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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.

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.

IS seeing believing?

February 15th, 2016

Not according to Dr Bruce H Lipton.  He feels that we can reshape our very genes by altering our beliefs.

I have written about this a lot and you can read all about here, Our Reality Model.  Our beliefs filter what data we take in, such as the tale that the indians couldn’t see Columbus’s boats when he hove into the Americas as they had no concept of anything like these ships.  (I doubt that anyone knows if this is true but it illustrates the point well.)  We don’t see or at least don’t assimilate data that we can’t process or understand the value of. 

Changing beliefs is a complex and (usually) long term proposition, but it begins by at least allowing that there might be another way we can interpret the data we have.  Are these men terrorists or freedom fighters; maniacs or heroes?  It probably depends on whether we are homeless Muslims or American marines. 

Recognising the power of the filters that govern how we experience our word is key to changing our lives.  Are we surrounded by riches and good people or is the World a scary place where everyone is out to harm us?  Of course a lot will depend on our direct experiences, but there is a wealth of evidence for both views, we have to choose what weight we give it.  Every time I turn on Radio 4 on a Sunday and hear tales of strangers saying “Thank you” to other total strangers who changed their lives I well up at the goodness that is out there. 

What does your future hold… well it is probably largely based on what you believe and if you don’t like the way it looks it might be time for a change.

What people look for when they meet us

February 8th, 2016

According to Harvard Business School Prof Amy Cuddy it is

  1. Can I trust this person? And
  2. Do I respect them?

We tend to judge the former on how warmly we feel towards the person.  This tends to come from a subliminal scan our primal self does to see if their audio matches their video, or in other words, does what they say match their body language.  And it tends to be the tiny, uncontrollable signs that we take in rather than the cruder, “Are their legs crossed?” type of thing.  If they don’t fully believe what they are saying, then they will signal their tension and discomfort and we will judge them less trustworthy.  She goes on to say that what they want to see is the authentic you.  She tweeted “Presence isn’t about pretending to be competent; it’s about shedding whatever is blocking you from being who you are.”pic.twitter.com/ERmb52WyXh.

So whilst it is important to show a new colleague or prospective employer that you are good at what you do, you need to convince that you are good as your word.

Why 5 Y’s can be wise

February 3rd, 2016

The other day I was reminded of a technique I learned at the very beginning of my facilitation journey.  I suspect I mastered it in my childhood.  I was always the little boy that wanted to know Why?  My partner still (occasionally) gets annoyed when I revert to type.  I still like to know why.  The thing is it is easy to be fobbed off with the first answer you are given and it rarely reveals much truth.  In our fast paced world, it is easy to ask and settle for the first thing thrown your way, but I’d encourage you to dig a little deeper, but first a health warning.  If you don’t do this with sincerity and a transparent desire to help, you are likely to annoy the hell out of the other person.  Don’t be mechanical in your use of this technique.

This is a technique the Japanese espoused, it is asking why five times.  It goes something like this:- 

   1. Why are you upset?   Because James shouted at me…

   2.  Why do you think he did thatBecause he was cross with me.

   3.  Why would you think he was cross with youBecause I didn’t finish the report he asked for

   4.   Why didn’t you  finish the report  I didn’t have time as I had to check Mike’s numbers three times

   5.   Why did you have to check his numbers?    Because he doesn’t get his data in the same format from each client and he       tends to make mistakes

You can see how it might go… if you stop at the first level you are just dealing with emotions, after a few more iterations you have a number of issues to explore.  I learnt many years ago in the Samaritans to not accept the first reason that a client gave for ringing.  As male pre-programmed to provide solutions it is so easy to do this, but just sticking with it and delving deeper almost always reveals more, sometimes not only to you but also to the other person.

How to be more influential…

January 25th, 2016

The Entrepreneur had an article about Influencers.  If you want to become more influential, then here are a few things that you might want to do more of:-

  1. Think for yourself.  Don’t just follow the herd, think it through, do some research, listen to your own instincts, intuition & experience. 
  2. Don’t just accept the Status Quo.  I remember my very first job as an auditor fresh out of school, my job was to ask all sorts of people questions (which at least was something I was good at!)  I’d often ask “Why do you do that?”  only to get the response “Oh we have always done it that way…” Even as an 18yr old, I knew this wasn’t good enough.  You have to think, is there a better way?  Do we really need to do this?  Do we need to do it now?  In other words, question, question,
  3. Engage others in conversation.  Discuss things, see what others think, test your ideas and see if they have support.
  4. Use & build your network. This applies to your internal connections as much as your external ones.  You need to invest in these relationships which means helping them with their issues and building goodwill ahead of the times you need support or input. 
  5. Focus on the important things.  You can’t do everything or win every battle but as long as you do things that really matter and win the wars, then you will succeed.
  6. Embrace disagreement.  Seek out the input of people who come things from a different perspective.  I once worked with a colleague who initially annoyed me with is ‘silly’ questions.  However, over time I came to appreciate them and him.  These questions which seemed obvious to me always developed my thinking and plans and I always got a better results because of his input.  If they are just right, then acknowledge it graciously and thank them… You win a friend and avoid a mistake.
  7. Be proactive.  Don’t wait for things to happen, make them happen when you need them to.  Think ahead and look for solutions before you have problems.
  8. Take your time.  It is human nature to react to stimuli, but what helps us rise above things is to breathe, take a moment, consider if this is wise, right or appropriate?  Maybe they are right?  Maybe you missed something?  We all make mistakes, how you respond to them is what sets you apart; don’t try to disguise them, learn from them and correct them.  Yu will have more respect as a result.

How NOT to decide…

January 18th, 2016

I recently encountered a business that is  to be about to make an easy, even classic mistake.  They need to change their structure and get clarity on the the key roles & responsibilities and rather than starting with “What are we as a business trying to achieve?”  and then asking “What is the best best way to achieve this?”  They are trying to carve up their ‘empire’ based on who is there, who wants to do what and who will get upset etc.  This a typical and easily understood fudge.  “George is good at this and weak at that… lets give him this bit, then Daphne can handle ….”  The trouble is this almost certain to fail.

What they need to do is work out how the business needs to be controlled, what skills and experience that takes and then see who is up to the task and if the answer is “No one” then they need to coach or recruit appropriately.

They are also trying to make another key business decision based on personalities (or rather their assessment thereof).  It is politically explosive and possibly commercially important.  What they need to do is avoid the minefield of the ‘your face doesn’t fit’ by setting clear criteria and having a robust process for assessing these so that everyone feels they had a fair crack of the whip, and they ensure that only people who are truly capable pass through their filter.

It is human nature to avoid conflict and work, but successful businesses know when they need to ‘bite the bullet’ and take tough decisions.

How much does a bad meeting cost you?

January 15th, 2016

We all know that loads of time (and therefore money) is wasted in meetings that are either pointless or poorly run, but those very clever people over at the Harvard Business Review and come up wit a little tool to shock us into realising that time actually costs money. If you click on the image to the left, you will go to their ‘tool’ to do so.

In itself, it isn’t very clever, but it does make you a little more aware of the fact that we are wasting money in these meetings.  So what is it that tends to lead people to have bad meetings?  They usually spring from good intentions… “We need to communicate..” 

But before you bring a number of valuable assets together, you need to be clear:-

  1. What do you want to or need to achieve?
  2. Is the purpose of this meeting to make a decision, or review progress?
  3. Who actually needs to be there?  (The more people present, the harder it is to run, the less effective it tends to be and it certainly is more expensive!)
  4. What preparation do they (and you!) need to do for it?
  5. What tools / technology do require to be available to you?
  6. What is the right environment for this meeting?  On site, or off?

These are just a few of the questions you need to answer.  If the meeting is important and there are serious consequences to it not delivering well, then I would suggest you consider getting some expert support from a trained facilitator.  This will do a number of things for you:-

  1. Release you to fully participate in the actual meeting rather than splitting you attention between being a contributor and chairperson.
  2. It will signal to everyone that this meeting is important
  3. They will be able to notice things that might escape your attention, such as people not participating or holding back
  4. They will be able to challenge ‘group think’ and ask ‘dumb’ questions that can often be very powerful
  5. They will ensure your meeting is properly designed and prepared for
  6. And they should ensure that you don’t waste time and do get your required result

Listening–some trade secrets

January 5th, 2016

We are all great lovers, drivers and listeners aren’t we… or rather we like to think we are!  In case you have room to improve here are a few tips to help:-

  • Ask good questions:   Questions show you are interested, which encourages them to open up, it helps them focus and perhaps helps expose things they haven’t thought of
  • Use reflective listening:  This means repeating some of the meaning of what they are saying, not parroting their words, but a paraphrase that either shows that you have got it or shows you might have misunderstood, but that you are interested in really understanding
  • Positive body language:  They are more likely to feel that you are interested and genuinely engaged if your body language demonstrates this.  Look at them, don’t fiddle or do anything to suggest your attention is elsewhere.  Lean in, show appropriate reactions to their story.
  • Withhold Judgement:  You may or may not condone their actions, but you need to fully understand what has happened before you jump to judgement
  • Silence is golden:  If you aren’t asking questions or using reflective listening, then you should keep quiet, apart from little noises like “Arh ha” etc.  Nodding is good.

All of the above takes quite some effort, and if you are going to invest this wisely, then you need to ensure that your schedule is clear, and the place is appropriate.  Good listening builds strong relationships and is at the foundation of good communication.