Personal productivity Category

Making the hard stuff easy?

Improvement, Personal productivity, Teams No Comments

You have probably come across the business adage, “the soft stuff is the hard stuff”. Like a number of famous quotes, is not quite clear to me who first coined the term – there is quite a lot on it online. But was it Covery? Enrico? Anyhow…

When thinking about organisations I like the distinction between structure, process and behaviour.

In one meeting last week I was challenged: “so, are you an organisational behaviourist?” Normally, I prefer to use Edgar Schein’s language and see myself as a ‘helper’ – and not even an OD specialist or Change Manager, which LinkedIn endorsements tend to say I am. So, I wasn’t sure I wanted the Organisation Behaviourist tag. But I guess I am the OB title. I see behaviour as key for it provides the physiology of organisational life – ways of working that can make any ‘anatomy’ work, or not. If I ask people to think of a leader they admire or a team that is performing well, and then write what it is about them down that impresses them, it is clear that the vast majority of the positive attributes are attitudes not technical skills, behaviour not knowledge.

There are some notable approaches to orchestrating behaviour shifts through ‘nudges’. Also, there is lots of training offered to change behaviour – from ‘difficult conversations’ to ‘line management’ to ‘team working’.

For me, the most significant improvements in organisation come from a disciplined focus on behavioural improvements around R and E in FRE – that is ‘responsibility’ and ‘example’. But I know from my work that the ongoing curiosity and empathy that is needed for this sort of sustained shift isn’t easy to generate and maintain.

A recent HBR study shows that even the most thoughtful training approaches bring about minimum behavioural changes long term, in the absence of a shift in the example of senior leaders. This makes sense – at least it confirms the finding from my decade-old research about getting values into practice, see this.

So these ‘soft’ shifts are hard. That is clear.

On a recent trip to Australia I saw a new way of promoting a long lasting shift in the culture of organisations in action. I saw it at work in settings as diverse as a bank, a commonwealth department and in a food manufacturing plant. The ‘Blue Bus’ approach started out in steel manufacturing and mining. It is spreading. It is a sticky idea. There is a pull. It seems to be passing the Chili Test. It makes the distinction between ‘hardware’ and ‘software. Between the ‘spaces’ leaders regularly ‘play’ like strategy, tools and systems and the area that is really needed for individual, team and organisational performance: mind-set, values and behaviour.

If you are in Asia or the Pacific (or even Australia!) and want to find out more, do let me know – I can make an e-intro. As there is deliberately almost nothing about it online. And, looking ahead, the guys (in a gender neutral sense) will be over in Europe in 2017.

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Big on Burnout?

Personal productivity No Comments

In the last week I have spoken with a few people who have felt a bit close to ‘burnout’. This has been clear in conversation and as indicated by this tool, developed with my colleague Steve in Australia.

You probably have met someone who has become burnout through their work, or maybe exhausted from some of their voluntary roles and obligations.

You will know it is a tough place to reach – and getting back from that point can take a while.

As this 4 step model illustrates burnout can be the ‘natural’ result from a stress response to pressure.

So, if ‘prevention is better than cure’, what are the options?

1) avoiding pressure might be useful – for example if you are hugely overburdened and are only coping by sleeping less, ‘running faster’ and cutting corners. Here you are looking to change your context. Maybe changing your job or negotiating some different obligations at work and home. This may be a temporary thing after a period of grief, for example

2) however for many of us pressure is inevitable (and to a degree desirable), so how to cope with the resulting stress becomes the key place to focus. Here you are looking to change your response – for example with exercise, meditation, reflection, coaching (or supervision or counselling), hobbies. This self assessment might be of use in thinking about your personality and how you respond. As this classic – and old – 1983 advert illustrates, some people have sources of personal energy that will keep them going longer than others. “Know Thyself” is key. Which sort of ‘bunny’ are you?

3) one self-preserving and common response to stress amongst staff in many organisations – especially those with an (?initially) attractive noble purpose – is cynicism: to management, to colleagues, and even to the end user such as patients or clients. However, this response can make the work and working environment more wearing and stressful for colleagues (and often to the cynic too). So cynicism isn’t sustainable for an institution long term, nor probably to the individual themselves either – as cynicism can be associated with over-eating, drinking too much, misery etc leading to ill health.

4) Once burnout is reached the key actions are acknowledgment, seeking help – and being kind to yourself and stepping back from the patterns that created the situation. Please let me know if you would like more information on this.

Being a bit self-focused maybe…
Be Ambitious in your plans.
Be Insightful about your capacity.
Be Kind to yourself (and others).


Perspective management self assessment

Improvement, Personal productivity No Comments

Further to the recent blog series on ‘perspective management’, please see my simple 4 question self-assessment here:

So, are you…?


A passion for perspective?

Personal productivity No Comments

In the early 1980s after a glittering career in Royal Dutch Shell, Pierre Wack wrote a book that reflected on the scenario planning method that has made that company famous in business schools (and possibly so wealthy too). The book had a catchy title “Scenarios: The gentle art of re-perceiving”. I have written before on scenarios, which in all their forms are still a core part of my team coaching method. However, here I would like to focus on ‘gentle re-perceiving’.

Seeing things differently is actually pretty hard to achieve. Finding ways to challenge ourselves is difficult. Being challenged can feel threatening. Doing it ‘gently’ is very hard.

I know this.

I struggle to see other people viewpoint, yet I know it is at the heart of the important most important challenge in all businesses.

I think I am drawn to write, teach and facilitate about perspectives, as I know it is something I need to learn (and re learn) in each assignment and each day. As I help others hopefully I can learn to disappointment myself a little bit less on this!

So the idea of the importantance of perspectives is easy to understand: we know we see things differently to the person next to us and our different perspectives are at the heart of the problem (and the breakthroughs!) in strategy, change and team working.

And yet making this easy insight a practical part of each day is pretty hard.

Given that, what are some of the ways to gently discipline our minds (mind-sets) to make this important application all a bit easier? Finding ‘easy’ ways to do this sort of work safely matters, it really does.

1) Individually: get into the habit of asking ‘what am I missing’. Developing the discipline to try and see other points of view – what would they say, what might they be thinking? This is especially useful in a negotiation or a tense situation.

One way to practice this is through the lens of the news. I know that whenever a story I know something about is on TV or in the papers then pretty much every time the way it is presented and portrayed in the media is not quite right, sometimes in ways that are radically different to what I believe is going on. I remember one Panorama programme in the mid 1990s that I felt completely misrepresented the motivation of the managers it featured. When you read the news, think about what you might not be seeing. Why not seek out sources (papers, programmes, web pages) that you might not agree with or usually read.

Another way is through seeking feedback: with a deep curiosity to find out what you are not seeing, maybe through a 360 survey, a feedback circle or individual coaching. All are about trying to illuminate your personal blind spots – getting the top right pane of the Johari Window open a little bit.
2) In your teams: Try out some new rituals in how you meet. As well as adding in some shorter meetings (standing meetings to catch up, yes/no decision meetings) try some that slow the pace and step back from the busyness of business (and maybe the dazzle and ‘snow blindness’ of success) to explore knotty issues and what you are not seeing – possibly through the deep think process and other methods. Maybe commission some training and support from a team coach.

In your project teams and work take time to prototype, experiment and test – using PDSA and other continuous improvement and change methods.
There are lots of methods you can try in your meetings, workshops and events. Pausing regularly to ask “what are we seeing differently” is an important ritual and habit. We arrive at a session seeing things differently to other people. We leave seeing things differently to how we personally did when we arrived. Re-perceived. Hopefully.

3) In your leadership of your organisations: model inquiry, stepping back from harsh judgements and cynicism of others. This is hard work when others are wanting you to jump in, criticise and be certain. A spirit of certainty replaced by good grace and humility, based on a firm fairness. Gently. Hard work!

This sort of work is all about increasing your bandwidth, boosting your capacity. One ways many of us try to manage work pressure and stress to be certain. However, having fixed views can cause stress escalation, even to the point of cynicism and burnout. Why? Because we find ourselves in conflict with others, the world and even our own insights!

These sort of disciplines (looking for the other side, seeking the blind spot, pausing the pace to examine, taking time to notice re-perception) are all about finding ways to work, without opting for premature certainty. Finding ways to manage stressful situations other than needing to be certain. Being gentle, after all.

They are especially important when you are
– starting out with an enterprise, from a new project or new job to planning an important meeting
– stuck in conflict
– facing a major barrier in your work
– anticipating an important negotiation or even helping with mediation.

Thanks for reading this far. You get the role and importance of perspectives. Now a key question. ‘Are you bothered’? Do you want to take it on? Do you have a passion for finding and exploring different perceptions? To change your viewpoint? To step out of the herd and their assumptions in your organisation? Do you want to take time to practice? To get disciplined? For form new habits? With a your team? On your own?

All the best in leading re-perceiving. In taking time to practice challenging your own (and other peoples) thinking, mind set and action. Hard work. Important work.


The mosquito and the meeting

Checklists, Personal productivity No Comments

The night before the start of an important 3 day meeting.

At 2am.

A mosquito arrives.

Buzzing my ears.

I tried some things suggested by colleagues (catching it with the light off, looking for it with the light on, putting a light on in another room to attract it…). None of them seemed to work – but maybe there was more than one mozzie! The next night I would be fine – with an anti-mosquito machine to plug in and infuse the room with smelly vapour.

But on this night…? Before a crucial meeting? An event was already on my mind…

I decided to ignore it – and even sort of welcome it and the warm night it was part of. I drifted back to sleep – a buzzy, dozy sort of sleep.

The lesson? When we have a problem, do pool the ideas for solving it. Meetings can help that.

But sometimes we have to draw a line and move on. A meeting might work but groups of people can get stuck and demotivate individual action and movement, if not very carefully handled.

Caution: meeting, handle with care.


A recent blog about formal meetings from Roy Lilley.

And a tweet of one way of thinking about meetings.


And a method for getting to sleep from my psychologist colleague Steve Bagi:

Work through this when you have finished all you need to do. It is an exercise which helps to clear the thought congestion of so many things in our minds.

While in bed in the dark…

1…identify three-four things that you can hear e.g fan, clock

2…identify three-four things that you can see e.g. some street light, shadow

3…identify three-four things that you can physically feel e.g blanket on me, pillow

Then ask yourself the question “what do I want to do now” with the answer “I want to go to sleep”.

This should clear some of the congestion.  Repeat as many times as needed.

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Facilitating value?

Facillitation, Personal productivity No Comments

Last weekend I visited a family member in her new flat. She had bought a flatpack chest of draws – and my job before lunch was to assemble it. I was a bit apprehensive recalling a recent experience with a different brand of self-assembly and struggling with flatpack products in the past!

However, it went well:

1) My 90 minutes of time added value to the box of bits, and the life of my family memeber. The deal with IKEA is clear: we will sell you a cheap product and your time will make it into something that would otherwise have cost far more.
2) I was impressed by the simplicity of the instructions and how it did what it said – the design and supply of bits was spot on.
3) I had taken an electric screw driver – that tool helped hugely.

And the analogy to facilitation…?  When working with a group:
a) We need to add value to what they are doing. Facilitation is about making things easy (or easier). Helping a group get further and faster with their task and relationships than they could on their own. And to complete our FFFF of facilitation, doing that in ways that are both fun as well as focused.
b) We need to think about the way we structure and explain sessions – so they are in some ways fresh (another F) and helpful: sharing what we are planning to do in ways that earn confidence without confusion.
c) We need to be aware of the key personal skills and knowledge we might need: from a new creativity technique or a bit of digital kit or an in depth understanding of group dynamics, for example.

Build well!


Graduation speeches…so what?

Improvement, Personal productivity No Comments

I enjoyed this talk by Tim Minchin earlier this week.

It reminded me of this aspirational graduation speech by Don Berwick last year to a bunch of medics in the US.

And this one by JK Rowling a few years ago, on the benefits of failure.

At one of my daughters graduation ceremonies last year David Downton summed up many of these sentiments quite pithily – arguing for the use of the Andy Warhol mantra of “So what” when things don’t go right.

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Delegation demonstration

Personal productivity No Comments

As part of our conversations about ‘responsible autonomy’ and team working the topic of delegation often comes up. Will others we work with pick up the baton when we make a request? Who can you trust? How to line manage well is a key managerial skill.

So in our new podcast, at the second link here, we share our practical way of thinking about this challenging topic – with a nice illustration (and a bit of alliteration!).

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Coaching again

Personal productivity No Comments

Hope you enjoyed our latest Business Briefing on coaching.

This framework shows how coaching is one of a range of learning/development tools.

If you are not sure coaching is right for you (or you are worried about finding the funding for a professional service), do check you have thought about mentoring or even co-coaching/buddying (where you take it in turns to help each other, and where you develop your own coaching and coaching/leadership skills).


A brand is…

Measurement, Personal productivity No Comments

A brand is (at its core)…a promise. What is it you or your product commit to doing for, or adding to, someone’s life?

We like this actual stated ‘promise’ on the contact card for our local noodle bar:

“ to serve great tasting noodles, in generous portions, using high quality ingredients and outstandingly fresh produce, giving our customers outstanding value for money each and every time.”

And like the way the manager responds to even critical reviews…all part of the promise…

Makes me want to go back soon.

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