I have a coach. I’m a firm believer in do as you would be done by.
I believe part of keeping any business sharp (and unhelpful assumptions checked) is to work with someone who offers a different perspective on the thinking and actions being played out. I have to believe that, or I couldn’t do my job.
Or rather, I have to believe that.. It IS my job.
My coach challenges me in ways that often surprise. I think of myself as a fairly self aware, flexible, open person, so when she asks me something and I feel myself get defensive and stubborn, I’m constantly bemused: oh. Here is an edge. This is the limit of my thinking and my flexibility… Wow… Who knew?
And it plays out in me like this: No. I don’t think that way. No. I don’t want to reconsider, thank you… Can we move on? Ooh look! A shiny thing!
Of course I recognise this is discomfort. I have generated it many times in my own clients, found their edge, invited a rethink or a reframe only to be snapped at or neatly diverted elsewhere. What I love about working with Jo is she sticks with the tough questions. She lets me snap and wriggle and divert and throw up shiny stories. Then she quietly leads me back to the Thing that is a Bit Ugly.
Sometimes The Thing is so ugly it scares me and I can’t bear to be near it. Sometimes, The Thing just kind of smells a bit off and I wrinkle my nose at having to hanging out with it. Sometimes, just sometimes, it is so ugly I just need to laugh…..
But like a horror movie that terrified me when I was a kid, when I come back to the ugly thing, it is rarely as scary as I think it will be. Like all bad smells, if I just tackle it, open the windows and deal with the stink, it vanishes pretty quickly…. And then I can breathe in fresh air and my world is a little prettier…..
Working with a team this week, I kept bringing them back to the ugly thing. The unsaid. The unshiny. The stinky. They did what I do with Jo…. They snapped and wriggled and diverted. Eventually? Someone got brave and began to acknowledge the ugly thing…. Then someone noticed “this stinks” and team windows were opened and the room wasn’t quite so stifling anymore… As a team, they made a pretty big shift.
My point is this… Don’t be too afraid of your ugly. There is a good chance someone else won’t actually recognise it as that terrifying* and perhaps it is not that ugly after all. When you find your edge?… When it seems ugly and so stinky it is taking your breath away? Try not to close the door and let it fester.
It strikes me that The Thing that is a Bit Ugly might just be beautiful after all….
* My brother cannot understand how I can possibly still be scared of the movie Poltergeist. There were Killer Toy Clowns under the bed. He knows Nothing.
Bringing the L&D Connect Unconference North is an experiment.
Last January, I went to an L&D Connect Event in London. It was organised by a group of Practitioners, Freelancers and Consultants who wanted to create somewhere for Learning and Development or Organisational Development Professionals to have the time and space to discuss the issues that matter most to them and their organisations. Sukh Pabial (@sukhpabial) describes the aims and intentions perfectly here.
I was invited by David Goddin (@ChangeContinuum) part of the organising team and whose judgement I trust wholeheartedly. So I was curious.
I hadn’t experienced an Unconference before. Really? You can have a conference without formal speakers? Without a programme, a rigid timetable and a slightly awkward “informal networking” experience over instant coffee; whilst balancing your Conference timetable & bag of promotional leaflets? Really? This can happen?
Turns out yes, it can. I walked into a room of around 50 people, with my beloved colleague, Ruth Maughan (who is not a social media user – a subsequent short #GetRuthOnTwitter campaign followed after the event) and I was greeted by warmth. People talking. People who “knew” people from Twitter – “Oh Hello – YOU are @fuchsia_blue? Good to meet you – I recognise you from your Twitter avatar” and people who were saying (like Ruth) I don’t use Social Media, or not that much but I’m interested in knowing more and interested in what an Unconference is…
And that was enough, somehow. People turned up because they were curious, or they wanted time to reflect, or they were seeking some new ideas or insights, or they wanted to network more widely. It wasn’t a place for Promoting My Stuff. It wasn’t a place to broadcast “The Big Idea” – it was a place to be curious – to ask questions, debate, layout different maps of the field we operate in as Professionals and start to compare territories.
There was a process – a rhythm to the session – a welcome, a hello and what would you like out of this? There was a big screen with the Twitter feed running, so we could interact with connections beyond the room and we could tweet out against the #ldcu hashtag.
Yes. There were post it notes – and fat pens and an invitation to draw or write and capture what was going on. There was debate. Challenge to thinking. Camaraderie. The inside view on a few bits of organisational life that were imperfect and real. Mainly – we talked about learning and developing people. We talked about the need for it, the craft of it, the difficulties it throws up organisationally, the innovative stuff we do to help create it, the banging-our-heads-off-tables moments we experience when it is done truly badly.
I left with a bunch of good contacts ( first time I had met Jon Bartlett @projectLibero in real life – this year, we are working together. First time I met @PhilWilcox in real life – last October, we ran an afternoon session on Intent v Impact to a group of new leaders). I left with new insights. I left with the experience of being at an Unconference and the experience of a World Cafe Process, skilfully facilitated. I left beginning to understand how the use of Social Media can really enhance an event – and how opening up those back channels ( check me with the parlance!) means a whole wide audience can be involved in what is happening in one little room.
And I return to my original statement:
Bringing the L&D Connect Unconference North is an experiment.
I’m part of a team who are seeing what happens if we run an event like this in Scotland. We don’t think such a thing currently exists and the curiosity that drew us to the London events is burning away nicely.
L&D Connect as an Unconference & Social Network runs in London and on Twitter and on Linkedin and blogs & attracts a pretty UK-wide audience. It’s not for profit & is designed purely as a networking/ learning event. It’s proving a powerful connector and source of information for Practitioners. We want to see if such a thing can exist and blossom, outwith The Big Smoke – not in a huge political statement way – but simply we acknowledge that the rhythm and pace and practicalities of getting folk together outside London is different, yet the needs of Practitioners is probably pretty aligned … so what can be done to allow those needs to be talked about…? Can L&D Connect be a good vehicle? I believe actions often speak louder than words – so let’s see.
I was asked a couple of questions on email the other day and I wrote:
“The emphasis, once we get it established a bit more, will be on getting L&D/ OD folk to experiment with formats like World Cafe, AI, Fishbowl, Petcha Kutcha – the stuff we hear about as practitioners, and might use…. but through experiencing them and reflecting on the process at the same time as we are talking about our field of expertise, gives the experience a deeper resonance ( if that’s not too bullsh*t facilitator)
What underpins it all is the encouragement to use social media – to Tweet and take photos & blog & curate ideas on storify or Vimeo etc afterward to share the learning in the room with a much wider L&D network, connected virtually to the going-s on of the day ( again – a good way to experiment with how this might work in an organisation, or as a freelancer, at an event).
So it’s meant to be a chance for folk who have tons of different experience and how feel they want to experiment, to have a voice and a play.
Right now, though, we are looking for early adopters who’ll give it a go and promote it further. Again – it’s categorically not deisgned to be a profiteering exercise.”
People Making it happen:
I”ve already mentioned Sukh and David.. and I’ll be there in the room, along with Jose Franca, OD Consultant from Chevron (@MrAirMiles on twitter) and digital archivist and all round nimble Social Media expert, Martin Couzins (@MartinCouzins) from LearnPatch and Co-Founder of L&D Connect joining the facilitation team – which means we will have an excellent record of the day. Enormous Thanks also to Tash Stallard @stirthesource for adding her own brand of magic and practicality to proceedings
So here is the invitation:
If you can come:
Be there - you can tell us if you love it or hate it…
Bring good, solid ideas and opinions with you.
Bring your Phone or Tablet and a charger and be fine with having moments of “phone-face” as you Tweet out from a discussion if you wish to.
Be prepared to disagree, share stories, ask questions, experiment with who you talk to and enjoy.
Sign up to the L&D Connect group on Linkedin and join the Twitter chat at 8am on Fridays on the #ldinsight hashtag.
Bring your reflections afterwards.
you might even want to join us set up the next one for October.
If you can’t come ( and I must take the responsibility for organising it during half term – I got my facts all muddled).
Please join the #LDCU hashtag during the day on 20th Feb Tweet us to say hello.
Ask us questions via social media.
Offer to help out on the @LnDConnect Twitter account, or curate from a distance.
If you have been to an L&D Connect Unconference, Comment here or on Linkedin and Twitter and say how it was for you.
We’ll run a Twitter Chat on 10th February on the Hashtag #ScotLanDConnect – join us there if you want to know more.
Reading Sukh Pabial’s Blog (@sukhPabial) post today, I thought it might be a good invitation to have a go at answering his “what am I for?” question.
I’m not getting existential in particular… It’s just I have been in a number of very good conversations of late about what this OD malarkey might be. I guess I’m also turning my mind to the upcoming first Scottish L&D Connect event & sorting out my blog post for the next version of Humane Resourced where I’ll be writing more about my experience of working in an OD context (Hello to David D’Souza @dds180) .
I keep coming back to a drawing I sketched in Loudon’s bakery in Edinburgh, whilst talking with the deeply fabulous Julie Ashworth of Broadreach Consulting as we were processing out what we had just done..
This isn’t the original sketch – more of a distillation, following other conversations. On the left, I had the current reality – where the organisation is now. From here – questions form about what strategy and direction are you looking to move out from?
On the right is kind of where you land organisationally. You can see it as new world if you’re that way inclined. I’m less linear and fixed than that – I see the other side as being shifting sands.
Which ever your metaphorical frame of preference, for me the OD work is in the gap. It’s working with the grey, unstructured, unnamed, nebulous stuff. We use structures ( Org charts, setting values, mapping internal brand, developing staff) to help us name and understand that gap, but essentially, every day we work with the predictable and the unexpected to move the core people part of the organisation from the Now to the Soon.
To be in OD is to have a grasp of HR and the technicalities ( legally, financially and politically) of change; it is to be future-focussed enough to look at the skills development and future-workforce needs through both a Learning and a Development perspective and crucially, it is to be able to articulate and argue for these; it is to have the PR and Internal Comms skills that ensures the organisation has good, clear communications to define a way for getting through that Gap. It is to hold the lack of ego to require the Big Recognition, but enough ego to know just how good you are in the face of constant questioning (And friends. You need friends internally and externally…but I’d argue that’s a fact of organisational life irrespective of which function you hang out in..)
My trope is that change happens in conversation – It’s part of what I truly came to understand through working with Ashridge – You’ll hear me say that a lot when you work with me. This being the case, OD practitioners can’t control or predict every single conversation or outcome in an organisation – but they can set the parameters around that Gap and set good environments for conversations to happen ( even if the conversations are tough or unpleasant). They can understand the importance and significance of dialogue. They understand the importance of giving people time to process, contribute and reflect on what is happening around and to them
In this line of work, you dance in a whole world of don’t knows – you can make assertions that some stuff is likely, try to write the algarithm , ponder on the bell curve and take calculated action, knowing that certain outcomes will mostly hold to be true… and then find yourself in a face-palm moment when the person who is One Down From God upsets it all at the staff meeting where she/he makes a snarky remark.
What am I for? I’m for good, honest conversations about what is necessary and possible in organisations.
I’m for bringing practitioners together to have the sorts of dialogue and conversations that help us define and work in that damned lovely gap.
and I’m all for working to brighten up the grey.
So the last few days have been a lot about hospitals and medical/surgical type information. (See here for previous post) And one of the things I have been reflecting on is this:
My first HR director was an ex nurse. She says her time Nursing was the best possible preparation for life – both Corporate and Personal – I’d forgotten she said that, yet, having chatted to the nursing staff and watched things over the past days, I’d say she was really on to something.
Nurses have excellent leadership credentials:
They must be rigorous in the routine, but able to drop all of that in order to respond to the unexpected.
They deal with grief, relief and unreasonable people.
They deal with a variety of human fluids and functions that many find distasteful – but they rise above the distaste, as that is what is necessary in order to move things from a state of illness to health – and in the end, there are only so many forms sh*t can take.
They learn to operate effectively in a hierarchy and speak up in the face of those awarded Power through their job title and status.
They work very very closely with the people around them – camaraderie, trust and communication are key.
They seem to dodge gossip, start it, or plug into it when it’s useful…. And fundamentally they seem to hold an understanding that people, particularly people in crisis, irrespective of who they or others think they are, are remarkably the same and need to be talked to. A lot.
They are under constant scrutiny, (from immediate care users, to the Managers, to the media and the politicians) yet they are not paralysed by indecision.
They conduct themselves with humour, professionalism, tenacity and empathy.
They translate REALLY complicated, jargon-filled tech-speak into simple, straightforward information.
They are not motivated by money, greed or big cars.
Perhaps many of us could do with lessons in nursing.
I can see a strong case for a model of nurse-as-leader.
On behalf of my family & friends, an enormous and deep thanks to the A&E, HDU and Ward staff at Kirkcaldy Victoria hospital and to the Nursing and care Staff at Lunardi Court Care Home in Cupar who are a constant source of information, support and humour.
On Friday evening I got the type of call everyone dreads – your father has not been seen today. His house appears to be dark, the curtains are closed and the car hasn’t moved. I nearly ignored the call when I didn’t recognise the number on my mobile. I was in bed, suffering from what I had decided was ManFlu, shivery and feeling deeply sorry for myself. I’m bloody glad I answered.
Within seconds, I was out of bed, adrenaline running through me, making calls, throwing stuff in a bag getting ready to go. After the call initially came in, I had about a minute of pure clarity – Right. This needs to happen, I need to call this person, I need to pack my phone charger and switch the heating off…just at the moment I thought I might be quite good in a crisis, I realised the crisis was Dad.. And I ceased to function. My breathing went all to hell and I started shaking and crying…. No longer in charge,… Melting down..I needed back up.
The phonecall to my husband was not one of those you’d get in a “how to communicate effectively” course. A burst of random information, high drama in that he only got the headlines: no dad seen. House in darkness. I’m scared – in between sobs, with a high squeaky voice ending in “I need you to drive me to Fife.”
I am a case study in spreading panic.
What terrified me most was the helplessness. My car was in the garage. I only have the number for one of my father’s neighbours and it is a landline. Joe is not a young man. I was looking for lightening- quick google-time responses, the ability to type “is Dad alive?” into a browser and get an instant response. This was not to be. I was 45 minutes from where I needed to be, relying on a man in his eighties to give me information and his biggest concern seemed to be that the police might damage the front door if they broke in.
I can’t do anything.
I can’t teleport.
Get good information.
The police have been notified.
Brothers have been called.
My lift is on its way.
I can’t DO anything. I have to just BE with the situation. Loathsome state for me. My control freakery meant I was driving myself loopy, raging round my flat, throwing things in a bag: what can I do? What can I do? I found myself chewing my fingers, muttering and furious when I realised: The answer to that was nothing. The best I could do was calm myself, focus on what needed to be put in place and the necessary next steps, then take them.
Next steps? Get to Fife.
The police found Dad on the floor of his bedroom at 5:20pm, having gained access to the house without having to break in. He was alive, conscious but needing medical attention. No evidence of head trauma. No evidence of broken bones. But he had been lying there for a long time. When THAT call came in we were in the car, already breaking speed restrictions to get to Fife. More phone calls to brothers. More helplessness and guilt…. But now he’s alive. God knows what else, but he’s alive.
So now I know what set of scenarios we’re working with. Scenarios that involve being alive. Not the unthinkable ones (which I’d allowed myself to think about). I can work from here.
Arriving at the house, tearing up the stairs to find Dad, pale, diminished, conscious but not wholly lucid…. Thanking the police officers, sharing information, trying to piece together what had happened. Needing to wait for the ambulance and that familiar helplessness kicking in… What can be done? Me, ludicrously taking dad’s pulse, as if I could do anything with it, but just needing to feel it was there – it was… and it was racing…
In the following hours, we worked with systems designed to transport traumatised, sick people from a state of illness to (hopefully) a state of stability & contain worried, impatient, action-orientated relatives:
Bright, kind practical paramedics asking questions about dad’s medical history I was ill- equipped to answer: “he’s a farmer. He doesn’t talk about illness”.
Arriving at A&E in Kirkcaldy hospital to find we needed to “book” Dad in – feeling disorientated about having to do that.
The large, REALLY bright waiting room full of sanitising gel, practical, wipe-clean chairs, no magazines, hundred of posters and a TV running BBC 24 news to keep us occupied.
A super-expensive overly complex vending machine, which meant we had things to talk about as folk tried to puzzle out how to use it.
A plug socket to charge my phone and thankfully good signal to call and text worried people.
My fear of A&E on a Friday before Christmas, assuming it would be full of drunk folk (I was scared and rattled enough. I wanted to be soothed, not on-guard.) the relief when it was a teenager with a broken leg, a couple with a tiny new born and a girl with something in her eye.
Fiona, the nurse with bright red hair and a pretty nose stud, who I towered I over, but who was a Giantess as she ushered us into a relative’s room after 10pm. Her utter kindness when she asked if we had eaten anything (no) and how she rustled up tea and sandwiches.
The A&E doctor who sat with us, asking questions quietly; mapping out what had happened and what would happen next, orientating us through the steps about to unfold. How grateful I was for her clarity and sense, feeling safe in her hands. She could tell us the process – not the outcome (and I smiled to myself as I recognised this is exactly what I say to clients, albeit in wildly different circumstances…or are they?)
Dad hooked up to tubes and things that beeped. How, even though it was a shock, I have seen this so often on telly that it is less frightening than perhaps it could be. My awareness that I had spread panic earlier.
How important it now seemed to look calm and reassured for Dad.
How low key and undramatic the place was – the very opposite of TV medical dramas.
How no one looked like George Clooney.
How the atmosphere changed, just after midnight, as a “serious assault” was reported and the start of drunk Friday night kicked in; how the lightness and kindness of the medical staff took on a slightly different quality as the new traumas came in.
How they moved us up to the high dependency unit pretty quickly after that.
How angry I was with the press and politicians who criticise- my NHS experience is once again bloody superb.
My father is stable and recovering. He seems to have something treatable, but there are more tests to be done, more observation to be carried out. My family has done what it does when these things happen – pull together, albeit in a seemingly raggle taggle fashion – but we talk and judge each other and gripe about different things and are frightened or reassured at different points and remember different things to sort or do and somehow that seems to work. We jostle for being The Best Child. We snap at each other and nudge at each other and check out that each other is ok. As adults, we are just the same as we were as kids.
I decided to blog about it because I constantly say we need to be more human in the world, to show up more, to show ourselves. And I try to practice what I preach. This is not the theory of dealing with emotion or working with an emerging situation. This is the practical. Resilience lies in accepting you hold an illusion of control of a situation and that illusion is important, but flawed.
I needed many things of Friday night: information, reassurance, strength, courage, the wisdom of others, the kindness of strangers, trust, humour, sobriety, nourishment, belief and practical, hands-on support. I was not alone in needing these, but sometimes I was the only one able to ask for them…I’m thankful for my line of work sometimes.
So, for now, everyone is mostly where they need to be. Dad is being treated and is in the best possible hands. The immediate family are talking and sorting what needs to be sorted. We have some days to breathe and plan before he returns home and a temporary system will be in place to work with his recovery. This is how it will go
and in the meatime, what has been ringing round my head is this quote from the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Over lunch recently, I was rather enthusiastically explaining some work I led on. My lunch partner suggested this was “a Proper piece of OD work”. Which gave me pause…. I was once again struck by the fact that I don’t think I wholly know what that means….
Here is the CIPD Factsheet Definition:
we define organisation development (OD) as ‘planned and systematic approach to enabling sustained organisation performance through the involvement of its people’. Behind this definition lies a depth of research and practice, but also confusion.
No wonder I’m left with questions. This way of working – not having all the answers, working to invigorate and catalyse change through people and systems… it feels very odd. Very nebulous…..yet very important.
So here’s what I think working as an OD consultant (with a L&D flavour) is about
I have been consulting in to one part of a large organisation. The part I work with has an organisational structure of 6 Functions; these in turn make up a larger Division. Each Function is historically and culturally very different – some work more to deliver linear, project-based, planned work; others are working with complex, shifting projects that involve multi-stakeholder contact.
As you can imagine, different types of people are drawn to work in the different Functions. A preference for meticulous detail, the ability to understand rules, regulations and enforce procedures? – Step over here and flourish. A preference to work within guidelines, but also work in an ambiguous, rapidly-changing environment, where building trusted relationships and a good reputation will give you easier access to information and traction? – We’ll have one of you, please.
The original brief was to start running some dialogue sessions to see if we (the client and fuchsiablue – I work in partnership where I can) could get conversation and debate moving across the whole Division. Each Function has been though fairly hefty changes in the last 2 years – redundancy, restructure, loss of experience and expertise – and the residual feel in the Division was one of disjointedness and disconnect.
Middle managers were offered networking opportunities to meet and talk, but these reportedly lacked purpose and spark, so seemed to be fizzling out. Staff surveys suggested good levels of job satisfaction, but Senior Staff in at least 4 Functions reported that they experienced a lack of energy, as sort of holding back and cautiousness, within the management team… this was inhibiting stuff getting done, creative solutions being found and stifling the joy of action.
In the other 2 Functions, however, the story was slightly different – there was a sense of renewal, of purpose and action.
Whilst I could see space for working with some dialogue methods (i.e. Strengthening the systemic capacity to listen, to speak authentically, to be more respectful and thoughtful, to question the status quo a little more) to bring about some short-term awareness and change across the whole Division; I suggested to the client that we work up to that in a slightly different way – that we honoured and worked with the diversity and difference in each Function. If the purpose of involving fuchsiablue was to bring everyone up to a shared high level of vigour, interest, participation and action (HR/OD/ L&D Professionals take note: I am NOT using the engagement word), then specific interventions in functions would be better placed than blanket solutions.
Having established some sense of a baseline, it was clear that different parts of the system were in very different places psychologically, energetically and relationally. We could take some steps to work from there.
For example: where Functions were feeling adrift and seemed to be mourning the loss of colleagues and resource, there was work to be done to repair and refocus. Where Functions were good to go – already working well and encouraging shared learning – there was work to be done to enable them to do so AND to get them to inspire and share their readiness with their colleagues.
I spent time asking questions like “What would it take for you to love what you do here?” “What would help you get fired up?” “What would make you want to applaud your team?” I’m not asking these questions in a happy-clappy “let’s brush over the issues and get cheerful” way – in fact, in the circumstances, the questions seemed provocative and categorically brought the issues to the fore that were previously off-limits to discuss with management.
Yet my sense, having spent time with various parts of the system, was that it was absolutely time to ask those questions. Much of the organisational uncertainty was gone. People did not need to fear for their jobs. There had been a whole bunch of hurt and pressure – but this was the new normal….the new world…..Time to start thinking differently.
I also asked the 2 Functions that seem to be moving forward “How are you doing this?” “What can be learned from how you are working?” ”What do you want to share with your peers and colleagues that would be helpful?” At the same time, I invited the Function Heads to pay attention to the importance of talking to each other again – after months of looking into their own areas, tending to restructures and wholesale change, could they begin to look back upward and outward? Could they share ideas, tips, learning with each other to spark the ignition of change and new conversations? Could they reconnect?
Part of my point is this: the actual consultancy intervention (in terms of hours spent in the client organisation) would appear to be really rather light. I didn’t ask Teams to go on away days or need a big outlay to start training folk. I spent time with each Senior Manager, asking questions and sharing ideas. I spent a couple of hours with each Team in focused, semi-structured conversations designed to get the system thinking and acting for itself. I then spent more time with the Senior Managers, both individually and as a collective to establish how to keep the momentum, the sharing, the learning moving. I’m interested is in ensuring the client group gets results which leave a long-term positive legacy.
Later, there may well be more visible interventions – sessions showing teams and Leaders how to effectively set up and use dialogue practices; working to embed relevant leadership approaches, peer learning sets….. these are the tools, the stuff where we develop and embed learning more deeply. But that first part ? I see this as subtle work – plaiting and connecting bits of the existing, slightly bruised, system back together with care and consideration. I also see this as disruptive work – holding up mirrors, asking questions that arrest and demand some thought. Know thyself, system and you will be better in how you are known by others.
If OD is a ‘planned and systematic approach to enabling sustained organisation performance through the involvement of its people’. Then this is what fuchsia blue (and all who work with it) does.
I don’t believe I’m changing a system. I believe I’m starting conversations to challenge the system to change itself.
If this is the type of work you are looking for in your organisation in 2014, please get in touch