Tuesday, 10 November 2009

New Ground Rules for a New Generation

I suppose it comes with age but I’m noticing some huge differences emerging in the attitudes and behaviours of young adults that are making me fundamentally rethink the way in which we establish ground rules with groups. It’s only a question of time before today’s teenagers are participating in meetings and problem solving groups..and here’s my fear. If we impose the ground rules that we (older ones) have grown up with, we run the risk of imposing a straight jacket on the thinking potential of the future.

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

Is it me, or have organisation's learning and development folk lost the plot?

OK, I realise there's tough time in the economy and organisations have made tough choices about what to cut back. And it's not surprising that those in training and development are feeling the pinch but what I'm missing is the fight back, the spine and courage from those teams to make a stand for what they believe in.

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)
Isn't it time for training and development folk to wake up? You bet...and what better time as the economy starts to cough and splutter into the better times.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Resistance to change....ain't no such thing!

One of the most frequent questions that seems to crop up when we're working with leaders and facilitators is: 'What can I do to overcome resistance to change?'

Try doing a search on the internet or browse the bookshelves for help in this area and you will be confronted by dozens of models describing the emotional roller-coaster that change creates along with strategies for overcoming 'resistance' to it.

But how's this for a first response to the question of resistance to change....the isn't any such thing. Think about it for a moment. You would be the first to admit that in the past you have been slow on the uptake, need to be convinced or even prefer other choices when it comes to change but you would hardly describe yourself as 'resistant'. The first problem with this line of thinking is that it somehow categorises all these thoughts about change as wrong.

The second challenge to the notion of 'resistance to change' is that both words are nominalisations i'e' they are both nouns that have been converted from the verbs 'resist' and 'change' and therefore don't exist. All you're left with is behaviour which may be helping or hindering your team or organisation.

So here's what you could do:

1) Dont' make a big thing of it. The more you involve the people concerned, the less of an issue this will become.

And for those who would rather take more of an active approach...

2) Confront it - covertly. Use a 'force field analysis' with the group or individual who seem to be 'resisting' - and get them to come up with resistance to change as a hindering factor. Have them brainstorm strategies for influencing those other people (not them of course!) to move past, get over or work around this. And miraculously they might become "us" rather than "them".

3) Confront it - overtly. Be the honest broker and use the "I'm noticing that...." type intervention. Use a process for getting their real fears out on the table - anonymously if necessary (e.g. they can use post-its or write concerns on cards which others read out and then discuss how to address these). It's important to remember that unhelpful behaviours can have a number of underlying causes such as lack of trust, concerns about the consequences, fear of failure or are even simply defence mechanisms caused by stress.

4) Translate it. It may be that they don't yet have a compelling enough vision of what it's going to be like in the future. What would help is doing more work on helping them translate the vision or desired future into real things that have meaning for them and have them create a list of 'What's In It For Me'. If the future looks really, really positive, we can tolerate some things that we don't like about the journey there.

...resistance to change....there ain't no such thing!

Trevor Durnford

Friday, 13 March 2009

5 Tips On Facilitating Through Video Conferencing Technology

I had the pleasure of facilitating my first focus group using video conferencing this week. The client is a global pharmaceuticals company and whilst I was based in the UK, the participants were sitting together in the USA. Here's some lessons that I'll remind myself of for next time:

Talking to yourself is not a sign of madness you know!
It was important for me to feel what it was like talking to a TV with no/one else in the room because, in effect, that's what I was going to be doing for duration of the 2 hour session. Spending time doing this before the participants arrived was invaluable - even though the person that walked in whilst I was practicing thought I was completely mad!

Getting Rapport is Key
As it's so difficult to 'connect' with the participants without the fact to face contact, then I had to make an extra effort in other ways. I had met the participants before but it was a long time ago and I had completely forgotten their names. Fortunately I had photographs of the last time we met and I asked someone who knew everyone to remind me of each of the participants. It weas invaluable when we did the intros at the beginning.

Zoom in and Zoom Out
One of the great things about videoconferencing technology is that on the system I was using the camera could scan the room and zoom too. This was brilliant for setting up parts of the room whilst the participants were focusing on what I had written on the flipchart. Simply zoom in and then do other stuff out of camera range...simple. If only we could do it in the face to face sessions!

Is there anybody there!
One of the funniest moments in the session was the sudden appearance of one of the participants from 'right stage'. I had been holding back the beginning of the session until everyone was present. Unknown to me, everyone was actually in the room, but one of them was hiding in glorious solitude out of the camera's eye. Lesson next time.....ask someone to arrange the chairs before participants arrive so that everyone is in shot.

Prepare the room....even when it's 3000 miles away
I had my room prepared - flipcharts, pens, blu-tak, participant list, outcomes etc, etc, and am I glad that one of the participants took it upon themselves to do the same at the other end. Next time I'll go one step further by arranging grapes, nuts, music, posters, pens, large post-its and a whole host of other table dressings to make the participants feel that every effort has been made to create a positive learning environment - 3000 miles apart.

If you have any ideas, experiences that can help facilitators bring their session to life over videoconferencing technology, your ideas would be very welcome.



Monday, 2 March 2009

How To Change Attitudes

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

Employeeship - The Top 8 Mistakes

Enhancing the way in which people interact in an organisation sounds simple but it's not easy. 

Employeeship (or 'Medarbetarskap' as it's known is Sweden) has taken taken organisations by storm but doing it properly eludes many. The concept is simple. Natural teams come together to discuss subjects that we don't tend to discuss at the workplace: what is loyalty, self awareness, work and life goals, openness and transparency, work fulfillment and pride to name but a few. When it's done properly, the result are astounding with reduced stress and absence, improved customer service and profitability and, most importantly the growth of grounded people.

From experience though, there's a few traps lurking that can hinder progress, here's our experience.

1) Too much fear and cynicism. We wouldn't suggest that anywhere that struggles with cynicism starts with Employeeship....it will feel too much like hard work. The foundations require that people are at least able to reflect on how they are being and are able to articulate it. Cynicism would suggest something in the line of Leadership development would be a best first step.

2) Leadership seeing it as something for others to embrace. Often the most powerful intervention is simply to encourage employeeship conversations amongst the leadership community in an organisation. Imagine if your 'top team' were grounded individuals who were transparent people taking responsibility and accountability and who were open to feedback too! Those that expect it to start 'elsewhere' are missing the point.

3) Seeing it as a quick fix. This isn't about developing a flipchart full of actions or a milestone plan of tactics that the team are going to take. This is about reflecting on who we are as individuals who are choosing to work together as a team, changing the way in which we reflect and communicate with each other. This kind of change is self-organising and unpredictable AND very powerful too. Beware the CFO who is demanding a ROI in the first 6 months, rather celebrate a CEO that wabts to bring about lasting, transformational change.

4) Not listening first. We have always started with some focus group work to explore what's really going on in the organisation. This is critical in deciding what is the priority and sequence in the first dialogues. It's also useful to get advice from a cross section of people what seems to work in the way change is embraced. The key is to find out what works and do more of it.

5) Involving managers from different departments in the first workshops. This process of change requires critical mass. In the words of the complex systems change folks, it requires small 'containers'. Getting a large cross section together will dilute the energy afterwards. Go small but concentrated would be our advice.

6) Not developing effective facilitation skills. The word facilitation comes from the Latin root 'facile' or 'facere' which literally means to make it easy. Well trained facilitators are adept at asking high quality questions that probe the thoughts of a group and take the conversation to new depths...Empoyeeship is not trivial or superficial so this skill is key.

7) Reading from the script. A build on number 6 above is the extent to which the facilitator uses the Employeeship dialogues as a support or a script. The latter produces dialogues in the team that are much like working through checklists. However using the dialogues as a framework can allow the conversation to flourish

8) Not having the logistics sorted out. This requires that every natural team sets aside a 3 hour face to face meeting once every 4 - 6 weeks apart over a 6 -12 month period. With cross functional and global teams this can be challenging but it needs planning and committing too at the outset. There's nothing more damaging than a deteriorating level of participation as the process is underway.

With the increasing take-up of Employeeship as organisations are experiencing trauma, we expect to determine much more learning...and we're also very keen to hear from those who are participating in this type of change too so your comments are more than welcome.


Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Bucket Paradox - Attempting to Solve the Unsolvable

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!

3 Ingredients of Success - Dutch Style

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

Employeeship - A Revolution Waiting to Happen

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

Let the blogging begin!

So here goes....a first dabble in blogging.

The trigger comes from having designed a marketing workshop for a client, an organisation that is in the IT sector and looking at ways of sustaining its success, even through the tough times.

A huge insight came to our thinking about the design when we reflected that much of the normal stuff of marketing topics (marketing planning, SWOT, Boston matrix, etc. etc.) might not be exactly top of peoples list right now. What might be of more interest and value is focusing on marketing that is really close to the point of purchase.

The beauty of blogging seems to be that it's a two way communication, not one where seller interrupts potential buyer with advertising but more about potential customers linking up with those who add the value they need. 

And for me, I'm hoping it's a way of connecting with those who have a real interest in helping organisations change with the full engagement of their people - something I'm passionate about. So stay connected to exchange more about employeeship, facilitation, change, team-building and other insights around change that we at Lorensbergs are learning from the field.