Running woman

I look just like this when I run – happy, relaxed, no hint of tomato face, flyaway hair or flailing limbs (clearly a lie)

This weekend I ran 5k. Believe me, no one is more surprised about this than I am. I’m not a runner. At all. Eight weeks ago I struggled to run for 3 minutes, but now I can keep going for more than 30 minutes. One day I decided I wanted to improve my fitness so I thought I’d go out for a jog, and decided to give the Couch to 5K (C25K) programme a go – I used a C25K mobile app. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do the full programme but out I went and I actually quite enjoyed it. I went out three times a week, stuck to the programme, trusted it and made progress. And this weekend, at the end of my eight weeks, I ran the full 5k. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t fast, but I did it. The process has taught me so much about myself and I wanted to share that. This blog post isn’t about telling everyone to get out there and run (though it is surprisingly enjoyable), but what I learnt during this process applies to so many things in life and it was good to have those reminders.

  1. If you set your mind to doing something, and it’s a realistic goal, you can do it

I honestly didn’t think I was ever likely to be able to run for over 30 minutes, but I believed the c25k programme and stuck to it. Each time it got a little harder, I went out with part of me thinking I couldn’t do it, but I went out regardless, put my trust in the programme and my body, and I managed to complete every single one of the training days.

  1. Sometimes, having people who don’t think you can do it can be a really useful thing

After my second run (where the majority is still walking rather than running), I got back and my partner joked, “Well you’ve done it twice now, is that it?”. I do go through fads so it was a valid comment (and also to be fair to him he is incredibly supportive of anything he knows I want to achieve). That comment however seemed to change my blasé approach to the programme. Suddenly I had a challenge; to prove to him, and myself, that I can stick to things and can improve my fitness. IT IS ON!

  1. You’re probably more capable than you think

How often do you think you’d like to do something but decide not to try because you don’t think you’d be able to do it. Next time you find yourself in that situation, I urge you to commit to trying. I bet you can do a lot more than you think. I honestly never thought I’d be able to keep running for that time or distance, but it actually only took 8 weeks. You won’t know if you don’t try so give it a go, and believe in yourself.

  1. Lots of small, incremental developments can lead to much greater progress

Common sense, I know, but sometimes it just seems like a goal is so far away, yet if you break it down into tiny progressive steps, you’ll have achieved the larger goal before you know it. I take this approach with many things – I have a number of large projects on the go but I break each of them down into smaller tasks which help get me towards the bigger goal.

  1. Learning a new skill or achieving a goal is incredibly fulfilling

I love learning new things. Over the past year or so, I’ve taken up a few different hobbies, and the one thing they all have in common is learning new skills. Every knitting project I do for example, I learn how to do something new, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. Running has taught me a lot about myself – mind and body – and getting to the goal of being able to run 5k was a fantastic feeling.

So what aims do you have? How are you going to get there? You can do it, I know you can!

Closing the contract

Closing the contract

Yesterday evening I attended a Future Faces event on negotiation skills. We received a brief presentation and then had chance to do a group challenge based on a case study. I found some of the things covered in the presentation really useful so though I would share them.

I’ve got to be honest – I wasn’t sure what to expect from this joint event with CIPS (Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply) – I’m not involved in sales or purchasing, and I’m not in a position to be able to negotiate my salary (two of the examples on the event blurb) but I hoped it might give me some tips and develop some generic skills which I might be able to apply to other contexts. I was therefore very glad that the event started with an overview of how we might be able to use the tips and techniques from the session in other contexts in both our work life (such as negotiating better deals/terms, not just financial negotiation) and our personal life (for all purchases and agreements).

The presentation from Jo McDowall from CIPS on negotiating took us through the phases of negotiation:

  1. Preparation and planning
  2. Opening
  3. Testing
  4. Movement
  5. Closing

She then gave us some tips on how to prepare and plan for negotiation. This included understanding your own requirements (what you need, not what you want), researching the other party to understand potential negotiation points, deciding on your targets (what you would like in an ideal situation, your realistic expectations, and what you would accept as a fallback i.e. minimum), and recognising any assumptions. Again it was highlighted that you need to consider all aspects of the deal, not just price. Using the example of buying a car, you might want to consider your ideal, realistic and fallback options for things like servicing, warrantee, accessories, full tank of fuel, payment terms etc. Jo highlighted the importance of beginning negotiations with your ideal situation, and shared an anecdote with us;

If you don’t feel embarrassed by what you ask for, you are not asking for enough

I can certainly see the logic behind this (after all, sometimes you might get what you want!), though in reality I know I’m far more likely to go in with a realistic negotiation rather than an ideal one as I feel really uncomfortable asking for too much. Definitely something to consider though – what are you willing to sacrifice and what are you not willing to budge on?

We were also taken through the planning process for the stages of negotiation:

  • Opening – The more you ask for, the more you get
  • Testing – Never accept the first offer
  • Movement – Aim to get maximum wish list whilst giving away little
  • Closing – Don’t take no for an answer

The group challenge got us to apply this learning into a real life example. It was an interesting task though sadly there wasn’t much time to discuss it in detail. I was glad we had the opportunity to consider how to apply what we had learnt though, and consider how the ideal, realistic and fallback situations could work in practice.

Do you have any tips for successful negotiation or additional things to bear in mind?

My three year term on the CILIP West Midlands committee has come to an end (two years as Marketing Officer, one year as Chair), and I only have a few months left chairing the ALA NMRT Online Discussion Forum committee, so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on my experiences and dispel some myths about chairing committees I’ve come across during my time as chair.

Only men over 50 can join committees

Only businessmen over 50 can join committees

Myth 1: You have to have X years of experience within the profession to chair a committee

Until I joined a committee I had assumed that everyone on the committee, and particularly the chair, secretary and treasurer, must have worked in the profession for a long time in order to know things inside out. What I have since realised is that though there is definitely value in having people on the committee who do have this extensive knowledge and experience, it’s not essential for each individual member to have that. In fact, those new to the profession have just as much to contribute as they are likely to have fresh ideas and suggestions for new ways of doing things – and they can take on roles such as chair, secretary and treasurer to possibly challenge the way things are done and make some changes. And that’s most definitely a good thing.

Myth 2: You have to know the committee and wider organisation inside out to chair a committee

Again, not necessarily true. All you need is a willingness to learn – coming to a committee afresh is of course likely to mean more time invested at the beginning to understand how things work. Experiences here may well differ depending on the organisation and committee, but there is often guidance for new committee members. In ALA New Members Round Table (NMRT) for example, there is a handbook wiki which contains all the information each committee needs. It includes details on the remit of the committee, key responsibilities and milestones for the year, reporting mechanisms, and who to go to for help. In addition, each committee is overseen by a member of the NMRT board so you always have people to turn to if you need further help.

Both CILIP and ALA are complex organisations and I’m willing to bet that the majority of committee members and chairs only know about a very small section of the organisation. A willingness to learn is again all that is needed here, and both organisations have council members who are incredibly helpful if you have any questions. They’ll also welcome new ideas so if it seems strange that something is done a certain way, ask the question and see if it can be improved.

This was the top image search for committee - not like any I've ever been on

This was the top result for a stock image search for committee – it’s not like any I’ve ever been on!

Myth 3: You have to be in a management role (or have held one previously) to chair a committee

Chairing a committee is a form of managing people, so any experience in this area helps, but it’s not essential – everyone has to start somewhere! I’m told it’s a very different experience to line management and I can definitely see that would be the case. It’s not a daily demand (for most committees anyway!), and committee members are usually volunteers so it’s a different type of situation, which of course has its pros and cons. Chairing a committee could be a useful way to get experience managing people if you don’t get the opportunity to do so in your job but would like to in future. As long as you’re willing to chair meetings and provide support for managing the work of your committee members, that’s all you really need.

Myth 4: You have to hold and attend a lot of face-to-face meetings to chair a committee

The number of meetings will vary depending on the remit and responsibilities of the committee, but sometimes these can be held virtually and for some committees no meetings are necessary at all. For most CILIP committees there seems to be a general acceptance that committees should meet face to face at least 4 times per year, however according to the current branch rules it is recommended that the committee meets as many times as is deemed necessary (which could of course be only once for the Annual General Meeting). Some committees never meet in person (this is the case for the NMRT committee I chair), whilst others meet regularly but rely mainly on virtual rather than physical meetings. Of course it’s still important for the chair to be comfortable to chair the meeting(s) and conversations however they occur, but I wanted to highlight the fact that his doesn’t necessarily mean numerous physical meetings. If you can’t commit to that, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t chair a committee.

Myth 5: You have to dedicate your life to a committee to act as chair

Well I didn’t, though I confess there were busy periods where a lot of my time was taken up with committee work (though I was on three committees, two of which I chaired). It doesn’t have to be a massive commitment though. You’re there to help steer and direct the committee, not do all the work. This was initially a difficult lesson to learn for me, but essential both for my well-being and for the sustainability of the committees. Clearly, you need to care about the core values of the committee to enable it to succeed, but if you can only give a limited amount of time, that’s absolutely fine – just choose a committee that suits. I would estimate that chairing CILIP West Midlands took on average around 1-2hrs of my time per week, whereas chairing the NMRT Online Discussion Forum Committee takes around 1-2hrs of my time per month. Committees vary hugely in this and depend on the type of committee – those with a specific purpose often have key periods of time that are particularly busy (e.g. conference organising committees) so you’ll need to take that into consideration.

So, that doesn’t sound so bad really does it? I’ve really enjoyed my time on both committees (and the CILIP Career Development Group West Midlands division committee which I was part of from 2009 to 2012). I can’t quite believe how much I’ve learnt in that time – about the organisations, about other people, and about myself. There have been highs, there have been lows, there have been lots of discussions and emails, and some fun and silliness thrown in too. Overall, it’s been a great experience and one I’d encourage people to participate in to help develop their skills and support their professional organisations (being involved in making it happen is one of the best ways to make sure the organisation is meeting your needs).

For both ALA and CILIP most chair roles are one year terms, with general committee terms for CILIP lasting three years. I recommend finding committees that interest you and seeing if you can get involved. Unless there are confidentiality issues, most meetings will be open so you can go along and see what the committee does – or just reach out to the current chair to get information. If you’re an ALA member, many of the divisions and round tables have volunteer forms for getting involved in committees (such as the NMRT volunteer form which I believe is still currently accepting applications). If you do become a committee chair, you might be interested in my earlier blog post on tips for chairing meetings.