2016 in Review

It may be late, but you know what they say, better late than never. January is a time for reflection and it is hard not to get swept up in the ‘New Year New Me’ resolutions fever. We’ve hoped to take a more measured approach to this, allowing a little more time than we would normally before reflecting on the previous year. Partly for pragmatic reasons, we had an extremely busy month and struggled for time to blog and to set our strategic direction for the year ahead.

Following our own advice, we have started by looking back at what has really worked in our business over the past year. It is a great starting point to see what you’ve achieved, how you went about doing it, and to identify the types of project and client you ideally want to work with in the year to come. By being clear about what we’ve enjoyed and done well, we can see exactly who we need to target in order to grow our business. Deciding on the type of project we love to work on means we can aim to do more of it, and to sustain the huge levels of passion and enthusiasm for the work that our clients expect of us.

Here are a few of our highlights from 2016:

  • Drafting an Evaluation Report for a small charity to submit to Big Lottery. On the face of it, this does not sound like the most interesting thing to write, but you’d be wrong. Anna has spent almost three years working with this charity, speaking to service users at focus groups or whole day evaluations, attending volunteer courses or celebration events, mapping performance and identifying the real benefits and outcomes for the people who rely on the charity for support. We have been privileged to see the progress made on the project and to work with the charity to ensure that they are working as effectively as possible to support some really hard to reach and vulnerable families within their community.
  • Proofreading and Editing a manuscript of poetry and songs aimed at children. It almost feels like it isn’t work when you can indulge your love of nonsense poetry and get stuck into a rhyming dictionary on a daily basis. It is fantastic to be trusted with the creative endeavours of another person and to be able to add to it in a small way whilst ensuring it is polished and ready for publication is one of the things we love doing.
  • Undertaking an Organisational Review for a local charity. We were pleased to be invited to review the work of a previous client who had been lucky enough to secure five years’ of funding to continue the work they do in their community. In the process of analysing their current working practice, organisational structure and management practices we helped them identify a few areas to start working on to improve their outcomes. We advised on the strategic steps they should be taking to ensure future sustainability and build capacity (in line with the funding requirements Big Lottery put in place).
  • In terms of Fundraising, we assisted in drafting and editing three successful £250k+ bids for funding, ensuring three charities can continue the inspiring and necessary work they do in their communities. We’re proud to have helped them keep the doors open and the donations flowing.
  • Managed Social Media for a national educational campaign aimed at maintaining and boosting creativity in education. This has been great fun, we’ve assisted in creating campaign materials including posters and online content, and even live tweeted a Q&A session with educational specialists including Professors, STEAM campaigners, teaching union representatives and MPs. It was rewarding to be part of promoting a cause we believe in, creativity is so vital for development and should never be an additional extra at school, plus it was great fun for us to take part in a family activity day that involved getting our hands dirty creating protest art at the National Railway Museum in York.
  • Finally, we’ve taken over management of all Consultation and Engagement activities for a public sector organisation and two small businesses. Maintaining a higher level of impartiality that would not otherwise be available and offering all the efficiency benefits that outsourcing can offer.

This barely scratches the surface, we’ve helped write business plans to get new ideas off the ground, created website copy and blog articles to promote art classes and encourage people of all abilities to get involved, ghost written a performance management e-book and short fictional story, and drafted bids and tenders to cover topics from gardening and building maintenance to furniture supply.

We’re looking forward to more of the same this year and if you’ve got a new project you’d like some professional writing and management consultancy support to deliver we’d love to hear from you. We care deeply about what we do and aim to please. For us, the best kind of customer is a repeat one, and we are passionate about building a great working relationship with our clients, understanding and responding to their needs and implementing solutions that deliver the results they crave.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg, (2012),The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change, Random House Books.

An award-winning New York Times journalist, Charles offers an informative yet witty insight into the surprising amount of power that habits hold over us. His simple yet engaging style of writing helps condense what could be dry, technical matters into concrete examples of how overcoming habits has led to massive transformations in the lives of real people, athletes, and multinational companies.

“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.”

The prologue starts with a bang. Lisa, a woman who had run away to Cairo on a whim after her husband left and demanded a divorce, woke up in a strange bed and tried to light a pen instead of a cigarette. She decided that she needed a goal. Something all-consuming to work toward. In a taxi on her way to go see the pyramids, she made up her mind that she would come back to Egypt and trek through the desert. As an overweight smoker, she knew she would need to make huge lifestyle changes, with no money in the bank and no idea whether such a trip was even possible she committed to trying to achieve that goal.

In a taxi on her way to go see the pyramids, she made up her mind that she would come back to Egypt and trek through the desert. As an overweight smoker, she knew she would need to make huge lifestyle changes, with no money in the bank and no idea whether such a trip was even possible she committed to trying to achieve that goal. The first thing she decided, was to quit smoking.

Four years later, she hadn’t had a cigarette, didn’t drink, had lost sixty pounds, got out of debt, bought a house, ran a marathon, started a Masters degree and had held down her first job for longer than a year at a design firm. And it had started with changing one single “keystone” habit.

Neurologists discovered the patterns inside her brain fundamentally changed. Where her old habits pathways were evident, it was clear that her new habits had overridden this data, any impulses to engage in the old behaviour were crowded out by the new. Instead of craving the satisfaction of giving in to the old habit her brain was now rewarding her for showing self-restraint in her behaviour.

“This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”

The book covers three main topics, individuals, organisations and societies. Exploring why we do the same thing day in and day out and how companies exploit our shopping habits, or follow the same destructive patterns even when the results are demonstrably growing worse. The section on society also offers some interesting insights into what conditions need to exist in order to facilitate a campaign movement and ensure that people can realign their thinking and move with the changes.

“Someday soon, say predictive analytics experts, it will be possible for companies to know our tastes and predict our habits better than we know ourselves.”

This was a great read, whether you feel the need to start transforming your habits or simply want to see how organisational change happens at a ground-up level. We can highly recommend it. Now, we just have to choose one of our bad habits to focus on and get the ball rolling…

If you have any recommendations for an interesting read we would love to hear from you. We are planning on adding more book reviews to the blog so if you have one that you think is worthy of inclusion we’ll be happy to take a look. Get in touch via Twitter @ActiveOutcomes, email info@activeoutcomes.co.uk, or by visiting http://www.activeoutcomes.co.uk.

Book Review: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Stephen R. Covey, (2004), The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, Simon & Schuster UK Ltd.

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As its headline boasts, this book has been a huge seller since it was first written in 1989 with over 15 million copies sold. I read the 2004 U.K. edition of ‘7 Habits’ when still quite fresh to the self-help/business book and found it was not as full of irritatingly obvious common sense advice as I had expected.

This book focuses on understanding yourself by assessing your own personality traits and working to develop the principles and values within your own character that will enhance your personal and professional effectiveness. The argument Covey makes is that by understanding your habits, how they are unconsciously formed and the process of breaking them, you can then replace them with more effective habits. He tells us that personal change must precede any public change.

Habits are defined as being the intersection of ‘knowledge, skill and desire’ and these are the three main points he makes with regard to habits that make a lot of sense; first you need knowledge, you must recognise the need for change before you can implement it. After that you must learn the skills you need to bring about the change and, last but not least, the only way to actually make the change stick is a burning desire to change that specific habit.

Covey goes through the ‘7 Habits’ in sequence and asks the reader to complete the associated tasks sequentially in order to make the changes permanent and effective. Each of the accomplishments leads step-by-step on to the next, moving you from personal dependence (the paradigm of you), to independence (the paradigm of I), and finally to interdependence (the paradigm of we). index

 

There are several useful templates that are set out as part of the approach, along with personal success stories and anecdotes. In the chapter on ‘Putting First Things First,’ his time management matrix and weekly worksheet were both useful resources to help you allocate your time wisely and discover how to make time for what is most important and will bring about the best results for you in the longer term. It helps you understand the tasks that need to be prioritised over those tasks that can distract and ultimately waste your time.

Covey-Quadrant

In order to create win/win scenarios that make you a more effective person and leader Covey argues that you must be willing to assess your own life and habits, to questions your values and whether you are being true to them in order to battle against doubts or a lack of self-confidence and take the risk of changing and developing new behaviours.

The approach set out in the book is simple to understand though undoubtedly less easy to actually follow. Covey describes his own personal struggle to live these principles on a daily basis and the same will undoubtedly apply to everyone else who has read and tried to follow the habits. There were several ideas contained in the book that I found useful and adopted at Active Outcomes in order to increase my own productivity, planning and effectiveness.

Overall, it contained some good insights. Although as a personal choice, I try to find my own way rather than follow any prescribed self-help methods, especially those that don’t seem to be the right fit for me.

For more information see: https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits.php