Category Archives: Tips

New Year, New You: How to make New Year’s resolutions that work


New Year, New You: How to make New Year’s resolutions that work

So, we’re a few days into the New Year. How many resolutions did you make? And how many have you stuck to?

We all make resolutions and most of us break them within a few days. I used to do it every year. I would decide, say, that I wouldn’t drink for the whole of January but the first time I was offered a G&T, I would take it without even thinking. Why is that? I got so fed up with being in that situation that I looked into why it all goes wrong and in this post, I’ll give you some ideas about what you can do to make it more likely you’ll stick to your resolutions and achieve your goals. This doesn’t just apply to New Year’s resolutions by the way, it is also a great framework to use in any planning or goalsetting exercise.

First let’s look at the process. How many people really think about what their resolutions will be? Most of us make them at 12.05, once we’ve sung Auld Lang Syne, been grabbed and snogged by people we would rather not have been grabbed and snogged by, and are, ahem, well refreshed. We don’t really think about it, it’s an off the top of the head answer, a vague ‘must do better’. The fact it’s off the top of our heads indicates it’s something that does matter to us but because we haven’t really thought about we haven’t fully bought into it, we’re not committed. And that’s the first mistake.

We all want to be better, so must of our resolutions are around improvement in one way or another – lose weight, stop smoking, don’t drink so much and so on. Our second mistake is that many resolutions are very negative: stop, don’t, lose. And that puts us in the wrong frame of mind before we even start. I know we’re not naughty children any more but what’s a common reaction when someone tells us not to do something? Yes, it’s hostility, anger and, more often than not, increased desire to go off and do it.

So, a couple of years ago, I did 2 things. I really thought about what my resolutions should be, calmly, rationally and in advance and then I flipped them. At that time my main resolution was to have more self discipline, the specifics of which were: get up at 7 and start work promptly by 9. Eat those frogs first thing, get them out of the way. Set aside an hour a day to read and study between 5 and 6pm. So, I used words that framed everything I wanted to do in a positive way: have, do, start, read, eat;

The next step was to write them down. There’s lots of evidence that people with written goals have more success than those without. The famous Harvard study may well be an urban myth, and the statement that 3% of the population have written goals but they earn more than the other 97% put together may well be apocryphal but other studies have been carried out that bear out the general theory. In 2006 USA Today surveyed a number of people who had made New Year’s resolutions and found that of those who had not written down the resolution, just 4% had followed them through. Of those who had written them down, 44% had followed them through: a much better success rate.

Why does writing things down increase the probability of success? Because writing a is a psycho neuro motor activity – as you’re writing you’re being forced to think and to concentrate on what’s important to you. And when you write down a goal you’re impressing it into your subconscious, which then gets to work on it without you even realizing it. It also implies a level of commitment and buy-in that isn’t always there when things are just spoken, there is often so much more power in the written word.

So how should you capture your goals?

I recently came across MMM as an alternative to SMART goals, and I really like it: goals should be measurable, manageable and motivational.

So, if your goal is to slim:

Measurable: How many pounds will I shed, and by when? This is an objective check and deadline.

Manageable: It has to be realistic but challenging – you won’t lose 10 stone in 2 months, but you can lose 1 and keep the weight off.

Motivational: The goals need to excite you, motivate you so that you want to achieve them. I want to be a size 12 by Easter so that I can buy and look good in that lovely dress I saw / feel great / improve my health.

In short:

Goals, and resolutions, should be:

  1. Well considered
  2. Written
  3. MMM

When you’ve settled on your resolutions or goals, it can be a good idea to write yourself a letter and give it to a trusted friend to post to you in 3 months’ time. In the letter state your goals, congratulate yourself on achieving them, and say what your reward would be. You’ll probably forget about it, but in 3 months’ time you’ll be surprised when a letter in your own handwriting lands on the doormat and be stunned to see that you have achieved all of the goals you set down.

And remember that this can be applied at any stage in the year – we don’t just set goals and targets on 1 January, there are other natural break points and times for reviewing progress during the year and we should be frequently assessing and adjusting where we are and where we’re going.

Why not give it a try?



6 things you can do to be taken seriously at work

6 things you can do to be taken seriously at work

enjoying_a_meetingIn my last blog I shared, with her permission, extracts from a coaching conversation with Rachel, a client who doesn’t feel that she’s always taken seriously enough at work. In comparing her own behaviour and attitude with those of Sally, a colleague just a couple of years older who has the credibility Rachel wants, she realised that she had a problem with boundaries, which meant that she was sometimes behaving inappropriately and unprofessionally at work. Having identified the issue Rachel was halfway to solving the problem: she practised thinking before she spoke, catching herself if she was about to be indiscreet about her private life and quickly got into a pattern of more professional behaviour at work. In later sessions we started to look what else Sally, and other senior women Rachel respected, did to earn the respect of their colleagues. Over a few sessions Rachel came up with this list of six things you can do to be taken more seriously at work (shared with her permission):

  • Be professional. In other words turn up on time; do what you tell people you’re going to do; honour your commitments, under-promise and over-deliver.
  • Keep developing your knowledge. ‘Not just the formal stuff, or doing the minimum you have to do for CPD (continuous professional development). Follow industry news, learn about the economy, find out what your clients are interested in. Understand what matters to them and make sure you can talk to them knowledgably.’
  • Take yourself seriously and act like you should be taken seriously in turn. ‘Which isn’t to say that Sally doesn’t have a sense of humour,’ said Rachel, ‘she does, she’s a really good laugh. But she’s not out for a laugh at all costs’ ‘So she uses humour in the right way?’ ‘Yes, she’ll use it to get things moving or defuse difficult situations or even emphasise a point. But it’s never cruel or smutty or irrelevant.’
  • Speak up in meetings, show that you have a good contribution to make. ‘She’ll challenge people, but in a really nice way. It doesn’t come across as point-scoring, she’s just getting them to think’.
  • Don’t get emotional in public: no tears or tantrums. ‘I burst into tears once and everyone treated me weirdly for ages afterwards. At my last appraisal I was told I’m too emotional and need to get it under control. It’s not just me though, one of the guys in the office got really angry about something and threw his phone at the wall, smashed it to bits. Now people avoid him, they won’t ask him to do anything in case he loses his temper.’

What do you think of Rachel’s list? What would you add to it?

* All names have been changed. This story has been told with the permission of ‘Rachel’.

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Can I just say? How to be heard at meetings

Can I just say? How to be heard at meetings

Have you ever sat in a meeting, really wanting to contribute in some way but been unable to get a word in?  Have you ever left a meeting running the ‘could have, would have, should haves’ of everything you didn’t say through your mind?  I think we’ve all been there.  There are lots of different reasons why you may not be able to speak up but often it’s because you just don’t know how to get your point across.  If that’s you, read on for my 9 tips for getting your voice heard in meetings.

1. Think about why you’re at the meeting.  Who invited you and why do they want you there?  If you’re not sure, ask.  Your boss might want you to just observe and learn, in which case you probably won’t be expected to say much.  However she might want you there to raise your profile and get more experience or because you’re the company expert on one of the agenda items.  Each of these possibilities will require different behaviour from you.

Bored_people_at_a_meeting2. Prepare well.  Check the agenda, find out what the main discussion topics will be.  Read the briefing papers and be ready to contribute to those items relating to your area of expertise or experience.  Jot down some bullet points and questions for each agenda item so you don’t forget what you wanted to raise during the meeting.

3. It can be tempting to be useful and offer take the minutes or write things up on the whiteboard, especially if you’re a woman or the youngest person in the room. Unless that’s what you’re there to do (see #1) avoid the temptation if you can.  A head-hunter once told me that acting as scribe can count against you at an assessment centre unless you also fully take part in the day’s activities.  Most scribes don’t.  After all, if you’re focussing on getting the notes, minutes or actions right it doesn’t leave a lot of time for contributing to the meeting.

4. Get in early and say something relevant and interesting as soon as you can, even if it’s asking a question.  It will take the pressure off you and you’ll settle in to the rhythm of the meeting more quickly.

5. When you do have the floor speak calmly, clearly and get to the point as quickly as you can.

6. If someone interrupts you unreasonably, pause and ask if you can just finish the point you were making.

7. Never start a sentence with an apology, even if it’s a figure of speech. ‘Sorry, can I just say….?’ may put you on the back foot.  Why preface your point at all?

8. Raise your hand slightly, or lift your pen a little to signal to the chair that you would like to speak.

9. If they’re moving on before you’ve had your say raise your hand or lean forward and ask the chair if you can make a final point before that agenda item is closed. If you choose do this make sure that your intervention is good and valuable and that you’re not going over old ground or raising issues that have already been addressed.

These are the things that have worked for me and my clients but I would love to hear your tips – please share them below.

Taking part in meetings can be tricky, as can running them (there’ll be a blog soon on chairing meetings). They can be stressful, especially if you’re new in your role or not very confident. If you find meeting etiquette and participation difficult why not have a free coaching session on us? Just click on the link below If that’s you:

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Alchemy A-Z of being in business: N is for networking

Alchemy A-Z of being in business: N is for networking

I got to my first ever networking session early and headed to the bar. I really didn’t want to be there but I was the boss so it was expected of me. As the barman made my drink someone marched up, shook my hand and introduced himself.  I froze. I didn’t want to talk to this guy, I didn’t know him and certainly didn’t like the look of him so I grabbed my drink and, while he was placing his order, headed off to the opposite side of the room where I could see someone I knew.

The thing is, I wasn’t at a singles night; it didn’t matter whether I liked the look of people or not. I was there to represent my company and make new business contacts, not chat to old ones.  I missed a big opportunity because the guy turned out to be head of procurement at a target client and I never got the chance to talk to him informally again. I was rude to him and disrespectful and he never did become a customer.

That was my first experience of ‘proper’ networking. Like many people I really didn’t enjoy it at first but the good news is that networking is a skill you can develop; it really does get easier and more enjoyable with practice.  I would go so far as to say that if you’re in business networking is something you simply must learn how to do. It’s a great way of getting yourself and what you do known in the local business community but it can help you do so much more: make new contacts, find new clients and opportunities, develop relationships with trusted suppliers and advisers, find people who can support you and even make friends. Here are my top tips for successful networking:

exchanging_cards1. Choose the networking event wisely. If you’re not at your best first thing in the morning try a lunchtime or evening meeting rather than an early breakfast. Next, look at the type of people who go along. Free events are often busy but they tend to attract micro businesses, freelancers and sole traders who may not need or want your services.  If they’re not the right sort of customers and clients for you then look for a different event.

2. Think about what will work best for you. Regular meetings of a small group will help you really get to know your fellow members and build great relationships but they can take up a lot of time. Formal meetings with a commitment to give referrals can really get you moving and bring discipline to your networking although you may find the pressure to identify opportunities for other members a bit too much.  Informal, large events can be fun and energizing but also a bit random, sometimes they’re just too big.  Women new to running their own businesses may find all-female meetings good for building confidence and keeping motivation high.

3.  Make sure you have a great elevator pitch or 60 seconds speech: a short description of what you do and the benefits to your clients. Tell a story, be entertaining but please don’t bang on about how long you’ve been in business, get very technical or try to cram in everything you do. The point of the elevator pitch is to pique interest and lead to a longer conversation, you’re not selling anything at this stage. Make sure you keep it short, always stay within the allotted time. Practice and time new pitches.

4. Go into it with a positive attitude. If you think an event will be rubbish and a waste of time you’ll be absolutely right.

5. Talk to, not at, people. A networking event can be the start of a mutually beneficial relationship but there’s a long way to go before you get to that point. So chat to people, find out about them, have a conversation, start to build that relationship. If you bombard them with all there is to know about you then you’ll never see them again.

6. Follow up. Soon after the meeting send an email or text saying how much you enjoyed chatting and maybe suggest a coffee if appropriate and you want to find out more about them. Connect on LinkedIn with a personalized message reminding them where and when you met. Don’t send them all your promotional material unless they’ve specifically asked for it.

7. Learn from the experience. After a networking event think about what went well, what you could have done differently and what you would do better next time.

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Feel like you don’t know enough? Here’s what to do about it

Feel like you don’t know enough? Here’s what to do about it

When I qualified as an accountant rather than being proud of myself I was terrified. I was immediately promoted, given a big pay rise and offered the keys to a company car (even though I couldn’t drive at the time). I was also given much more responsibility and expected to up my game considerably – no more study leave, no more cutting me slack because I was a trainee. ‘Now you’re qualified you should….’ was a sentence opener that I came to dread because it usually led to me feeling very, very stupid and inexperienced.
That piece of paper suddenly cast me as an expert when really I felt like a dunce. It was the same whenever I changed jobs and acquired new responsibilities. What I didn’t know is that many newly promoted people feel the same – they’ve spent years learning how to be good at something but now they’re managers or partners the job is different and they need to develop a whole range of new skills and experiences. If that happens to you read on to find out why and what you can do about it.

Let’s start with why.

When we achieve the holy grail of qualification we’re no longer a junior or a trainee, our charge-out rate goes up and so do expectations – people who were senior to us even start treating us more like equals. But we don’t know any more than we did yesterday when we were still waiting for our results!

Because we’re suddenly expected to do more and know more we tend to become very aware of all the things that we just don’t know. We’ve moved into in a state psychologists call ‘conscious incompetence’ and started to focus on how little we understand rather than how much we know. And it feels horrible. We want unconscious competence, when you can do things naturally and well,l but that seems like a long way off.

How do you fix it?

Firstly, accept it; it happens to everyone. New roles are challenging and unsettling, that’s just a fact (see my helpsheet on coping with change for more info). Remember that it will get easier with time but you can help things along.

1. Think about what skills and experience you need to develop (maybe talk to your boss, someone responsible for talent management or even someone in the year ahead of you) and decide how you’re going to do it. It’s important here to think about what interests you – if you’re rubbish at tax and have zero interest in that area of expertise then don’t go there even if there are opportunities available; instead find something you enjoy and focus on that. Don’t forget that study after study shows that we are more successful and experience less stress when we enjoy what we do. Then ask your firm to provide you with a mentor and help pay for any additional training you need. Don’t wait for appraisal time; be proactive – do it as soon as you are ready. It shows you’re keen to get on.

2. It might help to find a coping mechanism. My nightmare scenario was being at a networking or other meeting and someone asking me a question I couldn’t answer. It happened all the time and I felt so embarrassed and useless. It was the same when I started coaching too. People can usually tell if you’re bluffing so don’t try and bluster your way out of it. In reality there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying you don’t know something; it’s better to be honest yet constructive.

What to say.

Here are some of the lines I’ve used to get me over that awkward ‘I don’t know!’ moment:

‘It would be unprofessional of me to answer that without having much more information. I offer a free initial consultation, shall we find a time for you to come into the office and we can start to explore the issue?’
‘You know tax/VAT/whatever is really complicated and it’s not my area of expertise. Why don’t I get someone from our tax/VAT/whatever department to give you a call?’
‘That sounds tricky! Let me give you a call to arrange a meeting to talk about in more detail. Have you got a card?’
‘We can’t really talk here, why don’t we meet for a coffee and talk about that in more detail?’
‘You know I’m not sure about that. Let me check it out and give you a call in a day or two (or whatever timescale is appropriate).’
Just make sure that you do get back to them! Failing to follow up as promised is much, much worse than not being able to answer a technical question.

3. Get over yourself! We’re all nervous at one time or another and we seldom feel like we know enough about anything. But if you stretch yourself and get away from that comfort zone you’ll find that it gets easier to to deal with new situations and challenges. Why not take a deep breath and just do it?

I hope you find this useful. If you’d like support and advice tailored just for you, our confidential coaching sessions help professionals improve confidence, leadership skills and all-round performance. Book your free coaching session here.

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