“The customer community is very unreasonable,” my client told me. “They won’t listen to my ideas, and seem to reject them before I have finished explaining."
I’ve heard similar such statements from different clients more than once. There is pain in this. And also a little pride. Maybe it has a subtext of, “My customer doesn’t appreciate me. They don’t know how lucky they are to have me.”
In such situations, as tactfully as I can, I get my client to think about how they present themselves to their customers.
We communicate more than we realise.
I think that we sometimes close down opportunities to influence people unwittingly because we have written them off in our estimation. We have limited their potential in our own eyes. There a little signals we give off, so-called micro-tells that give our true feelings away.
When it comes to matters of trust, people aren't as stupid as we think. #influence
Generally, when it comes to matters of trust, people are not as stupid as we perhaps like to think.
Consider about how this plays out in teaching a child. Which teacher is likely to get more out of a child: the one who has a high estimation of the child’s potential or the one who thinks poorly of their student?
I recall a case study where researchers split a cohort of young students at random into two groups, each given a different year tutor. One tutor was told that they had been given a class of outstanding performers and the other that they had a problem class. The children began to behave to expectations. At the end of the year, the first group obtained outstanding results, while the other performed below average.
Are those we seek to influence on our projects that different from these students?
Something in our attitude, our defensiveness, the absence of hope we bring to the conversation, perhaps, is speaking more loudly than our words.
On the contrary, if we think the best of people, if we begin to see potential in them that maybe they don't even see in themselves, it positions us to inspire them and lead them. Often leadership is about calling out the best in people. We love leaders when they do that in us.
The most basic engagement strategy stands or falls by the attitude we really have to our stakeholders.
In stakeholder engagement, we discuss the stakeholder engagement strategy. However, the most basic strategy stands or falls by the people mindset we bring to it. If we don't think a lot of the people we serve, then it is likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, if we believe the best of them, we set ourselves up for surprising success.
My advice is to check your estimation of and attitude towards whomever you are about to influence. Is it positive enough?
One of my projects right now is helping the opening of a new local school for 5 to 11-year-olds. Since the government likes the idea, much of this will be publicly-funded, which means we need to evidence demand for the school by getting parents to sign up before it opens.
So, I was with another volunteer, who is also a friend of mine, visit a manager of a pre-school nursery recently. We left leaflets and asked this manager to make parents aware of this new school.
I found the manager to be a helpful, experienced woman, who was willing but overwhelmed by all the demands and constraints placed upon her. I began to see before me not so much merely a gatekeeper, or manager, or even merely a channel to market.
Rather, I saw something of the real person. This woman clearly had a great passion for her kids. It kept her going
Burdened by bureaucracy, imposed by this same government, she nevertheless was willing to extend us the courtesy of her precious time in the middle of the day.
I was impressed.
My friend and I began to empathise, asking how we might help her. My friend also began to ‘call out the gold’ in her; that is, telling this woman what she recognised in her that was good and worthy.
If we get the chance, my friend and I will help her as best we can. We will, where possible, deposit something into our relationship with her.
The relational bank account technique is a simple and powerful way of building relationships.
This is the relational bank account in action. It’s a simple concept: never make a withdrawal from a relationship without depositing something in first.
We could have just tried to make a withdrawal without depositing anything into her account. We could have asked her to hand out our leaflets to parents, and then gone away.
Instead, we came away committed to seeking ways to make that manager’s burden a little lighter, ways of helping her express her passion and vision for her children more possible. We did come away with a new friend and, I think, ally.
The relational bank account is a concept we explore more in EPE. You can download a paper about 10 ways of making such relational deposits here.:
It’s a simple and powerful.
In my book, Practical People Engagement, I use this illustration of the modes of engagement. Far too often, I find classical approaches to engagement and communications planning almost always overlook the power and versatility of the ubiquitous conversation. We, as human beings, have had all of human history and pre-history to hone the practice of language and executing language through a conversation.
But modes are not the same as levels. How deep do you go with a conversation, for example.
There are, of course, degrees of engagement as there are degrees of relationship we have with people. I do not have the same level of intimacy with my bank manager as I do with my wife (thankfully!).
So a pretty basic level is the transaction conversation. This is a conversation where the aim is to exchange information, or get agreement, or get a sale, for example. Often if can be successful without needing to share deeply with the other party.
And it is usually attempted in one conversation. As sales managers might put it: aim to close the sale in that conversation.
Now here's the caution: this kind of transactional conversation can back-fire very quickly when we are dealing with people who already feel aggrieved about the change we are either making or even just proposing to make. This grievance may be legitimate, in our view, or not; it is still a felt hurt by them.
We can attempt too much in one conversation with people we are seeking to influence, and do more harm than good.
If we still think with the purely transactional mindset, it is all too easy to find ourselves doing this. We just want to process that person at the desk as quickly as possible. We want to end that interrupting call as soon as possible so we can get on with our day. We just want to clear that email out of our inbox. Urgency can work against us here.
A far better approach is the two-conversation strategy outlined in a recent HBR article by Sally Blount and Shana Carroll. The first conversation is seeking evidence from the other party, perhaps using active listening, discovering not just the facts, but the underlining emotions of that person or group, and making sure they know that they are being listened to carefully.
The second meeting should follow shortly after on the basis that you have thought carefully about meeting their concerns and objections. It’s in this conversation that you lay out your proposal and its merits.
By splitting the conversation in this way, you are honouring the other party. They are likely to think, “You hear me.” They are also more likely to be persuaded since you have given time and consideration to their concerns. Also, the pause possibly influences our thinking also, where we may identify those win-win solutions we did not first identify.
In my book, the first principle is taken from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Seek first to understand and then be understood.
The problem with transactional, broadcast communications is that it leaves no space to hear people.
The problem with transactional, broadcast communications is that it leaves no space to hear people, to dialogue, to understand them to any significant extent.
Now, you may be thinking in all this, This is all very well, but I just don’t have time for all of this engagement stuff!
Well, I have two responses to that:
Allow me to challenge you. Meet with one more person, one-to-one in your work environment or project each day. That one-to-one can be physically or virtually.
Then comment on this post below and tell me how it is going.
Change management, or change leadership, as I like to call it, is a big subject. So many books have been written on the subject, and there are more every year. I know this because I was a contributing author to The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook, the standard reference of the global Change Management Institute.
And we live in a VUCA world: a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. We are learning new ways of navigating this new world all the time.
Most likely, most of us will be thrown into leading some sort of change before we have had any kind of change management training. Even if you have had such training, it may be difficult to recall the essentials when you find yourself launched into the thick of it.
There will be pressure to get started. That change won’t wait until you’ve learned everything. So taking all this into account, how would you prevent yourself getting lost in the weeds?
It is possible to distill the complexity of change leadership down into a short checklist
It is possible to get the essence of change leadership down into a short checklist, something we can carry with us into the VUCA of change. Something like the Pareto Principle is operating here. Despite a huge and complex body of knowledge, it is possible to have a short checklist you can return to again and again that will serve you well.
So I've distilled for you the essentials of leading change down to a 10-point checklist, that you can download below. It’s not exhaustive and if you rely on the checklist alone, you are likely to get into trouble, or miss something. But it is a start. Follow this and it will take you a long way.
According to Professor Bruce Lloyd of London's South Bank University, “The critical issue is not change but trust.”
This is consistent with research by Patrick Lencioni’s Table Group, San Francisco. In his, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, Lencioni illustrates how in an executive team trust is a fundamental platform for a co-ordinated effort forward.
The critical issue is not #change but #trust. Professor Bruce Lloyd
It is interesting how little attention is given to the matter of trust in so much of the literature and training about Leadership and Change Management. Perhaps this is because academics and methodologists look for clues in the wrong places, in ‘objectives’ and other less ‘emotional’ areas. Perhaps it is because many in senior management still subscribe to situational ethics in dealing with people, and look to quick, expedient remedies.
However, evidence has been there for some time now that trust is necessary for leading change, and it is built up over a period of time. I believe that trust is the oxygen of change. Where there is no trust, you might see change through, but as one of my American friends would say, "You leave a lot of blood on the trail."
Trust is the oxygen of change
One of the most powerful relational metaphors is the relational bank account, the idea that in any relationship we have, there is a kind of bank account. We can do things to top up that account - such as serving people, going out of our way to be kind to them - as well as do things that make withdrawals. Once the account is empty, you can't make any further withdrawals. You can't ask favours that will be looked upon kindly. Trust is similar, but damage someone's trust and the account can be emptied quite suddenly. On the other hand, always delivering on your promises, for example, builds trust.
Danny Silk, in his book, Keep Your Love On, explains this in terms of boundaries. Healthy relationships are created, grow and are maintained with clear boundaries. We all have these boundaries. These might be illustrated thus:
We don't allow most of the world into our intimate spaces, nor should we. By the same token, we should not expect the people we are trying to influence, our stakeholders, to allow us in all the way. Just because I'm interested in your product doesn't make us best buddies. Healthy relationships are built on these graduated boundaries in our lives. These boundaries are not walls, but are permeable. Most us are scanning the people around us to decide whether we let people through into the next level. Managing these boundaries is not uncaring but is healthy social behaviour.
So, we may want to consider an influencing strategy with some key stakeholders that take us at least from the outside of the circles, where they regard us a one of their tribe.
If you have a Stakeholder Engagement Strategy, is there any measure of how you are doing in terms of trust from your key stakeholders?
Are you measuring trust among your stakeholders? If so, how are you doing this? Let me know in the comments below.
Last week I gave a presentation on our research into positive outliers to a group of public sector project managers. It included the finding that all these high-performing project managers had this leaning to people. I explained how this lead me on the journey first to write my book Practical People Engagement and then to develop the online coaching programme Exploring People Engagement.
During the Q&A, one manager asked me how many of the high performers were extroverts, and whether the Positive Outliers all had the advantage of their personality style. Well, we didn't actually test for extroversion in our research. But there are some reasons why I would not agree with the general assumption that extroverts are better equipped to engage with stakeholders, and so would be distinguished by a leaning to people.
The positive outliers, high performing project managers, are #learners
First, the positive outliers were all learners. They demonstrated in their language and by their explanations that they were self-aware, self-reflective, and to some extent experimented with different approaches. They had learned that spending a significant amount of their discretionary time moving towards key stakeholders around their projects and programmes paid off, seemed to pay off handsomely.
It turns out extroverts do not necessarily make the best sales people.
Then I quoted another research study from Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania which looked at introversion-extraversion in a sales environment, specifically a call centre where they made outgoing sales calls. The people who were the most successful, as measured in terms of revenue generated, were those who were neither extreme extroverts nor extreme introverts. What emerged was that these ambiverts, people who score somewhere towards the middle of the range between introvert and extrovert, performed better. It seemed that they were better placed to Influence people, in this case to buy.
Graph from paper by Adam M. Grant, Wharton School
Also it is clear that there are certain aspects in this call centre workflow where the extroverts have a clear advantage: the decision to make a cold call, for example, is something perhaps that is easier for an extrovert to make than an introvert. That much is obvious. The introvert would need to establish this as a learned behaviour, say by establishing a routine habit or discipline, whereas it might be seen as energising and attractive to the extrovert.
But then, during the sales conversation itself, a key part of influencing is the paradox of being a good listener. And it's here with introverts tend to have an advantage. It seems that the ability to reflect and match the person you're speaking with, to adjust to their style, their tempo, their language, is a skill that is very persuasive. Whereas the extroverts might tend to ignore these clues.
In some areas of #stakeholderengagement, introverts have an advantage
I explore in both my book and the online coaching programme this whole idea that engaging with people is a multifaceted skill. When we engage with people, when we identify the stakeholders, when we study them, when we talk with them, when we make our pitch to them, there's all different aspects of social skill in operation, but really across the whole spectrum of introversion and extraversion.
So is it a disadvantage to be an introvert? Well no. I would plead that in my own case, I have consistently scored as an introvert in MBTI assessments.
So is there something deeper at stake in this? It is possible whether or not people bring a growth mindset to this whole subject, or whether they bring self-limiting beliefs such as, “I could never do this people thing as I’m an Introvert.” In my short e-Book, the 7 Keys to Exceptional Performance, I identify the growth mindset, as set out by Carol Dweck, as a key attribute of the Positive Outliers.
Whether introvert, extrovert or ambivert, the Positive Outlier will bring a growth mindset to the challenge of leading and influencing people, will reflect, learn, and expect to grow in effectiveness. And it seems they do.
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If you have ever led a change, you will be familiar with this experience:
You make your pitch to someone affected. You pitch your change proposition with passion and enthusiasm.
However, as you talk, the other person does not mirror your enthusiasm. In fact, you feel a huge yebbut coming ("Yeah, but..."). Your enthusiasm begins oozing out of your feet as you listen to them explain why it won't or shouldn't work.
I thought I'd share the video below. It forms part of our new Exploring People Engagement online coaching programme. In this video, I rehearse the 5 TONIC responses that cover most of the sources of objection to our change.
So, what's the point? Simply this: the TONIC list helps me prepare before I present a change proposition. If I'm giving a formal presentation to a larger group, I might include some of these objections in my presentation, such as the organisation's recent history and the type of change I'm proposing, and deal with those concerns as part of my presentation.
Most responses to change can be explained from five core areas.
If I'm meeting a key individual, one-to-one, I might sensitively study how they might react from what I know about them, their role, their style of working and what I know they hold as their operating values. This helps me avoid causing unnecessary anxiety or offence.
Finally, I'd like to attribute the original list to the work of Esther Cameron and Mike Green, as it appears in their Making Sense of Change Management. MSCM, as it was known, was for a number of years the core reference for APMG's qualification in Change Management. 'TONIC' was the acronym one of the pearcemayfield delegates on the Change Management Practitioner course came up with and it stuck for John Edmonds and me.
Then APMG moved to The Effective Change Manager's Handbook as the core reference for this qualification, a tome which I had a hand in writing one of the chapters. And, sadly, TONIC didn't make the transition to the new curriculum, which I think is a shame.
So I've kept it in my writing and training. I hope you agree it's a valuable framework.
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In the video below, I’m in my garden in Oxfordshire. It’s spring and so much new life is coming up. I love this time of year. There is a riot of noise each morning from birds that have recently migrated to Northern Europe. And new plants are beginning to emerge.
But this post is about another kind of new life that is beginning to emerge.
For over a year now, I’ve been writing and working on what is that ‘X Factor’ in high performers, particularly in the arena of change. How do these high performers get their extraordinary results?
In the early part of this year, I was really encouraged by the Leading Yourself online workshop. Over about six weeks, we worked through some core material in my recent book, meeting weekly online to explore what the implications were for each of the group.
By the end of that time we had bonded as a group. The class didn’t want it to end and asked to keep a monthly webinar going.
So I did some research and sought your opinions. If you are a subscriber to this site , you will know about the survey I have been running.
I asked about what you want, your challenges, and so on. Although results are still coming in, what is emerging is really interesting…
First, you are a wide-ranging group. Not many of you have job titles like ‘project manager’ or ‘change leader’. We have journalists and cyber-security experts, church workers and government officials. It seems that the secrets of great change leaders are applicable to us all.
Also, very few people have a single full-time job. Most of us have a portfolio of jobs. The 21st century is upon us. This is the new normal.
Nearly everyone has a portfolio of jobs. The 21st century is upon us. It's the new normal.
However, what you want from me is fascinating, and caused me a little concern. It seems that you want two things:
Now, how to I do this?
After researching into this, I’ve come to the conclusion that I should offer you a private site, a place where people can access member’s only discussions and forums, as well as exclusive content.
This is not something I set out to do. I was happy with writing, producing learning solutions and coaching one-to-one. But I am committed to your success, and offering you what you want.
So, I’ve been busy building the site. I'm not yet ready to launch it.
If you would like early notice of this launch, then please use the form below and I will put you on a waiting list.
You are taking me in an unexpected direction, and I’m already forming a vision of what this community will look like. I think it will be very powerful for us all.
As always, leave your comments below, or complete my online survey.
Better still, join the waiting list for the launch of this exciting new community.
One of the areas I explore when working with my clients is what they see in the landscape of their work. Reality is so multifaceted that we have to be selective about what we see. For example, when driving on a busy road, we are scanning for the main pieces of evidence and may be unaware of the beauty of the scenery through which we are driving.
I've found that when engaging with a new project, most project managers 'see' documents, tasks, and process.
For example, when you look at the picture below, what do you see?
Some see one thing, others another. Some people see a young woman looking away; others see an old hag looking down.
If you saw this picture before, maybe someone had explained it to you. You can shift between seeing one image and another.
If you don't know what I'm talking about then look at the almost-horizontal line at the bottom: it's the neck-band of the young woman and the mouth of the hag.
Got it?... OK...
Gestalt psychology demonstrates with images such as this that the human brain makes sense of reality more by interpreting whole patterns than individual elements.
This ability for the brain to make selective conclusions from reality has a consequence in our performance. We tend to focus on certain matters in the foreground of our consciousness while filtering out a lot of other detail. Such detail may not fit the structure we recognize, so we put it into the background. In this way, we all approach reality with certain frames of reference.
Our research tends to confirm, for example, that not all project managers have the same frame of reference.
Some see data, see evidence, see indicators that others do not see.
This kind of selection is not merely a product of personality or taste. It is more to do with our theories of what matters, that we bring to reality. For this reason, our frames of reference are vital. It seems that some of us have been blind to some quite critical data.
Because of our frame of reference, some of us are blind to quite important information.
The data our brains notice seems to matter to our performance. In our research, we began to see a clear frame of reference for the few high-performing project managers, what I am now calling the positive outliers, that is different from the rest. The positive outliers get extraordinary results because they focus on and prioritize different things.
Much of that critical information is largely in the area of people and relationships, of stakeholders and communication.
For all too many project managers, people, relationships and conversation are all just a distraction; such things just slow them down.
And yet the evidence is there: higher performers have a leaning to relationships: a focus on exploring people and relationships.
I think I first came across this concept in the writings of Stephen Covey about twenty years ago. It struck me then as a powerful metaphor. I've used it many times since. It changed the way I looked at requesting people to change for me and my reasons. It is still as powerful as ever.
The Relational Bank Account is thinking about the relationship with another person, a stakeholder, as the equivalent of a bank account. You 'deposit' into the account by acts of helpfulness and so on.
You make withdrawals, positively by asking that stakeholder to do something for you, something they wouldn't do otherwise.And you should only attempt to make a positive withdrawal if you know there is something in that account.
You can make more negative, rapid withdrawals by disappointing them or not meeting their expectations of you. You can even make withdrawals by neglecting them. Relational bank accounts leak.
I've found this to be a powerful concept. It makes me take stock of the relational capital with key stakeholders before I proceed with making a request or any kind of demand on them.
The Relational Bank Account is a powerful influencing strategy particularly when it is done with the right values.
To some people this can appear at first a little cynical, crude, even somewhat calculated and manipulative. I suppose people could use it that way. However, it all depends on the values you bring to bear on this technique.
If you have a grasping, selfish, self-serving set of values, then it could be used manipulatively. But I very much doubt it would work as well, quite apart of the ethics of the matter.
Whereas, if you approach the relational bank account as a strategy to express your values of generosity, service and empathy, along with an abundance mind set, then you are much more likely to get positive results and the relationships will be enhanced over the long-term as well.
There are at least 10 different ways we can make positive deposits into key relationships around us.
I've published a short 13-page guidance that you can download here. In all, I identify 10 different ways we can make 'deposits' into the relationships around us. You can download it below.
As always, please let me know how you get on. Maybe leave me a comment below, particularly if it helps you achieve some kind of breakthrough in relationships.
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