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?

Memo to Person We Work With (from L&D)

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To: Person that we work with
From: L&D

Following this morning’s Memo to L&D
Well. Yes of COURSE we want you to take responsibility for your learning – within the parameters set by the Behaviours, Values and Objectives the Organisation has set, of course. And you mention the Time word – don’t get us started on Time – no one has any time for learning in this organisation, seemingly – we can’t get folk into those management training sessions unless we compel. This being the case, just allowing folk to learn by themselves, for themselves, all willy-nilly ( no giggling at the back) is really inconvenient and risky.
You may deem yourself to be a responsible learner, but let us assure, we do not believe this is typically the case… and we have systems set up to ensure we are right… we’re so glad you know about the LMS, it really is the best system to manage learning, we find.

We are suspicious of your personalized performance support. Where does this leave us as a department? We can’t be on hand for each individual you know… and learning must be recorded and measured, as I’m sure you appreciate.

You have to complete your elearning module before you take the end-of-module-test so we know you have learned stuff, of course. The other way round suggests you bring prior knowledge and experience but it might be the wrong sort. You need to know VERY SPECIFIC THINGS. Take offering feedback for instance, if you don’t go through the elearning module precisely as designed, you may never fully appreciate what it is to give or receive good feedback in real life. And whilst we appreciate your notion, sitting the test before you have sat through the training makes a mockery of the large sums of money we spent developing the content and really skews our stats. We’re sure you understand.

Oh we love free thinkers and creative types. We feel very similar ourselves here in L&D – but in the main, people prefer to be told what to learn and think, we find. You don’t get free thinkers in Finance, you know (knowing snigger) And the Directors are happy if they know specifically and exactly what is going on. These are the boundaries already set. That is the frame you are asked to work in. If this constrains too much, let’s have a meeting – or perhaps a team session – to see if we can open up the thinking a little. You already mentioned post-it notes, we could use some of those.

“Develop a range of support from arrange of channels”
What channels are you sourcing? Are they accredited? Who are you listening to and are they a “good sort”? We like to know these things – our expertise in all things is important to us… just so you can learn well, you understand..

Give me context. What value is there in completing content if I don’t get the relevance? I need to know what it means to me, in my reality. Your learning objectives are unlikely to be consistent with my performance objectives. They are more likely to be aligned with your metrics and that means little to me in my work.

We know. It’s a kicker this one and we wish it were different, at times. The context is: learn what you need to learn to get on in the business and to improve organisational life, obvs.
We can’t make meaning for everyone – it is a simple truth – to some extent we work on a “if we build it, they need to come “ basis.

We need to improve management and leadership skill – the context for this is to improve the current and future state of the organisation. Oh we didn’t quite perform as we wished to, organisationally, last year – so a context of sorting that out is also running… we get pulled in all directions, we really do.

It’s simple though…After you have done your performance objectives, you can write down your Development plan and we can approve it, as long as going to that Tech Conference in Tahiti isn’t on there again – the Jollies we see getting passed off as “development”

We are trying to argue against this “access learning at the point I need it” narrative…..hmm…might have to see what we can do, but Chris and Shaz in the IT team are not going to be happy, we suspect… It’s a lot of work to give access outwith the organisation, you know.

Why bother learning? You need us to tell you that?
We suggest you go onto Social Media and seek out some of the bloggers and the learning community our there – look at the passion for sharing, for information, for developing the types of technology and experiences that will allow folk to access everything you have asked for here.
Learning is like water – you need it to survive and thrive.
Not just the cognitive, mandatory stuff, but emotional, social stuff – how to lead, how to communicate, how to be positive, or relax…
How about I don’t tell you? How about we role model how good and necessary it is to learn and develop? How about we enable you to come up with your own meaning around the content we provide? Isn’t this part of what you are asking?

Learning, if relevant, is of value. It is personal. Of course it is.
Perhaps, rather than telling you, we can role model it or show you?

We appreciate the note – you have offered us food for thought. We will take this away and see what we can action – Perhaps this is part of our learning

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.

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.

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?

Continue reading

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

The Importance of Unlearning


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“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got” My Granny*

Learn
Absorb
Take in
Understand
Embed

The premise of so much Change is about taking in new stuff.
Learn new ways.
Absorb new things.

My question is where do we put it all?

If I rammed as much into a wardrobe as I do into my brain or my days, at some point the door would burst open…. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Getting Over The Social Media Wall

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(aka: Why I think if you work in L&D/OD you should be active on Social Media.)

So I’ve been thinking.

I’ve been in few conversations of late with folk who work in organisations and whose job seems to be about delivering/ improving people development or engagement or organisational culture. At the same time, I’m in conversations with those who are consultants, external experts, trainers, facilitators, coaches – folk who offer to design and deliver interventions for clients or into a client system.

And I keep bumping into some sort of Social Media Wall. Continue reading