Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Our received wisdom
It’s not uncommon to find groups developing their ground rules, norms or contract to help them in their work together. Here’s some assumptions about participation in groups that I have grown up with and importantly the resulting ground rules that we hold dear in our meetings.
Questionable assumption 1: Clarity of thinking can only be achieved by doing one thing at a time. Also called multi-tasking, the thing that us males are apparently not able to do. I agree this might apply to some but what about the new generation. I observe teenagers watching television whilst at the same time cruising the web, catching up on facebook, twittering , participating in multiple chats on skype and msn….all at the same time and seemingly able to keep track of everything in parallel. Maybe Winston Churchill was right we he said “We are only operating at a fraction of our capacity”.
The problem with Assumption 1 is that it drives ground rules in groups such as ‘Mobiles off’ and “No interruptions” and “E-mails at breaks”. An if a new generation is exposed to this straightjacket, is there not the risk that hyperactive brains that are used to doing many things at the same time will become occupied with other things that are not helpful to the team of organization. In fact recently I participated in a highly productive meeting, oozing with creativity and quality decision making with several team members in their 20’s and 30’s many of whom were adopting the ‘Blackberry Prayer’ position (head bent down, both hands together clutching the Blackberry responding to e-mails) but were still able to absorb all that was being said and to build on it too.
Questionable assumption 2 The Ideal state for learning is an energized state. This assumption triggers outbursts from frustrated presenters, facilitators and trainers when they see participants become chilled, relaxed and even closing their eyes. But this is exactly what I observe in our younger generation. One minute multi-tasking, holding 7 different conversations lasting no more than 140 characters in each exchange and then followed by a zombie like state, watching repeats of programmes like Friends that have been watched a thousand times.
The problem with this assumption is that individuals can be in an extremely resourceful state without exhibiting energy. A reflective, zen-like state is completely lacking in energy. Additionally, there is research to suggest that we are most creative when we have ‘Alph-Theta’ levels of brain activity, something that comes with deep relaxation.
Questionable assumption 3. People will only receive and act on feedback if it’s constructive. I am a huge fan of the philosophy of Appreciative Inquiry and Solutions Focus in finding out what works and doing more of it. Of giving feedback which is a combination of ‘What I like about you is….’ and ‘What would raise the bar is…’ It seems to be a lot less harsh the alternative of letting others know how bad they did.
But I notice a shift here too. Simon Cowell is universally disliked for the straightforward feedback her gives young hopefuls in the ‘X-factor’. But the effect he has is to shake people to their core and it seems that after some reflection, those on the receiving end value the directness of the feedback.
One of the best pieces of feedback I ever received was from a dear friend, Patrick Hare, who said to me once, “When are you going to stop ***** about and behaving like a real consultant. It was the wake-up I needed.
I’m also fascinated by the concept of ‘Curling Parenthood’. This is the notion that youngsters today are being ill-prepared for the life of uncertainty and change that awaits them because their parents have done all the problem solving for them. In the same way that a good curling team will expend much energy smoothing the ice in front of the stone to make sure it glides easily to it’s target.
The problem with this assumption is can create ‘Curling Teamwork’ where the bumps and knocks are avoided because they will be too uncomfortable. And even worse this lack of transparency, in my experience results in the feedback being shared in the corridor out of earshot of the person who needs it most.
Questionable assumption 4. People need to feel secure that they won’t get quoted before they can be truly transparent. We’ve seen the ground rules “What’s said here, stays here” or “What goes on tour, stays on tour”. I’ve experienced these to be helpful to groups I’ve worked with especially on sensitive subject. However, are the next generations demanding much greater levels of transparency? Is the growing disillusionment with governments and financial institutions today primarily driven by the complete lack of openness?
The problem with this assumption is that it encourages behaviours including lack of ownership and secrecy. And are we not exacerbating this trait by introducing the ground rules above into teams?
New Ground Rules
As we consider the different expectations, behaviours and attitudes of the next generations, is it not time for us to challenge the long established ground rules we have used in groups.
Instead of “Mobiles and blackberries off” how about “Do what you need to do for you to be alert on all front”
Instead of “Invest your energy, the more you put in the more you get out” how about “Chose the best state to be in for you and the group”.
Instead of “Give feedback as a gift” how about “Say it as it is because there is no such thing as failure, only feedback’
Instead of “What’s said here stays here, it’s confidential”, how about “We share everything that’s useful”
And hopefully we can begin to create a meeting environment that future generations will thrive in rather than dread.
Thursday, 27 August 2009
Over the last 6 months, I've come across training teams that have complained of: a reduced number of people signing up for internal courses, budgets being cut in training and a general lack of demand for the services they offer. And in most cases, I'm afraid to say, the typical response has been a resigned 'what do you expect in the current economy'.
Imagine taking that perspective if your livelihood depended on it. Surely it's time for training departments to start asking questions like:
- Despite the current market situation what would our customers literally fall over themselves to attend and get value from?
- What can we learn from great marketeers in how to present our offerings (rather than just dumping the training programme on the intranet and hope for the best)?
- How could we build a communications plan to support our training that functions like a marketing program? What would we do differently if we really came to terms with the fact that every email or communication that hits the participant prior to training affects how they walk into the room (or virtual classroom)
Tuesday, 31 March 2009
Friday, 13 March 2009
Monday, 2 March 2009
The Way to Change Someone’s Attitude Is To Change Their Behaviour (And the Harder You Try the More they’ll Resist!)
In 1957, Leon Festinger published a ground breaking theory which changed the way psychologists thought about decision making and behaviour, and has also more recently given change professionals much to think about too.
The theory is called ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ and works like this. The Brain has the capacity to hold millions of ‘Cognitions’ or thoughts such as ‘I’m frustrated in my job’ and ‘Manchester United are playing at home tonight’. Most of the time these cognitions have little to do with each other (like my job and United). However, some cognitions are related, for example ‘my boss doesn’t care’ and ‘I’m frustrated in my job’. These cognitions are related and one follows on from the other…they go together or are known as ‘consonant’.
However, we sometimes have cognitions that are related but do not follow on from one another – in fact they may be complete opposites, for instance ‘my boss cares about my personal development and growth’ and ‘I’m frustrated in my job’. The cognitions are referred to as ‘Dissonant’.
Here’s the really interesting part…Festinger’s theories demonstrated that people do not like dissonant cognitions…so much so that we will go to extraordinary lengths to eliminate it. For example I could eliminate the dissonance in the example above by rationalising that my boss in only going through the motions, or that my boss doesn’t really have that much flexibility to change my job.
The principle here being that ‘the way to change someone’s attitude is to change their behaviour’
Consider a person in an organisation who is one of the most cynical people you can imagine. Involving them in an improvement team may result in a response of ‘it’s just a fad…it will disappear like all the other initiatives” (holding this belief will reduce the dissonance for this person).
Invite them again and show them the follow through of actions from previous sessions and the response will shift to ‘I’ll wait and see if this will work’. It’s a small shift in attitude but its movement nevertheless.
Further involvement and tangible results will see yet further attitude change…we’ve experienced the transformation of literally hundreds of so called ‘doubters’ into change champion through this approach.
"What small changes in behaviour could you bring about that would create a gradual shift in attitude, and what could you do as a follow-up that would change it yet further" are useful questions to reflect on as a leader or facilitator of change.
Sunday, 1 March 2009
Saturday, 28 February 2009
Can you remember this old campfire song that describes the conundrum faced by Henry who asks for some problem solving advice from his partner, Liza? Unfortunately for Henry, part of the solution requires the provision of water which can’t be carried because, you’ve guessed it, there’s a hole in his bucket! In fact this circular rhyme can go on endlessly without the problem ever being fixed.
I noticed this paradox in an improvement project being tackled in one organisation and named it the ‘Bucket Paradox’ for obvious reasons!!
The team had taken part in a high energy away day with many others in the company – a two day problem solving event involving thirty or so people. Three months after the event, the teams reviewed progress in an 'after action review' and it became apparent that some teams had made real progress but two had become stuck. They explored the reasons why and found that the two unsuccessful teams were made up of individuals based at different locations and therefore required good communication processes between each other to continue working towards their goal. The subject that the teams had decided to tackle was that ‘We fail to communicate effectively with each other between sites’! So the problem they were trying to solve needed to be fixed before they could tackle it…the ‘Bucket Paradox’!
So here's a piece of advice...if the existence of the problem your tackling prevents you from tackling it in the first place...then there could be a hole in your bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza!
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of being coached by Knowledge Management gurus, CIBIT, from Utrecht University. One of the lasting memories I have of an exceptional programme was a session that introduced a simple yet hugely powerful model of change.
Unfortunately for me, they described it using their native tongue and so I couldn’t possibly repeat it -‘Moeten, Willen, and Vermogen’. Translated however, it means ‘to need to’, ‘to want to’ and ‘to be able to’.
The model is simple and goes like this: If you want lasting change to take place, then you need to make sure that all three elements have been addressed in the minds of those who will be involved in the change. If you leave one element out, then you may hit difficulties. Enabling change in individuals requires a sense of importance (I need to do this), a real desire (I want to do this) and the capabilities and skills to make it happen (I can do it).
Imagine for example, an organisation that is struggling to get people in the organisations to share knowledge. A typical response is to invest heavily in software solutions such as intranet portals, discussion forums, blogging etc. This is all well and good if the ‘can do’ or ‘Vermogen’ element is the area that needs to be addressed.
All too often however, development is appropriate in all three areas. So in this example, developing a sense of the importance and value in sharing collective knowledge to form wisdom (need to) and getting people excited and enthused about doing it by seeing the value to themselves for example (want to) might be the area that will bring huge shifts in behaviour.
So here's some questions to reflect on if your looking to bring about successful change. What changes are you making in your team, organisation or even you life? Where have you put most of your focus so far, the need to, want to or can do? Which one do you need to pay attention to to make the three more balanced?
Sunday, 22 February 2009
How do you reduce problems like absence and staff turnover whilst at the same time improve customer service? How do you do this in an organisation that has been the same for some time? It's a question that many CEO's and HR professionals have been wrestling with for some time. Usually the answer is more leadership training or some more policies and procedures. But don’t these miss the point? How many leadership programmes result in manuals gathering dust on the shelf with, at best, those that attended the programme saying “Oh yes I remember, it was really good...can't remember exactly what we covered though it was so long ago”. And how many policies and procedures end up lost in the HR manual not really making much difference to the everyday lives of those at work.
A simple yet radical approach to addressing these challenges is being pioneered in Sweden, delivering amazing results in Sweden’s rail company, SJ. Called ‘Employeeship’ (or Medarbetarskap in Swedish), the concept literally turns ‘upside down’ traditional thinking about how organisations work. Employeeship is a process where the traditional thinking around leadership and subordination is abandoned. The traditional model is replaced by a mindset of partnership, a relationship where both managers and employees take ownership over their work situation. The main objective is to achieve a working environment that stimulates involvement among employees and managers. This creates a workplace where employees feel valued and important. Managers develop their skills in facilitating, involving, revealing and learn to make better use of their employees’ knowledge, ideas and initiative.
When people meet in an atmosphere of mutual trust their loyalty increases and they become more motivated to invest their effort on the job. A further consequence of this approach is that individuals become more grounded – a concept that is demonstrated powerfully using the ‘Weeble’ as a metaphor.
“Weebles Wobble But They Don't Fall Down” is a well-known song that many of the older generation grew up with. The Weeble being a small doll that never fell over because it had weight at its base. If we think of this as a metaphor for employees that are constantly challenged with customer demands, tight deadlines and the ever-increasing rate of change, it's vital that we think of ways of giving weight, or grounding. Grounded people take responsibility and are able to manage, come what may. Leadership development programmes and policies and procedures are simply scaffolding that keep the employee upright...the moment they're gone, the Weeble falls over.
The insight that organisations that embark on this approach uncover is that the characteristics we wish for and value in leaders is identical to co-workers and colleagues. In essence, focussing on Leadership as the skill to be developed misses the point. We all want to work with people that are open, honest, that take responsibility and are trustworthy. The feeling of being a part of things is important; it is a prerequisite for grounded people who enjoy their work.
So how is Employeeship developed?
Sounds common sense so far you could be thinking and paradoxically this is both simple and NOT easy. The key to this approach is for teams to be able to have transparent conversations with their 'leader' regarding things we just don't talk about often. Tricky subjects like
- What is loyalty?
- The meaning of work
- How it fits in with our lives
- Relationships between us in the team
- Responsibility, accountability and taking initiative
- The service we offer others
This takes a great deal of sensitivity, listening and courage from the 'leader' of the group but the results are breathtaking. The key to SJ’s success has been the commitment of the senior team to create time for teams to hold these conversations. Of course the level of take up has been variable but those areas that have embraced it fully have experienced a vast turnaround in measurable performance. In fact SJ recently announced that it’s absence levels have dropped by 25%, bucking the trend in Sweden overall.
The key to Employeeship is that it cannot be considered as a one-off, something that is ‘done’ for 12 months and then replaced by something else. SJ is already asking itself ‘How can we refresh, enhance and sustain what we have already developed’….how many organisations would fall into the trap of asking ‘So what next?’.
At Lorensbergs, we've been helping a number of clients with this powerful approach, so watch this space for tips, learning, pitfalls and results that we experience on the way.
Friday, 20 February 2009
So here goes....a first dabble in blogging.