Living a ‘Make do and mend’ approach to Human Capital / Talent Management?

 PFT Tilt Rightimg_human_capital

By Peter Fennah of Career Synergy Limited a partner organisation with Ashridge and Manchester Business Schools.

The handbrake on the mobility of talent created by the Great Recession is coming off, is your organisation’s talent management programme prepared?

Here are five key challenges for HRDs at a time of emergent growth:

  1. Robust linkage of organisational growth targets, embedded models of talent management and clear ROI of the Talent / Human Capital strategy
  2. That very low staff turnover doesn’t result in the stagnation of organisational creativity
  3. That high-potential candidates are successfully promoted across divisional silos
  4. Turning candidate data into insight and inevitable success
  5. Ensuring leadership potential is realised via Transition Coaching

ROI Return on Investment Slot Machine Wheels

Robust linkage of organisational growth targets, embedded models of talent management and clear ROI of the Talent / Human Capital strategy

Stretching company growth targets can require rapid staff attraction and selection rates. Often there is limited time at this point for HR to do more than operationalise the Board’s request. By contrast HR re-positions itself when it engages with the tricky Shareholder’s question of:

‘How does your talent strategy help realise the stretching financial targets of the company and create a ROI?’

This requires HR to align revenue growth targets with increased leadership effectiveness and additional staff who in turn need to be managed and led well to achieve financial goals. Defining the strategy that will deliver these results is the Board level discussion HRDs need to be engaging with. This will result in integrated discussions with the FD to showcase the strategic investment in considering how new leaders are brought onboard in such a way as to lead to inevitable success in achieving revenue targets.

Through these conversations more consideration is given to selecting and appropriately onboarding leaders to new roles so that desired outcomes are gained. Without this end-to-end thinking targets are often missed or just met. What doesn’t consistently occur is exceeding targets, something associated with exceptional leaders. Most HRDs avoid the discussion of how effective their talent strategy is due to the difficulty of measurement but this doesn’t need to be an excuse anymore. Both leadership and aligned team performance can be measured over time. If we focused upon putting in a strong system of focused feedback and support the ROI would be much clearer.

Overall, we need to go beyond the traditional talent model of looking for generic leadership in candidates, which focuses upon the Values, Capability, Potential and Aspirations of the individual. Whilst this identifies strategic thinking, etc. how well does it capture the more abstract leadership character traits, such as courage, humility and drive (Fernadez-Araoz, Groysberg & Nohria, 2009)? Are we settling for mediocrity because we are not prepared to persuade the Board to stretch for something more?

In reviewing how fit for purpose your talent strategy is for the competitive market over the next three years consider: How flexible is your Human Capital strategy to locate and develop exceptional leaders? How effective is your talent strategy in identifying, assessing and developing these leaders? Are you making use of best practice research, which highlights the importance of broader leadership characteristics, such as IQ, Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Ethics, Social Intelligence (SQ), Strengths, Learning Agility, Motivation and Personality Preferences suitable to the role? Do you have a systematic approach to coaching your leaders to realise their potential impact upon the organisation?

Table 1: How flexible is your leadership assessment and development process?

• Living the values

• Moving at pace

• Intercultural sensitivity

• Innovation

• Accountability

• Engaging others

• Strategic focus

• Customer orientation

• Building effective partnerships

• Delivering results

• Business results orientation

• Team building

• Leading change

• Leading others

• Learning agility

• Corporate aligned authenticity

• Courage

• Humility

no exit

Are very low staff turnover rates causing a stagnation of organisational creativity?

Ironically, many businesses with the recession have successfully retained their staff but now need to create more mobility to avoid the downsides of a stagnating workforce with low levels of staff turnover. We have found that staff may be fearful of moving on to new roles and HRDs are providing Career Management workshops and coaching to re-inspire staff to look at developing opportunities across and outside of the business.

New talent from outside the business is required to ensure that business keeps pace with external competitors. Getting a blend of staff who are able to inject creativity and drive is important. This requires both a customer focused and competitor informed approach to ensure sustained innovation. Moving staff across divisions and providing cross functional projects aligned to holistic organisational needs is a great way of overcoming the dangers of stagnation.

crossing silos

Promotion of high-potential candidates across divisional silos

Strangely many people find it easier to leave an organisation and join a new division than it is to move across divisional silos within a company. Enhancing the mobility of talent within your organisation so that it isn’t an exceptional event remains a tricky challenge for HRDs and individuals alike. This is where a more robust assessment of leadership talent, particularly with a focus on learning agility, can assist. In addition, the provision of appropriate transition coaching and mentoring can also help people gain opportunities and succeed as they engage with stretch projects or onboard into new roles.

So many organisations leave the success of a stretch project down to chance. Letting the individual and the respective line managers involved work it out for themselves. This relies upon all parties knowing what good practice and support looks like – whilst the theory may be known translating it into practice remains a rare occurrence for most organisations. When was the last time a best practice good news story was written up in your organisation about the support, sponsorship and success of a stretch project?

Due to the very nature of the stretch project new and unforeseen challenges are likely to emerge. The people involved may be facing these novel issues for the first time and can struggle. Particularly when they are asked to carry on their day job responsibilities at the same time. Providing timely support and encouraging its use as part of a structured process, rather than reactive crisis, is a part of many best practice projects.

The lamps

Turning candidate data into insight and inevitable success

There is a wealth of data collected on internal candidates as well as externals going through the selection process but this commonly hits a brick wall once the hiring decision has been made.

Insightful use of this information combined with the line manager’s expectations/needs provides the opportunity to design an impactful onboarding and onward leadership development plan. The use of 360-degree feedback on performance at the nine month in role stage offers a further opportunity to springboard the success of the individual. Most organisations fail to fully capitalise on opportunities to shape leadership behaviour. Increased investment in line management performance appraisals is only one part of the solution. Proactive development planning and the scaffolding of appropriate interventions drives leadership improvement.

Managing high potentials by providing them with sufficient Challenge, Support and Feedback is often uncomfortable for line managers who are themselves squeezed in terms of available time. Investing time to coach high potentials so that they can be more successful as compared to spending time with those resisting change is a hard shift in behaviour for most managers to adopt. Far easier to abdicate responsibility under the guise of giving autonomy. There is also a need for both the candidate and manager to recognise that high potential doesn’t mean high performance straight away. The need for regular feedback will be required to release the high potential’s capabilities.

Line managers may not have sufficient clarity themselves about the nature of the challenge that they ask high potentials to cut their teeth on. Discriminating operational priorities, realistic expectations linked to sufficient resources, wider sponsorship support and political backing is all required before throwing high potentials into long standing wicked organisational problems.

Many times high potential leaders are given responsibilities and encouraged to apply their intellect to create new strategies that will benefit the business. Peter Drucker’s observation that ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ appears to be missing from many line managers briefing discussions.

Consequently, many high potentials fail to create a performance WOW factor in their stretch assignments because their strengths were not appropriately harnessed and supported. By recognising that new-to-role candidates are not super heroes, that they do have allowable weaknesses and therefore need support in order to be successful can create the conditions that lead to inevitable success.

The best Onboarding and Leadership Transition coaching packages also include assistance to the pressurised line manager building capabilities and offering extra capacity to organisations engaged in rapid growth.

Without strategic alignment to the organisation’s goals and robust individual leadership development plans then the odds seem stacked against high potentials making the transition successfully. Are we really providing our leaders with the best scaffolding to make success easy? Or are we risking their appetite for future engagement in challenges as we throw them into another set of wickedly complex problems?

Research by Shaw & Chayes (2011) identified 75% of high-potential leaders experience significant to moderate problems when they move into a new role. How is your organisation ensuring they “create, champion, and drive ways to bolster talent” (McKinsey and Company, 2001).

Tree of life

Transparency & embedding your talent strategy

Perhaps it is surprising to be saying this but in order to release someone’s potential you need to share with them that you can see it and believe they can do it.

The degree to which organisations inform individuals who they identify as having talent for the next level, as compared to those who are strong at level performers, is key if you wish to embed a talent management strategy. Many organisations refuse to tell people that they have been identified (or have not) as having potential for performance at more senior levels. This can result in their disengagement with the future state you are seeking to achieve or pursuing a false dream. The impact for the individual is that they don’t gain clarity over what needs to be strategically learnt and have slower rates of progress in preparing for a new future. They can also be disruptive due to the lack of attention.

This obfuscation of development risks stagnating the speed of developing leadership capability within your organisation and becoming overly reliant on buying those who are a ready fit when you need them. Aside from being inefficient overall it also generates unnecessary confusion. People want to know how they are performing; yes we don’t like it when we are not doing as well as we would like. But, we especially don’t like it when no one offers support in order to be more successful.

2 tree people

Ensuring leadership potential is realised via Transition Coaching

Expecting perfection is a dangerous mirage that wastes everyone’s time yet we hold out for it in recruiting people as well as when delegating.

We all have allowable weaknesses; instead we should be focusing upon how effective our development support package is for transitioning leaders and helping them to reconfigure the strengths that they have to meet the needs of the role. Typically the real challenge here is in forming new perspectives and shifting mindsets rather than developing new skills.

As we know that the fastest learning comes through social interactions. Packing in mentoring, coaching and line management explicit discussions on the nature of the challenges people are about to face as well as those currently being grappled with provides high potentials with a rich learning environment. This is required if we are seeking to translate potential into inevitable success.

But, it is easy to focus just on the high potential without recognising the need to coach the line manager to ensure that they are investing sufficiently in forming an effective partnership with the high potential.   Often high potentials are only in role for a limited period of time before being moved onto a new assignment and the quality of support from the line manager is a vital ingredient in the success of the individual.

Often line managers are unclear in setting their expectations, providing sufficient influence and sponsorship support and orientating the high potential within the culture of the organisation. Coaching line managers in this process helps to align everyone generating the necessary conditions where success is truly an inevitable outcome rather than lucky happenstance.

For more information on how your organisation can create the conditions for inevitable success please contact us.

Peter Fennah

Peter Fennah is Director of a partner with Ashridge and Manchester Business Schools providing strategic executive coaching and agile leadership development solutions to organisations engaged in change.

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5 Ways To Revolutionise Your New Year Job Search & CV

PF Tilt photo Transformation

By Peter Fennah author of The Elite MBA CV: Executive Impact

Are You Trapped By Mediocre Thinking?

People often trap themselves in a cycle of low-level success by following conventional job search strategies and typical CV promotion techniques. Understandably, recruiters are not impressed. Conventional people are only credible for small shifts in job responsibility.

Achieving a new job with significant managerial responsibilities or in areas outside of your previous experience first requires a revolution in your mindset. Change how you approach job hunting and your competition evaporates! By thinking like an executive you ask new questions of both yourself and others attaining unconventional insights that excite the recruiter. In short, generate executive impact!

Here are five ways to spark your executive thinking revolution:

1.  What Got You Here Won’t Advance You

Your approach to generating success in your current role has no doubt been hard won and is familiar to you. Therefore you may think that’s what other people want to hear in your CV & job interviews. Wrong! The recruiter wants what will meet their specific needs in the new role. It may be a version of what you have done before but it will not be a mirror image.

If you don’t know what is required to perform the new role well (there are enough people doing it to an average level) then acknowledge this gap needs to be filled if you are to be successful. Don’t waste your time putting in an application for a highly competitive role hoping that the reader will see your potential. The internal candidate will already be one step ahead of you.

2.  Search For Insight Not Data

Everyone has the same job description. Your advantage lies in how you interpret this information and what additional information you can discover. You could read everything about the company on its website but all you are doing here is building a data mountain. It is true you need a certain amount of data to gain an understanding of the organisation and the role. But, most people lose perspective of what is useful and what isn’t.

When your anxiety levels are high it is hard to take stock and see all your hard labours have created is a mountain of useless data. What questions are you asking of the data in order to derive insight? More information is provided in The Elite MBA CV: Executive Impact  

3.  Think Suitability Not Eligibility

Eligible candidates have the requested education and minimum work experience. This allows them to enter into the recruitment race but this is not sufficient to win it! The recruiter wants more than this and the successful candidate will show that they can make profound contributions in multiple ways, such as:

  • Speed of delivering results
  • Task or service quality
  • Innovative value
  • Relationship creation, co-ordination & networking
  • Management & leadership
  • Financial savings / profits

 4.  Impact Eats Intention For Breakfast

So many people get this the wrong way round. For recruiters scale matters, they want to understand your impact on the organisation. If you have a heart attack passengers and bystanders may have good intentions but they commonly get in the way of those offering direct medical assistance. Recruiters are like most patients; they want confident doctors who know what they are doing.

This is the reason why you must define the result of you efforts. Don’t stop there though as a 300% impact trumps a 10% improvement! Think about the wider consequences of your actions. E.g. were there any systemic benefits that your involvement created for others? Executives look at the bottom line impact not the amount of effort invested. Ensure you quantify and qualify your actual or potential impact.

5.  Beware Of Stranger Danger

Internal candidates are likely to have some of the eligibility factors and they at least are known risks compared to an unknown external. Your goal is to present yourself in the cover letter, CV and interview process as someone who shares similar experiences to your future line manager. This may come from shared network connections or if you have worked in the same industry. Equally you may have had exposure to the new organisation and its customers/suppliers.  Failing that you may have similar experience of operating within the same market regulations, legal, technical or operating procedures as well as facing similar challenges (restructures, new change initiatives, technology updates, shifting from a product to service culture, etc.).

Being explicit about what you have in common may help you to be perceived as one of them. Note this will take time and more than one meeting for them to begin to trust you.

For more information about how to break out from mediocrity and revolutionise your job search approach download The Elite MBA CV: Executive Impact free in the Premium Books section of now.

If you found this blog helpful please leave a comment below.

About The Author Peter Fennah is a very approachable Accredited Executive Coach (APECS), Chartered & Registered Occupational Psychologist, and former Careers Director for a top global business school. As a director of an international leadership & career development consultancy ( he provides regular thought leadership webinars on navigating career and leadership transitions.

This blog was originally published on

Related blog ‘What do management consultancies look for in an MBA level consultant?

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Develop Case Study Interview Impact

Case study image

Conventional People Need Not Apply!

Conventional case study answers are not going to make you stand out of the crowd when completing a case study interview. So how do you develop consultancy impact?

This article was inspired from our most recent MBA Case Study Interview Programme, designed to enhance interpersonal & analytical impact. It highlights some of the most common areas missed by top MBAs in case interviews.

Regardless of industry (management consultancy, finance/insurance, petrochemical) your client facing interaction with the interviewer and case study materials will determine how excited they are to hire you.

Here are eight ways to ignite the interviewers interest in you:

  1. Impulse Control

Impulse control button II

The temptation is to plunge into reading the case materials. Instead stand back and prioritise where you are going to focus your limited time.

Don’t read the pack of materials in the order that it was presented to you.  Locate key information such as: What’s the financial story? Who are the protagonists? What are the urgent and important issues facing the business? What are the biggest blocks to success within and outside of the company?

Take a moment to ground yourself in the questions that are going to address the objective set to you by your interviewer before you read anything. Don’t lose sight of why you are reading & processing the case information – take a moment to ground yourself.

  1. Search For Insight Not More Data

Insight photo

It is very easy to latch onto the first solution that presents itself to you but this can lead to superficial or reactive recommendations. You have to manage the anxiety that is created by a lack of familiarity and high levels of ambiguity. Think bigger and at a broader level.

Your role as a consultant is to consider what degree of transformation can be achieved at a systemic level. This requires you to hold a view of the bigger picture and the context that the case is set within to generate non-conventional options.

Frameworks and models are great ways to structure the data, understand where the gaps are and gain insight. They don’t have to be complex they just need to work when you are in the interview hot seat. That means you need to have thoroughly learnt how to apply them!

As you read or collect more data consider how the information fits into PESTLE, SWOT, Five Forces or other frameworks relevant to the type of case you are presented with to help you.

More information is provided on the range of case study interviews in our webinar as well as opportunities to practice in our live case interviews.

  1. Vision & Impact – Hooks For Success

Goldfish & Hook

Often MBAs under pressure show a lack of the vision or inability to see the short, medium and long-term results of their proposed changes.

It is helpful to remember you are projecting a story about what you understand has been occurring and where, with your ideas, the organisation will go in the future.

The way you package the data and your recommendations will determine your impact.  Your recommendations will be more powerful if you put information together in a concise way that builds and tells a story.

However this is not a fictional story. Impact comes from linking key data points, to your interpretation and how the needs of the business will be addressed.  There will always be risks to the implementation of your ideas so how are you going to inoculate against them?

Finally the way you personally deliver the story with conviction, poise and confidence plays a vital role in convincing the interviewer that you should be listened to.

There are plenty of U tube clips on leadership storytelling to help you, here is a useful example.

  1. Keep Your Shape Under Pressure

Stone and egg pressure photo

Will you crack? Under pressure people commonly become rigid or defensive rather than remaining open to new information.

The quality of your questions and general interaction with the interviewer needs to project confidence, poise, curiosity & resilience under their challenging cross-examination.

By explaining what assumptions your ideas are built upon it allows you to change your conclusions if new data contradicts your previous assumptions. Equally, if your assumptions remain sound then you don’t need to change your tune just because they disagree with you!

  1. Global Commercial Awareness

Business acumen watch photo

The ability to bridge the case study issues to current global trends affecting customers and market decisions, such as the powerful economic emergence of developing countries, aging European population, Greece’s risk of leaving the EU, etc. is commonly neglected.

Partner level interviews typically involve discussions about what has interested you in the news. This is because they recognize new business is forged from spotting opportunities. So it pays for you to link your business recommendations to the fluctuations of the wider market.

Beware the trap that international MBAs often fall into where they relate the business in the case to their own previous experience or local country culture. Whilst this can be effective IF the business has a solid justification for moving into your familiar market it is often the sign of a student with restricted thinking.

  1. Forget People At Your Peril

x ray people hands photo

Underneath it all people will need to create and sustain any changes you propose. Case studies are not just about financial trend data or operational task lists. They involve uniting people to a common purpose and this requires more than a command and control approach to managing people.

Where is the leadership courage for your change going to come from?

Is there the emotional energy to start and sustain the change?

Will the burning platform and competitor threats drive the business’ most talented people away?

Why would anyone in the company want to stay and go through the tough times that may be necessary to repurpose the organisation?

What would make you want to commit to the project if you were part of the business?

  1. The Triple Bottom Line

Triple bottom line cartoon

Executives look at the bottom line impact not the amount of effort invested.  Ensure you quantify and qualify your actual or potential impact in actual financial amounts and specific actions.

Vague recommendations and imprecise impact will not create strong impressions. Saying something like:

“You asked me to review opportunities to increase the profitability of the company. I have three recommendations for you which will generate new profits of £3.5m over 18 months and year on year cost savings of £1.5 million. Let me walk you through my assumptions and suggested options.”

  1. Nothing Beats Live Practice

to do learn photo

Job opportunities are wasted if you are under prepared. No amount of book-based practice will help you to cope with the emotional pressure created by a live case interview followed by a Partner level interview.

We provide experienced case study interviewers with MBA and managerial experience to help you project executive impact through demonstrating:

  • Systemic vision & strategic thinking
  • Resilience & mature composure under pressure
  • Conviction & confidence
  • Political insight to sustain change

Contact us now to arrange a one-on-one practice interview with our qualified Chartered Occupational Psychologist experts.

Related Materials

About The Author

Peter Fennah is a very approachable Accredited Executive Coach (APECS), Chartered & Registered Occupational Psychologist, and former Careers Director for a top global business school.  As a director of an international leadership & career development consultancy ( he provides regular thought leadership webinars on navigating career and leadership transitions.

CS empirical research coaching webinar photo

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CVs For Management Consultancy: Top 4 Firms


A reasonable starting point when reworking your CV is to ask: ‘What do management consultancies look for in an MBA level consultant?’

The general answer is: problem solving; project management; client impact & interaction skills; communication and teamwork.  And, that these competencies need to be demonstrated within a wrapping of commercial maturity, diplomatic poise and finessed people skills.

Unfortunately this is where many applicant’s curiosity and listening skills stop.  They then consider tactically where and how they have demonstrated achievements to tick these boxes.  Or, what is meant by meta competencies, e.g. communication skills relating to presentations, influencing, negotiations, report & proposal writing, etc.

Deeper strategic questions can reveal more, such as:

  • What do management consultants actually do that adds specific value?
  • What builds their reputation?
  • Which practice area is most aligned to the way I think and work?

At this point you may be itching to get on with it and write your CV.  After all, the deadline is fast approaching which means you don’t have time to think…  If you are caught in this DO, DO, DO cycle then you are likely to be trapped in a pattern of low or mediocre success.

Show your depth of thinking

If everyone receives the same job description information and has broadly the same accomplishments then:

  • What is the difference between eligible and suitable candidates?
  • How do the successful candidates think differently about the role?
  • What does insight look like on your CV & cover letter?
  • How do you articulate your relevant achievements with greater focus & impact?

Interested to know more? 

Join our free hour webinar on the 22nd Nov. at 5pm (GMT) sign up here.  

Or visit us at if you feel that you have lost your career or leadership direction and would like a confidential conversation then email

Peter Fennah is a very approachable Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Accredited Executive Coach and former Careers Director for Cranfield School of Management UK.

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Changing Jobs? Factors that impair leadership transitions



Making a leadership transitions is more than acquiring new skills and positioning oneself as eligible for a position.  To be taken credibly job changing MBAs and business leaders must demonstrate suitable maturity of thinking about how to perform in the new role. 


Research shows the typical blockages to performance, when operating at senior and executive leadership levels, result from approaching problems with perspectives based upon what derived success at lower management levels. 

Recognising the change in what drives success at executive management levels requires an adjustment of perspective and the ability to identify those leadership moments where new responses are required.  


Adjusting to change can be an emotionally unsettling experience.

So do we trust our IQ?

It is true that our rational thinking performs well with available data and that as we get into the new job we discover more and more useful information to help us…

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How To Overcome Career & Business School Stagnation


Feeling you are being overtaken?
Time to change lanes?


Despite the investment in your education and profession it can at times feel like other people are simply overtaking you. Others get the promotions or seem to gain more recognition.

Organisations suffer from the same trap.

Today the Economist publishes the global full time MBA ranking 2014. Each year some business schools will be pleased that they have risen whilst others are frustrated that they have dropped in position.

Whether you are a business school or an individual we place more emphasis upon external markers when we slow down in our own learning.

In the past some business schools have focused exclusively on the ranking methodology, which led them to loose the essence of who they were.  They didn’t invest in defining what goals were right for them resulting in competitors overtaking them.

Don’t make the mistake of setting yourself another…

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How To Overcome Career & Business School Stagnation

Feeling you are being overtaken?
Time to change lanes?


Despite the investment in your education and profession it can at times feel like other people are simply overtaking you. Others get the promotions or seem to gain more recognition.

Organisations suffer from the same trap.

Today the Economist publishes the global full time MBA ranking 2014. Each year some business schools will be pleased that they have risen whilst others are frustrated that they have dropped in position.

Whether you are a business school or an individual we place more emphasis upon external markers when we slow down in our own learning.

In the past some business schools have focused exclusively on the ranking methodology, which led them to loose the essence of who they were.  They didn’t invest in defining what goals were right for them resulting in competitors overtaking them.

Don’t make the mistake of setting yourself another person’s goal.

Here are 3 steps to re-set your internal direction.  Ask yourself:

Step 1: Active Reflection – “How would I like to rebalance my attention?”

Up to now you have spent your time on activities that you felt warranted your attention. Take a moment to re-examine this priority order. Is it still valid? Usually we have taken on (or been given) too many activities. How much time & energy do you have left to redirect? Where should your attention be focused now?

Most people under-estimate the completion time necessary for change and set unrealistic goals… So, it is valuable to take stock of your energy and cut back on less important areas.

Step 2: Fear of Change – “If I change how will I know I will be more fulfilled?”

The future is ambiguous. You need to trust yourself and have courage. Put your conscious effort into a set of actions that will improve your long-term situation. Monitor & reward your success towards the longer-term.  If you want fast short-term pay offs you need more tactical agility, insight, relationship support and a smarter strategy than your competition.

Step 3: Agile Learning. “Are you a slow learner?”  

What are your win conditions this year? How do they compare to last year? No change? Ok, so what blocks you from behaving in a way that you believe will increase your success? How have you experimented with getting new forms of support to aid you to learn?

Be successful this year and look to make a change…many small steps will get you there!

“It is very obvious that we are not influenced by ‘facts’ but by our interpretation of the facts.” Alfred Adler

Interested to discover more?

Visit us at if you feel that you have lost direction and would like a confidential conversation then email

Peter Fennah is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and former Careers Director for Cranfield School of Management.

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