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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.

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.

The power of the outsider

December 21st, 2015

I have been working recently with a colleague who is a non-exec on a couple of companies that I work with, both companies have faced problems and it has been interesting observing his input and contribution.  As someone who is always an outsider, I normally don’t get to see this perspective.  In the first company, which he had asked from my help with, he has been there a while and was concerned that they were in a hole and still digging.  I have worked for the second company for over 12 years, so I know them well and he recently joined that board. 

I ran a big meeting in the first company, and he and another non-exec were invited to provide external perspective and gravitas.  They are both successful business people and were listened to as such.  They were able to ask questions and pass observations which were seen as much more neutral than if an insider had asked the same thing.  Also they had much less of a stake in the business so they could walk away from it without being burnt, whereas for all the other participants this was life or death.  The power of this neutrality is significant, and I have long observed that it is not only invaluable, but often essential in order to get change to happen.

In the second company, he drilled down in to their figures in a way that no one else round the table was capable of, and he had not only the knowledge but the standing to do so.  Both companies are better off for these contributions.

I’m sure your company is filled with bright, knowledgeable people, but a leavening of external wisdom and expertise can hugely increase their potential.

Rugby World Cup lessons on leadership

December 14th, 2015

I have written a lot about leaders recently, and in these rather ego driven times, it is trendy to link success, or should I say results, with the leader.  If you remember England’s rather inglorious exit from the Rugby World Cup, the papers decided to barbeque Chris Robshaw, as if he were solely responsible for their results.  As a keen rugby fan & Englishman, of course I was disappointed by what happened.  However, if I step back, and put on a more objective hat, then I always knew that New Zealand were the best team in the world, I strongly suspected that Australia would contest the final too.  Most people who knew anything about the sport would have said that South Africa would be a safe bet for the quarter finals, leaving every other team contesting that fourth slot.  So realistically, England, Wales, France and Ireland were all battling it out for a single place, and we have yet to win the 6 Nations recently, so it has to be said it was reasonably predictable that this result was on the cards.  So why was it one man’s fault? 

The answer of course must be that it was not.  You can certainly question whether the critical penalty call in the match against Wales when Robshaw chose to go for a line out and glory rather than going for a more conservative, safe choice of kicking for 3 points.  Both courses of action had a chance of failure, kickers and throwers both miss.  He consulted some of his senior players and they agreed, go for glory.  He is a man who always gives his all, and no one was more upset with the final outcome than Chris. 

My main point is, regardless of the rugby, this result was the consequence of how the collective performed, not simply the choices of one man.  Rugby, like businesses is dependent of key people stepping up and leading in their specialist areas.  A business requires everyone to do their best, to focus on the plan and deliver their bit of it.  Most leaders, like everyone else, have areas of their job they are good at, that they enjoy, and others which they tend to neglect or do worse at.  To some extent, they are then dependent on their team to compensate in these areas to ensure that they are properly covered.  A good numbers person, needs a people person at their elbow, and so on.  You may or may not like your leader, but you need to play your part in the team if you want to be part of a win.

The danger of knowing what is best…

December 9th, 2015

A company I know has a leader who has a vision of where they need to go to survive the threats that the economy and competition pose.  I am quite prepared to accept his analysis;  I believe most of his team are too.  So what could possibly go wrong and why is he facing difficulties in getting them to do what is required?

As usual with change, it all starts with communication.  The things they are not telling him, the things that he isn’t hearing and those they can’t discuss.  If you feel that a person doesn’t want to hear what you have to say or feel, then you subconsciously find another way to get the message over.  It maybe by withdrawing intimacy, by withdrawing co-operation or by pursuing your own version of what is right. 

When there are a number of people who feel similarly ‘not heard’ then factions develop and problems arise.  In effect, they take their toys and go home; the team is no longer and you just have a group of bodies inhabiting the same space. 

The only way out is to get the communication flowing again, you have to over-emphasize what you are doing to ensure that they know you have ‘got it’.  You have to act on whatever you have agreed or promised to rebuild trust.  Stephen Covey wrote about the idea of the Emotional Bank account, which I like.  The idea is that the good things you do make deposits in your account of goodwill, and the negative (or more accurately their view of what is negative) actions make withdrawals.  This being Life, the rules are not fair, and you can work for ages to build a small amount of trust and one ‘bad’ action can wipe out the entire balance with the statement “Here (s)he goes again!”  It is tough, it is frustrating but it is the only way.

Good luck…