Years ago, during an internal interview for a training role, I had to give a presentation. While I was speaking, one of the managers in the room closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair, and remained that way for the whole presentation. It threw me off a bit – thankfully, there were other people in the room and I directed my presentation towards them.

A few weeks later, I passed the manager in the corridor – and he stopped me and thanked me for my presentation, going into detail about how valuable he found it. He had listened intently to every word I had said and remembered it. And yet, when I was watching him, I had no idea that he was listening; I thought he was asleep!

It was a great example of the effect that passive listening – as opposed to active listening – can have on someone, and highlighted the value of active listening, whether you’re watching a presentation, negotiating, having an important conversation, or just want to build better relationships with the people around you.

Passive vs. Active Listening

Passive listening, as I found during my presentation, can lead speakers to falter or withdraw. When we feel unheard, we’re less inclined to share our thoughts openly. On the other hand, when you demonstrate active listening, you build trust with the person you’re interacting with, encouraging them to be more open and less defensive.

The Art of Active Listening

Want to master the skill of active listening? Here are five ways to show you’re really listening.

1. Eye Contact

Meeting someone’s gaze demonstrates that you’re fully present and listening to what they have to say.

2. Body Language

Lean in to show you’re engaged – don’t slump in your chair, let your gaze wander or close your eyes. Subtly mirror their body language with your own. Establishing rapport through body language builds trust.

3. Verbal Cues

Subtle affirmations like nods, “uh huh,” and “OK” indicate your attentiveness. Avoid interrupting the speaker, but small verbal cues show you’re engaging with what they have to say.

4. Summarising

Reflect back a condensed version of what was said. This shows that you not only listened but understood the essence of their message – and is also a good way to ensure you didn’t miss anything important. 

5. Ask questions

When it’s appropriate (in a natural break in the conversation, or at the end of their presentation), ask questions. This is a great way to keep the conversation going, to engage the person you’re talking to, and to demonstrate that you were listening to what they had to say.

People Remember Active Listeners

Even if you find it difficult to speak up in group settings, you can still demonstrate active listening – and believe me, the speaker will notice. A delegate of one of my NLP Business Practitioner courses once told me about a group interview she attended for a sales job. The first day involved a presentation by some of the sales team followed by a group discussion and exercises for the interviewees. At the end of the day, she met with the hiring manager and was offered the job; he mentioned that even though there were other people who spoke up more during the group discussion, when the sales team were presenting she was fully engaged, clearly listening to everything they were saying, and that was why they’d chosen her.

Active Listening Helps You Build Better Relationships

We’ve all been in one of those conversations where you can tell the person you’re talking to isn’t really listening to what you’re saying; they’re just waiting until it’s their turn to speak. On the other hand, having a conversation with someone who’s fully engaged with you, making eye contact and asking great questions, is really enjoyable, often gets you to open up more than you normally would, and you’ll always remember that person positively.

Whether you’re negotiating an important deal, at a job interview or delivering difficult feedback, active listening will help you get the results you want – but it’ll also help you to build better relationships with the people around you, which has long-lasting benefits beyond whatever you hoped to achieve with one conversation.

Active listening is really simple, and it’s a great skill to practice. I challenge you to take what you’ve learned in this blog post, and use it in the interactions you have for the rest of the week – and notice the effect it has. You’ll almost certainly get more out of those interactions than you would as a passive listener.

If you’d like to develop your active listening skills further, have a look at my Active Listening microlearning course on my online academy Evolve Online Learning. It’s a short, focused 10 minute course designed to develop your active listening skills. 

I recently came across an article in the Harvard Business Review which cited a study that found that only 12% of employees apply new skills learned in training and development to their jobs. The article focused on lean learning: how it can help organisations make the most of their training budget, improve learning retention and empower employees to gain real, lasting value from the training they do.

What is lean learning?

Like launching with a minimum viable product, lean learning is identifying the core of what you need to learn, and focusing on that. What is really useful for you to learn for your role? What skills do you or your team need? It means approaching learning and development with a focus on retention: regular review, applying learned skills quickly in the real world, receiving immediate feedback and adjusting accordingly.

It’s ensuring that employees “not only learn the right thing, at the right time, and for the right reasons, but also that they retain what they learn.”

How to apply lean learning at your organisation

The principles of lean learning will help you spend your training budget more efficiently – and spend your employees time spent learning more wisely – which means more focused and better training for your team, and happier and better-trained employees who have the skills they need to do their job well.

Here’s how to apply the principles of lean learning at your organisation:

Make sure training aligns with employees’ needs

Before you start lining up training for your team, assess what they need. Speak to your team, or carry out a skills matrix exercise to identify where the gaps are and how you can fill them.

Make retention a priority from the beginning

Build retention into the training itself, rather than making it an afterthought. Before you start planning training, think about how you’re going to ensure it sticks. This might look like planning one-on-one coaching sessions after the training, to address any questions your team might have – or backing up in-person training with online content that employees can go back to review when they need to. We often pair face-to-face training sessions with access to our online academy, where delegates can go back to review online versions of the sessions (and other related courses) at their own pace.

Encourage your team to learn in a way that works for them

There are some broad-brush skills that are useful to everyone in an organisation, but often, more targeted topics and methods of learning are a better use of training resources. Instead of signing your whole organisation up for a workshop that only applies to 10% of the team, think about how you can offer more flexible methods for learning. Many people learn best by doing, and immediate feedback helps them to adjust and absorb what they’ve learned in real-time. Others might benefit from learning in smaller chunks: microlearning courses or audio versions of training sessions will give them the opportunity to learn during breaks or while out walking.

Lean learning on the Evolve Online Academy

We’ve been delivering corporate training and coaching for almost 25 years, and we’ve found that a targeted, flexible approach with a focus on retention is the best way to guarantee good learning outcomes.

We don’t work in a one-size-fits-all way with businesses: we tailor the support we offer based on organisations’ particular needs. We look at their goals and plans, where the gaps are in their team, and how we can address them in the most efficient way. We offer packages of in-person and online training, one-to-one coaching, and access to our online academy that allows teams to learn long-term.

We can create bespoke online content to go alongside in-person training or coaching, so businesses can give their teams access to the online content to watch, re-watch and review at their own pace (and even their own speed – they can watch at half-speed or in double-time).

We offer a range of course lengths, from in-depth toolkits to short 10-minute microlearning courses focusing on a particular skill.

Including corporate memberships in a package of business training allows employees continued access to the learning content, from videos to PDF downloads and audio recordings of sessions, so that they can review what they’ve learned or refresh their skills when they need to. We often hear of delegates pulling up the course videos on their phone to review before a meeting or presentation!

You can view the Evolve Online academy content here, or get in touch to talk to us about how we can help you make the most of your L&D budget with lean learning and a tailored package of support.

Do you have too many tasks to keep them all in your head?

Do you make lists?

For lots of people, the problem with lists is that is difficult to prioritise them. We tend to start at the top and work our way down, and any new tasks either get added to the bottom or we do them as they come in rather than continuing our systematic approach.

At the end of the day we turn the page and start the process again the next morning.

This is ineffective, unproductive and demotivating.

Dwight D Eisenhower said in a speech in 1954, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

Urgent means that a task requires immediate attention. These are the to-dos that shout “Now!” Urgent tasks make us reactive.

Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term objectives. Sometimes important tasks are also urgent, but typically they’re not. When we focus on important activities we are much more proactive and motivated.

Steven Covey popularised this approach to prioritising with an urgent/important matrix split into four quadrants. This helps you to decide whether a task should be done, dumped, delegated or delayed.

I’ve adapted this approach to make it more dynamic, so you can continually review and revise tasks throughout the day or week, and accurately change priorities when new tasks arrive. It also allows you to feel a sense of achievement when you have completed tasks – always a good motivator.

I teach the Eisenhower matrix in many of my online courses, including my Microlearning course ‘How to Prioritise Your Workload’, which is a short 10-minute course that focuses on the Eisenhower matrix.

I’m currently offering a free month’s Tier 1 membership to my online academy Evolve Online, which gives you access to all of the courses in Tier 1: there are microlearning courses on leadership and giving feedback, and longer, more in-depth Toolkit courses on topics like managing change, resilience and stress management.

Sign up here (you’ll need to enter your payment details to sign up for the membership, but you won’t be charged until the first month is up, and you can cancel any time before or after your free trial is up).

To chat about business training and coaching that incorporates the Eisenhower Matrix, time and task management, any anything else that would benefit your business, get in touch.

A version of this blog post was originally posted on the Evolution Development website. Read the original version here.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots have revolutionised communication for business, with incredible benefits for streamlining any process that uses language – from customer support to content creation and even coding. However, in the face of this new wave of AI-powered communication, here at Evolution we think the value and importance of face-to-face interaction is greater than ever.

With so many cost- and time-saving opportunities, it’s easy to foresee businesses adopting AI wherever possible. While we welcome the benefits that AI will bring – we’ve found it very useful in planning our online content – we also think that it’s absolutely essential that businesses don’t forget about the value of human interaction in building trust, getting the most out of negotiations and thinking creatively.

Really good face-to-face communication should go hand-in-hand with AI’s many useful tools, offering businesses the chance to streamline their processes and save time, but also to maintain the trust of their customers, team, and stakeholders in a way that only human interaction can achieve.

Here’s why in-person, face-to-face communication is a more important than ever – and a great partner to AI tools.

Effective business relationships are built on trust and rapport. Face-to-face communication allows individuals to establish a genuine connection by utilising non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. These elements foster trust and strengthen interpersonal bonds, enabling colleagues, clients, and partners to engage in open and transparent collaboration. While AI and ChatGPT provide efficient responses, they lack the ability to build authentic rapport that drives successful business interactions. As of now, there’s no way that AI can replace the natural skill we humans have for building rapport.

Negotiations and persuasion play a vital role in business deals and partnerships. Face-to-face meetings provide an environment where professionals can gauge reactions, adapt their strategies in real-time, and leverage persuasive techniques effectively. Reading subtle cues, responding to objections, and adjusting negotiation tactics based on visual and auditory cues are advantages that humans possess in face-to-face interactions. AI and ChatGPT, though capable of processing information swiftly, may struggle to navigate the complexity of negotiations and adapt their approach accordingly.

Businesses thrive on collaboration and innovation, and humans are great at it. Face-to-face interactions foster a fertile environment for brainstorming sessions, creative problem-solving and collaboration. In-person meetings allow team members to bounce ideas off one another, build upon collective expertise, and inspire innovative thinking. The dynamic energy, immediate feedback, and the ability to explore tangents in real-time drive creativity and lead to solutions that AI alone just isn’t capable of generating.

In the realm of customer service and support, face-to-face interactions hold immense value. Personalised attention, empathetic listening, and a human touch contribute to enhanced customer satisfaction and loyalty. Face-to-face meetings provide an opportunity to understand customers’ needs, address concerns promptly, and build lasting relationships. While AI and chat GPT can automate certain customer interactions, the human element in communication adds a level of emotional connection and understanding that is crucial for exceptional customer experiences. At the end of the day, we’re hard-wired to trust faces, and AI will never be able to fully replace that.

In a global business landscape, cultural sensitivity and understanding are critical in building lasting relationships. Face-to-face contact allows professionals to navigate cultural nuances, communicate effectively across cultural barriers, and build relationships based on mutual respect. Direct interaction fosters cultural intelligence, expands global business networks, and facilitates smoother international negotiations. AI and ChatGPT, while proficient in translation, may struggle to capture the intricacies of cross-cultural dynamics and adapt accordingly.

We are really excited about the benefits for business that AI presents – but as experts in communication who have been working with organisations for almost 25 years, we’ve seen first-hand the value that real face-to-face interaction has. We urge businesses to embrace all the value that AI has to offer, but not to forget the importance of human communication. Artificial intelligence is an incredible tool – but so is our ability to communicate, build relationships, and engineer interactions to achieve great outcomes.

If you’d like support for your team when it comes to great communication, whether that’s internal communication, negotiating, purchasing and procurement, public speaking or just getting the most out of every interaction, get in touch to talk about how Evolution can help.

Good leadership is a skill that comes naturally for some, and less easily for others – but it can be taught. It comes down to good communication, an ability to really listen, being able to plan strategically and take decisive action, and the ability to get others on board with your plans. As we look towards a flexible and remote working future with many teams now split across multiple locations, good leadership is more important than ever to keep teams motivated, happy and productive.

Good leadership skills are essential for managers, directors, and business owners, but being a good leader will stand you in good stead in many other areas of your life. The communication skills that enable you to manage a team or direct a company will help you in your personal relationships: you’ll listen better and empathise more. Decisiveness and strategic planning will help you pin down and execute personal goals. Being able to guide a team through periods of change will in turn make you more able to weather change and disruption in your own life.

Leadership training forms a large part of the online learning, training and coaching packages we put together for businesses here at Evolve Online Learning and Evolution. Whether you’re looking to improve your leadership skills at work, or for your own personal development, here are our top six tips for becoming a better leader.

1. Communication is key. Being able to build rapport is a valuable skill: it’ll make people much more likely to see your point of view and get on board with your way of thinking. If you consistently find that people fail to deliver what you’re asking of them, it’s likely that you’re not communicating in the right way. 

2. Listen. Listening is just as important as speaking when it comes to communication. What does your team need? What would make them more productive? Do they feel supported? Everyone is different, and being able to understand individual needs and ways of communicating will help you get the best out of your team in the long run.

3. Model the behaviour of others. If there’s a colleague, a friend or a public figure whose leadership skills you really admire, work out what it is they do that makes them successful – and replicate that behaviour. If you find that tricky, try business coaching: a trained coach will have spent years studying and modelling behaviour that works, and will help you apply those skills to your own life.

4. Learn to manage change. Change is an inescapable part of business, and you can’t avoid it. Learning to guide your team or your business through periods of change is essential; if you can use change to develop, grow and evolve, you’ll thrive.

5. Have a clear vision. Good strategic planning will give you a clear plan for your business, so that you can provide clear direction to your team.

6. Spend time on your own personal development. Know your own strengths and weaknesses: where do you need support? Where could you improve? Working on your own goals will set a good example for your team, and it’ll make you a better leader in the long run. Being able to manage your timebe more resilient, and manage your stress levels will take the strain out of leadership and allow you to focus on the work that really matters.

If you’d like to develop your leadership skills even further, have a look at the courses available on our online academy. If you’re looking for business leadership training, get in touch to discuss how we can help.

This post was originally posted on our business coaching and training site, Evolution. Read the original here.

Being able to give and receive feedback constructively is an incredibly valuable skill that’ll help you in innumerable ways in your professional and your personal life. Feedback often gets a bad rap: we confuse feedback for criticism, and avoid giving it, because we don’t want to come off as critical, or dread receiving it, because we think we’ll be criticised. You might have had negative experiences receiving feedback, or maybe you’re just not confident in being able to deliver feedback in a helpful, non-judgemental, constructive way.

It’s time we unlearn those negative associations – feedback is an incredibly useful tool that can help us build rapport, catalyse growth and transformation, and create a positive work culture where people feel supported and encouraged. Avoiding feedback means missing out on so many of those opportunities. 

Why it’s time to embrace feedback

Feedback is a catalyst for growth

Feedback, when provided constructively, is an excellent catalyst for personal and professional growth. It enables your team to gain valuable insights on their performance, identify strengths and areas for improvement, and ultimately reach their full potential. It’s a chance to reinforce what someone’s doing well, and offer guidance on where they can improve. Regular feedback makes it easier to keep things on track: rather than avoiding it until things go right off course, checking in regularly provides an opportunity to make small adjustments and improvements and avoid big conflicts before they happen.

Regular feedback = engaged and motivated team

Regular feedback, given constructively, is a great way to maintain an open conversation with your team. It fosters a culture of open communication, trust, and transparency, making employees feel heard and appreciated. When people receive meaningful feedback, they are more likely to feel engaged, motivated, and invested in their work, leading to increased job satisfaction and commitment.

Feedback supports your team in their goals 

Feedback is a powerful tool for professional development. By providing specific feedback, organisations can guide employees toward acquiring new skills, improving existing ones, and expanding their knowledge base. It’s a way to support them in their wider goals – is there something they’ve always wanted to explore, but haven’t had the confidence? Lots of organisations allocate employees a personal development budget, and regular feedback is a great way to support your team in using in constructively. It helps employees set clear development goals and provides them with targeted guidance on how to reach those goals. Through ongoing feedback, employees have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow, enhancing their capabilities and adaptability in a rapidly changing business environment.

Better collaboration

Feedback plays a vital role in fostering collaboration and teamwork within an organisation. By encouraging open and constructive feedback, team members can address conflicts, resolve misunderstandings, and improve communication. Delivering feedback well is a great way to build rapport between managers and their team, and between teammates. When people who work together in a team aren’t afraid of giving each other (and receiving) feedback, collaboration is easier, teams are more creative and ideas can be shared much more effectively. Constructive feedback helps to build trust and creates a culture of accountability and shared responsibility, leading to a more cohesive team.

Employee retention and talent development

In a corporate environment, well-delivered feedback contributes significantly to employee retention and talent development. When employees receive regular feedback on their performance, it demonstrates that the organisation is invested in their growth and development. This, in turn, fosters loyalty and commitment, reducing turnover rates .By identifying and nurturing high-potential employees through feedback and coaching, organisations can create a pipeline of future leaders, ensuring the long-term success of the business.

In short, learning to give and receive feedback will help you unlock your team’s potential and create an open, collaborative culture that makes employees want to stay. As a special offer, our ‘How to Give and Receive Feedback’ Microlearning course is currently FREE (you just need to sign up for a free account). Access the course here.

If you’d like to talk to us about feedback training for your organisation, or coaching for your team, get in touch.

When you’re planning training for your team or thinking abut recruitment, having a clear idea of your team’s skillset is essential: what’s covered, where the gaps are, and how confident each person is when it comes to the various competencies. 

While most good managers will have an idea of where the gaps are, it can be helpful to spend some time on this process: it’ll help you write better job ads and hire the person your team really needs, ensuring that you’ve got all the bases covered.

What is a skills matrix?

A skills matrix is a really useful way of evaluating your team’s skill spread. It’s a simple exercise that you can tailor to your team and organisation. You’ll use a customisable spreadsheet to map out how confident each member of your team is for each of the skills you’d like to evaluate – and, crucially, how willing each person is to learn that skill.

Why should you be using a skills matrix?

There are lots of tools out there to help you map skills this way, but the beauty of the skills matrix is in its simplicity. It’s easy to customise it to fit your team, its accessible and once you’ve got the template, it’s free to use forever.

Get help when planning training 

If you’re planning training or coaching for your team, going through the skills matrix exercise beforehand will make sure that you get the most bang for your buck when you book something in. It’ll help you identify areas where your whole team could benefit from training, or individuals who could do with one-to-one coaching in a particular area. 


Whether you’re growing your team or looking to backfill the role of someone who’s leaving, it’s important to know exactly what skills you need in your new hire. Recruitment is a great opportunity to evaluate your team as a whole, and make sure the new hire fills the gap. Although it’s a simple exercise, the insights gained from the skills matrix can be really valuable: more often than not, there’s a skills gap that managers weren’t aware of, so it’s worth taking the time out to go through it.

How to get access to the skills matrix 

As a business coach and trainer, I often incorporate the skills matrix into a tailored package of support when working with organisations – usually alongside a mix of in-person and online training, one-on-one coaching, and online learning content.

If you’d like to try out the skills matrix, have a look at my 10-minute microlearning course that walks you through the process: exactly how to use it, and how you can adapt it for your team. It comes with a free customisable download of the skills matrix that you can start using straight away.

Helping businesses make the most of their team and their time is what we do best. If you’d to talk about support for your business through Evolution, get in touch or have a look a the Evolution website.

Assertiveness is an essential part of effective communication, and it’s a skill that’ll come in handy in just about every area of your life. Being assertive will make you a better communicator, a better colleague, teammate and friend, and it’ll help you get the most out of your life, while respecting those around you.

What is assertiveness?

Essentially, being assertive is about respecting yourself and others. It’s being confident, without being arrogant or aggressive.

Assertiveness is:

Essentially, assertive behaviour comes down to the simple issue of respect, and balancing self respect with respect for others.

What are the benefits of assertiveness?

We negotiate all the time, when we agree contracts, buy things, disagree with a partner, set boundaries, make compromises, interact with family – the list goes on. When you can get your point of view across and stand up for yourself without upsetting other people, negotiation becomes much easier. It means that you’re much more likely to get the outcome you want, while keeping the peace and remaining positive. Sometimes, being assertive means you don’t get the outcome you wanted, but that you’ve reached a fair compromise.

If you often find that you end up compromising too much, give in easily, and feel that people take advantage of you, learning to be more assertive will help you to stand up for yourself.

If you often find that you upset people unintentionally, are accused of being aggressive or confrontational, or find it difficult to communicate in a calm way, then assertiveness will help you be a better listener, and give you more awareness of your interactions, so you can be respectful and compassionate with others.

How can I be more assertive?

There are three basic steps to becoming more assertive:

  1. Really listen, and show that you’ve understood
  2. Say what you think and feel
  3. Be clear about what you want to happen next

Now let’s break those down with some more detail:

  1. Listen. Focusing on listening first allows you to approach interactions with more empathy, and to understand others and their point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. Really listen (rather than using the time the other person is speaking to build up a defence or attack).
  2. Say what you think and feel. Try to get comfortable expressing what you think and feel in a direct way, without being aggressive or self-deprecating. You have a right to make your own decisions, and for your voice to be heard, just as much as anyone else, and although it might feel uncomfortable at first (especially if you’re used to suppressing what you want to please others, or being too forceful when you’re speaking your mind), it’s a good habit to get into, and the more you practice, the easier it’ll get.
  3. Be clear. Indicate in a clear and straightforward way what action or outcome you’d like. It’s that simple: if everyone, in every interaction, was clear and direct while being respectful, it’d be much easier to get things done. Understand that you might not always get what you want, but as long as you’ve articulated what you want in a clear way, you’ve got a good chance of getting it – and either way, you’ve approached the situation in a fair, respectful way, which is always a win.

If you’d like to learn more about how to be assertive, have a look at my Assertiveness microlearning course on the Evolve Online Learning academy. You can purchase the course individually, or sign up for a membership (from £10/month) to get access to a whole range of useful courses on everything from time management to managing stress and confident public speaking.

Creating and selling online courses is a great way to set up an additional income stream. Whether you’d like to develop a way to make passive income alongside your job, or you’re looking at making the shift to selling online courses full-time, it’s fairly simple to get set up and start monetising your expertise.

There’s a lot of information out there on creating and selling online courses, and it can be difficult to know where to start. I’ve been putting together courses and training for over 23 years, and I’ve spent the last three years developing an online academy building on my in-person courses, so I’ve seen first-hand the pitfalls and challenges that can go along with a project like this. 

I’ve put together a simple checklist for anyone looking to get started selling a course: if you’re not sure where to start, start here.

  1. Choose your topic: find something you’re knowledgable in. The perfect topic is something that people are searching for, but that’s not saturated, so do your research and make sure there’s a demand for your area of expertise, even if it’s very focused.
  2. Research your topic. Once you’ve decided on your topic, start researching. Look at other courses out there – what sells well? What gets good reviews? Which ones aren’t so good? Find out what makes a good course in your niche good (or not so good) and use that to model your courses.
  3. Learn the basic skills. You don’t need lots of equipment or experience to start filming online courses, but you should make your setup the best you can afford. You’ll need a camera, a microphone, somewhere to film and somewhere to host your courses.
  4. Start marketing: start building an email list, set up social media accounts, research your niche and start posting to drive interest in your courses.
  5. Outline your course content and structure. How are you going to organise your content? Breaking it up into chapters or segments can help make your online course more digestible.
  6. Choose a hosting provider. There are a few options here: you could build your own website and host your courses yourself, or use an existing platform like Thinkific. Setting up your own website gives you more control, but using an existing platform is quicker and easier, so decide which one works for you to begin with.
  7. Set up your filming area. Pick a quiet area where you won’t be disturbed, either with good natural light or lights set up around you. Think about your backdrop: what does it say about you? What would you like it to say? Make it interesting but not distracting.
  8. Record your first course and start getting feedback. Give colleagues, family and friends early access and ask them for constructive feedback. This step is really important, because they’ll be coming to your course with fresh eyes and might spot important details you’ve missed.

Earlier this month I was interviewed on The Leaders Council podcast. The Leaders Council is chaired by Lord Blunkett, and the podcast series features interviews with leadership figures from across the UK, with an aim to understand leadership and what it means today. I had a really great time chatting about leadership, what makes a great leader and what the future of leadership looks like with the host Scott Challinor. You can listen to the podcast in full here on YouTube or Spotify.

For those of you who prefer to read your content rather than listen to it, I’ve transcribed the conversation here on the blog, so you can read the whole thing. If you’re a leader, a business owner, planning on starting your own business or moving into a leadership role, I hope you’ll find the conversation useful – if you’ve got any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

My name is Scott Jelena, and you are listening to the Leaders Council podcast, for the people who run the country and the people who keep the country running. As regular listeners of this programme will know, part of our mission here at the Leaders Council is to bring you a variety of distinct perspectives on leadership. Today, that mission takes us to Evolution, a professional coaching and training provider to businesses and individuals. We’re speaking with managing director and founder Martin Crump on the show. Martin, very warm welcome to yourself today. Thank you for joining us.

Good morning. Thanks very much for having me.

When did you decide to become a coach?

25 years ago I was made redundant. I was working in manufacturing as a training officer at the time, training and working within HR and working on people development. When I was made redundant I decided that the redundancy was an opportunity: it gave me about a year to establish Evolution and get us started, which was really valuable. I decided that I wanted to move away from working with just one organisation towards working with as many different people as possible.

How would you sort of describe your own personal leadership style, which has developed over the years in the work that you’ve been doing?

My own style is very much collaborative. My role is to provide a vision and a direction for the organisation – but also, I totally appreciate that people are more skilled than I am in their own areas of expertise. I do really believe that everyone has unlimited potential, and by giving people opportunities, and working together and utilising their skills, it just means that we’ve got much more chance of achieving what it is we want to achieve.

You’ve obviously worked with lots of different types of leaders over many years. What are some of the key fundamental issues that you’d say leaders face today in the 21st century?

The quote I’ve heard several times from leaders is that this job would be really easy if it wasn’t for the people! So I guess the diversity of individuals, different personality types, how they behave, and just the way that they feel on a day to day basis is probably the biggest challenge that I’ve come across when it comes to leaders. There are all sorts of external challenges around the economy and other national and international issues that come up too. But I think on a day to day basis, on a medium term basis, the biggest issue they have is around getting the best out of the people they’ve got.

Over the last few years leaders have faced an immense challenge with the upheaval of the the COVID 19 pandemic and all its knock-on effects that have really tested leadership to the limit. Have you seen any patterns in leaders behaviour or the issues that they face coming out of the other side?

I think the biggest difference has been the creativity and flexibility that leaders have had to utilise over the last couple of years in terms of keeping the wheels turning, and rolling out a very quick response to lockdown initially. Particularly when it comes to remote working, but also the the issue of then having to try and lead people in the way that they led them before, but remotely. It was a very steep learning curve for a lot of people and I was coaching quite a lot of leaders through that process. 

Now the opposite is the case, where some want to come back to the office and some want to continue working remotely, and organisations are trying to strike a balance. I think the leaders who have planned for hybrid working and what the future will look like for their organisation are the ones who are really benefiting from it now in all sorts of different ways. The ones who had planned it well had policies and a strategy in place 12 months ago. They’re finding the transition to where we are now a lot easier than the ones who are just suddenly saying “everybody back in the office”. That lack of planning and sudden changes to a team’s ways of working can cause all sorts of issues and I’ve seen that a lot. Creativity and a flexibility of approach has been essential over the last few years.

Right, it’s basically a case of kind of evolve and adapt or die, isn’t it? And these are things that are going to be lingering for quite a while, because COVID has accelerated the digital revolution so much, and we’ve learned so much.

It has, and there are all kinds of events like that if we if we use the evolution analogy – there are extinction events, and there are big changes that happen in the world globally, where as you say, it’s adapt or die. The ones who adapt more quickly, actually don’t just survive but thrive through those changes. The move to a more hybrid working approach, and from a training point of view, a more hybrid and blended approach to delivering training, has always been something I’ve wanted to work towards. The last few years forced that to happen. I think there are great advantages to the hybrid working model. There are difficulties to it as well. But I think that the the organisations and particularly the leaders who embed this kind of approach into their organisation are the ones who are really going to do well in the future with things like work life balance, and all the mental health issues and productivity as well. 

Absolutely right. I’ve spoken to many business leaders who’ve come on to this programme and talked about sort of the key takeaways from COVID that they’ve used to make their businesses more resilient and to move into the future. Is there anything personally from your point of view as a trainer and coach that you feel you’ve learned yourself from the pandemic and that you’ll be taking forward?

Oh, absolutely. When the lockdown happened, we were looking at a really good year. And then we just lost literally all of our business overnight; within three days, everything had gone. So it was very much a case of adapt and adapt quickly. I was kind of reluctant to use things like Zoom and Teams before the pandemic. But once we were forced into doing it, I immediately started seeing the benefits of using those tools. I’ll certainly be been moving that forward. So from a coaching point of view, for example, I can work with different people from all over the country on the same day, without any lessening of value. I’d always had a plan to create an online academy, pre-COVID, but it had taken me ages to just create one course. Now we’ve got an established academy with a couple of hundred users, which we launched a few months ago. So moving ahead, it’s completely changed my business model, and there are lots of positive takeaways for me from it.

You’re a published author, Martin, and one of your works is Evolve or Die, which is an ultimate self help book for leadership figures. We have a lot of younger viewers that tune into this podcast that are of the entrepreneurial mindset, and maybe have that big idea (without giving too much away for those who haven’t read the book). What are some of the key pieces of advice that somebody with a business idea can really take away from that and use to embark on that road success? 

I guess, for me, the key message in all of that is that you’ve got most of the answers yourself. It’s important to ask other people’s advice and bring them into the network, but you need to be able to ask the questions of yourself as well. And so understanding where you want to go and how you’re going to get there is, is really the key to it, and the book enables that. So it’s the ultimate self help book. We call it that because essentially you write it yourself. There are a number of questions posed, and then a lot of blank pages for you to fill in and answer yourself. It’s really about self awareness, about helping yourself, planning your own future, if you like. So, for me, that’s the key takeaway: that you’ve got a lot of the answers, you just might need to be prompted and probed which is what coaching and training does for you anyway. It is your business at the end of the day. If you’re an entrepreneur and you want to start a business, you don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it. Just find out for yourself.

Exactly right. Sometimes experience is the greatest teacher, isn’t it? We learn so much more from our experiences and having to adapt to the pandemic is a great example of that. Now that we’re out of the acute phase of the pandemic, and some of the challenges of COVID are starting to shrink away, we’re still in a very volatile period with a lot of other global forces in place. What are some of the key things that leaders are going to have to take into account in the future?

You’re right, we are entering into a volatile future. But I guess in a way it’s always been volatile, although maybe not to this extreme. And so again, flexibility is key. I think it’s important to know what it is that you want – to have a goal, to have a five year plan or a three year plan or an operational plan for a year. But it’s also really important not to get stuck on that, because the the environment that you’re in might change rapidly. There’s a famous saying that I refer to a lot, that if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got, which is about consistency. But that’s only true if the environment that you’re in stays the same. And if the environment changes, which it is very rapidly doing now, doing the same thing means that you’re not going to get the same thing that you’ve always got – you might get even less, and certainly things are going to change. So the ability to be flexible, to be able to react to situations, but still have a kind of ultimate goal in mind are things important, but it’s also really, really important to utilise the excellent skills that you’ve got in your organisation that you might not be tapping into at the moment. As a leader, you don’t need to have all the answers, but you do have to have all the questions. You don’t necessarily need to have all the answers, but the people around you can help you find the right answers. And the point you made earlier about wisdom and experience – that is valuable. But sometimes that wisdom and experience will limit you in terms of your ability to solve problems. So people will say, oh, we tried that years ago, it didn’t work. That kind of attitude is really common in organisations. Yeah, it didn’t work years ago in the environment that you were in then, but maybe it will now.

I think you raise a very important point there – that experience can sometimes hold you back if you don’t go into things open-mindedly, and I think there’s a great deal of merit in the idea that we can try things again, in a changed environment, and we can ask questions and share with them some authenticity as a leader.  Often I think we feel the pressure to have all of the answers when that’s not always going to be the case. Sometimes you do have to show that vulnerability and show that you don’t know everything. But we can go through this journey together and we can find solutions.

Yeah, and I think people really value that; not having the answers. When I train, I like working with all organisations because they’re all interesting. But sometimes the leaders, the senior leaders, the chief exec, the business owner etc wants to be on the course as well. Because they’re very aware that they can always learn something and you know, people say, “If I can take one nugget away from today that changes what I do, then it’s worthwhile,” and I think that’s a great attitude to have. I’ve worked with organisations where the senior leaders don’t want to be seen to not know everything. And I think that’s really sad, because nobody knows everything. And I think the more vulnerable you are, in a sense of asking what’s the best way to do this, let’s find out. That’s going to help you survive in all kinds of different scenarios.

I agree, that authenticity, as you said, is so very important. And sometimes maybe as leaders we do you get caught up in the culture of looking as if we have all of the answers when plain and simply, it’s sometimes better not to. Learning is something that happens every single day. It’s important to acknowledge as well that whether we’re at the top of the business, we’re midway through or we’re at the bottom of a business, we’re never ever finished products, we’re always in a constant state of development. And I think a key part of that is when there are questions and where there are setbacks, you’ve got to respond to that accordingly. And, you know, take setbacks on the chin and use that to become more resilient and use that to improve, whereas sometimes I think culturally, especially in this country, maybe we do shy away from setbacks and shy away from failings a little bit too much when we should really approach it with kind of a win or learn mentality, shouldn’t we?

I agree. I think I’ve got a friend who says everything that happens to me is a learning opportunity. And so he asks himself, whatever happens, what can I learn from this? And I think that’s just a great attitude to have. And I think we need to invest in learning opportunities for leaders, much more heavily than we do now. Somebody showed me a model years ago, which was a pyramid. He said, this is the amount of effort and training we give people at the lowest levels in the organisation. And then as we go up, we give people less and less learning – whereas what we should be doing is inverting that pyramid really, and giving leaders that are higher up in the organisation more and more opportunity to learn and develop and grow. Because they’re the ones that influence the culture and the direction and the performance of the business overall.

Incredibly important points. I think reinventing that pyramid, as you say, is something that should seriously be be looked at. And as we enter the future, and leaders begin to embrace the challenges of this new post-COVID world, what are some of the priorities for you when it comes to helping business leaders and leaders of organisations embrace those challenges that are on the horizon?

For me, I think the key to development is that the higher up an organisation you go, the more interpersonal skills you need, the less technical skill you need, but the more interpersonal skills, so we’ve always been focusing on interpersonal and communication skills. For me, this is about making it more accessible on a regular basis. So we’ve just launched our online academy and we’ve got a couple hundred users so far. We designed the academy with lots of flexibility: there’s a membership option to it or you can buy individual courses, and we can put together corporate packages with in-person training, face-to-face online training and coaching and online learning. We’ve got organisations who are buying the content, and then delivering it themselves. There are people who I coach, and sometimes I’ll facilitate a team to deliver the training for their organisation. But most importantly, people have access to the content forever. We have some microlearning courses, short 10-minute courses, on various useful topics like giving and receiving feedback. And as somebody said to me the other day, he was walking down the corridor to carry out an appraisal – he had to give somebody some feedback – so he was watching the video on how to give feedback on his phone as he walked towards the meeting. For me, that immediate access to the skills and the techniques and the knowledge that you need to be able to do what it is you need to do now, I think is the key. Making it flexible, and accessible, and really tuned in to what people need now. From an evolution point of view, we’re focusing on that kind of technology and the ability for people to access stuff, when they need it and where they need it, rather than “I went on a course once, what did I do with that folder? Somewhere in a drawer at home?” 

It’s being able to access that immediate response that we’ve become so used to with a computer in our pocket. I’ve given my coaching clients access to me when they need it. Not at night, because I do like to sleep, but you know, quick conversations before meetings or after meetings to reflect on things. Because they’re so busy, leaders need to be able to solve a problem now rather than have it disappear if they don’t deal with it now and pop up again next week or the week after.

Yeah, I think that’s very right. And I think as you start to execute that and build that side of things up and I wish you all the luck in the world Martin and we’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on how things pan out in that respect. For any leaders, anybody who runs their own business, their own organisation that might be tuning in to this today and might be interested in Evolution’s work or looking into the Online Academy, what would be their best port of call for that?

You can email, or you can give me a ring on 01872 555939.

Fantastic. So for anybody who is listening into this that may be interested in the work of Evolution or looking into what the academy provides, please do contact Martin Crump on the email or the phone number that he’s just outlined. And you know what, Martin? I think as we start to understand how things are panning out in the the new world and we see what new challenges are on the horizon for this generation of leaders and the next, I would love the opportunity to perhaps catch up with you again and welcome you back on to the show, just to kind of reassess the situation and see how things are how things are changing.

That’d be great Scott, anytime.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed having you on the programme today, Martin. It’s been wonderful having you with us and by all means, do take care and do stay safe with all that’s still going on as well. Thank you. It’s been an immense pleasure welcoming Martin Crump, Managing Director and lead coach at Evolution on to today’s programme, and I do hope that everybody tuning in has thoroughly enjoyed the interview today.

Stress is probably one of the most common concerns among the clients I coach and businesses I work with. Too much stress can make it hard to enjoy the good things in life, and make it more difficult for us to reach our full potential – it takes up a lot of ‘mental space’ that could be put to good use elsewhere. I’ve spent over 23 years developing a range of resources and trainings to help people combat stress: here are my top five tips for managing stress and being the best you you can be.

To celebrate the launch of Evolve Online Learning, a Tier 1 membership is completely free for one month, so you can access our Stress Management Toolkit and lots of other courses for free. Sign up here.

Understand that stress is a good thing 

This might seem like an odd statement if you’re currently feeling stressed and overwhelmed – but in fact, some stress is a good thing. A little bit of stress pushes us to do our best and stay motivated; it encourages us to work hard and stay focused. If you’ve ever had a job where you were completely un-stressed with absolutely no pressure to do well, you’ll know what I mean. What’s important is finding a balance between ‘no stress at all’ and ‘so stressed it’s affecting you negatively’ – that’s the sweet spot that’ll help you achieve your goals.

Think ‘life balance’, not ‘work life balance’

Work-life balance is great, and very important – but I like to think of it instead as ‘life balance’. This takes into account all the facets that make up our lives: personal development, family, finances etc. In my Stress Management Toolkit course, we’ll work through an exercise I developed to help you evaluate what’s important to you in your life, what your life balance looks like now, and how to work towards a balance that makes you feel fulfilled.

Take time to pause 

If you’ve had a busy or stressful day, it’s really important to take time out to stop, breathe and reset. This is especially important if you’re working from home, as it’s easy for your workday stress to carry over into the rest of your time. Think of the glass of water analogy – holding on to our stresses and worries all day will make them seem much bigger than if we can learn to put them down and step away from them every so often.

Accept that you’re doing the best you can 

One of the key concepts of NLP is that we’re all doing the best we can with the resources we have available. Managing work, family commitments, and your own personal goals and ambitions can be challenging, but adopting the mindset that you’re doing the best you can will take the pressure off, and make you more compassionate to yourself and to others.

Only YOU are in control of your stress

It might seem like stress arises from external causes: too much work, a difficult-to-manage team, too many personal commitments. However, if you accept that you are in charge of your mind, and only you decide how stressed you are, suddenly you’re the one in control. It’s really empowering to consider that you have the ability to decide how you react to any given situation: you can react with stress, or you can choose to react in a more measured way that’s much easier to manage.

If you’d like help with managing stress, try our online Stress Management Toolkit course. For more focused support, we also offer one-on-one coaching – get in touch to find out more about how we could help.

We also offer business coaching and training, such as Resilience Training, a Time Management course, or bespoke business training to suit you.

We’re always on the lookout for new ways to deliver learning in a way that’s useful to learners. Taking our courses online means that they can be watched in your own time, at your own pace, paused, rewound and even played back faster or slower. We’ve filled our online academy with a range of courses, varying in length and focus: our focused Toolkit courses will deliver skills in a specific area, and our longer and more involved Personal Development courses will help you set goals, change the way you think and make real changes in your life.

We’ve recently added a new Microlearning category to our online academy. Microlearning is an approach to learning that breaks down content into small, easily digestible units. If you’ve never come across microlearning before, read on: we’ll explain what it is, why it’s useful and how it can help you get where you want to be.

Browse our microlearning courses here, where you can find short, focused bite-sized courses on topics like giving feedback and prioritising your time. 

What is microlearning?

Microlearning courses are short, focused learning units that deliver only the necessary information on a particular topic. The concept of microlearning isn’t a new one, but it’s taken off in recent years as the popularity of smartphones has changed the way we consume information: it’s well-suited to learners with busy schedules and lots of distractions. Research shows that microlearning can be really effective when used in the right setting: a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed that microlearning was 17% more efficient in transferring knowledge than in a standard classroom learning. 

In a world where many of us access information in short bursts – on our commute, during a break from work, while waiting for a bus – short, focused courses are a great way to take advantage of those short breaks. It’s said we check our phones an average of 9 times an hour; if you often find yourself scrolling through social media or reading articles during a break, why not dedicate that time to a microlearning course?

What are the benefits of microlearning?

It’s a great option if you’re looking to learn a specific skill, or if you’re short on time. Microlearning modules are highly targeted and specific, so it’s easy to focus on what you’re learning: the goal is to deliver key information in a way that’s easily retained.

If you find it difficult to complete longer courses, a microlearning approach may be useful: if there’s something you’d like to learn, you could always start off with a microlearning module and move on to a longer course if you need more information.

What are the limitations of microlearning?

Although microlearning has become popular over the last few years, it’s not the answer to every learning objective. While it’s great for very focused topics, it’s not as well suited to more complex learning, or courses where accountability is required. If you’re looking to set goals and work towards achieving them, a microlearning course might help with one specific area, but it won’t encourage you to stay focused as you move towards your goals.

How can you use microlearning to achieve your goals effectively?

Whether you’re looking to get better at your job (for example by improving your communication or public speaking skills, or becoming more organised), looking to move in a new direction in your career or personal life, or just working to become a better version of yourself, it’s a good idea to combine learning approaches for the most effective outcome. 

Microlearning is a great way to make the most of short periods of time, where longer forms of learning aren’t an option. It’s also a great way to help you pick up specific skills or learn about a focused topic. If you’d like to learn more about that topic and how to integrate it into your routine, move on to a longer course that covers that same topic. Our microlearning courses are designed to lead into our longer courses; if there’s a topic that interests you, and you’re not sure where to go next, get in touch and we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

Have a look at our microlearning courses, and the rest of our online courses, in our online academy.