An interview with MatchFit Consultant Michael Brooke

MatchFit Consultant Michael Brooke

One of the unique things about the MatchFit programme is that it’s not a modular, scripted, off-the-shelf product. It evolves as a part of a consultative process, is very dynamic and so demands a lot of skill and experience from the facilitators tasked with managing the programmes.

A consultant that regularly delivers this unique MatchFit experience is Chartered Psychologist Michael Brooke, who worked with the business as client before becoming a member of the delivery team. We asked Michael how he came to work with Bradley and the team, and how his knowledge and expertise help him to deliver the business’s unique propositions.

“My experience is really very varied – as a Chartered Psychologist, I’ve obviously worked as a practitioner, but have also mixed this with in-house roles in some big organisations such as investment banks, law firms and wealth management. I was head of Learning and Development in a large investment bank in London when I met Bradley, who was an external supplier brought in to deliver training. We ended up co-delivering training there, as we got on well and were very like-minded.

I have worked with MatchFit since the beginning. The assignments are varied and you really do need to be able to think on your feet!”

What are the first things to think about when delivering a MatchFit intervention?

“We can’t go in with a script – we have to think about what the organisation needs, what are their issues, how well can we really understand them? What do we know about the science of behaviour, the psychology and all of the leadership evidence out there that will work for these people?  I think the skill is listening, and then talking about the right things, and really understanding them and their context before we start making suggestions. What MatchFit does well is that we immerse ourselves fully in the challenge, and work it out from the inside.

An example is a civil service client I’ve been working with around the CLIMB programme for their senior leadership team. The programme we developed for them consisted of up-front analysis, where we interviewed individuals and then worked with them one to one. We then engaged with them as a group, but the challenge has been that they are very outcome-focused, busy and slightly impatient to get into the ‘tough feedback’. So I’ve really had to hold my ground and not rush the process. I had my ideas of what the feedback should be but wasn’t going to share them until I really understood the issues.

We have now got to the point where we can say “This is what’s wrong and this is what you need to do about it” but it took a long time to develop the trust needed for them to actually listen and be open to the recommendations.

Another interesting example is the Prison Service. I needed to really immerse myself and spent a lot of time with the Governor of a certain prison in order to thoroughly understand it.

Although similarly challenging, the Governor and his team had very different needs to the previous example. While the environment is ‘rough and tough’, most of the problems arose because of how people were left feeling. The way a policy was interpreted, or how someone was spoken to – it was these small, day-today interactions that were causing a lot of the problems.

Telling a prison governor that he needs to be thinking about how people are left feeling is not something you do on day one!

I think a big contributor to MatchFit’s success is our credibility. With all the folks that Bradley has assembled, there is a real wealth of knowledge and experience, and that’s what underpins the service.”

So how do you go about extracting what the root causes of the problems actually are?

“That’s a great question. I would say it’s about really establishing our credibility, as I’ve mentioned, and showing that we’re listening – properly listening with an open mind. Then it’s insisting on having enough access to people before we start drawing conclusions. It’s a thorough exercise of getting under the skin of an organisation, and I think that is the key.

Establishing trust is vital – we work hard at creating an environment where people feel safe and can be incredibly honest. We fiercely protect this and people’s confidentiality – they need to feel they can tell us anything and it won’t be attributable to anybody (outside of the requirements of safeguarding, obviously).

People are often coming into the process with a lot of suspicion – sometimes they are not briefed fully, so they’re very rightly not sure what they are there for. They wander into the training room or another virtual call and they’re quite anxious. So the first thing we need to do is put them at ease. We have to show that we’re credible very quickly and gain trust, so that they really do start telling us what we need to know. Then we can really get under the skin of the problem. It’s the combination of ways that we do this which enables us to really delve deeply.”

If you’re meeting resistance, do you have a key question to break the deadlock?

“We will call it out – we are very nice, but we are also very direct, so in this situation I might say “Look, I’m getting a sense that this isn’t landing, so if this isn’t working, let’s talk about it.” If somebody is being difficult or disruptive, I might say one-to-one “If you’d rather not be part of this, I don’t want to waste your time”. However this is when people tend to open up and let you know what’s really annoyed them, that they should be somewhere else or they think this it is a waste of time. It’s about acknowledging that and, on occasion, saying “OK, don’t stay”.

But the really satisfying part of doing client programmes is turning people around who started like that. I had a great example recently with the prison service where the participants would vote with their feet if they didn’t want to attend – they would just not turn up.

I facilitated a long programme where it culminated in the real need to get certain groups of staff in the room together. I knew that certain ones were passive, in other words they just wouldn’t show up, but I also knew that if they heard via word of mouth that actually the last session was really helpful, they would join in.

I had one particularly tough cookie, who ended up apologising for how he’d been acting at the start and acknowledging that it had, in fact, been really helpful. This is what I enjoy most about the process.”

What would you say are the most common issues you find yourself having to address?

“How individuals operate under pressure is a common feature in the places we deliver the CLIMB programmes. People are often experiencing some difficulty, pressure or overload, so we relate to them by talking about understanding pressure and stress. I’ve got a certain set of models that I use that are a little bit different. They really people talking, and that always gets them interested.

For teams, there’s a lot of mileage in looking at strengths collectively, so I do a lot of work around ‘what have we got in the team’? Getting people to rate themselves informally really engages them to talk about what they’re good at and highlights the areas that need work.

For example, one of my favourite methods with a team is to say “Where do we think we are against what I think a high performing team does?  For instance, is there real clarity about who does what and what the aims are?” If they get to rate something like that anonymously, it’s very powerful. Then I might say “Where are you at on trust within this team, as we know that levels of trust are very high in a really good team that works well?” So if the team rates itself at 7, “How do we get that to 8?” This can open up hours of discussion!

Then we ask for the commitment “You’ve suggested it, why don’t you go and do it?” or “That’s a great idea, it’s come from you, what is going to stop you?” That’s usually where the resistance comes, usually that they won’t have time, so I’ll say “Well I’ll hold you accountable then – we’re going to ask you next time” and that’s a way of challenging the resistance.

Ultimately, our objective is to give people the tools to take away and independently create new, sustainable habits around high performance, that will also positively influence those around them.”