Working With Fear and Intent

I work in fear. I don’t mean I’m frightened, I mean I work in arenas where fear stops people performing to their best. I also work with intent, both my intent and the intent of those I am working with. I’ve discovered over the years that being clear about your intent and challenging your fears are pretty good ways to start dealing with things.

New Managers – what stops them excelling in supporting their staff or sorting out problems? Fear of getting it wrong, fear of being seen as weak and being unclear about what they are trying to achieve.

Communications – what stops people being effective in their communications? Not deciding what outcome they are after, fear of what others are thinking and fear of stuffing it up.

Dealing with change – what stops people handling this well? Fear of the unknown, not facing those fears, not exploring what choices they have available and not reaching for a positive future state.

In many situations asking two questions of ourselves and others can move things along swimmingly:

  • what are you frightened of?
  • what are you hoping to achieve?

I’ll spend my days helping people to answer these two questions. I didn’t set out to do this work; it came and found me when I started to address my fears and wonder what my purpose was.

Memory – how does it work?

We think of memories as something that we pick up along the way; little scars on our brains that show the journey that we have traveled.  When we want to recall a memory we imagine that we go into a filing system, locate the memory and replay it from the original space on the hard drive.  However this is not how memory works, not least because this is not how we perceive the world.

Memory, memory storage and memory retrieval is much more like cake making.

Our brains are like walk-in pantries with all of the different aspects of our experience (conscious and subconscious) stored in separate places on the shelves lining the walls.  What we see is stored in a jar on a different shelf from what we hear, think, feel etc.  The smell of an experience is placed in a jar right in the front, whereas sight is stored right at the back.

The cook in the middle puts the ingredients into the various jars as they occur.  Then when that memory needs to be recalled they go to the different jars and build the memory from the different elements; they reconstruct the cake.  However, it isn’t the original cake, it’s a new cake formed from the ingredients.  Which is why the new cake can be a bit wrong and is partly  why two people observing the same thing can recall it completely differently.

To learn something accurately we need to repeatedly make the cake, checking the recipe, using as many ingredients as possible, in order to make the connections between the correct jars really strong, bringing them to the front of the shelves.

Then eat the cake.  I’m not sure how this fits into the analogy, but eating cake is a great thing to do. And using your brain requires calories.

We Notice What We Are Interested In … and ignore what we are not interested in.

This is something that I have been thinking about for sometime – the way our brains filter information. It’s helpful, as we can’t deal with all of the information available to us. However, the down side is that we

  • a) block some of the important information
  • b) assume that we have full knowledge about subjects
  • c) block information that doesn’t meet our world view

Here are a few examples:

I heard someone describing how a group of people were talking about themselves and the work that they do. He was shocked by the words they used and how they were talking down their own impact. He made the connection between that and their inability to get to speak to senior people in their organisation. He then said “I hear it all the time”. At this point it became clear that he worked with individuals on their communication styles. And I thought “aha, you hear it all the time because you listen out for it.” I wondered whether he “heard” them talking that way because that was his interest. He had a theory and was applying that to this situation.

A number of years ago I attended a workshop on dealing with conflict. The workshop was excellent. However, one of the attendees put in a complaint (and tried to include me in this “class action”.) His complaint was that the handouts were very badly produced. He was right, they were dreadful. However, the content of them was great and it shouldn’t have really undermined the day. But for this person it did. His job? He managed a reprographic department. For him the whole day was ruined because he couldn’t ignore the lack of professionalism over the handouts.

You hear a word or phrase for the first time then hear it 5 times in the following week. Did the universe just make up its mind to keep sharing this with you? No, it’s just that you are filtering for it. I learned the word ambit today. I wonder how long before I hear it again.

I train people to use PowerPoint effectively. It isn’t my life’s purpose but it does seem to figure a lot in my work. Consequently I notice a lot of poor practice. I try to ignore it but inevitably find myself making mental notes on how someone has done something wrong; drives me nuts.

It has long been known that we quickly make up our minds about a person or situation and then look for the information to back our position or ignore information that contradicts it. Not great when you are map reading. Terrible if you are making judgements about people in an interview. Potentially lethal if you are trying to diagnose an illness.

Next time you find yourself saying “I hear this all the time” ask yourself why you hear it a lot. Is it because this is what is said, is it because you are listening to a selection of people who are all saying the same thing (and why is that, by the way) or is it because you are filtering out other voices?

People have their pet theories and then find lots of examples that back these theories up. I hear it all the time.

SoMe, So What? Why Bother With Social Media?

Social Media does a whole host of stuff – acts as a shop window, gives you access to lots of other shop windows and begins the process of building relationships, both with customers and colleagues. On its own it has its limits; relationships are built much better and faster face-to-face and building relationships is very important to me. (see here) But Social Media can be the beginning of something fabulous and valuable. Here are just a few people (and their Twitter handles) I’ve met first through SoMe, then in real life and what they mean to me.

 

Sarah Harvey – @SavvySarahSPM

When I first set up my business I knew that the isolation could be damaging, both in terms of my mental well being but also through working in a very small silo. I put out a call on LinkedIn for some like minded people to form an action learning set and Savvy Sarah responded straight away.  Meeting her for the first time I was a bit daunted; she’s rather an impressive character.  I soon discovered that she is generous, intelligent, action orientated, supportive and gently challenging.  She’s clever, there are no two ways about it, and she does this in such a warm and engaging way that I love to spend time with her.

 

Jo Turner – @JoodlesJo

A few years ago I went through a particularly stressful time.  I had been freelance for a while and the initial excitement had worn off but the business was not exactly flooding in.  I had a couple of things on my mind that were spinning around and around and seriously starting to affect my waking and sleeping life.  I noticed on Twitter a course on Zen Doodling – a mindfulness technique taught by the delightful Jo Joodles.  A morning in her company, with two other similarly stressed women, gave me a strategy for completely emptying my mind and relaxing.  She welcomed us into her home and gave generously of herself.  Wonderful.

 

Niall Gavin – @niallgavinuk

I met Niall at a networking event where he was doing a talk on using Social Media as a learning resource.  He had been popping up in my Twitter timeline and was obviously well respected by my peers.  He had also recently faced a major health scare and so his perspective on life and getting the most from it is fascinating.  I have spent time with him on a number of occasions. He is someone that I am happy to chat through ideas with; he has a wise and gentle way about him, along with an infectious humour and a certain spark that gives rather than drains.

 

Jo Cook – @LightbulbJo

Jo, or rather Lightbulb Jo, kept popping up in my timeline and seemed to be universally respected by my network.  I then met her at a launch for a book on webinars, one of Jo’s specialisms.  From the first moment of meeting her she was generous with her time, with offers of help and with praise.  She recently held my hand through the techy bit of being part of a webinar panel and did it with such grace and encouragement that it was easy to admit when I had been a bit numptyish.

 

Tony Jackson – @JacksonT0ny

I posted on Twitter a few years ago that I had signed up to a Tweet-up and that I had no idea what that meant.  Tony replied that he was in the same boat and looked forward to seeing me there.  Two years later I have a friend that I can discuss great big issues with – like the meaning of life and such – or have a giggly lunch with, chatting about some of the crappy stuff.  He writes intelligently, takes beautiful photographs and lives life with passion.  Whatever he does he does well.  He’s also incredibly loyal; I’m very privileged to have him in my corner.

 

Doug Shaw – @dougshaw1

I bumped into Doug at a conference; we had an interesting discussion about colour and decorating ourselves (I had just dyed my fringe blue.)  Doug is an artist and uses art to help organisations and individuals to get a different perspective on change, learning, the world etc.  We met recently for coffee for the sole reason of getting to know each other better, having chatted remotely via Twitter. Doug brings a different view point and for that reason always adds to any discussion.  He is also charming to spend time with.

 

All of these (and others) are important to me.  They keep me sane, on track, engaged, curious and content – and I wouldn’t have met them if it hadn’t been for social media.

 

When The Tech Is Not What’s Needed

Three humans blasted into space today. They were flying on one of the most complex pieces of kit ever designed, on their way to the pinnacle* of human achievement so far; the International Space Station.

These three men (they happened to be men – this is not a post about women in STEM) have undergone the most extensive and intensive training of anyone on our plant. Collectively they have the latest understanding on how to do the most technologically advanced job in history. And what did they have in their hands? Tricorders? iPads? Other technological widgets designed by NASA for the mission? No. Pads of paper with step by step instructions. Also, they had pointy sticks so that they could reach the controls whilst being pushed back into their seats.

soyuz

Tweet from Spaceflight Now, photo copyright NASA – obvs!

 

Why the low tech solution? Because these things work. They are utterly reliable, easy to use and cheap. They are exactly the right tool for the job. Sometimes tech is not what is needed.

Yesterday I met up with the wise and gentle Niall Gavin. We chatted about life, work, family etc over breakfast. We challenged each other over current ideas and helped get new perspectives. We also discussed trust. In particular the trust that you need to let the mask down, to be a bit un-professional and raw, and to be confident that this won’t cause a problem. Your Venn diagram has to have a really good overlap to get to that point of trust. This doesn’t happen via e-mail and social media.

Sometimes face to face is better. Tech solutions open up all sorts of amazing opportunities for meeting people – see next blog post. But there is no tech in the world that builds a relationship anywhere near as well as chatting with someone over a cup (or glass) of something comforting.

So, if you can, go and meet your personal network, your client, your supplier, your delegates. Because that’s what works.
* in my opinion – happy to debate this. (Unless you think that the pinnacle of human achievement has anything to do with a sport! Or the Kardashians.)

Learner Centred – all very well but…

The degree to which a learning event is controlled by either the facilitator or the learner can be mapped on a continuum.  At one end, the “teacher” end, you have lectures and also published media such as videos, books and blog posts.  At the other end, the “learner” end, you have self managed learning which includes interesting concepts such as T groups, action learning and reflective practice.  Then along the continuum there is training, coaching, mentoring and a whole host of other interventions to help the learner learn – including directing them to useful videos, books and blog posts.

In the last few years there has been an understanding that learners learn

  1. through a variety of means
  2. mostly by actually doing stuff and then reflecting on that
  3. best when they are not bored out of their tiny (constantly expanding) minds.

The drive towards learner centred learning is to be embraced, encouraged and celebrated. Hooray!  The 70:20:10 model tells us to value all that lovely reflective, learner driven gorgeousness.  But…

With this drive I’m noticing a massive push towards throwing the baby out with the bath water; dropping the 10%.

  • Putting people into small groups and then getting them to chat about stuff without some direction to help stimulate the conversation. This can be a rather lazy (and frankly dull) way of filling in some time. People actually like something meaty to talk about; a bit of grit in the oyster. Get them to talk purposefully.
  • Deriding lectures. However, the sage on the stage may actually have something interesting to say. Let them say it. The learner will work out for themselves what is useful and interesting.  They’ll also process this information at a subconscious level and use it at some point.
  • Assuming that every course is some sort of low quality sheep dip. On the contrary, done well, a course might be exactly what someone needs.  Showing someone how to do something is not a bad practice.

When you learned to drive (those of you who did) most of your learning came after you passed your test, when you were left on your own and had to get on with it.  A lot of learning came from your instructor (and possibly your mum, dad or other) sitting beside you asking questions such as “What do you need to think about here?” or suggesting that maybe there is a better way to pull away from a junction than in third gear. (Just me?)  But I’m quite sure that if on your first lesson the instructor had said “Let’s just start the engine and see what happens” you probably would have got out of the car.

Drive for quality- yes in all things. Social learning is amazing if it’s the right thing at the right time. Reflective practice is brilliant if it is based on context and at a deep level. And being taught something can be just exactly what’s needed. Don’t throw away the 10%.

 

If We All Lived In A Neolithic Village

Suppose we lived in ancient times, there were about 500 of us living together and life was pretty good. What would we accept in terms of wealth?

I think we would expect that we all had a very similar standard of living. The leader’s family would probably have a slightly higher standard of accommodation with some items and artefacts at their disposal – to be handed on to the next post holder. Anyone showing a particular skill in useful things like farming, crafts or medicine would be rewarded. The best warrior, the best hunter, the best fisher and the best builder would no doubt also be rewarded. If someone was brave enough to travel to another village and set up a system of trade, then they would be allowed to benefit from their efforts. On the other hand, anyone who didn’t have skill or expert knowledge would be given a job to do and given a share of the village produce. Some would have slightly more, gained through their own efforts, skill and intelligence. But the majority of the wealth would be shared.

This is what I imagine. What I don’t imagine is that one person within our community would earn over 4000 times what the poorest person earned. I really don’t think we would accept it.

So why do we accept it now?

Getting the Best from Your Staff – a quick start guide

 

It’s an age old story; you’re good at making widgets so you get promoted which means now you have to manage staff. Or, you start a business selling gizmos, which does so well you have to employ and manage staff. Dealing with staff is not the same as making widgets or selling gizmos, yet your success at making or selling relies on your team and how well you manage them.

Great staff work for great managers; so what is it that great managers do to get the best from their staff?

Hire Top Staff

Putting the effort into finding great people is always worth the time investment. Ensure you know what attitudes, skills, experience and qualifications they must have; this is not a wish list. Be really clear about this before you start.  By all means think about what would be desirable but be rigorous in what is absolutely essential. Many skills, experience and qualifications can be acquired reasonably easily. So hire for attitude and aptitude and be flexible about those desirable qualities.

Then Get Out Of The Way

There is a difference between supporting a new employee to do well and micro-managing their every move. You hired them so you could stop doing their work, not so you could carry on. Give them well defined boundaries and then let them get on with it.

Let Staff Solve Their Own Problems

If an employee comes to you with a problem, help them solve it. Don’t take the problem away unless it really is your responsibility to do so. Let staff make mistakes and help them out by coaching, not directing.

Have Quality Conversations

Regular dialogue about what employees need in order to perform well is essential for them and for you. Support them; this support needs to be bespoke for each person. But also ensure that they feel some level of challenge; work that is too easy is boring. The degree of support and challenge needs to be balanced and also to match the individual. You’ll get that balance right by giving them your proper attention.

Give Effective Feedback

This should be objective and delivered in a timely manner. It should also be about the positive as well as the negative. Let staff know what they need to do, what they need to stop and what they need to carry on doing. Also, avoiding difficult conversations won’t make a problem go away or get better. It really won’t.

Show Respect

Your employees are fully functioning human beings. They’ve nearly always had to deal with terrible events at some point in their lives, probably negotiated the buying and selling of their homes, managed to organise their households to be legal, healthy and productive and have absorbing interests outside of work. They can bring all of that skill and experience with them or they can leave it at home. The difference is how well they are respected at work for being unique people rather than just a cost.

Make Work Fun

Research shows that having fun is essential to being productive. What culture do you have in your team? Is it conducive to people enjoying their work? If your team had a personality what would it be? Would it be yours and do you have fun?

Attend To High Flyers – Or They’ll Fly Away.

Most managers spend more time with their poor performers than their top performers. Though this is understandable, it is not effective. Be disciplined in making time for your rising stars. Find out what they need, what their aspirations are, what ideas for improvement they have. And when top performers leave, let them leave singing your praises.

 

Free Bitesize Training on PowerPoint – come and get some ideas.

I’ve seen so many poor presentations this year; something has to be done about it!

I’m doing a 1.5 hour course on using PowerPoint – just some simple tips and starting blocks to help people present with a bit of professionalism. We’ll be at The Dome Enterprise Centre, Universtiy of Chichester Business School, Bognor on the 26th July at 5.30. Book your place and come along.

Book your tickets here.