Saturday, November 27, 2010

Primary school teacher develops conversation skills with children

One of the members of the OTM Academy has applied and modified the OTM Strategic Conversations® process to teach conversation skills to eight and nine year old children in his primary school class.

His humility is such that he has asked to remain anonymous, but for the sake of this article I'll call him John.

Focusing on water conservation as his topic, the children were organised into groups of six. They were asked to be conscious about how much they were talking and listening.

The first question asked was, "What would be the perfect world to have for water?"

The children engaged in the conversation expressing ideas about how water could be managed. While they were conversing, John moved around the room listening to what they were saying. Part of the purpose of the conversation was to see how much they had learned from the previous few weeks of learning about water.

John, initially nervous about using this process with young children, was quickly convinced that the process worked as he heard the children talking with passion, focus and knowledge as they conversed on the first question.

As the process encourages, John mixed up the children in their groups for the second question, "What are the challenges of achieving this world?"

As John moved around the room again he was once again impressed by the way the children were sharing the conversation and demonstrating that they were listening. A Teacher's Aid who witnessed the process remarked that she was amazed at how engaged some of the children were, particularly a number of them who had not previously shown much interest in contributing to classroom conversations.

Collecting the output from the second question John was amazed at the maturity and deep understanding of the topic that the children had clearly developed.

Rotating the children again to ensure that they learned to speak with different children, the third question focused on action. "What are we going to do?"

John was delighted that the children came up with a broad range of practical ideas, which included sharing them with the rest of the school community.

Delighted by the outcome of the conversation John contacted me to share his story. "I was very nervous at first wondering if this would be too much for the kids, but as you had encouraged me, I let myself trust the process. And it worked. I couldn't believe that the 90 minutes we spent talking went so fast. And the kids were on centre stage, not me!"

Teaching people to hold conversations can occur at any age.
The OTM Strategic Conversations® process is based upon the original work by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs.

What are your experiences of conducting large group conversations or, as we like to say Conversations That Matter®?

The OTM Academy is a free Online Community created by Gary Ryan to enhance the Personal & Professional Development of members. More information on how to host a Strategic Conversation® is available in the academy. Otherwise, email for more information.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How should a Team Leader in a poor company culture improve team member motivation?

Unfortunately poor company cultures exist. This is why Organisations That Matter was created - to try, one company at a time, to change this reality.

So, what can a Team Leader do to improve the motivation of their team members when their team exists within a poor company culture?

The first thing is to control what you can control as the Team Leader. My experience and research indicates that pay is a massive de-motivator if it is not 'fair' in the overall context of pay within the company and the industry that you are in. If a person is not being paid fairly in this context, then pretty much everything else that the company does becomes less relevant over time. The pay issue becomes the core de-motivational issue.

If pay is 'unfair' then you must do what you can to fix that situation.

Most companies have systems and processes for accurately paying people. As such, if you believe that a person is being paid unfairly, go in to 'bat' for them. Let them know what you are doing but also let them know that you have to follow the system's rules. Providing you have a record of being genuine, most people will be very pleased that you have taken the time and effort to go in to 'bat' for them. This act of support will often increase a person's motivation. However it won't last forever if the real problem isn't addressed. (Please note I accept that the research indicates that most people feel they are underpaid. However, when 'pay' is placed in the context of company and industry, it is my experience that most people are able to identify if they are paid within an acceptable 'range' of pay.)

If pay is 'fair' then it is the cultural issues that come into play. It is possible, within limits, to create a positive sub-culture that may exist only in your team.

From my research from conducting many leadership development activities on this exact issue, the simultaneous things that you can do are very controllable.

You can genuinely appreciate and recognise the efforts of your team members. This starts with saying, "Thank you."

You can look out for developmental opportunities (including projects) and offer them to your team members.

You can listen to their suggestions and genuinely take them on board and then get back to them about why their idea has/hasn't been implemented.

You can assign tasks to team members that truly reflect their talents while at the same time creating some 'stretch' for them. Of course, this means that you will have bothered to find out what their talents are!

You can create team celebrations to celebrate successes.

You can bother to remember the whole of life details that your team members have felt comfortable sharing with you (ie their partners and/or children's names, their birthday, special events in their life, their sporting teams and heroes etc.)

You can articulate how your team is contributing to your organisations vision and mission and help each person to 'see' how they are personally contributing to bringing these to life.

When times demand it you can make decisions that are timely and help the team to achieve its objectives.

These actions are all doable and are well within the control of a leader, irrespective of company culture.

It is my experience that when these activities are done with genuine intent, most people respond with an increase in self motivation and perform to a higher standard which is ultimately what leadership is trying to achieve.

How have you worked to increase the motivation of the members in your team?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Awareness matters!

The scene
I had been asked to attend a late afternoon meeting with a client in a different part of the city to which my office is located. I decided to drive to the meeting so that I could drive home. As luck would have it, a one hour metered carpark was available immediately outside the client's building.

Upon arrival the receptionist asked where I had parked. I informed her that I had parked in the one hour zone out the front of the building.

I was shown to the meeting room and some cool, fresh water was provided. I was informed that the person I was meeting had been held up in another meeting off-site and was on his way, possibly being 30 minutes late.

The moment that mattered

Prior to the arrival of my client, the receptionist popped her head back into the meeting room and asked whether it would be okay for her to pop downstairs to 'feed the meter' for me.

I had started to wonder how I was going to manage the parking situation given that a large period of my 60 minutes had been 'chewed up' waiting for my client to arrive. The awareness of the receptionist, Crystal, to help me was just terrific. Crystal realised that I might be starting to worry about my car and that the parking issue could end up being a problem for me should the meeting last longer than the now available 30 minutes.

To me Crystal's actions highlight the importance of awareness and how it is directly linked to service excellence. Crystal could not control whether my client's availability, but she was able to control her awareness to relieve a problem before it occurred.

That is exactly what awareness does. It 'heads problems off at the pass', before they have a chance to take effect.

What are your examples of how awareness has both enhanced service excellence and resolved a problem before it occurred?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Teams That Matter Webinar Recording

Webinar Recording, November 2010.
Gary Ryan introduces the seven key elements for creating Teams That Matter. High performing teams are rare, but they don't have to be. Discover the key elements that will help you to create a high performing Team That Matters.

Please contact me if you would like to learn more about how I can help you create a Team That Matters.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why workplace trust is a challenge

The challenge with workplace trust, whether from leaders to employees or employees to leaders or employees to employees is that to trust another person you must be willing to be vulnerable. That is, the act of trusting someone means that you are openning yourself up to the 'risk' that whoever you are trusting could 'break' your trust.

You see, trust cannot be broken unless it is given in the first place.

This is one of the factors that makes trust within an organisation so hard.

Whether this be from leader to employees, or from employees to leaders. The same is true.

In this context leaders must be able to demonstrate that they are willing to be vulnerable by trusting employees, and employees need to demonstrate that they too are willing to be vulnerable by trusting their leaders.

I'm suggesting that trust is built by demonstrating trust and being open to the vulnerabilities that come with trusting others.

What are your experiences of organisational trust?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Research shows that part time work and volunteering pay off

Research based on member responses and presented at the Australian Association of Graduate Employers (AAGE) showed that 83% of graduate roles were given to applicants who did part-time or casual work. The research also showed that doing volunteer or charity work is highly regarded from a prospective employers perspective as 48% of successful candidates had indicated that they had been volunteers.

Establishing your employability largely comes from your ability to demonstrate that you can work with people to achieve shared objectives. Part-time/casual work and volunteering provide opportunities to do exactly that.

I often hear young people say, "Oh, I just work in a supermarket" or "I just work in a cafe." or "I'm just doing some volunteering for my local charity".

There is no such thing as 'just' a part-time/casual job or volunteering role. All these roles help to prove that you are employable because they all involve teamwork, communication, leadership, innovation, problem solving - the list goes on!

The evidence is overwhelming that part-time/casual and volunteering roles matter. Don't forget it. Notice the 'real' employability skills that you are learning. Employers are interested and your chances of being employed are significantly higher if you understand and practice this fact.

Monday, November 8, 2010

After Year 12, What's next?

If you or someone you know has just completed Year 12 in Australia and would like to know which career paths are most likely to result in an available job, then you can't go past the DEEWR New Jobs 2010 Report.

The report includes job projections to 2014/2015 for the following 19 industries, with the most growth expected in declining order:
1. Health Care and Social Assistance (3.3% per annum)
2. Mining (3.3% per annum)
3. Education and Training (2.7% per annum)
4. Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (2.6% per annum)
5. Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services (2.4% per annum)
6. Construction (2.4% per annum)
7. Transport, Postal and Warehousing (2.3% per annum)
8. Accommodation and Food Services (2.0% per annum)
9. Information, Media and telecommunication (1.8% per annum)
10. Retail Trade (1.8% per annum)
11. Financial and Insurance Services (1.6% per annum)
12. Administrative and Support Services (1.6% per annum)
13. Arts and Recreation Services (1.5% per annum)
14. Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (1.5% per annum)
15. Public Administration and safety (1.3% per annum)
16. Rental, Hiring and Real Estate Service (1.3% per annum)
17. Other Services (0.5% per annum)
18. Wholesale Trade (0.5% per annum)
19 Manufacturing (-0.7% per annum)

This information can be vital in terms of the post secondary education/training choices that people make, so it is well worth keeping up to date with the report, which is available here.

It is also important to recognise that qualifications take time to be completed, so looking ahead at what the jobs landscape can be very helpful and important.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How great service attracts requests for a broader range of products/services

In much the same way that great service attracts new customers, it also attracts existing customers to enquire about new services/products that may be provided by the organisation. Consulting firms in particular are familiar with this phenomenon. Satisfied clients will request if new services can be provided before seeking another consulting firm to supply the service. This can help an organisation grow.

A word of warning.

Just because a customer asks your organisation to provide a new service or product doesn’t mean you should do it. As long as the new service or product fits with your organisational purpose and will continue to take the organisation towards its desired future and the organisation has the capacity to provide the new service, then it should do it. Otherwise it should refer the customer elsewhere. This too is great service.

How is delivering great service increase resulting in requests for 'more' from your clients/customers?

Client quote
Because of the great job that you did with our leadership training I was wondering if you could assist with improving our inter-departmental relationships? I thought that I’d check with you first before trying out some of our other suppliers.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Service enables us to identify our customers

Your customers can be colleagues, your supervisor, the staff who report to you, the people and/or organisations to whom you provide services, the people who pay for your services or products even though others may use them. Often your service or product will have multiple layers of customers. The customers who actually use your service or product may be different from the customers who purchase your service or product. A service focus helps both you and your organisation to identify and differentiate the expectations of these different customer segments. If you don’t get this right, you may be left with no customers at all.

Understand your customers across the multiple levels of service you provide. Do you understand yours?

Quote from a research participant
“I first thought that this service training stuff was a load of, well, you know! But it got me thinking. Who are my customers? Funnily the first person who’s head popped in my mind was my boss’s. I’d never really thought of my boss as a customer. Yet, she probably is.”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why Creative Tension Trumps Problem Solving

Creative Tension involves three simple concepts that, when put together, create a structure that provides the energy for effective action. Many of you will have seen me refer to the 'elastic band' metaphor (see TEDx Talks - Creating a Plan For Personal Success) that enables us to create the life we desire.

You see, Creative Tension is about creating what we want. Problem Solving, on the other hand, largely focuses on what we don't want.

Artists tend to use Creative Tension while people in business tend to use Problem Solving. My argument is that business people should follow the practices of artists and also focus more on using Creative Tension rather than Problem Solving.

Imagine that Pink has decided to write a new album. What approach do you think would provide Pink with the biggest probability of creating an album full of smash hits.

a) To take the approach that at the start of the writing process that she has a problem to resolve. The problem is, "I don't have any new songs ready to put on my album."

To resolve this problem Pink may recruit a bunch of her musician friends and brain-storm a heap of ideas that they believe would be likely to eventually generate the 'right' songs for her album. As each song is recorded Pink's problem would reduce because she would now have some songs for her album. Finally Pink would finish her album and release it to the public.

b) To take that approach that an album is a work of art and that the art requires some form of inspiration. Focusing on the quality of the album that she wishes to create, Pink would generate a number of experiences to enable her to fully picture what the album will be like.

Once the 'direction' of her album is clear, Pink would then recruit artists to help her to bring her 'picture of success' into reality. The number of songs on the album and the length of the songs would all fit into Pink's vision of what the album was going to look like. Eventually, Pink would 'create' the album that she desires.

Music, art and films are all treated as creations to be made rather than problems to be solved. Alfred Hitchcock is famously reported to have refused to let his writers 'close out' a story line too early. Instead, Hitchcock would prefer to 'hold the tension' of an unfinished storyline so that true creativity amongst he and his writers could be inspired. The result; Hitchcock became one of the greatest film directors of all time and is still known today for creating stunning plots, scenes and movies.

Business people
Business people want to be successful, just like artists do. However business people are trained to see problems and to focus on fixing those problems. Common problems that business people try to fix include:

* The problem of under-performance
* The problem of low motivation in employees
* The problem of maintaining efficiencies
* The problem of low supply and high demand
* The problem of high supply and low demand
* The problem of not enough resources
* The problem of poor communication
* The problem of poor internal service
* The problem of poor external service

Really, this list could go on and on, but I think you 'get' the picture.

Business people use the same approach to these problems as described in 'a' above for the artists. They gather a group of colleagues, brainstorm a bunch of ideas to resolve the problem, select the 'best' answer and then implement that answer in the hope that the problem is resolved.

Usually the 'best answer' does have an impact on the problem and it does reduce in its intensity. As this occurs and the original problem is less of a problem, less effort is put into resolving the problem. Why? Because now other, more serious problems require focus. And so the process goes, on and on and on. A bit like a dog chasing its tail!

What if, on the other hand, business people learnt to focus on what they are really trying to create? Rather than focusing on problems that need to be resolved, what if business people focused on the customer experience, the employee experience, the community experience of their service or product? And what if this focus was present at all levels of the organisation?

There is a difference between art and business
Art is generally not released to the public until it is created. In many ways art is created in a vacuum. Once created it is then released. Business is different. Much of what goes on in a business can't be placed into a vacuum until it is created. The way the world works simply won't allow it. In business we 'change the wheels on the bus while the bus is driving down the road'.

It is for this reason that problem solving, in a business context is still relevant. There are some problems that simply have to be resolved. Such as an unhappy customer 'right now'. However, what if problem solving in a business was provided within the context of Creative Tension? In other words, what if the experience that we are trying to create for our customers, or the experience and culture that we are trying to create for our employees was the guiding force for our strategy, actions and problem solving?

Creativity is challenging because of the tension that is generated when we become clear of what we want, but have no idea of how to bring what we want into reality. Artists experience this tension all the time and have learned to embrace it. Business people on the other hand are scared out of their minds when they don't know 'how' to bring the future they desire into reality. This is why most business people focus on Problem Solving rather than Creative Tension. Problem Solving is simply more comfortable. "We know 'how' to problem solve. We don't know 'how' to create."

If you are not sure of what I mean you might like to view the video The Gates (below). As you watch the short video, consider the power of Creative Tension that went in to bringing the vision of art on such a large scale into reality.

How present is Creative Tension in your organisation? What are your examples?

Please feel free to comment on this article.

Gary Ryan is a founding Director of Organisations That Matter and can be most easily contacted at .

I would like to recognise Robert Fritz whose writing over the past two decades has inspired my thinking and practice on this topic.