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As you are aware Change is all about people, and it starts with us. This is an exploration of some of the ideas and issues that I've encountered along the way. I've created this also to enable a dialogue to begin around this subject and hopefully produce a forum where we can all learn something.

Feedback – the gentler path

May 2nd, 2016

I have long been a believer in the value of feedback.  However, I can’t help wincing internally when I remember the company I worked for that introduced feedback as a standard approach / tool.  Someone would approach you, full of self righteousness, with the phrase “Can I give you some feedback..?”  What followed was usually negative and often nasty, and you were just supposed to take it.  It takes real skill to deliver feedback well.  If you do it in such a way that makes the recipient go into their defensive shell, they won’t hear what you have to say, no matter how well intentioned. 

A common approach is the ‘Feedback Sandwich’ which suggests saying something positive, then your negative message, followed by another positive statement.   The trouble with this, is again, if not done skilfully, people tend to disregard the positives as so much much ‘flannel’ and just here the nasty bit.

So here is another way that might work better for you.  Find something good about what they have done and say “What I like about this is…” and then follow it up by “And what would make me really love it would be…”  This is honest and likely to meet less resistance to improvement. 

As with all feedback, if your genuine intention is to help them improve and grow, this communicates; if it is a thinly veiled way of telling them they are cr*p, that is what they will hear.

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Little by little

April 25th, 2016

It is usually said that leaders need to focus on big picture stuff, but this forgets that even grand plans have to be implemented one step at a time, one day at a time.  It is the same with personal change, you only lose weight ounce by ounce, you can’t jump to pounds or stones.  I know there are programs on TV where they take mega-heavy people and put them through very intense programs with professional trainers and you see them lose 16 lbs in a week but real people don’t do this and it is hard to keep it off if you do it that way too.  Habits and cultures are built slowly, it takes time to change how people behave and think.  So don’t beat yourself up if you are not transforming overnight.  Rather ask yourself “Am I doing the right things?  Could I do it better?”  and if you you are satisfied, keep it up, if you can do better adapt and improve.  Success comes from keeping on keeping on.

Adapt & endure

April 18th, 2016

I was walking the other week, and came across this ancient yew forest.  Some of the trees were thought to be 2,000 years old and this one was certainly ancient.  One of the things I noticed was that these ancient trees have cracked, broken and twisted over the years, but the fact is they keep on keeping on and here they are in 2016 they are still thriving.  All the modern leadership and management theories seem to say that the only way to thrive is to take charge; these trees prove the opposite.  You can also do well by just letting it all pass you by, doing your own thing and being what and who you are.

Food for thought?

Transformative thinking – 4

April 11th, 2016

Everybody thinks they are unique and alone

Clearly in one sense this must be true, but we have only our own view of the world and we are the sole inhabitant of our little cerebral desert island.  We therefore tend at times to feel our problems are similarly unique and compellingly important and of course, neither of these are true.  It can feel very overwhelming and isolating when we look at others who seem to manage without all this turmoil.  Social media always paints a glossy representation of good times and successes that others are enjoying.  No one posts pictures of their failures and fears.  Recognising that trying to live up to these false images of others lives is doomed to failure helps us be much more realistic in what we demand of ourselves and out lives. 

Equally recognising that others can struggle, feel small and powerless is an opportunity for us to reach out a helping hand and build bridges to other neighbouring islands. 

Transformative thinking –3

April 4th, 2016

Your happiness depends on your thoughts!

We don’t necessarily have the power to change our circumstances (at least not in the short term) but we always have a choice about how we feel about them.  As something of perfectionist, I have a little voice that tells me “Things should be like this..” and if they aren’t I can get frustrated and spend time and effort trying to make them conform to my internal vision.  This can be a powerful tool to help me improve, and achieve, HOWEVER… it can also cause all sorts of problems is I expect others and the Universe to conform to my plan!  We all have small child lurking not that deep within our psyche that cries out “That’s not fair!”  But who said Life was fair?  Business seldom is.  Learning to let go of these useless expectations is a very good way of reducing stress in our lives and and helping us deal with the reality of our circumstances. 

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”  Reinhold Niebuhr

Transformative thinking – 2

March 28th, 2016

Things change.. whether we like it or not!

We value constancy and and loyalty but how we feel changes over time, people around us change, circumstances change too.  All this means we dwell in a state of constant flux, the fact that things might seem the same is, in truth, an illusion.  Wisdom comes from accepting that it is not only okay to change how we feel about things and people but an essential part of our journey.  Distance and age help us see things differently.  Letting old hurts and relationships go is part of healing.  We age, circumstances both personal and economic change, we can adapt or just moan and attempt to cling to a something that no longer exists. 

I have a client who recognised that they needed to change their business model, and bravely leapt into a whole new way of doing business.  Not surprisingly, there were unforeseen difficulties and expenses along the way and it remains to be seen if they can pull through.  What is not in doubt is that failure was certain had they clung to their old business models and tried to ignore how the world has shifted around them.  Just because it doesn’t work doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea, it just means that you might not have had the resources to make it work… this time!

Transformative thinking – 1

March 21st, 2016

Everything that happens is a chance to grow and change

It is an oft quoted truism to say “Insanity to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results”, and yet most of us do this, both in business and in our personal lives.  We excuse it as “being different this time..” or “standard operating procedure” but if it isn’t delivering the desired results we need to stop, take stock and look for alternatives.  The road to success both of individuals and corporates is littered with failures but winners learn quicker and are less scared of change.  Another way to think of this is failure is the Universe inviting you to grow.  The bigger the pile-up the more likely we are to take this seriously and do something radically different.

I have met many people (and even count myself as one) who have been made redundant and found it to be a golden opportunity. 

Lessons from England’s early exit from Rugby World Cup

March 7th, 2016

There has been so much hysteria and so many rantings since England lost to Australia, that I thought I would see what it might teach us about managing change.  Obviously there are two elements to all this, much as there are to most business issues.  There the cold hard facts, and how they are interpreted which is often influenced by the second element which is how people feel about it all. 

It was openly acknowledged that England were only part way through rebuilding their team with many new and inexperienced players.  We had only 25 caps per player which was the fourth least in the tournament and almost half those of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.  Whilst we had a big pool of talent to pick from we had not been able to field a settled side at any stage during the build up with Lancaster having tried 14 different mid-field pairings.  We were ranked 4th in the world prior to the World Cup, so mathematically we should have made the semi-finals, but we were also in the so called “Pool of Death”, which contained the 4th, 5th, 6th & 10th best sides in the world, so it was clear that all 8 of the top teams couldn’t make the quarter finals.  So why was everyone so shocked that we lost to two very good & more experienced  teams?

Change is a continual process and events such as the World Cup measure where you are on a particular day.  I have no doubt that we could and probably should have beaten Wales, but I think even at our best we would have struggled to match Australia playing that well. 

One of the reasons I find rugby so compelling is the two of the key elements are leadership and communication, the same as in business.  Modern rugby is a game which relies on disbursed leadership, with someone handling defence in the backs, someone responsible for attack, another for lineout calls, and the overall team decisions.  Poor Chris Robshaw had to take all the criticism for the call to take the lineout in the dying minutes of the Welsh game, but I suspect someone else made the key call to throw it to the front. He has taken the leader’s role and protected his team mates from the public’s fury.  This will keep the team united.

There are already cries to throw out the coaching team and the captain and the head of the Rugby Union, but if we want to make good decisions we need to do so based on facts.  England didn’t make that many errors when they lost to Australia and were acknowledged as winning the first 60 minutes of the game against Wales so how can we need wholesale change?  It maybe that we need a fresh hand on the helm to help us with the next phase of our development but this should be because of where we are now and what we need now not because the current team failed.  There is no doubt Lancaster succeeded in building a strong squad culture and identified and developed some bright new talent.  Yes, you can use pain as a spur, but in the long term we don’t want these players to feel like failures because they failed on this occasion.  The job is to great over time not at a single moment in time. 

Did the team have a game plan?  I’m sure they did.  Was it based on much and detailed clever analysis?  I’m sure it was.  Did they execute it?  I don’t know but it is a well known military truism that  “No plan survives contact with the enemy” and did they players feel empowered and able to play ‘heads up’ rugby?  I think that is one place we fell down.  I also think we lack certain basic skills in the loose and we don’t have kicker who puts the ball behind the opposition. 

In the end, a team will only succeed if you have the right people with the right skills and they feel empowered to make the right decisions on the ground.  A team, or a business, needs a certain amount of experienced heads to give weight and perspective, and the right number of younger, more energetic youngsters trying new things.  Success come from getting the balance right.

Silence is NOT neutral

March 2nd, 2016

If you find that your meetings are not giving you the discussion that you need, if people stay quiet and then disassociate themselves from supposed agreements afterwards, here is a handy little tip you can employ.  Change the rules of your meeting and state that silence will be assumed to mean that you endorse the proposal and will support it.  This means if you have an alternative view, reservations or doubts, they need airing and discussion.  It is a little like the bit in the marriage service where the priest says “Speak now or forever hold your peace..”

How to really allow someone to vent

February 22nd, 2016

We all have times when we need to vent and hopefully, we all to have a special someone that we go to do this.  Learning how to do it well is not only a great service to those we care for but builds a reservoir of goodwill.  However, like so many things, it isn’t as easy as just saying “What’s up?  You need to make sure that you are ready for this, which means making sure that you have time to really listen to them.  Don’t ask if you aren’t in a safe place for them to vent.  It is a good idea to try to make sure that you are both in a comfy position.  Little things like getting up and closing the door, or turning off the TV can signal that you are listening.

It is wise to differentiate between situations when you think that you maybe the cause of the problem and when you think you are just asking as someone who cares. If it is the former, you might want to front up and ask ”Have I done something to upset you?”  Either way, you need to be prepared for the fact that when the dam breaks you are likely to get wet!  So, you need to just let it flow and don’t try to stem the tide, in fact quite the opposite, you need to encourage them to go on.  Nods, little affirmative sounds like Uha etc, nodding and smiling all help. You aren’t here to fix it (at least not yet), you are just letting them find their equilibrium, and understand what is going on, and maybe find their own solution.

Michael Rooni, the author of the book Attractive Communication, suggests you practice “no-solution” listening:

“Sometimes people simply want to release hurtful emotions and get something off their chest. And for them communication is not necessarily about having their husband or wife or co-worker come up with a solution. They just want to be heard and want to be understood because they’re hurting inside.”

Gregorio Billikopf suggests you incorporate an occasional “dangling question.” Say something like “So, your family makes you feel…?” And prolong the word “feel.”  This encourages them to finish the sentence for you and sets them off on another aspect of their journey.

Giving them permission to vent and carefully questioning them helps them feel exactly what they are and need to feel, this is in itself restorative, but also can lead to solutions.  It will certainly help you to be a better friend to them and you will learn what this is really about.

Once they are calmer they may want to know what you think or how you see it but if you let your desire to rush to the rescue and solve it for them to come to the fore too soon, you will almost certainly fail.