5 tips to make the most out of collaboration

0010063532R-849x565How many times have you heard that collaboration is King?  Why?  It’s creative – each individual has a different way of looking at things, which sparks new ideas in others.

Collaboration is also useful when you have limited resources as it helps to bring together resources, people and ideas.  However, is every collaborative effort successful?  Unfortunately not.

When most people talk about tips to help collaboration, they’ll tell you about this tool, this methodology.  For me, though collaboration is about people.

So, here are 5 people oriented tips to help you make the most out of your collaborative efforts

1. There is a queen bee in every hive!

People often think that when a manager / leader is involved with true collaboration, his only role is to facilitate (Make an action or process easy or easier).  Don’t misunderstand me, facilitation has its place in every collaboration, in fact it is essential.  However, so is leadership.

nCzacjUI’ve been reading a lot about innovation recently and one of the ideas that I’ve picked up is Edward de Bono’s “Six thinking hats”.  Well worth a read if you have the chance.  The six thinking hats discuss the different roles needed for creativity.  One of those roles is the “leadership” role or “administrator” role (the blue hat).  Each collaboration needs a mediator, a time keeper, a referee.  Without this role, you could end up in anarchy.  Someone needs to solve dispute; someone needs to keep track of time scales and deadlines.

Imagine a beehive.  Each bee inside the hive has a role to play and a function.  However, without the queen nothing much would get done.  How will you know when you have achieved a task or a milestone if you don’t have a queen bee?  So if one person doesn’t immediately step forward, elect a team leader for each collaborative effort.  The team leader / blue hat role helps to focus and support the group!


2. It doesn’t take much to curdle milk

Collaboration is dependant on the people in the team and as such it doesn’t take much for it all to go sour.  Being flexible and accepting failure is vital, however if you see a problem, fix it and fast.  Unnecessary red tape, a problem team member, negativity can all cause the collaborative effort to fail.  Identify the weeds and throw them out!

Curdled milk is never salvageable   It will take you less time to identify and remove your problem areas than it will to do the project twice and it’s less damaging to your reputation!

3. Recognise your power users

955071_80397867For those of you who speak IT, you’ll know that a power user is not quite an administrator, but they have more access and more “rights” than a normal user would.  In terms of collaboration, this means that not everyone will put in the same effort and time, not everyone will contribute at the same level.  As well as identifying the problems, identify your shining stars.

Collaboration is about balance and working in concert, pairing needs and working towards (a sometimes but not always) shared goal while accomplishing smaller tasks as you go.  Thinking back to the beehive, if you had the same number of queens and warriors as you had worker bees, the end result would be a mess.  Don’t force everyone to be equal just to be perceived as fair. Give everyone their due and let people contribute what they can.

4. When 10 is not greater than 2

1259849_90935436 (Medium)If you asked someone for a definition of collaboration, they will probably start talking about team work.  We often think of collaboration as a group effort sharing the weight from beginning to end.  However, who says it cannot start small and get bigger?  Projects evolve.  People can leave, people can join as the needs arise.  Leverage the talents you require to get the job (task) done.  If someone is not needed, let them get on with something else.  For the record, teamwork and collaboration are different:

Teamwork = individuals working together for a common goal harmoniously

Collaboration = people with various goals banded together, only a few of which are usually shared

It makes sense then that your collaborative team could and should change as the goals and milestone adjust.  This will make any sudden game changers (new objectives, focus) less of a problem

5. A poor workman blames his tools

0008333352T-849x565There are some fantastic tools out there, both online and off, which can help collaboration.  There are so many tools available that make it easy to stay on top of tasks and easily collaborate with your team even if they are not all in the same room.  However they are just that.  Tools.  Without clear direction, deadlines, updates, people skills and leadership, the best tool in the world will not make your project successful.  You will get out what you put in as we say.  Or if you prefer you will reap what you sow.

In R. Keith Sawyer’s study of jazz performances, Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration, Sawyer made this observation:

“The group has the ideas, not the individual musicians.”

According to Sawyer, more often than not, true innovation emerges from an improvised process and draws from trial-by-error and many inputs, “with sparks gathering together over time, multiple dead ends, and the reinterpretation of previous ideas.”  This happens when people are involved.  Tools will only help you to get there.

Hope this helps!

Alesandra Blakeston

Are you as keen as mustard? Should you be?

mlnpVuyIn English, the phrase “As keen as mustard” means to be really enthusiastic.  Back in the olden days, you couldn’t have beef without mustard.  Since it added zest and flavour to the meal, mustard became associated with vigour and zeal.  By the early 20th century, the association was so strong that people and things weren’t just like mustard, they were mustard.

I remember when that phrase was applied to a friend of mine back when we first started working after university.  You’d think it was a good thing right?  Only the actual phrase used was more along the lines of “She’s as keen as mustard alright, but…” and subsequently there followed an explanation of how she was always running in the wrong direction, or that she worked hard, but the results were never quite right.

I was reminded of this part of my history by a post on a colleague’s blog “When You Don’t Fit In At Work” by Tina Del Buono, PMAC.  The post made me think initially of another friend who struggled to fit in.  Then as I reflected a little more, I thought of how much I personally had learned during that time of my life and others when I too hadn’t quite fit in.  I absorbed and experienced more about people management and influencing others by the mistakes that I made back then.  I remember feeling as though I was running from one fire to the next.  Sure I wanted to show how fantastic I was and to make a great impression, but was I effective?  Perhaps not!

I also saw this post this week “Doing more only to do less – do we glorify busy?” by SOFAGIRL.  She initially talks about some Dutch workers who regularly put in 10 hour days since their workload is too high to fit into the 8 hour schedule.  I really liked this comment:

Hmmfff…”, said their pals, “In Holland, if you were to work like that we would think you were not coping.”


SOFAGIRL goes on to talk about an anxiety attack she had and the negative consequences she faced from being over busy.  Again her motivation was obviously in the right place, but her well being was compromised as a result.  As a result, she makes some very convincing arguments about how to manage your time more effectively.  In fact it is a great post and I highly recommend reading it.

When we over work in this way, we are in fact making a choice.  Perhaps it doesn’t feel like a choice at the time, because it is a series of very small, tiny, inconsequential choices.  Just five minutes more one day, checking your email at the weekend another day, and then accepting a call whilst on holiday the next.  We do these thing because we want to be seen to matter; to be seen as an effective force in the workplace; to get a bigger bonus at the end of the year, to be seen as being close to perfect and to be needed and / or wanted.

A lot of other people have posted on this subject, mostly stating that working long hours is not productive and as Sofagirl explained are actually harmful to us in the long run.  A couple on hbr.org that I enjoyed were “Overcome your work addiction” and “Set boundaries on the sacrifices you’ll make for work“.

0010376801W-849x565Often though, in my experience, working long hours is rewarded by managers and eventually becomes seen as being the norm.  Those that don’t work long hours are seen as being inflexible and not committed to the company.  Unfortunately, working long hours are just one of many symptoms.  I’ve seen colleagues taking on more work than they can possibly handle, running to and from meetings, making bad quick decisions in the heat of the moment because they don’t have the time to make a deep analysis, taking work home with them and one that I myself often do, which is eating a sandwich at my desk instead of having a proper dinner break.  “That’s nothing”, you scoff!  In fact, I’m sure everyone reading this could add to the list. Unless you’ve learned from experience, or you’re naturally zen, we all overwork to a certain extent.

Perhaps instead of just being keen, we should also aim to be balanced and effective.  Work hard, play hard.  Balance.  Fun! Identify not just your own strengths, but the strengths of your team.  Work out how to organise the work load so that everyone goes home on time, no-one is over stressed and over worked and that each person is doing the jobs that they are the best at.

0010067603R-849x565Imagine person A is great in Excel and person B sucks at Excel, though they are a fast typist.  Get person A to do the excel work for the team and person B to do the word processing.  Over simplified, yes, but you get the point.  Also identify the value added in the work your team does.  Identify what is key to the business success and put that to the top of the list.  Stop saying yes to everyone and everything, and instead draw a line between what will show your team in a great light and what won’t.  You can still be keen, but direct that keenness!  As a leader, you should insist on a healthy work environment and take time to let your team relax.

I personally have a tendency to say yes, when I really should say no.  I am a team player and will help just about anyone. Just like being keen as mustard, it sounds great, but…  I’ve had to really scale back over the past few months due to a vacancy in my team.  I’ve had to learn that just because something IS an objective doesn’t mean that it SHOULD be.  It might be on my to do list, but the when has definitely become flexible and sometimes even whether or not it is on the list. Obviously delegation helps, but you can only delegate so much before your team also starts to drown.  I’ve really learned how to prioritise over the past few months.  There’s no magic wand, just a lot of deep calm breaths.  Instead of making a quick decision, I’ve learned to make a better analysis and only do the work that I or my team can add value to.  Instead of going to every meeting I am invited to and running from one meeting to the next, I check what exactly is on the agenda. Do I really need to be there?  Could that time be better spent?  Are others going to the meeting that would fulfill the same need?  I am trying to work less, but be more efficient and more focussed.


Working long hours simply makes me irritable and over tired.  I make poorer decisions and I make more mistakes.  Not good for me and certainly not good for the company I work for.  Now I celebrate the successes that my team achieve and choose which fights we want to win carefully.  I am keen as mustard, but… it doesn’t mean that I can or will do everything.

What about you?

Alesandra Blakeston

YOY (year over year) charts

In business, it is important to track KPIs over time to evaluate performance.  Often we see graphs by month or even by quarter, sometimes with trends lines sometimes without.  However, with your basic line and bar charts, it is difficult to track seasonal variation and to compare one year to the next directly.  Let me give you an example:

Basic chart

This chart shows the performance by quarter over the past ten years.  Although it appears that the results have varied significantly over time, it is difficult to draw any conclusions from this data using only the table.  Let’s say that you suspect that there is seasonal variation.  We could plot each quarter as a separate series in the graph (with a different colour) using a stacked bar chart.  Please note you can download the excel sheet I am using to create these graphs here.

Seasonal chart

Suddenly it becomes clearer that Q1 is usually the lowest performing quarter each year and that Q3 is usually the highest. This would then allow us to analyse why there is such seasonal variation – very powerful stuff!  The chart isn’t very elegant though so we could also see this with a series of charts, each showing just one year:

chart series

The placement of the charts also makes it clear that there is much lower performance in Q1 each year.  However setting up one graph / year is time consuming.  Surely there is a better way?  What about instead of plotting the actual result each year, you plotted the change in results?

YOY chart

I’m only showing  the percentage change of three years here, but suddenly you can see that not only is Q1 always the lowest performer, but that in 2004 performance increased in Q1 by 5% and then decreased in 2005 by over 10%.  For both years each quarter improved (or worsened) on the quarter before.  You can start to see statistical trends.  This type of chart is called a Year Over Year chart or YOY chart.  It is also known as an Index Year Ago IYA chart and is used a lot in sales and statistics.  In short, a YOY chart is obviously more powerful than a standard bar (or line) chart.

To plot this type of analysis, you simply need to perform a simple calculation.  Imagine 2003 Q1 is in cell B4 and 2004 Q1 data is in cell B8.  The calculation would be =B4/B3-1.  This will give you the percentage change.  To make the chart easier to read, you could also move the X axis to the bottom or top of the chart.

final chart

You can download the sample excel sheet YOY chart.  I hope you find it useful!

Alesandra Blakeston

Prioritising visuals using colour and symbols

Saw this post yesterday on HBR: Make priorities clear with green, yellow and red by Anthony Tjan.  In it, like the title suggests, Anthony Tjan suggests making your priorities clear using colour.  It’s definitely a good start, so I thought I would explain further.  For example, let’s take the table below:

table 1

We could prioritise the table by target date or by resource or by importance of the action.  If we use target date as an example, we could put completed actions in green, ongoing actions in yellow and actions behind schedule in red…

table 2

As a project manager, I can tell you that this idea definitely has merit.  In fact, I’ve used it several times in presentations and reports, to enable my managers and teams to immediately see the priority.  That being said, I also have a big problem with this idea.  What if you are colour blind?  I myself am partially colour blind.  I can see reds and greens, but similar colours are a problem for me.  So how I can I make this idea user friendly for those that canot see colour? Personally, I would do two things:

  • Separate the table into sections to put the different categories together
  • Add icons to show good and bad to make the distinction clear

table 3

However, those that know me, will probably tell you that I wouldn’t be satisfied with this either.  It’s a good start, but it’s still not visual enough.  There are various statistics out there on the value of a good visual and retention.  If you ask someone to remember just text, 72 hours after the training / presentation, they will only remember 10% of what was written.  If you add visuals (good ones) that retention rate can go up to 75%!  So how could I better present the table above visually?

First I might split the table into two slides; one slide entitled “New training templates” another entitled “Leadership training package”.  Then I might use timelines, photos, icons and tables as needed to illustrate the point I want people to remember!


What do you think?  What is your take home message?  Is the slide above easier to read?  Are you more or less likely to remember it?

Alesandra Blakeston

Innovation and Implementation: A Risky Business…

0010363503V-849x565A large part of my job is project management.  I oversee the results of the training program I manage, I motivate and energise the teams involved in it, and I implement smaller projects within the program to improve it and reduce cost.  This year, we’re hoping to make a lot of innovations, though of course it is all dependent on resource and time.  What do I mean by innovations?  Obviously we make changes to improve things all the time. What I mean here are significant changes where we take giant leaps of faith, completely changing the way we do things or using completely new products / services / technologies.  This involves a lot of research, development, training and support.

Deciding which innovative projects to implement and the strategy you’re going to adopt can be difficult when technology is involved, especially if there is a significant difference in the old and new technologies.  However it gets even more difficult when large numbers of people need to be brought on board, with big changes in competence.  You not only have to work out which personnel are going to help you drive the innovation, but also train large numbers of people and this is in addition to making the change.

I’ve been asked several times over the last year, why did we change this piece of software, or why did we implement that program.  Often people assume it’s about cost (because let’s face it, in business it usually is) but sometimes, it’s about the user experience as well.  As a trainer, I won’t adopt software just because it’s cheap; for me it has to be easy to use and somewhat intuitive if possible.  When I decide to make a change, it’s because I believe in the change.  Nothing less will do. Why?  Because implementations are risky.

0001332960GG-849x565When you decide to do something, to implement a new program, to change existing working methods, your credibility is on the line.  In short you are publicly telling your team and any other staff in your vicinity that “We can do it!”  When you consider that all implementations involve large scale changes (and this means Risk with a capital “R”), it is definitely scary putting your reputation on the line.

If the implementation is successful, then your credibility soars, you get moved to larger projects and you are seen as being innovative.  However, it is not just you who is responsible for the implementation.  Other members of your team / service / site / factories are involved and their commitment to the implementation will have an effect.  Unfortunately, this is just one of many factors that you have to take into consideration, assess and put measures in place to control.  If the implementation goes badly, you and your team can spend years trying to recover and overcome the negative backlash.


In addition to involving multiple people in the implementation, others will be impacted by the change as well.  For the implementation to be successful, these impacts need to be analysed carefully and training programs / communication plans put into place, otherwise they will have a negative impact later.  What is the population of people affected by the change?  Are they young, old?  Is there a culture of continuous improvement in place?  Are they used to change?  Remember the old adage “You can’t teach and old dog new tricks”?  Imagine trying to get them to adopt new technology, new software.  Change is hard, especially on thosewho are out of the habit of learning and are set in their ways.

Implementations also involve beginnings, ends and changes.  Regardless of the type of innovation, (new contracts, changes to programs or software) there are expectations when we use the word implementation.  Expectations that can be unrealistic or unachievable given the current level of resource / budget.  Delays or over spending of the budget brings along with it fiscal and contractual risk.  What exactly are your managers expecting?  What exactly do you and your team expect?  What exactly do the end users expect?  Are they the same thing?

WIIFM (Medium)Managing the risk is vital, starting with understanding what is at stake. This is often underestimated and a common mistake is thinking that the person controlling the purse strings / budget “likes you and / or understands where you are coming from.”  They may like you, but ultimately, they will do what is right for them.  Instead think WIIFT, or what’s in it for them.  Why are they willing to invest?  What do they get out of it?  Meeting their needs, rather than yours should be first on your to do list.

Does any of this mean that you shouldn’t innovate though? No, far from it.  It simply means that when you innovate, you need to accept that there is an element of risk.  Make thorough plans, make as much of the process as possible completely transparent and get early buy in from your team.  Some argue that getting early buy in from your managers is risky.  If they don’t like the initial idea, they can shut it down before it even starts.  In addition, even when you have done further research to prove your idea many will still dislike it, simply because it is human nature to see what you want to see, in this case they will find holes in the project as they are expecting to see holes to back up their earlier assessment.  However, if you do plenty of research beforehand and work out what is in it for your investor / manager, you are more likely to get support and early support can make the difference when reducing possible delays and smoothing over difficulties.


Accept also that you are going to make mistakes and where possible budget for the mistakes.  This may sound odd especially when you need to get buy in from managers above you, but a good management team will understand that mistakes happen when you are being innovative and will respect you more if you plan for them.  I remember one project a few years ago that was actually successful, but needed much more support and effort on my side than I could ever have envisaged.  We’re planning another change this year along similar lines and I simply will not do the change in the same way.  The software we currently use to create training material is somewhat cumbersome now (although when we first got it, it was top of the line).  I plan to change it; however this means updating all of the existing training content, training all of the current team and changing the way we work significantly.  Instead of asking my local teams to make the change with their limited resources, I’m going to create a small central team of specialists who will do the bulk of the changeover work for the local teams, leaving just end user training to do with the bulk of the people who will eventually use it.  This will significantly lessen the impact of the change on the majority of the people and so increase the chance that the end users will accept the change more readily.  Of course, I am also planning to market the new software and I’ve identified the key people in my organisation who will be open to the change and find it immediately see the usefulness and so have incentive to make the change.  Once they are sold on the new software, they will in turn impact their networks and so on and so on.  You are always more receptive to an idea from someone you trust.

Another point I would advice is to give yourself leeway in terms of time and don’t underestimate or overestimate how much you are going to spend in an effort to look good.  When you spend significantly less than what you plan to spend it shows bad management just as over spending does.  Quite simply, you haven’t planned correctly.  Gantt charts are great and I use them a lot, but you need to put thought behind the calculations.  Allow for human error, but still aim to optimise the time you have.  It’s a balancing act!

0002843528UU-849x565Once you have identified all of your risks and then assessed their impact, you will know which risks could cripple your project and which ones have a high likelihood of occurrence.  You can then take it one step further and identify ways to reduce the risks that have a high likelihood and high severity.  You are more likely to be successful if you have contingency plans in place.  Obviously you cannot plan for every eventuality, but you can identify most of them.

Finally, if you can’t be passionate about the change, no one will be. If you are nervous about the change, others around you will be even more so.  Accept the risks, plan to mitigate them as much as possible, acknowledge your mistakes and improve your strategy as a result of them.  Put good people in place around you, who also believe in the plan and are optimistic about it. Then and only then will you succeed!

Alesandra Blakeston


Delegation and me…

0010354635U-565x849I’ve been thinking about delegation a lot recently.  My work life has become very busy with the influx of the new interns, and since I’m currently recruiting to fill a vacant position in my team as well, you can imagine how hectic life is.   I’m needing to delegate more and more and I worry that I am delegating boring and repetitive tasks, rather than delegating interesting and fulfilling work that will develop the interns.

I saw this blog post yesterday by Danielle Rainbolt, which lead to an interesting post about leadership: Top 10 things I wish I knew the day I became a leader by David Peck. David lists 10 things that I also wish I had known 10, 15 years ago.  It would have made my life so much easier!  Number 7 on his list however was about delegation:

Delegation is about trusting someone with responsibility and verifying they are handling it responsibly.

Obviously I agree with this statement.  For me it is quite obvious.  However, I then went on to read another blog post, this time specifically about delegation by author wotuw8ing4.  He quotes My Coach Bob:

Delegation is about giving away a project, not giving away a task

It made me think, so I started to analyse exactly what I delegate, why I do it and how I can do it better.

0010051796Q-849x565Why should I delegate?

Primarily most people delegate because:

No one can do everything; delegating frees you up to do other tasks.  When you quit worrying about minor tasks, it allows you to do more strategic work.  Highly paid people should not be doing low-skill work

Does that sound about right?  However, I’d like to point out that just because you are highly paid, it doesn’t mean that

Someone else cannot do your work better

So as Coach Bob said, perhaps we should be delegating projects rather than tasks.  This will aid in career development for your team; they will hone their skills by doing the work, and they will feel more fulfilled.  In addition, by delegating a project, you will have even more free time than if you delegated individual tasks.  They feel empowered and a culture of trust is developed.

0010357464U-849x565So then, when don’t I delegate?

Here’s my list – obviously yours might be different:

  • When I would be annoyed by being given that task to do.  I try to live by the adage “Never ask someone to do something that you would not be prepared to do yourself.”
  • When it takes longer to explain something than it would to do something.
  • When the work is beyond someone’s capability.
  • When there is a confidentiality issue.
  • When there is a lot at stake and I want to keep the control.

Obviously, I will continue to keep in place the first point on the list, but I am going to start to challenge the other points more.  Even if it might take longer to explain, or even if it is currently beyond someone’s capability, long-term it can still be better to delegate the work.  The more trained my team is, the better they will perform.

As for the confidentiality aspect, if you don’t trust your team, well they shouldn’t be your team!

The final point is difficult for me, and I suspect for others as well.  The higher the stakes, the harder it is to trust and to delegate, especially with a team of interns who do not have the same experience in the work environment.  Still, I am going to challenge myself on this issue as well.  The more you control, the less likely your team is going to be innovative and creative.  If you allow your team to choose their projects, manage their own time, and give them latitude to make decisions and take action without consulting you first then new leaders will naturally emerge.

My delegating plan

0010791924M-1920x1280 (Medium)

I am going to try to find balance between delegating repetitive tasks and missions / projects

I am going to trust my team more

I am going to continue to expand the capabilities of my team more and delegate even when it will initially cost me more time

I am going to meddle less and allow more innovation in my team and watch as new leaders emerge

What about you?

Alesandra Blakeston

Create charts with conditional formatting

Sometime last week, I posted a blog regarding how to make your charts look amazing.  Afterwards a colleague asked me how to make one of the charts; the conditional line chart (slide 8).

graphs 12

Actually it’s quite simple.  The key is in the set up of the data.  You can follow the process through with this example spreadsheet.  Imagine you have a table of results, similar to the one below:


You’ve added icon sets using the conditional formatting in excel and now you want to show these results in a chart displaying the results above and below target, either as a column graph, or as a line chart.  To show you what I mean, I’ve posted a picture below, showing the results and the target lines in both graphs.  I’ve selected blue as being above target and grey as being below, but you can use any colour!


So how can you do it?

Setting up the data

Regardless of whether you want a line chart or a column chart, you need to pre-prepare the data.

  1. Add 3 new columns entitled “<target”, “>=target” and “Target”.
  2. In the first new column (“<target”), type in the formula below in the first line of the table (note the use of the dollar symbol):
      This assumes that your original results are in column C, rows 3 to 10 and that the first row of data is in row 3. You can of course change this. Basically, the formula checks the result in the same line as the formula. If the result is below target (10), it will show the result. If not, it will show #N/A – written in excel formula as NA().
  3. Copy and paste the formula in the first row to the next column, then change the “<” symbol to “>=”.  The $ symbol before the C should prevent Excel from transposing the column.  The formula should read:
      This will do a similar function to the previous formula except it will only display the result if it is greater or equal to the target (10) or display #N/A.
  4. Copy and paste the formula in the first 2 columns down the table to fill each row.
  5. Type in the target in the third column.
  6. Add conditional formatting if you wish etc.
  7. Your table should now look something like this:

table 2

Create a bar chart with target line

  1. Click on the insert tab > column chart > stacked column.insert stacked column
  2. Set up the three series using columns “<target”, “>=target” and “Target” and give each series a name e.g. “Below target”, “Above target” and “Target”.
  3. Add the Horizontal axis labels (the date column) and press the OK button.select data source
  4. Your chart should look like this:chart 1
  5. Right click on the “Target” series and choose “Change series chart type”.change series chart type
  6. Change the series chart type to a normal line graph and press the OK button.
  7. Your chart should now look like this:chart 2
  8. Delete the legend.
  9. Delete the major axis grid lines and colour the series’ etc as you wish.  Again, I’ve chosen blue for above target and grey for below target, with a dark blue line for the target.
  • If you wish to extend the target line as shown in the original drawing follow steps below.
  • Click on the target line and press Ctrl+1 to open up the format data series menu box.
  • Choose to plot the line series on the secondary axis and press Close.  The graph will automatically update.
  • On the ribbon, click on Chart tools > Layout > Axes > Secondary Horizontal Axis > Show Left to Right axis.

secondary horizontal axis

  • Double click the new horizontal axis at the top of the graph.
  • At the bottom of the Axis options, choose to position the axis “On tick marks”.

format axis

  • Then change the Major tick mark type to None and Axis labels to None and press the Close button.
  • With the axis still selected, click on Chart tools > Format > Shape Outline > No outline to remove the remaining line at the top of the chart.
  • Double click the secondary vertical axis and adjust the scale to match the primary vertical axis on the left and then delete it.  Your chart is done!

column chart

Create a conditional line chart

  1. On the ribbon, click on Insert > Line > 2D Line > Line chart.
  2. Right click on the chart object and click on Select Data.
  3. Add the four series as shown below (in the same order!):select data 2
  4. Click on the Results series and Add the dates as Horizontal Axis labels and press the OK button.chart 3
  5. Click on one of the series, and press Ctrl+1.
  6. Set up the formatting as shown below (use the Chart tools > Format tab and Current selection part of the ribbon to help you select the different series).  I’ve used the same colours as for the bar chart:
    • Results series: Grey line, no markers
    • Below target series: NO LINE, grey markers, with grey marker line
    • Above target series: NO LINE, blue markers, with blue marker line
    • Target series: Dark blue line, no markers

line chart

Note: The reason we used #N/A in the data set up, was so that excel doesn’t plot a “0” in the gaps where the data is missing in each series.

The chart is complete.  Remove the legend and horizontal grid lines as you wish!  Please feel free to download and use the example spreadsheet.  Enjoy!


10 common mistakes made by managers and leaders

Firstly, let me point out that not all managers are leaders, and not all leaders are managers.  While the two should in my opinion go hand in hand, often they don’t.  To make the distinction clear before I start talking about mistakes:1065245_79106935 (Medium)

  • a leader is innovative, bringing in new ideas and heralds change, 
    a manager administers and keeps things constant
  • leaders generally inspire trust,
    managers control
  • a leader asks “why” and “what”,
    a manager asks “how” and “when”

For me, the best manager is also a leader.  He knows when to give his people direction, giving them a vision to be inspired by and also when to tighten the reins and control what is going on.  Basically, using the toolkit of both to ensure the team’s objectives and company strategies are met.

However, we all know a manager, a leader that doesn’t quite cut it.  What is it that makes them so bad?

  1. Efficiency before effectiveness1198416_98477822 (Medium)
    Some managers are so focused on the short term objectives, they forget the longer game.  Occasionally this leads to the team heading in the wrong direction.  This often occurs when the manager is a “pleaser” (doesn’t know how to say no to others, wants to be liked).  The manager gets the team involved in something that will please someone else, but long term isn’t good for the team or the company. This need to be efficient, instead of being effective is shortsighted and contrary to what the company needs.  Don’t be afraid to take risks and to say no even to superiors.  They’ll appreciate it in the long term.
  2. Failing to define goals
    This can happen for many reasons.  Sometimes the manager is new and is too afraid of rocking the boat or of looking stupid to give his team clear objectives.  Other times, the manager forgets that what’s in his head is not necessarily crystal clear to his team.  It is essential whether new or not, to have a clear vision of where your team is heading and to ensure that that vision is not only communicated, but that it is broken down into manageable tasks that can be measured.
  3. Hoardingmanager2
    A manager that wants to keep all of the glory for himself, is in my humble opinion one of the worst types of manager out there. This manager doesn’t delegate often and when he does, he micromanages to the point where the team is strangled, unable to make a move without him. Some manager’s actually believe that this is the only way to run their teams. They neither trust, not respect their people. This is where the leadership side of the role should kick in though. Get to know your team’s strengths and weaknesses, define their goals and trust them to do their part of the task. If you keep all of the work for yourself, not only are you a stroke waiting to happen, but your team will under-perform to the level you expect and begin to resent the controls placed upon them.
  4. Not walking the talk
    Also known as not walking the walk or not practicing what you preach. If you constantly arrive late, if you use work time to resolve personal issues, your team will too. You have to be the example that your team should strive to become.  Encourage them to aim high, by aiming high yourself.  Don’t expect more of your team than of yourself, and don’t ask someone to do something that you are not also willing to do.
  5. Being over friendlystamp-out-competition-winner-victor-winning-strategy-concept-f4
    As a manager you cannot be everyone’s friend. In fact you should expect to be disliked some of the time. Please note I didn’t say all of the time. In addition to learning when to say no, you also need to put the company’s needs first. This is regardless of your personal feelings for your team.  Just because you think one team member is really nice or that you feel sorry for them and their family, doesn’t mean you should overlook the fact that they are behind schedule or that they are simply not performing. Be fair to them, to yourself and to the company.
  6. Misunderstanding the team’s motivation
    If you want someone to do something, you need to know how to motivate them. Perhaps they are interested only in their paycheck. Perhaps they are looking for greater recognition or advancement at work. Whatever they are looking for, you need to help them find it. If you ask someone to do something without using WIIFM (what’s in it for me), it will surely fail. Get to know your team, what drives them, where they are heading
  7. Lack of feedback
    Whilst micromanaging should be avoided, so also should a lack of managing. Managers who don’t take the time to give their teams meaningful feedback can end up with projects spinning out of control, heading in directions that the customer doesn’t want. Feedback should also be both positive and negative. If your team has done well celebrate, as the manager who only gives negative feedback is also bound to fail. Above all, whether positive or negative, give the feedback in a timely manner and remember to be respectful.
  8. Hurrying recruitmentPile of Hands
    This is my personal favourite. Taking the time to get the right candidate for the position is essential. This can mean that some work has to be put on hold until the new incumbent is in position and it can mean some objectives need to be stretched and / or reassigned.  However in the long term, having the right candidate means they are more likely to stay, and you will see clear benefits from their work and motivation.
  9. Forcing competition among team members
    Some managers use bullying techniques and / or set their team members in a race against each other to see who will succeed. This results in zero-team working and engenders a tense atmosphere in the workplace.  Instead, conflict should be addressed early and cooperation between team members should be encouraged. Don’t be afraid to tackle the conflict, instead provide a secure base for your team and encourage them to branch out and embrace change.
  10. Being inaccessible and unavailable1168056_89855414
    We all know that manager whose door is always closed, who runs from one senior management meeting to the next, rarely having time to chat with his team or even to encourage them. Leaders who assign tasks and walk away have in a sense abandoned their people to chance. This doesn’t mean you need to react immediately to every small point, instead create channels of communication and set time aside to meet your team’s needs.  Delegation is key.


Alesandra Blakeston

Self Confident or Diffident?

Are you the kind of person who fades into the background, avoids talking in meetings and generally prefers not being noticed?  Do you wish you could take centre stage, be confident and calm, always in control?wordleOne of my favourite quotes of all time is from Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”     Yet all of us have felt insecure at one time or another, we’ve worried about failure, we’ve felt unsure about our welcome, we’ve been nervous about our approach or plan.  Even when the people around us are encouraging, sometimes our own perception can weigh us down.


Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for confidence.  Simply telling yourself you are wonderful and to be confident is not enough.  In fact, in my experience, the only real way to build confidence is to achieve something.

Every year I train a new crop of graduates at the beginning of their careers.  Some are determined and bold, others are reserved and shy, and yet by the end of their six-month internships all of them have succeeded in their projects.  They then go on to build upon that foundation. Knowing that they have achieved good grades, that they have completed a difficult internship gives them the confidence to tackle the next challenge.  Tackling this next challenge brings them even more confidence, and so on.

What can we learn from this?  Well, confidence doesn’t happen overnight.  In fact it can be said to be a cycle.

Step 1: Ambition.  The Oxford dictionary defines ambition as a strong desire to do or achieve something.  You’ll never take that first step towards confidence unless you really want to.  You need determination and desire.cycle

Step 2: an achievable goal.  Start small and build.  For example, many people fear speaking up in public or asking what they think is a stupid question in a group setting.   Regardless of the fear, one of my favourite questions at this point is “SO?”.

People might disagree with you. SO?

Someone might laugh? SO?

You might get it wrong? SO?

Face this fear.  I can guarantee that in reality it won’t be nearly as bad as what you think it will be!  People are generally much more accepting than we imagine.  In fact most people are dealing with the exact same fears.  One goal might be to speak out at every group discussion.  If you are successful, this will help you to build confidence with the group and indirectly, you’ll become a better public speaker.  Stop worrying about yourself and concentrate on the contribution you’re making to the group.  You won’t worry as much about your own flaws, if you are thinking about the group’s success.

Of course to achieve this goal, you’ll need to face your fears.  To do this you need Step 3: motivation, a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in this different way.  Imagine what success will look like.  Imagine how facing your fear will help you.  Imagine how the change in your confidence will affect your life.


Then you’ll achieve your goal, and feel the benefits, Step 4: Success. Knowing that you’ve done something and done it well, you’ll feel a rush of euphoria.  You’ll feel able to do more.

With this success under your belt,  you’ll become more assertive, more sure.  It may only be a smidgen more sure than before, but it is more.  This is Step 5: Confidence.  This is where you should celebrate and then make plans to build on your success.  For example, expand your one question per meeting objective, to a 5 minute talk on your current project.  Each small step will give you the confidence you need to reach the next step.

Of course, you will not always achieve your goal the first time.  You need to know your limits and expand them slowly.  If you reach too far too fast, you will inevitably fall.  However, you can learn from each fall and become stronger from the knowledge.   Reflect on your existing achievements.  What worked well?  Why did you fall?  How can you build on what you’ve done?

Remember, what you currently perceive as being your limit is probably not even close.  Try expanding your horizons.  Move the goal posts little by little.  Remember in reality, the sky is the limit.  Eleanor Roosevelt also said: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”