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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
I was talking with one of my clients the other day, and as I asked how he was doing, he replied with an ironic smile, “Never enough time, Patrick.”
"Never enough time." This cliché rolls off the tongue too quickly when we describe the state of overwhelm.
But what we say matters. What we say can often condition our thinking, our mindset, even our self-image. We need to be careful. Clichés can become the furniture of our thinking.
What we say matters. It can condition our minds. Our clichés become the furniture of our thinking.
Is the problem really not enough time?
Let’s reframe this. Look at it as a supply and demand problem. We have 24 hours in a day. Nothing will change that. Supply is fixed.
Which one of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 6:27)
Of course, we could race through that 24 hours faster. We could cover more ground. We call that productivity. Sure, we could do that. And probably we could remove a lot of pauses along the way. But we are likely to get diminishing returns the harder we work. Also, in a state of chronic urgency, we can make sacrifices we later regret; that is, if we live that long.
No, fundamentally it is a demand problem. We find ourselves accepting too many commitments into our day, our week, our month, our lives. We over-commit. We don’t want to make choices about our purpose, our priority. We don't want to place boundaries around our time.
What about reducing that demand?
Well, that would take courage. That would mean making some choices, saying some powerful no’s to people we want to please. It would mean admitting that we have been more driven than free.
It’s easier to keep saying, “I never have enough time” and hope that things will get better.
Meanwhile, some of us are finding freedom in our daily lives. We make hard choices. We are prepared to say no to people we would otherwise like to please.
And we find it’s worth it.
This scene will be familiar to you.
I was invited to facilitate a strategic workshop. I was told fairly early on, “We have 32 strategic objectives we need to meet.”
“OK,” I replied. “Which one is the most important?”
You can probably guess my client’s reply…
“They all are.”
Now, what’s wrong with this picture?
If you are inclined to say, “Nothing, that’s just the way business has to be in these complicated days,” then I would ask you to stop and think for a moment. Too many of our organisations are like the proverbial donkey who is stalled into inaction because of two competing piles of hay.
The more we learn about the human brain, the more we learn how awesome is its capacity, but also how limited its ability is to consciously focus on things in the foreground of our awareness. Neuroscientists put the number of items we can concurrently focus upon to be as low as four.
Neuroscientists say we can only focus on four things concurrently consciously.
So we have a dilemma. There are all these targets our organisations set us to meet, but we can only focus on a few.
Recently, as part of the current release of our Leading Yourself Workshop, I released a book review of Gary Keller’s The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. And one of the passages in the book is where Keller explained that the word Priority entered into the English language in the 14th Century. It came from the Latin word prior meaning first. What surprised me was that it was only made plural in the 20th Century: priorities. Think about that. To previous generations, to talk about priorities would have been madness.
In the English language the word "priority" was always singular until the 20th Century. I think this is significant.
I suspect the human brain, and a team, and a project, and even an organisation works better with a priority than it does with priorities. Priorities (plural) begin to generate confusion, internal competition for attention and erode focus.
What if we were to budget to one priority in any given moment?
OK, complex organisations do have a number of matters to achieve, but budgeting to one priority begins to make us dig deeper. We begin to see the dependencies between different objectives, where some enable others. For example, here is an Outcome Relationship Model of an Olympics Legacy development.
We begin to see the real drivers of organisational success. Maybe some of these objectives or targets can be met, or more easily met if we were to focus on the one thing.
As an individual, if I invest time now in making this blog post a priority, in focusing upon it exclusively to everything else that clamours for my attention, it may help me meet some of my other objectives later.
Focus is inseparable from this kind of singular attention.
Focus is inseparable from singular attention.
Now, this is not to say that my priority may not change during the day; it does. Nor will my priority today be the same as tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year. Priority is the matter I should focus on now.
In my coaching about this, I recommend clients identify their MIT, their Most Important Task. This is the daily priority, the one thing they commit to achieving that day. The real value, though, is in the process of deciding that MIT. This is where we gain clarity and leverage over our day.
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:
"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.
Empathy + Compassion. This combination truly separates the forensic manipulator from the servant leader.
One of the joys of being a parent and, in my case, a grandparent is that you can indulge in watching some really good kids' movies. And way up there in my top 10 is Despicable Me. We watched it again over the holidays. I love the movie, the storyline, and ... I love the title.
So I'm playing around with this title to make a point in this article. It's about the concept of Deliverable Me.
Perhaps the most clunky piece of jargon coming out of the project management profession has to be the word deliverable. There are far better alternatives: 'output,' 'product,' 'enabler,' and so on.
As the name implies, a deliverable is what the project delivers, either at the end or along the way. It reminds the project manager that it is not all about the activities, the activity network, the resource planning, and so on. These all contribute to the busyness of the project, and although perhaps necessary, these can become an obsession, even a distraction, from delivering the end product, and beyond that, the point of it all - the what the customer really wants.
'Deliverable' must be the clunkiest piece of jargon coming out of project management.
A few years ago I was working with a global publishing business. I ran a few project management and stakeholder engagement workshops. And then my client asked me if I could help by delivering a workshop for people to improve their personal work organisation. Overwhelm as we now call it, was rampant, and people's working lives too often seemed to border on chaos. Productivity was certainly not what it should have been.
I'd like to think the client invited me to think about this because my style of coaching project managers was plain-speaking, without too much jargon, and it helped people see the reason behind what they were asked to do on a project.
The most powerful productivity techniques were borrowed from project management.
So although I did not consider myself at that time to be any kind of productivity ninja, or time management guru, I accepted the invitation. I developed a one-day workshop called Organising Yourself More Effectively. OK, it's not the snappiest of titles, I agree, but it set out what I hoped was the goal of the workshop.
It turned out to be a resounding success. In fact, the responses I had from delegates were somewhat surprising in the way I seemed to have helped them gain traction in their working lives.
Seeing my life as a project, the 'Deliverable Me.'
But when I dug a little deeper into what tools they had found particularly helpful, they were mostly borrowed from my project management bag of tricks. That made me think: some of the tools we use on projects and programmes can also be very powerful for the individual, for treating my life as a project, where I see myself as 'Deliverable Me.'
Anyway, we have just opened the doors again, after nearly a year to our online version of that workshop. This time we call it Leading Yourself online. However, in this workshop we go beyond modest goals of improved personal organisation and increased productivity to something more profound: moving from the captivity of overwhelm to developing ourselves to become what I call positive outliers, people who are outstanding, positively so, people who consistently do their best work. If you are interested, check out my short Doing Your Best Work email series first.
I hope to see you there.
The turn of the calendar year is traditionally a time where we review the past year and look forward to a fresh year, a fresh start.
As you look back over your year, what do you feel? Disappointed at so little achieved? Surprised, because you achieved more than you perhaps realised? A mixture of both?
For most of us there is that feeling that we are not making as much progress as we would like. Often in the midst of busyness, we feel like we are spinning wheels: accelerating hard but getting nowhere.
Could the reason for this be partly the way we work?
I read Deep Work recently, a book that raises key issues for us all in the way we work.
I found the book to be a worthy and helpful exploration of how blocks of concentrated, uninterrupted work can make a massive difference to our contribution. It is written by Cal Newport, a young professor in computer science at Georgetown University, Washington DC. I recommend it.
Ultimately it comes down to this:
We can continue to live our lives as victims of distraction or we can take deliberate steps to do something about it.
We can continue to live our lives as victims of distraction or take deliberate steps to do something about it. #deepwork
Deep Work’s subtitle is Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
I have to say that I was a little wary of the word rules in Newport’s sub-title. I find that rules are often much-loved and defended by enthusiastic but legalistic beginners, who know a little but extrapolate it to anything and everybody.
But I need not have been too concerned. Newport takes a careful exploration of ways people have established deep work and concludes that one size does not fit all in the lifestyles of intense focused activity.
I found Cal Newport’s analysis of the world of work fascinating. He explores a paradox: trends exist which show that in most fields of knowledge work - from academia to marketing, journalism, software engineering, to business consulting - deep work offer huge advantages to those that practice it consistently. Yet, most organisations permit - and somethings consciously promote - environments that are hostile to periods of concentrated, uninterrupted work.
As a coach, I’m particularly aware of this in the lives of several of my clients.
It all starts by refusing to be a victim. #doingyourbestwork
Nevertheless, I am finding ways to protect my deep working. In my own book, Leading Yourself, I look at proper focus competing with distraction. Distraction is always crying out for our attention. Our route to success is largely determined by our owning this problem of distraction and dealing with it.
And there are others like me. These people begin gain performance in their work by separating themselves from the patterns of the overwhelmed and harrassed majority and produce excellence.
It all starts by refusing to be a victim, and by beginning to see oneself as powerful. It starts with adopting a new mindset towards oneself and one’s work. Then one finds techniques to defend and enhance one’s best work.
I’m not a fan of New Year resolutions. But I do think at the turn of the year, often with an absence from being driven by workloads over the holidays, this is an excellent time to take stock.
I go deeper. 🙂
I wish you a better, more hopeful and effective New Year.
I want to begin by thanking you.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are an essential reason for my work. You bring out the best in me. I’m very grateful for that.
So, thank you. I wish the very best for you and your loved ones this festive season.
In my work on the Most Powerful Daily Routine, gratitude, saying thanks, is a principal part of it all. The effects of appreciation on the person giving thanks are many. One of the most significant benefits for me is that it raises me above the voice that says, “You’re getting nowhere. You are just going around in circles. There is no progress.” By merely listing three things I am thankful for in the last twenty-four hours is convincing in shaking me out of that lie.
As I write my gratitude list, I usually surprise myself. “Oh! Yes, I did have a productive day yesterday, didn’t I?” or “Yes, there are some important steps behind me now.”
A gratitude list is a powerful anti-oxidant to stress. #2017gratitudelist
So it boosts my motivation as I go into the next day.
Here’s an example, over a few days in June, of how I used this with an analogue daily planner:
The daily log - my planning and prioritisation process - is on the left-hand side, and the gratitude list is on my right-hand side.
I explore this routine more deeply on my Leading Yourself online workshop, which I will be re-launching soon. I will also be opening the Positive Outlier Academy for those wanting to meet like-minded people who wish to grow so that they bring their best selves to their work.
As you can see, a lot of the items I am thankful for are in my relationships with those around me. This reality for me is likely to be the case for you too.
And here’s the paradox that the run-up to the holiday season highlights for many of us:
There's a paradox in the run-up to Xmas: people matter more than stuff, but urgency means relationships suffer.
Since this is the last article I am planning to publish before 2018, I thought I’d try something different,
My 2017 Gratitude List.
So here goes...
What I am personally thankful for in 2017 for:
Look out for some exciting announcements early in January.
I aim to kick off 2018 by opening the Positive Outlier Academy.
For some of us, the run-up to the holidays is acutely stressful.
It shouldn’t be so.
The run-up to Xmas shouldn't be so stressful #2017gratitudelist
So here’s something that might help you. I’d encourage you to write your own 2017 Gratitude List, and see what happens. Gratitude is a tremendous anti-oxidant to stress.
Let me know how you get on. Leave a comment below.
With every blessing this Christmas,
“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?