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…..

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

Social Media Stories

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I’m talking to the good people at East Ayrshire Council this week about the power of Social Media & how it can be used, organisationally, for good things.

I’m already talking to them about our local Planning Team who used Twitter and Facebook to generate a much much bigger attendance at public planning meetings. They ask folk to follow a hashtag on the evening of the meeting, encourage live tweeting and live-stream videos of the discussion, in the hope that they capture, understand and maybe even deal with objections to plans before things move too far along the line.

I’m talking about Sainsbury’s re-naming Tiger Bread as Giraffe Bread in 2012, based on feedback from 3 1/2 year old Lily

I’m talking about HR Em’s use of “Kitchen Facebook” & the now slightly infamous #CatFriday to encourage people over the social media wall.

I’m talking about David D’Souza’ s curation of  HR thinkers and contributors through the  Book of Blogs. ( Second Edition available here ) Continue reading

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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Pack up your Porter – Make room for Entrepreneurial Thinking

I’ll admit to feeling warm and welcoming about Rita Gunther McGrath before she uttered a sentence of her CIPD 2014 Conference Keynote. I was glad to have a woman Keynoting. It feels like a rare experience.  Along with that gladness always comes a small voice of hesitation:
Please let her be good. Please?
No Death by Powerpoint.
No self-effacing stuff.
No Tub-thumping – “Guilt-be-upon-you-HR- types -You-Are-Doomed-for-Your-Uselessness” rhetoric.
Just be good.
Show me how it’s done.
Show me how to be a decent, warm, informative expert – generous with your knowledge, inclusive and humorous.
Show me how to make a Profession sit up and think without chastising them like children.
Go on.
Please?
I needn’t have worried.
Curated Tweets and Photos from the session are available here.. please check it out for yourselves: Are we all Entrepreneurs Now?

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Unconferences – Why you should attend

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image courtesy of Hugh McLeod @gapingvoidart

Conferences.
Can be expensive.
You sign up to a timetable. You go and listen to a “sage on the stage” – sometimes a brilliant one – and you take notes, nod… frown a bit that their version of a story sounds a bit easy, but if you are anything like me, you are generally appreciative of time to think and being offered a new perspective.
You won’t talk much during the sessions.

Exhibition time & coffee…. Next Session…. More listening….Lunch & exhibition time….Next session: Workshop – you do stuff and talk through stuff, it’s more invigorating than listening… Break…. Next session, more listening….Closing Keynote. More listening….

You are kind of mostly on receive mode. Continue reading

Red Hot Chilli Conference

 

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This is formed off the back of conversations with various people, following the CIPD L&D Conference in London. There was a sense of “meh” kicking around some folk I spoke to… Others were warmer. It wasn’t terrible… It just wasn’t rockingly good.
I’m not into bemoaning The Current too much unless it is going to spur on new thinking and ideas…. For me, this is the lived joy of learning being iterative – OK. this isn’t doing all it could… So what Else? What More? What Different?
The answers, often, lie both inside and outside the system…. So you pull the information from inside the heart of the conference created and those who joined in ………..and you talk with those on the outside who are doing the Else, the More, the Different… Then Synthesise, blend, try.

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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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