Feedback as a Gift?

image This post is in response to the invitation from Helen Amery to take part in a “Carnival” where different bloggers and thinkers write and post their take on a topic – in this case, feedback. You can find more posts through the #feedbackCarnival hashtag. She posed the following for consideration: Feedback would happen all the time if…..

The first time I remember anyone telling me “feedback is a gift”, I was mercilessly cynical. A gift? Always? Are. You. Serious?

I still have moments when someone helpfully decides to gift me with their insight and it feels less like a gift, more like a raid on my person… but on the whole, I try to hold to the notion that all information is information and that, mostly, to be informed is better than ignorance….mostly….

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I like a Good Leadership Model….

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I’m running the risk of getting myself in knots over this one, but let’s see how we go.

I’m thinking about Models and how we represent them.
Not the photoshopped gorgeous ones as seen in magazines, but the four box matrix/ swoopy circular/ linear process/ uppy-downy-graphy leadership/ management things we use (and by we, I’m particularly thinking of trainers/ facilitators/ lecturers/ teachers of all things management and leadership) to help folk get to grips with what it is to ask groups of other humans to get stuff done in a cohesive and relatively consistent way.

Broadly, I like a good model.
My preference is that it is backed up with some semblance of research or at least represents something that approximates good, simple common sense… and this is kind of where I want to hang out for a minute.

For instance, I quite like Situational Leadership as a concept: have some sense of the levels of ability and “maturity” ( hmmm… interesting word – I think they mean experience and ability …) present in the folk you are attempting to lead, and adjust your approach accordingly.

This works for me on a number of levels:
– it takes others into consideration ( always a winner, I find)
– It puts some responsibility on me, as a part of the situation, to manage and adjust my own behaviour (again, this strikes me as being sensible)
– It gives me some simple options to choose from (handy)

And it has its limitations. Situational Leadership assumes action – always. So, you can Tell or Sell or Coach or Participate or Delegate – but there is no option, as a leader, to observe for a bit and do nothing. (At the risk of mixing models, if you want an option to do nothing, I refer you to the Urgent/ Important matrix: delete, delegate, defer or do?)
The assumption within Situational Leadership also seems to be that you, as leader, will always be in control enough to choose one of four approaches (ask someone else who knows better/ differently is NOT an option here. You, my friend, are firmly leading alone)
It also doesn’t fully cover that in order to tell anyone anything you need a certain amount of good will and authority – that stuff is implicit.
Also – you kind of need confidence and conviction to tell or sell. You need to know your stuff, I’d offer… not sure that is fully evident here.

And that’s ok – it’s a model – it’s a four boxy, simplistic version of the complex situations we find ourselves in. It is neither the be-all, the end-all, nor is it the answer to Leadership Life The Universe and Everything.

My disquiet is that we (once more, by we, I’m particularly thinking of trainers/ facilitators/ lecturers/ teachers of all things management and leadership) often do that thing where we present the model without inviting folk to REALLY think about what they are seeing or being asked to swallow.

We show the model, explain the concepts, run some scenarios that (obviously) support said concepts. We might not mention that this particular model is part of a larger business designed specifically to promote and sell the said model… nor that this model has been around since the late 70’s and whilst it endures, it has not solved the conundrum that is leadership…

We might not mention that because we haven’t looked into why we are using this model, where is came from, if it still hold true…
We might not mention it because we have been running these things for years….
We might not mention it because it has been handed to us by clients or colleagues – run this for me, will you? And it’s a bit Awkward to say: er… this might be a bit of tosh, unless we put some decent debate around it.

Managing people and process and politics and organisational stuff is tricky. It can be rewarding, it can be headbangingly frustrating. (I’m thinking of one of my earlier change roles, where, on a night out, we were pondering if we shouldn’t just get T-shirts saying “Change you B+st+rds” to see if that would evoke a positive change response. We never did it…I still wonder….) What I’d like to see is a more honest acknowledgement of that trickiness when we take folk out to train them. Let’s not stand at the front of the room and act like this stuff is all smooth and easy. Let’s not be overly dramatic about it, either. Let’s just try to be level and honest about the context and situations folk actually find themselves in.
The best trainers/ facilitators/ lecturers/ teachers I know don’t absent themselves from their learners by hiding behind models as if these are shields to protect us from the uncomfortable truth that there is trickiness in the mix.

Models are a representation of the world around us – an approximation, an interpretation of our Leadership Life. They can help us hugely to wrap our heads around the strange and complex circumstances we find ourselves in when faced with a group of folk or a system to work with and the responses available to us, when this arises.

When I’m training (and yes, I call myself a facilitator, not a trainer. It’s an affectation. I own it, honest I do.) I want to be able to talk about what happens if/ when you are a git to your staff. The Situation that emerges if you are behaving as if those around you are lazy and/or stupid (believe me, they know you think that, they feel your contempt) and what happens to your ability to lead then?

I’m asking for fewer models more deeply thought through.
I’m asking that we, as custodians of the information we are putting out organisationally, have some clarity about the rigour, accuracy and relevance of what we are using and saying.
I’m asking for reality checks to bring that 4 box abstract approximation of the world into something more 3D and real for our leaders and Managers to grapple with and use.
I’m asking for intelligent design of programmes so we truly enable and develop our staff.
For now.. that would do.

What’s the Value of Values?

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Rolling out the Values.
4 of them.
Easily understandable & hopefully memorable.
Hopefully memorable because we also need you to remember the Vision.
Oh… and behave by the 12 Competencies, each of which have 5 behaviours under them.

1 Vision
4 Values
12 Competencies X 5 Behaviours
That’s only 77 things….

How hard can it be to live this way at work?
Within 77 little points?

We in HR & L&D will be holding these Values & Behaviours, by the way. We’ll work closely with colleagues in Comms, in Marketing to get ’em out there…. but that’s part of what we do. 77 parts, I guess….we remember them all, of course.

Ah… well… now yes, we also need you to be technically good- (if you have a specialism, there are some other teeny tiny things we also need you to be) but bottom line is, we want you to be technically really good.
And then of course, we kind of need to develop your management/ leadership/ potential skills and competencies… over and above the 77, of course.

But everyone really must live the Values.
Of course they look very similar to others’ Values…. yes, of course every organisation wants to respect their staff and yes, we know there are pockets where this really really doesn’t happen….but these are aspirations – to get us all to live this way in this organisation. Oh. Did I say aspirations? No No…. these are our Values. Who we are and how we operate. Not aspirational at all. Actual. Honestly……..

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It strikes me that in L&D, HR & OD, we are tangling ourselves up in definitions.
That what is valued in one part of an organisation may not be valued elsewhere. That sometimes, what is valued over here is slightly toxic and sometimes it is absolute gold.
So how do we, as professionals, work with this complexity? how do we work with what is real in our organisations, without feeling we have to nail it down, sanitise it, name it, chase it, aspire to it?
How can we allow people to flourish on their own terms?
What can we offer/open up/ invent/ push for to allow the good folk, who put their time and brain power into this organisation, to be really genuinely good… or maybe even great?
I don’t have an answer…
I suspect that debunking the Myth of Values to those we work with might help though?
If you Google the word Values & look at the Images… there are massively similar words out there – no organisation openly says: we need pedantic, headstrong, stubborn, hardy, marginally heartless folk, who can also deal with the public working here….but I’m guessing you can think of a couple of occupations or orgs where that would be absolutely what is truly valued?
What would happen if we spent less time chasing the living of generic Values and more time working with what is real and needed in differing parts of our organisations?
When we Roll out the Values, are we rolling ourselves into knots?
I wonder…..

Reflect and Be Damned

We cannotImage: Christmas card from Sarah Boyd

We are nothing if not rhythmic creatures. As the year draws to an end, a flurry of reflection, intention and future-focussed writing, articles, conversations come into being.
It would be easy to get cynical.
To roll eyes and point at the commonality and predictability of such things – “yes, yes, year end, Reflection, Next Year, Blah….”

Except, for me, this stuff is precious and important. Taking time to look at what has been, or what is; then to bring what has worked well into plans for going forward. How can this not be good work?

Sure, there will be a fair share of braying, self-selling, shiny-storied, perfection-dusted narratives. There may also be reflections from those who feel genuinely, authentically, deeply grateful, blessed or challenged, who are sharing because they want to – (rather than to Prove How Ace My Life Is)… these reflections are, to be honest, much more my kind of reading and conversation… and I appreciate the latter more for the presence of the former… (Yes, I’m more likely to feel an urge to gently Bang my head off the table in the Face of “its all Ace”, but I sort of enjoy the chutzpah of it)

I guess I’m saying that it is good to take a moment, if and when we can, to kind of look around and take stock. There are the lessons hard-won, and the lessons yet-to-learn. Achievements under belts and potential yet to be tapped.

I don’t give a monkies if reflection happens on a random date when the Gregorian Calendar deems another random date starts, or on a Solstice that in the Northern Hemisphere heralds the move toward summer and the Southern toward Mid winter. It could be April before you Get Your Reflection on or it might be your permanent state….

The point is take time and make time to look around you- what is behind, in front, under your feet and above your head. Even more so if it feels edgy to do.

Because it is here, in the moments of reflecting, in the pause before the movement, before the jump to action, before the list of Stuff I Will Do, that possibilities and new pathways can be found.

This bit feels jagged… But I blogged last year that I don’t make resolutions….
Nevertheless, I’ve spent time reflecting of late and stuff is emerging, of course. I intend to continue working on how I show up in life and work, in my family and with friends and connections….and continue writing, as it gives me deep joy.
I intend to be the best coach, facilitator, thinker and learner I can be and to work to bring these things into my client interactions.
And part of enabling this is happen is to reflect on myself, my practice, my contribution – without disappearing up my own backside in the process.

To any and all who have read, shared, commented on and supported the fuchsia blue blog in 2014, I thank you and wish you joy, love, determination and happiness in the coming year.

Dealing with Dissent

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I can’t quite remember what topic we were being asked to work on. Something around how can we improve the quality of HR contributions of get folk engaged or improve process…..Huddled round a flip chart, about 12 of us, HR, L&D, People People, doing that awkward thing where we are kind of blurting out thoughts in the direction of the flip, in the hope the She Who Holds The Pen will capture the bones of what we just said.

I don’t know the group at all – we have been thrown together by a happy networking accident, but everyone is smart, senior, experienced and we are all there because we want to Be Better and want organisations, folk and work generally to be better. As a bunch, we seem to be interested, well intentioned and pretty well informed.

In all honesty, I get a little itchy in these processes, when I allow or encourage myself to think about what I’m up to….My dialogue training kind of demands there be a blend of inquiry, of questions and a push for clarity of perspective, right alongside the advocacy of putting out there what you think. In essence: if I’m allowed to just say the first few things that come to mind and no-one asks me to explain more; if no one challenges it with a different perspective, or builds on it with their own view; I have a sense I’m voicing into the void – no one is really there with me. I’m only partially being listened to. Dancing by myself in many ways.

Worse still, I’m getting away with broadcasting and not being held to account for my contributions… this is where groupthink happens. Or maybe not.. because we’re not really listening to each other, so we’re not groupthinking at all, are we?

Perhaps I’m feeling mischievous.
Perhaps I’m wanting to see what happens if I throw the conversational equivalent of a few wee firecrackers at the feet of our group.
Nothing too explosive, but enough of a noise to jolt us a bit.
Maybe I want someone to dance with….
Maybe I’m just a contrary sod at times.

On the flip paper there is lots of stuff about how we need to engage staff, mechanisms to improve procedures, cut through bureaucracy, get more power (seat at the table would help btw).
In a lull, I hear myself say “we need to listen to dissenting voices in our organisations. The ones who refuse to fill in surveys. The ones who are highlighting what’s wrong, whose voices aren’t captured.”

The pen pauses over the flipchart paper, but nothing is written.
There is silence for a second. The next voice says “You don’t want to amplify negativity, though”
Lots of nodding. Still nothing on the flipchart.
I try again – saying dissent is there for a reason – you can’t possibly know if it’s a valid reason or not in the first instance – but where there is criticism and dissent, it’s worth asking about it.
More silence.
The next voice says I am inviting opening a “whole can of worms”.
I say: “Yes. I get that. I am”

Still nothing on the flipchart and now everyone is looking at me.
Well… if you will throw firecrackers.

Please let someone join me. Please? Let there be someone in this group who will see that dissent is as vital as agreement.

I try again. ( babbling a bit – haven’t thought this out well……) When I worked in Middle Management and later in various project roles, I often knew stuff my Boss didn’t about what could/ would go wrong. I plugged into a network of naysayers because it helped me anticipate stuff I’d never dream of and it really challenged me to come up with better solutions.
(bit more relaxed now, I breathe:) There is, I offer, a reason for dissent. I”m not saying we need to do stuff with all of it, but I am saying listen to it or at least acknowledge it is there, inconvenient truth as it is…If someone says they are not filling in a staff survey because it is 100 questions long and doesn’t mean anything, that information alone might be nothing much… but if we ask more and find out that actually this is widely held to be true, surely we should act?

More silence.

The original voice says that their organisation does listen to complaints and issues, there is a mechanism for picking up gripes and concerns. It’s always the same people who use it – they are consistently just unhappy. You can’t give them time.

I can see the point of view and I want to ask more…..

The lady with the flip pen writes “listen to dissent sometimes” on the board and asks if anyone else has anything else.
Someone says something and it is flipped.
We hurriedly move on to safer territory.

Later, when we feedback our discussion to the wider group, the point about dissent isn’t mentioned and I smile to myself and yet I’m a bit annoyed….

I’ve thought a little about this vignette since it happened. The weariness, defensiveness and borderline fear that seems to come alongside dealing with dissent and negativity in our people systems. How dreadfully uncomfortable we are when we are disagreed with or challenged. How unwilling we are to inquire into the source of the dissent, it’s size or relevance. How we don’t want to capture it, talk about it, dealt with it. Easier, perhaps to just dismiss it out of hand.

Inevitably, folk will have differing viewpoints. I’m curious sometimes about the mechanisms we put in place to ensure these are quietly disposed of, removed, quietened down. In my map of the world, a healthy dose of questioning and scrutiny is kind of vital. As with any health dose – too much kind of tips thing over into “unhealthy” territory… but you get the idea

I worry sometimes about our Professional thinking – if our default on dissent is “don’t amplify negativity /keep closed the worm can” true conversations and lessons learned are over before they begin. That’s kind of stifling. it’s also a bit dull and arguably slightly dangerous.

To be clear, I’m not advocating a big “bring out your gripes, let me listen to all your woes”. I’ve worked with folk who could win the lottery and still complain it wasn’t the Euro Millions, I get that some folk are most satisfied when unsatisfied, of course I do.
I’m equally not suggesting everyone starts disagreeing stubbornly and fighting….

But I also know if we had paid due attention to the rumblings in an organisation or system about the car park/ findings in the report/ behaviour of That Manager/ Uniform dissolving in the wash/ unrealistic timescale for dealing with Customer complaint, we’d have saved ourselves a ton of time, money and (in one case) unwanted media coverage.

Dissent and otherness are there for a reason, usually. What happens when we acknowledge that and take action?

Open Leadership

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“Looking up, letting go and getting out of the way are, I think, essentials of leadership now. From my experience that is much more difficult to get your head around, and do well, than it sounds. I found it feels wrong, and can be hard to stick to when pressure is on, but does produce amazing results.”  Fuchsiablue Blog Comment, Nov 10th  2014 – Emma Browse – Senior HR Officer – Leeds City Council
I am nodding as I read Emma’s blog comment. Yup.
When we ask for new ways of leading in a world which seems to shift and change both rapidly and all too slowly, what are we actually asking for?
In the last blog I wrote:
You have to stay open and aware. That is Open in every sense. Open to new ideas. Open to deleting & scrapping stuff. Open to mistakes. Open to ditching old models of thinking and behaving. Open to being generous to your staff. Open to Learning.
Wow. That is a whole lot of open.
Now I understand the implications of what I’m writing there, I’m privileged enough to coach and facilitate enough folk to understand up close and personal what is required to stay open. It is risky. You run the risk of showing you don’t know, can’t do; you surrender bits of your power and status – often bits of power and status you fought damn hard to get… and that can make you feel foolish, naïve even. Your identity as Leader, as Expert, as Person in Charge becomes uncertain.
This “Open”, good people, is unnerving stuff.

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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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Happy Start Up Summer Camp – Reflections

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When Sarah Boyd tells me she has signed up for something and it looks AMAZING, I pay attention. Happy Start Up Summer Camp? Glamping in East Sussex at the end of summer with a bunch of smart, entrepreneurial folk who want to create happy, sustainable businesses? A weekend to listen to incredible speakers, reflect, learn & be? Oh. OK then. I’m in.

 

Part of this is fuelled by my own growing dissatisfaction with Conference formats and that seemingly pervasive belief that rigidity works best when getting large groups of people together to talk about business. I feel you just… sort of miss something when you button it all down. Playing around with the Unconference format for this week’s event in Glasgow meant designing it so people could properly meet and talk with each other without too much stuffiness – something I sense is increasingly important.

I’m thankful for the experience. It has been a long time since 3 days have so vastly impacted and inspired me – and this was due to a heady combination of people speaking from the heart and with passion, of sharing stories, of dancing & singing late into evenings and being encouraged to reflect. Thank you of course to the team who set it up and ran it, and beyond that to all those who supported them to make it happen – a vast network of people offering goodwill, energy and action.

I’ve picked some ideas and moments to blog about – these are no more or less important than any of the other moments over the weekend, but I trust they offer out a flavour of just some of what was offered and covered. I could write more – I probably will in the future… what I know is this: If I could have split myself in three or four at times, I would have gladly done so because there seemed to be a richness of stuff happening everywhere…. But I was where I was at any given moment and these are some of my reflections.
Read, mull, comment, investigate…..

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Reflection one: DreamBalls & Being Rich in Other Ways
Reflection two: The Need to Break Bread – Marketing by relationships
Reflection three: The 1,000 Day Manifesto

Learning Comes from Life

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As I sit across the table from my dear friend B, after a gin that could sink the Titanic and seafood that makes me appreciate my tastebuds and Scottish shellfish, I realise just how alive this Learning thing is.

It’s really not to be contained in classrooms, training rooms, online……all organised, neat & measurable.

It happens when you connect the stuff that is happening in your life with the available information out there.

That’s why we Google.
We don’t know something.
We want to know more.

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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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