Monday, December 28, 2009

What Really Matters! Volume 1, No 2, 2009 ebook

This ebook is all about Personal and Professional Development. It has been derived from articles published on The Organisations That Matter Learning Network from July 1st to September 30th 2009.

This ebook is the second in a series of three for 2009.

Download the ebook here

Feedback and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Really Matters! Volume 1, No 1, 2009 ebook

This ebook is all about Personal and Professional Development. It has been derived from articles published on The Organisations That Matter Learning Network up until June 30th 2009.

This ebook is the first in a series of three for 2009.

Download the ebook here

Feedback and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Matters Now - Free ebook by Seth Godin

In less than three hours after it was released in the USA this ebook has been made available to members of The Organisations That Matter Learning Network. Seth Godin is one of the world's marketing Guru's. No wonder when he is able to attract the calibre of people like Tom Peters to contribute to a free book! Enjoy!



Sunday, December 13, 2009

How to show respect when in the role of a manager

Recently a participant in a leadership development program for managers asked, "I've discovered that 'respect' is a core value of mine. What are some practical ways that I can ensure that this value is present in the way that I behave as a manager?".

The following is the list of suggestions that emerged from the conversation that was conducted with this participant and another four people at their table. It is important to note that the following behaviours can be conducted irrespective of the culture that exists within the organisation.

  • Take the time to get to know each member of your team individually. This means that you would know the names of their partner, their children (if they have any). You would remember their hobbies and passions and genuinely inquire about how they are going with those pursuits. If you had a poor memory you would create a structure to ensure that you could remember these things. An example of such a structure is creating notes for each of the members in your team.
  • You would have a clear understanding of the career path that each of your team members is travelling and raise their awareness of any opportunities that would enhance their development in that direction.
  • You would let people do their jobs and trust them with appropriate authority for their roles. As much as possible you would stay out of their way but you would be explicit with them about why you would do that.
  • When bad information about your company was required to be shared with your team, you would share it. You would not ‘sugar coat’ the news.
  • You would provide performance feedback to your team members and make it as easy as possible for them to provide you with feedback. You would not ‘sugar coat’ feedback.
  • You would be proactive about ensuring that the remuneration of your team members was ‘fair’ in the context of your organisation and industry. This means that if you discovered that someone’s package was not ‘fair’, you would do whatever your system would allow you to do to rectify that situation.
  • You would recognise and reward your team members for their contributions.
  • You would be proactive with letting your team members know about opportunities that might take them out of your team if your view was that the opportunity aligned with their career aspirations as you understood them.

This list of examples is just a start. Once again it is important to note that these behaviours can be adopted irrespective of the overall culture within the organisation.

What are your examples of how, as a formal leader you have practiced the value of ‘respect’ in your role? How have you catalysed Conversations That Matter®? Or, if you would like more information about how to practice the examples provided above, please let me know.

Again, please add your comments to this article as I would like to learn from your experiences in putting the value of 'respect' into action.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Discover Three Steps To Bring Your Organisation's Values Alive Through Storytelling

Organisational values are too often left to gather dust on office walls. If you are a leader and your organisation has values, how regularly do you bring those values alive in conversations with your team members? The usual response is, "Not very often." Yet when we ask leaders if they believe in their organisation's values they reply with a resounding, "Yes!".

So what is the problem? Why is it that so many leaders struggle to host conversations with their team members about their organisation's values?

The answer often lies in two issues. Firstly leaders simply forget to take responsibility for keeping their organisational values alive by talking about them with their team members. Such behaviour is simply not on their radar.

Secondly, many leaders aren't taught how to tell effective stories. It is assumed that leaders know how to tell stories. In part this is true. People DO know how to tell stories. However, telling effective stories is different. Telling effective stories requires some structure.

Thankfully most storytelling structures are quite simple. Here's one that most of you will remember from your childhood. The structure was effective then, and it is still effective now.

Step 1 - Start the story.
This usually involves setting the scene and context of the story. For stories regarding the organisations values you would explain a situation and set the scene that you are going to explain how the organisation’s values can be used in real situations.

Step 2 - Explain the middle section of the story
This usually involves the details about what happened and who did what. It is where the rationale behind how the values were used would be explained.

Step 3 - Finish the story
This section provide the "So what!" part of the story. What was the result? In this case, what was the impact of using the organisation's values to guide decision making and actions.

These three steps effectively catalyse Conversations That Matter®.

An example

When I was on the executive team of a medium sized business some legislation was passed that affected $14million of our revenue. In 12 months time it would be gone. This revenue directly paid the salaries of over 200 people.

Having already performed some scenario planning on this outcome, the executive team met to confirm what would be done for the staff to ensure that the values of integrity, teamwork, service and community were upheld throughout a difficult period. A decision was made to use the organisation’s training and development budget to up skill the staff in resume writing, interview skills and outplacement programs to ensure that as many staff as possible could find new jobs.

All staff who wished to access the support were provided with the training and outplacement support that they required. While it was a difficult period for everyone involved staff consistently reported that while they wished that the situation had not occurred, they were delighted with the support that the organisation had provided them throughout their transition. The vast majority of staff found new jobs and opportunities that fitted with their career aspirations.

A significant benefit of storytelling is that it helps people to makes sense of situations. After you have told a story it is worth asking people if the story has triggered any similar examples that also might show the organisation’s values in use. When listening to their stories listen for the start, middle and end. Not everyone tells stories correctly so they might miss out some important parts of the story. If you are listening you can help them out. For example, if someone shares a story but leaves out the end, ask, "What happened? What difference did your actions make?". You'll be amazed at the difference asking such questions can make to the quality of your team members storytelling.

Using this technique can create highly engaged and flowing workplace conversations. Without even knowing it your team members will start to deepen their understanding of what your organisation's values really mean in action. So, set aside 15 minutes once a month in your team meetings and see if you can bring your organisation’s values alive through storytelling. Follow the simple start, middle and end structure and you'll be surprised just how effective it can be. Please leave a comment or let me know how you go using the three steps for organisational storytelling.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Learn How Structures Support Development - an example from karate

One of our close friends had invited our family to watch their 10 year old son Joshua complete his grading for his Black Belt in karate. Having been training in karate since he was six years old this was a 'Big Occasion' for him.

A crowd of over 200 people had assembled in the local karate club's hall to support children from the age of nine through to 14 complete the requirements for their various Black Belt or First Dan assessments. The formworks and kata were performed to perfection to the delight of everyone. This was followed by various fighting stick assessments, jumping and tumbling kicks & strikes, a nun-chuka formwork and finally wood breaking strikes. Considering the ages of the children their performances were very, very impressive!

Finally, six of the boys and girls who were also being assessed for a special leadership award (which is specific to this club) took it in turns to perform a speech about leadership. As each child gave their speech on their own in the middle of the gymnasium floor, no notes in hand, a structure for their speeches became apparent. The structure was:
1) Introduce yourself and your age
2) Identify your favourite karate activity
3) Name a high profile leader of your choice
4) Provide a 'key-point' history of your leader
5) Share a quote created by the leader
6) Explain how the quote relates to your own personal circumstances
7) Thank your parents for their support
8) Thank the audience

While I had been highly impressed by the various karate demonstrations, I was astounded by the performances of these six children. It was clear that they all had different personalities yet each of them was able to stand up in front of a crowd of predominantly adults and provide their speeches. One of the children spoke about Ghandi and provided great detail as he shared an accurate account (including dates) of Ghandi's life. This boy was nine years old!

It was also interesting to watch each of the children stumble at some point in their speeches. When this happened, each of them drew a long slow breath, gathered their thoughts and then continued with their speech. Imagine the pressure that could have been mounting and the ‘self-talk’ that could have been going on in their heads. Yet they remained focussed and completed the task at hand. It seemed to me that the children had been well taught with regard to the structure that they should follow in providing their speeches, including what to do when they lost their train of thought. It really was a delight to watch.

To me the high level of performance that the children were able to achieve was due to a clear structure that they had been provided in preparing for their speeches. No doubt each of the children had also practiced and practiced this structure, much like they had practiced their kata and formworks. Imagine the confidence that these children will have in their lives going forward. Many adults would run away as fast as possible rather than provide a speech in front of 200 hundred people. Yet these children did it and did it well. They will have that experience to draw on for the rest of their lives. As each child finished their speech the applause sounded like it was coming from 1,000 people and not just 200. It really was extraordinary to witness!

This experience once again highlights the power of having structures to support the outcomes that you desire. While the structures that the children used for their speeches may appear simple on the surface, their importance is no less valuable. What similar examples do you have where a clear structure has supported your own or someone else's development? What stories are you willing to share with our community? What key lesson stood out for you from your experience?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Reverse mentoring" reframes traditional views - or does it?

"Reverse mentoring" is meant to reframe traditional views of mentoring. According to Gill South's article in the New Zealand Herald reverse mentoring is a process where senior leaders deliberately seek out young staff or aspiring female staff to access their views of the world.

While reading the article I found myself thinking, "This isn't new, this is what mentoring already does." As a facilitator of mentor training programs I'm yet to experience mentors (who are volunteers in the programs that I facilitate) who do not expect to learn a great deal from their mentee. In fact, most of the mentors with whom I have worked have explicitly stated that they want to be mentors to access a different perspective on their company.

To enable you to make up your own mind the full article can be viewed here.

While I might not agree with the term "Reverse mentoring" I do agree with the benefits of forming true mentoring relationships that Gill lists. From a senior staff perspective accessing views from people within the organisation that you might not have direct contact with provides a smart and strategic reason to become a mentor. Fortunately there is a resurgence in company mentoring programs and Gill's article will contribute to that trend. If you are a senior staff member and not involved in a mentor program I encourage you to become involved now. The relationship you form will benefit both your mentee and yourself, possibly more than you realise.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Leadership For Kids Provides Lessons For Adults

Gary shares three key lessons from his work with children that adults
could do well to understand. The three lessons are:
1) Everyone is a leader
2) The Figure 8 of Leadership
3) Being responsible for your choices

Over the years I have had the good fortune to have been asked to provide some leadership development sessions for children. I usually work with adults and many of those adults are highly educated so we often go into quite complex areas when we facilitate leadership programs. Working with children therefore poses a considerable challenge. How do we distil quite complex information into an easily understood format for children?

The answer lies in having the capacity to understand leadership in such a way that it can be focussed into some simple concepts. Through some trial and error I have discovered some concepts that seem to work, with interesting feedback from the adults who have witnessed the programs.

Three key concepts have emerged as being the ones that children seem to be able to embrace:

1) Everyone is a leader
2) The Figure 8 of Leadership
3) Being responsible for your choices

1) Everyone is a leader
Over time I have found some interesting trends when working with children. When I have asked them to raise their hands if they believe that they are a leader or could be one in the future, virtually all the children raise their hand. When I then ask them, "Who are leaders?" they unanimously respond, "We are!".

What response do you think that I usually hear from adults?

Very few adults raise their hand to indicate that they think that they are a leader.

For children, the concept that everyone is a leader and they have to lead themselves seems relatively natural, yet for adults it seems (for many) quite foreign. When we facilitate leadership education for adults one of our key themes is that you can't lead others if you can't lead yourself. My experience has taught me that children understand this idea, so we adults have a responsibility to continue to help them understand this concept by re-enforcing that they are, in fact leaders. To do this, find them making positive choices and recognise them for it. The importance of choices is explained in the second lesson below.

2)Leadership for Kids.pdf The Figure 8 of Leadership
The attached file Leadership for Kids includes a diagram outlining the Figure 8 of Leadership.

While my experience with adults is that it takes them a while to comprehend that leadership can be for bad reasons (equalling poor leadership) just as it can be for good reasons (equalling good leadership), children seem to understand this concept quite easily. This raises the important issue of self leadership, which feeds off the first concept above, that we are all leaders.

In simple terms self-leadership starts with choices. Some choices are good choices and lead to good behaviour, while other choices are poor choices and lead to poor behaviour. The good choices represent good leadership, and the poor choices represent poor leadership. On many levels this is quite simple. And it is! Children seem to understand it and can easily provide many examples of good choices and poor choices which result in good leadership or poor leadership.

The simple power of the model lies in the fact that children have the capacity to start making good choices even if they have made some poor ones. In other words, the start of good leadership is only a choice away. Clearly the reverse is also true; poor leadership is only a choice away as well. I recall a child in one session raising his hand and saying,

"I've been making lots of bad choices at school such as not listening to teachers and picking on other kids. I thought that I was a bad person and I didn't realise that I was a leader. But what you're saying is that I only have to start making good choices and I can be a good leader. I like that idea. I can do that."

None of us are perfect. We will all make poor choices. Overall leadership is dependent upon the balance of our choices. Are they generally on the good half of the model, or the poor half? Over time we can consciously develop positive habits to enhance our good leadership through making good choices. Maybe this leadership stuff isn't so hard after all, which leads to the third and final concept.

3) Being responsible for your choices
Rather than blaming other people or circumstances for our choices, personal responsibility for our choices increases the probability that we will make good choices. Once again children seem to easily understand such a statement. Maybe they see the consequences of their choices more clearly than we adults do because they have so many adults around them monitoring their behaviour. Yet when we become adults often we stop getting that sort of feedback because of many complicated reasons. What if we adults were to actively seek out feedback on the choices that we are making and our resultant behaviours? Maybe such feedback would assist us in better leading ourselves. And we never know, the better we lead ourselves the more likely others may be to follow.

In summary, the key features of Leadership for Kids that may provide some lessons for adults include:
1) We are all leaders;
2) Our choices lie at the heart of effective leadership; and
3) Personal responsibility for our choices will enhance our capacity to lead ourselves and others.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Discover How To Prepare Powerful Questions

Preparing powerful questions can be one of the most important practices that a leader can include in their repertoire of leadership skills. Powerful questions have the following four characteristics:
- They are genuine, meaning that we are open to whatever answers are provided
- They are thought provoking
- They invite another’s contribution
- They act as a call to create

It is relatively easy to identify whether or not a powerful question has been used because the five outcomes from powerful questions include:
- New thinking
- New solutions
- New partnerships
- New products and services
- Action that would not have otherwise occurred

On the surface creating powerful questions may seem easy. My experience has taught me otherwise. Just like any skill, the ability to develop powerful questions takes time and effort. In programs where we teach people about the importance of developing their questioning skills, the participants often experience difficulty in generating questions. People often say, “I’m really good at answering questions, I’m just not very good at creating them!”

We encourage people to adopt a practice whereby any meeting that you are about to attend, you spend some time thinking about the types of questions that you could consider asking. When adopting this practice there are at least two levels of questions that should be considered. These are the ‘Big Picture’ or strategic questions, and the second level is the action or event level questions. Most people have a tendency toward the action questions which often create a cycle of problems, questions and actions that may not be connected with the strategic possibilities that may exist.

Developing your questioning skills will enable your to develop the capability to catalyse and conduct more Conversations That Matter®.

For example I recently conducted a program where a team of participants were helping another participant (Dan) to prepare a list of powerful questions for a meeting that he was about to conduct with a team member Judith, the following week. Dan was an experienced manager and had authorised leave for Judith who had been with the organisation for about four months and had just completed a training program for her role. Judith had proven herself to be highly competent in her short time with the organisation. Two other staff were to share Judith’s duties while she was on leave. Dan had asked Judith if she was happy to train the two people to do her work and she had agreed to do so.

Dan was happy that he’d been able to allow Judith to go on leave and was pleased that two other staff had been trained to do her work. However, on the first day that Judith was on leave he discovered that while the two staff had been ‘shown’ what to do, neither of them had actually been given the opportunity to ‘do’ the work in their ‘training’ and therefore had little idea about how to do Judith’s work.

As a participant in our program Dan was preparing his list of questions with the help of the rest of the participants in his group. Initially, the questions that the group generated included:
o Did you know that the two staff didn’t really know what to do when you were on leave?
o What did you expect would happen on the first day of your leave?
o Why didn’t you train them properly?

To me, these questions were very much at the action/event level because they are focused on the detail that is ‘right in front of our eyes’. In this example it was clear that the staff had not been trained properly because their performance was lower than expected. Action-event level questions are like zooming in on an issue with a video camera. The problem with starting at action-event level questions is that if you are looking at the wrong picture you will zoom in on the wrong details!

Such responses are quite normal from our program participants because, once again, most of us are used to answering questions rather than designing them. When I asked the group how they would have responded to the questions themselves if they had been Judith, the group (including Dan) reported that they would probably feel like they were being attacked. I then asked Dan if Judith was a specialist in the field of training. He said “No.”
Dan had a sudden ‘a-ha’ moment and then said, “...yet I expected Judith to know exactly how to train someone in her job. Just because she could do her job doesn’t mean that she’d be able or competent to train someone else to do it. I have assumed for years that people could train others to do their job. Some people probably can, but not everybody.”

I then asked, “What performance outcome does your organisation desire when staff are ‘back-filled’ while on leave?” This was a strategic question, a ‘Big Picture’ question. “The same level of performance.” was Dan’s answer. “What system has the organisation created to ensure that the performance outcome that you desire will occur?” I continued.

“Well, other than staff training other staff to back-fill them, there really isn’t one. And come to think of it, we regularly have performance issues when staff go on leave, which then leads us to be reluctant to approve leave in the first place.”

Strategic questions enable us to zoom out, to take in the whole picture and to see how the system is contributing to the issue, not just a single individual.

We then focused back on the questions that Dan was preparing for his meeting with Judith. When generating the questions a member of the group then said, “Maybe it isn’t a meeting between Dan and Judith that we should be preparing these questions for. Maybe it is a meeting with between Dan and the rest of the organisation’s leadership team?”.

Dan had another ‘a-ha’ moment. “You’re right! That’s exactly who we should be preparing this list of questions for. My focus was in the wrong spot. It was very easy to blame Judith, but actually those of us leading the organisation need to take responsibility for this issue. Under-performance when people have gone on leave has been a problem for years.”

For the first time Dan’s thinking on this issue had shifted. Nothing more than a shift in focus from creating answers to creating questions and a couple of strategic questions had enabled Dan to think differently.

Finally after generating a list of questions for the Leadership Team (including both Strategic and action-event level questions), Dan was asked by another group member what his intentions regarding meeting with Judith would be. He answered, “I’ll ask her about her holiday and fill her in about what’s been going on while she was away. I’m not going to focus on the training, not yet, anyway. I was blaming her but it wasn’t her fault. It was ‘our’ fault, including mine. When the time is right I’ll seek her input to the new system that we clearly need to create.”

In conclusion I asked Dan and his group how they would feel if they were Judith when she had the ‘new’ conversation that Dan now had planned to have with her. “Great! I’d feel like Dan actually cared about me and was interested in my holiday.”

Think about the different outcomes that the two potential conversations with Judith would most likely create. Which outcome do you think is more likely to enhance Judith’s engagement with the organisation, and which one do you think is more likely to reduce her engagement? Clearly the new conversation that Dan was planning to have with Judith is more likely to enhance Judith’s engagement with the organisation.

Preparing questions before meetings is a very powerful practice to include in your repertoire of leadership behaviours. Remember to prepare some strategic questions, and as soon as possible to introduce them to your conversation. A simple, yet effective action-event level question to be asked after discussing your strategic questions is, “What will we do next?”.

If you are trying this practice for the first time, please let us know how you go. In addition, please share the questions that you used that seemed to be effective in helping the people with whom you are working to shift their focus to a more strategic level.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dee Hock - An example of a Servant Leader

Dee Hock, founding CEO of VISA International was the driving force
behind the creation of one of the most dynamic, complex organisations
of our time. Despite being pragmatic in its pursuit for profit, VISa
is also a highly values based organisation. Dee Hock was a Servant
Leader and his approach is an example to us all.

Dee Hock is one of the most influential people of our time, yet few people are aware of his extra-ordinary influence on creating sustainable organisations through an approach known as Servant Leadership.

Dee Hock was the founder and CEO Emeritus of VISA International, an organisation that to this day is regarded as the most profitable business on earth. Yet most people know very little about VISA such as where it is head-quartered, what it's history is, who created it, why it was created and who works for it. To many people's surprise when they do commence their research on this amazing organisation they discover that it was founded upon an interesting paradox. First, VISA International is an organisation grounded in solid values, second it is an organisation that has a pragmatic pursuit of profit. How can two seemingly opposite pursuits co-exist?

One of the ways that these two opposite pursuits can co-exist is through the concept of Servant Leadership. Robert K Greenleaf first penned this concept in 1970 in an essay titled The Servant as Leader. In many ways the deep concept of Servant Leadership is captured by the test that Robert described in his essay. The test is as follows:

"The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?"

Many leaders practice the opposite of Servant Leadership. They see the people who report to them as being truly 'sub-ordinate' (the origin of this word means, "Sub - order") and they believe that their direct reports exist to 'serve' the leader. In contrast Servant Leaders consider that the people who report to them are people who should be served. But service in this context is not about 'doing their job for them'. Rather, it is about creating an environment that enables a leader's direct reports to be the best they can be in their service of the organisation.

Servant Leadership also extends to serving the people to whom you report, serving your key stakeholders, your customers (or clients) and the broader community. So this means that while the formal leader is serving their direct reports, their direct reports are also serving them. Another interesting paradox! In addition Servant Leadership does not have to be limited to people who are in formal leadership roles. Servant Leadership can be practised by anyone, at any time, in any role.

Dee Hock published a book titled The Birth of The Chaordic Age in 1999. In 2005 it was re-published under the title One From Many. The book is exactly the same and both versions are currently available through Amazon and other good book-stores. It is well worth adding this book to your personal library.

For many people the concept of Servant Leadership seems natural yet they are not sure how to practice it. Please share your experiences and/or ask questions to enable us all to extend our understanding of Servant Leadership.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Oprah, Black Eyed Peas, Dancers, Questions & Innovation!

Questions are powerful. First they enable the possible to be imagined, and then they enable the imagined to be created.

To illustrate I refer to the amazing Flash Dance Mob that occurred at Oprah's 24th year season opening party in Michigan Avenue, Chicago. As part of the celebration the Black Eyed Peas performed their hit "I Got a Feeling" to the 21,000 strong crowd. Unbeknown to Oprah who was on stage with the Black Eyed Peas, several hundred dancers were strategically placed throughout the crowd. The crowd had been informed that if they wanted to join in the dance then they should simply follow the moves of the people around them. The result was that the majority of the crowd joined in the dance, started by a single dancer strategically placed in front of the stage. If you haven't seen the clip, turn up your volume and watch it now.

It was an amazing spectacle! The beauty of the crowd dancing together was that it embodies action. There is no denying it, the whole crowd took action, danced together and created an amazing spectacle and surprise for Oprah.

So how does something like this dance get created? Quite simply, someone (probably the producer Australian Michael Gracey) asked a question, something like, "What if we could get the whole crowd to dance together?". This question would have sparked the imagination of those people who were involved in the conversation, more questions would have followed and eventually a plan would have been created. At the start of the dance no-one, including Michael Gracey would have known that the dance would actually work. Yet it did work. And it all started with a question.

'"What if" questions are often powerful because they allow people to imagine what might be possible. What if questions often lead to innovation. Unfortunately I can't remember the source, but I once learned that innovation comes from getting something and putting it with something different. In this case, dancers were put together with a crowd and voila, innovation occurred. Questions played a central role in enabling the innovation to be realised.

When was the last time that you asked a powerful question? What happened, what did you create and what something did you put with something different to create something new?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Learn How A Strategic Conversation, Twitter And A Customer Summit Helped Telecom New Zealand

Strategic conversations are conversations that include anywhere from 12 to over 1,000 people. These conversations are designed to enable large groups of people to quickly 'get on the same page'. This can include gaining clarity regarding a desired future, understanding the current situation in the context of the desired future, to then agreeing on the steps to be taken to move forward. New technology including twitter has suddenly and exponentially increased the power and possibilities for strategic conversations.

Recently Dr Andrew O'Brien from Organisations That Matter facilitated a strategic conversation that was hosted by the CEO of Telecom New Zealand as part of their Customer Summit process. Twitter was used to include people from 'outside the room' and proved to be an outstanding success. Our understanding is that this was a world first for this type of conversation.

If you are interested in finding out more about that specific conversation, check out this blog that was posted by a participant.

As a facilitator of strategic conversations is it exciting to see the possibilities that new technology is bringing to 'face to face' communication. The question for you to consider is, 'when do you plan to host a strategic conversation?'.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mentoring in the mould of the Master-Apprentice approach

As a trainer of mentors and facilitator of mentor-mentee relationships I like to keep my eye out for developments and thinking in the field. Over the weekend I had the pleasure to read a newspaper article from a retired professor named Jim Mroczkowski. In his article Jim explains a mentoring relationship that occured after a shift from one university to another. He describes the relationship as being more like a master-apprentice relationship than a modern mentoring relationship and attributes the success of his career to the foundations that he learned during his time as an 'apprentice'. Jim's article is titled Lessons Taught and Lessons Learned and is worth the three minutes that it will take to read the article.

The success of his experience got me thinking. How present are master-apprentice relationships these days? Might there not be some perfect opportunities for such relationships to develop today? Are any of our members currently participating in such relationships and if so, how do they work?

I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on these questions and to hear your experiences relating to master-apprentice relationships.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How Personal Values Help Us To Navigate Our Way Through Life

Gary Ryan defines personal values and uses examples to help illustrate what they are and how they are used. An activity is included to assist you in identifying your personal values.

This Podcast is also available for download from iTunes.

Michelle Hunt, author of Dream Makers ( describes values as the rudder that we use to navigate our way through the turbulent waters of life. Without our values we have no rudder and simply go wherever the current takes us.

Usually our values become evident when something happens that truly upsets us. Our values are often the opposite to the things that deeply upset us. For example, if someone is telling me lies and I have discovered that I have been told lies, I have a physical reaction to that behaviour. My values of honesty and integrity have been challenged by the person lying to me which results in a strong reaction from me. Similarly, I have a strong work ethic and I struggle with people who seem lazy and then complain that nobody is helping them. In this example, my service value is being challenged.

Jerry Porras in his book Success Built to Last suggests that it doesn't really matter what your values are (unless they would cause deliberate harm to others), what really matters is that you are aware of what they are for you. This is critically important because without a deep understanding of your values you are at risk of behaving in ways that are not congruent with them.

If you are not sure what your values are, try the following activity. You will require a pen and four small pieces of paper.

1) Write what you think might be a core value of yours on each of the four pieces of paper. You can write single words or phrases - whatever works for you. What matters is that you understand what your values mean. It doesn't matter if no-one else understands what you write.

2) Life is challenging and sometimes we have to prioritise our values. Out of the four values that you have written down, which one would you set aside first. Please scrunch up the piece of paper with that value on it and throw it on the floor.

3) Life is even more challenging. Out of the three values that you are yet to set aside, which value would you set aside next? Once again, scrunch up the paper and drop it on the floor.

How did you feel when you had to select the first value to set aside? The second one? Your reactions will tell you something about whether or not what you wrote is more like a core value or not. A strong reaction to the activity more than likely indicates that what you wrote is more like a core value than not.

Now, let's go a step further. If you have discovered some core values, do you ever behave in ways that is far worse than scrunching up a piece of paper and throwing it on the floor? Maybe you had honesty and integrity as a value, yet you regularly talk and gossip behind people's backs, then pretend to be nice to them when they are around you.

Once we identify our core values we can use them in our day to day decision making. They help us to do the right thing at the right time. Sometimes our actions, when driven by our values are not popular. That is OK. There are times in our lives when we must take a stand no matter how futile the odds may seem to be. For example, someone may be getting bullied at work and we see it occur. What would our values guide us to do?

I recall as a young manager a service repair man who I had engaged to do a job for me provided me with a bill that seemed higher than it should have been. This contractor had done work for me before and I trusted him so I didn't follow up on my suspicions and paid the bill (which was against our protocols!). A week after the 'job' was completed he returned to my office for what I thought was a friendly visit. He handed me an envelope with several hundred dollars in it. He openly told me that he had over-charged my organisation for the work that he had performed and the money in the envelope was my share of the over-payment. If I agreed to continue to contract him and to approve his work at inflated rates, he would continue to give me envelopes filled with money.

While not enraged by his behaviour I was not far from that type of reaction. I literally threw the envelope back at him and immediately told him that I was reporting him to my boss and that he would never work for our organisation again. He too reacted strongly and threatened my physical well-being at which time I picked up the phone to dial our security personnel. He quickly left our premises, never to return.

I had not gone to work that day expecting such an event to unfold. I had nothing but my values to guide me with regard to how I reacted in the moment when he handed me the money. To this day I am glad that I had the courage to follow my values. At the time I was on a very low wage and three hundred dollars was a lot of money. But there simply wasn't a chance that I would accept it. In telling the story to my boss I also had to admit that I had not followed proper protocols when I had suspected the bill had been inflated in the first place. I was reminded of the reason why our protocols existed and promised to strictly follow them in the future, which I did.

Imagine if I was not clear about my values and I had accepted the money. Imagine the ripple effect over time. I suspect that I wouldn't be writing this blog on this topic, that is for sure!

In another example I recently witnessed some peers provide some feedback to their colleague. While highly skilled, this person was told that she put her own success ahead of the team's success. While difficult to hear, she thanked her peers for their honesty. She realised that what her peers had told her was true and she needed to improve in some areas, while maintaining her outstanding performance based on her technical skills. Her personal value of honesty allowed her to hear the feedback, accept it and then do something about it. Recently her peers have recognised her team first behaviours and her respect amongst her peers has sky-rocketed.

Values do conflict. They conflict on a personal level and they can conflict on an organisational level. I will write another blog about how you manage such situations. The most important issue, however, is to identify your values and to try to live them to the best of your ability. As you consciously use your values to guide your behaviour, you build your capacity to take effective action and are better able to navigate your way through the turbulent waters of life.

Russell Ackoff - Systems Thinker Passes Away Suddenly on October 29th

Professor Russell Ackoff, a prolific student and teacher of Systems Thinking, passed away suddenly on Thursday 29th October as a result of complications arising from hip replacement surgery. He was 90 years old.

If you would like to see some of Professor Ackoff's work, watch his video.

A full obituary can be read from his website.

My own understanding of Systems Thinking was heavily influenced by a video presentation of his titled, "From Mechanistic to Social Systemic Thinking." I have to admit that I only understood half of it when I first watched it, but I was entranced by the different perspective regarding how the world works that Professor Ackoff was presenting. Many years later his teaching has continued to strongly influence my own thinking.

One of my favourite quotes from Professor Ackoff is:

“All of our social problems arise out of doing the wrong thing righter. The more efficient you are at doing the wrong thing, the wronger you become. It is much better to do the right thing wronger than the wrong thing righter! If you do the right thing wrong and correct it, you get better.” Magnificent!

Professor Russell Ackoff, rest in peace.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

10 Ways To Get Fired For Building Your Personal Brand

It seems that as social networking continues to grow at an exponential rate, the mistakes that people are making in the way that they use social network sites are also increasing exponentially. It seems that many people forget that when they post something, anything to a social networking site it becomes public property. I must admit that the photos that I have seen on various people's Facebook sites have caused me to shudder - what are they thinking?

It isn't hard for a prospective employer to go into Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc. and do a search on you. If you think that your public content on those sites won't affect your job prospects, think again!

The linked blog by Dan Schawbel titled '10 Ways To Get Fired For Building Your Personal Brand' is very powerful (warning - there are one or two swear words included in this particular article included in examples from some inappropriate use of social networking sites) and is worth the read.

It is critical to remember to constantly ask yourself, "What message is my social network contributions sending to people who do not know me?". Without realising it, your tweets, photos and blogs could be sending the message that all your care about is socialising and doing anything but work. Is that really a public profile that you want to create?

The final message in the attached article asks us all to think before publishing material on social network sites. It is good advice!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Discover How To Communicate Important Messages Effectively

Based upon a typical workplace scenario, Gary describes the challenges associated with using a single channel of communication. Email in particular is often used ineffectively in the workplace. Strategies are provided to help you to improve your effectiveness when communicating important work-based messages.

“How are things going”, asked Huy.

“Not so well” replied Juanita.

“What’s up?”

“Oh, my boss asked me for this report late on Monday. So I stayed back to complete it and emailed it to her straight away. It’s now Friday and I haven’t heard anything back from her. Obviously I did a bad job, but I don’t know what I’ve done wrong, nor what to do about it.”

Imagine if you were Juanita. Have you ever jumped to a similar conclusion before? (see The Danger of Jumping to Conclusions and a tool that can help). In this scenario it is likely that Juanita will spend a lot of time worrying about her boss’s reaction to her email. This is likely to distract her from focusing on her work which could reduce the quality of her work. This could then lead to more worrying about her work which could, over time lead to lower and lower performance. In many ways Juanita could create the very outcome that she doesn’t want, i.e. her boss seeing her as a low performer.

There are many ways to manage this scenario after the event. But that is not the focus of this article. The focus of this article is about what Juanita could have done in the first place to ensure that her message to her boss had been received, therefore reducing her concern and worry that occurred in the scenario above.

Communication channels
Too often people rely on a single ‘channel’ of communication when sending an important message. Communication channels are the various forms of communication that we use to send messages and include (but are not limited to):

• Face to face conversations
• Meetings
• Presentations
• Telephone (landline and mobile)
• Television
• Skype and other voice over internet protocols (VOIPs)
• Text messaging
• Intranet services
• Email
• Memos
• Letters (snail mail)
• Whiteboards/blackboards
• Brochures/flyers
• Twitter etc. etc. etc.

There are many, many channels of communication. In Juanita’s situation she relied on a single channel, email to communicate the very important information that her boss had requested. Email, by nature is a one way channel of communication until the recipient of the email decides to make it a two way form of communication. Email is often used effectively as a one way form of communication (such as the global emails that your organisation sends to you that you file for reference), but for an important document email should not be the only form of communication used.
Too many people seem to hold this view about what happens when they press ‘send’ for their emails:

• As soon as I press ‘send’ my email will be received by the intended recipient(s) of the email
• The recipient(s) will receive and open my email immediately, because my email is very important to them
• Not only will the recipient(s) understand what I have sent to them, they will understand it in exactly the same way that I intended my email to be interpreted
• Once understood (which, of course it will be!) the recipient(s) of my email will take immediate action as a result of my email
• The recipients of my email will be thankful that I sent it to them and will respond accordingly

While these views are understandable (after all, each of us puts a lot into the work that we send out) they are fairly irrational. People don’t sit around waiting for our emails to arrive, just like we don’t sit around at work waiting for other people’s emails to arrive. Generally speaking we are all too busy to be sitting around waiting for other people’s emails.

Please note that I am not saying that we shouldn’t send emails. Quite the contrary. Email is a very important form of communication. However, just because we sent it doesn’t mean that it ...

• Arrived at its intended destination
• Was received and fully understood by its recipient(s)
• The recipient(s) had the time and capacity to take action on the email
• Etc. etc. etc.

Having established that a single channel of communication may not be effective for important messages, consider this issue: up to 70% of the written word has its meaning interpreted in a different way than intended by the sender of the message. This is known as a form of ‘noise’. Each of us uses filters and other mechanisms (such as our mental models, see The Importance of Raising Awareness of our Mental Models) to interpret the messages that are sent to us. With written forms of communication it is very easy for us to listen to our ‘own’ noise and mis-interpret the intended message by the sender.

In this context it is very easy for email messages, even if they do arrive at their intended destination to be easily mis-interpreted. For this reason email should not be the sole form of communication for messages that contain potentially emotional content, or content that is highly likely to be interpreted by the recipient(s) in an emotional way. Again when up to 70% of a message can be interpreted in a different way by the recipient(s) of the email compared to the intentions of the sender, it just isn’t worth sending such potentially damaging emails. Find a more appropriate channel to communicate such messages.

While many people now say, “Yeah, I know that I shouldn’t send emotionally ‘charged’ emails, and yes I know that I should compose my emails using correct grammar and spelling...”, a recent study highlighted that a little under 50% of employees had experienced problems because of mis-interpreting messages sent via email.

It really is worth asking yourself, “Is email the most effective way of sending this message? If it is, what other communication channels should I also use to ensure that my message is properly understood?”.

Reviewing Juanita’s scenario she probably should have followed up her email with a quick phone call to at leave a message that the email had been sent. In both the email and the telephone message Juanita could have included a short ‘call to action’ requesting her boss let her know the report had been received. Why? Because Juanita would explain in her short message that due to the importance of the report it would be pertinent to ensure that it had not only been received but included all the correct information.

When given the request by her boss in the first instance, Juanita could have said something like, “Yes I’ll get onto to that straight away and I’ll send the completed report to you tonight. I’ll also follow up with you first thing in the morning to ensure that the report has been received and is exactly what you want. I can also provide a copy on a USB stick and leave it on your desk if you like.”

Using multiple forms of communication increases the chances that important information will be effectively communicated. As this article illustrates, many, many problems arise when important messages are mis-communicated. Therefore, when you next have an important message to communicate, consider the most appropriate channels that you could use to communicate your message, as well as considering how you might pro-actively use those channels to communicate your message.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Learn About The Relationship Between Purpose and Goals

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“We have Happy Feet starting this week.”, said my seven year old daughter as we sat down for dinner.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s a program at school where we see how many laps of the track around the school that we can complete. It goes for two weeks.”

“What part of the school day will you get to participate in this program?” I asked.

“It starts this Thursday and we’ll do it at morning playtime.”

“So you don’t have to do it?”

“No, I want to and I’m going to do it every day. I want to run like you. It’s good for my health and fitness.”

This conversation took place the night after I had completed the Melbourne Marathon. I can’t explain how happy I felt to hear my daughter spontaneously start this conversation. In all honesty, a spontaneous conversation like this one makes me feel even happier than when I complete a marathon (and believe me, I usually feel pretty happy when I get to the finish line!).

My life is so busy and hectic that if I didn’t have goals like completing a minimum of two marathons per year, it is quite likely that I might not do any exercise at all. One of my life’s purposes, however, is to set a good example to my four children about health and fitness. Completing two marathons per year is a concrete goal that I set myself that enable me to live that purpose. A conversation like the one described above provides clear evidence to me that my purpose is working. Over time, examples like this provide more and more motivation for me to continue to ‘live my purpose’.

In the Integrated Personal Planning programs that we provide many participants are very good at identifying goals for themselves. However many people are not clear about the higher purpose to which their goals relate. For example, many people may have a health and fitness goal to lose a certain number of kilograms. For this example, let's say five kilograms. Unless they relate this goal to a higher purpose these people are at considerable risk of achieving their goal, but then slipping back into the bad habits that caused them to be overweight in the first place. The result; within a very short timeframe they put the five kilograms (and often more) back on. This is a familiar story for many, many people.

Clarity about your purpose may mean that more than one goal is created to help you to ‘live’ your purpose. If your goal is to lose five kilograms, maybe your purpose might be to live a healthy and more balanced lifestyle so that you can physically do want you want to do. For example, you may have one goal to lose five kilograms, and another goal to maintain your weight for five years after you have achieved your first goal, and another again to complete one holiday per year that involves some hiking. All these goals would work together to assist you to ‘live’ your purpose.

Linking goals to your purpose reduces the risk of oscillating between success and failure as it relates to your goals. Another function of having a clear purpose is that it enables you to continue to set new goals as you near the achievement of your current ones. For example, I always ensure that I know the next marathon that I will be doing after I complete the current one that I am booked in to run. This ensures that when I finish my current marathon (and achieve a goal) that I don’t fall into the trap of saying to myself, “Oh, I’ll get back into training when I work out what marathon I’ll do next.” Six, twelve, 24 months etc. could easily ‘fly by’ and before I knew it I would have stopped living my purpose and become unhealthy. Maintaining tension with ongoing goals as they relate to your purpose can be very, very powerful!

It is important that I note that I am not advocating that you all go out and start running marathons. That’s just what works for me. In fact health and fitness goals are relative to your current situation, so it may in fact be a bigger achievement for many of you to run/walk five kilometres than it is for me to run 42kms. Maybe swimming is your thing, or maybe it is averaging a certain number of exercise to music classes per week over a 6 month period. Having goals is what is important, and relating them to a higher level reason for doing them (i.e. your purpose) is even more powerful.

Many people also get stuck with regard to working out their purpose as it relates to their goals. Purpose is not unique. Is my purpose to set a good example of being healthy and fit to my four children (as well as being healthy and fit to be able to do whatever it is I physically want to be able to do in my life) particularly unique? No, it isn’t. Is my goal to run a minimum of two marathons per year also unique? No it isn’t. What IS unique is how I bring those goals into reality. The way I train and the marathons in which I choose to compete are unique to me. What is also unique is how living my purpose and achieving my goals contributes to me creating the future that I desire (see The Power of Personal Vision by Andrew O’Brien for more information).

My challenge to you is to identify the goals that you are currently striving to achieve and then articulating to yourself what higher purpose those goals are serving. The following three questions can be helpful in helping you to work out your purpose:

1) Why is this goal important to me?
2) What are the benefits of achieving this goal?
3) How does achieving this goal relate to the future that I want to create for myself?

Please feel free to share your thoughts with our learning community because the more examples that we have that highlight the relationship between purpose and goals, the more other members of our community will be able to work out the relationship between their goals and their purpose for themselves.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Synchronicity of Inspiration

Gary explains the importance of taking action even when you may think that no-one is being positively influenced by what you are doing. The catalyst for this episode was born in the middle of a marathon in which Gary was participating. While struggling with discomfort, Gary found inspiration from a person who was taking action; nothing more and nothing less.

MP3 File

I'd woken feeling bloated and not quite myself. "This isn't good" I thought to myself as I ate my pancakes and banana for breakfast and sipped my bottle of water. Tiptoeing quietly around my house so as to not wake my family I showered and dressed in my running gear. My plan was to take our people mover into the carpark at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (known as 'The G') and my wife, four children and mother would come in by train to see me finish the race. Another good friend was to meet me at the 30km mark to provide me with some 'supplies' for the final leg of the 42.195kms. Outside was very cool and a perfect morning for running was predicted. I was prepared for a cool start to the Melbourne Marathon and had applied lavish amounts of anti-inflammatory cream to my right knee that hadn't yet fully recovered from my last marathon in Alice Springs less than two months earlier. As this was my 8th marathon I was no longer fearful of not completing the course, just fearful of how I would tackle my mind this time around. Every marathon that I have run has included a mental barrier or two and each time I have been able to overcome them and reach the finish line.

However I'd never woken in the morning feeling quite the way I did this time. My meal the night before which included pasta and pancakes was a fairly normal dinner prior to a marathon; I was well hydrated and looking forward to finishing the run on the hallowed turf of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Driving in to The G my mind was occupied by how I felt in my stomach. There was no denying it, I felt bloated and this wasn't normal. As I parked my car my nerves began to rise. I had arrived 75 minutes before the start of the race, so I laid back in the seat in my car, covered my legs with a towel and rested a little more before walking over to the start position which was just over one kilometre away from where I was parked. I had hoped that the extra rest would settle my stomach. It didn't. I was then hopeful that the walk over to the start of the race would "do the job". It didn't either. Once at the start line I had about 20 minutes to wait before the first steps of the run would commence. People were huddled in groups, chatting with each other. It was now light and the race announcers were doing their best to 'pump' everyone up. It seemed to work for me as I momentarily forgot about how I was feeling. Kerryn McCann's sister, Jenny Gillard was being interviewed. Jenny was running in memory of her sister who had lost her fight against cancer after having won the gold medal for the marathon at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006. Kerryn's son Benton was introduced as he was going to be the official starter. The crowd had suddenly grown and everyone was both excited and sombre and had spontaneously started clapping in Kerryn McCann's memory. Within moments the National Anthem was sung, the countdown had begun and we were off!

As I ran through the starting line I waved at the TV cameras - you never know maybe I could get my head on the TV which would make my children happy! Within the first 200 metres my consciousness of my discomfort returned. "This is going to be interesting" I thought. It is amazing how one's mind can become so pre-occupied with something that everything else around you literally disappears. While I knew that I was running with 4,200 people, I felt as if I was running on my own. I then became conscious of my consciousness, if that makes any sense! I thought, "C'mon! Snap out of it. Enjoy the run, the discomfort will pass, your rhythm will come. Think about how you'll feel at the end of the run. Think about running in front of Mish and the kids around the G and how it will contribute just a little bit toward their own thinking about health and fitness." And then, "I think that this will be a PW today - a Personal Worst!", and then, "C'mon, focus on the moment. Left foot, right foot! Each step is one step closer. Just focus on doing what has to be done now!". Sounds crazy, doesn't it! But that little war of words is what was going on in my head. All the while, however, the discomfort continued.

We had travelled about five kilometres when I noticed a man limping ahead of me. Then I noticed his left leg. It was permanently bent in toward his right leg so that when he swung his leg through it actually clipped the inside of his right knee. His left heel appeared to be permanently raised so he wasn't able to perform a heel strike with his left foot. Rather, he was running on his toes with that leg. He wore a green and white singlet that advertised cerebral palsy, and checkered shorts. We continued to run and leap frog each other for next 16 kms until his paced started to slow and I slowly moved ahead of him. I do not know if the man had suffered from cerebral palsy, but I suspect that he had. My focus on how I was feeling had been brutally challenged. As we ran I found myself thinking about the various challenges that this man may have encountered in his life.

The one thing that I didn't have to speculate about was whether he had taken on the challenge of a marathon. There he was, running beside me. Suddenly my bloated stomach seemed a little irrelevant. The experience also thrust my mind back to my first marathon in New York in 2006. The advertisement for that race said, "37,000 Stories", which was true. The same was also true for this day. The only difference being that there were 4,200 stories and not 37,000. The way I was feeling was just another story and everyone around me suddenly took on another level of importance. As I was struggling with my story, possibly they were all facing their own stories and struggles. In this way the very thing that kept us different (i.e. our stories) also kept us united. So I accepted that today I felt uncomfortable and that was that. This would simply be my story for this race. However, I also knew that how I felt was not going to stop me from performing. I had come here to complete the race (ideally under four hours) and that was exactly what I would do.

Joseph Jaworski defines synchronicity as, "...a meaningful coincidence where something other than the probability of chance is involved." I don't know if it was anything other than luck that resulted in me and this gentleman crossing paths, but it certainly had meaning for me. Who knows, maybe he was looking at me and the way I looked inspired him to overcome whatever demons he was facing at the time! You never know!

The second half of a marathon is usually where the real race begins. It is both a mental and physical challenge. Yet somehow the mental challenge for me had eased and my body finally felt 'normal' over the last 8 kms where I ran the most freely and comfortably I had done for the whole race. Upon completion of the race (in 3 hours and 56 minutes) I stayed around the finish line for a while until I was ushered off the ground to make way for the athletes who were still coming in. I had hoped to cheer the gentleman who had inspired me when he completed his race but I was consumed by the mass of people heading into the bowels of The G.

On reflection this gentleman probably had little awareness of my existence. Yet he had served me in a most profound way by inspiring me to recognise how lucky I was to be able to do what I was doing no matter how uncomfortable I felt. His example displays the power of taking action. This man could run. His running style may be different to yours and mine but he could run. For reasons known to himself through his own story, there he was running the Melbourne Marathon. Did he get up that morning and think to himself that he would inspire and help me through the race. I don't think so. However, through participating and taking action he created the possibility that he could inspire someone. And that someone was me. That is how synchronicity works.

When you are at work and you think that you are only one person and that what you do doesn't matter so it doesn't really matter if you do the right thing or not, maybe it does matter. Just because no-one walks up to you and explicitly points out that your actions have inspired them to take action doesn't mean that your actions aren't inspiring anyone. So it might start with the courage to create Ground Rules for your team, or to use a story or article to stimulate a Conversation That Matters, or maybe you take a stand that supports both your personal and organisational values. Leadership isn't all about titles and power. Leadership is often about the influence that your actions have on other people and just like my friend out on the marathon course leadership is often subtle, yet no less inspiring. So take action; you never know how the synchronicity of your actions could inspire other people to do likewise.

Friday, October 9, 2009

How To Create Conversations That Matter - large group conversations that work!

Sign up to the iTunes Gary Ryan Professional Development Series.

A major problem facing people leading large teams is, "How do I truly engage the people I lead with the direction that we are heading?". Hosting a Conversation That Matters can significnatly enhance a team's sense of shared direction and responsibility for where it is heading. In this episode Gary explains the key features of a Conversation That Matters and shares his experience of participating in a conversation with over 1,000 people!

It was the year 2000 and Andrew and I were attending the Systems Thinking in Action Conference in San Diego, USA. Andrew had attended this conference several times before but it was my first time attending a conference in the USA, let alone one outside Australia. There was a buzz of excitement in the air as the 1,000 delegates from around the world were waiting to file in to the large auditorium for the keynote speech on the first morning. All of a sudden a piano commenced playing in a modern classical style. "This is interesting" I recall thinking to myself.

The hotel staff simultaneously opened four or five large doors so that we could enter the conference venue. My eyes were met with amazement. Rather than the seats being arranged in rows (which was all I had ever experienced at conferences) the seats were arranged in groups of four around small, round, cafe sized tables. Each table was covered with a cafe style cloth, had a large piece of butcher's paper on it with some coloured pens in the middle of the table, a "menu" that included some rules for how we would conduct our conversations and a small flow placed in the middle of the table. With the smell of coffee emanating from the stalls across the back of the room, I felt as if I had just walked into a huge cafe!

Within minutes the place was buzzing with excitement. This was different. I sensed it. Andrew sensed it. Everyone seemed to sense it. Our host walked to the podium and introduced himself. He was Daniel Kim one of the co-founders of Pegasus Communications who were conducting the conference. Daniel explained that he was going to provide the first keynote of the conference and that he would also be playing the role of 'theme weaver' throughout the conference. He then explained that his keynote would not be a 'talking at' event, rather it would be a 'talking with' experience. "How is that possible? There are over 1,000 people in this venue at the moment. How can we hold a conversation together?" is the immediate thought that went through my mind. But hold a conversation we did. It was truly amazing.

Daniel shared with us a process that he had learned from Juanita Brown and David Isaacs. Upon leaving the conference venue that morning Andrew and I looked at each other and said that we had to find out more about the process because it fitted perfectly with our perspective of including people who were working on issues that directly impacted them. It also seemed to solve our problem of creating a shared understanding amongst large numbers of people. As a result we have been conducting our version of Conversation Cafes (we call them Conversations That Matter or Strategic Conversations) ever since.

We have worked with many, many different organisations and groups of people and the process continues to work. People like to be able to have their say, but not everyone likes to have their say in front of everyone else, which is why the Conversations That Matter process is so effective. It allows people to have their say while also enabling people who might not normally have an opportunity to speak with each other to have a clear and focused conversation about issues that concern both parties. The process works for group sizes as small as 12 through to more than 1,000 people as our story above highlights. We have also modified the process for groups smaller than 12 using some of the core principles of hosting Conversations That Matter.

The process is relatively simple and includes the following features:
* People sit together in small groups (ideally 3 - 5 people per table)
* Butchers paper and coloured textas are provided at each table
* People are encouraged to have tea, water of coffee while they converse * A brief overview of the process is provided including the etiquette for the conversations
* The first question is posed to the group and the people at each table hold a conversation for 10 - 15 minutes, recording whatever they like on their butcher's paper
* After 10 - 15 minutes one person stays at their table and acts as the 'host', while the other 3 - 4 people who were at the table move on to separate tables for a second 'round' on the question
* The host welcomes the new people to the table, explains the conversation that had taken place in Round 1, and then invites the new people to share their conversations (this is called 'cross pollination" of the conversation)
* Depending on the issue and numbers of people present, a third 'round' on the first question may be conducted
* A 'town hall' process is then held to capture themes and patterns that have emerged from the conversations
* Over-all two to four questions are usually posed to the group following the process outlined above
* The final question usually focuses upon a call to action, so that people can clearly see something will happen as a result of the conversation

While the process is simple, creating the right questions to ask is not so simple. Also, this process should only be used when there is a genuine desire to have input from the people participating in the conversation. If you are in a position to include people in conversations about issues that directly affect them, then we encourage you to adopt a Strategic Conversation process because quite simply, they work!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Employability Skills Highly Required in the Manufacturing Sector - USA Report

A report issued jointly by Deloitte, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and The Manufacturing Institute in the United States of America and released on October 5th has once again highlighted the importance of employability skill development. Despite the economic downturn manufacturing employers have indicated that a highly skilled workforce, both in the context of relevant technical skills and employability skills is critical for business success. An interesting aspect of the study was that the surveyed employers identified that their employee development practices do not currently meet their needs.

This highlights the importance of taking personal responsibility for the development of your employability skills. With talent shortages still existing despite the economic downturn, understanding your employability skills and being able to explain how you have developed them can provide a distinct and personal competitive advantage in the job market (see the blog Leveraging Employability Skills for Employment Success).

To see the full article visit

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A not-so-service-excellent experience

The purpose of sharing this story is to highlight just how easy it is for organisations to easily and quickly perform below expectations. Usually the core reasons for performing below customer expectations lie between a lack of balance between passionate staff and appropriate systems & processes to support those staff. Below is a story based on my perceived service experience. It is therefore biased because it only contains my side of the story. This is okay because that is how service works. All of us are trying to meet or exceed the expectations of our customers (or use a different word if the word 'customer' does not work for you) based on their perception of their experience with our organisations.

I am not going to reveal in this blog what I think the Village Cinema organisation and the specific staff members involved could have done to improve our service experience. Rather I am going to leave that open to your suggestions. Consider yourselves consultants and you have been brought in by Village Cinemas to review this case and to help them to understand whether or not there is anything that they could do to improve their service levels. The research on Employability Skill development recommends that leadership (which includes 'systems thinking' skills), problem solving, communication and enterprise skills incorporate the skills necessary to provide service excellence. In this context I'm going to tell you the story of our experience and then leave it open to you to practice the above-mentioned skills to make suggestions in the comments sections about what both Village Cinemas and the specific staff involved could have done to enhance our experience.

The story
My wife, Michelle and I finally had an opportunity to use some gifts that we had been given for our birthdays last year. As parents with four children we have not had a night away on our own since we began our family some nine years ago. Our youngest child has just turned two years old so we thought that he'd be old enough to have relatives look after him and our other three children while we went away overnight. The hotel is located in Melbourne's eastern suburbs and is situated amongst a substantial shopping and cafe precinct. We had chosen this time to go away because it corresponded with our 13th wedding anniversary. Our gifts included an overnight hotel stay including breakfast and a late check out and Village Cinema Gold Class tickets. The hotel in which we were booked is literally 100 meters from the Village Cinema complex so we decided to take the opportunity to use both gifts at the same time.

After having had a very smooth check in process at the hotel in the early afternoon, Michelle and I decided to wander down to the cinema to see if we could book some seats at the cinema. We were aware that because the Gold Class seats were limited it was possible that there might not be any seats available that evening, so we were also prepared to book seats for the following day. Prior to leaving our hotel room we noticed that the expiry date stamped on the Gold Class tickets was 1 month and three days prior. We had not noticed this date before. We decided that we would immediately draw the attention of the staff to the date and offer to 'pay the difference' between the value of the tickets and any price increase that may have occurred since the tickets had been originally purchased. Our confidence was high that a simple solution could be found to this problem.

On arrival to the cinema there was no queue and we were able to immediately approach one of the two sales staff working at the booking counter. We quickly explained our situation including the fact that we were using gifts provided to us from the previous year and that we were celebrating our wedding anniversary, this being our first overnight stay on our own since we had started a family. We highlighted the date issue and asked if anything could be done to help us. The first sales clerk told us that she, "...didn't think it would be a problem" but felt that she needed to refer us to her manager who was sitting beside her. We were 'swapped' with the customers that the manger was serving and we once again explained our story. As accurately as I can recall the following conversation took place. "G" represents when I was speaking, "M" when Michelle was speaking and "VC" when the manager representing Village Cinemas was speaking.

VC: "Yes, we automatically provide one months grace from the actual expiry date on the gift vouchers. Unfortunately you are three days over that grace period and they won't let me authorise it. The only way for you to use the vouchers now is to call them (hands us a card with a 1300 number on it)."

M: "But we are here now and we'd like to solve the problem now. We are happy to pay the price difference if there has been a price rise since the vouchers were purchased"

VC: "Oh, the price isn't the issue."

M: "What is?"

VC: "They won't let me approve it. As I said you'll have to call them using the number on the card that I have provided you."

G: "Who are "they"?"

VC: "Oh, our corporate office."

G: "I don't understand how it is that you refer to them as if you and them are separate. To me 'you' are both Village Cinemas and we'd prefer to be able to sort this out now. We don't want to have to wait for the corporate office to sort this out because we might not be here by the time they sort it out. Surely this isn't that hard. The vouchers have been paid for and we are happy to pay more if there has been a price increase. We don't think that we are being unreasonable."

VC: "I'm sorry. It's the policy. There is nothing that I can do."

M: "There is no-one else here that you could call for assistance?"

VC: "Yes, but they won't say anything different to me."

M: "Would you mind calling that person please."

VC: (picking up the phone) "Ok." Dials number and the call is answered as the manager says, "Hi! We don't accept overdue vouchers do we." (from our perspective this was said more as a statement than a question.) The manager proceeds with a couple of "Uh huh"s and hangs up the phone.

VC: "I'm sorry, as I said you have to call the 1300 number on the card."

G: "Why do we have to call them? They are part of Village Cinemas like you are so I don't understand why we have to call them. Do you mind calling for us?"

VC: "You have more of a chance to be successful with them than me."

M: "So that's it then?"

VC: "Yes."

We left the counter highly disappointed with our experience. It seemed that there had been little effort to solve the problem. In fact from our perspective we had been the only ones who had offered a timely solution and that had been quickly pushed aside.

Reluctantly we decided to call the number on the card that we had been provided. The clerk who answered our call informed us that it was not possible to solve this problem over the phone and that the only way that the problem would be solved was by sending an email to an address that was also provided on the card (the phone number was literally 20 times the size of the email address) and that it would take a minimum of three days for a response to our email.

We both decided that we would skip the cinema and not let our poor experience with Village Cinemas ruin our overnight stay and decided to use our time doing a different activity and we went ten pin bowling (that proved to be a great time!).

You are now providing consulting advice to both Village Cinemas and the staff members involved. Your advice to Village Cinemas may include strategic advice regarding their systems and processes. Your advice to the specific staff members may include your suggestions regarding how they could have managed our experience so that Michelle and I didn't walk away feeling like our experience could have and should have been better.