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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.

Communication- it’s tougher than you think

April 9th, 2015

The english say and mean

I came across this in the paper the other day and was amused by it, but reflected that it contained more than a grain of truth.  I was talking to a fellow coach about it and it was interesting to explore the nuances of communication that are landmines waiting to blow the legs of the unwary.  Years ago I stumbled on a deep truth.  A very good friend of mine would often say when I suggested doing something “That would be great!” or “I’d love to..” only to inevitably let me down.  I used be angry and hurt by his behaviour till I realise that what he meant when he said this was true BUT what he never added was “if I have time / money / finished the other 59 things on my list first…”  The thing is if I someone says to me “Let’s have lunch” my next action is to get out my diary and say “Good.. when?” it isn’t the polite English version, it is a call to action.  This chart helped explain that I am wired differently from my compatriots. 

Cross cultural communication is full of this kind of misunderstanding.  In some places turning up on time is rude, in others lateness is …

If you are a married man and your wife asks you how she looks before going out and you reply “Fine”, be careful… very, very careful how you enunciate this potentially explosive response.  You might be telling her she completely meets expectations, you might in some places be telling her she looks fine, complimenting her, in others you will be saying she is adequate, and no woman wants to be told this!  Be clear and careful when you communicate and preferably honest too!

Three lessons in how to handle a disappointed customer or how to win arguments and friends

April 6th, 2015

It is an oft repeated business aphorism that “The customer is always right!”  My father who was a salesman liked to say “The customer might not always be always right, BUT he is always the customer!”  A variant on this is “The customer might not always be right but he is never wrong!”  Good companies, or one’s with good customer services have developed a number of strategies to help bridge the gap between a dissatisfied, or unsatisfied, customer and their business.  The key word in the last sentence is bridge.  Lesser businesses feel the need to defend the company and fight off the customers claims, this instantly antagonises and alienates them.  What is required is using a more empathetic approach, using the aikido principle of getting alongside your customer and seeing things from their perspective first.  So here is a strategy to help you do so:-

  1. Listen to them:  If they need to vent, let them.  Don’t interrupt or contradict.  Actively listen and only ask questions for clarification.  At this stage you are gathering data about their ‘map’ of their situation.  You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand so once you feel that they have finished, paraphrase what they have said back to them in a sentence that sounds a bit like this “So what is wrong is that you…. is that right?”  Modern rugby coaches say that you have to earn the right to go wide, and similarly, you have to earn the right to enter this dance.  If you have done step one properly, you now understand the problem as they see it and you now have a number of options.  You can either add to the story by bringing additional information to the table which they don’t have or you can correct factual inaccuracies in their version.  After trading facts back and forth you should summarise and agree a joint version of the situation.
  2. If you have made a mistake, own it:  If you have got something wrong, own up and do what you can to correct it.  You probably have to not just deliver now, but over deliver to compensate them for the hassle they have suffered.  It is well known that companies that deal well with this kind of issue earn much greater customer loyalty.  Customers will forgive you if you handle it well.  However, if they unreasonable or mistaken expectations then it is ok to say “Sorry, that isn’t the service (or item) we offer”  If you want to win brownie points, then try to point them to resources that do do this kind of thing. 
  3. Learn from mistakes and don’t repeat them:  Mistakes tell you where you need to improve either your training, or your processes, so make sure you capture them, review them and take action.  You should keep a journal of these. 

It is worth adding that these techniques can be just as useful in any situation where you have a disappointed person in front of you.

Momentum and Space

April 1st, 2015

I have often written here about the importance of maintaining momentum in Change, but at the moment I am personally experiencing a different phase of this process.  It is seldom in our busy lives that we have time to pause and ponder, and in my experience most business people hardly have a moment to scratch their backsides!  This makes it hard to consider options and make informed choices.  Once a direction is set we tend to follow it for want of the time to reconsider.  It is only if it isn’t working that we let it go.  It is true that most decisions and programs have a half life and slowly decay along with the systems and technology on which they are often based.  However, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily the right thing for us now

At the moment due to a minor back injury I’ve been forced to stop and do relatively little.  This has coincided with a quieter spell in my work, thus I have the enforced gift of time.  It happens to coincide with the beginning of Spring and I can see things changing in the woods and garden almost daily.  It also takes place at a stage in my life where traditionally one phase is drawing to a close, which closes some doors and opens many others.  Perhaps it is the ‘perfect storm’ of these events that lead me to ponder what I really want the future to look like.  Normally when we ask this kind of questions, we are hemmed in by circumstances and we make our decision based on what we consider possible, which means we often answer the question “What is the least worst option?” rather than “What do I really want?”

I haven’t answered my own question yet, but I am aware that it’s very unbounded nature is slightly scary and one we seldom face.  We tend to limit our options to the answers we feel are safest, rather than truly challenge ourselves and expose ourselves to possible failure.  This is a work in progress for me but it will influence how I facilitate future sessions with clients and perhaps I will be a little more challenging when I ask my questions.

If you had some space and time, what would you like your life to look like, what changes would you make?

Four lessons from our self-talk: lesson 4

March 30th, 2015

Lesson 4:  “What would people think?”

We all live inside invisible walls constructed by our society, we are self-policing to the degree that we care and worry about what others would think and this has its positives.  However, often it constrains us in ways that limit us.  We judge ourselves and project that judgement on others.  We limit ourselves in ways that don’t serve us.  Perhaps better questions are:-

  1. What would those who really love me think about this?
  2. Just because I haven’t done it before is that a reason for not trying it?
  3. Do I care what …. thinks of me?

Marcus Aurelius once said “It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own”  Stepping out of our comfort zone is risky and we can try to ‘stay safe’ by limiting our options to those which keep us in the same old place.

Four lessons from our self-talk: lesson 3

March 23rd, 2015

Lesson 3: “They are smarter than me” or “I couldn’t do that

We often feel like this or say it ourselves and others and guess what?  Sometimes it is even true.  Of course there are more talented or more intelligent people out there; we can’t all be Stephen Hawkings or Bob Dylan!  However, the good news is we don’t need to be.  We just have to be the best us we can be and we are all different.  We often envy others gifts but tend to depreciate our own ones.  I’d love to be able to be able to really play the guitar but after years of trying had to acknowledge I’d never be Clapton or even the busker in the underground!  However, there are some things I find easy and natural that others equally can’t do. 

However, we can expand our repertoire, we can grow our skills base or our mastery of those we already have.  Sometimes though we hide behind comments like “I couldn’t do that” for fear of failure (see lesson 1).

If you actually feel that this is something you wish to invest effort in, ask “What is the first step to learning….?” and then take that!

Four lessons from our self-talk: lesson 2

March 19th, 2015

Lesson 2I  don’t like them (or that)

When you hear yourself saying or thinking this you should pause and ask:-

What exactly is it that you don’t like about them?

  1. Does something they do remind you of yourself?  Perhaps something you don’t much like?
  2. Does what they do or who you perceive them to be remind of someone else? 
  3. Do you not like them because you envy them?
  4. Are they ‘making’ you feel in the shade?

The thing is our perceptions tell us as more about ourselves and how we see our world as they do about the other person.  We label people, often on little real evidence and the don’t bother to re-evaluate these judgments.  If someone is too like us we often see them as potential rivals, but perhaps they could become friends and allies?

We all have comfort zones which we are reluctant to step outside and let ourselves be challenged, it is easier to say “I don’t like that..”  We maybe right, but if we aren’t what new doors could be opened to us, what new pleasures could we enjoy?

Four lessons from our self-talk: lesson 1

March 12th, 2015

Lesson 1I can’t do that or “I’m too lazy

When you hear yourself utter or think either of these phrases you need to pause and reflect.  It is easy to say them in a self-depreciating way and think you are joking, but it is worth asking what is really behind this convenient cop-out.  Ask yourself:-

  1. Why don’t you want to do this?
  2. What are you seeking to avoid?
  3. What would happen if you tried and failed?
  4. What is the worst that could happen?
  5. What is the next actionable step?
  6. What are you doing that is more important?
  7. What would you gain by doing this?

It maybe it is perfectly sensible to choose not to do it, but if that is the case, say so, it is much more empowering.  And take a moment to explain your choice. 

It has been said, if you want something doing, give it to a busy man (or woman!)  The (kinda) converse of this is the quote mistakenly ascribed to Bill Gates “I choose a lazy man to do a hard job, because a lazy person will the easy way to do it” and I can relate to this as I always look for the easy way to achieve a task, and have always explained as due to my loathing of hard work!

Some thoughts on measurement

March 9th, 2015

I have often told my clients that whilst it is crucial to measure the things you want to change, you also need to be careful what you measure (and how you measure it.)  Think about the experience in the National Health Service, it is an object lesson of how not to do it.  They decided to improve efficiency by introducing professional managers and measurement systems.  Years later we find that people are being discharged prematurely to ensure that the turnover numbers meet target. 

jawbone-up-movescalesRegular readers will know that know that I set myself a target of losing weight and getting in better shape (literally).  I found a key tool was using data to track what I was eating; my daughter suggested I try My Fitness Pal, which I found very helpful.  I had been a rather unaware of the calorific content of some of my eating habits.  It also allows you to track exercise, which was another strand of my regimen.  I found myself making better decisions because I knew the consequences of my choices, and the fact that I was recording what I was doing kept me on track.

I bought a Samsung Note 4 before Xmas that has a fitness monitor built in that measure the steps you take amongst other things, and I also found that both motivated and slightly shamed me.  It was more data but it didn’t talk to my other data sets, so recently I invested in a fitness tracker.  I have tried both the Misfit Flash and the Jawbone Move (which I will probably review a little later).  They are relatively basic as these things go now, but I felt this was all I required at present.  They do feed into My Fitness Pal and now I have one dashboard of my goals and progress. 

It is true that there are many things I am not measuring, like perhaps the my investment in terms of both time and money (although I could if I wanted), but these things are not crucial in my life.  You will make progress in the areas that you attend to and this whole process is part of keeping my goals in the front of my mind so I am less likely to be diverted.  If you are embarking on a Change project, you need to monitor and review the key factors, discuss them and you will make progress

It’s all in the mind… Only it isn’t!

March 2nd, 2015

This a useful TED talk by Dr Guy Winch.  He is a psychologist who is worth a listen.  He sensibly posits the thought that despite all the evidence that mental issues affect our physical state and health, we constantly ignore them.  Young children are schooled in the importance of looking after their bodies, but we tend to ignore psychological wounds, simply because we can’t see them. People will happily offer the ‘advice’ (especially here in the UK where we are still great believers in the ‘stiff upper lip’!) “Snap out of it!  It’s all in your head..” even though life is essentially a subjective experience in a unique self-created reality.  Imagine how daft it would seem to offer similar advice to someone who had broken their leg, “Walk it off… it is all in your leg!”

Failure, rejection and loneliness are all subjective judgments and states and they materially affect our quality of life, our health and our performance.  A little time listening to someone, taking them seriously, not trivialising their self judgements might be the best investment you can make as both a human being and a boss or co-worker.

9 signs of a really good company culture

March 2nd, 2015

This blog is adapted from Fairness is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace by Tim Stevens.

When I first heard the phrase “company culture” it was over 20 years ago, and I was working for a global  pharma corporation whose cultures mainly produced yeast!  Back then few people, including me, would have known what it meant.  I was told it was “The way things get done around here” and I still like that definition as it is based on what really happens not on the aspirational phrases used in the company values, it is realpolitik.

What you notice in your work place tells whether you have a healthy culture or not.

  1. People want to join you.  Not because you are paying more but because of who you are and your reputation.
  2. Similarly, you don’t lose many people other than for good reasons, like pregnancy, promotion, retirement etc.
  3. The leader isn’t defensive and protecting his/her power, rather  he/she encourages others to lead.
  4. Leadership comes from all levels in the team, not just those in positions of power
  5. The team feels good about what they do, and believe in and understand their ‘mission’
  6. People know and feel that they matter and they are smiling
  7. They are happy to speak their minds and unafraid of making mistakes.  A good team must make mistakes and learn from them.
  8. There is good communication, upwards, downwards and sideways, but gossip is not needed or tolerated
  9. Change is normal and not something to be feared.  It isn’t just driven from the top but evolutionary