New year’s resolutions – learning

As it is nearly the beginning of a new year, 2014, it seems timely to make some new year’s resolutions. I’m not a big believer in them essentially as I think they often set one up for failure, but as 2013 was such a transitional and challenging year, coming out of a very difficult 2012, it seems fitting to not only draw a line under it, in terms of personal challenges, but also new academic and learning challenges. Consequently, I have many habits and inefficient learning practices that I know I’m aware of but I have accepted up until now, as part of my process. But if my 2014 year, is truly going to be a year of change, it is important to not let self-awareness automatically become self-acceptance without good reason.

Learning Resolutions

  • I will stop letting my love of research, detail and planning get in the way of action – I’ve noticed that I allow myself to procrastinate under the guise of planning and perfectionism. I am only quick to act, when I have the support and push of a team as a motivator or when I have crisis. Consequently, I will use my team, a group of activists, as a driving force and stop procrastinating.
  • I will be more tactical about my learning with an awareness of when deep learning and surface learning is appropriate – I find everything interesting and I love furthering my knowledge. Sometimes, this is at the expense of whether it is relevant or not. Consequently, when I come to the point of writing an essay or compiling a report, I find I have a silly amount of information and wading through it, takes as long as the actual researching did. I need to be more restrained when researching so as to learn more effectively in order to stop bombarding myself and my team with knowledge.
  • I will take proper time off and do productive things – I’m a real workaholic, between my University and working 20hours a week running events. Consequently, the only real time I take off is when I am either ill or when I’m hung-over. Therefore, I never feel that I have a proper break away from thinking, doing other things I enjoy and this is to the detriment of my learning. Sometimes I have periods when I can’t concentrate but I force myself to sit and work. I also work for extended periods without having breaks, which is equally as unproductive. I want to start running again and to do things I enjoy outside of education and working, which I feel with restore the work life balance I am currently missing.
  • I will stop being distracted by distractions – When I reflect on my working practices through-out the day, I often conclude that what I’ve done in 8hours, I could have done in 5hours. This is usually because I have Facebook on in the background, I answer work/University emails and I text. Consequently, I lose little chunks of time, end up distracted and take a while to get back into what I was thinking about. I need to be really strict with my Facebook usage, take proper breaks away from the computer in which I can check my phone.
  • I will stop writing unrealistic, never ending lists – innovate more– I often set myself unrealistic goals and amounts of work to complete in the week and I feel constantly on the back foot. I not only overwhelm myself but overwhelm others in my team, by listing what we need to achieve. I challenge myself to not constrain myself with lists and plans, but to sit and innovate and discover and try the unexpected.

Where are all the women in the FTSE boardrooms?

The question of why there is a distinct lack of females invading British boardrooms has been a question that many enterprise minded individuals have asked for years (Brown et al 2002). The appointment of BT Group’s Liv Garfield  as the new boss of the water company Severn Trent (Monaghan and Goodley 2013), superficially seems to highlight the change in ethos within business for women. In nearly three years, we’ve seen the business world change from 12.5% of women holding seats in boardrooms of the UK’s largest firms with 21 all male boards and the movement in 2013 to 19% of FTSE boardrooms now being female and only five all male boards (Monaghan and Goodley 2013). This is a huge step forward from 2004 in which only 9.4% of boardrooms were made up of women (Davies 2011).

Consequently, with the appointments of Carolyn McCall at easy Jet, Angela Ahrendts at Burberry and Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco, it could be suggested that women no longer have a barrier stopping them entering the boardroom (Monaghan and Goodley 2013). But the “one in one out” approach and the very slow progression (Monaghan and Goodley 2013), suggests that although corporations have changed their gender biased ways, many women are choosing to opt out of career advancement causing a lack of women in senior positions, slowing the rate of increase of the proportion of women within the boardroom (Davies 2011). This argument is furthered by Germany’s move to impose quotas on the amount of women that have to sit on their boards, as a means of bringing about radical change, ignoring societal reasons behind the pool of women progressing into the boardroom (Monaghan and Goodley 2013). Moreover, such an act undermines the pursuit of performance and quality talent within the business, forcing succession and recruitment choices from a smaller talent pool simply “to make up the numbers” lessens the hard fought battle for female equality within the workplace (Monaghan and Goodley 2013). Promotions should be earned and the business board should be made up of the right people based on their talents, experience, knowledge and competencies; gender to any extent should be irrelevant, consequently introducing quotas only strengthens the gender divide and promotes that women should be considered differently (Morrissey 2013).

Conversely if the make-up of the boardroom is to truly change sustainably and the process is to be sped up, we need to fully understand why women opt out and the factors surrounding their decision process to do so (Morrissey 2013). With very talented, competent women now progressing up to the top ranks of businesses, it could be concluded that corporations are not estopping women directly and that women, if they want to, have the drive and are talented enough to progress at the same speed as their male counterparts; the top floor of corporations are now open to women and advancement is not just possible but achievable (Morrissey 2013). Consequently, If it is not the corporations themselves stopping women progressing up the corporate ladder, then understanding the absence of equal representation within the boardroom, starts with understanding why talented women opt out and who these “lost women” are (Morrissey 2013).

As such, we need to look to the women themselves and look at their career journey and choices. The starting point of any discussion should be one that considers that male and female graduate entry into the workforce, in the UK, is relatively equal and this equality is maintained until senior management level, where women fall away (Davies 2011). The progression from graduate level, into junior management and then middle management is an equally linear timeline for men and women where they progress almost proportionately side by side; the average age of initial entry into senior management is 28years old, which is the same age that shows huge proportions of women opting out at this level or remaining within middle management for a lengthy extended time in their career (Davis 2011). Consequently, the “danger-zone” for women’s career path to stagnate has been identified as the period between 28-40years old; within this period women are less economically active, fail to progress, completely opt out of employment and take several career breaks (Morrissey 2013).

If we assume the corporation remains static and equal with its treatment of men and women, then deductively women are doing something or behaving in a different way to their male counterparts (Davies 2011). As such it is interesting to note that the average age of a first time mother giving birth in the UK is 28.1years old (ONS 2013); the same age the average UK employee sees their career take off into senior management is also the same age women drop out of the workplace indefinitely or temporarily to become first time mothers (Morrissey 2013). Deductively, there is an impasse that leads to the fair conclusion that women do not progress at the same level as their male counterparts because they have children (Morrissey 2013). There are two core strands to this impasse that this article will present, women are absent from our boardrooms because females are presented with the societal pressure that a woman can’t pursue her career and have children and that the corporate system, due to its competitiveness and performance driven ethos, is not designed to accommodate women who wish to continue pursuing their career but desire flexibility and have the added priority of their children.

The crux of the problem, is no longer the soul fault of the male biased, corporate system, which it was decades ago; success and advancement is open to any talented individual, irrespective of gender, who wants to play and commits to the “corporate game” (Morrissey 2013). However, this female empowerment and the freedom to progress up the corporate ladder, falls in direct conflict with the choice to have a child and the societal pressure women feel to prioritise their external family responsibilities above their career (Morrissey 2013).Women are brought up with the reinforced stereotype of the women who leaves her job to have a child or the woman, whose returns to work after having a child, with a change in her priorities (Morrissey 2013). This societal stereotype of the “good mother” who sacrifices her career to concentrate on her children is an accepted stereotype that feeds into our societal child centeredness and is one that is outside the control of the business world.

Women who do choose to go back into their high powered jobs, report feelings of extreme guilt for missing out on their child’s younger years and are perceived as wrongly advancing their career at the expense of the child (Mckinsey & Co 2007).  Any successful women, who has had children and achieved seniority in her career at the same time, is hailed as a rare exception and a superhero women who has achieved the impossible (Mckinsey & Co 2007). Consequently this societal pressure to choose between having a child or further your career, with many women choosing to have children, businesses face a lack of supply of women climbing up the corporate ladder into corporate management, as women tail off pursuing their family agendas; many women make the considered choice not to pursue the top roles and have a family instead (Morrissey 2013). Our society puts pressure on women to make the choice between her career and having a family (Brown et al 2002).

However, it is not just the choice to have children that automatically excludes women from the boardroom, it is the fact that on a practical level it is hard to be a mother who is focused on her child and simultaneously
focused on achieving the corporate heavy weight level, never mind sustain it into the long term; hence many corporate heavy weight women achieve the top level and then chose to opt out to have children, just at a later date (Mckinsey & Co 2007). Corporate progression requires hard work, sacrifice and ambition; the very top of organisations require lengthy hours, focus and for many, the job becomes is their lives; the practicalities of having children does not fit in with this pursuit (Morrissey 2013). Women, who chose to have children, can’t effectively pursue this lifestyle without neglecting and sacrificing the time spent with their children, relying on a strong extended support network and being judged by society, as a mother pursing her career at the expense of her child, regardless of the lifestyle or financial benefits (Morrissey 2013). It is only with the right support network and partner support that women can expect to have children and pursue the corporate dream, a resource that isn’t available to all mothers.

Feminists would advance the question, why should women automatically sacrifice their careers and not the men? Again this is a choice that is open to all families, men are just as entitled to focus on the children and allow their wives to reach for their careers. Such a decision will advance the career of a woman and will rising opt out figures for men (Mckinsey & Co 2007) But whilst this remains a choice and feminists can argue that men “should” do this more, many women once their baby is born, would prefer to be the one to stay home and look after the child, after all they carried it and bonded with it for 9months (Davies 2011). Moreover, women are presented with the societal norm that women should be the ones to play the dominant role in children’s early life; this is a deep rooted norm and societal expectation placed on women (Davies 2011). Furthermore, statutory law remains in favour of women taking extended maternity level and has only recently extended paternity leave for Fathers; the legal system is structure so the woman can take a career break to look after the child, not the man (Davies 2011). Moreover, the unavoidable truth is that, currently within our society, biologically females have children; as such this brings about unavoidable absences from work that men can’t compensate for.

Businesses from the beginning have to be adaptable and respond to the needs of the business. The call for a more flexible, child friendly, corporate working environment, whilst admirable, is unrealistic and uncompetitive economically (Davies 2011). That is not the nature of successful, competitive advantage driven corporate work that requires an extreme commitment to the job, a commitment that women with competing priorities cannot achieve (Davies2011).  A work place that suits mothers is not one that is productivity and profitability focused or one that is built on a lean economically viable structure. As such, these women are more suited to lower level management positions, in which a more flexible work structure can be offered and in which both competing priorities can be satisfied. Moreover, this point is further advanced, with the appearance of women within the public sector and teaching; a working environment that accommodates the working mum (Mckinsey & Co 2007).  Consequently the current corporate model, based on performance and 24hour availability forces women to either choose between their career or to have children, inevitably leading to many women opting out due to their life choice to have a baby (Mckinsey & Co. 2007).

The pursuit of equality within the boardroom, embodies the ideal that all people are treated the same (Morrissey 2013). Many advocate a change in the corporate system, one that allows working mothers to progress (Davies 2011), but encouraging women into the boardroom should not involve a relaxation of the rules and processes within an organisation in favour of women and women with children; this change threatens equality in the workplace and puts an onerous burden onto the organisation within a challenging climate (Morrissey 2013). The corporate model is no longer “male dominated” which many suggests remains an issue (Mckinsey & Co. 2007), the model simply focuses on productivity and profitability with the same opportunities available for all, women make the choice to have children and prioritise them (Morrissey 2013). They can equally chose not to have children and pursue their careers, furthermore they can also have children and pursue their career simultaneously, but inevitably only one can be the top priority (Mckinsey & Co. 2007).  This reality is one of compromise which fails on both counts and one which is a “double burden” of corporate responsibility alongside parental responsibility (Mckinsey & Co. 2007). But the reality of the situation is that women do have a choice and they control their career destination.

Once a woman decides to have a child, this decision has a direct impact on her career advancement speed. In a world where the business never sleeps, the very nature of maternity leave gives a woman a career break, which removes them from the organisation temporarily. These breaks are not taken by men, who remain able to pursue their career uninterrupted. These breaks mean women no longer can keep up to speed with the organisation, they miss out because they are physically not there, this gives men the competitive edge, to advance further through the organisation in a shorter space of time, irrespective of a woman’s competencies or skill sets; the business will not wait for her to return. Moreover, the time away from work gives many women an opportunity to re-evaluate their priorities and consider what is best for the their child/children; often putting a child first means having a job, that fits in with their needs and requirements until they are older, consequently they drop out of the rat race (Mckinsey & Co 2002).

Many theorists have purported other contributory factors to explain the impasse and absence of women within the UK boardrooms. As such, there is a view that women are simply less ambitious than men, they want more to life than their careers and they tend to undervalue their own skill sets (Trevelyan 2008). Arguably it is possible that women undervalue their skills and advance a different set of behaviour traits that make them vulnerable to missing out and being overlooked for progression (Davies 2011). However, such a view undervalues women from the very starting point and views them as shrinking violets that are unaware of their potential and need assistance to be recognised. The stereotype of the overconfident male and the women oblivious of her strengths (Trevelyan 2008) is an outdated sexist, overly simplistic starting point.

Whilst this contributory factor is plausible, it advances that the fault lies with the women, as women remain in control of this factor of their own self-confidence and personal promotion; this is something that can be changed and consequently, efforts should be concentrated on empowering women and introducing strong female corporate stereotypes (Davies 2011). In order, for women to believe they can be strong corporate figures, we need strong female role models across a variety of disciplines and occupations. Not only do we lack a large bank of female role models, but women grow up with the stereotype and societal norm of the typical woman who leaves her job in order to look after her child or a woman that returns to work, with adjusted priorities to provide for the child (Davies 2011). Consequently, female empowering can only take us so far; women within corporations face practical choices and societal pressures that men, do not. They have a choice between continuously advancing their career like the male counterparts or stepping off the corporate wheel temporarily or permanently and having a child (Mckinsey & Co 2002). However, it should be remembered, they have a choice, they chose to have a child and stop focusing on their career.

It remains easy to get caught in the argument surrounding why there is a lack of female board-members within corporations and the difficult social questions it highlights. However, as a society we also need to understand the indisputable value of women within the corporate work place, women should not just be viewed as future mothers, they can also be corporate heavy weights if they chose to be (Davies 2011). Unlike Germany, it should not be about achieving quotas, simply for numbers sake, it should be about fully understanding why we need more women at the highest level of corporations and the benefits they can our businesses offer; their value and their worth.

Lord Davies’s 2011 report highlights a long list of influential reasons, why women are not just invaluable in the work place but a crucial element of the most profitable and productive organisations in existence. A male dominated business environment lacks diversity, a key element to any successful, functioning team (Hills 2001). Women bring a different skill set and one that off sets, a stereotypical, overconfident businessman (Trevelyan 2008). Gender balanced boards are more likely to identify criteria for measuring strategy, monitor its implementation, follow conflict of interest guidelines ensure better communication and focus on additional nonfinancial performance measures, such as employee and customer satisfaction, diversity and corporate social responsibility; the symbiotic nature within the differences between men and women when exploited together are key elements to business performance (Brown et al 2002). Moreover, women enhance performance within corporations when compared to organisations that lack in female representation (McKinsey & Company, 2007).

The merit within the need for both men and women within the boardroom is they both compliment and challenge each other; one gender isn’t better than the other, they are just different (McKinsey & Company, 2007). Moreover, with women making up 6/10 top graduates, 51% of the UK population/consumer, 46% of the economically active workforce and responsible for 70% of household purchasing decisions and holding half of the UK’s wealth (Davies 2011), they are not a demographic that should remain misunderstood, constrained within society and disengaged. As such, their absence in the boardroom and the talent pool gap of women in senior management shouldn’t just be a business concern, but a societal concern. Consequently, the goal shouldn’t be to make it easier for women to progress and treat them differently; it is to understand why women stop progressing up the corporate ladder first and why women prioritise children over their careers, in a way men do not (Morrissey 2013).

Once a true understanding is reached, then businesses can focus on strategically tapping into the under-utilised pool of female talent, opening up the gates into board level by working to change the societal strain on women and to expand the stereotypical female aspiration, beyond having children and giving up their careers, “to remain competitive and respond to rapidly changing expectations and market demands” (Davises 2011). Once females progress into the board room, we should see greater diversity, not only enhancing performance but encouraging a better understanding of the female consumer, with a more effective exploitation of the demographic (Davies 2011).

Consequently, if we accept that women are faced with the choice between their career and children, it must be acknowledged that although this is an undeniable barrier, it also is factually a choice; women chose to have children and to step off the corporate ladder. They have the choice and the same opportunities available to them as their male counterparts before that point (Davies 2011). Focusing just on changing the practices of business, in order to encourage women to not only have children and to advance their career at the same time neglects the societal expectation of women as a good mother; corporate changes need to occur alongside, a change in the society(Davies 2011).

Thus Helena Morrissey, a champion of women in the boardroom, has expanded her 30% campaign, campaigning for 30% of individuals at the top of corporations to be women, into the “opportunity now campaign”, a research study that is focused not on business practices, but on understanding women’s intangible feelings within the workplace and their beliefs around their career and children (Morrissey 2013). Such a study should prove that whilst businesses have embraced equality in how they treat and recruit men and women; societal expectations and the corporate machine rarely allows women to have children and reach the boardroom. Once we understand these pressures, changing the make-up of the board room will involve challenging societal norms. Furthermore, it will require a shift in women’s priorities to value their careers equally or more so, than having children; a process which is out of the control of the corporations (Morrissey 2013).

Brown, D., Brown, D. and Anastasopoulos, V. (2002)’ Women on Boards: Not just the Right Thing . . . But the “Bright” Thing, Report. 341-02: The Conference Board of Canada, Ottawa.

Davies, M. (2011). ‘Women on Boards – Government Report’, Available at (Accessed: 23rd November 2013)

Hills, H. 2001. Team-Based Learning, Hampshire: Gower Publishing.

Mckinsey & Co. (2007) ‘Women Matter’ , Available at (Accessed: 26th November 2013)

Monaghan, A and Goodley, S. (2013) ‘Liv Garfield joins small team of women running blue chip businesses’ Available at: (Accessed 23rd November 2013)

Morrissey, H. (2013) ‘Finally, let’s hear the truth about our top women’ Available at: (Accessed 23rd November 2013).

Office of National Statistics. (2013) Live Births As Characterised by Mother. Available at: (Accessed: 10th October)

Trevelyan, R. (2008) ‘Optimism, overconfidence and entrepreneurial activity’, Management Decision, (46) 7

The Learning Contract

Learning Contract

This week we were asked to complete a learning contract, a commitment to something new and active learning.  McAllister (1996) considers a learning contract crucial when the learning needs to be deeper, active and self directed. In fact the contract becomes not just a written declaration to the world, but a tangible declaration to yourself.

For my learning contract (see below), i’ve followed and will continue to follow Knowles, Holton and Swanson’s (2012), 8 step guide.

Step 1 : Identify learning needs

Step 2: Specify Smart learning objectives

Step 3: Specify strategies and resources you will use.

Step 4: Evidence of accomplishment

Step 5: Specify validation

Step 6: Review contract with coach

Step 7: Carry out contract

Step 8: Evaluate

I’ve compiled my learning contract in line with these steps and I’ve currently submitted my contract for feedback. It is my intention to carry out the contract and then evaluate, at the end, my learning.

My learning contract focuses on three key areas; ability to reflect in a more soundly, effective structured way. I hope this will improve my quality of writing and enhance the reflective process, benefiting the business. Secondly, I want to become more of a risk taker and change my attitude. Within personal challenges and tasks, I’ve become much more able to jump at challenges and take on the impossible. But within a group, I tend to try and stick to the comfortable and what I know. Moreover, I’m more inclined to try and push forward my idea because it makes sense to me, than consider taking forward someone else’s. Consequently, I’m keen to challenge myself and seek out new ways of doing things and being more free, within a group environment. Thirdly, i’d like to improve my ability to communicate verbally. I often over prepare for meetings and have lots of ideas. Therefore, my important points are lost or I launch into a long ramble. I think my communication in this area needs to be improved and it would also enhance my confidence within networking situations, instead of already thinking i’m going to be incoherent.

McAllister (1996) expresses a wide range of reasons why a learning contract can be effective tool; her article focus’ on the idea contracts promote learning autonomy and self reliance (Knowles 1984)). Whilst these are meritous, as an already active, self-reliant learner within business, i don’t intend to use them in the way. I propose to use my learning contract for two functions. Firstly, to stand still, reflect and identify my current knowledge gaps. Identifying these knowledge gaps will not only lead to self awareness, but will also boost my motivation to learn; “knowledge will be gained because I want it” (McAllister 1996:201)

Secondly, as a student that has often struggled to balance her the necessary rest time alongside work time, I rarely take a second to reflect on achievements. I always reflect on negatives, issues and especially failures, but where i complete something, I move on to the next thing at a rapid speed. This leads to a feeling of constantly running on a treadmill, sometimes a complete lack of awareness of self improvement and forgeting to acknowledge successes and achievements. Acknowledging achievements is something that I hold up as essential within a team, yet I rarely practice what I preach. Consequently, the time limit on the learning contract will (hopefully) provide the ability to acknowledge successes and review the process behind the success.

Within the strategies section, I’ve tried in each case, to go full circle in the Kolb and Fry (1975) learning cycle; ensuring that i’m an activist, reflector, theorist and pragmatist in each case. As I’m less inclined to be an activist, I’ve endeavored to make sure the evidence is weighted towards, doing things. My natural instinct is to learning and explore but I don’t necessarily put things into practice. I’ve become much more of an activist as I’ve grown up; business is an activists play ground. But I think an area, where I lack, is that I don’t experiment. I decide on one course of action and proceed, therefore I think this tunnelled approach is removing my confidence to take risks and I’m missing out.

With this in mind, this is my learning contract. After the 12th of December, I will review the progress and I will also montior its implementation along the way.


Name  Rachel Horton                    Start Date   31/10/2013                                                          End Date 12/12/13


Learning Objectives

Learning Resources and Strategies

Evidence of Accomplishment of   Objectives

Assessment Criteria

Work on up to 3 SMART objectives at   a time




List activities that will   convince yourself and others that you have achieved your objectives

Specify how the evidence of   accomplishment of objectives will be assessed and by whom


1. To experiment with 4 different   reflective writing structures by 18th November, in order to   utilize and implement the most effective within my reflective pieces to   improve the structure and coherence.







  • Academic        books and journal articles.

  • Identify        what is wrong with current structure, taking on board Lucy’s feedback.

  • Identify        proficient reflective writers and read their pieces.

  • Experiment        with different structures with writing.

  • Reflect        and reassess after each writing piece.

  • Seek        feedback and reflect on it.

  • Reflective        knowledge and academic literature evidenced within my writing.

  • Evidence        and knowledge of several reflective structures.

  • Ability        to set out what structure I’m using within writing and being able to        justify the choice.

  • Experimenting        with different structures within my reflective journal.

  • Seeking        out and responding to feedback on reflective pieces.



  • Seeking        out feedback from Lucy in regards to my reflective writing; feedback so        far is that quality of writing is high but structure is lacking.        Consequently, improvement of structure and comments around that area.

  • Ability        to recognize which reflective structure is being used, making my        reflective pieces easier to follow.








2. To take on and complete one team   task every other week, that is completely out of my comfort zone and skill   set until January 2013.










  • Identify        the typical tasks and roles I take on within the team.

  • Identify        gaps in knowledge, skills and tasks I may shy away from; reflect.

  • Reflect        on why I often seek solutions that make sense rationally and often        ignore gut instinct.

  • Consider        times when I and as a team, have taken risks and why it succeed or        failed?

  • Taking        a more activist approach within certain tasks and instead of thinking,        just do.



  • Taking        on tasks and roles that I wouldn’t normally do.

  • Stepping        outside of comfort zone and a feeling of anxiety when approaching tasks.

  • Feeling        challenged.

  • Seeking        out expertise within the team and observing others strengths; teaming up        with an expert in a particular area.

  • Putting        trust in others and their ideas within the team implicitly.



  • Personal        and team recognition of either successfully completing/learning        something new or improvement visible within a particular area.

  • Being        able to do something new or tackle something with increased confidence.

  • Team        and coach will notice an increased self confidence in areas and        increased commitment to the team learning aspect of the course.









To prepare a maximum of six key   points I’d like to express to the team within each team meetings, to improve   the conciseness and coherence of my verbal communication by Dec 2013.











  • Reflect        and consider why verbally my communication can be rambling, fast,        disorganized in comparison to the effectiveness of my written        communication.

  • Research        and investigate communication strategies; implementing and trying        different ones.

  • Invest        time in preparing for meetings, making my points more concise instead of        over preparing and developing points.

  • Public        speak and present ideas to the group more within group meetings.

  • Ask        for the group to summarise or repeat the points what I’ve said; observe        whether they were picked up.

  • Use a        more structure approach; set out what I’m saying, explain it, then        re-iterate it at the end briefly.

  • Ask        for feedback on my communication from the team.

  • Observe        team members that communicate very well verbally.



  • Clear,        list of discussion points before each meeting.

  • Experimenting        with different communication styles.

  • Increased        confidence in communicating verbally.

  • Improved        understanding and less frustration within the group.




  • Clearer        understanding and better communication of points, assessed by the team.

  • Improved        presentation style and organization of verbal communication, assessed by        lecturers.

  • Clear        implementation of feedback from peers and lecturers, evidenced in        improved delivery.

  • Increased        self-confidence and reduction of anxiety and frustration, when        communicating verbally.







Try something new….

As i’ve gotten older, i’ve become less conformist. Yet, I still find myself having habits, within business and otherwise, that I continue to do. Methods of working, that I continue to realise are unproductive, but they are familiar, so I’m going to keep doing them.

One of my objectives, is to do at least one thing a month, I wouldn’t have normally done, within a professional environment. Taken a chance in business; risked it. Go on gut instead of rationale.

I found this Ted talk quite inspirational covering the subject…….

Try something new from today….make every second in business count. Don’t let the decisions be made for you; actively engage and take a chance on others.

The New Business Plan: More Data, Less Detail

As an entrepreneur about to take the plunge of writing my own business plan, I found this article a refreshing view on the aged old business plan format and approach. Worth a read.

The Information Age

10.30.13 Data in Business Plans

Story provided by OPEN forum – 

Today’s business plan should be chock full of industry analysis. But don’t take our word for it. We asked the OPEN Forum community what they thought of this new numbers-driven plan.

Having a business plan that charts your intended course and helps you plan for the unexpected can keep you on track with your company goals. While there are many aspects to a business plan, one ingredient is an industry analysis.

Recently, OPEN Forum community member Angela Dougall asked, “Why is an industry analysis so important when putting a business plan together?

As it turns out, there are several good reasons to include an industry analysis in your business plan.

Important First Step

An industry analysis is a critical, and necessary, first step before you define your plan, says Erik Otto, president and co-founder of InSpark Technologies, a small business that…

View original post 628 more words

Discussing devilish Decision making

Key points

  • Decision making is being involved in something and being able to understand why a decision is made.
  • Standing still and taking control.
  • Decision making is crucial to success of a project, business or team. Crucial to our team.
  • Making a decision is just a snap shot….before and after is also crucial.

Everything I say is applicable to personal decisions, business decisions and group decisions.

My own experience of decision making is that I used to be terrible at it. I didn’t like to impose, I was unassuming and I never really asked myself what I wanted; much easier to let others decide for me. But now, I’m not afraid. I like taking control and ownership of my life and what I’m doing. My Grandad always taught me, “get out there and get involved”, he was a strong socialist, consequently I learnt if you want to change something or want a specific decision, then you have to make it happen, you have to be a part of the process, just sitting on the side lines is not the way to go.

My decision making is by no means perfect, I’ve made monumentally bad decisions, and I’ve made massive mistakes that I simply can’t justify. For example, I chose to do law and I did very well, but I knew I always wanted to do business. Consequently, I made a decision based on what was easier at the time and what I “should” be doing, instead of what I “wanted” to do. Of course it is far easier to go along with other people’s decisions instead of making your own. Hence when asked, “Why on earth did you decide to do law?” – I can’t really answer you, I just drifted into it on the basis that my mum said I was good at essays and she thought I’d make a good lawyer. My life changing decision was based on someone else’s decision for me and I just wasn’t strong enough or assertive enough to make my own.

Making the decision to change and to study business was not only a daunting decision and the right one, but it was hugely empowering. Whilst like any decision making, I had to deal with the fall out within my family, I knew in my heart, it was the right decision for me. Also, even if it was the wrong decision, because it was my decision, it didn’t seem to matter. Moreover, I would be able to give a long list of justification for making that decision, a crucial ingredient to any decision; reason and belief.

Within our current group settings across all the modules, but mostly personal effectiveness, we constantly make decisions without thought, without understanding and without team engagement. Many members, if asked why we completed the task in a certain way, would have no idea why as they are not involved in the process. In a group decision, every single member should be able to justify a decision or at least understand where it came from and if you’re unable to do that, then you’re not actually getting involved in the decision making process. (Hills 2001)

What are decisions?

We make decisions when we are motivated and things are important to us. You want to do it, not you “have” too necessarily. You’re passionate about it; there is an element of grasping control and settling on a course of action. Decisions give focus; encourage engagement and aid team understanding of the progression ahead. Steven Covey (1999: 16) considers team decision making as not just an active process but a “synergistic product of many minds”. Such synergy and involvement within the decision making process, only comes from involvement in the process itself.

With this knowledge I’ve been considering our team at the moment and our poor decision making. Our decisions are quick, often random, made by the more activist of the group. We have an ethos of where making the decision seems to be the work almost done and the hard part, the team doesn’t think about how we are going to make their decisions and goals actually happen. Consequently, we leave a room without practical plans or deadlines, anyone who tries to impose them or suggest them, is either ignored or told “we’ll sort the details later”. Moreover, there is a complete lack of engagement with the process. I have found this very frustrating and I began to reflect on times when I doing engage in decision making and reasons why I may avoid it. Furthermore, as a team we don’t reconsider, re-evaluate or reflect on our decisions to consider their effectiveness. Once the decision is made, that is seemingly job done.

I came up with the smoking example. I’m decisive about my work, in business, academically and in regards to how I like to dress, you can see that I’m very passionate about those things. I put time into them because I see the value and the importance of them. I used to smoke 20-25 a day and it took me years to give up smoking. I flirted with the possible decision of giving up for years, I wanted to give up, but on reflection it wasn’t important enough to force me to make the decision. I didn’t engage in a decision making process, I kept trying to make quick decisions announcing “I’ve quit” without actually considering how I was going to make sure, I actually quit and what it would mean to give up smoking. Eventually, giving up smoking became a priority and I engaged in a logical process to get to the point of making the decision. This practical example has given me clarity on why our team is avoiding making decisions as a unit. The team isn’t that important to us and neither is the task.

Van Grinsven (2011) postulates two essential ingredients for decision making as a team; empowerment and knowledge conversion.

  • Empowerment-  will, capacity, confidence, engagement with decision, willed transformation from choice into desired action, self-leadership, participation, energy, autonomy, commitment, challenging the norm, interest and passion. Having the motivation to make a decision.
  • Knowledge – Base decision on, protocols, experience, shared group learning, expertise, willingness to go out and learn, ability to make an informed decision (not necessarily right or wrong – but if questioned….you could explain), try something new, and willingness to absorb information from others. Having the knowledge to make a decision.

In my writing here, I put empowerment first as I believe that it is the central part to any decision – not necessarily knowledge. If you had the knowledge, you wouldn’t necessarily feel empowered to make a decision. But if you were empowered, you’d feel empowered enough to go acquire the knowledge, to make the decision.

Levinthal and March (1993) put forward two additional boosting factors; Exploitation and Exploration.

  • Exploitation – playing to your strengths….
  • Exploration – The process before……more important than the decision. Making a decision isn’t job done….need to understand why it was made, factors that influence it, contingency plan, challenging, exploring other options…..

Within my reflections of my own decision making and team decision making, I considered the Honey and Mumford learning styles. Who within our team is a reflector, an activist, a pragmatist or a theorist? Hills (2001) suggests that using these learning styles we can explain the process of decision making or how it “should” be done ideally. Within that we can assess how each learning style can contribute and compliment within the decision making process.

Hills (2001) puts forward the PART framework for good decision making within a team; this involves concrete self-awareness:

Pragmatists – Beginning, considers the overview, the strategy, formulating a practical plan behind a decision. Formulating A to B and the in between.

Activists – Want to get going and decide, these are the driving force. Stops the decision taking too long and people getting too bogged down in the details.

Reflector – Observing the process, reassessing….might see things others don’t, provides feedback and has an awareness others just don’t have. Re-evaluating decisions if needed.

Theorist- Big picture thinker, exploring options, needing to understand the context…..

Whilst I haven’t been able to identify exactly learning types within our team’s decision making process, I have been able to pick up certain decision making characteristics within the team;

  • People who are disengaged…..
  • People who go along with the majority….
  • People who sit quietly thinking it is a bad decision but say nothing…..
  • People who shout loudly and just want the decision to be over…..
  • People who play devil’s advocate….point out challenges, other options….
  • People who are just negative…..
  • People who don’t have the patience to explore ideas…..
  • People who consider the practicalities and impacts of a decision…..
  • People who need to define goals and objectives before starting the decision making process…..
  • People who like to brainstorm?
  • People who like structure decision making?

From the sustainability project decision making process, I can see that our team has a dominance of activists and potentially quite a few reflectors. But we lack with the pragmatics. I am very pragmatic when it comes to decision making but due to the dominance of activists, our decision making is quick, superficial and often without rationale. Making the decision making longer with more structure is viewed as hindering the process and slowing things down. The decisions and the tasks are motivated with the urge to just get them done.

So the key to improving on personal decision making and decision making within the team is as always, self-awareness. Knowing who you are in the process and the impact it may have on the rest of the team and to most importantly challenge it.

  • I used to be the girl who reflected all the time and barely said a thing. I avoided decision making because I avoided any possible confrontation. Consequently, I felt frustrated!!!
  • Then I became a lot more dominant….stopped listening to other’s ideas. I became so bothered about putting forward my own ideas or points towards the decision making process, that I didn’t listen to the valuable contribution others have.
  • NOW – I need to define goals and objects and have a clear understanding before I make decisions or before they can make sense to me. I like bouncing off other team members to build on an idea. I like my contributions to be valued, but I am able to value others too. Putting all ideas on the table from individuals and then exploring and sifting through them as a team.

In theory, our method of PM sharing should demonstrate and facilitate different types of decision making processes.  We will each take our own interpretation of leading and decision making and facilitate that….building week on week from what we have learnt from previous leadership. That way, we will learn what works for us as one unit and also gives an opportunity to try things we wouldn’t have done, if we just kept repeating the same thing week after week.

Ball example.

I define decision making as completely standing still and deciding on a route forward to an objective.

A practical example of this would be to take a ball with the aim of rolling it from point A to point B. How would you start the decision making process?

  • Define the task and where point A is and point B is, i.e. setting the end objectives.
  • We’d then define what the ball is, what it can and can’t do. As a team what our strengths and weaknesses are and possible knowledge gaps.
  • How are we going to get to point B? Are there obstacles in the way?
  • Identify the obstacles and formulate plans of how the ball can get around them. This would involve developing a strategy, using the awareness of the team, experience and developing of an action plan.
  • Now once we’ve set on a course of action, what do we need to do? This is an area that our team lacks in and has so far not managed to grasp in relation to our team projects. Logically, the ball isn’t going to move on its own, it needs to be pushed in a specific direction, which requires effort. Likewise, within our projects, making the decision isn’t the means to an end itself; it is also about driving the team forward.
  • Once on course, we may discover in front of the ball, there is another obstacle we hadn’t anticipated. Relating back to the initial decision, the team needs to be reactive. In the ball example, you wouldn’t just let the ball role off in the wrong direction or hit something, you’d adapt the route.
  • What if we miss our target completely? Or hit our target? Need to capture everything we have learnt and re-use it. This is a reflective moment, judging the good and the bad.

Within such a practical group example of the ball, the decisions would be made together, there would be mutual understanding of the decision, it wouldn’t matter if others didn’t agree or brought up points that disagreed with the course of action as these would simply increase your awareness of what outsiders might say about the decision or possible obstacle…you can prepare for these!

It isn’t just the actual decision making that is important, it is the evaluation of whether the decision was good, bad, weak or fit for purpose? Within our team, reflection is often missed out. The decision is made, it isn’t evaluated whilst the project is trying to achieve the objectives, it isn’t judged on its impact and it isn’t reflected on. The team simply moves onto the next decision. But reflecting on decisions is important. Hills (2001) suggests using the “black seat” as a tool. Instead of just reflecting, which people often use as a simply negative tool, you routinely at the beginning of a task, sit for 5/10mins and goes around each person and they have to say one thing that was bad about the last task that could be done differently? One thing that was good, that should be brought forward into this current task. This should happen even if the task was brilliant and even if everything fell apart. Performance and output, in terms of its impact on future performance is useless unless the team understands which the good decisions were and why things played out the way they did. Acknowledging success and failure as a team feeds into Hills (2001) idea that awareness is the first point of learning.

Another interesting element to our decision making within the group is where the decisions that are made actually come from. There is a distinct inability to justify or understand where certain decisions come from because very few people are involved in the decision process. The more activist members of the group decide what certain members will do within the next task. For example with the entrepreneur’s forum task, which we are currently working on, firstly we have fallen into the same trap of not breaking down or planning out the task. Secondly, the roles were decided on the basis of one member not wanting to do the same role as last time, consequently every single member is doing something different. The roles have not been broken down and explored. The roles once again are “research”, “presentation” and “delivery”.

Such autocratic and decision making, in my opinion, based on speed rather than any strategic rationale, has left the group once again not engaged with the project because they aren’t engaged with the process. But the decision process was quick, easy and it enabled the team to walk out the room believing they had taken a productive step, where as it was simply superficial. My function in this decision making was to take a step back. I didn’t want to be as dominant in this one or want the “Rachel, you understand, will you just do it?” mentality which goes on. However, I’m extremely excited about this project, I have lots of ideas.

To move our group forward, I consider the only thing is to prove how beneficial the group decision making is. The essential element falls on proving that if we take the time to decide and plan the task now, it will actual save us time in the long run. But there are many other benefits to group decision making that our team could utilise:

  • You snowball off each other….ideas….surprise each other.
  • Collective…not on your own….more confidence to try.
  • Stand or fall together. We look successful together, we look brilliant together, we look foolish together, we look unprepared together, and we fail together.
  • People who don’t contribute that much, think they are hiding but conversely they become easy targets to blame for unsuccessful decisions…..
  • Don’t feel like you’ve failed if you’ve all committed to a decision and worked hard….you merely learn from it….something about teams that picks you up, whereas if you see a decision and drop it like a hot potato, then you’re always going to fail, that is always the reason you’re going to fail and there is nothing really to pick you up….
  • Moreover, the end product is often irrelevant. You have to show how you got there? If you got a 1st at University, somewhere you made the decision that you wanted to do well and to work hard. Now if you went into a job interview, job application, business networking….you doesn’t just say “I got a first” and that does the talking. People are interested in how you did it……the skills you developed…….same with a bad decision….so what? If you can stand up and say this is why I did it, but it went wrong….then it isn’t a mistake or a bad decision. Learnt from it!
  • Law course…..within group decision making especially….by not making a decision or being involved in the decision making process, you are actually making a decision.
  • A big decision often means lots of smaller decisions…potentially within a framework of deadlines….can have a knock on effect.

With so much discussion on what decision making is and how it functions within my team dynamic, it is interesting to consider what makes an effective decision maker and effective decision making.

Stephen Covey (1999) in his book, “Seven Habits of highly effective people”, considered that ineffective decision making consists of:

  • Value independence above interdependence.  The team is actually a group of individuals that seeks out only personal satisfaction.
  • Based on assumption “way we see things are the way they are or way they should be” – varying perceptions should be valued. We should value alternate opinions or suggestions, as an opportunity to challenge ourselves.
  • Two people, same problem, two different approaches – one considered right and one considered wrong, at first glance…..”Where we stand depends on where we sit”……how does the team decide on which? Ideally, should consider, which is more effective, efficient, best results, most innovative, best delivery potential and gives the best opportunities to learn. It may turn out that both ideas are fantastic and elements of each could be used.

Moreover, Covey (1999) considers that an effective decision maker is one that knows who are they are within the decision making process. They also have the knowledge, the skills and are willing to try and have the motivation to see the decision through. They feel empowered to make the decision. As I have mentioned previously, self-awareness and motivation are the key factors, if you have those they not having the skills or knowledge is ok. You’ll be aware of what you’re lacking and you’ll be motivated to get out there and learn more.

On reading Covey’s book, several important points stuck out that I took and believe that they could be applied to personal or team decision making to enhance its effectiveness. Decision making is a crucial part of business practice and sometimes has to be done rapidly.

  • Proactive– Decision making requires proactivity, stimulus and response. If you’re not stimulated then you won’t respond and make an effective decision. Embrace initiative; be responsible for your own work and the team’s. The team has the ability to be proactive and take responsibility as a team; it shouldn’t be one pushy individual.
  • Decide or be decided upon– Often when people are unsure or not engaged in the process, people wait for others to make the decisions and to be told what to do. This happens a lot within our team….but are successful business people and entrepreneurs people who just sat around waiting to be told what to do? No! Taking responsibility. This involves being creative, resourceful and not just giving up if it is hard.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Two stages of creation….visualise what you need to do, plan it, construct it and make the necessary decisions. The next stage is about actively creating it. Need to define what you are trying to accomplish, need to break the project down in task, what are we being asked to achieve. Even if it has been defined in a brief for you, the group will have an interpretation of that.
  • Empowerment. Lead, support, inspire…..let others take chances, expose themselves and pick them back up… an individual, even as a core group. As a singular person, we don’t have the power or the knowledge to make the projects happen or know what the right decisions are, but with a large number of people to work on them then we do have the power to make them happen. This doesn’t mean that it is strength in numbers, which our sustainability project taught me, completing a project is not the same as completing a project well. In order for this to happen, each member should feel empowered to take control of the project and work together as a collective, because as one unit, we can do it. And do it well.
  • Within a decision roles – We decisions have been made; roles and the decisions themselves need to be broken down into an action plan. Our team has fallen foul on many occasions to either not fully grasping others/their role or having the wrong expectation.
  • Time management….Make time to make decisions…..meetings are useful, means of evaluating decisions, progress, needs reassessment. Prioritise the decisions, do they all need to be made now? Time should not just be spent on the urgent decisions; a team doesn’t want to simply be reactive. It wants to be proactive in the long term and with long term awareness. Consequently, the meetings need to be more defined with objectives and summarised at the end.
  • Delegation – delegating to time…..setting aside time to decide to explore….better in the long run, more efficient. Delegation within that time, to people….more effective. Promotes the stewardship type of delegation, setting an end goal, but the method you end up to get there, is up to you and it may be a completely different process, to what someone else has done. Feed it back into the group.
  • Interpersonal leadership. Use of win/win….mutual benefit/ Decisions give benefit, productive, direction….invent options for mutual gain, get buy in of both parties. Everyone needs to win somehow. Do not use lose/win; decision making just to agree or be popular or win/lose; manipulating and not listening to get your opinion of the decision put forward. Our group does a lot of the lose/win scenario due to friendships being within the group. We haven’t found a mutual benefit for being a part of the team yet.
  • Seek first to understand then to be understood – Register, reflect, understand…..problem solving, need to diagnose before you jump in so need to fully consider before you dismiss each idea…..evaluate, probe, advise and interpret…….”synergy!” Secondly and only after you have respectfully listened to others, do you seek understanding? This is an active two way process and will set up a certain element of exchange and participation within the decision making process.
  • Synergise – Be collectively creative, the decision making process should be stepping into unknown; an adventure. As a team our aspirations as entrepreneurs should be to be trail blazers and pathfinders? Are you open to new possibilities that are reflected in team decisions? Value differences.
  • Sharpen the saw – Crucially, to take time out of the decision making process to reflect and rest. It is also important to remember that personal and team decision making is not perfect all the time, even when you think you fully grasp the process, suddenly something will go completely wrong.

Within this reflection and exploration about decision making, I’ve considered what a decision is and their importance. I’ve looked at why in teams decisions are so important, the effect of the team within decision making and why it is important in business to make decisions. I’ve considered how personalities and work ethic, impact on the type of decision maker we are especially within a group dimension. I’ve also considered ineffective decisions within my team and explored how to make an effective decision, with the context of taking some of this forward into future team work.

Take away message for into next week…..the decision is crucial but on its own is just a snap shot. The process before, the exploring, the logical and pragmatic thinking, the creativity, setting the end goals, ensuring understanding, feeding off ideas, understanding the task ahead is central to the ensuring decision making engagement within teams. Moreover, the actions after the decision making will illustrate the level of engagement with the business task at hand and the team via the energy, the actions, carrying out the tasks, the reassessments and most importantly, the deliverable performance. The end performance and product, is crucial in assessing the effectiveness of the decision making.