Staying Upright

We are facing it again – the illness of a loved one – my family kicked in to an oddly known pattern, following a phonecall… bad news… information…response…. we gather in Scotland. We talk and speculate, we have terrible gallows humour about the grimness of the situation. We crumple. We recover. We hold each other. We separate and stay in touch – messages, phonecalls – we manage the conversations – medical, social, relatives, practical. It runs as it needs to – a strange stream – not a linear pathway – not a torrent of a river, but a small, determined stream, bubbling in a mostly-predictable direction – with sudden bursts of flow and then back to something steady.

I find myself slightly annoyed with the familiarity of it. Having been through something similar with Dad, this feels like de ja vu. The crappiest roller coaster in the park. I hated it first time round. This time it’s no party either, but somehow I have a sense of “ok… this is how this goes…” so somehow even the unpredictable parts are … partially expected. And somehow that saddens me more….That I can feel resigned and stoic. That I’m not raging against the dying of the light in the way I did before.

Emotions are complex beasts.

And in the midst of familiarity, I experience my own change, my own learning, the unfamiliar shifts in my responses. Where once I was laid flat by how I felt– worried and frightened and small and furious – I find I can now stand in the maelstrom a little better. It gets a little wobbly, but I’m definitely more upright…. Where once I ignored that I was completely flattened and attempted to crawl on regardless…I find I can’t do that now… I’m not prepared to do that now…
Whilst I’d still prefer not to be on the floor, I recognise that sometimes sitting there is right. I need to stop. To take stock. To write. To articulate: I feel this. It is this way for me. I’m struggling/ I’m surprisingly ok/ I need X – and then less is pinning me down… and I can stand… and walk outside and breathe.

In all of this, I have a sense of coming face to face with my mortality – turns out I don’t ACTUALLY have super powers. The irony of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie is not lost one me – I’m seeing her everywhere & I so love some of what she represents… and still, I don’t have super powers… This is old news… but it still never ceases to surprise me. My mode of being is one where I can affect change, I can create conversations, take action, have a plan B… in the world I create for myself, I have agency most of the time…
But in a situation where someone you love is dying, you have no agency. You can’t DO a damn thing. Circumstance dictates. Your phone becomes your friend and foe. The ringing brings a second of dread – what news? You are beholden.
These are lessons well learned…and I’m truculently thankful for them.

And in the face of no agency, I still need to feel I can choose. So I choose to continue working, to do good stuff that gives me pleasure and purpose – and to be realistic about what that means. And I choose to go do stuff that feels good – I choose to live, in the face of the alternative choice I think “live” is a good one. I choose to drive 4 hours for a visitation that is rationally pointless, but needed and nurturing. I choose to design team days that enable joy, creativity and thought-provocation and I choose to put stuff around me so I can deliver those well, and still be here and clear – and rest myself a bit after.

I choose who to talk to .. sometimes steering clear of folk who might help…or who might open me up – because I need to be not-open to function for a bit. I choose to lock down a little. I choose easy books and kids movies…I choose not to get political. I choose no sudden moves. I choose to go gently where I can.
You do what you do to get through. To survive and thrive.

I choose these things because I don’t want this to be the only thing. The arresting thing. The defining thing. The sole focus.

It’s the only way I know how to stay more upright.

Picture: Human condition by T Storm Halvorsen

Business Translation & Keeping it Real

deep-listening

This is inspired by a recent conversation with Carol Read, who is doing some extraordinary, breakthough transformation and innovation stuff in the Horizons Team, within NHS England’s Sustainable Improvement Team. I met her through connections with SeaSalt Learning & I think we have started a conversation that could last for many years…. And as we talked, I was reminiscing….

Back in the day when I was an in-house Change Consultant, working with the slightly alchemical purpose of “changing the culture” at the Postal Authority in Jersey, I had an “ah-ha!” moment.

I’d been invited to present to the Board – what has happened, what we are planning to do next, budget stuff (something along the lines of: can you find us some money to do up the staff canteen to show we mean we are going to change and improve the whole business, inside and out? I’m recommending we don’t go down “fur coat no knickers” change route…etc)

I had the standard 10–15 minutes slot, which inevitably rolled over as questions needed to be asked and answered. Part of the Board’s interest was the future, unsurprisingly. In our world, at the time, one of the best ways we could stay competitive was to innovate. We were a small Postal Service, which meant we were, potentially, more agile and able to trial stuff across the operation than larger set-ups in, say, the UK or Germany.

One way we could innovate was to be a test-bed for new delivery methods or tracking tech; we could look at new ways to produce “direct mail” (you may call it Junk mail. 10 years on and I still feel I have committed a sin calling it Junk Mail); we could look at pick-and-pack fulfilment as an income stream (Amazon was in its infancy – we were looking to learn from their model). All these future possibilities…

And I remember going back to my desk, slightly fuzzy-headed with the whirl of future-promises & tech and experiments…. And looking at the list of stuff I knew we needed to get done now. The canteen upgrade suddenly seemed very….unsexy…. but still deeply necessary… and I found it hard to reconcile.

The Board that day were all future and commerce and budgets and business opportunities (as it should be) and I knew this stuff wouldn’t mean a hill of beans to the day-to-day experience of a Postie or a member of the Counter staff until it arrived (typically in bubble-wrap, with a training course & a lot of head scratching) in front of them.

Not because they were daft, or didn’t have ambition or vision. Not because they were lazy or backward or didn’t care about the job – far from it. They were so focussed on doing the job – getting the mail out getting customers served – that what was important was there here-and-now. That was what was real.The lived experience of the place being too hot or cold. The inconvenience of parking. The canteen ruled with an iron fist by the cook who was resolute about the food offerings available.. with chips….

And so my epiphany was this: the need to Translate.

I had (I believed for a while) invented a notion: Business Translation. I saw the language of the Board – all broad brush & future tech & strategy & hypothetical circumstance vs the language of the Operation – specific & tactical, and day-to-day tangible. Separate languages – or perhaps it was just different patois – but the Change work seemed to be about bringing those two closer together. Working closely to articulate and decode “that future stuff” so we could make the here & now actions more purposeful and (dare I say it) aligned.

It all seemed so simple. Just translate stuff.
Mostly, this thought took the team to good places. At the core of our Change methods was: how do we explain this is in different languages? The way it showed up varied. We paid more attention to our internal comms, we cut back on some actions that seemed overly grounded in future flim-flam or in the compromises that come with “this is how we do it round here”. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it burned.

Looking back, much of what we did was “push” and direct and broadcast. If I were to have my time again there, I’d have done a lot more of the pull/listen/adapt the big ideas stuff. I’d still have the fights with marketing about too-tight constraints on internal branding, but I’d probably be a little less strident in my confrontation… I’d listen more.

At the core of the change work, I still believe it’s about translation. Creating better conversations, spaces to think together, action that is communicable… that stuff. Too high falutin’ and it’s ethereal & wispy. Too grounded and it is ludding and static.

I’m grateful to Carol for the conversation – about the dreamy innovative cool stuff & the need to work closely with the here and now to deliver it.

Trust the Process (aka Reflections from an Unconference)

 

2016-02-17 15.59.55

Thanks to Simon Heath . Loving your work as always. x

I’m an advocate of the Unconference format. This is my third go at instigating one within the @LnDConnect community and I reckon I’m just about understanding a little of the magic that happens now.

Events like this cannot happen successfully without people creating, thinking & participating… and if you want folk to create, to reflect, to participate it is important to actively seek and carve out space and time to enable this… then get out of the way and let it breathe.

Events like this don’t happen without a facilitation team who are in service to others and to each other; a team who push experiment; who are relentlessly and genuinely curious about what is happening in their chosen field; who seek to learn themselves. In this instance the Team were (in alphabetical order) Ady Howes, Fiona McBride, Kev Wyke, Martin Couzins, Mike Collins & Sarah Storm... and me.

Here are some of my reflections ( others’ are captured at the bottom of the blog)

Continue reading

The Importance of Thinking Beyond Your Bubble

 

tumblr_static_1

A few days after Paris Terrorist attacks, I’m in the pub with some friends and colleagues and I’m in conversation with someone about the attacks. Her response was very much aligned to mine, a sense of: more love/ less aggression = good response to the situation. Control, vengeance, fear = long-term scary response to the situation. We were blown away by the bravery the courage and the solidarity we saw.

But it’s where the conversation went next that stuck with me and I’m still mulling on. It was when she said everyone on Facebook agreed. Her timeline on Facebook, her Twitter feed, her news alerts all pointed to the incredible, liberal, make-love-not-war sense that she already had. And I realised, mostly mine did too.

But of course that’s bollocks. Not everyone agreed. Not everyone responded as we would like. Other Facebook feeds were doubtless awash with a counter-narrative that would have made me terrified/ want to weep.

Continue reading

Looking At The World With An Eyebrow Up

you-must-never-underestimate-the-power-of-the-eyebrow-quote-1

I got feedback about my face again.

I’ve had it before and I’m mostly fine with it… know it…. try really hard to work with it – the feedback is about the weird frowny thing I do when I’m puzzled or misunderstanding or unsure. I frown. I’m thinking deeply, which shows up as frowning and that expression gets read in lots of different ways.

The frowning thing has followed me throughout my professional life. I’ve been told I’m dissenting, disagreeable, intense, intimidating…. It seems my face tells people stories I’m only one part of. What I have learned, however, is the frowny thing distances me from being alongside people, it signals: stay away. It’s rarely meant. Although I absolutely can be dissenting, disagreeable and intense (I struggle to own intimidating) my preferred place of being is collaborative.

Continue reading

Advice you’d give to someone starting in L&D?‬

IMG_0569

I’m not used to being a “list” blogger…but this is following on from a #LDInsight chat a couple of Fridays ago (follow @LnDConnect on Twitter and #LDInsight on Twitter on Fridays, GMT 8am)
I was on “broadcast mode” that morning, Tweeting a bunch of stuff I would say to new (and existing) Learning and Development types.
I’ve been thinking about it and this is a slightly extended version.

‪1) Stay open to new ideas. Keep challenging your own thinking. Constantly. Others will need that from you‬… If you don’t want to continuously learn, you are in the wrong job.  Keep your thinking fresh & embrace your ability to be critically evaluative of what you hear.

2) Get a good dose of “in the room” experience under your belt. You learn more about yourself/others when working in a confined space with a bunch of semi-strangers than any textbook/course can‬ ever teach you.

Continue reading

I like a Good Leadership Model….

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 06.03.54

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.