J’apprends avec mon coeur et ma tête *

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*I learn with my heart and my head.

I’m writing this in the days after the Friday 13th Paris attacks.

I’m thinking about learning and the importance of it at every stage in our lives, and at every level in how we organise ourselves, our work and our society.

I’m thinking about starting with personal learning – and how important it is to keep an open mind, even if it is with a defiant heart. How our ability to see the other side to an argument and not become entrenched in our own narrow world-view has never been more important. How we still have much to learn, no matter how sure we feel.

Over the past days I have read narratives in the media, on Twitter and Facebook – some have resolutely advocated compassion, bravery, tolerance and understanding. Others have resolutely advocated vengeance, retaliation, punishment and retribution. At times over the past days I have sympathised with and rejected both sides as “the way forward”.

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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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Long-Haul Leadership and Testing Theories

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I’m going to Qatar.
A place that I couldn’t spell up until a week ago. ( Q followed by U, surely?)

I’m going to work with Maersk Oil over the next 9 months, on a very part-time basis, designing and delivering work that will strengthen a concept of “Visible Leadership”.
The intention is to undertake deeper leadership work – work on connection, on dialogue, on openness and creativity… work I have been hungry to do for so long and have been doing in patchy little pieces. This is, to some extent, what I have been seeking…. my theory is that this deeper work is good, necessary, that it leads to “Proper Change” – I wonder if I’m right?
This is the test. The part where I practice what I’ve been preaching. The part where reality bites and I discover the edges of my thinking again…..
What happens if and when lots of people open up and start connecting… in a structured, purposeful way?
What happens indeed?

Today I leave for 5 days. In May I go for 4 weeks, then nothing in the hot summer months. Then back again in September, October, November….

And with all of this comes a range of mixed emotions and reactions.

I’m scared. I’ve never been to the Middle East. No amount of research will help my lived experience.. I’m afraid I will offend, be offended, be ignorant. I’m a card-carrying amazonian feminist going to a place where women are not equal. I’m a alcohol afficienado going to a place where such things are forbidden. Where the law allows lashing and stoning people. Where the people are deemed to be polite and warm….It’s confusing.

Thus far, the experience has been incredible – A man called Barrie has been in charge of sorting my flights, accommodation, visas, pick-ups…. I have been in the most excellent hands & I’m comforted by the process: this is how it can be when you want to bring someone in to your organisation.

I feel awkward – a wee Lassie fae Fife, lacking sophistication or the experience to do this well, initially – but who has the life-skills to navigate whatever is to come.
My response has been pedestrian – read up lots, chat to folk lots, buy trousers & decide that I’m going to try to Rock some 1930’s/ 40’s tailoring to start with…. My first pair of girl-brogues have been brought into the fold.
Beyond that I have a sense of deep joy – of stretching myself and of being pushed out of what is comfortable.
I’m looking forward to Souks, to the museums and art – to learning more about another country & culture. I’ve decided to take those photography lessons, at last…

I spoke with FB’s very own Office Goddess, Katie on Thursday and she said: It’s OK to be excited, you know….
and I sort of am, but also not really…excited doesn’t really cover it.

I have a sense that I’m going somewhere fascinating, to do work I want to do. I have a sense of folk cheering me on where I feel my limits and nervousness.

And within all of this I have a sense of a new chapter beginning…and probably a bunch of new blogs.

Time to get testing….

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?

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

Good Will Huntin’

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Good will.
It has an organisational currency.
I understand it as the thing that means folk will stay a little longer, put a little more in, keep the place a little tidier, a sense of pride, of liking being here,  of choosing to put our time and energy in to something collective…. that stuff that is put under the heading “intangible”.
It’s a bit tricky to measure (although, if you’re an accountant, I believe there is a methodology of sorts) yet you can often sense it, feel it in an organisational context. If you work in a place that is operating with a fat dose of good will – you know it.

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Fighting Fog

6a015436eb4a84970c0192ac870d39970dThis blog has been a long time in the making.
There are times in my life and my work where I have the sense I’m fighting fog. Like somehow I’ve just lost a game I didn’t know I was in. Where I become aware that I’m feeling angry and somehow disadvantaged and I can’t quite work out how or where it has come from… where the rules of engagement seem to suggest everything is fine and normal and good – but my instinct is all is not right and I have an urge to kick back and bite…..
So when David D’Souza wrote his blog last Sunday on Sexy Women of HR– I found myself profoundly, almost comically angry… and I mean properly, arrestingly – WTF angry….. but I couldn’t quite find the words for or understand why.
And I’ve sat quietly with a question of what “that” sense of anger was…. and then a lot less quietly when I talked to David about the blog, my response, others’ responses… (In a highly emotional, pointy way after too much wine… Sadly my courage sometimes needs to be Dutch.)
Having processed it, what it comes down to, mostly, is this. There was something about the tone of the piece that made me furious.

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