Comfort Zone or Danger Zone?

comfort-zoneMany quotes about comfort zones suggest that getting out of them is the thing to do;

“As you move outside of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal.” (Robin Sharma)

“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” (Brian Tracy)

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” (Neale Donald Walsch)

And so on….

Pushing ourselves and challenging ourselves to do more, different, bigger, higher or better, can be life-affirming and, ultimately, satisfying.

However, if our comfort zone is stretched too far or too quickly, instead of learning and growth it can be a stressful, even dangerous place to be. Without the necessary skills, experience or training, people can become stressed or burnt out, motivation can drop and mistakes can be made.

I can’t help but wonder how people in Aberdeen are feeling just now? With reduced numbers in many teams, people may be having to take on more and carry out tasks they haven’t done before? They may, at times, feel they are doing two roles rather than the one they did previously? Others have been made redundant and are now facing an uncertain and scary new future where comfort zones are being pushed to the limit.

So, if you’re finding yourself in uncharted territory, I wonder… do you feel supported as you take the leap into the unknown or does it feel like alligators are snapping at your ankles as you head into the swampy ground outside your personal comfort zone?

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions

We’re Moving

Silverfin Reception.png

White Cube Consulting are delighted to announce we will be moving to an office in the new Silverfin building in Union Street, Aberdeen.

The office move will take place as soon as the building is open, scheduled for early June 2017.

This will provide us with our own Grade A office space, access to high speed IT infrastructure, high specification meeting rooms, training facilities, break out areas, a communal business lounge and onsite catering facilities.

For a sneak peak at the Silverfin Building, click here;

Thanks to our team, Cammach Recruitment and Cammach Properties for their help and support over our first 15 months in business. Hugely appreciated.

Looking forward to greeting our first visitors very soon, for a coffee and a catch up.

Campbell Urquhart
Managing Director

Re-energising your Team Following Restructuring

hand-577777_1920.pngWe recently asked a sample of our clients what their key challenge was at present. We received a variety of responses but there was a theme running through many of the comments; what can be done to re-energise the business following (or is it still during?) a period of downturn, cost-cutting and restructuring?

Several areas were mentioned:

  • Re-building trust within the organisation
  • Presenteeism: when, due to insecurity about their future job security, employees may be in work for more hours than is required, be reluctant to take holidays or come in even if they feel unwell.
  • People being there in body but not in spirit. They may have switched off and, under other circumstances, they would have found another role but, in the current climate, there are not many job opportunities so they may feel stuck, resentful and frustrated. Woody Allen once said that 80% of success in life can be attributed to showing up – he has a point but this may not be the case during a downturn.
  • The motivation of the survivors left in the business dropping as they buckle under the weight of absorbing additional responsibilities.

It is understandable that, following a period of uncertainty and cost-cutting, trust and morale is likely to drop significantly. So what can you do to improve this?

This is clearly not an easy nor a quick fix. It takes time, focus and effort. It takes those involved in the business to actually care about improving team spirit, employee engagement and morale and understanding that it is worth putting effort into this area. The thing is, it is worth the effort; not just to make employees happier and to create a positive culture (though, for me, this is a great reason to do it) but because happier employees are more productive which means better business results.

Here are a few simple steps to consider:

  • Try to draw a line in the sand about what may have gone before. It can be destructive and time-consuming to keep dredging up the past and going back over well-trodden ground.
  • Utilise an employee morale survey to understand the current feeling within the organisation…listen properly and then … (here’s the important bit) where possible, actually act on the results! Feedback to employees the steps you have taken. Evaluate and repeat as necessary.
  • Arrange for all employees to have short 1 to 1’s with their managers: these should focus on a few important questions, the answers to these should enable positive steps to be taken for individuals and at a team and organisational level.
  • Communicate as honestly and openly as you can about the present and the future.
  • Arrange team sessions to develop and build your teams; these don’t have to cost much money… or, in fact, anything apart from time and a willingness to engage.

It can be all too easy to say, “… we just don’t have time for all this stuff – we’re too busy… especially now..”. However, in the words of Henry Ford, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” So, if you want to re-energise, boost morale and performance you may need to take a bit of time and do something different.

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions

Giving effective feedback: Learning from Medical Education


Feedback is all about enabling people to improve their performance; particularly where they have blind spots about their performance or behaviours.

In terms of learning how to give effective feedback, it is useful to look beyond our own organisations and learn from best practice in other environments.

In medical education, Pendleton’s rules (Pendleton 1984) are generally used as the conventional method of providing feedback. Pendleton’s rules are structured to create a safe environment so people are less likely to become defensive and, therefore, more likely to be open to feedback.

Strengths and positives are highlighted first. The positives are then reinforced and, if appropriate, more strengths are added by the person providing feedback. This reinforces the positives and also allows discussion of the skills necessary to achieve these positive outcomes.

The next stage is to explore what could be done differently. This is done first by the person receiving feedback and then by the person providing feedback.

Avoiding a discussion of weaknesses at the beginning of the conversation prevents defensiveness and allows people to reflect on their performance and to create their own solutions.

This model, adapted below, provides a useful structure for assisting with difficult conversations, performance conversations or appraisal review meetings.


  • Ask the person what they think went well/what were the positives/their strengths
  • Reinforce/add more positives where appropriate
  • What were the skills/approaches used to achieve the successful outcomes? Discuss.
  • Ask the person what could have been done better. Analyse the alternative skills which would be required to improve this.
  • Suggest alternative skills/approaches if necessary
  • Ask the person to summarise their strengths and areas for development.
  • What are the next steps/plan of action?
  • Any evaluation or review? 

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions

Warning: This blog contains bad language


The English language has around 1,035,877 words.

With all those words, you’d think we’d constantly be creating new phrases and sentences. However, when I switch on the TV and catch a glimpse of any of the current reality shows (celebrities eating creepy crawlies, people stuck in a house being watched 24 hours a day or people singing their way to fame and fortune), I hear the same clichéd phrases again and again; “I’ve been on a journey…”  or, “I’ve given it 110%”.

We may now think of a “meme” as being a humorous image or video which spreads on the Internet. However, “meme” was originally a term used in Biology to refer to an element of a culture or a behaviour which generally spreads from one individual to another by imitation. It’s interesting to think that there’s a biological basis to explain why, over time, people living together or working closely together tend to use the same words and phrases.

It’s also clear that some organisations have their own “corporate vocabularies” comprising esoteric phrases, jargon and acronyms. Employees may find themselves using language which is not actually that meaningful to them or to others within the organisation; let alone to those on the outside looking in!

Take this example of jargon I found in a recent job advert; “…to collect and analyse internal insights in combination with external thought leadership”.

“External thought leadership?” Really?  Like the little boy in the tale of the Emperor’s new clothes, it takes a brave person in a corporate environment to challenge the norm or to point out the truth, “That’s jargon. I don’t understand what you’re saying” or to ask the hard question, “What on earth do you mean?”.

Someone once said, clever people can take complex concepts and make them easy to understand. So, why do others seem to make things more difficult to understand by using long words and jargon? Is it defensiveness, group norms, politics or positioning? Or do people fall back on jargon when they’re unable to give clear direction to others?  The Plain English Campaign (2014) noted that staff working for large corporate organisations can use jargon or management-speak to detract attention from their own poor management skills.

There’s a wonderful “Gobbledygook Generator” on the Plain English Campaign website which, at the push of a button, generates random business phrases:

  • We need a more contemporary reimagining of our holistic asset resources.
  • At base level, this just comes down to integrated relative paradigm shifts.
  • We need to get on-message about our responsive asset programming
  • My organisation believes in systemised strategic contingencies.

You get the gist. Have a go, push the button…hopefully you won’t recognise any of your own phrases in there!

So, whether it’s “blue-sky thinking, touching base offline, having a level paying field and going after the low hanging fruit”, “not enough bandwidth to cascade the relevant information to form the strategic staircase” or “wanting to reach out, circle back and get a helicopter view”, we are surrounded by jargon every day. We may have stopped noticing how much exists in our own organisation…

If you do notice … let me know which phrases, clichés or jargon irk you?

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions

What my Dad taught me about customer service


My dad was a barber; the “old fashioned”, red-pole-outside-the-window type of barber. He left school at 15 and began work in his father’s barbers shop in a small town in North East Scotland. He worked full time until three weeks before he passed away at 83 years of age.

Our family home adjoined his little shop. I can remember the queue of men at 9am and 2pm (after his lunch/nap hour!) waiting for the shop to open and the sound of his customers chatting and laughing. I remember earning pocket money by sweeping the floor on busy Saturdays.

There were times that no cash was exchanged for a haircut. Instead, a bartering system took place; local fishermen would bring fish or prawns, the local butcher would bring a steak or two and farmers would bring potatoes or carrots in exchange for a short back and sides.

My dad ran his little business for almost 50 years. He was proud to say that he had cut the hair of four generations of some local families.

So, what did I learn about customer service from him?

  • Be authentic. My dad was a real extravert; a goatee-bearded, larger-than-life, joke-telling, karaoke-singing, watercolour-painting character. He was entirely himself, always. One of his favourite sayings was, “You’re better than no-one and no-one’s better than you”. People responded to him; it wasn’t just a haircut; it was an experience.
  • Take a genuine interest in your customers. It seemed that my dad knew the story of everyone in town! He knew who was related to whom, what their previous jobs had been and who was ill or bereaved.
  • Go the extra-mile. In his seventies, Dad would still visit the local Nursing Homes to give haircuts to “the old guys” who were unable to come to his shop. I don’t think he saw the irony of a 70-year-old calling them “old guys”. But, then again, he never really was an old guy.
  • Don’t price yourself out of the market. Dad’s prices remained low. He could, perhaps, have charged more but he preferred to keep his prices competitive so that his customers would keep coming.
  • Get out of your comfort zone to provide great service. I remember once, in the early 1970’s, way before the punk rock era, a young man coming into his shop and requesting a Mohican haircut. My dad was daunted…but created an amazing Mohican! Dad had tried something different and his years of experience had paid off!
  • Enjoy what you do. If you love what you do it will come across and the customer experience will be all the better for it. My dad was content; a rare thing in this age of discontent and aspiration. He loved his job and his customers. He loved to chat, to sing and to regale them with his stories and jokes which is why he continued to work long after most people have retired.
  • Take pride in what you do. My dad took pride in every haircut he did – right to the end.
  • Value every customer. My dad was grateful for, and valued, every customer who entered his shop. They knew that and they kept coming back…year after year…

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions


2 CV’s or not 2 CV’s.


That is the question…

Over the course of 2016, we have been providing outplacement support for an increasing number of people who have found themselves being made redundant.

Typically we provide support to help them understand their behavioural strengths using a tool such as Belbin Team Roles, DiSC or 16PF5. We also help with areas such as CV development, job search and improving their interview technique.

One of the most common areas where there can be significant room for improvement is through the customisation of the persons CV to suit a particular role.

With increasing volumes of high quality applicants in the local market, candidates need to do everything they can to stand out from the crowd. And if their CV is not directly aligned to the role they are applying for (and some other applicants CV’s are) then there is only one likely outcome…

“Dear Sir / Madam…on this occasion your application has been unsuccessful, as we received a number of applications more suited to the role…”

Or words to that effect.

A single, generic, one-size-fits-all CV isn’t good enough just now. As an applicant, if you want to have a real chance of being called for interview, you must tailor your CV to the role for which you are applying.

And it’s not just about tailoring your CV – you must, and I mean MUST, sell yourself effectively.

Let me give you an example;

I have recently been providing 1 to 1 outplacement support for a Director of a large Oil Operator. His CV was already very good and didn’t need that much work. But in a tough job market, very good isn’t always good enough; as marketing guru Seth Godin says – very good is the enemy of excellent.

So, with some fine tuning and placing more emphasis on communicating tangible outcomes and results, not just responsibilities, we helped him turn this;

  • Overseeing offshore core maintenance and maintenance project workscopes
  • Performance Management of Technical Integrity KPI’s.
  • Responsible for team of Onshore Engineers and Offshore staff / contract teams.
  • Management of annual budget.

Into this;

  • Proactive leadership and management of all offshore core maintenance and maintenance project workscopes including Safety Critical Equipment availability.
  • Completed an overhaul of key rotating equipment, delivering an ongoing maintenance cost saving of over £500k per annum through improved maintenance efficiency.
  • Performance Management of Technical Integrity KPI’s. Highlights included elimination of Safety Critical PM Backlog, reducing more than 1000 outstanding jobs to zero.
  • Responsible for managing 15 Onshore Engineers and Offshore staff / contract teams with over 230 personnel
  • Successfully owned and managed an annual budget in excess of £90m, consistently delivering on or below budget

Which candidate would you want to interview?

I’ve talked to a number of organisations who have had to make people redundant, and sadly they sometimes don’t see that much value in providing outplacement support, even at a basic level.

However, in a tough market, if  a candidate can enhance their CV to give themselves a better chance of securing an interview and improve their interview technique, which subsequently helps secure them a new role, then surely that is an invaluable life skill. One which is worth investing time and a small amount of money in. It also helps to maintain the organisation’s reputation as an employer of choice…

Campbell Urquhart
Managing Director

You don’t need to be Sigmund Freud…

sigmund-freud-400399_1280You don’t need to be Sigmund Freud….

I recently ran a training course on Conflict Management for a great group of Customer Service Professionals.  We talked about many different topics; personal reactions to conflict, assertiveness techniques, conflict management tools, real-life conflict situations and different strategies for handling these. We also discussed why some people regress to child-like behaviour or behave like sulky adolescents and how we can have “grown-up”, adult conversations; particularly when things become heated or stressful.

A simplified version of a Psychological model called Transactional Analysis (TA), developed by Eric Berne in the 1960’s, is an insightful way to consider communication patterns and social interactions. The TA model considers that people are a collection of behavioural patterns developed over time. It also suggests that the way we behave will elicit different responses in others. For example, if we “order” someone to do something like a strict parent, people may react like a rebellious child, whereas, if we ask politely and in a mature manner, they are generally more likely to behave like a reasonable adult in response.

The three behavioural patterns:


The child has 3 sides…

The natural child – the natural child wants us to do things just because it wants to. However natural child behaviour is not willfully disruptive to others nor destructive to the environment. It is about pure child-like emotion; laughter, tears, creativity, curiosity, mischief and fun.

The rebellious child – when people are in this ego state they are not likely to listen to anyone who tells them what to do. If they are communicated to in this manner, they are likely to become disruptive and rebellious. This rebellion may be open, for example, by being very negative or, more subtly, by being sarcastic, obstructive or by procrastinating when someone asks them to do something. When some individuals are being driven by the rebellious child, they may not be prepared to do anything an authority figure asks them to do, even if it makes logical sense!

The adapted child – another type of child behaviour is excessive goodness. Individuals in this ego state are so eager to please others that they may be willing to do almost anything. This type of behaviour can be difficult for the person experiencing it as, although they will do all they can to please, they may still feel like disagreeing or disobeying from time to time but will be likely to suppress their own needs and keep the hurt. This may lead to feelings of anger and resentment.


The Nurturing Parent – this is all about caring and understanding about other people. The nurturing parent does not put people down or make them feel bad.

The Critical Parent – this is a judgmental pattern of behaviour. Individuals in this ego state may tell people what they “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing. The critical parent may attack people’s personalities as well as their behaviour This may make people feel that they are being criticised as a person. Individuals with a strong critical parent are often as hard on themselves as they are on other people. If the critical parent behavioural style is used, this may, for example, elicit a rebellious child response from the other person unless they have a very strong adult-style.


The Adult – the adult is based on what we have learned. Its job is to take the emotional content of the child and the value laden content of the parent and check it out with the reality of the outside world. The adult has a role to play in mediating between the “you should” bullying of the parent and the “I want” pestering of the child. Adult to adult interactions are calm, logical, polite, consistent, assertive rather than aggressive and involve asking rather than telling. Using an adult style is more likely to elicit these behaviours in return.

So, you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung or Eric Berne to use Psychological models to improve social interactions and interpersonal skills.

It can be illuminating to reflect on our own behavioural patterns;

How well developed is your adult?
How do you behave as an employee or as a manager?
Is that rebellious child or critical parent making too many appearances?

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions

White Cube Consulting

The psychology of being happy: 7 things I learned last year

SmileyFor me, 2015 was a pretty grim year. It was fraught with bereavement, redundancy and family illness. To put it mildly, 2015, will not go down as one of the best years of my adult life.

However, someone very wise once told me, (to be honest, I think he learned it from someone even wiser…) “no experience is wasted; everything teaches you something.”

OK, if that’s the case, what did I learn about how to be happy during one of the saddest of years?

I learned:

1. That resilience is hugely important. Psychologists describe resilience as the ability to adapt to stress and adversity and to bounce back. I believe this is one of the most important traits we can develop in ourselves and our children.

Those individuals who demonstrate high levels of resilience generally share some common traits. They tend to be optimistic, have a positive attitude, the ability to regulate emotions and the tendency to view failure as a form of feedback. I certainly struggled with some of these – it’s not always easy to be optimistic when it feels like life is kicking you while you’re already down! However, give it your best shot.

Doing Outplacement sessions with those who have been made redundant has shown me how different people’s attitudes can be to similar situations. People who have positive attitudes can make such a difference to short and longer term outcomes.

2. Not to compare myself to others. There will always be someone taller, prettier, smarter, funnier (yes, really!), thinner, richer, or happier. Be you – the best version of yourself you can manage.

3. To surround myself with people I love, those who love me back and those who have my best interests at heart.

4. To take time to be sad, mad and hurt and did my best to lick my wounds…then tried to move forward even if I could only take tiny steps.

5. To treat myself with kindness; I don’t have to be perfect (to be fair, there was never any chance of that anyway). Stumbling and falling is part of what it means to be human. What’s important is not that you fall down but how long you lie on the ground before you get back up. Just like the old Chinese proverb: “Get knocked down 6 times. Get back up 7 times.”

6. That laughter, even in blackest moments, can be therapeutic. I tried to find lightness and people with whom I could laugh. It’s OK to laugh, in fact it’s desirable for your emotional well-being to allow yourself time out from despair or grief occasionally. It doesn’t mean you don’t care.

7. I learned that Leo Tolstoy wrote something way shorter than War and Peace…“ if you want to be happy, be”. Good work Leo.

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions

10 ways to improve your business using Psychometrics


  1. Select the best candidates for the business: matching candidates’ personalities and behavioural profiles against the competencies of the role can ensure that candidates are selected who will not only fit the role technically but also behaviourally. Ability / Aptitude tests can also be used to provide objective assessment of abilities such as numerical reasoning, clerical checking or mechanical reasoning. This reduces the risk of offering the position to someone who won’t cope with the demands of the role.
  2. Introduce new members into teams more efficiently: using a behavioural tool can fast-track the induction phase and ensure minimum disruption by helping new recruits and the team they are joining understand communication styles, individual behavioural strengths / weaknesses and the new team dynamic.
  3. Improve communication: using a simple behavioural tool which aligns with organisational culture can help employees and managers understand communication style, the impact of their style and how they can adapt to achieve positive outcomes.
  4. Enhance working relationships: behavioural profiles can highlight the strengths or likely challenges of a working relationship. If people understand each other they can work more productively together.
  5. Improve performance: used with executive coaching, personality profiles can ensure people to play to their behavioural strengths, raise awareness of areas of weakness and align roles to their particular style.
  6. Assign roles / tasks to play to strengths: by understanding people’s behavioural style we can ensure we try, where possible, to assign tasks which suit, rather than stress an employee.
  7. Develop and build teams: using team reports along with focussed team development sessions can enhance team communication, build mutual respect and increase team efficiency and productivity.
  8. Resolve conflict: where individuals or teams are experiencing conflict, behavioural tools can illuminate the behavioural reasons which might contribute to this. Used with mediation, this can provide a language to discuss contentious areas and resolve conflict situations.
  9. Improve your sales function: sales style profiles can be used to select the best sales person for a role and to enhance the functioning of sales teams.
  10. Develop your leaders: as part of leadership development programmes, in-depth psychometrics tools can identify personality and leadership style. This can work at individual level and for Leadership teams.