All Change…

Some of you may remember in my last blog I mentioned how my son had done a complete u-turn by choosing not to go to university and getting himself a job instead. I was just about coming to terms with his change of mind when (the day before his course started) he decided that he actually did want to go! Somehow after a frenzied trip to IKEA and some crash packing we did manage to get him there (albeit on the Wednesday as opposed to the Monday of week 1) and 3 weeks later I am pleased to confirm he is still there! So, change can happen fast and as I repeatedly told him – there’s no such thing as a wrong choice – just a different outcome.

So this change of path got me thinking about how easy it was for him to just change his mind and would that be the same for me, or for anyone else, once we are firmly embedded to our careers. We hear all the time about people who have “Reinvented Lives” … I decided I wanted to speak to some of them. I didn’t really have to look too far. Our lovely Clare, who is now an integral part of the Change-Gear team has herself recently undertaken a huge change in her career journey. So I decided I’d see if she was happy to share her story.

Carrie:
Clare, firstly just to say how pleased we are to have you on board the Change-Gear team and what a great difference you have made already for us. Thank you also for agreeing to share your experiences with us in this blog. As you know it’s all about “Changing Gears into a different career”

Clare:
“I’m enjoying the opportunity to flex my skills and I’m really pleased to be making a difference.”

Carrie:
It would be great to hear a little bit about your background – where did you start?

Clare:
“I worked in a branding and design agency as an Account Director”

Carrie:
So what made you decide to do something different?

Clare:
“I started a family and wanted to be able to prioritise their needs – but I still wanted to be able to work, and keep a career going. I have three children under 7.
I have lots of experience working with a wide range of clients in a wide range of businesses – I realised that some of what I did within the agency could be done on a consultancy basis. And so I became a freelance branding and marketing consultant.”

Carrie:
And what gave you the confidence to actually make that change?

Clare:
“The skills I gained in dealing with clients and accounts gave me the confidence to sell my own abilities. I attend networking events as much as I can, and keep in touch with colleagues and clients – these interactions have been the key to keeping my confidence.
Plus, becoming a parent has given me a different kind of innate bravery!”

Carrie:
So now you’ve made the change, how are you feeling about it?

Clare:
“I love working on my own terms, and planning my own time. Seeing positive impacts from my work motivates and encourages me. Making great new contacts makes me feel connected and enthused.”

Carrie:
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Clare:
“Figuring out how to present my skills without limiting myself or pushing myself too hard – I’m still working on this! Making sure I have time away from work and family commitments is tough – I find yoga helps me to focus and rebalance.”

Carrie:
Looking back is there anything you would have done differently on your journey?

Clare:
“I wouldn’t do anything differently, I believe that each step of my journey has led me here for a good reason – and I have learned valuable lessons along the way.”

Carrie:
And is there any advice you’d give to anyone out there thinking about making a change at the moment?

Clare:
“I’m a big fan of change, it keeps me feeling inspired. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you! Don’t be afraid to draw on the expertise and connections of your contacts – friends, family, colleagues, networking – all these have supported and helped me immensely.”

So, I hope that Clare’s bravery and determination has inspired some of you to just get out there and do it! Big thanks to Clare for sharing this with us. We’d love to hear from anyone out there who’s made a change in their career and how that’s impacted upon them.

Hot Topic – Are we doing enough to support young people joining the workplace?

Our new “Hot Topic” posts look at what is currently trending either nationally and/or globally, allowing us to share with you our unique Change Gear point of view. In our first “Hot Topic” Carrie shares her thoughts about how employers can do more to support young people entering the workplace – a very real hot topic for everyone waiting for their A-Level and GCSE results to be unveiled!

As a mother, whose son is about to get his long awaited A Level results today, this question is certainly one that has catapulted to the front of my mind recently. Having been very clear that university was the way forward for him, a sudden last minute change of heart (high expectations and the thought of being saddled with a huge debt from university fees) had him announce that he was going to get a job instead.  I’m all about encouraging my children to make good decisions and choices and do what makes them happy but knowing the employment arena as I do, this new revelation has made me a tiny bit anxious on his behalf.

Recent research is suggesting that as much as 80% of young people finishing education feel they are not being taught the right skills before they leave to help them successfully find work.  So it’s no surprise that today over 900,000 people aged between 16-24 are unemployed in the UK.  The ratio of youth unemployment is far higher than adult unemployment and this gap does not seem to be decreasing.

Yet in order for organisations to future proof themselves against a back drop of an ageing workforce where knowledge transfer is critical they are going to have to start actively promoting the recruitment of young talent into the workplace.  There are so many positive reasons for businesses to employ young people; it’s certainly more cost effective to invest in your own young talent rather than buy in more expensive, skilled people later.  It also adds to workplace diversity – young people bring with them different perspectives, fresher ways of looking at things and usually their technical and digital knowledge far outweighs that of older generations.  It’s also a fantastic way to boost the PR of your business.

So how can your business help transition young people from education to work?  Here are Change-Gear’s 5 top tips to help you on your way:

  • Start to form relationships with your local schools and colleges to bridge the gap between your business and education. Careers offices are always keen to meet employers.  Offer to run workshops or taster sessions for them giving young people information and advice about what a career in your industry would be like. Share your stories and expertise with them.

 

  • The Apprenticeship Levy has forced many employers with an annual pay bill of over £3 million to think differently about hiring apprentices into their workforce. Faced with spending 0.5% of their total pay bill they are keen to make sure they use their £15,000 allowance each year by taking on apprentices into their businesses and providing on the job training and coaching using this allowance.  Whether the levy applies to your business or not, offering apprenticeship schemes is a great way of attracting young talent into your business.  Many bright students are opting for an apprenticeship programme as opposed to facing huge uni fees, so you are likely to get some great young recruits.

 

  • Provide high quality work experience opportunities giving young people the insight and skills they need to work in your industry. This can also be a great way to “try before you buy”.  Plan out the work experience so that the student really comes away with something useful and a good impression of your organisation.  Do remember you are as much on show as a business as they are!  Social media will make sure the message about how good or bad their experience was will spread wide and far!

 

  • Question whether you definitely need someone with previous “work experience”. We often make assumptions that taking on a young person straight from education will be a lot of hard work for us and time consuming “showing them the ropes”.  How many times have you hired someone who didn’t have enthusiasm and energy (even in their first few months) and you ended up spending far more time dealing with their lack of motivation and commitment?  Often young people are really keen to show what they can do and work exceptionally hard to prove themselves.

 

  • Consider whether the recruitment processes in your business actually are “youth friendly”. Think about your own interview questions and whether you adapt your interview style to bring out the best in them during the interview process.  This may well be a first interview for a first job – so make sure you are giving them the right environment to relax and be the best they can be.

 

So hopefully that’s given you some food for thought and if you’d like to learn more about how we help our clients with induction programmes for apprentices and graduates or some of the one to one work our coaches do with young people looking for work, please get in touch.  In the meantime, here’s wishing all the students getting their results tomorrow the best of luck.

Creatures of habit

 “We are what we repeatedly do” – Aristotle

A habit, good or bad, is something we do regularly without thinking much about it. It is an automatic behavioural activity which makes it possible for us to do many things, without expending too much mental effort. In other words, habits help us get through our day. Good habits create routine, order and efficiency and can free up our time to explore the larger experiences of life. Successful leaders often talk about the significance of the good habits they adopted early in their careers.

But as we all know not all our habits are good for us. Bad habits interrupt our lives and prevent us from accomplishing our goals. They can jeopardise our health, both mentally and physically. And can waste our time and energy.

So we resolve to change our bad habits. Sometimes we succeed but often we fail. Why? Simply put, habits are extremely hard to change.

How long does it actually take to change a habit?  You have probably heard about the 21 day theory which stems from the work of Plastic Surgeon Maxwell Maltz who claimed in the 1960’s best-seller “Psycho Cybernetics” that it took his amputees an average of 21 days to adjust to the loss of a limb and therefore this must be the same for all big changes in life.  A more recent study from Psychologist Phillippa Lally from UCL suggested it was taking her research subjects around 66 days to create unchanging automatic behaviour patterns.  How depressing!

It’s clear that there are a wide range of variables that determine how long it takes to break a habit and no simple remedy.  It really depends upon how much you want to break the habit with most people being relatively ambivalent about this.  You may want to lose weight but love eating or are desperate to stop biting your nails but it helps reduce your stress levels.  It’s also about how established the habit is: It is certainly easier to break a new habit than an old one.  And finally it’s about the impact of the consequences of not breaking the habit – will something really bad happen if you don’t?  Of course, some people have addictive or obsessive personality types that may make breaking a habit even harder to do.

So if you want to make a start at breaking a bad habit where do you start? New York Times Bestselling Author Gretchen Rubin says that there’s no “one size fits all” approach; we are all different and therefore different strategies will work for different people.  In her book “Better than Before” Gretchen suggests that to change our habits we need to first know ourselves.  In particular our “Tendencies” – how we respond to our expectations.  There are 4 tendencies and a short quiz to help us work out which one we are: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers or Rebels.  Once we understand our tendency it’s easier to work out a strategy for breaking our bad habits.

Once we know our tendency how do we actually work out a strategy?  Here are a few simple things for you to consider:

  • Understand the reason why you haven’t been able to break the habit before now. Once you establish the root cause of a problem it’s much easier to find a solution to it.
  • Start with habits you can’t say no to. Keep it simple.  If you can see progress it will keep you motivated to continue.  Doing one yoga class a week is better than none.  Build up from there.
  • Choose habits that reinforce each other and link together. So if you are like me and would like to go to bed earlier each night and find more free time to read, deciding to go to bed an hour earlier read a book or an article or a magazine in bed goes hand in hand. Simple!
  • Plan your new habit. Boring I know, but try to keep to a schedule and monitor your progress.  It’s all about managing your time effectively so find a way to monitor what matters.  There are all sorts of habit tracker apps you can use to help you with this – Strides, Goals on Track, LifeTick to name but a few.  Keep a journal if you prefer a good old fashioned paper and pen technique.
  • Develop a plan for if you fail or break your habit – we are all human and it’s ok to slip up once, but commit to not doing it twice.

In an attempt to keep my new habits on track I like to use a phrase I stole from a good friend of mine “Make the right choice” and sometimes I’ll turn this into a question “Is this the right choice?”.  Of course there are times when I’ll just answer myself “No, but who cares?” Nine times out of ten it is the right one!

We’d love to hear your ideas for breaking bad habits and reinforcing the good ones too …

 

 

 

 

 

Lend me your ear: The key to fantastic customer service

As an ex retail manager, there is nothing quite like poor customer service to get my froth in a knot!! And I am not alone in my frustration; a recent study reported that 76% of consumers say they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. The study also went on to say one-third of respondents report they would ‘rather clean a toilet’ than speak with customer service! (Aspect Experience Survey)

Now cleaning toilets is definitely not my favourite pastime but based on the 2 hours I recently spent on the line to a mobile phone insurance company trying to replace a broken phone, I can certainly agree with the study findings. So, sparing you all the boring details of the conversation, let me cut to the chase and relay to you the exact crime of the customer service “agent”. The biggest crime of all – NOT LISTENING!

While I was trying to explain the specifics of the problem the agent was clearly sticking to a script, one that involved him doing the talking and me doing the listening; getting me no closer to an acceptable solution. Let me share with you the exact details of the crime being perpetrated?

  • Allowing a pre-written script define the conversation
  • Shouting at me
  • Giving me back my problem and refusing to own it
  • Blatantly lying that there were no Managers available for me to speak with
  • Using the phrase “I will do it for you this time but this time only!”

But the final body blow was yet to come. After 2 hours of high adrenaline and stress, the customer service agent uttered those dreadful words – “and is there anything else that I can help you with today?”  Oh, the irony!! Now if he had been truly listening to me, he would have anticipated that those words were likely to be red rag to a bull and resisted saying them, even if the script stated that was the way to end the call.

Great customer service is not always easy but there are some key things that clients want and are simple to achieve.

Warm and friendly responses – When customers make contact with you face to face or over the telephone, they want a warm response. It can still be businesslike but you and your people need to look and sound – friendly and likeable.

They want to feel important – They know that you have lots of other customers and clients but they don’t want to feel they are just a number in the call waiting queue.

Flexibility – Customers hate to hear the word “No” or “it can’t be done.” It’s not always possible to say, “Yes” to a customer or do exactly what they want; however, it is important to be as flexible as you can. Tell customers what you can do – not what you can’t.

Recovery – When things go wrong, customers want you to solve their problems quickly. They don’t want to hear excuses or who’s to blame or why it happened, they want options and solutions and most of all they want the problem fixed fast.

Structure not script – Customers expect that you will guide the conversation but if you only use the script you will come across as insincere and not wanting to solve the problem which can heighten the customer’s emotional response.

They want to be properly listened to! – Customers repeatedly report this as their pet peeve! If you are on the phone or face to face ensure you let customers explain fully without interrupting, listen to their tone as well as their words; are they frustrated, angry, want a quick solution? Angry customers often calm down if you acknowledge how they are feeling but remember, be genuine and sincere when you do, or you will sound as though you are back on that script again.

At Change Gear we deliver bespoke Customer Service training programmes but central to all our programmes is PACE – a method of ensuring good listening.

PAUSE – Allow the customer to talk without interruption

ACKNOWLEDGE – Both the problem and how the customer is feeling

CLARIFY – Ask questions to fully understand the issue

EVALUATE – Explore potential options with the client and finally respond with what you can do

PACE yourself, the customer and the conversation and you will achieve great and satisfying results that will build the reputation of your company, generate repeat business and create  a sense of loyalty that ensures your customers return time and time again.

For all of us in the customer service arena – let’s give our customers a great experience, so they prefer talk to us rather than cleaning the toilet!!

To find out more about our bespoke Customer Service programmes, please contact us at Karen@change-gear.com we are always around to lend you our ear!

Living in a “material whirl”

As working Mums, both Carrie and I have always needed to balance the demands of running a business with those of nurturing and supporting our children, along with the other many varied roles we play – wife, sister, daughter, friend, etc. For both of us our children are entering the final phase of their secondary education and quite frankly we are starting to breath a collective sigh of relief!!! And as we reflect on how we have coped with the various calls on our time, we started to think about the advice we would give to new working Mums taking on this juggling act for the first time. Balancing the demands of professional life and being a parent is never easy; getting it right in the office or the boardroom whilst making sure you see your child perform in the school play, sports matches, rustle up costumes for Book Day, Greek Day or whatever day school is celebrating that week and ensuring your child has a nutritionally packed lunch every day!!

This week we had the pleasure to meet with Nicola Greenbrook who as well as being a Senior HR Manager at Breast Cancer Care is also Mum to 11 month old Evan. Not only will she juggle these two roles (she is currently just finishing maternity leave) she is also author of Material Whirl blog and music journalist for publications including RockShot.  We were blown away by how much she manages to pack into her week and Nicola has very kindly allowed us to share a guest post she recently wrote for online lifestyle and culture magazine, The Early Hour

In the post Nicola discusses her new role as a mother, how she combines it with her career and why she’s determined to make the two work in unison – and you can read the article here.

 We wish Nicola lots of luck as she prepares to go back to work at Breast Cancer Care; from our experience it’s not always easy being a working Mum but it is very rewarding. Doing the best job in the world – being a parent, while having a career you love. What more could you want – well nothing perhaps but a little more sleep!!!

If you are struggling with achieving the right work/life balance then please get in touch with us at hello@change-gear.com for a chat about how one of our coaching programmes could help you.

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