Learning more about L&D Connect – 20th Feb, Edinburgh

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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.

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Working The Gap

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.. Continue reading

Is this an OD(D) way of working?

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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 Continue reading

Dear Client….

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I’ve been thinking about how I’d like to work with you, if you’re up for it.

I want to be an effective, flexible,  trusted resource who adds value to your business and makes you look good.

I want to help you really understand the internal environment you are working in – and offer fresh eyes, new thinking and innovations that will take hold and be purposeful.

I want you to allow me to push you a little or maybe even a lot. You will tell me you know what works; let me understand and question that. I will tell you I know what works ; go ahead and challenge and question my thinking.  Then, let’s co-create what else.

I want to use some diagnostic and analysis to help you see your organisation in different ways – and for these to form the basis of good decisions, aligned planning and informed activity.

If the pace of change is too slow in your organisation, I want to help light up fires and get the energy moving. If you are battering forth with change with such rapidity that you are losing focus, drive or damaging your people, I want to support space for reflection. If you’ve got the balance about right – I want to be able to say “you’re already doing it, I can’t see where I’d add value”.

I don’t want to collude with you as a client – it serves neither of us well.

I don’t want to have to pretend to have all the answers – I have previously stated that I do not carry the Holy Grail on my person; please can we operate on the basis that this will always be the case?

I’m equally not trying to gather paid-days and wasting your time. It’s not how I operate – but sometimes, I’ll need to spend time on the matters you raise. It gets uncomfortable if you view me simply as an expense. If you can’t see how or what I would add, then that is a valid question.  For both of us.

I’d like you to have access to my network – I’m surrounded by smart, innovative freelancers, consultants and creatives who know things and try things and make it their business to stay at the cutting edge of what’s new and what works. I’ll introduce you. They are fabulous.

I’d like to not-jump through too many hoops. A procurement process that asks for a vastly high turnover is prohibitive for my business– I’m wee and wily – that’s part of my business model, to be agile, alert, cost effective and able to work quickly.

And finally, I want to not have to work with you for a while because the work we did together means I have rendered myself jobless.. .. but I trust the work we did together was good enough that we will do something new in the future.

How enticing.

What’s your Contribution?

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“We live in a “vuca”world….it stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous and it is being used as a short hand for what I think of as our new normal. In such a world, there has to be a huge premium for organisations that can understand and respond rapidly to changes or new trends by being agile and adaptable….” Peter Cheese, CEO of CIPD, Welcome note in People Management magazine, April 2013

I read this editorial and was lifted and a little cynical all at the same time. Lifted at the acknowledgement of complexity and ambiguity in organisations, because I experience working in complex, adaptive client environments where politics, budget, tradition, culture, pace, apathy, enthusiasm etc all influence how well or badly something is delivered (if at all). Lifted also because the words agile and adaptable are appealing, somehow – they speak to me of a working environment which is functioning, healthy, where there is a swiftness and smoothness of movement and decisions, where folk can innovate where needed and this is seen as a good thing.

And I’m cynical for all the same reasons. As a consultant, I have the privilege of working with a number of different organisations and cultures simultaneously, so comparing and contrasting what is out there is kind of inevitable. On the whole? I’d say agility is altruistic and that my cynicism is founded in feeling the enormity of the task: How do we make whole organisations agile and adaptable?

In truth, I struggle to get my head round the “whole organisation” question. It feels huge. I’m not sure I can do much with a whole organisation ( Is there such as thing as an organisation? Hmm… another blog post, perhaps) – but I can work with people who will influence and shape their world. I can work to have conversations that can pack a punch across a business….perhaps that is the best anyone can do?

I’m thinking that, as we work in complex adaptive spaces, surely we need complex, adaptive responses? Yes, we need learning technologies and innovations that allow our businesses to be cutting edge and informed… but who will run and ensure that the technologies and innovations work? It’s people. Brilliant, bored, excited, stubborn, pissed off, playful, serious, awkward, destructive, creative amazing people.

What’s my contribution?

My response to a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous is that we must help people live, talk and work in that world well. But this made me think. What do I bring? What am I offering to the Organisational, UK plc, HR/OD/L&D conversation? If the call is being put out for those who will support agility and adaptability, what is my contribution to that?

I’m increasingly taking up a space that revolves around getting people to talk with more confidence and consideration in their day to day work. The Dialogue work I am so passionate about is compelling because it is so simple: in conversation you can advocate a point of view (in favour or against) or you can inquire into what is being presented (asking more, opening up thinking). You might think of it as tell/ask. You might think of it as push/pull. What happens though is there is a dance, a complex, adaptive, ambiguous conversational dance between the advocating & inquiring. We make tiny conversational choices (or great big old bold ones) to advocate or to inquire and these impact and influence those around us.

When you begin to understand your conversational dance moves, you feel more confident, more able to try new moves, more able to dance well with others. It is compellingly simple, elegant, complex and clumsy all at the same time.

Whether it is one-to-one coaching conversations, or group work using dialogue (and I’m about to risk bull sh*t word bingo here), my client work typically revolves around building people’s capacity to be resilient in the face of ambiguity and recognise their own brilliance and staying-power in environments that can feel hostile, volatile or confusing. You get individuals to see their worth, their contribution and the value they bring to the organisational party? You enable people to speak for or against a course of action with some clarity, confidence and conviction? Well then bring on the complexity and ambiguity, my friend, it will not faze.

What I bring is a little old fashioned – my stuff is about communication, talking, relating, being considerate and compassionate in the world. Oh and challenging well. Really well. Being able to put your opposition to an idea across with care and conviction so you are heard. Actually? Perhaps my stuff isn’t old fashioned… perhaps it’s classic.

My contribution to support living in a “vuca” world well and to the request to support leaders and managers to be rapidly responsive and agile, is a constant invitation to the people I work with to be “human” (see above – brilliant, stubborn etc) and to talk well with others. In order to work, my contribution also needs to be supported by those who can add technology in the mix, those who are creative, those who have the capacity to deal with data and finances brilliantly. I am part of the overall system – contributing and relying on others to support or challenge me. In a complex world, I don’t have a panacea or a simple answer( and nor does anyone else, Guru, Thought Leader or “Expert”).

I do, however, have a contribution to make in a “vuca” world.

And I’m interested. What is yours?

 

Further action :

fuchsia blue Exploring Dialogue Sessions are running May 8th & 9th, London

Please comment below or contact me if you want to discuss further.

Further reading :

David Rock’s work on Quiet Leadership (particularly the Dance Toward Insight chapters)

Ronald Heifetz, Martin Linsky’s work on Adaptive Leadership

Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science – example of writing here

David Bohm’s Dialogue work ( See article Dialogue: a Proposal here)

 

Day Two – Dialogue? It’s a business thing….

I’m working with the wise and subtle David Goddin (@changecontinuum on twitter) on the Exploring Dialogue offering. David and I have been “in dialogue” about dialogue since September and through our conversations, I have learned much and thought much.

David’s good at asking me sticky questions which make me look upward and go “hmmm…” And one of these questions was “What will other people get out of exploring dialogue?”

I work with organisations, with teams and Boards. What I see? from outside? A paradoxical and very real need to take slow-time to improve effectiveness in a fast-moving world. The pressure for a quick-fix leads to scepticism for any solution that doesn’t “guarantee” rapid results. It also leads to businesses “fixing bits” rather than taking time to attend to the bigger picture – which more often than not takes longer. We force ourselves to work in fragments. It is, in my experience, deeply unsatisfying.

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Fragments and wholes
Peter Senge, in Presence (written about the conversations between Senge & his peers and colleagues) retells a tale of attempts made to “improve the cost and timing performance in developing a new car”. Engineering groups split into subsections – working in detail on their area of specialism. With budgets under scrutiny and tight timescales in place, quick fixes to immediate problems were the norm.

Senge explains how the Noise, Vibration and Harshness team (NVH) solved a vibration problem by adding structural reinforcements. Good. Done.

Only now there was a weight problem on the chassis; so the Chassis Specialist were forced to take action and make changes which then impacted back on the NVH team because it created more harshness…. You get the idea.

Senge summarises it thus: “People felt stuck. They didn’t have time to collaborate, yet not collaborating meant they constantly failed to meet their timing goals. But it was also clear that much of the time pressure came from the rework they created for one another…”

Only by slowing down, mapping out the process, understanding their own part in the overall outcomes, could the teams begin to see the patterns they had created together “Each team did what made sense to it, but no-one saw the larger system their individual reactions created – a system that constantly produced poor technical solutions, stress and late cars.”

From seeing those patterns, teams began to be more able to use Dialogue techniques to talk together (here I’m using David Bohm’s definition of “a stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us”) Eventually, the car was finished almost a year before schedule and $63 million of allocated overspend costs were returned….

To be creative, innovate and effective, you need time to process and think differently. Fast-talking/fast-acting isn’t enough to generate real long-term solutions. Lasting change needs something different. It needs to be backed up with deep foundations; with slower, more careful conversations.

Slow Down to Speed Up

What we’re aiming to do with Exploring Dialogue is to improve the quality of dialogue in individuals and teams; getting people talking with more effective impact and reflecting well so they “show up” differently in conversations; leading to different outcomes and thinking… impacting positively on change in the team.

Through the workshops, we create an environment for experimenting with conversation and dialogue where ideas are generated –new thoughts or solutions emerge – simply by thinking with and talking to other people.

We offer unapologetically slow-time to truly reflect on and understand yourself and others in everyday interactions and discussions… we offer it, because you’re unlikely to get it in organisations or our busy working lives.

The focus is less on what you do; more on how you are being in relation and response to others. fuchsiablue is not about the quick fix – it’s about the learning that will stand you in good stead for many many conversations to come – and I’d argue fairly strongly, you won’t get that from a powerpoint presentation and a rapid intro to “tough conversations”

Closing thoughts for today…

I’m a practitioner first and foremost. I understand very well the pressures my HR, L&D, OD and Board clients face in their businesses and budgets. I’ll be the first to ‘fess up to my altruism, but I’m practical and grounded too and I know this dialogue, whole person, whole being stuff is more than important… it’s one way to sustain and nourish creativity, thinking and talking for years to come.

We’re living in a complex, adaptive, shifting fast paced world and fuchsiablue’s “business thing” is to invite you and your teams to go slow.

This is, of course potentially contrary, unconventional and a little nuts. Or it might be just good old common sense…

David? Did I answer the question yet?

And in this is an invitation. You’ll find more details about Exploring Dialogue here

If you are interested in attending, please sign up or, if you’re not, please pass this on to someone who might be or comment and let me know your thoughts – and no matter what, I hope you enjoy the blogs over the next few days. Tomorrow is about dialogue & the brain.

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A different story….

I’m working off a theory that there is a paradoxical need for slow time to talk in fast-paced organisations. Even as a card-carrying, fully committed member of The Impatient, this Slow Time notion is strengthening through reading Nancy Kline’s Time to Think, David Bohm’s classic On Dialogue, and the beautiful, lyrical i-thou concepts of Martin Buber.

What i notice is this: If you crash diet, you might get leaner for a while, but long-term you’re likely to get fatter. You go for fast food? Fine, it might satisfy you for a bit, but you get hungry and it’s unsatisfying (not to mention heart attack inducing) You send your Leadership team for a 1 day “experience” or a 3 day Programme? The effects will be marvellous, but fleeting.

We know this. What’s going on with our thinking?

How are we in a situation where our Boards and Leadership teams often put no value on taking time to build the relationships and the conversations that would enable decisions to be made quicker, allow meetings to flow with greater ease, or performance conversations to be appreciative and constructive? Where does the rush come from?

Oh.. but we’re really busy….

Busy? Who SETS that story? What does it mean? Surely we already know that thumping along at a fiercesome pace means stuff gets missed. Voices get lost. Common sense becomes a rarity. In that “busy” frame, it becomes permissible to see the role of “The Board Conscience” as someone a little boring or risk-averse – too slow, not compelling enough. The guy in charge of “people” is not perceived to be commercial: ergo unimportant…. Let’s move on….

And then LIBOR happens. Or Nick Buckle is stuttering in front of the Commons Select Committee because no-one knew how to point out the massive big elephant lurching about the middle of G4S, indicating that there was a recruitment issue 3 weeks before the Olympics kicked off…..

Too busy, huh?

At what cost?

This busy-ness is surely costing companies both on the bottom line and in terms of their reputation? Help me out here. Am I missing something?

As a Consultant, I notice a temptation to be swept up in the orthodoxy that says Boards are too busy, too important, too powerful to worry about the details, like…..relationships, or really understanding what’s happening on their shift. I get that it’s hard not to be impressed by status; or sucked into that whole “too busy” trope….I really do….

And I beg to differ. I seek to challenge. I want to offer other ways of thinking and working.

I want to work with dialogue as a direct response to the speed and single-story narrative I perceive around organisations. I’m making a bid for slow time, considered conversations and building real relationships which will hold up to dissent, to disagreement, which will be more respectful of difference-of-opinion. Conversations that can hold debate and allow time to be taken to hear all the voices in the room.

And before anyone throws out notions that I’m being idealistic or overly simplistic, (evoking John Lennon..again) I’m seeking to do this in ways that fit with the needs of an organisation. This work can be done without going to a retreat in the country – it can happen in meeting rooms and requires only the commitment to take time to talk and listen more carefully.

I’m happy to be told I’m wrong, of course, but my view is basic:

We need a different story in organisations.

“Too busy” demonstrably doesn’t work.

Huge thanks today to Phil Wilcox for his Blog post: “I am Humble, Fallible… and I LEAD” and to Rob Jones for his post “The one where honesty is the best policy” – Blogs which, I believe start to show there are other, more compelling stories to be told within organisations.