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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.

Solving knotty problems

November 3rd, 2015

gordian

Another item from the program I listened to yesterday that really resonated was a conversation about geo-engineering & global warming.  Author Oliver Morton, who wrote “The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World” , was asked whether it was a good idea to bet the future of mankind on this kind of technology.  [For the benefit of those, who like me, have never heard the term geoengineering it is the deliberate large-scale manipulation of an environmental process that affects the earth’s climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming.]  They were discussing whether the kind of project which affected the whole globe would require some kind of planetary leadership and safeguards, and if these might be more  challenging than the engineering required.  He said that rather than proceeding with the blind optimism and just hoping it all worked out, we needed to go forward with caution and awareness of all the challenges but with the possibility of success in our minds and hearts too.  This enabled us to at least consider how we might succeed. 

Twice today, when faced with a client who was wrestling with some very knotty problems that had so far defied all efforts to resolved them, I referred them to this statement, and suggested that in order to succeed, they at least needed to accept that the problem was soluble.  Famously, Alexander the Great, when faced with the Gordian knot, found one radical way to solve it…..

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Black box thinking

November 2nd, 2015

black boxI listened to a fascinating program today which talked about making and learning from mistakes.  Regular readers will be familiar with my thoughts on the importance of learning from mistakes and avoiding a blame culture.  It is said that the secret to being a successful entrepreneur is to fail often and learn every time you do.  It is a well known truism that if you have never failed then you have never really tried or lived!  Matthew Sayed, author of “Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success” says that in the airline industry, they are committed to investigating and learning from every single mistake so that they never need to happen again.  People’s lives are at risk and any failure is international news, so failure is very costly.  The key is that there is a culture of honest investigation and procedures are modified to make them more robust.  By way of contrast, in medicine it is very hard for a surgeon to say “Oops…I messed up”, so they hide behind the veil of medical complexity and “These things happen”.  Thus no one truly investigates as mistakes are brushed under the carpet.  In politics, policies are stuck to as a sign of strength and vision, and you can’t say, “They are not working, lets try something else”, this is deemed weakness, rather than wisdom.

I ask you, which environment would you sooner work in or be served by?

7 deadly sins of communication–part 3

October 16th, 2015

This the third in the series exploring our bad habits in communication. 

Nagging is when you keep on and on at someone to do something.  By definition, if you have asked the same person for the same thing  multiple times they either aren’t getting the message or aren’t receptive to it.  You have to try something new.  Find out why they aren’t doing it, are they unwilling or unable to help?  If they are unwilling, maybe you need to put your case in a way that makes it clear what they get from helping you.  If they are unable, then what can you do to help?  A lot depends on the power balance.  If you are talking to a boss, a colleague / friend  or a subordinate / child.  You have to adjust you strategy accordingly.  We are all familiar with the fact that it gets easier to ignore someone when they keep banging on about the same old thing…

Threatening and punishing can have their place, but really need to only be used as a last resort, and only when we intend to follow through.  They seldom have a positive impact on a relationship, so unless it is terminal, it is usually better to use them sparingly and again when it is done in such a way that after the event, they will understand the necessity.  Bribery to gain control is really just the other side of this coin and equally ineffective.  Think about it, if you reward your child in order to get them to stop screaming, what message do they take away?  When I scream, I get what I want… do why wouldn’t they repeat this lesson? 

Good luck!

 

7 deadly sins of communication – part 1

7 deadly sins of communication – part 2

7 deadly sins of communication–part 2

October 15th, 2015

When we blame someone (or something) we are seeking to explain or excuse a failure.  Now there is a time and place for analysing what went wrong and who was responsible but usually we do this we are seeking to distance ourselves from what has gone wrong.  Again, it is all about the intention.  It is seldom that it is all down to a single person.  If they work for us, are we monitoring them properly?  Have we given them appropriate support and resources?  Should we have known earlier and acted ourselves?  “Let him who is without sin…” and all that!  If we are acting in a timely way, and seeking to avoid a problem, then it is more effective to focus on what can be done to avoid it or correct it.  Analysis and what can be done better and how to avoid further repetitions happen after in a cool, calm place.

Complaining can take a number of forms:-

  1. Venting:  which we all do from time to time but serves little useful purpose, but is damaging when done too often or too long.
  2. Active, effective complaining:  this is when you are explaining what is wrong, and what you would like done about it calmly to the person who is in a position to put it right, and
  3. Ineffective complaining:  this is similar to venting and serves little purpose as you are failing to be clear or addressing the wrong person. 

If our complaints are intermingled with blame, then they usually feel like an attack and once more we tend to get either meaningless apologies or or defence and justifications; either way we are not motivating the person to address our issue.

More tomorrow…

 

 

 

7 deadly sins of communication–part 1

October 13th, 2015

A psychiatrist named William Glasser identified seven habits that damage and undermine effective communication.  They each have a positive counterpart, the things we can do to promote good, healthy communication and relationships.  They are:-

Negative Habits Positive Behaviours
  • Criticising
  • Supporting
  • Blaming
  • Encouraging
  • Complaining
  • Listening
  • Nagging
  • Accepting
  • Threatening
  • Trusting
  • Punishing
  • Respecting
  • Bribing (or rewarding to control)
  • Negotiating differences

I think this list is pretty useful and self explanatory on its own, but it maybe helpful to explore it a little further.  No one likes to be on the receiving end of the first list, and most of us would deny doing it to others.  I suspect our intentions may often be positive, but under stress, our behaviours can let us down and what emerges either is, or feels like, these negative things.

You may feel it is either justified or needful to point out what is wrong with something or someone.  However, the key is not only how you do that that but also in your intentions behind this.  If you do so to hurt them (perhaps because you feel they hurt you), because you are frustrated, stressed or angry, or simply to make yourself feel better than them, then it will always come over as negative and as soon as they feel this, they then will only either block out what you are saying or defend against it.  Not only do your intentions have to be positive, but your language must also signal and reinforce this.

I will further explore this over the following days, so stay tuned…

Leadership & different points of view

October 9th, 2015

landscape artist 2I was watching Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year, and once more was entranced by the talent of view and the sheer diversity of talent and techniques used.  We saw about ten different artists all with the same brief come up with ten entirely different paintings.  It maybe this doesn’t (and shouldn’t) surprise you.  However, I’m currently confronted with a business that has a group of bright people who will all benefit from its success coming up with very different versions of the way forward. 

The thing is that in business we tend to feel that there is one right way forward and it is the job of the strong leader to identify it and drive the others towards it.  What if it was more similar to the artistic challenge and there were a number of viable, equally valid paths to success and it was the job of the leader to find the way through the maze that elicited the greatest commitment and support?

Lessons from England’s early exit from Rugby World Cup

October 6th, 2015

England rugbyThere 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.

Don’t leave it too late to change!

October 5th, 2015

Microsoft shiftFew businesses in history have had the total market dominance of Microsoft.  In June 2007 it totally ruled the desktop and PC market and was used by almost every business in the world.  It was no doubt full of bright, motivated people who thought the sun would never set on them.  This chart, posted by Benedict Evans, shows exactly when it started its downhill slide when it went from almost 100% to nearer half the market.  It began with the fragmentation of the market after the launch of iPhone and iOS and later Android. 

There is many a good business that is merrily ticking along and perhaps unaware of the impending precipice, or perhaps even sadder, fully aware but unable or unwilling to do what is required to change.  Change is always scary, always threatening but the price of not changing is often far worse!

Don’t leave it too late…

The rider & the elephant – part 2

October 1st, 2015

Picking up from yesterday’s post. You need to understand that there are no good guys and villains in this model.  It may seem that if only the elephant wasn’t so easily distracted we’d be fine but it isn’t that simple.  The elephant is big and powerful and can do much to get us there.  The rider is prone to doubt and can fall victim to analysis paralysis, which can prevent us committing to something we know intuitively is right.  You therefore have to enrol both elements to enable you to move forward.

There are three key components in Switch

  1. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity:  You need to be clear what you want, so people can not only understand but do what you want.  The rider needs certainty of direction, or the elephant gets nervous
  2. Self control is an exhaustible resource:  It is tiring overturning deeply ingrained habits and behaviours, especially if we are under pressure.  When we get tired or forget, we revert to type.
  3. To change behaviour, you must change the situation:  You need to shape the path (or environment) to support the new behaviours whilst they take root.  In a business environment this might mean changing where people sit, office layouts, business systems and procedures.

 

“To change behaviour, you’ve got to direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path.  If you can do all three at once, dramatic change can happen, even if you don’t have lots of power or resources behind you.”

“We’ve deliberately left out lots of great thinking on change in the interests of creating a framework that’s simple enough to be practical.  For another, there’s a good reason why change can be difficult: the world doesn’t always want what you want.  You want to change how others are acting, but they get a vote.  You can cajole, influence, inspire, and motivate — but sometimes an employee would rather lose his job than move out of his comfortable routines.  Sometimes the alcoholic will want another drink no matter what the consequences.”

“We created this framework to be useful for people who don’t have scads of authority or resources.  Some people can get their way by fiat.  Ceos, for instance, can sell off divisions, hire people, fire people, change incentive systems, merge teams, and so on.  Politicians can pass laws or impose punishments to change behaviour.  The rest of us don’t have these tools.”

The elephant and the rider – part 1

September 30th, 2015

It is a fact that change is hard; even when we know there is a good reason for changing, we still struggle to live into our good intentions.  Phrases like “Well I know I shouldn’t …BUT” emerge from our lips.  Two American brothers called Dan & Chip Heath wrote a book called “Switch”, where they borrowed a metaphor first coined by Jonathan Haidt, which neatly explains this, the rider & the elephant.  There are a three key components to change:-

  1. The rational mind (the rider)
  2. The emotional mind (the elephant)
  3. The environment (the path)

The video below explains it very succinctly.

I have long said that people need a reason to change, the What is in it For Me factor.  However, if it is just a rational reason, we tend to waiver.  How many of us have failed in our resolve to lose weight or get fit?  There has to be something to fight the need for comfort and instant gratification or just bad habits.  This is the path, or our environment.  If we want to lose weight, don’t fill the fridge with yummy treats.  You have to make it easy for people to build new habits and behaviours and reward them for doing so.

    More on this tomorrow…