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.
PECB have invited me to lead a webinar on this topic in couple of weeks.
Interested in joining us?
We plan, we organise ourselves, we budget, we set goals.
But sometimes life just gets in the way.
For much of what I write and teach around self-leadership and personal productivity, I use myself as the laboratory. This approach seems to me to be the way of integrity. As someone once claimed, “We eat our own dog food!” I understand that.
Over the last eleven weeks, my wife and I have been in transition, moving from Oxfordshire to Kent, about two hours’ driving distance from each other. We left our old place on 2nd August, a home we had lived in for more than 28 years, without regret, but with thanks for many happy memories.
However, the purchase of our new home fell through. Such is the way of things quite often in the English housing market.
We did not let this distress us, so we set about finding a new home, and so we did. Within a matter of 24 hours, we found one we liked very much, put an offer in, and it was accepted. However, it will not be until next week that we will finally move in.
That will make 11 weeks altogether. We were not dismayed. We are blessed with wonderful children and generous friends. So we have spent the late summer and early autumn moving from home to home.
One friend called us recently ‘Silver Sofa Surfers.’ I like that. We’ve been learning in this odyssey, learning about ourselves and others. For example, each new home we’ve moved into, we have found we had to adapt to their unique environment and constraints. It’s amazed us how different people’s kitchen storage and waste systems are, for example.
Not having a permanent residential address has created its problems as we engaged with some agencies. It seems that their systems cannot cater for our situation.
All the while I’ve attempted to publish articles on this site where and when I can. Finding places to work undistracted and uninterrupted was a challenge. In Leading Yourself online I explain ways high-performers order their private worlds, so I have sought to live this out, even on the move. I have continued to prioritize using my daily MIT technique. During this period I have calmed myself by reminding myself, “This is only temporary. When we move in October …”
Last week, though, uncertainty in our lives reached new levels. My wife’s hip gave out putting her into the most extreme pain and immobilising her for several days. We canceled a short holiday we were about to take in Mallorca, visiting more remote members of our family. The flight we should have been on was with Monarch Airlines. Forty-five minutes after our scheduled take-off, Monarch Airlines ceased trading! Explaining all this to our travel insurers became very interesting.
So what am I learning in, what is for me, extreme uncertainty?
It’s at times like this that I am brought vividly to face reality that ‘life’ is lived with one’s body, soul, and spirit.
There is a verse in the Psalms that has come to mean a lot to me:
"My flesh and my heart may fail, but the Lord is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
We all need to accept that in extreme situations, even tried and trusted personal workflows will be interrupted and fail us. We need to dig deep. We need to look into our spirit and find what is unchanging.
I’m fascinated, for example, by the concept of the fulcrum, in leading change. We all need to find the unchanging, the fixed, the certain. Everything else can change around us, but one thing needs to remain fixed.
We all need a fulcrum, an unchanging pivot point in a context of change.
Ultimately it comes down to what matters most. What is my one priority in this moment? That is always a valid and clarifying question. For me, I'm very clear on that right now. It is my wife.
'What is my priority in this moment?' is always a powerful and clarifying question.
I’m learning that I must trust God in navigating through these times. I cannot advise people with this methodology or that technique when they are in such circumstances, or worse, in extreme uncertainty. Ultimately it comes down to a matter of faith and meaning.
Most people in project management have been told about the classic triangle: time, cost, quality; sometimes called the scope triangle. Its overall focus is on stewardship of spend, on containment, on control. You know, the one that looks like this:
It encourages managers to consider how the impact of a suggested change might affect the scope of the project and to consider the knock-on effects between time, cost and quality.
Fair enough. It is a sound management framework, focusing on three of the key areas in a complex resource system.
But my concern is that this view comes from a control mindset, a mindset most managers consider normal. It is not really leadership, is it? It focuses on setting and defending project budgets in these three dimensions. Apart from maybe the focus on quality, this is pretty reactionary - it reacts, rather than initiates or creates. It is a controlling, defensive way of seeing a project through.
I submit that a better triangle is one that appears in my book, Practical People Engagement (Elbereth, 2013) and it is this:
Now, this triangle requires a shift to outcome thinking. Essentially, it is success oriented.
Let me explain by looking at each of these interactions in turn.
Different stakeholders will recognise different benefits; they will benefit from the same project in different ways. We see this using a benefits distribution matrix (see our Exploring People Engagement programme). For example, an replacement website might be justified by increased sales forecasted, something the Board really wants. However, line managers may also benefit from that website helping them brief new staff in a way that saves their time in induction using that new site. Also, by engagement, stakeholders such as the marketing team, can improve the benefit realisation of benefits already identified (sales growth).
Here we see the two-way connection between stakeholders and risks. Good engagement of one particular stakeholder (say the web developers) can reduce the threat of unforeseen cyber vulnerabilities, but can also open up new opportunities for a website that would otherwise be fairly hum-drum. By the same token, a good risk analysis - both opportunities and threats - can help us engage stakeholders with whom we would otherwise ignore.
Finally, risks (both opportunities and threats) will have an impact on both benefits we have identified in the project business case, and on benefits we have yet to recognised and claim for the project. Benefits themselves, may well reduce strategic and operational threats to the business, as well as opening up new opportunities beyond the project.
So, all in all, these three dimensions, stakeholders and their interests, risk and benefits all interact with each other.
Customers of projects don't buy budgets, they buy solutions.
This is a shift to outcome thinking. It is success oriented. Customers do not really buy a budget estimate, they buy solutions. They buy results. They look for the benefits of the new solution. And the three key areas of success are the individuals and groups involved or affected (the stakeholders), the threats and opportunities as they arise (the risks), and the benefits, both intended, emergent and unwanted (so called 'dis-benefits').
The success triangle is a shift to outcome thinking. #projectmanagement
Think about a project as the equivalent to scaffolding in a building construction. A project is really management scaffolding. Nobody intends to live in scaffolding, but rather they will use the scaffolding as a means to an end. Eventually, we hope to take the scaffolding away. In the same way, with a project. I've noticed that some in the project management profession has become so obsessed with the scaffolding of the project that they have made it an end in itself. It would be far better if they led towards the beneficial outcome. So an alternative focus is on the end benefits.
Some project managers make the project an end in itself. #projectmanagement
VUCA (the environment of volatility, complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity) means that the project journey will mostly be somewhat exploratory for the customer. They will be catching up with the possibilities of what current technology can do for them. Realisable benefits will change. So a better mindset becomes one of cultivation, not control; cultivation and nurturing of benefits, optimising them, and being alert to windfall benefits.
This makes the whole project less about a cost burden, to one which is an investment, where we look for a return on investment. It is a more entrepreneurial way of looking at a project. In this way, we may even find that our project business case improves as we go along.
Purely focusing on cost blinkers the project manager to the customer’s potential outcomes.
Now risk is an interesting dimension as it can be much more inclusive of time, cost, scope and quality. Thinking risk, particularly in how it relates to benefit realisation, begins to steward everything to head off, mitigate or minimise anything that might threaten our benefits.
Risk, as including both threats and opportunities, is a large enough mindset to allow that entrepreneurial approach, where risks are not merely threats, but also opportunities. We begin to think in terms of considered risk-taking rather moving from fear. Psychologically, for both customers and the project manager, this can be very powerful.
Risk, as including both threats and opportunities, is a large enough mindset to allow an entrepreneurial approach. #riskmanagement
And risks lead us to one of the most important sources of risk: people, our stakeholders.
We all know that people can be a nuisance, uncooperative or even openly resistant. They can become a drag on the project, unless we engage them well.
A rather clumsy term in use is dis-benefit. (I hate the term, but I can't think of a better one.) This is where we know that some stakeholders will be disadvantaged by the change the project brings. It's not the possibility of a loss (a risk) but is something we know the project will bring. We know that there is always loss with a change, there is always dis-benefit. Particular stakeholders will be disadvantaged in some way, will lose by what we do as a project.
With dis-benefits we must never assume that we are more aware of someone else’s dis-benefits than they are. The opposite is almost always true. If we don’t appear to recognise how they lose or cannot show empathy for their losses then that stakeholder could easily resent us and the project. As a general rule, it is far better to be open about dis-benefits. With this stance, we will find that our credibility grows.
So then, all three dimensions in this triangle can be positive or negative: risks as both threats and opportunities, and benefits as positive benefits and dis-benefits. And people can be a nuisance, uncooperative or even openly resistant, as well as being key enablers of the outcome we want.
Overall, though, the success triangle focuses us more on shaping success rather than operating merely to cut our losses.
So, how about the success triangle appearing on our project dashboards? Might it begin to shift mindsets for the better?
Leave me your comment on this below.
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.
When it was first published, I read Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard by the Heath Brothers. It remains one of my favourite books on the whole subject of Change Management. One particular section has stayed with me. It centred around the story of a nationwide change that helped reduce child mortality through malnutrition in post-war Vietnam. It was the idea of bright spots, the 'positive deviants', as academics call them. These bright spots are individuals who show anomalous positive behaviour, who model and lead a positive change in others around them.
This resonated with so much of my research around the high-performers in programme and project management. These bright spots lead the way. The more I learned about these high performers, the more it encouraged me to challenge the status quo about what it means to lead a change well, particularly through project management. For example, they spend significantly more of their discretionary work time in moving towards people around the change than do the majority of project managers. I wrote about this in Practical People Engagement.
It also encouraged me that what makes these extraordinary performers so distinctive - their behaviours, their rituals and the thought processes they used - these were all within the reach of the rest of us. We could learn their approaches. And we could begin to get the same results.
Academics call them 'Positive Deviants', the Heath brothers 'Bright Spots', I call them 'Positive Outliers.'
I am now calling this group the Positive Outliers. These are the people who get extraordinary results. They are positive models in that they show in practice what is truly a superior way to work and lead change. They are also outliers in that their performance is, sadly, still not normal.
This led me on a journey that resulted in two books. First, Practical People Engagement: Leading Change through the Power of Relationships, what the majority mistakenly call stakeholder management, became an instant success. It was adopted by APMG International, a management accreditation body, as their core reference for their stakeholder engagement qualification.
The power of positive outliers led me on a journey that resulted in two books.
Then, last year I brought out my second solo book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out. This deals with what business schools call personal mastery, how leaders begin with themselves, and build in certain personal practices that have a huge pay-off in their personal lives and their overall effectiveness as leaders.
Over the last couple of months I have been beta-testing an online workshop called Exploring People Engagement with a group of clients. As well as including a rich set of templates, this workshop covers a key subset of the APMG International Stakeholder Engagement qualification, helping people come to terms with some of the core concepts of influencing people. Some might go on to then take the full training and exam.
I launched at the beginning of this year the Leading Yourself online Workshop. I took a cohort of people through a three-month programme, with online resources and live video meet-ups. The effect was huge ... on all of us ... including on me. As the workshop came to a close, people said they wanted to keep the community going.
So I am creating the Positive Outlier Academy. I intend that the Academy will be initially:
As you can probably tell, I’m really excited about this.
I’m not quite ready to open the doors yet, but if you would like to know more and when the Academy will be open for business. In the meantime, take the Positive Outlier Assessment 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.
Featured Image Copyright: maxmitzu / 123RF Stock Photo
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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