Yesterday someone asked me why a problem hadn’t been solved before and I replied that we obviously just hadn’t cared enough. It felt like that needed a longer explanation, so I told them what I’m about to tell you…
Things that organisations really care about get done. They are the things that people chase up. They are (often) the things we measure. If an organisation really wants something to happen then it will tend to find a way. I feel the same about ‘difficult conversations’ – if you care enough you find a way. If you don’t then you didn’t care enough. All the ‘I didn’t know how’ was bluster to make you feel better. If we care enough we find a way.
Things that organisations would like to get done – which might be awkward or tricky – are the ones that path the way to hell. They are the ones where everyone agreed it was a good idea to do something but… You had the list of things that you would get chased for and this isn’t on it.
That’s common sense. It’s not a judgment on your organisation or mine. The stuff the CEO/Board/Senior Team prioritise tends to be the stuff that gets prioritised. That’s why common assent that something should be done has far less likelihood of action resulting than one person believing something has to be done.
Someone once told me that the most powerful tool a leader has in their kit is the ability to clearly signal what they value.
- What do you talk about?
- What do you reward?
- Where do you spend your time?
Arguably the first point there is easily overwhelmed by the second and third. If you talk a good game yet spend your time elsewhere and reward different activity then people will guess what you really value is different to what you describe.
So have a think about how you show what you care about – and reflect on the things you might want to happen but somehow your signals aren’t congruent with showing that. And then have a think on why.
From #metoo through to simplifying your processes if you really want things to be different then you need to care enough.
You can’t care about everything – so be honest with yourself and others.
I can’t see any reason this picture would be here, but I couldn’t be bothered to spend time looking for a better one. That’s a clear signal that I’m done here.
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. 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
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
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?
- Encouraging people to embrace a more evidence based approach to their work
- 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.
– 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.
I’ve just hopped off a stage where I was talking about the future of work. The people who had been on before me had talked about being positive about it so I went for a more dystopian view (for a sense of balance and because I’d had a bad commute).
The people before had said that fear dominates the narrative around this stuff and I sort of agree. I don’t want people scared, I think that creates the wrong type of response.
I do, however, want people to feel a bit uncomfortable. Like when you know you should be doing something and you aren’t. Like when you feel you haven’t quite prepped for a meeting or you left the cooker on. I want people to think ‘I need to spend a bit more time on my decision making and its implications. In fact I need to reflect on where I spend my time’.
We mistake driving people through fear with giving them appropriate context that provokes them to choose to move. I remember being at a leadership event years ago and someone saying that the only way you can get anyone to do anything is to create a burning platform. Everyone else in the room had lied to their teams to make things seem more urgent. I think that’s a despicable approach. I think that creates fear, fatigue and destroys trust if you are rumbled. I can’t imagine a more limited approach to leadership that telling lies by default.
Explore problems together. Talk about your concerns. But don’t spread fear. It is possible to have urgency without.
Every year my family meets up in Regents Park at the same time, same place. There are a lot of us (my grandparents had 15 children which makes for a lot of cousins…) and so the outside space works for us.
This year it was against the backdrop of Cabinet resignations, Trump protests and a heatwave.
It’s easy to find it difficult to feel positive with all that going on. It’s easy to find the world a little overwhelming.
This year we came across these folk. A group of Spanish friends who seem to meet on an occasional basis to build human pyramids. They had some equipment, but apparently it’s strictly an amateur effort. They just do it for laughs and to build friendships. Or at least that’s what the D’Souza troops that we sent to investigate/interfere came back with. The ‘pyramiders’ had a range of ages and, judging by some very risky wobbling, a range of abilities.
There is a lot of trust working with strangers. It involves – and I think this is an important distinction – hope rather than faith. I was chatting to someone about this last week and I think it’s important if you are leading a team to reflect on the difference. I’ve seen people demand faith – too early and with little substance to make it a fair demand.
I’ve also seen people who are dealers in hope. People who show a possible way forward that gives others something – a vision, confidence or space – that allows them to hope. Things seem possible with them about.
Hope might spring eternal, but keeping enough of it flowing to help people think that the task at hand is achievable… Well, that’s a more useful endeavour than asking for faith.
There are no short cuts. Stick with hope until people have faith that their trust is in the right place.