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The Power of Radical Transparency

One the delegates on a Change Management Practitioner I led shared with us a remarkable initiative within her organisation, Cambridgeshire Constabulary, the regional police force for that part of England. 

What follows is with the kind permission of the Constabulary.

Rumour Mill is, in essence, very simple. It is an intranet discussion board, where anyone can post any question or comment about current happenings within the force. Anonymously.

Let the radical transparency of this sink in for a moment.

Anyone. 

Anonymously. 

On anything! 

Could your organisation cope with that? Would your leaders be courageous enough to provide and promote such a forum?

The history of the Constabulary up to that time had been a traumatic one. It was on their patch that Ian Huntley murdered the two schoolgirls at Soham. The repercussions were profound, not just in Cambridgeshire, but nationally. The nation asked whether we were doing enough to protect our children from predators such as Huntley.

In the wake of all this, Cambridgeshire Constabulary went through a furnace experience of public enquiry, scrutiny and self-examination. Under exceptional leadership from successive chief constables, it emerged with a culture of exemplary professionalism. 

A lesser, weaker leadership would have withdrawn into itself, become more secretive and guarded. 

But it was in this context that the change team conceived the Rumour Mill.

Culture, once again, is the key.

Culture is the key in effective change leadership.

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So, if someone, anyone, posts a comment such as, "This initiative will mean the loss of twenty jobs at HQ", within a couple of hours at most a response is posted by the change team, correcting any wrong assumptions or clarifying any confusion where appropriate.

People following the thread can see the openness of leadership here, and the abiding trust grows that leaders are listening to everyone.

This Rumour Mill is, for me, a brilliant illustration of how a courageous and powerful leadership is prepared to be radically transparent. And the payoff in restored trust can be huge. 

Rumour Mill is a brilliant illustration of courageous and powerful leadership prepared to be radically transparent.

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Well done, Cambridgeshire!

Breakthough on the Journey

If we are to make an impact with our work, it almost always involves bringing others along with us.

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I believe that we tend to limit ourselves when we think about what we can achieve. Most of us have this tendency rather than the opposite: being over-ambitious. I’ve been sharing some work I’ve been doing around leading others through change. Up until now, this has been through Exploring People Engagement (EPE), an online workshop based on my book, Practical People Engagement.

It is difficult to engage and influence others if we don’t approach them with the right mindset. In my last email, we looked at conventional training approaches to this. Although they might be worthy in themselves, they don’t take us very far

Variant of Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition

In the Dreyfus Model (see above), we can stop short at Advanced Beginner level or merely become Competent. We owe ourselves more.

What if we only needed to focus on a few key areas? What if we did not need to cover some exhaustive curriculum typical of most business schools? What if instead, we attend to developing ourselves in a few high-leverage areas?

What if we only needed to focus on a few key areas in order to get outstanding results?

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That is what our Crib Sheet research began to reveal. There are only a few areas we need to attend to that yield disproportionate results. Also, these few areas are not exclusive to project management. In fact, anyone whose work requires more than the performance of a repetitive mechanical action, in other words, any work that needs us to use our judgment, can improve the results they get from these few key habits. They seem to be universally powerful, whatever our area of work.

And one of these is a Leaning to People, the ability to engage and influence others involved or affected by our work in positive ways. It is the skill of engaging individuals and groups, and how to handle relationships in a way that does not exhaust us but nourishes those connections with people.

A few days ago I was in a seminar with about thirty-five people talking about making their dreams and aspirations happen. These students had written down their dreams. And in almost every case, they needed to engage well and influence key people to make their dreams a reality. They shared stories of people who were resistant to what they wanted to achieve, and about individuals who could even block their dreams from ever happening. During the seminar, I saw eyes opening and hope in the room rising. Then, only two days later, although it was unrelated to my class, Whilst being almost entirely unrelated to my session, I watched one of these students two days later realise their dream! This stuff is powerful!

Finding ways to make your dreams a reality through others is powerful stuff!

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I confess I’m a learner. I’m always learning. I believe it makes me a better coach. One of the aspects of being a learner is that you may see better ways of doing things. One of the concerns I have with EPE on its own is that it is too content-centric. Even with the weekly live meetings and the online coaching, EPE can only be a foundation for people to grow their people skills. 

I want to help you become world-class in your people engagement skills. So I have looked again at the EPE workshop. With this as my aim, I studied the transition from Competent to Proficient to Positive Outlier. I saw that the means of this transition happening was often through coaching, peer group networks, mastermind groups and the relationships between delegates that emerge during a seminar.  This kind of learning environment is not primarily about know-what (training content), but about shifting perspectives and mindsets through discussion and practice, to true ‘demonstrate how.’ This shift can happen through a group of like-minded practitioners, a tribe.

We don't gain higher order skills in leadership primarily through more information.

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You will still be able to access EPE through the soon-to-be-launched Positive Outlier Academy in its original form, but if you want to develop yourself in this area, I’m launching Leading Others through Change (LOC) as an online seminar. 

You will find LOC challenging, but encouraging; progressive, but practice-based. It will be earthed in reality, in results gained on the ground. I will be exploring issues such as:

  • personal boundaries in healthy relationships; 
  • how we handle our own vulnerability and take steps to move towards people we might fear; 
  • how we recognise and deal with victims showing passive, passive-aggressive, and aggressive behaviours; and
  • how we can create our own culture in our change arena, where people feel safe, and are honoured and empowered, rather than reacting defensively.

So if you want a course that you can take any time, then LOC is not for you. It’s not for you if you want to rely on training your organisation thinks you need. Also, if you want a globally recognised qualification, it's not for you. It’s not for you if you merely want another feather in your cap.

But if you are hungry to develop yourself with others in this vital area of performance, this people thing, to get better at it, and to see powerfully positive differences in the changes you lead, then LOC is for you. Register your interest below. Enrolment for LOC1 won’t be open for long.

My mission is to equip world-changers, and I’m excited to see you emerge as one through LOC.

Colin and the Fawlty Mindset

Some years ago we conducted some research into high performers in project management, and one of the outstanding differences between them and the control group was a significant behaviour we called Leaning to People. The high performers seemed to get their results because they gave time to the critical relationships around themselves. 

This behaviour was an important discovery. We began to practise this ourselves, prioritising our time with others, and found we got much better results in our work.

However, this was not emphasised enough - and still isn’t - on most project management curricula, training and bodies of knowledge. This lack of stress on relationships is understandable but is harmful. Project management as a discipline has a heritage in construction and engineering. However, the overarching worldview of these disciplines tends to reduce people to either resources or obstacles. It’s quite dehumanising.

So I wrote Practical People Engagement: Leading Change through the Power of Relationships. That was nearly five years ago, and it is still my best-selling book. Shortly after it was published, APMG-International adopted it as the core reference for their qualification in Stakeholder Engagement

Again, old project management mindsets can creep in here by referring to people and groups as stakeholders. Worse still, project managers still use the term stakeholder management. Who among us likes to be managed and controlled, especially if that person is not our boss? Often, efforts to influence and achieve positive outcomes can often fail right there.

Developing the skill of Leaning to People, is not primarily an issue of learning a technique, a process, acquiring management tools or models, although these are all useful resources. No, a high-order Leaning to People skill is beyond that. It starts with a mindset. This video illustrates this.

I’ve been working on a new approach to what I have been calling Exploring People Engagement (EPE), an online workshop. This new approach will be an online seminar that I will be launching soon. The new seminar is about leading people through change.  In the seminar we explore a superior mindset, and how we work that out in better ways on our own changes, leading people to better outcomes.

What would happen if we all developed this skill? What if we were able to lead people to change more easily and realise better outcomes? What if we were able to develop that Leaning to People skill to high order in our daily lives? That would begin to shift things for the better, wouldn’t it?

I want to equip people to lead their change better, to become world-changers.

I have a friend, Rachel, who is a world-changer. She does this in small groups of people at a time. She takes broken women, broken through loss, grief, through domestic abuse, and gently leads them to a wholeness of self-identity and hope. What she does is truly transformational. She is a world-changer, one group at a time.

If you’d like to know more about this, use the form below.

Why Training will NOT make You Oustanding

In my post last week, I wrote about a particular leadership skill - some would say the critical leadership skill - that of engaging and influencing people well. I looked at how the wrong mindset can get in the way, or even overlook people engagement as anything important.

But there is another problem in our developing this skill. And that is training.

Now, for latter part of my career I was heavily invested in face-to-face business training. I built a company where I recruited the brightest and the best in project management training, people who could take an otherwise-boring subject like project management and transform and energise the room. Our delegates loved it. 

In what follows, I describe the emergence of a sort of industry that caused me and my colleagues a lot of pain. You'll see why as you read on.

The killer seemed to be that our corporate clients, particularly those in procuring training, didn’t see the value of an excellent training experience. They wanted the cheapest commodity. That’s how they regarded training: a commodity, something that had to be done, that you could source like for like, so it was best procured as cheaply as possible, and delivered in as short a time as possible.

Does this sound familiar? 

What we saw was the emergence of a training factory. In this factory, trainers would take professionals and subject them to a sort of Death by PowerPoint. Schedules were brutally shortened, for commercial reasons. I heard of one trainer in another company saying to his delegates at the beginning of such an experience,

“If you don’t ask questions and don’t interrupt me, then we can get through this material in time for your exam. And you want to pass the exam, right?”

Of course they did. The delegates were there to get their qualification.

But can we call that a positive learning experience? Is this something likely to improve the skill and practice of project manager? Of course not.

We found that great project managers might get the badge that way, but honed their skills in other ways.

And then there were the exams themselves. These became mostly tick-box assessments, albeit sometimes fairly sophisticated. But what do they test? Ultimately they test the candidate’s power of recall, pattern recognition, and use of logic. If Mr Spock of Star Trek saw one of these exam papers, I imagine he could have said to Captain Kirk:

“It’s a skill, Jim, but not as we know it.”

I remember a senior client, a Portfolio Manager, coming out of one such exam as saying, “This is supposed to be a Practitioner exam! Is that it?!” I can’t blame her for this reaction, or defend the assessment. But it was the industry in which we had to work in order to offer our clients the routes to these qualifications.

Well. this commoditisation eventually drove us out of business. Because we refused to compromise on the value to delegates. 

Not all professional assessments are like that. In my previous email I referred to the APM. Their blue-chip qualification, what was called the RPP (the Registered Project Professional) involved an exhaustive submission of experience, as well as a thorough interview by peers. The APM Practitioner Qualification (APM PQ) is, in my opinion, a qualification worth having. I saw the process improve my clients as they went through it, and it meant something to have gained that qualification at the end of it.

In fact, it was at APM that I came across a different way of looking at skill. Watch this short video.

So we have been working on how to help people develop the critical skill of leaning to people, stakeholder engagement, as it is often called, beyond merely the Advanced Beginner stage of skill development; beyond merely being Competent, to Proficient, and perhaps even to the so-called Expert level.

I'm invested in helping people change the world - in small ways and big - for the better. That's my mission. But becoming a world changer will require something rather more than an online training course.

It certainly won’t be achieved by a factory approach that can be standardised as a commercial model.

If you’d like to know more about this, use the form below and we'll keep you abreast of the launch of the new seminar.

The Power of Engaging with a Visual Narrative

When we were colleagues in the same company, I remember dropping by one of Richard Rose's qualification courses on AgilePM©. And I saw the diagram above drawn on a flipchart. I've seen this before and I've noted the way he does it.

Richard tells a story as he draws what is a key diagram for AgilePM.

And he must have done this on the day before. The diagram shows how the different roles relate to so much of the AgilePM method. So much so that he deliberately draws this early on in the course and leaves it on display for the delegates to reflect on as they consider later topics in more detail.

I've discussed this with Richard and other exceptional trainers that I've had the honour to work with. One of the most powerful ways of understanding complex content is through a visual narrative. It seems that people can recall far more of what is being said if they can see it drawn at the same time. And quirky hand-drawn cartoons appear to be even more memorable than if something is homogenised into some PowerPoint presentation. It's the quirky-ness and the humour in class that sticks in people's minds.

All I could do at school was paint and draw and that was the only time I ever passed any exam. It was the only thing I ever got right at school.

David Bailey

David Bailey


I've tried various online techniques, from recording my Prezi-based presentations and using Whiteboard animation software. Here is an example of a whiteboard animation:

And here's video book review I did using Prezi:

Yet nothing seems to stimulate people's engagement, aid recall, and help integration with other aspects of a subject as much as seeing a live discussion drawn.

In fact, I'd had such a torrid time recently with display technology at a particular venue where I spoke to about 200 people that I decided to abandon my presentation and use a flipchart. It went down a storm. People loved it.

Visual Thinking

Even more so, nothing seems to help me develop my understanding of a new subject better than if I can sketch it out as I explain it back to someone else.

I came across this post by Michael Babwahsingh called Make Crappy Drawings, and another called Putting Visual Thinking to Work. He makes some valid comments.

Also, I’m reminded of Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote Handbook. Here’s an interesting video vignette of his journey and what the sketchnote actually is.

In my book, Leading Yourself, I explore how I use Mind Mapping, and it’s not always pretty! See this rough Mind Map, for example:

Rough Mind Map

It is a mess to you, but to me it helped me get certain thoughts in order.

What was the best live illustration you saw drawn before you that has stayed with you?

Do you use any kind of visual notation or special kind of doodling for yourself? If so, what is it?


Leave your comment below.

Empathy + Compassion

Some of the most influential people I know do more than empathise with me. Empathy is important. But when it comes down it, what truly separates world-class influencers from manipulators? 

One of the most acutely painful moments in my life made me quite vulnerable. I approached a man who was a leader. Len was also a great talker. He was ready with opinions on most things.

When I told him my news, he did something unexpected. 

He wept with me. 

Len is no longer with us, but I remember him with great fondness and deep appreciation, not least for that moment. For me, it was a defining moment. His compassion transcended his talk, his opinions, his wisdom. At that moment, he showed me great leadership. At that moment, I realised I needed something other than counsel and direction: I needed someone to walk with me in my pain.

I read this quote recently from Seth Godin:

Seth Godin Portrait

Seth Godin

"Empathy is not sufficient. Compassion is more useful because it's possible to talk to someone who is experiencing something that you've never experienced."

We cannot always expect to have had an experience similar others. And we can never expect to have had another's experience exactly.

Like empathy, there are examples that corrupt the meaning of the word compassion. But I leave it out there for you today.

Compassion.

Empathy + Compassion. This combination truly separates the forensic manipulator from the servant leader.


Warning

2018 Leading Yourself online workshop registrations are about to close. Next week we begin the workshop in earnest. You can save your place here.

Today will be your last chance to get on board for some time.

Think well of those you want to influence

“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.

"What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

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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.

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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?

Question:

Have you ever been a victim of leaders thinking less of you than you deserved?
What was your response?

Leave your comment below.

The Relationship Bank Account in Action

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.

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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.

Question:

If you are already using the relational bank account, share your experiences and views below.

Doing the Two-Step Engagement

In my book, Practical People EngagementI 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.

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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.

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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:

  1. In a change of any size and complexity, absolutely! You should not attempt to do all of this engagement by yourself. In my online coaching programme, Exploring People Engagement (see below) I will show you how you can scale up the engagement over a large and diverse group of interested parties.
  2. Chronic urgency is so commonplace in our 21st Century workplace that it may be something closer to you and how you lead yourself. John Ortberg calls this phenomenon hurry sickness. Last year I published my second solo book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out, and as with my first book, I’ve developed a companion online personal development programme for that too. If you would like to know more about that programme, please click here.

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.

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Leading Effective Change: A 10-Point Checklist for the Busy Leader

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

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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.

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