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 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 for a chat about how one of our coaching programmes could help you.


Gender Pay Gap Reporting: Time To Prepare!

As promised in last week’s post, here is a blog from our employment law partner Sally Nesbitt of Moorcrofts, who shares the key concepts of the draft Gender Pay Gap Regulations.

From 6 April 2017 all private sector employers who employ 250 or more employees will be legally obliged to publish an annual report setting out the ‘Gender Pay Gap’ within their business.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the draft regulations which set out employers’ reporting obligations are extremely detailed and complex and it is clear that employers are going to have to plan ahead in order to gather all of the relevant statistics and publish them in time.

There are six statistics which employers will have to publish in their report for each reporting year:

Mean gender pay gap.

  1. Median gender pay gap.
  2. Mean bonus gender pay gap.
  3. Median bonus gender pay gap.
  4. Proportions of male and female employees who received a bonus.
  5. Proportions of male and female employees in each of four pay quartiles.

The information required in order to calculate these statistics is unlikely to be available at the touch of a button on existing payroll systems and employers are going to have to spend some considerable time extracting the details which they need before they can even begin to carry out the relevant calculations.  To add to the complexity, it is possible that casual workers and some self-employed consultants could count as ‘employees’ for the purposes of these calculations and employers who have staff engaged on a variety of working patterns, perhaps  part-time or irregular hours, will have additional work to do in order to produce the statistics required.

The first reports must be published by 4 April 2018 and subsequent reports must them be produced on an annual basis.

To help employers navigate their way through the calculations which they need to complete, we have produced this detailed Employer’s Guide.

For further information, please contact Matt Jenkin on 01628  470011 or or Sally Nesbitt on 01628 470014 or


Many thanks to Sally and the team at Moorcrofts for sharing this blog and accompanying Employer’s Guide.


This Wednesday 8th March is International Women’s Day; an event that has been around since the early 1900’s, with an original aim of achieving full gender equality around the world whilst celebrating women’s achievements, from the political to the social.  Today its aims are no different – to have a more inclusive, gender-equal world.

Much progress has been made to protect and promote women’s rights in recent times, however, according to the UN, nowhere in the world can women claim to have all the same rights and opportunities as men.

So what are some of the hard facts?

  • On average, women around the world receive between 30-40% less pay than men earn for the same work
  • Only half of the world’s working-age women are in employment, compared to 77% of working-age men
  • Around the world, only 22% of all national parliamentarians are female. And although that is double the number from 1995, it is still a marker of slow change
  • Only 30% of the world’s researchers are women.
  • In nearly every country, women work longer hours than men and are paid less
  • Approximately 60 million girls are denied an education all over the world
  • On average 15 million girls under 18 are married with little or no say in the matter
  • 4 out of 5 victims of human trafficking are girls
  • Women around the world aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria

The work of International Women’s Day has set a theme of “Women in the Changing World of Work – Planet 50:50 by 2030”.  So what can you do in your workplace to help us move towards this goal?   Here are four basic measures you can take to help drive equality in your workplace today:

  1. Equal work means equal pay:

Establish a policy that ensures both male and female staff are paid equally for the same role, and they are given the same opportunities in terms of recruitment and promotion.

  1. Get familiar with anti-discrimination laws:

As an employer, you should have a thorough understanding of the laws in place to prevent discrimination in the workplace, for example equal pay, harassment, victimisation and direct discrimination based on sex.  Make sure you have a strict policy against sexual harassment with clear guidelines on what this involves.

  1. Select for roles based on ability, not gender:

It’s a common perception that women are generally better suited to support type roles, whereas men will excel in leadership positions; however it is these stereotypes that form the basis of gender discrimination at work.  Make sure the hiring and allocation of work is conducted on the basis of an individual’s abilities and character, regardless of whether they are male or female. The preference of customers, clients or other employees is not a legitimate and protected reason to treat employees differently according to gender.

  1. Train your line managers:

By providing training to those in a management position for how best to deal with gender equality in the workplace, they will be better equipped for tackling any issues that arise. You should educate them on how to identify and handle any form of discrimination that may take place in a work environment and how to prevent it from happening in the future.

Also worth bearing in mind, is that in April 2017, all private sector employers with over 250 employees will be legally obliged to publish an annual report setting out the gender pay gap in their business: A sign that this matter is being taken very seriously.  Our employment law partner, Sally Nesbitt of Moorcrofts has written an Employer’s Guide covering the key concepts of the draft Gender Pay Gap Regulations and we will be providing a link for you to access these later this week.  Watch this space.

Unfortunately the World Economic Forum is predicting that the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186. IWD is asking us to come together to drive this change sooner.  We would love to hear from any of you on what you are doing to celebrate International Women’s Day or raise awareness.

For more information visit

Carrie Stockton 

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