Sam Stevenson

When absence masquerades as sickness: A MatchFit perspective

By Bradley Honnor

It’s a fact of life that people get sick. And as employers, we have a duty of care to ensure that the terms and conditions of employment look after people’s wellbeing; that they don’t feel pressurised into coming to work when they’re unwell. How well we support them is a reflection of the organisational culture.

But it’s important to differentiate between genuine sickness absence, and absence in general, as the latter is often a manifestation of a deeper issue. Managing sickness absence is the straightforward one to deal with, as long as there is a robust policy in place, which is well communicated. Where things get more complicated, is when the absence is not a direct result of ill-health – and this is where we find that a lot of organisations and managers are not dealing with the issue very well.

Often it can be the elephant in the room – everyone in the team knows that the individual is off again, but the leadership is not dealing with the problem. And that has an impact on the culture of the organisation. It makes people feel frustrated that they’re doing the extra work, and taking the responsibility of the people that are off, and the resentment builds.

Not managing that effectively can lead to a negative feedback loop. A company might start off being very sympathetic and supportive of absence, but then when this is taken advantage of, they become less supportive. Then the genuinely sick are impacted and it spirals from there.

We’ve worked with an organisation that had exactly this problem. When new starters joined, they were told in their induction that they’d get their 25 days holiday pay, but 10 days sick leave as well.   So those 10 days were assumed to be part of the annual leave entitlements. It became an acceptable norm because everybody did it. On some days, 50% of the staff were off! Imagine the impact that was having on the remaining staff.

The impacts of absence

The most obvious impact of a high degree of staff absence is reduced productivity. When staff are absent, productivity often dips. Tasks get delayed, and it’s a real challenge to keep things moving smoothly. Coupled with this, the workload for others increases. Team members end up shouldering extra responsibilities. It’s tough on them and can lead to burnout. Customer service can take a hit. Reduced staff means slower response times and potentially unhappy customers.

This in turn leads to problems with morale. Frequent absences can really dampen team spirit. It’s something we’ve seen first-hand, and it’s a delicate issue to manage.

There’s a direct financial impact too. Covering overtime or bringing in temp staff isn’t cheap, and it adds up. Workflow and project timelines suffer. Delays become common, and it disrupts the rhythm that teams and organisations work hard to establish.

From a management perspective, it’s a real headache. It’s time-consuming and stressful to keep reorganising work schedules, and the quality of work can drop. Staff covering for others might not always match the usual standards, or have the time to do the jobs thoroughly, cutting corners just to get them done.

Ultimately, over time, business reputation suffers, especially as service levels drop.

So why is absence frequently not addressed?

In some workplace cultures, a certain level of absenteeism is almost accepted – changing this mindset is challenging. Often, absenteeism stems from deeper issues, like workplace dissatisfaction, but the root causes can be overlooked. Addressing the symptoms, not the cause, is a common mistake. But without good monitoring systems, it can be hard to spot and address patterns in absenteeism effectively.

Often, the problem is simply a lack of training. Many leaders aren’t trained in handling the formal processes of absenteeism, and often aren’t even aware of the support framework that, for instance, ACAS offers. It’s a gap in management skills that MatchFit often encounter, but it’s actually very straightforward to rectify.

More complex is the issue of avoiding confrontation. Confronting absenteeism means tough conversations, and some managers shy away from this to avoid conflict. However, this can also be addressed with the appropriate training to give managers skills and confidence in this area. An additional outcome that we often witness is that the manager finds their new skills empowering. They start to enjoy this part of their role more, because being able to have tricky but trust-based conversations has further, positive ramifications for developing high-performing teams.

It’s not unusual for a fear of legal repercussions to paralyse decision-making. Without clear policies, it’s tough to tackle absenteeism. MatchFit have worked in organisations where this has been a significant barrier. This might due to a lack of resources such as HR support, which can make managing absenteeism seem daunting.

Sometimes, however, managers simply underestimate the impact. They see it as a minor issue and don’t realise how much absenteeism is affecting their team. Managers are busy, and dealing with the issue falls by the wayside due to other pressing tasks.

So what can be done?

Firstly, how well do the HR policies and procedures stack up? Are they regularly reviewed and updated? Is the HR department fully-versed in ACAS guidelines and law?

Then, how well is this communicated? Does every manager know how and where to access support and information? If they’re not accessing it, why not?

Where gaps are identified, outsourcing to a consultancy such as MatchFit can save an organisation a great deal of money. For example, we were able to save one client £120,000, simply by training them to manage their absence effectively!

There are many fears and misconceptions around tackling absenteeism. But if the appropriate support is in place and the processes are followed correctly, then it need not be the costly headache it often becomes.

If you’d like to learn more about our MatchFit programmes, take a look at our information pages here, or why not get in touch? [email protected]

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The what and the why of CLIMB 360 Analysis

By Bradley Honnor

Creating and sustaining a culture of high-performance whilst ensuring an inclusive environment of diversity of thought and background can be challenging for organisations to navigate. MatchFit have always believed passionately that the key to solving this dilemma is a thorough understanding of an organisation from all perspectives, which is why every programme we deliver begins with a CLIMB 360 Analysis.

But what is CLIMB 360 Analysis, and how does it impact the outcomes for clients? One example is evidenced by our partnership with the Civil Service HR Casework team to form the multiple award-winning HR Technical Consultancy (HRTC), which uses CLIMB and other MatchFit products as an essential element of its service.

Why CLIMB 360 Analysis?

Fundamentally, the goal of CLIMB 360 Analysis is to thoroughly understand the perceptions of individuals that work within a business or a team. It seeks to deeply understand individual perspectives, for example, what it’s like to work there and how it feels. It asks for people’s views on communication, leadership and the culture, and seeks to obtain a thorough sense of what staff feel is working and what needs to change in order to make the culture, leadership and communication more effective.

We always start with the CLIMB 360 Analysis process because we cannot and should not assume that we know and understand exactly what needs to be addressed; that the priorities are the right ones. How can we take a team or organisation to the next level of performance without actually speaking to the people that work in it and understanding their current perspectives and challenges? Quite often, one outcome of the analysis is that the commissioning leadership will have some of their beliefs and expectations confirmed. But equally, there are often surprises; insights that they were not expecting at all.  

Seeking perspectives

For a programme to be effective, we can’t just rely on leadership to commission the work – we need to seek the perspectives of others in the organisation, with whom we conduct confidential, one-to-one conversations via our skilled consultants. To solicit the widest range of views possible, we ask the leadership team to select 12 diverse people. We request that this includes staff at different levels of seniority; maybe who have just joined the organisation and those who have been there a long time. We ask for diverse backgrounds and identities to be represented. And we specifically ask for the ‘disgruntled and the evangelical’.

Because confidentiality is ensured throughout the process (and the fact that we are an external organisation) people feel safe to speak openly and honestly. This means we gather a really broad range of views and opinions around specific questions that are non-directive and non-leading. What emerges from these conversations is the discovery of what people are actually thinking; what’s on their minds. We see themes emerging and the real issues that everyone is talking about. This way, we can identify the challenges that need to be overcome, and the elements that are working and need to be reinforced.

Views in tandem

Alongside the CLIMB 360 Analysis, HRTC run a bespoke organisation-wide survey which reflects very similar questions. We then compare the CLIMB analysis responses with the survey.

In addition, a skilled HR case management audit is conducted. This is where an HR Case Manager sits with management and examines every outstanding HR case – for example, every grievance, every disciplinary, past and present. They look at how quickly and professionally past cases have been concluded, the outcomes and how best to resolve the outstanding current cases. The objective is to provide a strategy which supports managers and leadership to conclude the cases professionally; to recognise what’s worked before, and take into account their risk appetite in terms of resolution. The case manager can then advise how to progress the case.

These three elements run together to provide what we term ‘Cultural Immersion’. Collectively, they allow us to achieve a genuine insight into how the organisation is really operating. This information is then fed back to the leadership in the form of a full report that outlines (anonymously) the themes drawn from the conversations that will result in better leadership and management, and move the needle in terms of organisational high performance.

MatchFit have always worked in this way because we have a deep-seated belief in the importance of getting underneath the surface, behind the scenes of what’s going on in an organisation. This is also a reason why the HRTC partnership works so well, because SC HR Casework have a similar passion for evidence-based practice.

Measuring outcomes

This approach makes a huge difference to overall outcomes, because in the report, we can specify what the focus of actions should be and what outcomes can be expected. From that analysis, we’re able to benchmark and measure the process moving forward. There’s a stake in the ground stating ‘this is where you started, this is what we’re doing, and this is the change needed’. The leadership can then priorities and shape their own direction for progress. Not only can we then look back at the end of the programme and ask if we were successful – we can also adjust as required during the journey. This ability to measure is invaluable.

As the programme itself progresses we actually measure at four different levels. We measure how people are reacting – are they finding value in the process? We measure what they have learned – what insights have they gained that they didn’t have before they engaged in the process? And we measure behaviour – what have they been doing differently based on what they’ve learned? Finally, we measure what the impact is on the organisation of doing things differently.

We tend to find evidence for the first three levels via the CLIMB 360 Analysis, HR bespoke survey and Case management audit. When we, as HRTC, conduct this Cultural Immersion and feed the analysis report back to the leadership team, we can identify whether there’s value in the process; is this information useful? Are you gaining insights? Did you know this already? Is this new to you? What are you learning about your own organisation?

We can then advise what they need start thinking about as the programme moves forward: what are the priorities for doing things differently, what are the interventions that are needed to effect change. The analysis helps us to not only identify the dimension of the CLIMB programme, but also helps us identify the interventions to be delivered.

Collaborative working

Throughout the programme, we’re not only working with people individually, we’re working with them as a group. We really get to understand them, and their challenges. That might be, for example, a manager talking about the need to upskill their own team in certain areas. So the process by definition, also uncovers areas that need additional input.

Because we work through and wholly in partnership, the access to data and material we can use to benchmark and evidence each programme’s success is unprecedented. If MatchFit was just a supplier, we wouldn’t have access to that confidential information. But because we’re working in partnership, we work together to demonstrate the success of the CLIMB programme.

Even from stage one of the CLIMB programme, we can start to see a positive impact on an organisation. For example, a disciplinary might historically have taken 18 months to conclude, whereas now it only takes seven months, because the managers have been upskilled through the HRTC technical interventions.

Being able to measure the impact so clearly is unusual. And it’s a key reason the HRTC partnership is award-winning – because we can visibly demonstrate the path towards high performance.

If you’d like to learn more about our MatchFit programmes, take a look at our information pages here, or why not get in touch? [email protected]

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Motivation Part II: Igniting Intrinsic Motivation: A Leadership Imperative

In our previous article, we looked at the importance of making a self-motivation a strategy, and how to build habits around this area of self-development. Here, we’ll delve into the dynamics of motivation, the role of company culture, and strategies for igniting intrinsic motivation in your team.

Extrinsic motivation is a fundamental of leadership – addressing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, such as salary, conditions, bonus, rewards, recognition, showing people they are valued. These external factors can drive performance and satisfaction to a certain extent. However, it’s crucial to recognise that they are not the sole drivers of sustained motivation. To drive actualisation and high-performance, igniting intrinsic motivation in others is key – providing people with a sense of purpose, autonomy and an opportunity for mastery.

People need to feel that they count; that they are doing a great job, are adding value, are making a difference. They need to feel challenged, stretched, that they’re developing. All these elements come from within but may need a leader to blow on the embers and ignite the fire of self-motivation.

But motivating others in the workplace can be a formidable challenge, and leaders often find themselves grappling with a lack of motivation among their teams. Understanding the root causes and knowing how to overcome them can make all the difference.

The part that culture has to play

A strong organisational culture fosters a sense of belonging, purpose, and shared values. When employees resonate with the culture, they are more likely to be self-motivated. However, it’s important that leaders don’t take a strong culture for granted – assuming that everyone is on the same page can lead to disenchantment. A leadership that cultivates collaboration, innovation, personal growth, keeps asking questions of its employees—and listening to the answers—fuels intrinsic motivation.

Pushing through when everyone is ‘stuck’

There will often be situations where teams feel stuck or demotivated. During these times, it’s essential to trust the team to find their own way forward. Encouraging people to take ownership, show belief in their abilities, and assigning challenging tasks that stretch their potential will help them grow and gain confidence. But it’s also important to support employees on their ‘stretch’, not just dump tasks on them and let them struggle.

Making group habits

Building group habits can be a powerful motivator. As we explored in the last article, making motivation a strategy, developing consequential thinking and defining aligned goals are powerful tools for building successful inherent responses to challenges. Establishing routines that promote teamwork, creativity, and self-improvement, and regularly reinforcing these habits creates a culture of continuous improvement.

Be kind – but don’t be afraid to challenge thinking

Becoming really good at offering great feedback is a key skill for leaders. Treating employees as human beings with feelings and their own phenomenology is obviously fundamental. But ultimately, nobody gains from not addressing areas for improvement, which left, can start to impact other members of the team, as well as the employee’s own intrinsic motivation.

Top Tips

While extrinsic motivation has its place, true leadership excellence is about igniting the motivation that lies within each team member. By understanding the contributory factors, nurturing a positive culture, and applying effective leadership strategies, you can inspire your team to sustainable high-performance and drive organisational success.

  • Trust people to do things their way.
  • Show unwavering belief in your team and assign tasks that stretch their abilities.
  • Offer support during their growth journeys; don’t leave them to struggle alone.
  • Be kind and recognise their efforts and achievements.
  • Challenge their thinking and self-belief when necessary to foster personal growth.

If you’d like to learn more about our MatchFit programmes around motivation, take a look at our information pages here, or why not get in touch? [email protected]

You can read Part I here

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The Value of Experience in Navigating Complex Challenges: A Personal Journey with MatchFit

An interview with Catharine Brooks

When the world was plunged into uncertainty with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, businesses and individuals alike faced a new reality. It was a time when adaptability and innovation became paramount, and for Catharine Brooks, it marked the beginning of her journey as a consultant with MatchFit.

Highly experienced, Catharine has always thrived on the dynamic interaction with clients. But as the pandemic struck, the landscape of her work shifted from physical, ‘in the room’ interventions, to virtual. One of her first experiences of virtual training was quite unique – she found herself working with the nation’s elite footballers, the England Lionesses. “It was an absolute privilege as well as being a real test,” she admits, “I am a huge football fan myself, and found myself working with these athletes who have achieved so much!” The experience exemplified the adaptability and resourcefulness required to deal with increasingly complex challenges. Through Women in Football, Catharine now has the exciting opportunity of working with the FA and the Premier League.

As a MatchFit partner, Catharine provides services and support that effect tangible changes to the lives of clients, their teams, and the organisations they operate within. When asked what she brings to the role, Catharine’s response is unequivocal: “I have over 35 years’ experience in corporate and cultural change, leadership and personal skills development, and executive coaching. I’ve worked across various sectors, including public and private, working with leading global organisations and FTSE 100 companies.”

But regardless of the organisation, it all comes down to people and personal development. “Personal development is exactly what it says – personal,” she continues. “I love that moment when an individual’s lightbulb switches on. You can sense, in that moment, they have taken their first step on their personal journey of new insights, reflective practice, and meaningful feedback.”

Catharine practises a strength-based and action-focused approach to both leadership and personal development. Being a certified Strengths Coach, as well as an Emotional Intelligence Coach, she encourages and supports leaders to identify strategies to get the best from themselves and their teams.  When asked what makes a great leader, she stresses: “Possessing a growth mindset, understanding and regulating emotions, demonstrating the right behaviours, and playing to strengths are at the very core”.

Her ethos for creating inspirational and servant leadership is simple: “My job is to help leaders find their spark and discover ways to share their passion, knowledge, and experience with their teams and across the business. Their job is to go out there, be themselves, and to grow and develop themselves, their teams, and their organisation.”

The programmes created and delivered by Catharine and MatchFit focus on giving compassionate, strengths-based feedback and coaching alongside interventions to deliver new understanding, simple strategies, and practical tips to successfully deal with phenomenological challenges and opportunities. Leaders who have worked with Catharine report having gained significantly higher confidence in their ability to lead themselves and others.

Catharine’s work with HMPPS and several leadership teams in a variety of HMP prisons highlights the transformative power of MatchFit’s CLIMB programme. In fact, with the programme’s support, the Civil Service HR Casework team recently won the award for best talent management initiative at the CIPD Awards 2023.

In an extremely challenging environment that lacks resources and faces high staff turnover, the CLIMB programme focuses on engagement, communication, problem-solving, and leadership. It creates a safe space for leaders to reflect on what matters to them in the present and how they can make a difference, even in small ways, to the future. “It’s about committing to small, meaningful actions,” Catharine emphasises. “If they can make a one percent change, it’s the first step. Then they can look to take their next step. It’s simply the aggregation of marginal gains.”

This philosophy underpins the importance of incremental progress when dealing with complex challenges. Creating a safe space for individuals to reflect, share their thoughts, show vulnerability, and commit to actions, is imperative.

“This is often the first opportunity for many of these leaders, and they find it both cathartic and rewarding.” As facilitators, Catharine and her fellow associate consultants at MatchFit assume roles that blend coaching and mentoring. They ask probing questions, share practical strategies, and challenge participants to carefully consider their decisions. This approach harnesses the power of collective small changes, which, when combined, yield significant impacts.

But success in this field isn’t just about tactics and strategies; it’s also about trust and communication. MatchFit has cultivated an outstanding reputation within the Ministry of Justice and the wider Civil Service. “Our clients trust us, which is so important,” Catharine acknowledges.  A poignant moment from her work with prison staff encapsulates the impact of trust. One individual told Catharine, “When you first came here, a lot of us were very sceptical; you said we could trust you, and you had our best interests at heart. Having worked with you over the past six months, you were right, and you’ll never know how much that means to us.” Feedback like this reaffirms the profound difference MatchFit makes in the lives of its clients.

Outside of her demanding role at MatchFit, Catharine balances running a successful personal leadership consultancy business. She enjoys travelling (her next trip being to China to visit her daughter, who us currently studying in Beijing), going to the gym, long country walks with her dog, and relishes good food and wine with family and friends. Mindfulness also plays a crucial role in maintaining a positive work-life balance, reminding us of that even in the pursuit of helping others navigate complex challenges, taking care of oneself is equally important.

In a world fraught with ever-evolving complexities, Catharine Brooks and MatchFit exemplify the invaluable role of experience, adaptability, and trust in guiding clients through the most challenging of journeys. As she continues to make a difference, both in the boardroom and at grass roots, Catharine’s unwavering commitment to positive change is a testament to the power of experience in a rapidly changing world.

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From bonding to action – making a team ‘Match Fit’

Jean-Pierre Beneche, Executive Director of global financial services group Julius Baer, explains how MatchFit’s ‘Building Teams’ programme delivered tangible results in creating and establishing a highly-effective specialised team.  

Headquartered in Switzerland, and with a presence in the UK, Julius Baer is a global private wealth management company, specialising in supporting the financial needs of high-net-worth individuals. Jean-Pierre’s team reports into the Chief Risk Officer and was created to ensure the efficient and compliant handling of data connected to the organisation’s activities.

Building a new team, understanding the challenge

Jean-Pierre’s had the task of rapidly building a new team capable of quickly delivering on a clear vision. Following the team’s formation in September 2022, MatchFit came in to offer guidance and ensure the group would develop in the most effective way.

“I was new to a role that required building and leading a new team, who were quite diverse in their levels of experience and specialities. A key factor in my successful leadership would be finding ways to get them to work together effectively as a team. I was also mindful of the pressure I can put myself under to constantly deliver high standards. Having discussed the challenges with our HR department it was suggested we work with MatchFit, an organisation that had delivered good results for other teams in the past,” he explained.

MatchFit ‘Building Teams’ module

Having analysed the challenge with MatchFit, it was decided that their ‘Building Teams’ module was the most appropriate programme to achieve the required outcomes.

Jean-Pierre wanted to create a core vision for the department and motivate the team. Given the different role profiles and levels of experience, it was key that everyone came together early in the process, to ensure they could see how their roles fitted into the team and how the group could become as efficient as possible.

“There was an important pre-phase before the group came together,” he explains. “Individually, we had one-to-ones with [MatchFit managing director] Bradley, where we explored a range of issues. We joked about what we might have said in these sessions and that in itself allowed us to start bonding more as a group.

“Expectation was building before we met as a group for the first time around what was going to come out of the process. It became a recurring topic of conversation. I didn’t need to proactively remind the team that the group session was going to happen. I thought that was fantastic,” said Jean-Pierre.

After the first group meeting, the group took the view that they needed to digest what had been discussed and Jean-Pierre followed up with group and individual conversations about the output and what it meant for the team.

Making a real and immediate impact

There were immediate tangible signs that the programme was working.

“Naturally I expected the programme to help but it actually contributed to the enhanced performance of my team in a very short period of time. It definitely helped me individually and I have to say I was not necessarily expecting it to be so helpful,” said Jean-Pierre.

The dynamic around the programme really engaged the team who discussed it throughout the three-week process and took bets on what the next session would focus on. “It really became a ‘thing’, which added to the team bonding process,” added Jean-Pierre.

He continued: “I think what this has really, truly, created is an awareness of our strengths and weaknesses as a group. That was one of the main outcomes: the understanding that we need to be aware of these as a team, because there’s nothing worse than being blind to them.”

The programme has helped Jean-Pierre understand you cannot just get on with your day-to-day operations without taking the time to step back and reflect. “And the MatchFit sessions allowed, and even forced, us to do this”, he said.

The sessions proactively helped Jean-Pierre and his team take action to be more efficient with regular discussion around things the group could do to achieve this.

“It’s easy to say that you need to improve in certain areas but then just carry on with your day job. The programme forced us to stop, take a pause and decide: okay, out of the 10 things that we said we potentially wanted to do, we’re going to focus on two or three, actually do those, and assign responsibilities. We also understood we needed to make sure we stay accountable around those decisions.”

Tangible changes

He continued: “I’m especially proud that we didn’t just close the door after the session and say, ‘let’s see what’s going on in six, eight weeks’ and then take no action. We really stepped up to the mark and made the changes we said we would.

It was one of the first comments in the second session. Michael [Brooke, MatchFit consultant] and Bradley really challenged us. It is normally the moment in a programme when everybody’s looking at each other, because nobody has actually done any of what they said they would. But my team all stood up and said, ‘no we have done things. Things have changed. We’ve really been active around what we discussed’. And that’s something that I really liked.”

When the programme finished, the team documented the actions they still felt they should focus on.  

“My team has been very, I’m going to say, aggressive in taking action, but in a positive way.” He continues: “MatchFit created energy around the determination to make us a successful team. It has definitely created a bond around the desire for excellence that this team wants to be recognised for; it’s become a shared goal.”

A new viewpoint

“I would definitely encourage anybody to embark on this programme, which can be done at any stage in your team’s lifecycle.

As a middle or senior manager, you may think that you already have the necessary knowledge and experience and you know what is best. But it is very, very helpful to have support to lead you through such a programme and help you take the very the best from it.

Different elements of the programme will resonate more strongly with people, but as a team, we have gained invaluable takeaways and made great strides forward.” He concludes.

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Subject Matter Expert or Super Leader: Can You Be Both?

Most people will be familiar with the scenario where someone who’s really good at what they do technically in their specialist area is promoted into leadership or management. But that technical expertise doesn’t necessarily equate to effective leadership, which involves taking charge, making decisions, setting direction, and fostering collaboration within a team or organisation. Effective leaders critically need strong interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and the ability to communicate and motivate others. Suddenly that high-flying subject matter expert (SME) is struggling to succeed in a role that actually requires quite a distinct skill set. And the importance of the dynamic that’s created by good leadership and the cohesiveness of a team is often underestimated.

So why does this keep happening?

Recognising the challenges – out of the comfort zone

Highly proficient in their respective domains, SMEs possess deep knowledge, expertise, and skills in a specific field or area, making them an invaluable asset. They often serve as go-to resources for guidance, problem-solving, and mentorship within their organisations, and their expertise and experience contribute significantly to the success of projects and initiatives related to their area of specialisation.

Particularly in technical skills-based organisations, a person may have been recruited for those skills, and then progressed up the ranks towards seniority based on that technical proficiency. They then find themselves managing people, which requires a very different set of skills. Sometimes, this can mean that team members end up with two managers—a technical manager and a people manager—which can create a tricky dynamic in itself.

Recognising the challenges – letting go

Another consideration is that it can be difficult for an SME to step away from the feeling that they have to be THE authority on their specialism. Having been accustomed to focusing primarily on their area of expertise, delving into technical details and problem-solving, they now find themselves needing to balance their technical knowledge with broader organisational perspectives. It can be challenging to shift their mindset from being hands-on experts to guiding and supporting a team.

Letting go of control and trusting others can also be challenging. SMEs often excel precisely because of their deep understanding of their field and so prefer to take ownership of tasks. They are also accustomed to sharing their expertise with others who possess a similar technical background. However, to be successful leaders, SMEs must also learn to delegate responsibilities and empower team members to contribute their own expertise and perspectives as well. They must communicate effectively with diverse stakeholders, including team members, executives, clients, and other departments. Influencing skills become essential in gaining support, driving change, and building relationships.

Clearly, some SMEs, even without training, are just naturally good leaders. They are more outwardly-focussed, and have the ability to guide, inspire, and influence others to achieve common goals.

However, what often happens is that somebody goes on management training course, but there’s little follow-up in terms of whether they’re implementing their new management skills, and doing so effectively.  Like learning any new skill, it develops over time. There needs to be some method of measuring growth and progress, through active demonstration of the skills, and feedback from others about the impact. The fact that there is some good work being done around measuring development, and yet many organisations haven’t embraced it, speaks volumes about how important it is seen to be. Which is strange when you think we measure most other aspects of a business, spend a substantial budget on training, and yet don’t apply the same ROI lens to evaluate it.

Another consideration is whether people are being provided with leadership and people management skills early enough in their careers, even before they’re ready to be a leader. Clearly, there is an investment cost in providing CPD, but many of the rapport-building and communication skills necessary for leadership are also pretty useful for employees at a much earlier stage.

Defining a Leader

A leader, on the other hand, is more outwardly-focussed, and has the ability to guide, inspire, and influence others to achieve common goals. Leadership involves taking charge, making decisions, setting direction, and fostering collaboration within a team or organisation. Effective leaders may also possess technical skills, but critically they need strong interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and the ability to communicate and motivate others.

Three Differences between SME and Leader

  1. Focus:

An SME primarily focuses on their area of expertise, working to deepen their knowledge and contribute specialised insights. Their attention revolves around technical aspects, problem-solving, and maintaining a high level of expertise in their field.

In contrast, a leader focuses on the bigger picture, aligning team members toward a common goal, and coordinating efforts to achieve organisational objectives. Leaders prioritise building effective teams, developing talent, and creating a positive work culture and environment.

  1. Skill Set:

SMEs excel in their technical skills, possessing a deep understanding of their domain. They become experts through years of experience, continuous learning, and honing their craft. However, technical skills alone are not necessarily sufficient for leadership success.

Leaders require a broader skill set, encompassing communication, strategic thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. They must inspire and motivate their team members, manage conflicts, delegate tasks effectively, and foster collaboration.

  1. Perspective:

The perspective of SMEs tends to be biased towards their area of expertise. Whilst they excel in their technical knowledge, they may lack a holistic understanding of the organisation or industry.

Leaders, on the other hand, possess a broader perspective by necessity. They understand the interdependencies among different functions, teams, and stakeholders. Leaders consider long-term goals, market trends, and organisational dynamics while making strategic decisions.

The challenges when SMEs transition into leadership roles

Promoting SMEs into leadership positions can present challenges. While their technical skills are highly valuable, the transition to leadership usually requires additional development. Leadership requires a distinct skill set that goes beyond technical expertise. Effective leaders possess strong interpersonal and communication skills, emotional intelligence, strategic thinking, decision-making abilities, and the capacity to motivate and inspire others. SMEs may need to invest time and effort in developing these leadership competencies.

Limited exposure to the broader organisational or industry landscape because of a specialist technical focus can also be problematic. Leaders need to understand the interdependencies among different functions, teams, and stakeholders, and, for SMEs, adapting to a more comprehensive perspective can be a significant adjustment.

In addition, they may have limited experience in leading and managing teams, which requires resolving conflicts, providing feedback, and fostering a positive work environment. Developing people management skills is crucial for successful leadership.

Navigating the Expert-Leader paradox

Recognising that different skills are required is the first step in overcoming these challenges. Leadership is a continuous learning process and embracing growth and development is also a key leadership competency. Organisations that provide opportunities for professional development, such as leadership programmes, coaching, and mentorship—and have prospective leaders with the awareness to seek these out—are likely to benefit from the best of both worlds.

Subject Matter Expert or Super Leader: Can You Be Both? Read More »

The Art of Present Leadership

Avoiding Past Ruminations and Future Worries.

Business leaders today face a particular challenge; the need to stay ahead of the competition and mitigate for risks, while also not getting bogged down in worrying about what might happen in the future. To achieve a balance between the two, leaders must learn to embrace and lead in the present. By doing so, they can open themselves up to the opportunities of living in the here and now, and avoid the dangers of always playing it safe. In this article, we discuss the importance of leading in the present and how to achieve it.

The importance of remaining in the here and now.

In today’s fast-paced business world, it is easy to get caught up in the chaos and constantly worry about what could go wrong in the future. While it is essential for business leaders to be proactive and take necessary steps to mitigate risk, it is equally important to remain present in the here and now.

One way to achieve this is by understanding the circle of control and the circle of influence. The circle of control consists of things that are within our control, such as our thoughts and actions. The circle of influence, on the other hand, consists of things that we can influence but cannot control, such as market trends or the actions of our competitors. By focusing on what we can control, we can maintain a sense of calm and serenity, even in the face of uncertainty.

Being present in the here and now also requires us to be resourceful emotionally and in terms of activity in a phenomenological way. This means that we need to be aware of our emotions and the impact they have on our decision-making processes. It also means being open to new ideas and opportunities, even if they may seem risky.

Of course, it is important to strike a balance between risk mitigation and taking advantage of opportunities. While catastrophising is an important process for creating resilience plans, we also don’t want to be continually in a state of anxiety about what might happen.

Achieving balanced leadership means understanding that there is always an element of risk in any decision we make, but it is possible to manage that risk and make informed decisions that benefit our business. By remaining present in the here and now, we can tap into our resilience and stoicism, enabling us to navigate uncertain times with confidence, and inspire that confidence in others.

Being aware of the environment you’re working in.

As a business leader, you are likely to operate in a highly competitive environment, where you are expected to deliver results and achieve success at all costs. This pressure can cause you to lose sight of the present moment. You may become too focused on future goals, worrying about the what-ifs, and the impact that this could have on your business.

One useful way to manage this stress is to take a lesson from the military. In the military, stress testing is a common practice. It involves subjecting soldiers to a series of intense and high-pressure situations that help to prepare them for future crisis situations. This kind of training helps soldiers to remain calm and focused in the moment, even when faced with high-stress situations.

Similarly, as a business leader, it’s important to remain aware of the environment you’re working in and understand how it can affect your decisions. It’s important to acknowledge the stress and pressure that come with leading in a competitive environment. It’s equally important to learn how to manage these stressors effectively and develop strategies that help you stay focused in the present.

One approach that can be useful is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment and not getting caught up in thoughts or feelings about the past or future. By learning to be mindful, you can better focus on the task at hand, stay present in the moment, and avoid becoming distracted by concerns about the future.

Another way to remain aware of your environment is to pay attention to the people and the culture around you. Get to know your colleagues, your clients, and your competitors. Understand what motivates them and what drives their decision-making processes. By understanding these factors, you can make more informed decisions and be better prepared to handle challenges as they arise.

What you can do when you’re stuck in the moment.

Being present is an important quality for any business leader, but what happens when you feel like you’re stuck in the moment? It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day challenges of running a business, but it’s essential to take a step back and evaluate your current situation.

One way to do this is by asking yourself these questions:

  • What is the crux of this problem?
  • On a scale of 1- 10, how bad is this problem? What will actually happen if I don’t fix it?
  • In six months’ time, what will it look like?
  • What resources do I have available right now in terms of time/budget/people?
  • What are my actual constraints/barriers vs those that I am making assumptions about?
  • Whose expertise can I utilise? What ideas might others in my team have?

Who becomes the judge of what is considered acceptable risk?

It’s worth remembering that what may seem like an acceptable risk to you, may not be the same for others in your organisation or even for your customers and stakeholders. When making decisions about risk, it is important to consider the potential impact on all parties involved. This includes evaluating the potential benefits and drawbacks, as well as the likelihood of success or failure.

Risk is subjective and can vary depending on many factors, such as market conditions, financial stability, and company culture. Finding a balance between complete risk avoidance and taking calculated risks is a delicate process that requires constant evaluation and adjustment.

As a leader, you can establish clear guidelines and protocols for evaluating and managing risk. This can include regular risk assessments, training and education for employees, and implementing effective communication strategies to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Remember, being too cautious can limit your organisation’s potential for growth and innovation. On the other hand, taking too many risks without proper consideration and planning can have devastating consequences. Finding the right balance requires a thoughtful and proactive approach to risk management.

The importance of having a balance between the past and the future.

Business leaders are often caught up in worrying about the future or analysing past decisions, which can lead to missed opportunities in the present. On one hand, looking to the future is essential for anticipating changes in the industry, developing innovative ideas, and setting goals. However, excessive worry about what might happen in the future can be paralysing.

Dwelling too much on past mistakes or successes can be equally limiting. While it’s important to learn from past decisions, being overly preoccupied with them can keep leaders from seeing new opportunities or taking chances. The past is important to inform decisions, but it shouldn’t dictate them.

Achieving a balance between the past and future requires an awareness of the present moment.

Ultimately, it’s crucial to find a balance between mitigating for risk and living in the present moment. Business leaders must keep an eye on the future without worrying too much about it, while also learning from the past without letting it control the present. When they strike the right balance, leaders can make confident decisions that help their organizations thrive.


Achieving the ideal overall balance

Ultimately, if you think of risk as a continuum from paralysing fear to complacency, the arc of the pendulum swing and its centre of gravity will depend on circumstances, a person’s natural phenomenological experience; and where they naturally tend to fall on that continuum. Achieving a balance is about reducing extremes, while still retaining the flexibility to react with creativity to challenges as they arise.

Achieving a balance between the past and future requires an awareness of the present moment.

The Art of Present Leadership Read More »

Organisational change can deliver real success, but commitment needs to come from the top

Bradley Honnor explains why the effort to improve the way teams and businesses operate through leadership development programmes requires engagement from the top down.

I’m often asked how MatchFit can demonstrate the ‘why’ when I discuss a leadership programme with a new client.

The answer is fairly simple. As in any purchase, it’s important to make sure the benefits are understood. You may well think that your business performance and culture are strong, but there is always room for improvement. Can ‘good’ become ‘great’? We ask that question – the honest answer is always ‘yes’.

It’s important to realise the benefits that improving from good to great can deliver for the business and what that means for the return on your investment.

We encourage clients to consider the pain and pleasure principle. The first task is to identify where they see the pain within the business. Is it poor performance, is it attrition rates? Is the senior leadership team overwhelmed, are teams and staff working in silos?

Once the pain has been identified, we can create a programme that identifies the opportunities to enhance performance and operational excellence and delivers the solutions.

Staff remain the biggest asset to any business. If you can progress, improve, enhance and build a team or organisational culture where people can thrive and take pleasure in working, the results can be significant both in performance and staff retention.

The success of any programme, however, depends on the level of engagement both during the programme itself and subsequently over time.

And that engagement has to start from the top. Senior management needs to lead by example and drive the process. More importantly, they need to been seen to drive the process. If the process is not seen to be top of the leadership agenda, it will not be top for the wider employee group.

When clear and engaged leadership is happening, we see nothing but good outcomes. When it is not, there is a significant chance that what we are trying to achieve with the client will fail.

Giving staff the time to succeed

As well as enjoying senior-staff sponsorship, the programme needs to be relevant to those participating, and to fit around their working days. People do not want to spend weeks out of the workplace, or away from their desks. The programme must recognise attendees have a day job to do and be structured to accommodate this.

Engagement also needs to go beyond the session itself. There needs to be the willingness to understand:

  • what changes are being suggested
  • why they have been suggested
  • the difference they will make to the individual and business and,
  • why it is important to put those into practice after the sessions have been completed.

Maintaining momentum post programme

Leadership development and driving change does not finish once the programme has come to an end. Maintaining momentum is vital to delivering success.

At this stage, MatchFit cannot directly influence the actions of the leadership team, so we advise creating a record of what the business and individuals say they are aiming to achieve and the actions required to do this.

That list needs to be focused and achievable. It’s better to have three or four specific actions that are more likely to be achieved, than 25 points which will be far harder to manage and record.

Team ethos and mutual accountability are also critical at this stage. Where these are strong, each member will feel responsible for playing their part and not letting the rest of the team down. Having multiple forums in which the actions can be reflected on, and success acknowledged and celebrated by the teams and wider business, is also important.

When there is strong leadership from the top, a culture of accountability, and pride and an understanding of the tools and techniques needed to affect positive change, then success is far more likely to follow.

Organisational change can deliver real success, but commitment needs to come from the top Read More »

Keeping the CLIMB momentum going – an Interview with Tim Forman

In a recent interview, MatchFit Consultant Tim Forman discussed how he has worked with the Civil Service HR Casework Team to deliver a CLIMB programme to the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee (OSPT) SLT (senior leadership team). The CLIMB programme is a multi-stage initiative that aims to improve performance and cohesion of an organisation. It includes interventions that cover technical and phenomenological aspects, as well as the CLIMB stages, which are designed to promote self-awareness, self-management, and team collaboration among others, to develop culture and achieve high performance.

This article highlights a new pilot project, called , aimed at keeping the positive momentum from the CLIMB by providing bridging support and coaching.

“I started working with the OSPT in the summer of 2021,” Tim explains.  “They completed a six-stage leadership CLIMB programme and have commenced the Shadow ExCo programme for 11 future leaders. In conjunction, we will be delivering a new pilot programme called RE3 aimed at continuing the momentum of the CLIMB.”

“Maintaining momentum after completing a leadership programme can be a challenge. That’s not always easy for an organisation on its own,” he says. “It’s often the case that once a programme has ended, the day-to-day stuff takes priority, and some of those valuable activities undertaken during the CLIMB pause, or timelines start to slip, because people are ‘busy’. The idea of RE3 is to provide a further step in order to keep the momentum going. We look at the results, refocus on the aims, and reinforce the skills, capability and confidence gained – hence RE3!

He praises the OSPT for their engagement and participation in the CLIMB leadership programme, which has led to excellent initiatives being taken with great results. “They have been exceptionally good across the senior leadership team, who are split into different teams. The work they’ve been engaged with has helped bring those teams together and break down silos, with lots of development actions coming out of it. They’ve been strong advocates, and very committed to following through on the actions that they’ve agreed to during the CLIMB programme. They’ve seen some very positive outcomes as a result,” he said.

Tim emphasises the importance of accountability in achieving these results, saying, “I’m sure we’ve all had the experience where an organisation decides they need to do something about issue A, understands why they need to do it and agrees on what they need to do. Then things come to a halt, because that accountability is the bit that is missing.”

“With the OSPT, they’ve been very clear on their priorities stage by stage in the programme and that has shown in the outcomes and the engagement of their people. They’ve really enthused about the ‘why’ of what they’re doing, to the extent that as the CLIMB came to an end, they were already in discussions with MatchFit around what they can do next and how we could keep that going. And the products of those conversations are that they’ve invested in the Shadow ExCo programme, and a pilot programme has been developed, which is RE3.”

The RE3 pilot project with OSPT is an exciting development for MatchFit, and Tim sees it as a valuable tool for maintaining momentum and achieving long-term results after completing a leadership programme.

He says “Whereas a standard post-programme check-in is a bit arbitrary, with RE3 there is a framework around which to keep the momentum going. So for example, if we look at the first of the RE3 elements, the results, the HR Technical Consultants are going to do an organisation-wide survey across OSPT to understand the impact of the technical and phenomenological interventions, and the six CLIMB stages.”

Apart from the survey, the results phase also includes a case audit, which will compare the current cases with those from before the programme’s implementation. The audit helps assess the impact of the programme on case handling.

At the refocus stage, two-way discussions are held with the key stakeholders to look at the survey and the case audit comparison and gain an understanding of OSPT’s perspective, refocus the client’s aims and objectives, highlight successes and identify areas for improvement.

Tim continues “There is also a wellbeing check led by the HRTC through 10 one-to-one meetings, and a workshop where we’ll talk about the impact both personally and professionally. And then the refocus will highlight wins, what’s been achieved and what’s still outstanding in terms of next steps.”

The final phase is reinforcing, consisting of a three-module coaching programme led by the HRTC. The aim of this is to upskill OSPT staff in coaching skills for the coaching and development of their own people. They’ll have a phenomenological toolbox of practical tools tailored to the needs of their clients. MatchFit then run a combined mediation and positioning session with the senior leadership team and the wider first line management team.

“This is an exciting phase,” says Tim. “We run sessions with the first line management team, combined with the SLT, where they are encouraged to understand one another’s perspectives, and, typically, reinforce the cultural changes and high performance identified throughout the CLIMB programme.”


In the beginning stages of any programme, there can be a degree of scepticism in some quarters. But the realisation that a senior leadership team are keen to share the room with line managers and work together, and the opportunity for line managers to enjoy a safe space to really get down into the details some of the subjects they wanted to talk about, quickly dispel any hesitancy.

Tim says “OSPT fully embraced the CLIMB programme, and their commitment to actions and belief in the process grew from early uncertainty, resulting in the achievement of quality outcomes. There was genuine appetite to develop the programme for the wider management cohort and their teams. The programme included a range of judiciously selected interventions, and the tremendous take-up across OSPT demonstrated.”

“The strength of our programmes is that we get to work people over a period of time,” he continues. “This is why recognising that every minute they spend with me, or in a one-to-one, or in coaching is time they’re not doing something else. So it’s got to be inherently valuable. If we have three hours in the room, with 10 people, that’s 30 hours of their time. There have to be top quality outcomes to make that 30 hours more valuable than anything else they will be doing in that time.”

Tim concludes “It’s important to highlight the commitment delivered by OSPT in wanting a continuation of the work the HRTC have been doing with them. It’s exciting for us at MatchFit to develop the RE3 pilot to support the growth, keep up the momentum gained in the CLIMB and develop leaders for the future. In doing so, we have the opportunity to learn from it with them and develop a programme we can share more widely. It’s a win-win!”

You can read the previous interview with Tim here

Keeping the CLIMB momentum going – an Interview with Tim Forman Read More »

The Phenomenological Core of CLIMB

An interview with Bradley Honnor

In this article, MatchFit MD Bradley Honnor talks all things ‘phenomenological’ and how this philosophy is at the very heart of MatchFit and the CLIMB people development programme.

“Phenomenology is about the individual experience that each and every one of us has,” says Bradley. “If we all go to the same party, we will all have a different experience. Everyone might say they enjoyed it, but in reality we’ve each had a different evening to the others that were with us. Everybody thinks and behaves uniquely and phenomenology is the phenomenon of that individuality. It goes beyond the collective experience.”

“In a work context, if MatchFit is delivering to a group, everyone in the group saying they enjoyed the day is not a particularly useful insight, because each person will have had a unique experience,” he continues. “We want to tap into that uniqueness, because that’s where the real value lies for an individual.”

With MatchFit’s CLIMB programme, integrating this uniqueness is inherent in everything that the team does.

“Most leadership programmes work through off-the-shelf content that may or may not fit with each individual in the session,” says Bradley. “It’s fairly typical to be sent on a training programme about delegation, for example. But if an attendee doesn’t have a team, the day becomes irrelevant, and that person won’t engage.”

Every CLIMB is very much about focusing on what each individual needs, even within a group, which is why one-to-one, as well as group work is undertaken.

“We’ll sit down with *John* to look at Mastery, which is all about *John* becoming an expert in what he does. We’ll look at what he needs, his strengths and what development areas are relevant for him specifically,” continues Bradley.

The CLIMB facilitates somebody’s personal learning journey towards their own development. This can often be in a group environment. And when the group is brought together, it’s a collective because the group will have joint goals that it needs to achieve together.

“You can speak to that group as a collective in regard to its collective goals. But each individual will have a unique input and perspective on making those goals happen in their own specific areas. That’s why the CLIMB has always taken a phenomenological approach.

When we talk about  changing a culture, for example, what do we actually mean? Because the culture at work is going to be experienced differently by each individual. Some will find it fast-paced and exciting; others will find it high-pressured, oppressive and overwhelming. It’s the same culture externally, but it’s not necessarily the same culture individually. There is a phenomenological element, because of how we each interpret our particular environment in the context of how we’re experiencing it, here and now.” Bradley continues.

MatchFit consultants work with a group around their collective goals, and with individuals in terms of their individual contribution towards those goals. This explores issues such as motivation, and whether attendees actually want to do the type of activity that’s needed in order to deliver those collective goals.

“It’s not an approach that’s unfamiliar in coaching, but it differentiates MatchFit from other companies that deliver leadership programmes. Most leadership programmes provide prescribed content, which is what clients see and buy into. But we don’t have content and we don’t try to sell in that way – which does prove challenging at times!

What we actually want to do is go into a room with a team and a flip chart, pen and a blank piece of paper and ask ‘So what’s going on? What are the goals? What needs to happen to deliver those goals? What are the challenges and barriers?’

It’s a very effective methodology because everyone is identifying their own priorities, what’s important to them and what they want to engage in first. So you’ve got them on board immediately. You don’t have people sitting on the CLIMB wondering why they are there, because everybody has been able to contribute to the reason why they are there,” Bradley continues.

The CLIMB is a dynamic process with priorities often changing and evolving as the needs of the group and individuals within the group change.

“What’s important today might not be so important tomorrow,” Bradley points out. “And that’s okay. We don’t have to finish something purely because it’s been started. We can, and should, pivot very quickly according to need. That’s different to being in the middle of a standard leadership programme module, where you’ve either got to carry on, regardless of whether it’s relevant or not, or drop out and not complete it.

I often cite the example of making a presentation. You’ve prepared all your slides and know what you’re going to say. You’re halfway through your presentation and someone asks a question. In response to that question, you show them something on the flip chart that wasn’t in the presentation and may not even have been even relevant to its content. Then at the end of that day when you ask people what the most impactful part of session was, more often than not, they will say the moment when you discussed what was on the flipchart.

But on the whole, we’re just not used to operating like that. If you went on a leadership course, you’d want to see the content. You’d want to know what you’re covering on day one, when the breaks are, and how long the breaks are. Right from our school days we’ve had structure [a curriculum] and we are fed learning whether we want it or not. And adult learning is very similar.”

Bradley concludes, “This is why CLIMB has been so successful. It is different, because of that core phenomenology that’s fundamental to everything we deliver. And that is really important to MatchFit – because it’s what we know will ultimately deliver the best results for our clients.”

The Phenomenological Core of CLIMB Read More »