Ian Bell on infinite pie thinking with Al Fawcett

Ian Bell on Creating a Colleague Experience

Ian Bell on infinite pie thinking with Al Fawcett


Ian Bell on Creating a Colleague Experience

Having spent years running his own development company before joining the global organisation, Sedgwick, earlier this year, who better to speak to than Ian Bell on creating a colleague experience.

During this conversation we discuss his new role as Colleague Experience Director, at Sedgwick International, what the role entails and what it takes to create a great colleague experience across multiple functions and countries. We talk about the consideration required for each touch point from recruitment and engagement before someone joins the company, to their induction and ongoing development as well as their day to day roles and responsibilities. There is more to this than Human resources as Ian shares his perspective on Leadership, Teamwork, Culture and the importance of providing quality feedback.

With his background in Learning and Development, Ian shares stories, tips and advice that can be appleid in many aspects of life, both personally and professionally.  This includes the impact and value of quality questions and how this often starts establishing and understanding ‘the purpose’. As the quote above states It all starts with purpose and what you are actually trying to achieve.

Take a listen and let me know what you think.

If you enjoy this conversation then why not check out more great chats with remarkable people on the infinite pie thinking podcast.

If you want to know more about how we can help you with your performance improvement, then why not get in touch after you take a look at what we do

Full Transcript of Ian Bell on Creating a Colleague Experience on the infinite pie thinking podcast with Al Fawcett

Ian Bell  00:00

So if we don’t get right, the, what it’s like working for my manager, what it’s like when I come into work in the morning, what are my relationships like with my colleagues? Is what I’m doing actually making a positive difference? Do I have the autonomy sometimes to step outside of whatever the company tells me to do because I think it’s the right thing to do to help achieve what we’re trying to achieve. Those are the things that make for a valuable experience in work, regardless of whether we go bowling every Thursday. The key to create this sort of value set is to look at, within your organisation, what are the things that are working well at the moment, from a client perspective, from a financial perspective, from a colleague perspective, from a business interrelations perspective, from the perspective of the way that we sort things out when they go wrong? What do we do when, you know, a COVID situation happens? Do we genuinely care? You know, those sorts of things are things that will be working well in certain parts. And we found that there’s parts of our business that are working particularly well. So once you identify what works well, somewhere, because we know that that works well, in our organisation, with our people, doing what we do, then you’ve got a chance of helping that to work well, everywhere. And then you talk to various groups in the organisation around what’s working well at the moment in that sphere, because you then get what good looks like. So what was working well at the moment? And then you also get them to look at ‘even better if..’, what would be…it would be even better if we could do this. And it’s those bits that you get the real chance for growth and the chance for change and the chance for development because people tend to put practical things.


Al Fawcett  01:33

Hi, I’m Al Fawcett. And this is infinite pie thinking. At infinite pie, we work with people in organisations to develop high performing cultures, teams and ideal team players. We do this by helping define and refine, what is the stuff that matters? Who are the people that count? And how do we create a place that inspires? You know, a place that people want to be part of. And once again, I want to say thanks to you for taking the time to listen, and for wanting to be part of what we’re doing here. It’s always great to hear from you, whether it be via email, social media, or leaving a rating and review on the likes of Apple podcasts. An example is this message that I got via Instagram, from previous guests, Damian Hughes, who said, it was a real treat to chat, Al. I love your philosophy of seeking to add value, you make a real positive difference. Well, thanks, Damian. Now, if you don’t already, go and follow Damian on Instagram, where he is @liquidthinker, and make sure you check out the High Performance podcast that he co-hosts with Jake Humphrey. So, talking about doing stuff that matters with people that count in places that inspire, today’s guest will certainly share his perspective on what this takes. I’m talking with Ian Bell, who after years of running his own development business has recently taken on the role of colleague experience director for Sedgwick, a global organisation. We talk about leadership, teamwork, culture, mindset, and processes to help provide a great colleague experience across multiple functions in multiple countries. And of course, we’ll touch on making the transition from working for yourself to being part of a larger organisation. Take a listen. And let me know what you think.


Al Fawcett  03:23

Ian, welcome to the infinite pie thinking podcast.


Ian Bell  03:25

Thank you. Good, good to see you. 


Al Fawcett  03:27

Yeah, it’s great to see you obviously, and we’ve known each other for some time now. And we’ve worked together on various bits and pieces, and no doubt that’s going to come out in some of the stories we tell. And I know that you’re really passionate about what you do, it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to get you on. But you’ve recently moved into a new role. And I was looking at it earlier and your title is colleague experience director. Sounds very fancy. So what does a colleague experience director, do?


Ian Bell  03:56

It’s a really good question and very much one that I kind of asked when we were talking about sort of performing the role. And it sort of seems to be…it seemed from the first few days, everything. It is everything. But basically, we use it in the organisation I work for, we use colleagues, so colleague resources instead of human resources, so colleagues is the sort of the term we use to describe our employees across the world because we are colleagues and we work together. So it’s looking very much at the colleagues experience, and it sounds like a sort of euphemistic, fuzzy title. But it’s right from the moment from when they first come into contact with the organisation before they join, looking at how they join, what that process is like, how it feels to them, how they’re welcomed, how they’re included, how we make sure that we get a diverse and inclusive set of colleagues to sort of…everyone can belong when they join, right through to how we then develop them, how we support them at various points in their careers, and how we sort of empower and engage them to thrive and enjoy being with the business and excel in their careers really. So that’s…it’s anything that contributes to that, is a colleague experience. And as colleagues experience director, I kind of sit over the top of that and just look and keep the wheels spinning really. 


Al Fawcett  05:12

Okay. Right. So we’re gonna pick that apart a little bit, because you’re absolutely right in the sense of that does sound like everything, because one of the things that organisations always talk about is that the people are their greatest asset. And obviously, some organisations, they say that and it’s lip service. Some organisations, they say that, and it’s not, it really…you can genuinely feel that. But as a result of that, if people are your greatest asset, and you want to keep them engaged and involved, and focusing on their performance, and how to help them and support them to improve on that, that’s a massive task. So where do you start?


Ian Bell  05:48

Again, a good question and I think you start from what, what is your purpose? What are you trying to achieve as an organisation? And it’s understanding the basic principles of what you’re trying to do, and if what you’re trying to do is to care about people, then that has to start from within, and you have to care about your colleagues. And you know, we’ve gone through the or we’re still in the COVID crisis, and you can’t as an organisation, say that your colleagues or employees are the most important asset, unless when something like this happens, you absolutely demonstrate that. If what all you talk about is how you’re going to generate business while everyone’s working from their kitchen, then that’s not going to demonstrate that what your purpose is, which is to care for and give your colleagues an enjoyable and empowering experience, that there’s also lots of things I think, everyone…it’s been quite interesting as a theme, because a number of people, like you and I, have either worked from home or been miles away, and not had a fixed office base. And I think for those people, and a lot of colleagues have been working from home, suddenly have found it’s actually better because now people set up coffee mornings and virtual things. And they’ve also got dogs barking in the background and parcels being delivered, and babies crying, and children running around wanting to get on the camera. So all of those things have actually made it easier, I think and probably more understanding for people who are already working from home. And it’s the forgiveness of what goes on in real lives. That is, I think, been a really big bonus of this last few months.


Al Fawcett  07:20

Yeah, if we can take a positive from it, I think it is that realisation that there’s more to us as people than just the numbers that we put on a board or the productivity that we achieve. But how do you get the balance right? How do we make sure that we, you know, as a business you are a business, and therefore productivity is required? And people actually want to do, I genuinely find, that most successful people want to do meaningful work, they want to get recognised and rewarded for that in whatever way shape and form that comes. They want to do meaningful work. So how do you get the balance right between, almost that putting your arm around people and saying, we’re here for you, but also setting those standards and those expectations of, there is still a job to be done?


Ian Bell  08:01

Yeah, I don’t see those as mutually exclusive things, I don’t see them as things that need to be balanced or traded off against each other. I absolutely think that they are both entirely necessary in the…and you said about the most successful people like meaning in their work. I think, regardless of what…well, first of all, you’d have to go back and define what success is, but taking a generic description of success, I think most people want to derive good meaning from their work. I don’t think people turn up to work and decide they’re going to do an appalling job today. And I’m going to mess things up and create ructions with my colleagues. Most people want to ease through their day. And I think that one of the things around the sort of the colleague experience or employee experience or engagement directors or whatever sort of these people are called that do this sort of work is that I think a lot of people forget that, yes, you can give people forums to contribute to and groups to join and committees to be part of, but ultimately, most of what we do on a day to day basis is our job. So if we don’t get right, the what it’s like working for my manager, what it’s like when I come into work in the morning, what are my relationships like with my colleagues? Is what I’m doing actually making a positive difference? Do I have the autonomy sometimes to step outside of whatever the company tells me to do because I think it’s the right thing to do to help achieve what we’re trying to achieve? Those are the things that make for a valuable experience in work, regardless of whether we go bowling every Thursday. So I don’t think people leave or stay in organisations because of the Thursday night bowling club. I think people stay in organisations because…or talented people and the people that you want to have around, stay in organisations because they’re enjoying it, they feel they’re making a difference and they’re genuinely thriving.


Al Fawcett  09:45

Yeah, absolutely agree. I think this tendency to focus on whether there’s beanbags in the coffee room or we’ve changed the boardroom into a table tennis centre or whatever it might be. They’re great, but that’s not the reason we get up in the morning to go and do stuff. But, you know, we often talk about the culture within a business. So there’s a couple of bits and pieces here, you talked about value sets, and the behaviours that we would expect and want to sort of recognise within our business. And that to me is what culture is all about. It’s about defining the behaviours that we’re looking for and recognising and rewarding it when we see it, in whatever way, shape or form that comes. But you work for a global organisation. So obviously, there’s the overarching company purpose, company culture. But how does that work when you’re sort of talking about different countries and different people within that, and you know, that’s a big old task for you, isn’t it?


Ian Bell  10:43

Yeah, it’s…again, it’s a balance of you could go really high level and make some generic comment about, you know, who we are and what we’re like. But the problem with that is, the more high level it is, the less meaning it has in people’s individual live, and to them and their work. Equally, you try and go to a really sort of detailed level, then you’ve got a situation where you’ve got hundreds of different cultures, which of course we have, yep. But, you know, companies, you look at an organisation like ours, where we’ve got 27,000 people around the world, and you could have an aim of being a multicultural organisation. We want to be a monocultural organisation, where the culture is the way that we work, and the way that we relate to each other. And all of the other bits are interesting bits of diversity and interesting things that we bring to work with us and we can be ourselves. So that’s it from a cultural perspective. I think people then go from culture, and they look at values. And, you know, companies, certainly 10, 15 years ago would get in a bunch of consultants, which 10 or 15 years ago, we said was a great idea and was the future. And the consultants come in, and they create a list of nice words. And they say, you know, you should be honest, and you should have integrity, and you should have, well, we’re a bank, of course, we need to be honest. 


Al Fawcett  12:05

Who’s arguing for the opposite? 


Ian Bell  12:07

Yeah, exactly.Why don’t we have a value that says no murdering. But every time we had this list of words on a wall, that often were words on a wall, and the way the companies were testing them, was the extent to which people could remember the words on the wall when they weren’t written on the wall in front of them. And that’s not it. That’s not what a culture is and that’s not what values are. When organisations…every organisation has been…whether you’re making furniture, go back to my old clients, whether you’re making furniture, whether you’re a football club, whether you are a multinational bank, there are pockets and bits within your organisation, which are working exactly how you want them to work. It might be, I work with a technology company, and they produced things for cars, and the warehouse people, the way it works there was fantastic. The salespeople, the way it worked there was fantastic, the way they integrated, was less than fantastic. And, you know, there was a whole bunch of things, trying to look at teamwork, and how that evolves and how they should be working together. It actually was working pretty well with them being these two separate animals in two separate cages and that sort of thing. So I think the key is to create this sort of value set, is to look at, within your organisation what are the things that are working well at the moment? From a client perspective, from a financial perspective, from a colleague perspective, from a business interrelations perspective, from the perspective of, you know, the way that we sort things out when they go wrong. What do we do when COVID situation happens? Do we genuinely care? You know, those sorts of things are things that will be working well in certain parts. And we found that this parts of our, our business that are working particularly well, so once you identify what works well somewhere…because we know that that works well in our organisation with our people, doing what we do, then you’ve got a chance of helping that to work well, everywhere. And if you find things that work, well sometimes, you’ve got a chance of applying those, lifting it, putting it somewhere else, and making it work all the time. And that’s I think, how cultures developed. 


Al Fawcett  14:05

I agree with you. And I think it’s almost like if you put the spotlight on those type of things, then it takes them out of the shadows, and it starts to make it that that’s the recognition and reward that we were talking about before. We actually start to go, that’s the way we do things around here and people go, huh, that’s the way we’re supposed to be doing things around here, maybe if I do that, I’ll get recognised and rewarded. But, so how do you go about doing that though? Because again, like I say, you mentioned 27,000 people, where are you shining the spotlight? What are you looking for? What are you hearing? What are you feeling and sensing, where you go, that’s the way that we do things around here.


Ian Bell  14:44

Okay. Again, a good question. I start from a really basic perspective of just chatting with groups and you chat with groups and and you’ve got your…maybe the set of things that you want to do, so maybe it’s you want people to be account…because, by the way, all this sounds lovely. It sounds like we’re sort of just having a lovely time and cuddling people. And we, as you said at the start, we still have money to make, we still got a business to run. And there are still things that are unacceptable. There are still things that we just don’t do around here. There are ways that we don’t treat people around here. So you know, it’s not all about loveliness, but a lot of it is. And I think there’s two sides of it, there’s working out once you’ve got your ideas of what is it you want to do, what’s important to you as an organisation, it might be accountability, it might be caring, it might be customer responses, I don’t know. It could be whatever the organisation is doing and good at at the moment. And then you talk to various groups in the organisation around what’s working well at the moment in that sphere, because you didn’t get what good looks like. So what’s working well at the moment, and then you also get them to look at, ‘even better if..’, but it would be even better if we could do this. And it’s those bits that you get the real chance for growth and the chance for change and chance for development. Because people tend to put practical things. You also get some really interesting examples when you look at the responses from different user groups. So again, in a previous life, there was an organisation where we had the the colleagues or the employees were saying, more one to ones with our manager. And the managers were saying, fewer one to one interactions with employees would make life even better, until we started looking at how do you define a one to one and the colleagues or the employees were defining it as a sit down chat to say, how is it going? How am I feeling? What do I need to learn to do my job better to behave in accordance with whatever? The managers were looking at it as every time an employee asked them a question was a one to one. We asked the question of how regular are your one to ones and the employees were answering, well, you know, once every two months, if we’re lucky, the managers were saying well it’s about 80 a week. And you think, it’s not. So going back to your question, Al, it’s about working out and asking the questions of different user groups, what do we do well, what’s working well, and what will be, ‘even better if…’. 


Al Fawcett  16:59

I love that, ‘even better if…’, I think that’s fantastic, because again, what it feels to me is you bring in that attitude of, if we focus on the stuff we want more of, we’re likely to get more of it. If we call out the stuff that we want less of, we’re likely to stop getting that, if we manage it appropriately, not hide it under the carpet…it goes back to your, this isn’t just about being all pink and fluffy, this is about, let’s call out the stuff and go that’s unacceptable, we want more of this. Because that’s sometimes the problem that people have within organisations, that it’s this lack of clarity, it’s this lack of certainty around, I know what a one to one is, my perception of one to one and your perception of one to one are aligned, I know what behaviours you’re looking for. Because rather than just telling me what you don’t want, occasionally, it’s nice to know what you do want. And rather than just telling me what you do want all the time, sometimes it’s understanding where the line is, is to what we don’t want. Because, again, the classic example would be that we have these wonderful values of integrity and honesty and being moral in relation to our customers. And then all of a sudden, we’re having a really bad quarter, and we turn to the salespeople and say, we need to get sales up at all costs. And some people will hear the ‘at all costs’ and shoot off and do things that may be against those standards, and it’s only afterwards we go, so how did you get that business? Well, I promised this, that and this. Well, we’re not gonna be able to deliver on that. Yeah, but they don’t know that. Well hang on a minute, that’s just not acceptable. You know?


Ian Bell  18:29

Exactly. And that then, if integrity was one of the values, you’ve just fallen down on that. Also, the other thing is, is is about, and what happens next time? Because people will remember the last time and again, the COVID situation is such a great one to use as an example. Because people will remember the legacy of how leaders behaved during this process far longer than the COVID situation will be impacting our lives and the way that it is. The legacy of how we deal with it will last longer, whether that’s a positive one or a less than positive one. And, you know, organisations, a number of them, including ours are doing these are working from home surveys of, how are you finding it? And that sort of thing. A lot of people are finding it a positive experience of spending more time with their families, having a bit more freedom, a lot more autonomy. And it’s very great when you look at a census statistics, can never say that…when you sort of look at a set of data, and you see that 95% of your colleagues are completely delighted with this working from home situation. Well, what about the 5%, who can’t tolerate it for a moment longer? And you know, we can talk about…send out guides on how to set up your home office. Well, that’s fine in some parts of the world. There are other parts of the world where we’ve got people with four generations living in one apartment, and whether your chair is ergonomic is the least of their problems. So that’s the sort of thing…it’s about those people we kind of want everyone to understand. Yes there’s only so much you can do, but ultimately everyone needs to understand that we want to try to get to the best point for them. And if we’ve got people that say it’s unacceptable, then we have to find a way of making it acceptable.


Al Fawcett  20:11

Yeah, I think that’s really powerful, because there’s a phrase that is used in the fashion industry, obviously, not my forte. But apart from this phrase, which is, one size fits all. And I find that really fascinating because it doesn’t, you often find that the ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to clothes, or whatever it might be, often doesn’t fit, it stays on, but it’s not…it doesn’t look right. It’s either bunched or it’s tight, or it’s whatever. And the same can apply to processes and approaches within business. If we try and do this generic one size fits all, it means that they’re going to be a percentage of people in the middle, where it seems to fit perfectly, and then there’s going to be the people on either end of it, where it’s just not appropriate at all. And I think that, especially when you get into organisations, like ones the size of yours, where there is a number of people that are avoiding that process driven approach, where it’s just like, bang, we’re just going to send out a general directive, must be really tricky, but must be really powerful when you get it right.


Ian Bell  21:20

Yeah, and I think it’s when you find the different examples. So let’s say a directive comes out that from now on, we do ‘x’, looking at how that is applied in our team of specialists, looking at how that’s applied in our call centres, looking at how that’s applied in Australia, compared to how it might be working in Saudi Arabia. So you know, you look at how is that being translated? And you say…I still think there is an opportunity for broadly, a one size fits all, because even clothes that are one size fits all probably have a belt, which, you know, can be tightened or loosened to enable one size to fit all. And that’s not the best analogy, but it’s what springs to mind when you raised one size fits all.


Al Fawcett  22:05

That’s sort of my point, that what it basically is saying is that it doesn’t fit, but I’m going to give you something that will help it to stay up or stay on. And again, I’m not saying it’s unacceptable, or it’s the best way forward. But it’s exactly what you’re saying, where the impact can be had is that we create a director, we create a process and it hits the generics. That’s fine. But then what we have to end up doing in some cases, we put a plaster on it for another percentage of the population, which leads to another plaster, which leads to another plaster or another process and another process and another process. And that’s how you end up with an operations manual that’s just volumes upon volumes upon volumes thick, because it’s every variation of a process to fit every scenario. 


Ian Bell  22:52

But I think that’s…it’s a case of understanding to what extent is that a problem sometimes. You know, most organisations, they look at their structure and they say, you know, if we were starting from scratch, we wouldn’t end up with this. But it evolved to that, not because people were deciding to try to make it as complicated as possible, but because that was the way to work around things. And it may well be that the best way to do it with these people in this place is a slightly different variation. And I don’t agree with creating consistency for the sake of it. You can take, sort of, brands like Starbucks, you walk into a Starbucks, you know you’re in a Starbucks. However, the layouts not exactly the same, because it depended on the size of the store they rented, it depended on the way that people come into and go out of it, it now depends on how far they can stay apart. So it has to, of course, be adapted. I use the analogy, Al, and I’m sure you’ve heard me use it before. You know, when you take children 10 pin bowling, and you can put those barriers on the side. And they’re just for children. But the, the point of the barriers, they don’t make you an amazing 10 pin bowler, they just stop you being terrible. It stops it going down the gully, they stop you wasting your time or wasting a ball or whatever. So, a top 10 pin bowler would get exactly the same score, whether the barriers were there or not, because they go nowhere near the barriers. And that that’s the thing. And also, the barriers just give you a chance for your first bowl to do something, what you do after that depends on what happened and which pins fell on your first ball. And that’s where you have the autonomy. So I like to think that, you know, the one size fits all or the structure that you create is like the barriers, it keeps people safe. But you can operate within that. And if you bowl in a particular way, if you’re right handed or left handed or whatever, then you operate within that, but it keeps you safe.


Al Fawcett  24:48

I think that’s brilliant. And I think that what you’re saying there makes perfect sense to me and I like the analogy, because what I liked as well was the fact of, you using this approach to say, okay, so here’s our guidelines, here’s our bandwidth and, as you say, the barriers that you’re going to bump against if you start coming too close to the edges here. But also it’s about what you learn from each experience. So if you find yourself bouncing off the barriers, what are you going to do next time to try and adapt and to change that? I suppose where I get a little concerned is where we just keep putting more processes on top to stop you…ah, well, you hit the barrier, and therefore it always took off the left one, so what we’re going to do is we’re going to bring the left barrier in a lot closer now for you, so you start hitting the right ones. And you end up, if you’re not careful, where it’s literally just a shoot down to the, to the pins. 


Ian Bell  25:40

Yeah, exactly, yeah. 


Al Fawcett  25:41

Not quite the same game. And that’s what I fear sometimes. So I suppose what I’m sort of saying is, it’s a, it’s doing the conversation you started, which is looking at everything and going, okay, so what’s working, and what isn’t, and let’s strip away some of the stuff that isn’t.


Ian Bell  25:58

You’re right, it might be that the process or the framework or the structure is getting in the way, it also might be that to change that, compared to the 10 seconds of extra work that everyone’s got to do is just too complex or too costly to change. So that, again, there’s always that balance, but I think it’s…if people understand, if we understand what we’re trying to achieve, and we’ve got this clear understanding of what the purpose is, and what our goal is, if you like, then with the help of feedback, and ongoing feedback, rather than structured appraisals, and that sort of thing, they’re part of it, but ongoing feedback that a coach would give in a sporting context is what makes a difference. And to take a tennis analogy. So say I’m a great tennis coach, and you’re learning to serve a ball, you first of all have to decide what does good look like. So, if you’ve never done it before, good looks like, first of all, you’re hitting the ball, getting it over the net, it landing in the box, that’s got to be the start. So let’s say you throw the ball up, I’m your expert coach, you throw the ball up, swing, and miss, and I say you missed, Al. You knew that. You didn’t, you didn’t need my expert coaching to tell you that, you knew that you missed. And also, the good thing is the ball just bounced on the floor and you pick it up again, it’s not a disaster. So, the same as when you then managed to hit it, and it goes into the net, telling you it’s gone into the net, or you’re hitting it too hard or too high or too low or whatever. You know, where feedback comes in is someone actually observing, looking at whether it’s the document back in the business, or whether it’s the documentation that someone produces, whether it’s the statistics, or – I nearly got it right then – the things we can count that they produce, or whether it is just what you…how you see them behaving. It’s the observation that a manager or leader or coach can say, have you noticed, Al, that when you lean back, the ball goes way out beyond the box, and if when you’re hitting the ball, you lean forward, it seems to go into the net? Now, you’ve got some feedback that you didn’t know, you may have been unconsciously incompetent around that, you didn’t know that you were leaning back or leaning forward. But I’m able to tell you that when you do that, it seems that this happens. What should we try? And Al, a ridiculously patronising analogy, but you know what I mean. Absolutely. And a coach who isn’t adding that sort of insight, and possibly a recommendation as well, is purely a commentator.


Al Fawcett  28:24

Yeah. And again, it works on the positive side of things as well, right? So when somebody just turns around and says, that was great. Well what was great? You know, what what did I do? And how do I replicate that? Or how do I do even better next time or whatever? I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing, to be positive and to…that was great, and to reinforce people. But if you are consciously giving feedback, then give feedback. But the way that you did it, as well was a really positive way, in the sense of, did you notice that? So it’s empowering the person to actually think about what they did rather than just I’m going to tell you, right, next time, you have to do this, and there’s times and places to be direct. And yeah, I get that. But that thing of, to improve somebody’s thinking on their own bat, that also it creates that autonomy that you were talking about before because it’s starting to not just empower, but to enable me to actually think about, how do I get better at this?


Ian Bell  29:20

Absolutely. But ultimately, and I keep going back to, it depends on the purpose. I need to know that you know that your feet must stay behind the line, you’ve got to hit the ball from over your head, it’s got to go over the net, and it’s got to bounce in the box, then you can evaluate your own performance against that standard. Yep. If you don’t know what’s expected, either from a performance perspective, or back in the business world from a behavioural perspective, or from a development perspective, then how can you benchmark your own performance? And how can an organisation empower people to make decisions and be autonomous, unless they know what their empowerment is? Empowerment doesn’t mean do whatever you want, spend whatever you like. There’s a context within it. So, so yeah. 


Al Fawcett  30:02

It’s like little children playing games, isn’t it? You know, when when all of a sudden they just do something and you go, no, you can’t do that. And they say, who says? Because we never set the rules out at the beginning, we didn’t sit down and read the rules together. I know the rules, you don’t know the rules, I’ll tell you as we go along, and they go, well no, actually I’ll just make up my own. And it becomes interesting.


Ian Bell  30:22

But equally, you know, I played with my partner, we play Trivial Pursuit a fair amount and when we first start playing, it turned out that because of the various different editions of that game that have happened, there’s various different rules and various different ways of doing it. But when do you move to a piece of cake? Or do you call it a piece of cake? Yeah, tomato, tomato. And no one says potato. But you have to agree those rules, as you said, and you made the point better than I’m making it but you have to agree the rules to start with to know how we can play, and you get the rules and then it’s now we can play within those rules. And now I know that when I roll this dice, this is what happens next.


Al Fawcett  31:05

Exactly and I think that’s a good bit as well with regards to what happens next. Because, again, we can sometimes we can have those big overarching goals. They’re fantastic. But what’s important now? What do I have to focus on now? And what is my contribution towards that big overarching goal, now? Because our core focus might be slightly different, now, to that overarching goal, that’s 12 months, 18 months, five years away, or whatever it might be.


Ian Bell  31:33

True. And things will happen, that mean that we have to tighten up or to not do this, or this becomes less of a priority. And that’s where, you know, you get performance management frameworks that in January, everyone sits down and decides a bunch of objectives for the year. And so often, the next time they look at those objectives is next January. And they decide, did I do that? Or didn’t I do that? Or, well, that was abandoned in March, or I didn’t have the opportunity to do this, or I was busy in June. And unless that is kind of continually reflected upon and revised, and say, is this actually a sensible thing for us to be doing right now? Then people end up working on the wrong things. And I think your point around the feedback side of things, people go on courses on how to give feedback. And you know, there are structures of, you know, you’ve got to first of all, state what the desired outcome was – get the ball over the net, bounce in the in the box – then you explain what you did – you hit it behind you – then you explain the impact of that, you know, you’ve lost the point. And then you explain the desired performance of, so what I want you to do is go over the net, and whatever. So people have these structures for correcting poor performance. And then you say, so how do you give feedback on good performance? And it’s like, well, it is a tap on the shoulder and a well done, Dave, keep it up, you know you’re valued. That doesn’t work. We need to…people need to know, and I need to know, in my role, you know, what is it that – I think I’m doing a good job – but what is it that my customers, who are my colleagues, and my bosses, like about what I’m doing that is making a difference? Otherwise, I could think that it’s because I produce pretty PowerPoint presentations. And it could be that they actually don’t care about the PowerPoint presentations, when actually what they like is the fact that I, I don’t know, I’m able to take complex scenarios and put them into sort of relatively simple bits of insight. I don’t know. Well, I do know, because we’ve had the conversation. 


Al Fawcett  33:29

I know that you will know because of the…you’re the type of person who will go and seek that type of feedback, which I’ll come on to in a second. But the powerful bit about that, is by understanding that, you might be spending hours and hours and hours building those PowerPoint presentations, because it might not necessarily be your core skill, but you think this is what’s really important to the business. And they’re going, in their heads, do you know? That’s lovely, looks nice. It’s got some great transitions in there. But it’s not adding any additional value to the information that I need from you. What I love is when I, I hear that you are on the phone in meetings, contributing well and doing x, y, z, to improve our colleague engagement or whatever it might be. And the time that you could use by understanding that the PowerPoint stuff is not adding that value, could be good for you and for the business. But it goes back to what I was saying about, I know that that wouldn’t be the case with you, on the basis of you are the type of person that would go and seek feedback. But that’s a skill in itself as well, right? The ability to go and ask for it, but not just take a, oh, it’s great, just keep doing what you’re doing. So how do you go about doing that well?


Al Fawcett  33:32

That’s…I don’t know. I’ve got to try and think about what I do. I think it’s…there’s again, that there are these phrases of, feedback is a gift or feedback is the breakfast of champions, and that often only refers to feedback that you like. When actually, the feedback that you don’t like or doesn’t sit comfortably with you is often the feedback that is the most useful, but it doesn’t feel like it.


Al Fawcett  35:05

Certainly not at the time.


Ian Bell  35:07

And I think it’s about the way that you’ve received that feedback. So if I give you or you give me feedback, let’s say I work for you, Al, and you give me feedback on something that I did, that you weren’t very happy with, if I fight or argue with – or even as a peer – if I fight and argue with you, saying, oh, but the reason I did this, was this reason or you wouldn’t have done any better, last, last Thursday, you did exactly the same. Or what about Sandra over there, she’s doing this and that’s much worse than me, all of those things. That actually…the likelihood of you then finding enough caring to try and have a difficult conversation with me and correct me next time is diminished, because you’ve not been rewarded for it. I have managers saying to me, you know, well, you know, my door is always open. Well, this door here could be opened, but if there’s a foaming at the mouth rottweiler behind it, I’m probably not going to go through it. And I think we have to make…if someone gives us feedback, we don’t have to agree with it, but we have to reward the person for doing the right thing, which is by telling us what they thought. If I did something for you, and you didn’t like it, I may disagree with the fact…whether you should or shouldn’t like it. What I can’t disagree with is the fact that you didn’t like it.


Al   36:13

And that’s the pivotal point for me, is that me trying to defend my actions in order to change your opinion, is a hiding for nothing. You know, it’s just that situation of, I’m now trying to tell you that your thoughts are wrong, you know, rather than going away and putting it right and proving that actually I can do it differently next time, or whatever it might be. But you’re right, we don’t have to agree with it. But it’s how we take it. But to me, it’s also it’s about that understanding of where the feedback is coming from, the thing that might have just happened is that you did a good piece of work or you did something, but the outcome, as it got down the line, had a detrimental impact on the person you’re now speaking to. And they’re coming from a different place. Oh, well, that was rubbish because I just got a kicking because I didn’t do something. So there’s one, of that. But two, it’s also your question of, and how can it be even better next time? It’s that type of thing of, regardless of where the line starts, hey, I don’t think that was your best work, I think you can do better. Maybe the question is fantastic. How? How do you think I could do better? What areas should I be focusing on that will help it to be better next time? And again, we’re doing the classic development trick here of making it the perfect world. And we know that it isn’t like that. It’s not how raw it makes you feel at the time, because that’s, that’s emotion, that’s fine. We all have those and they’re okay. It’s okay not to agree, it’s okay to feel a bit rubbish about some of these things sometimes, but it’s how quickly you can get yourself back on track, in order to go, okay, I’ve had that, now I’m either going to wallow in it, which will probably not be productive for anybody, or I’m going to do something about it. And the doing something about it could be, I’m not going to do anything about it. But at least it’s a conscious decision to let it go and move on.


Ian Bell  38:15

Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I think it’s, you know, it’s very easy to sit here and talk about, you know, what happens when we get everything right. And all these things that I’m saying here are things that are conscious to me, on my good days. I will have a number of bad days and bad moments and bad times when, despite knowing this stuff, I still don’t do it. You know, a tennis player knows what they should do to get a ball over a net and top tennis players still sometimes hit the ball out. And you know, they don’t need feeling every time, they knew what happened.


Al Fawcett  38:46

Well, it’s interesting, just using that analogy, whether it’s tennis or football or any sport, it’s always interesting to hear the commentators go, oh, that was a bad miss, he shouldn’t have done that, or she should have been better there. And they can be often be ex pros. And you sit and you go, it’s really interesting coming from you, on the basis of, we could probably go back through some of your lowlights and find many a time when you did something similar. And that’s where the good analysts will turn around and say, so what went wrong there was…they were pushing too hard down the line or they overextended on the…So as the general public, we can see it through a different lens. And I think that’s all feedback is. 


Ian Bell  39:29

It is and also the decision of actually, but can we live that? If he does that all the time…so I take a bit longer over things than I think I should, sometimes. I’m sort of relatively analytical, logical and I like the background of stuff. So I tend to spend probably longer than I should, and I tend to try to get things right first time. So accuracy tends to win over deadlines, for me. That’s not always the right way of doing things. I know that people that I’ve reported to, including who I report to now, give me pretend deadlines. They say, we need this by Thursday, knowing full well that the following Tuesday’s when they really need it. You can spend months with me on development plans, talking about meeting deadlines and knowing what’s…that sometimes good enough is good enough. Or we can adapt. And you can look at footballers and say, I’ll use an example, Matt Le Tissier. I follow Southampton in the Premiership, or mostly in the Premiership. And, Matt Le Tissier was amazing player, sometimes for only tiny parts of the game. And you know, he was, I think he just on A Question of Sport where he was self aware enough to know that, where he said something like, you know, I’m gonna stay quiet for most of this and then just answer an amazing question right at the end. But the thing is, the amazing thing he did at some point in the match was so amazing that no one else could do and was doing in the Premiership at the time, that actually is worth him sometimes getting a little bit missing during games. So it’s about balancing that. Yes, it would be even better if he tracked back and tackled and headed the ball once or twice. But ultimately, it’s the things he that did well, were good enough to compensate for that.


Al   41:14

I love that, from the point of view of your perspective, and from the football analogy, because what they will often do is they will build a team around to compensate for that. Okay, well, we’ll put a defensive midfielder whose role is to never go past the halfway line, because Le Tissier is doing his bit up front. And we’ll wait for that magic, because that’s what we’re paying him for. But going back to your point, with regards to your self awareness of, we could spend weeks, months and a fortune on putting me on courses to, good enough is good enough, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. But actually, that’s one of your core values. It strikes me as that is, you know, we talked about values before, then we can have company values, but we’ve all got them ourselves and to you, if one of your core values is, I want to know that when I press send on that, I’ve done all that I can and need to do to make sure that’s as good as it can be, from my perspective. It’s not going to be easy to train that out of you, because again, that’s going to be a theoretical principle against the core value and sort of almost non negotiable behaviours to yourself. So I think that it’s understanding that in the different people, and that’s when the real value and the real power starts to come in. So talking just about that, you mentioned that some of the stuff we’ve discussed is you on your best days and their stuff, even though you know this, that you don’t necessarily always apply, because I think we all, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re in that situation to know and not to do is not to know, but actually, I do know it. So, you know, you’ve spent a big chunk of your career actually going into organisations and helping them to know this stuff. How different is it now, being in a seat of doing this stuff?


Ian Bell  43:03

Again, good question. Not as different as I think a lot of people would imagine, you know, but previous to this role, I, sort of, spent 17 years working and I always had, sort of, five or six different clients on the go at any one time. And it was very easy to compartmentalise that and to say, right, today I’ve got this banks hat on, tomorrow, I’ve got this furniture companies hat on, then next Thursday, I’m going to have the hat on of a technology firm. So it was very easy to compartmentalise that. And also, although those organisations would be competing for my time, they weren’t competing against each other. When you work in a single organisation, where I’ve got multiple customers still, or clients if you like, within a single organisation, they actually, to some degree, are competing against each other, because you’ll find that it may well be people in Australia need this particular thing, but at the same time, there’s people in the UK wanting that. And there’s people in Singapore who have a different agenda, and I’ve got some of the answers to that. So it does require a slightly different mindset. And I was talking to a an associate and he was saying that, you know, how is it different, you know, having a boss now, compared to not having a boss before? Or being your own boss before? And I said, of course, I had about nine bosses before and every one thought they were the most important one. And now I’ve just got one, which is great. So it’s easier now, because I haven’t got…I’m not of having these different bosses who were the various, you know, HR directors or L&D directors of various organisations have now just got one who, you know, deals with my pay and rations and guides me in the right direction. 


Al Fawcett  44:42

And tells you what’s important now, absolutely. 


Ian Bell  44:44

Yeah, so some aspects are easier, and some are more challenging, but I’m…on balance,  it’s something that’s working well for me and hopefully for the people I work with for a long time to come.


Al   44:57

Well, it sounds like it is. So, let me ask you this final question then and there’s lots of bits and pieces that I could deep dive into with regards to how you actually impact some of that stuff within meetings and talked about teamwork before, and the teams and the silos and breaking down silos and collaboration, and whether actually, that’s a good thing or not, and where it works positively and where it doesn’t have to. So, maybe we will have to come on and speak about some of those things in isolation in the future. But let me ask you this sort of final question. So this is all about improving performanc and if we improve our thinking, and how we do that, so what regular practices or habits do you have in place that help you to improve your thinking and help you improve your performance?


Ian Bell  45:44

I think in terms of habits, I find myself – other than I’m having to consciously not do that this time, because that wouldn’t be the point of this chat – asking questions back, I do try to have a philosophy of being interested before I try to be interesting. It’s hard because I, obviously, my personality and everything else really wants to be interesting and pontificate and change things and make stuff happen. But the reality is that I do tend to find when people ask me a question, by default, I’m interested in the background of the question and why they’re asking, which would’ve been an appalling thing to have done for the last few minutes. But it enables you to…first of all it enables you some time to think by doing that, by understanding, even if the question was very straightforward, and was very clear, but to ask in what sense? Or can you expand on that a little bit? One, it gives me time to think and sometimes it completely changes the nuance of the questions. So…now I know that’s a very narrow answer to what was a very big question, but I think that the philosophy of being interested, let’s see what happens, what’s out there, before diving straight in with a solution is probably the thing that drives me more than anything else in terms of the way I operate. But I’m very conscious that sometimes we need to do things that are good enough, that are quick, and there are some quick wins, if there’s a chance that it’s got…it’s easy to do, and it can have a high or immediate impact, then let’s just do it and see what happens. As long as we look after people in…you know, you look at a risk, and if the risk is minimal, then let’s just do it. And that’s, I think the other thing is, is that, you know, we – you and I – have ran very similar businesses for a long time. And we made mistakes during that time that we learned from, and we both continued, we’ll continue to make mistakes. What often managers don’t, and people in senior roles in organisations also make mistakes and made mistakes that got them the experience they’ve got now, what happens, or what a lot of organisations are doing is trying to prevent and to drive out the potential for mistakes. So talking about your thing about narrowing the barriers on the 10 pin bowling, they try to drive out the mistakes, which then stops people from learning. And you just create a sort of a factory type approach, when actually if you require creativity, ingenuity, if empowerment really means something to you, if you want your people to make autonomous decisions, then what we need is to allow people to make mistakes and look after them when they do and give them the right feedback and work out whether we can sort of either tolerate that or whether actually, that is something that needs to change. 


Al Fawcett  48:26

I think that’s fantastic. So the two things that I sort of would take from that, is the first part of it is that natural curiosity, that ability to question and again, just enough questions to gain the clarity on, so what is it that we’re trying to focus on here? What are we trying to fix? What’s the purpose of this, in order to get to a solution relatively quickly, but without leaping to a solution immediately without limited information? Fantastic. But you’re right with regard to…and probably that was where my really bad analogy of one size fits all and everything came in earlier, with regards to, I’m a great believer that if you just have a good process, and average people who just, all they’re focused on is following the process, you will get a bunch of jobs worth, you’ll get robots that will just…that’s more than my jobs worth to do anything other than what the process tells me, because I can’t think wider than that. If you have great people without any process, you just got a bunch of Mavericks, you got people shooting off making decisions left, right and centre. And then you can’t pull them up because they haven’t had the rules set for them, as we said earlier with regards to the tennis game. So where the real sweet spot comes in, is having a great process and great people who know how to lift that off the page and do something with it. So they feel like they can make those decisions, they can skirt to the edge of that boundary. If they make a mistake, they’re brought back into the fold and said right, let’s see what we need to do next time. And let’s see how we can do it even better, which is your words. 


Ian Bell  50:00

I think that’s, again, a good point to make. And regarding processes, there’s two things that you just trigger thoughts on. One is, you know, not everyone has this…the drive to be successful, or some people would consider success is going to work, getting enough money to go home and spend time with my family. So it’s very easy to assume that everyone wants to build a huge career with an organisation. The work and our organisation and any other organisation may not be the most important thing in their life and that’s perfectly fine. So therefore, knowing what’s good enough, and what needs to be done, is very useful for those people. And for the organisation. And most organisations, without those people would completely fall over. The people who come to work, do the job, enjoy their job, contribute and go home again. Yes, they’re also the people who have it as a part of their life and are really driven to make those decisions. So I wouldn’t want to put people into those two categories and say that one’s better than the other, you sometimes want people to go outside of the process. So for example, you may have a doctor’s surgery, this is an example from my past, you may have a doctor’s surgery and their process is to open the doors at eight o’clock in the morning to allow people in, because before that everyone’s setting up the doctor’s surgery. That’s the process. That’s what we do, we open at eight. If it’s pouring with rain, and you’ve got sick old people outside, then someone to step out and decide, I’m going to open the doors and let them in. We’ll still not talk to them until 8 o’clock, but we’ll just at least let them in. That’s doing the right thing. So it’s knowing when to step outside of the process. That doesn’t mean that right now we open the doors as soon as the first person arrives, but sometimes you need to have the autonomy and the authority and just the right thinking to say, actually doing this today, I can step outside of that process. And that’s what I think empowerment means within an organisation. It’s understanding, yes, we are here to do this job. Yes, we’ve got these rules. Yes, we must comply to these particular things. However, if I know the overall purpose, which in a doctor’s surgery is caring for people and looking after patients, then actually I can step outside of the rules and open the door and let people in so that sick people and elderly people aren’t outside getting wet. 


Al Fawcett  52:22

And the two bits with regards to that is the person who opens the door, really, you know, the ability to have the confidence to make that decision. And then the person who, whether it’s the manager or whatever, that sees them doing that, and how they deal with that afterwards, either by recognising and rewarding and saying, well done for making that decision, or well done for making that decision, however, one of the reasons why we’re not able to do that, if there is a reason, is because of x, y, and z. So there’s still an elegance to the way that we can handle each of those examples. 


Al Fawcett  52:58

Ian, I can’t believe the time has gone so fast. It’s been fantastic speaking about some of this stuff, and as I said, always going to be interesting with you, because I love the way that you see things. So I will want to get you back on so we can chat through some of this stuff in more detail. The question is going to be whether or not you want to come back.


Ian Bell  53:18

I’d be delighted to. Right now, I have a four month old puppy, who is about to receive some feedback.


Al Fawcett  53:26

And on that note, thanks ever so much for your time.


Ian Bell  53:30

Thanks, Al.


Al Fawcett  53:34

Okay. So once again, I want to say a big thanks to Ian for sharing his stories and perspective on supporting your colleagues, leading and managing others, and doing meaningful work. I hope that regardless of your situation, or the role that you have, or the one that you aspire to, there are key takeaways from this conversation that you could immediately apply and test. To me, it was fantastic to talk about culture and how it is the behaviours of individuals and of groups that ultimately make up the culture of a business. This links in with the purpose, again, of both the business and the individuals, the expectations, and of course, the feedback that we give and receive. Remember, anyone who is looking to continue to improve the importance of review, analysis and feedback is empowerment. I’d love to hear what you took from the conversation, so as I mentioned before this conversation started, you can either do that by rating and reviewing in the likes of Apple podcasts. Or you can reach out to me via the various social media platforms. On Instagram, you can use @infinitepiethinking and Twitter it’s infinitepie. Facebook is infinite pie ltd. And you can also find me using @al_fawcett. Oh, and I’m always on LinkedIn too. You can always head over to the website infinitepie.co.uk. to connect, reach out or just check out the ways that we can help and support you. Or finally, you can just email us at ipt@infinitepie.co.uk. So thanks again for listening, now go and do stuff that matters.


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