Whole lot of history

There is a way the conversation often goes when you are new to a role. And a way it can go

How it often goes

“Why don’t we do my brilliant idea. I’m the breath of fresh air new boss?”

“Tried it, didn’t work”

How it can go

“I was looking through some of your old proposals on the shared drive and this one really stood out. I imagine we tried it at the time, but I was wondering if you fancied another attempt getting it off the ground? It might just have been the wrong timing”

“Ok, that sounds great. You are very wonderful”

I may be slightly overselling the second scenario, but I wanted to explore the concept of shared folders and organisational history. When you start in a new role I suggest that instead of just thinking about what changes you want to make you should spend some serious time looking back.

Here are some ways you can do it – at least one is likely to be possible in your next role

  • Talk to people about their career history and experience working there
  • Google the organisation to see what was written about it and what it published/put into the world
  • Poke about in shared folders looking at old comms ans proposals. I bet you find at least one old PowerPoint deck explaining the things that you think need doing
  • Ask people what they think are the important changes or historical decisions that you should be aware of
  • Just ask people ‘Have we already got something similar in a musty desk drawer?’ at the start of any project
  • Read the annual reports and look at changes in emphasis and stats over time

Shared folders. Virtual and mental.

You should never be beholden to organisational history, it should not be a constraint. It is, however, the rich backdrop against which you will operate and a source of learning that can provide a context that, once understood, can help you move forward more effectively.

I spent my weekend reading about the reports my organisation published half a decade ago. About CEO pay disputes (kudos to Donald Clark for his always challenging work). About commitments we made to people a decade ago. It was an education.

And I go into today better armed because of yesterday.

Feedback is a gift

Feedback is a gift. Or it is like a gift in many ways. Or at least 10.

My Auntie Rosie was the worst gift giver in our family – and also brought the most joy. Watching my cousin pretend to be delighted at receiving an electric lemon squeezer as a present for getting into University was a special moment.

Likewise I appreciated the selection of Postman Pat books I received when I was 16.

Anyway, I digress… This is how feedback is like a gift

  • Sometimes someone gives it to you and you think ‘Pants, now I have to do the same for you and I didn’t think we were that close’
  • Sometimes someone gets it just right and it is a really pleasant surprise
  • Sometimes the wrapping is awful but it is still a really good gift. Sometimes the wrapping is brilliant, but the contents…
  • Sometimes you think ‘You’ve known me years and that’s what you thought I’d like? Wow’
  • Sometimes it is obviously regifted and just what they had left spare in a drawer
  • Sometimes the thought that has gone into it is really clear and that makes the gift more valuable
  • Sometimes the person giving the gift looks at you like you should be really impressed – and internally you are just doing a confused shrug
  • Sometimes it’s like being given deodorant. You understand it is useful but you think… Hey, are you trying to tell me something else here?
  • Some people only give once a year and still get it wrong
  • If you don’t say thank you or make use of it then it reduces the chance of gifts in the future

Version 0.1

Someone once told me that version 0.1 is the most important. I now tell my teams that version 0.1 is the most important.

Because I agree that version 0.1 is the most important

Version 0.0 means we are discussing a blank space, nothing has formed.

Version 1.0 means that you think we are good to go. The thinking has been done. You have an emotional investment in the work. If I disagree with contents then I’m disagreeing with you. If I don’t like the layout I’m undoing your work

Version 0.1 means we are thinking together. We are exploring. We both know we aren’t there yet and are still looking for solutions.

It might be an oversimplification, but there is something at the heart of it that is very important.

Bring people 0.1.

Bring them openness and a chance to contribute. Bring options. Bring humility. Bring puzzles and possible solutions. Bring a shared purpose rather than work you want over the line.

One of the best ways to create trust is to solve problems together – start with asking for 0.1

Evidence Based Playfulness

Evidence Based Playfulness

I’ve been doing a couple of things recently and I’ve been watching some conversations develop that suggest they aren’t compatible. I think they are – so I thought I’d outline why.

What are the two things?

  1. Encouraging people to embrace a more evidence based approach to their work
  2. Encouraging people to experiment more – and in particular play about with different things in conversations. Be more playful and inventive

The reason I do the first is because we don’t have enough time to do the wrong things. We are busy and taking time to methodically think through possible approaches, the evidence of what we already know and then reflect on outcomes makes perfect sense.

The reason I do the second is because the first approach urges you to test a hypothesis. It asks you to think about what you know already and what you can understand from elsewhere. Influencing well is a key skill in HR and leadership – if you only have one approach to conversation (rather than a broad range of approaches) then you limit your possible outcomes.

So think, plan, experiment, reflect. Keep playing with different approaches until you get better at picking the right approach for the right concept. The more you learn the better equipped you are to succeed. Try starting or ending conversations in a different way. Try holding them in a different place. Watch for different impacts of those changes.

The notion of working from an evidence base can seem restricting – and is too often portrayed as such – but combining that with attempting to experiment to learn more…

Well that’s pretty much an instruction to play about with things. It’s not an instruction to give into fads – it is permission to try and learn. It would be ridiculous in any other situation to see science and innovation as mutually exclusive. Can you use VR in your org? Probably. Should you? It depends on context and benefit. Is it worth playing about with it to work that out? Possibly.

So

– try things

– be humble enough to admit failure

– be smart enough to see success

– be brave enough to admit you are always learning

– be open enough to let others learn from you

– be astute enough to learn wherever you can

Experience is a source of evidence. Go try something new – but keep your eyes on the prize.