The Poetry of Propaganda – (AKA when the “soft stuff” gets hard core)

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How do you persuade the deeply entrenched to surrender their positions?
If changing systems requires changing behaviours and behavioural change is, typically, triggered by something deeply personal (unless you go super-coercive, but that’s not an ethical/legal position most organisations would go for.. (thankfully?)) what does that mean?

When someone has made up their mind about something. About what is right or wrong. About what they can and can’t do. About what is or is not fiction or fact – and their position is harming them, or an organisation, or a country….. what actions can you take?

These are some of the questions that were raised for me from Jose Miguel Sokoloff’s TED talk as he explains how he & his team helped persuade Colombian Guerillas to demobilise.
I was first made aware of his story through the This American Life Podcast.
Sokoloff is, by trade, an advertising exec – more used to dealing with selling soap or dog food than getting involved in gnarly political/social change issues…but his reasons for taking up the challenge were, in part, emotional ones: He had never known a day of peace-time in his own country.

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Festive Reflections & Getting Lit Up

 

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I get a little sentimental at Christmas.

Something about this time of year – the deep darkness, the long Northern European nights, countered by the the antidote that comes with fairy lights, fires & candles – makes me feel quiet and reflective always. December is a point I take stock. No resolutions or fast decisions – just time to say: where are you now?

Christmas comes but once a year and that fixed point offers me a chance to remember. I conjure up ghosts of Christmases Past. People. Places. Moments. And as each one arrives, I say hello. I remember.

I remember that I forget.

Sometimes it feels melancholic, other times there is comfort in drawing forward those things I knew and know differently now.

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Vapour, Iron & Barriers to Change – a Story

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This is not what he’s going to want to hear.

Under pressure.
Scrutinised.
A big structural change to deliver.
Budget cuts to the quick of the organisation.
He wants a neat process.
A plan… with outcomes and goals.
Delivery of that plan. Stat.
Seemingly this is where I come in….

Only…
It strikes me, as we talk that he already has this – he and his team have long since mapped the process. They understand the outcomes they are seeking.
Hell – they even took the plan to the Board and it’s all approved.
For months now, it’s been All Systems Go.
They are more than capable of delivering a plan. Stat.

So I’m wondering – why am I here?
(That question seems to annoy him. He is, after all, a very busy man…)

I’m here because I am a Consultant – He needs someone to come in and make the change happen. Run workshops. Facilitate conversations. That stuff.
(I bite down my question… Why can’t you already do that without me?)

The plan isn’t working. The outcomes and goals are not being “owned” outwith the team. The need for cuts and restructures is not widely accepted.
There seem to be barriers and blocks… hard to say what they are…
The Board collectively said yes.
This means The Board are onside.

Really?
Let’s break that down..

Well they are onside – but This Director will struggle to implement the structural cuts in Q2 & 3 because the looming deal means all hands to the pump and the disruption to resourcing is too high a risk. As a key income stream to the business, this area needs protecting.

This Director is going forward – LEAN methodologies in place now – so everything is being looked at carefully and, y’know, that all takes a while to show results. But they are absolutely committed to losing 25% of their staff and budget. It means their reach will be smaller in the Organisation, but they are fine with that.

This Director is close to the CEO and is pushing hard for things to change in their area – already the four Regional Heads are three and the resourcing has slimmed down massively. Staff are warning that it is too much too fast – there is currently a risk to retained knowledge –but that is just resistance to change, of course –that’s what you expect to hear at this stage of the game. This area is really role modelling what needs to be happening.

This Director has taken the Heads Of out for a couple of days. They have come up with a plan for how they can keep everyone and raise productivity. It’s not The Plan. It’s better. They have always prized themselves on their innovation and ability to overcome the odds. This Director is much-loved by the Team. They are the priority.

So here’s the news: The Board are not onside.

Collectively perhaps. Individually…. not so much.
I see fear. I see procrastination. I see care. I see carelessness. Protectionism. Jostling. Attachment.
Individually they have a lot to lose, staff, status, outcomes.

If you want the whole to change… you kind of need to put a lot of attention on the parts.
You want to get things moving differently? Help your Leaders deal with their emotional, relational and attachment stuff.
(Perhaps that’s why I’m here after all?)

He’s looking at me in a way that makes my tummy knot with anxiety.
On the one hand, my dialogue training tells me to inquire into both my own feelings and into the look he appears to be giving me (don’t assume, Jools. Don’t project your own nonsense onto someone else. Notice the phenomena. Work with the data. Ask what you don’t know.. he might really like what you’ve just said)
On the other hand, even my paltry knowledge of reading body language and facial expressions tells me pretty clearly:
I’m on the end of contempt.

He wants answers. I am here to give him answers.
To get the plan going.
To enable the outcomes.
To fix the barriers. Stat.
I’m meant to provide a process. Something clean and clear…. not start on about bloody-messy-fluffy-woolly emotional guff…..

I’m letting him down.

I feel squeezed.
I’d really really like the business… I sense it slipping away as I speak the truth as I see it.
Yet I can only speak the truth as I see it.

So I try to unknot my tummy and breathe into what I know to be true:

Far from being woolly and fluffy, the emotion and attachment stuff your leaders are experiencing is made of iron wills. Your barriers are metallic in their essence – not vapour-fluffy, but hard core emotion.
You want them to own damage to their organisation?
You want them to be onside with cutting jobs, budgets & risking their reputations?
You want the organisation not to be heartlessly, ruthlessly ravaged?
You need to start softening iron wills.
You need an Emotional strategy to back up your Business one.
A place for your leaders to express fear, understand where & why they procrastinate, work with care that doesn’t compromise the whole plan by overly protecting, be considerate not ruthless….
Right now all of that is being left to chance.
How about you have a cohesive plan that takes into account impact of your leaders’ emotions?

And you’re not onside with what I’m saying, I can see that – because you have your own pressure and attachments to this working. I get that, right now, this is not the answer you want….But this is the answer I’m offering you.

And breathe……

Silence ensues and I wait.
The sense of lost work and crumbling credibility drifts over me. This emotional nonsense doesn’t hold up in this world of data and process. It’s too out there….

I sit, checking in with myself – am I still breathing? How hard are my hands shaking? How much adrenaline is currently in my system? I’m working out if my knees will give as I stand. Ah well… if I fall over it’s not like I’m going to see him again.

I finally put my attention back on him.
His expression has changed. There is less contempt now – something is shifting….

He sighs.
Fatigued and irritated he asks:
So what, specifically, would your Emotional strategy to back up this Business strategy be, then?

and it’s here the work really begins….

* this is a composite tale. I never blog directly about clients. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons or organisational situations, living or dead, is purely coincidental… though quite possibly likely

Help

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How can I help you? He asks
Oh God…. My mind is blank.
I don’t know.
The honest, truest answer I have is, I don’t know.
I don’t know how you can help me.
It is a mystery.
If I knew it, I’d ask for it… I really would…

Help me out here, will you?

What is on offer?
It becomes more useful if I understand the territory we are on.
“How can I help you” is a World… a Universe of Possible Helpings.
It slightly freaks me out
I’m not good at articulating the help I might need… this ain’t my natural language.
Can you be more specific about what you see yourself offering?
It would settle me down a bit.

Mostly, if I sit for a bit, it is this:
You can help by listening.
By being honest with me about how I seem.
You can offer me time and energy to build something new or different.
You can help by offering me a different perspective.
You can help by being straight with me – be kind, but be true
If the truth isn’t pretty – kindly, truly tell me thus..
…in the long run, that is real help.
Remind me I can – because if we are at the point you recognise I need help,
perhaps I think I can’t.
Ask me whether I should – because I might believe I should or ought to
& that might be a pile of nonsense & that might be good data for me.
Don’t look at me like I am broken and you need to fix me; rather believe I can fix myself

Actually – if you’d like to source me some damn good glue, that really would be helpful.

And laughter.. that’s always a good way forward

Yes… perhaps this is how you can help me.
It’s helpful to know.

Social Media Stories

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I’m talking to the good people at East Ayrshire Council this week about the power of Social Media & how it can be used, organisationally, for good things.

I’m already talking to them about our local Planning Team who used Twitter and Facebook to generate a much much bigger attendance at public planning meetings. They ask folk to follow a hashtag on the evening of the meeting, encourage live tweeting and live-stream videos of the discussion, in the hope that they capture, understand and maybe even deal with objections to plans before things move too far along the line.

I’m talking about Sainsbury’s re-naming Tiger Bread as Giraffe Bread in 2012, based on feedback from 3 1/2 year old Lily

I’m talking about HR Em’s use of “Kitchen Facebook” & the now slightly infamous #CatFriday to encourage people over the social media wall.

I’m talking about David D’Souza’ s curation of  HR thinkers and contributors through the  Book of Blogs. ( Second Edition available here ) Continue reading

Laugh it Up

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Laughter Yoga.
You are having a laugh, right?
I am inwardly groaning; silently seeking a wall to gently bang my head off.
I’m cynical about the widely smiling woman who takes the mic to talk to us about the Power of Laughter… an outright rejection of whatever she is going to say before she even says it – yeah yeah yeah.
Laughter.
Fun.
Happiness.
Important.
I got it.
Blah.
It’s a dark and blustery October Sunday in Edinburgh – the wind is blowing a whoolie and it looks grim and grey out there.
I think it’s safe to say I’m not precisely feeling peace n love n joy.
I’m defended and resentful.
What does this have to do with the everyday ups and downs of my life?
This overly simplistic “laughter is the best medicine” stuff….
Come on. Really?

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The 1,000 Day Manifesto

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Dorothy Sanders, Dean Fischer and Jonny Millar co-founded Maptia. As backpackers, they were seeking beautiful, simple ways to share and find memorable experiences of places.

In a three-handed presentation, taking us through 1,000 day of their start up, they took us on their remarkable journey from idea to launch, which took them from Durham to Chile to Seattle to Morocco; from Morocco to Switzerland to launch. They spoke of what they learned, the risks they took, the cost, at times, to their emotional well being…..

And at the core of it all was a dedication – will and a belief that sharing stories about the remarkable and beautiful planet we occupy is important.

At the end of the session , they set us a task – come up with our 1,000 day manifesto – what will we do and bring to being in the next 1,000 days.

It’s a thought provoking challenge and one I’m only just beginning to be able to articulate well, 8 days on…. I feel time may be ticking, people… but I want to give it proper consideration.

It’s a cool exercise – what would your 1,000 day manifesto be?

 

This is part of a four- blog series:

Intro: Happy Start Up Camp – Reflections

Reflection one: DreamBalls & Being Rich in Other Ways

Reflection two: The Need to Break Bread – Marketing by relationships

Learning Echoes

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What goes around comes around.
I kind of do experience that.
The stuff I don’t deal with well first time returns to me until it is properly sorted – the life equivalent of faulty goods being returned until they are replaced with something fit-for-purpose that will last.
I’ve realised of late it is the same with my learning – something I didn’t understand or grasp first time it was seen, read, heard, experienced somehow pops back into my sightline at a random point and the lightbulb flickers on: “ohhhh… it’s thaaaaat..”   Learning I have run screaming from because “it’s just too hard” is precisely what is required to be successful in an interaction, a decision, an outcome …. Go figure.

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Optimum Tension

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“The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshipper or lover. The daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart.”  – Einstein

 

Liam the Bike mechanic is talking us through the intricacies of tuning cycle gears.
He points to the tiny inhibitor screws on the gear derailleur (thing that changes gears on the back wheel of a bike….yes..I had to look up my notes) and explains that loosening or tightening these screws affects the movement of the mechanism across the gear cogs. (forgive my lack of detail, I got the gist)
He demonstrates by tightening one small screw and moving the pedals, clicking gears up and down….he points to the hesitation and resistance in the gear shift – to me, it looks taut and the chain jumps snappily from cog to cog .
Then he loosens the screw massively and the gear shift flops idly, chain rolling without precision onto cog after cog and back down.
The trick, he tells us, is to find good tension.

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