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  1. Blog Post - Initiatives Unstuck

    And how to make sure yours doesn’t…

    You’ve got commitment from your Leadership Team, and you’ve outlined your plans.  Maybe you’ve gone public with your programme launch or signing the Time to Change Pledge.  It feels like everything’s lined up behind this - then it starts to wobble.

    Perhaps it’s patchy engagement – it gets loads of attention during awareness events, then fizzles in between.  Maybe you struggle to get budget because when finances are tight, the ‘nice to haves’ are the first thing to go.  Maybe activities get cancelled or only a handful of people turn up because day-to-day operations have to take priority.  You’re not alone…

    Successfully delivering change isn’t easy, especially in something as complex and ambiguous as wellbeing.   As leaders, there’s always more we could do if only we had the resource - it’s frustrating, putting something important on hold because there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  In almost half of organisations, operational demands tend to take priority over wellbeing (1) and 12% of managers say they face situations on a daily basis where they have to put the organisation’s needs ahead of their people’s (2) - it’s a common dilemma.  But when your people are at their best, they’re brilliant. 

    A successful wellbeing programme supports the best of both worlds, improving performance without driving your people harder, and wellbeing without adversely impacting day-to-day operations.  So why do so many programmes come unstuck?  I’ve spent most of my career leading continuous improvement and employee engagement programmes, so I’ve experienced many of the pitfalls, and I’ve seen so many organisations’ programmes suffer the same kinds of fate.  Here’s my take on the most common reasons, and how best to avoid them.

    Inconsistent Commitment from the Top

    Thankfully these days, leaders who don’t value wellbeing are rare.  We all understand the importance of our people to the organisation’s performance and its customers’ experience.  But that logical understanding doesn’t always translate into day-to-day behaviours.

    Your leaders should set a consistent example.  If they’re regularly seen working long hours, or wearing excess stress as a badge of honour, they’re giving out very mixed messages when it comes to championing Wellbeing.  Standards need to be seen to be upheld…  I’ve known numerous bosses who’ll happily call their team out of hours, or expect late-night emails to be answered before morning.  These behaviours can destroy a developing Wellbeing culture. A phrase which I’ve found really effective in changing these unhelpful behaviours is

    “The lowest standard you’re willing to accept, is the highest you can ever expect”. 

    In other words, if you only walk-the-walk when it suits you, don’t expect anyone else to walk it at all.  Consistency is key, no matter how energetically you try to explain away the inconsistencies…The minute you accept a sticking-plaster solution, you’re giving the green light to everyone to cut corners, or do nothing at all.

    Not Linking Activities to Outcomes

    Talking of cutting corners, here’s another common one:  When I train and mentor new change leaders, many of them struggle with the temptation to jump straight to solutions - to get it ‘fixed’ and move on to the next big thing. It’s often what organisations expect – off-the-shelf quick wins and ticked boxes are celebrated.  But the risks are high, of treating only the surface symptoms, of delivering a ‘solution’ which the organisation’s unable to maintain, or of worsening the issue by actioning the wrong thing and damaging trust. 

    During my recent research, I’ve noticed a startlingly familiar pattern in the number of organisations launching activities like Mental Health First Aid training or high-profile awareness weeks, without aligning them to an over all strategy or agreed wellbeing outcomes.  It’s better than doing nothing at all, but with a little extra rigour, the gains can be some much greater.  Because you can only determine the most appropriate action to take once you’re absolutely clear about what you’re trying to achieve.

    Done well, wellbeing is cultural – an integral part of the organisation’s values and practices, inextricably linked with both employee engagement and continuous improvement.  And that needs solid foundations.  Over the years, I’ve seen so many change programmes encounter multiple false starts, generate patchy engagement, fall foul of shifting priorities to never quite deliver, or become much harder work than anyone anticipated.  All because of missed steps early on – and here’s one of the commonest

    Not Establishing a Collective ‘WHY’

    ‘Because it’s the right thing to do’ is too ambiguous, and too easy to keep shelving for other, more pressing priorities.  Specifically, what does your organisation want to avoid and gain from improving wellbeing?  Exploring this thoroughly helps to build desire and momentum towards those outcomes, and referring back to it regularly during the programme helps to maintain alignment between what you’re doing and what you want to achieve, avoiding the lure of those sticking-plaster ‘solutions’.  It can also be re-visited and re-energised if the programme starts to wobble part way through.  When I see organisations adopting a scatter-gun or tickbox approach, investing lots of effort for little return, it’s usually because they’ve not invested the time to really understand the Why…

    What’s in it for each of your stakeholder groups?  For example, your Recruitment Manager might want to improve the organisation’s ability to attract the very best candidates, by demonstrating how you care for, support and develop your staff.  Operations managers might want to avoid the disruptive effects (and financial cost) of people going off sick.  Team leaders might be fed up of having to correct the mistakes people make because they’re distracted by worries they’ve got going on at home, so they want ways to stop those worries’ disruptive effects on their team.  Your HR team might want to stop the disputes which get escalated to them because people let conflict build up when they’re feeling overloaded. 

    As well as building initial momentum, this nurtures the shared understanding of just how important wellbeing is – because it affects far more than the way people feel or the cost of sickness absences:  When we’re stressed we’re more likely to make mistakes, which take time and energy to put right.  We tend to be more resistant to change, requiring much more management effort to introduce new systems or ways of working and reducing the organisation's flexibility.  The fight-flight reactions of stress and anxiety switch off our curiosity and creativity, so opportunities and improvements get missed.  We may be less willing to take on new responsibilities, or invest time and effort in supporting our colleagues’ development.   And disagreements are more likely to start and escalate, damaging working relationships. 

    The more thoroughly everyone understands these ripple effects, the more they’re likely to value your Wellbeing programme and support its activities.

    Not Measuring Outcomes

    No change programme gets it all absolutely right, first time.  We need feedback to establish what’s working to celebrate and build on, and what’s not and needs tweaking.  Think of the way an aeroplane maintains its course over the duration of a long-haul flight:  The pilot doesn’t just type in the destination and set off – the combined effects of wind and turbulence are constantly shifting the aircraft’s course, so the flight team monitor to detect and correct for these shifts.  By exploring ‘why’ and setting those clear objectives, you’ve plotted your course.  But there are numerous outside forces which can affect your programme deployment, and if you’re not monitoring results, you’ll have no idea whether your actions are having the desired effect.

    During recent conversations with numerous organisations, I’ve found it extremely concerning that so many are investing their precious resources in a particular course of action without prior research into its effectiveness, or measuring its contribution towards the over all ‘Why’.  For instance, investing in EAP or Counselling support without any measure of how many people are accessing it (and by inference, how many aren’t).  Or investing in Mental Health First Aid training, without tracking the number or quality of MHFA conversations happening across the organisation, or the outcomes they’ve supported.  Which leaves us at very great risk of putting in huge amounts of effort, and still failing to deliver against those desired outcomes.

    I hope that what I’ve described has resonated with you, either reassuring you that you’ve got your important bases covered, or drawing your attention to potential gaps to action.  Because Wellbeing really does matter…..

    To explore equipping your wellbeing programme for success, you're welcome to Get in Touch


    (1)   National CIPD Absence Management Survey

    (2)   Oct-18 Mental Health at Work Report, published by Business in the Community

  2. Blog Post - Process-Outcome

    I love a good process, and I’ve spent a good chunk of my career developing them for various organisations.  So it’s not surprising that I keep a problem-solving process mindset towards helping people to overcome disruptive stress.  When it comes to resolving a stress, which do you think would have the biggest impact – thinking about how the stressful situation came about, or thinking about what’ll be like to have it resolved?

    If you’ve got something stressing you out which is potentially solve-able in the future (and which doesn’t put you into full fight-flight to think about), you might like to try this technique which was developed with a group of UCLA students. 

    Take a few quiet moments – grab a brew if you like – to visualise how this problem situation came about.  Remember the details of what happened as it first began.  It might not be pleasant, but it’s not for long. Then take it step by step, visualising what happened, what was said, remembering how you felt.  Take your time, seeing it as if you were watching a movie of it.  If some details are a little hazy, it doesn’t have to be precisely accurate.  And if the way you picture it in your mind’s eye isn’t movie-quality, that’s fine too.  Allow yourself to experience curiosity about how you might resolve that stress.  Spend five minutes each day for the next 5 days, repeating the reconstruction.  

    A second group of students was asked to do something similar, but visualising the outcome they’d like instead – what they’d see and hear, and how they’d feel as they emerged from the problem situation, putting it behind them. 

    Which did you think would be most effective?  The first group fared much better when it came to actually resolving the situation, taking more advice and action, experiencing more of a mood boost, and reporting more learning from the stressful experience.  Focusing on what you want may be more pleasant, but it gives your creative thinking no guidance on how to get there.  Thinking about the stressful situation itself is more likely to lead to solutions.

    Stress is complicated – it’s really an umbrella term for lots of different emotions, which all have something in common.  Whether you’re feeling worried, anxious, depressed, frustrated or upset, every stress is some kind of gap between how you’d like things, and how they are.

    The more gaps someone’s experiencing, or the bigger individual gaps are, the more likely that stress will outstrip their resources for dealing with it, becoming a problem. But not all stress is bad - our national survey revealed that 34% of people enjoy the stress of their role.  Useful stresses are the ones which make life interesting – the challenges we rise to.  We often experience them as energising rather than draining, and sometimes even the ones we wouldn’t have chosen to experience can bring out our very best. 

     stress - resources image

    So how do you experience more of those useful stresses and fewer of the unpleasant ones?  ‘The Problem Solvers’ Guide to Keeping Stress Useful’ is designed to get you started, and you can get it at


  3. Blog post - Head in Sand

    We experience stress as a result of adverse events, which cause psychological and physical distress.  However, a recent study sought to explore whether the reverse could also be true.  Could attempts to avoid distress actually lead to more stress? 

    The study was carried out with 1,211 late middle-aged individuals, who answered 3 questionnaires  over a 10 year period;  assessing how much they avoided thinking realistically about a problem, or reduced tension by expressing negative feelings rather than dealing with the problem.  They were also questioned about the stresses of their life, like being fired, getting divorced, having too little money for the basics, conflicts with co-workers - 157 different ones!

    The study found two strong correlations:  The more avoidance strategies people used, the greater the significant stresses they experienced AND the more depressive symptoms they showed at the 10 year assessment. 

    Now, I teach statistics, so I’m always cautious with data.  A relationship between two things doesn’t always mean that one is causing the other.  So it got me thinking more about what these findings could actually mean…

    Avoiding the discomfort of conflict may make the situation escalate into something more serious, like getting divorced, or getting fired.  Avoiding the discomfort of stepping up to a challenge might mean missing out on a promotion, and the extra money it brings.  It makes sense that avoidance might be causing extra stresses. 

    How readily does your organisation (and its individuals) embrace stress?  Early warning signs of avoidance might be how often people complain about challenges they’re facing, without taking any action; or how many people an issue gets passed between before someone takes ownership.

    I’ve supported lots of organisations through culture change, and at the beginning it’s common for most of the energy to go into listing out what’s wrong, before some of that energy starts to get invested into action.  It’s understandable when people are already busy, and it can really slow down a developing culture of Wellbeing.

    Left to its own devices, that inertia can take months (or even years) to turn round – for the mindsets and behaviours to really change.  In the noise of the day-to-day priorities, it’s easy for Wellbeing to be a nice-to-have, even when it’s got full commitment from the Leadership team.  But it is possible to get the best of both - to improve performance (productivity, quality customer service….) without driving your people harder, and wellbeing without impacting day-to-day operations… 

    Our Well-formance diagnostic is designed to help shape your strategy for improving both.  It explores the six key overlaps between Wellbeing and your Organisation’s performance (including problem-solving, resistance to change and important relationships), highlighting what’s already working to build on, and making comprehensive suggestions for further improvement.  To find out more Get in Touch

  4. Blog Post - Drunk without a Hangover  

    Before you start thinking wild parties and exotic cures, this is about the power of expectation.  It was originally created for a TV programme on the psychology of drinking alcohol…  A group of students were invited to a free bar (student heaven!), and told they could drink as much as they liked.  They were randomly given either a red or a blue badge, and the only condition was that they each had to get their own drinks. 

    The evening began with a few sobriety tests – walking along straight line, catching a falling ruler, and memorising a list of numbers.  Throughout the evening, people would be pulled away from the group to repeat these tasks, so that their levels of inebriation could be assessed. 

    As you might expect, as the drinks flowed, people became louder and more flirtatious.  By the end of the evening, the lists of numbers they were able to recall had shrunk considerably, and walks along the white line were far from straight.

    But here’s the twist.  The results were very similar regardless of the colour of badge they’d been given, even though the blue badge wearers (unbeknown to them) had been drinking alcohol-free alternatives all night.  A beautiful illustration of the power of expectation – they thought they were drinking, expected to get drunk, and their memory, co-ordination and reaction times responded accordingly.  And yet when the ruse was explained, they laughed and instantly sobered up.   

    OK, it’s an elaborate way of cutting down on your drinking, but how many of your experiences (particularly stressful ones) are shaped by your expectations, rather than the experience itself?  The Monday morning you’ve been dreading, the conversation you’ve been putting off, or the pile of emails you just can’t face in case there’s something nasty in there….  Those expectations may have been well-shaped over time, but is it really worth stressing yourself out ahead of time?

    To get my weekly insights, tips and techniques for boosting your Mental Wellbeing,

    go to  



  5. Blog post - Banish the Bully  

    It’s not easy to act consistently towards your longer term goals.  Our willpower circuits are a fairly new addition to the brain’s evolution, and lots of things can reduce how well they work.  Willpower is a finite resource - it’s driven by an energy-hungry brain region, and your brain’s designed to conserve energy where possible.  

    Studies have shown many ways in which our willpower reserves can be depleted, including filtering out distractions, fighting an impulse, weighing up options, making yourself do something difficult, and even feeling hungry.  So with all these potential drains on resources, it’s not surprising that things don’t always go smoothly.  What do many of us do under those circumstances?  Get tough…

    Perhaps you give yourself a stern talking to, reminding yourself of what’s really important.  Perhaps if you’ve strayed a little, you give yourself a guilt trip in the hope that you’ll learn your lesson.  That inner bully means well, but it can backfire.  Because being bullied, even when it’s by yourself, creates stress.  And stress shifts your body into a reward-seeking state, which can make short term gain appear more attractive than long term aims.

    So how might you do things differently?  Start by checking in on how you’re talking to yourself as you wrestle with temptation.  Keep that inner voice calm and level – so it can still point out a decision’s pitfalls, without creating the stress - keeping you feeling calmer and more resourceful.  Then, to get your auto-thinking speaking more helpfully all by itself, repeat that change of tone and pace a few times, giving it the clear guidance to how you'd like it done.  Sometimes, that clear step-by-step guidance is all you need to get real breakthroughs in how you're thinking and feeling.  

    Want to get more from your thinking?  To get my weekly tips and techniques go to