and moving the needle on business results (e.g., revenue, profit) in the desired direction

How do you see it?


Eat That Frog! Increase Productivity and Decrease Stress

I’ve learned a great deal from Brian Tracy over the years.  One thing in particular stands out from all the others.

This “thing” – call it a concept, an idea, a technique, a metaphor, a suggestion – has been huge in helping me increase my productivity, while also reducing my stress.  Sound pretty good?  It is!

Tracy has developed and popularized the idea of eating frogs for breakfast.  Not the frog’s legs that they supposedly eat in France, but a metaphorical frog.

What he proposes is that we all have things on our ‘to do’ lists that cause us anxiety until they are completed.  These are often important tasks that will create positive results for us, but we delay taking action, because there is something that holds us back.

In this short video, you can learn not only why we struggle to “get stuff done”, but also what you can do to improve your productivity and reduce your stress:  Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy (video).

With respect to the anxiety we experience when we have a frog that we haven’t eaten, I believe that the source of the anxiety stems from two things: (1) having an unmet commitment to ourselves or others and (2) fear about the anticipated pain associated with the impact of not yet having completed the task.

For example, if you said you would send a client or boss a report by a certain date and time and now that time has passed, you will likely experience anxiety.  (1) You will have an unmet commitment, since you have said you would do something and then didn’t.  (2) You will worry about having a difficult conversation with your client or boss, who may be upset or at least less trusting of your integrity and reliability.

I would suggest that the benefits of alleviating (or at least reducing) this kind of anxiety and tension from your daily life is equal to, if not greater, than the benefits of “getting your stuff done.”

For me, my frogs are often things like writing a client a proposal, dealing with a complicated email question from a student, or writing a reference letter for someone.

Breaking it down into smaller more (psychologically) manageable chunks certainly helps.  What can also help is gathering archived information, so I realize that I’m not starting from a blank canvas (e.g., past proposals, emails, and reference letters).

My wife and I now commonly use the phrase “I’m working on a big frog right now” to let the other know we are proud to be making progress on completing something that we, for whatever reasons, felt a great deal of resistance to doing.  This also lets the other know that we would like some time and space to be able to focus on the task at hand to make sure it gets completed.

At the office, I keep a picture of Kermit the Frog on my bulletin board as a constant reminder to reflect on the question, “what are my frogs that I’m currently avoiding?”

It’s easy to busy yourself with an inbox full of emails, attend unnecessary meetings, and to be drawn towards tacking all the easy things on your ‘to do’ list (assuming you’ve even taken the time to make one).  However, you only arrive at the end of the day never having really done the one or two things that would have made the day feel like a success.  Made it feel productive.  Made you feel more relaxed and less stressed.

Also, once you’ve eaten your frog, you’ll feel way more energy and enthusiasm for all the other things you do throughout the rest of the day.  They’ll feel easy!  You’ll feel light!


What’s your biggest frog right now?

Why is it important for you to eat this frog?

How will you feel once you’ve eaten this frog?

What are you tempted to do instead of eating this frog?

What will you chose to do?

Great!  Now get to it!  Here’s a napkin, for when you’re done…



Don’t Sell. Help Buy.

What’s the most recent thing you bought? Was it a coffee? A TV? A song from iTunes?

How about the most recent thing you were sold? Or at least that someone tried to sell you…

Due to the fact that the result often looks similar, in that money changes hands in exchange for a product or service, we often fail to distinguish between the two – buying and being sold. However, as you answered each of the original questions, you could probably feel your mind searching for different examples when thinking of your most recent buying experience versus your most experience of being sold. If you are like most people, you enjoy “buying” and hate “being sold”.

Not surprisingly, higher ticket items such as houses and cars are often the purchases we make where we encounter the feeling of “being sold”. Here the stakes are higher. There is more money to be made – and the person you are dealing with likely faces a positive financial incentive if you buy from them right now (a commission or bonus) and punishment if you don’t (being the bottom salesperson for the month – and if sustained, perhaps even losing their job). They are motivated by both the carrot and the stick. In some situations, there is a lot of pressure placed on salespeople to “sell” and they often pass this pressure on to you.

We’re all familiar with the high pressure sales tactics that leave us feeling gross. We rush home and have a shower, hoping that the icky feeling will be washed away. In these situations, we know the intent of the salesperson is focused on their own self interest – not helping us make a wise purchasing decision for ourselves. What’s a sleazy sales experience that still sticks in your memory?

Have you ever visited an Apple store? Did you notice what the employees did? They definitely didn’t use high pressure sales tactics, such as asking, “If we find the right computer for you that meets all the criteria you have just told me are important to you, is there any reason you will not be able to buy this computer from me today?” Depending on what you were looking for you may have found the employees busied themselves by asking you questions, listening to what you said, and sharing relevant information with you.  I’ll admit, I’m often in an Apple store just to caress the latest sleek device they have on display and I’ve never felt as though I was “being sold” – but I sure felt like I wanted to buy!

Which approach works better for you, as a customer? Where would you rather shop? Where would you prefer to come back to again and again? So why would you do anything differently when you’re on the other side of the counter?

A lesson in this for all of us, whether we are preparing for a job interview, pitching an idea at work, or “selling” a used Toyota, is to avoid selling to people, and instead to remember to help people make good buying decisions.

The path to doing this? In my opinion: ask great questions, sincerely listen for what matters most, and provide relevant information.

Focus on Impact not Intent

“You make ugly, look beautiful.”  If someone said this about you, how would you feel?

In my experience, about 50% of people perceive this as a positive statement and the other 50% as a negative statement.  Which way did I intend for it to impact you?  Great question!  However, does it really matter what I intended?  Isn’t the impact it had on you more important than what I meant?

Impact is about your reality.  Intent is about mine.

Have you noticed that when the stakes are higher, you tend to focus on the expected impact more than you normally would?  For example, a friend of mine works in a law firm, where the Partners (the owners of the company) range from friendly to fear-provoking.

When writing an email to a Partner who he knows is more likely to misinterpret something – and especially if the Partner is likely respond in a way that is intimidating and humiliating – my friend will spend up to 4 hours writing a 15 minute email.  Have you done this too?

Now, clearly taking 16 times longer to write an email than necessary isn’t very efficient.  And certainly managing through fear isn’t a form of leadership that many of us would condone.  However, what this story shows us is that we are capable of demonstrating more empathy in our communication than we typically do.  By this, I mean we are able to appreciate the other person’s perspective and anticipate their reaction to our message, based on how we predict they will interpret what we say – or write, in this case.

My wife, who is a Clinical Counsellor, would call this “predictive empathy”.  By this she means, anticipating how the other person will feel when they read or hear your message.  Often, we overlook this aspect of communication, which leads to unexpected (or “unanticipated”) reactions from those that we are communicating with.

Whenever we communicate, we are hoping to influence someone’s thoughts, feelings, or actions.  Or at least, we should be in order to be more effective communicators.  If that truly is the case, then the impact we have on someone else’s thinking, feeling, and acting should be our priority.

I believe that any of us are capable of developing the habits and associated skills required to more often and more quickly communicate with impact.  I work at this every single day!  And still have a long way to go…

My challenge to you is to spend the next 24 hours catching yourself whenever you notice you are talking or writing without being clear on who you are trying to influence and how you specifically would like to change their attitudes, emotions, or behaviours.  Once you do this, you will be blown away by just how often you speak without consciously knowing your purpose.

Have I practiced what I’ve preached?  Have I inspired you to take action?


Becoming a Better Presenter

Have you ever thought, “Wow, this presenter is good!  And they sure seem confident!”  I’ve found that good presenters possess and constantly focus on increasing both their competence and confidence as a public speaker.

In my experience, every person I have seen become a better presenter has achieved improvement by becoming more competent  and confident.  Allow me to explain what I mean…

Competence – competence is about having the skills to present well.  These are commonly taught as “presentation skills”.

Confidence – confidence is about dealing with the emotional side of presenting.  In particular, the fear related to what people will think about you, how they will feel towards you, and how they will act – including even  what they might say or do during your presentation.

Not surprisingly, these two concepts are mutually reinforcing.  The more skills you have, the less fear you have.  The more confident you are, the more you can demonstrate your skills.

“So, how do I use this to actually become a better presenter?”  By following these 3 simple steps:

  1. First, you have to have a reason (a “why”) for being a great presenter.
    • What can you achieve that you couldn’t otherwise?  Who could you influence to take action?  Why does this matter to you?  How would your self-concept change if you were an amazing presenter?
  2. Second, name your fears.
    • What are you afraid of?  Explore the worst case scenario.  Explore the best case scenario.  In order to practice, practice, practice, make a list of opportunities you have to present.  Rank these opportunities as high to low risk. Start with presenting in as many low risk situations as you can and build on your success from there.
  3. Third, audit your strengths and areas of opportunity as a presenter.
    • Get feedback and input from friends, colleagues, fellow volunteers, your coach, or someone else you trust who has seen you present.  Consider who are the best presenters you have ever seen and make a list of their names.  Note what makes them great.  The combination of these behaviours are your “success profile”.  Develop personalized learning objectives based on the gap between your current abilities and what you would like to be capable of as a presenter.  Now, figure out where and how will you learn these things.  Most importantly, prioritize your learning objectives (focus!) and take action (execute!).

Never forget to celebrate your successes.  Without noticing and acknowledging your progress, even the smallest degree of progress, it will be difficult to maintain momentum.  Finally, realize that it’s a journey – seek to continuously and never endingly improve your competence and confidence and without fail, you will become a better presenter.


Success Stories

“The initial purpose of my work with Adam Cotterall was to address my fear of public speaking – after my work with him, I realize I attained much more.  Adam has a uniquely thoughtful and sensitive approach to his coaching work.  Anyone lucky enough to work with him will appreciate the time he spends to get an overall sense of a person’s individual background, circumstances and larger picture goals.  This allows his “coachees” to be armed not only with the specific tools necessary to quickly attain tangible results, but also a sense of the barriers that may have existed in the past.  Working with Adam, I felt at ease and within the safety of an environment where I could push past my comfort zone – within that context, I was able to make progress with respect to practicing and improving my public speaking.

I am happy to report that I have quickly met some of my initial goals.  Perhaps more noteworthy, however, is after my work with Adam, I have a renewed sense of confidence about my abilities, and have revamped my goals around communication and speaking to include milestones that I never would have considered prior.  I am grateful that Adam has gotten me excited about my personal potential and the possibilities that abound when we are able to conquer our fears and focus on our abilities.”

– Human Resources Manager, National Law Firm