Practical Developmental Ideas #A2 April/May 2004

This issue is about “gearing” or how we can increase the impact of our change work. There can be a difference between success and effectiveness, though it would be nice to achieve both. This ezine has some ideas about how to increase the impact of the work we do.

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What is the issue about gearing? 

Most internal and external change agents, including me, love to have repeat business. It is great to have a client that needs you and to have lots of worked booked in the diary. Success means security, peace of mind and cash in the bank. In organisations, you may be successful if you please the important people and fit in well with the organisation’s way of doing things. People enjoy your courses and queue to go on them because they are such fun or you get visiting speakers that are popular and entertaining. 

Unfortunately, it is perfectly possible to be successful and to have limited long term impact. Effective development is like effective parenting. Eventually you have to let your children go. We will be more effective if we develop people so they can develop others and themselves without needing us at all. A programme can be enjoyable without being effective and it can be effective without being enjoyable. The best programmes are both! 

“Gearing” is about how we can use ourselves most effectively to promote growth in our clients and/or in the organisation. It is difficult because our short term and personal needs may conflict with the long-term needs of the people we serve.

Ideas for highly geared activities 

  • Ø Teach people to coach each other

Professional coaching of senior people gives good gearing, in that these people affect many others. They also learn something about how to coach by receiving coaching.  

However, imagine the power of everyone in the organisation having the skills to coach each other and encouragement to do so. Everybody thinks well when someone else is listening, so thinking will improve. Taking turns helping each other builds understanding and respect very quickly. These build team spirit throughout the organisation. People who have learned to listen well to colleagues at work will soon be listening well to their life partners, children and customers. Positive “ripples” will spread everywhere. 

  • Ø Teach people to teach 

This ups the gearing another notch. If you can teach others how to teach mutual coaching, then you spread these good practices even wider.  

I am working presently with a client to help him design and deliver development programmes across Europe. I would be more “successful” from a business point of view if I was delivering these programmes personally. Now he is learning by experience and coaching how to design and deliver developmental programmes himself. The work has developed his skills and confidence. I expect that the next piece of work we do will be at a higher level because of the growth he has achieved. 

  • Ø Develop yourself

We were on holiday in Florence and went on a day trip to an almost deserted monastery. A monk showed us round. He projected an intense and almost overwhelming feeling of calm and peace that we both felt deeply. You could imagine this man walking into a contentious meeting and without him saying anything, everyone would sigh gently, relax and be constructive. This man changed people just by “being”.  

I went on a course once where there was a session on “The consultant as human instrument”. When you are a consultant, all you have is you. You don’t have anything else and the tools and techniques you have are much less important than who you are. Roger Harrison once said that if you are doing organisation development work you should spend a quarter of your time on your own development!  

  • Ø Give your ideas away

If you want to be successful at the business of development then you have to turn the ideas you have into something concrete that people can buy. This might be a book, a CD Rom, or a structured course. Successful business people might set up a franchise. The system will get the product into the hands of the people who can afford to pay for it. The providers will spend a lot of energy protecting their intellectual property and making the material unique. This does work as commercial organisations understand commerce and can relate to this way of doing business. 

However, I wonder if it is as effective long term as giving your ideas away. Giving ideas away means anyone can develop them, adapt them, improve them or use them creatively. There is more cooperation. Pure science uses this model. If you have a good or interesting idea, you publish it and one idea sparks another. Two or three years ago, I published almost all my stuff on the web. I have had some business from this but I have been more thrilled to hear of people using my ideas all round the world. This also seems fair. I know that I used the work of other people to build “my” ideas.

Some traps to avoid

  • Ø The comfort trap

Change and adventure often uncomfortable. People like you and enjoy having you around provided you keep them comfortable. This is particularly true in organisations. It is also odd as organisations employ internal and external change agents to help them grow and growing is often uncomfortable! If we collude with people’s need for comfort and want to always please them, then nothing significant will change.

Perhaps one way out of this trap is to talk with people about what we are doing so they are not too surprised when they feel “stretched”? We have to walk the talk too and be prepared to “stretch” too. In my experience, adventures “off the beaten track” are rarely comfortable, but you do feel awake and alive.

  • Ø The “fun” trap

It is clearly true that learning can be fun. A light touch helps a lot. The natural way we learn is by play and some of our greatest scientists and thinkers keep this going throughout their lives. So injecting fun into learning events is a sound idea. However, the learning comes first.

When fun comes an end in itself then learning suffers and training events become a “jolly” or “entertainment”. I often read posts to a network of trainers and wonder if “fun” is becoming the reason for people going on events or running them rather than a rather effective tool for the trade. What do you think?

Please send me your thoughts about gearing, success and effectiveness 

The ideas above come from on my limited thinking and experience. I believe these issues are important. You will have found different and interesting ways to look at this. If you email me your thoughts and experiences about how to do this, and then I will send something back to the list that will give a richer picture to us all. 

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I hope you have found the information in this issue interesting and useful. The subjects I might cover in the next issues are: –

Conflict resolution

Designing learning events

Developing your people

Improving working relationships

Removing emotional blocks

Stimulating creative thinking

Thinking tools and processes

If you have any particular developmental interests, you would like me to cover, please let me know. I will try to respond if I can.


I enjoy helping clients think through real issues involving people. I like to stay in the background as coach or consultant and sometimes work with people to help them design and deliver developmental events.  If you need to know more please refer to  email or give me a call on +44 (0) 1707 886553.

I have had one request recently to coach someone, by email and phone through the Influencing skills material on the site. If this, or face to face coaching, appeals to you about any of the material, I would be glad to hear from you.

Many of the readers of this newsletter are consultants themselves. I have learned a great deal from other consultants over the years so I am glad to have this opportunity to offer something back.


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If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick