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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.

How to understand the mechanics of someone’s first impressions (and influence them positively!)

January 19th, 2015

First impressionsWe all seem to think that we are good at reading people and ‘trust’ those first impressions and it takes a lot of work, or time and  positive experience to change this if we didn’t like you.  Conversely, we tend assume that others will see our greatness, our potential and love us (just like our Mum’s!) this is called the transparency illusion, when we believe others will correctly interpret our positive signals.  In truth, people aren’t so good at reading these micro-signals we give off and one looks very much like the other.  Also, we often judge on relatively little data and some of us don’t always pay full attention to others especially if the initial impressions are negative.

So what criteria or tests do we use to judge others in these initial moments?  We want to know if this other person is a potential threat or a potential resource; if they are like us or not, and if they are not like us, are the differences useful and stimulating or threatening?  So we view people through what Heidi Grant Halvorson in the Harvard Business Review describes as  3 lenses:-

  1. The Trust lens,
  2. The Power lens and
  3. The Ego lens

First we want to know if we can trust them; are they friend or foe.  Next we want to assess if they are more or less powerful than us.  This one is a little more complex in as much as it works a little differently in social and business situations.  If it is a work situation and we are appealing to someone with more perceived power than us (such as a boss or a potential customer), they need us to prove to them that we are potentially of value to them.  In effect, we have to earn their attention.  Finally, as we all need to feel good about ourselves, we scan for ‘evidence’ that we are better than them. 

In order to jump safely through these ‘hoops’ we can do a few things to help our case.  We need to amplify our signals a little to ensure they are both perceived and received.  It is a little like the driving test, where you can’t just check your mirror, you have to show that you have done so.  Clearly articulate how you can be helpful to them.  Use words like we  rather than I and you, to show you are on their side.  There are more hints and tips in the main article.  However, regular readers of this site will be familiar with the idea that we all filter our impressions and thoughts through lenses, check out the Reality Model.  They will also understand how important it is to build rapport, and there is lots of stuff here.

Persuasion and priorities

January 12th, 2015

competition-QuotesPeople are much more persuaded by their own logic and reasons than ours, no matter how clever we like to think we are, so rather than banging our heads against a wall of their logic.  There is a better way.  If I push, they will push back (interestingly, this is not just confirmed Newton with his third law of motion, but is a key principle of Aikido.)  So, try this; ask the person where this thing sits on their personal priority scale, using a scale of 1-10.  Imagine you have asked your teenage child to tidy their room or a work colleague to look at something for you.  Assuming they don’t rate it as 1, rather than asking them to tell why they think it is that unimportant, ask them why they haven’t rated it lower.  It is counter-intuitive but this forces them to explain why it has some value.  You are now both on the same side of the fence and just debating how valuable it might be rather than whether it has a value.  It is far easier to move someone when you are travelling in the same direction than when you oppose them.


January 6th, 2015

I found this wonderful card, which sadly I can’t share here, but it beautifully illustrates how one can look at the same data in two totally different ways.  It shows two overweight ladies sitting in front of a plate of cakes and one says to the other “According to my BMI chart, I’m too short!” Mostly we see the results we expect to find, so our own preconceptions are a key to what we discover.  That is why having an outsider look at a something, even if he or she knows less about the subject than you can open up new vistas.  I often feel that asking ‘stupid’ questions is a part of my job!

We also tend to receive the messages we expect to get when others talk.  So, if I think ‘John’ is clever I will find clever ways to interpret what he says, if I think him a fool I will probably listen far less attentively and be far more dismissive of anything  that he says that ChineseWhispersI don’t understand. How many misunderstandings are rooted in one party saying something and meaning A, and having the other person listen to the same words and take away meaning B.  This can be affected by how we feel too, so if we feel guilty, or insecure, then we are more likely to suspect we are being slighted or belittled. 

So perhaps next time you are confronted with data or a message, you should check if standing it on its head makes just as much sense and if it does, taking the time to find out which interpretation is more valid or useful.

What happens if…

December 13th, 2014

a&eI was talking to a client the other day, and we were discussing the impact on the business that the illness of a colleague would have.  I was a little surprised that he hadn’t ‘run’ that scenario.  This person is running one part of the business which is in the middle of  series of changes that need not only managing but leading.  Not having the right hand on the tiller now might mean the need to close this part of the business.  Yes, this would adversely affect the bottom line, but there is the possibility that this element might lose money if not lead properly, which would have a worse impact and there is an argument that says that better a sure, straightforward and simple known adverse impact than an uncontrolled mess.

Sometimes stepping back and asking what would happen if …. is really important.  It is easier from outside the business (and that is why people involve people like me) but I’d argue that it is an important skill for all leaders.  If you spend your whole day up to your neck in ‘muck & bullets’ then the chances of you being blindsided by this kind of event are far higher.  Every leader needs some thinking time as opposed to doing time.

Mistakes will be tolerated…

December 5th, 2014

fire phoneThose of you who are into tech will know that Amazon, having done amazingly well at with their Kindle line of eReaders, and succeeded too with their Kindle Fire tablet range, but completely tanked when it came to launching a mobile phone.  It had all sorts of clever tech but no one needed what it offered and it didn’t do the basics well enough do attract support.  The fact that they didn’t make the price attractive and offered it via a single carrier doomed it to obscurity.

However, Jeff Bezos, the CEO, isn’t apologising.  He didn’t enjoy the failure but nor did he hide from it.  In this video he reveals his philosophy that to encourage a culture that fosters innovation, you will have to make it safe for people to fail sometimes.  If everyone is petrified of failure, they will play it safe and that just gets you more of the same.  Saying it is OK to make mistakes, and making people feel safe to take risks isn’t the same thing though!  See this interview.

He, however, points out that he would never ‘bet the ranch’.  It is interesting to compare this with Steve Ballmer, the then CEO of Microsoft,  famously said that the launch of Windows 8 was a “bet-the-company” moment for Microsoft.  It failed and caused huge resentment and distrust amongst especially its corporate clients who largely ignored it.  Strangely, I use it all the time and never had an issue with it.  The trouble was it came in two ‘flavours’, the touch screen variety and the desktop one, and as long as you totally ignored the former on your traditional PC, you had a great experience, but foolishly, they majored on the sexy new interface for the former which just confused everyone and was largely irrelevant.

If you want to bring out the creative best in your team, you have to allow them to get it wrong occasionally and then help them learn from those mistakes.  Back talent and initiative.

Where you are affects what you do

November 26th, 2014

I met up with someone yesterday who had been in the same circles as me for many years, but we had never really talked before.  So I Play_podremedied that and met him for lunch and was rewarded with a very interesting meeting of minds.  He made a comment that resonated with me and which I had always considered important and then today I came across an article that discussed the same issue; the importance of environment on outcomes.  The Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care at the Royal United Hospital in Bath has been designed with this idea at its heart, that patients will heal faster in an environment that is conducive to healing.

This is interesting but it is easy to neglect or forget the impact the day-to-day environment has on your team.  If you want them to perform or behave differently, changing the environment is a good way to remind people of this and support the new way of working.  If I am running a strategic meeting, I want people thinking and focusing differently, so I always try to make sure we meet somewhere off-site, wearing different clothes too.  If you are trying to encourage your team to be more efficient, don’t expect this to work, if they are in a cluttered, messy environment; if they don’t have access to the tools they need to do the job.  A friend and very busy office manager was working 10 hours a day trying to stay on top of things and expected to work with a computer that was laggy and unreliable.  If I want to have an important conversation, I usually prefer to do so when walking or driving as I find that moving physically helps us move through the issues.

google-officeI know companies like Google have some crazy ideas about environment, but they didn’t get to rule the cyber world by just being wacky.  Boxy conventional places are more likely to support ‘in the box’ thinking.  I realise that office refurbs are expensive but that doesn’t stop you using off-site facilities for specific purposes, or creating a particular room that helps people focus more.



  1. Gizmodo

You gotta sit…

November 15th, 2014

pottyBefore I begin to share, I’d like to apologise in advance to anyone who considers this a little crude or lavatorial.  Reader discretion is advised!

My wife was a wise lady.  I remember her once saying to me that the best piece of advice a friend and therapist had given her was (spoken in a Brooklyn accent) “If wanna shit, ….. you gotta sit..”  Having a somewhat childish sense of humour, I never forgot this little pearl of wisdom.  However, whilst it has come to mind from time-to-time, I never really explored it beyond the obvious connotations. It appears that today was the day that its full richness came to me.

Beyond the superficial meaning, that if you want to do something you have to prepare and be in the right place I think there is something deeper.  It is oh-so-easy to apparently comply with both elements of this couplet and think you are done and go about your day.  However, if you give yourself a little more time and commit to the process you often find you have so much more to give.  This is real meaning of this metaphor.  How often have you heard someone say on receiving a bit of good advice “Oh, I tried that already..”  and you know they haven’t really.  They may think they did but they never committed to it.  The thing is as often as we have observed this in others, we have done it ourselves!  We want a change, we need a different result but but we aren’t willing to stop doing the same old thing. 

If you want something to work properly, you have to commit to it and make the time for it to happen.  Anything else, and whilst iy may, perhaps, gain some superficial success, will never really work.

Who are you… It’s all about culture

November 13th, 2014

IMG_0215.JPGI watched a fascinating program made by the artist, Grayson Perry, who asked the question “Who are you?” It is definitely worth watching, not only for the art but also for the questions he poses and the answers he uncovers. He explores with Ulster loyalists what being British means to them, why some deaf people feel theirs is a cultural issue rather than a medical one and why some Big Beautiful Women find if they can’ change their bodies to conform with society’s views of what is beautiful, they can change how they see themselves.

It made me wonder how I would label myself. What are the keys to my identity? I’m a middle aged, white Englishman who has had a solidly middle class upbringing in the south of England. I am a father of three, who was a husband for some 25 years, an accountant by training, a ‘lapsed’ Catholic, and a businessman. By choice, I’m a walker, a rugby fan (“Come on you Quins!), a music lover and whisky drinker. But which of these labels define me or am I the sum total of this patchwork? Some how, I don’t feel these capture my essence.

These days everyone from Stuart Lancaster down is talking about the importance and power of culture. However, most businesses are far better at using the word than understanding it or influencing it positively. The culture of a business is how they go about doing business, what is and isn’t acceptable, what is valued and measured. It is captured in the stories that are repeated in the business and about it. It isn’t what the bosses would like it to be, or pretend it to be, it is what they accept and what they do. Changing the culture is like trying to capture air. To do this you have to change what you do and how you do it; it takes time and focus. It takes repetition. There is no ‘quick fix’ for cultural ‘engineering’, but it is a huge and powerful weapon, once forged.

There are many paths

November 10th, 2014

Portrait-Artist I was watching a program on Sky Arts called ‘Portrait Artist of the Year’, which is well worth a watch. One of the most fascinating aspects of the competition, whereby artists must paint a portrait in 4 hours, is the sheer variety of ways in which they approach their goal.  Some sketch an initial outline in pencil, some quasi-sketch it with a paint brush, still others paint the entire canvas a solid colour first or use a palette knife instead of brushes. Some use a iPhone or iPad to help them compose or review their composition.  It is extraordinary to watch and some of the talent on view is fabulous. 

This is a wonderful example of both people’s creativity and individuality.  If you allow people to express themselves like this, they will find many ways to deliver what you or your customer wants, but it is very easy (and also sometimes appropriate) to drop into the “We do it this way..”  This can offer advantages but it is important to realise that it is easy to become stale and and allowing people to express themselves stimulates them and encourages them to bring more of themselves to bear on the job. 

Being positive isn’t enough

November 3rd, 2014

WoopAbout 25 years ago I was introduced to the whole affirmation, visualisation and positive thinking methods and I spent a lot of time and energy investigating them. In the end I concluded that they didn’t really work, at least, they didn’t work for me. Today I read an article in the Harvard Business Review, by Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg.  She has used scientific rigour and come to the same conclusion. 

However, she has helpfully come up with something that she can show works.  It is called WOOP — Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.  It works by first being clear about what you want, then exploring the results of achieving that wish.  You then identify the various likely obstacles and then plan how you can over come or neutralise them.  This is not difficult and similar to some work I do with my clients but it is worth exploring and experimenting with.