Monthly Archives: May 2011

Are You Being Toyed With?

I have a daughter who is rather partial to dark chocolate ginger cookies. No sooner do they enter the house, they vanish into the dark and gloomy dungeon, otherwise known as her bedroom.

I’m told that chocolate has remarkable and essential properties for teenage girls (I’m told this by my teenage daughter, so this might not be wholly impartial or reliable, but I am prepared to let it pass.)

Having devoured three of the heavenly arterial constricting spheroids (approved by her mother), she provocatively requests a fourth to which she gets a quick rebuttal.

Now what can she do? Having been denied this pleasure by her mum, where else can she go? Of course, dear old dad! Dear old, old, preoccupied, soft dad.

And so she makes her way gently, calmly, serenely upstairs to the office where I work; tip-toeing so as not to annoy me before the request is made. And as she enters the room she suddenly loses years, presenting herself with her sweet angelic face, looking up to me with pure love, admiration and respect; and in dulcet tones which transport me back to her first words, says “Daddy…” (not Dad, or ‘Bumface’ or ‘old Codger’, but ‘Daddy’ – a name I haven’t heard for six years) “…can I have a ginger cookie, please?” And unable to help myself I say “Yes. Help yourself”.

Tragedy!!! Note: I didn’t just say ‘Yes’. I also said ‘Help yourself!” Which is exactly what she’ll do! No one more ginger cookie, but three or maybe more. Full approval sought and won.

Of course I am now in the dog house. And rightly so. because I have made the fundamental error of not being aligned with the rules of the house. I didn’t know about the other three cookies and I didn’t know she had already been denied. And that left me open to manipulation.

My daughter will need to know that this story has a point other than to parade her dark chocolate ginger cookie desire.

My point is that I see too many teams operating in this way, and that makes them vulnerable to exploitation from customers and suppliers alike. Failure to speak with one voice, means that individual team members are picked off one by one until the soft, pliable one is found.

If a customer doesn’t like the answer they get from you, they go to your colleague. Quickly it becomes obvious that this game works because customer’s get different answers to identical questions depending on who they ask. So they search around for the one person who will give them what they want, leaving the ‘team’ in disarray.

The irony is that in most cases, this isn’t good for customer, just as it isn’t good for the team. The resulting argument (or discussion) between my wife and I creates a dark atmosphere in the home and chocolate treats are removed from the shopping list for a month. But think of the wider implications for your customers:

  • Customers NEED teams to be together. If they have a relationship with the team rather than interacting on a ‘one-off’ basis, they need the certainty and confidence that whoever they approach from within the team, they will get the same and the right answer. This saves time and angst, all of which cost money.
  • Customers want to know what they are getting. This isn’t possible if the team offering is not well-defined. You can’t have a brand which depends on how someone is feeling from one day to the next.
  • Customers need a team to be organised. Dis-organised teams create confusion, waste and errors.
  • Customers need teams to be accountable. They need to know that their issues will be addressed by the team, not by who-ever feels like it (or doesn’t, as the case may be).
So, although it might feel like a victory for a customer who manages to take advantage of a weak team, it will only be short-lived. Because a team that is not together ultimately won’t be in a position to serve the customer. It won’t have a product worth selling, and even if it does, it won’t be able to sell it at an affordable price. That’s because the internal waste will make it non-viable.
And even if  by some miracle you can overcome all this and still find customers who are prepared to pay over the odds, a fractured team will continue to hurt its customers by delay, diminished quality and inconsistent service levels. No customer wants that. No customer will buy that…more than once.
So if you feel you are being toyed with by your customers, ask yourself: “Are we together as a team? ” If not, do something about it. Because you aren’t the only victim in this scenario.

Getting Rid of Dolly – teams need diversity

  • Are your teams always bickering? Or are they so polite that no-one says boo to a goose?
  • Is your organisation so afraid of conflict that it’s created the team equivalent of homogenised milk?
  • Do you actively seek out diverse opinions or are you married to the idea of calm consensus?
  • And do you really want to be a sheep?

There are countless questionnaires and psychological profiling tools out there, all confirming what we fundamentally know – that we are all different.

So why do we continue to be irritated by these differences and expect everyone else to be just like us?

How often have you heard people say, “we can’t get on because there’s a personality gap”, as if that’s a justification for an appalling relationship?

Of course there’s a gap – unless you’re Dolly the cloned Sheep! And do you want a team of Dolly’s in your organisation?

Personality gaps are good – it’s the clashes that cause the grief.

The Full Ark

Clashes are often the result of thwarted expectations.

Expecting conformity; considering ourselves as the ‘norm’ against which everyone else is benchmarked; and insisting that people see things the way we see them is setting ourselves up for massive disappointment.

And it’s dull! I don’t want a little town of Tim Lamberts pottering around me (and neither would you, believe me!). It would be like arguing with myself – where victories are so unsatisfying because they are so inevitable; and I’d always believe I’m right, even though I’m probably hopelessly wrong! It would be insufferable.

And where’s the stimulus, the creativity, the extras? I desperately need those personality gaps; and I need different people to help fill them in for me.

There’s a reason why Noah took a range of species with him onto the Ark. Can you imagine if he’d only taken 160 sheep?

Too Many Animals?

That’s fine. But what happens when you find yourself in a team where:

  • No-one thinks or acts like you?
  • No-one is as interested in the things you are interested in?
  • No-one shares your history or cultural references?
  • No-one shares your ambitions?
  • No-one shares your primary values?
  • No-one shares your sense of humour?
  • No-one is as good at some of the things you are good at?

That’s hard. Noah probably had to separate his animals on the Ark. He had the added problem of one species looking like lunch to another, which perhaps makes our teams slightly more appealing, but you can’t get away from the fact that working in a zoo team is hard.

Of course, I’ve been trained to say, “Great! Bring it on! What a fantastic opportunity to get things done”.

But then reality hits, and I find myself thinking, “Why are these people so obtuse?” Or “why don’t they care?” Or even, “What is wrong with these people?”

You see, deep down, I secretly want them to be more like me. I know myself better than anyone else I know, so it would be much easier if other people were more like me. I’d understand them better. I’d know how to communicate with them better. I’d be able to by-pass various preambles and overtures, because I could more safely assume that some things were taken as read. I could reasonably expect them to share my passion and support my ideas.

Alas, my high ideals about embracing such variety are tarnished by my own desire for a quiet life. I want my Dolly!

A Comfortable Habitat

 It’s as if we just can’t help ourselves. Intellectually, we know that diversity is good for us and makes for productive teams, but when we find ourselves in diverse teams, this diversity becomes an irritant. 

It’s like many marriages I know of where one partner spends their whole life trying to mould the other to a closer image of themselves.

This despite the fact that one of the things that attracted them in the first place was their partner’s difference or uniqueness – “I’d never met anyone like her before”, “He opened my eyes to so many new experiences”.

But ‘Attraction’ is one thing. What happens when you have to live (or work) with them?  Attraction isn’t enough to carry you through. It’s all about being comfortable with each other in a safe and non-threatening habitat.

So time is spent co-ordinating diaries, schedules, friends, social occasions, trips. Energies are spent on establishing common procedures and protocols; bringing roles into line; smoothing out the rough edges so that the ‘team’ becomes more homogenised.

This might work for a marriage, but does it work so well for our work teams? Is it a model we would want to replicate?

Sadly, we do. We allow our teams to take on a new identity which doesn’t have space for diversity, difference, and dissimilarity. Team members become subsumed into a cohesive whole that buries their individuality.

Our search for consistency, commonality and belonging, succeeds in creating a team that has under-utilised strengths, reduced ambitions, and no spark. We end up with a team of Dollys.

Recruitment practices have historically resulted in homogenised teams, where team members have been recruited in the image of the person recruiting them.

TV’s ‘The Apprentice’ is a classic example of this. Alan Sugar is attracted to people who remind him of himself when he was their age, and these are the people who are more likely to win through.

The ensuing entertainment is provided as contestants attempt to contort themselves into the image they think he wants to see. You have a herd of twenty-somethings running around like sheep, while the good shepherd Sugar and his sheep dogs preside over the bleeting.

The result is incongruous and outrageous behaviour, which all goes to make great television.

But would you seriously wish to recruit your team in this way?

Carnival of the Animals

 Too many team-building events are focused on helping people to ‘like each other’. But the evidence suggests that ‘liking’ each other is more often than not a barrier to team success.

What seems truer is that “You don’t have to like each other to work productively with each other.” You can still get on a do a great job, even though you don’t think of yourselves as soul mates. You can even be different species!

Removing the need to ‘like’ and replacing it with the need to ‘respect each other’s contribution’ seems to be a more sensible way of going about things.

In this way, no-one expects other team members to be like them, or to like them.

Everyone expects everyone else to play a full part in making the team successful, and that means being themselves.

The team is now set up to draw upon every ounce of individuality, every different perspective, the full range of skills and strengths; and to embrace all temperaments.

Like Noah, you must create some central norms of behaviour that ensure you can manage and control the diversity of the team, and enable constructive and productive relationships to develop; but be careful not to exclude vital characteristics of challenge, conflict, and originality by doing so.

A New Breed of Team

 If you are the manager of a team that is more like a herd than a zoo, more like a cosy marriage than a dynamic family, stop to reflect on why it has become so.

Has the team:

  • Settled for the lowest common-denominator?
  • Assumed an appearance that best avoids conflict?
  • Sheared the fringes of personality (where the exciting stuff happens)?
  • Only allowed a fraction of its available resources to be utilised?
  • Got too woolly?

The only responsible thing to do in this situation is stir it up a little.

  • Reconfigure – separate, move people around, bring in ‘new blood’ (but make sure it’s a different type!)
  • Encourage and stimulate genuine debate
  • Invite guests to team meetings who bring different experiences and opinions – and listen to them!
  • Find out what hidden strengths people have – and use them!
  • Get used to a bumpier ride!

And finally, if you need any extra reminder of how you should deal with diversity, perhaps this little ditty will help.

You’re different. Get over it!

They’re different. Get on with it!

We’re different. Thank god for it!

 

 


Not quite 10 out of 10 – but perfection is overrated!

I’ve just completed this year’s Manchester Bupa 10k. Haile Gebrisellassi romped home to take the crown in little over 28 minutes, looking fresh as a daisy. I staggered over the finishing line in 46:43 and have been recovering all week!

It’s a personal best over this course but short of my record over the 10k distance. Naturally, tiredness gives way to disappointment at not hitting my target (anything under 45 minutes), but now I’m beginning to reflect that in three years I have gone from just over 60 minutes to just over 45 minutes for this distance, whilst becoming three years older.

Setting personal goals can lead to disappointment or frustration, but the real killer is not setting them at all.

So that sub-45 minutes still beckons, even if it takes me another three years. At least I’ll be fit, healthy and less guilty about the odd pint!

Fact or Friction – the curse of always being right!

Not all discussions end acrimoniously in disagreement, but too many of them do.

And in many cases the hostility is fuelled by a fundamental misunderstanding.

It seems that statements which sound perfectly reasonable, rational and right when voiced, get lost in translation by the time the receiver hears them.

Let’s be clear: disagreement and challenge are healthy activities. Without them, teams are denied innovation and progress.

Where it becomes unhealthy is when it’s based on mix-ups and misconstruction. In these situations, it becomes a poison that threatens to destabilise teams and relationships.

Wouldn’t it be great if people could just ‘get it!’ when we spoke to them? Why do they seem so incapable of understanding our point of view? Aren’t we being clear enough? Do we have to spell it out? Why are they so stupid when I am so clever?!The resulting discussion is based on an ever-widening gap of opinion, cross-purposes, and polarisation of views – usually about the other person! Both parties believe they are right which, by a process of elimination, must mean that the other party is wrong.

These questions of frustration are ones we have probably all asked ourselves from time-to-time, and we have searched for answers.

  • Maybe they don’t care. They don’t respect what I have to say, so they wait for me to finish speaking (if I’m lucky) before putting me straight.
  • Maybe they are stupid, or worse, they are being deliberately obtuse. Maybe it’s a game they play with me, to wind me up, because they know it’s an easy button to press. [This is my voice of paranoia.]
  • And in my more creative moments I might imagine that some invisible force is taking my words and manipulating them before allowing them to filter through the consciousness of the person I am talking to. It’s like some great ethereal conspiracy; something out there is deliberately toying with me, foxing me just because it can! [This is my voice of psychosis!]

Of course, there is always another explanation, and one that gives us a fighting chance of bringing about a positive change. I suggest that maybe we have not created the right conditions for people to be receptive to what we have to say.

Perhaps we have become so used to adversarial conversations through our political and legal systems that we have forgotten how to generate proper dialogue. Maybe our schooling has placed a disproportionate emphasis on winning and losing, instead of on teamwork, collaboration and creating win-wins.

And this means that over time we have become lazy. We have developed bad habits that we have found hard to kick, so we haven’t properly tried. And maybe it’s easier to think “They’re stupid, I’m clever!” and live with the frustration of friction.

How often have you heard someone start their response to something you have said with the words: “I disagree” or “You’re wrong”?

Perhaps they have gone further: “You must be joking!”, or “That’s rubbish!” (Or substitute ‘rubbish’ for even more colourful and provocative language.)

Maybe you have used these words or some like them yourself.

It’s the verbal equivalent of the pointed finger, and the effect is both powerful and destructive.

“I disagree” can be as lethal as a bullet in the way it kills the other person’s point of view, and as sharp as a knife in the way it slices through their right to have or express such an opinion.

As such, it does not earn you the right to receive a fair hearing in return. It diminishes any chance you have of being understood because, quite frankly, they have stopped listening.

If you want to force someone into an oppositional state, tell them you disagree with them, or that they are wrong. The effect can be to polarise their opinion still further and to seek more justification for having it. In effect, they have more of a vested interest to prove themselves right, and you wrong! And you return the favour by doing the same.

Confusion, cross-purposes and conflict are created when we stop listening.

In our rush to destroy the other person’s argument, we often fail to take time to understand their position or explain ours.

And the result is that great ideas are lost, and the adage that ‘two minds are better than one’ becomes more like ‘knocking two heads together’!

  • What happens if we delayed the statement “I disagree” and preceded it with an explanation?
  • What about trying to understand where our colleague is coming from rather than following our urge to tell them where they should be going?
  • And what about using the alternative viewpoints as an opportunity to evaluate a situation in 3 rather than 2 dimensions?

The point is not necessarily to reach a consensus or to win the other person over to your position, but to have meaningful dialogue based on mutual appreciation of the facts and information that each position is based on.

So, imagine what would happen if the next time you found yourself disagreeing with a colleague you tried something new.

Instead of saying “I disagree with you” followed by an attempt to explain your reasons (to deaf ears), try explaining your position first, followed by the statement, “That’s why I disagree with you on this point”.

You can play around with a form of words that seems right for you. Here are some examples:

“I’d just like to explain how I currently see the situation and why I see it this way at the moment.” [Provide your rationale and explanation]. “That’s why I have difficulty accepting your position.” 

“I’m interested in exploring some of the facts and data that seem to have got us to this point.” [Provide your rationale and explanation]. “Therefore, I see things a bit differently to you at the moment”.  

And if you are feeling particularly collegiate, you can advance to the next level and minimise still further your emphasis on the disagreement, by focusing on working up a shared solution.

“I’d like to explore your idea further. Before I do that I’d like to offer an alternative view.” [Do so] “The data we currently have leads me to favour this alternative view. Can we discuss where our differences lie?”

You have a choice. You can do what you’ve always done in the past and begin with the bold statement, “I disagree”. This will succeed in getting the other person’s back up, and encourage them to be equally dismissive of you.And if you are feeling particularly collegiate, you can advance to the next level and minimise still further your emphasis on the disagreement, by focusing on working up a shared solution.

 Or you can try a different approach which might allow you to break the deadlock, establish the true picture, and at least receive a full hearing. Isn’t that more worth having than friction burns?

Tim Lambert is the founding Director of Kay-Lambert Associates Limited, a People & Organisation Development Consultant, and a Qualified Coach.

His organisation exists to provide clients with tailored and professional support in the areas of Leadership Development, Team Effectiveness, and Management Skills Training. For more information, visit their website at www.kay-lambertassociates.co.uk

Puerto Rico beckons

Off to Puerto Rico in August to deliver Lean Leadership training and run a Train the Trainer programme for a global pharmaceutical company. I’ll be there for two weeks, so any advice on what I should do at the weekend?

Controlling Those Flying Pigs

I describe myself as an optimist with pessimistic tendencies.

I believe it is possible that one day pigs could fly (evolution is a strange and wonderful process, after all), but probably not before the planet has destroyed itself!

I’m less interested in having a philosophical debate about whether Optimism or Pessimism is good or bad for you. I’m more interested in looking at the practical reality of how they inform our behaviour, the decisions we make, and the way we conduct our business lives.

There are potential dangers that await both the optimistic company and the pessimistic company.

  • The optimistic company might set unattainable goals and kill themselves trying to deliver.
  • The pessimistic company probably won’t set any goals because they don’t believe they will be able to achieve them.
  • The optimistic company might convince themselves that the downturn is simply the result of a natural cyclical process and will inevitably be followed by an upturn. If they just sit it out patiently, it will eventually come good. So they do nothing. They change nothing.
  • The pessimistic company is more likely to believe that Armageddon has struck and there’s nothing they can do to rise from the ashes. So they might not even try.
  • The optimistic company probably believes that despite the odds, they will be the one to come through.
  • The pessimistic company is less likely to believe in odds because that would imply an element of luck. They know there’s no chance!

Problems arise when Optimism or Pessimism become extreme. That’s when it can feel like trusting to fate or destiny; the point at which we blindly accept that “What will be, will be”.

To the optimist, that’s great as long as you have the luxury of time to hang on in there. To the pessimist, that’s awful. But at least there is comfort in knowing. “I don’t have to look at myself, because things will happen anyway, and I am not in control”.

This is often why people wait for so long before taking action. And when they do act, it’s often because of some enormous jolt in their lives such as a bereavement, or redundancy. Until then, they’ve been relying on O or P.

So Optimism & Pessimism can be damaging when it is extreme and starts to drive certain company behaviours such as:

  • Trusting to fate
  • Being passive in a rapidly changing world
  • Relying on repetitive patterns and trends without making adjustments as they go
  • Blindly believing that things will come good or go bad

Blind Optimism

There’s been a lot of talk about Being Positive. Everything will be all right if you think it will be.

There’s some evidence to back up this claim, especially in the way patients respond to ill health. Their positive attitude can stimulate their immunity and recovery systems to some extent, usually accompanied by positive action to improve their well-being.

But this Positivism can also stop us from facing reality (whatever that is) and taking real action.

I don’t play the lottery. Mostly it’s because I forget to buy a ticket, but mostly I forget to buy a ticket because I don’t really want one.

“Are you mad?” I hear you say. “Someone’s got to win it, and it might be you!”

Statistically, this is true, but by buying a ticket I feel that I am abdicating some of my responsibility to build my own future.

The dream of winning “and then everything will be alright” can be like a powerful stamp on the brakes in terms of being proactive.

I’ve worked with so many companies who have pinned all their hopes on the acquisition of a new piece of machinery.

One company chose to invest in a piece of kit prosaically called a Lump Breaker. Its purpose is to grind food product that hasn’t been properly mixed and redistribute it back onto the production line for reforming and packing.

“This will halve our waste” the company proclaimed with delight. But that isn’t what happened.

So much hope (blind and untested optimism) was pinned on this solution that people stopped thinking about their own responsibility for not creating waste in the first place. They stopped looking for other opportunities, and they gave up control.

To make matters worse, since the Lump Breaker was reworking product that had already been worked on before, it was actually adding to the overall cost of the product. Waste and costs actually went up! And the Lump Breaker wasn’t cheap either!

On a positive note, the failure of the Lump Breaker to deliver the expected returns opened people’s eyes to new opportunities. Waste at the company has more than halved in subsequent years without the aid of the Lump Breaker which has now been de-commissioned! Waste is under control.

 

 Blind Pessimism

 

It’s the absolute nature of the blind pessimist that is so uncomfortable.

When we reach a point of being so certain that the worst will happen and the best will not, we become trapped and helpless.

 

When this happens it’s easy to start feeling like a victim. It’s a state where we feel we’re not in control, but other people (or things) are in control of us.

So pessimism can lead to paranoia (“They’re out to get me”), and from here it’s a short hop to blame.

It’s very easy when things get tough to start blaming everyone else. We’ve all done it, I’m sure.

When we don’t get that order it’s because the competition used under-hand tactics; when we don’t deliver that project it’s because our project team let us down; and when we start getting customer complaints it because our customers are spoilt.

Shuffling of this responsibility is a sign that we’re not in control.

It’s hard accepting that the reason things don’t happen might be because you didn’t do things right. Or that you aren’t capable. Especially if you don’t think you can put it right. It must, therefore, be someone else’s fault. “It’s their problem to fix, not mine!”

 

Adopting extreme pessimistic views usually means accepting that just because something terrible happened in the past, it will definitely happen again.

It’s often an emotional not a rational response, but what it does is freeze people in time. All they can do is hunker down and prepare themselves for the inevitable rather than try to dig their way out of the ice.

Let’s not be too harsh on the pessimist. There is often a reason why they believe what they do.

Take for example the person who goes on a city break to Barcelona.

Whilst there, strolling down La Rambla, taking in the sights, a pickpocket takes his wallet and his phone.

Now when anyone mentions that they’re thinking of going to Barcelona, he emphatically pronounces, “You don’t want to go there; you’ll get robbed”.

He doesn’t say you might get robbed. It’s a certainty that you will.

But the only thing that is certain here is that he will never go to Barcelona again.

So blind pessimism can:

  • prevent people from taking and accepting responsibility
  • close people’s eyes to new possibilities
  • encourage people to give up and give in
  • stop people in their tracks
  • promote fear and anxiety

In business, these are the behaviours that kill innovation and destroy morale.

 

A New Blend?

On the whole we like Optimists and have a downer on Pessimists. Being one or the other has generally been considered mutually exclusive.

But isn’t there room for a little bit of both? What if we have some optimism with a small measure of pessimism, just to temper some of our wildest fits of excess? Do away with the extremes and find a sensible middle ground?

We tend to call this alternative ‘being realistic’, but it’s a bit unsatisfactory because there are too many ‘realisms’, each of them personal to the person who sees them.

One person’s idea of what’s real is very different to another’s. My realism might be perceived as pessimism, (for instance I think it’s completely reasonable to assume that I will never be able to knock Usain Bolt off his 100m world record pedestal, whereas your response might be “is that a good enough reason to not even try?). And their optimism could be perceived as delusion, such as when my wife says she’s going to succeed in turning me into a fashion icon!

Reality is a moving target. So ‘realism’ might not be our answer.

So instead of focusing on Optimism or Pessimism or Being Realistic, I think it’s much better to concentrate on Creating Opportunity and Taking Control.

This recognises our role in shaping outcomes and creating a reality that works for us. We can still have our optimism and pessimism, but it’s well tempered, allowing us to have a balanced and measured approach to our lives and to our work.

Our weekend visitor to Barcelona could again enjoy the sights and smells of La Rambla if he took a few security precautions. Being aware of the risk allows him to take control of the situation, and take advantage of the opportunities that the city has to offer.

For companies that can see, create and take opportunities; for those who can exercise control over the way they navigate the market: they really have something to get excited about.

 

Taking Over the Controls

Here’s an example of how one person I knew broke free of Blind Optimism, seized an opportunity and took control of his life.

He was an actor who was highly regarded by his contemporaries. Throughout his training he was lauded as the ‘next big thing’ in the theatre and film world.

For year after year, he dreamed that dream, hanging on for that lucky break that would catapult him to professional success. So he sat waiting for the phone to ring; waiting for his agent to get him an audition; waiting for people to come to him. Believing that one day, his dream would be realised.

He wanted his work to speak for itself and felt that if there was any justice in the world, one day it would.

The trouble was the work didn’t come often enough. So his shop window wasn’t there. And when it did come, it wasn’t stuff he was happy to use as his calling card. He was totally dependent on other people giving him an opportunity to practice and develop his craft, but there were no suitable offers.

Even when he did work, the crowds didn’t come. The agents weren’t clamouring to see him. The influential reviewers weren’t making the detours to obscure and remote regional theatres. The money wasn’t flowing in. The prospect of becoming the next Richard Burton wasn’t being realised.

He reached a point where he realised that his lucky break might not happen. And that whilst he was waiting for it, time and other opportunities were passing him by. And all those other things he’d the potential to do weren’t being done. He was in a state of limbo. That was his reality and he didn’t like it.

So his response wasn’t driven by Optimism or Pessimism.  This time he tried something quite different.

He made a decision. It was a decision that put him back in control of his life. He made a career change. He retrained and moved into marketing.

He didn’t see this as defeatist. He’d given it his best shot. He didn’t doubt his ability, and neither did the people who saw him perform, but it just wasn’t happening, so enough was enough.

 

Now, he doesn’t wake up thinking, “if only”, or “I wish”. Now he wonders “why didn’t I do this before?” Because now he gets up and goes to work. Now he’s doing something new that he loves and he’s working on getting even better at it. Now he earns a living, and can build a good life for him and his family. He’s no longer waiting on that elusive lucky break.

And all those skills he had as an actor aren’t going to waste. They’re just being used in a new arena.

Being in Control is Good for You

One of my first assignments as a Training Consultant was facilitating a Personal Development Programme at Unilever Research. One of the instruments we used to help raise self-awareness was an Efficacy tool. It helped to clarify the degree to which people felt they were in control of their lives.

It wasn’t until much later that I was struck by just how important it is for people to feel that they can shape their own future.

The Whitehall Studies which began in 1967 have been looking into incidents of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) within the Civil Service, and comparing these against the national average. The studies have concluded that a significant contributory factor in incidents of CHD is the degree of control people feel they have over their work.

People who were micro managed or who had limited scope for choosing how they carried out their work were found to have a far higher incidence of CHD, than other colleagues, and higher than the national average. These people were in administrative, not management roles.

Neither absolute Optimism nor absolute Pessimism can guarantee us being in control.

Uncertain Reality

If something isn’t working, you have to change it.

  • Holding out for a lucky break is a high risk strategy.
  • Waiting for the market conditions to change (because sooner or later they always do), or expecting something to happen if you hang around long enough, is crazy.
  • Hoping that an employee will change their behaviour eventually rather than intervening to bring about that change is madness.

I know there’s no certainty with my reality created through Opportunity & Control.

Optimism and Pessimism do feel more certain (If I’m optimistic, it will definitely happen and if I’m pessimistic it’s bound to happen).

But the reality I create is different. I’m in control, or at least I feel in control. It opens my eyes to possibilities and opportunities that would otherwise be denied to me.

It’s more of an adventure with no guarantees but a great sense of travel. At least I’m on the move. Instead of being stuck in traffic, waiting for the traffic jam to clear, I’m making up a new route and it’s taking me somewhere I want to go.

Too many companies are still stuck in traffic, and it’s a judgement call whether they sit it out waiting for the road to clear or whether they pull off the carriageway and find an alternative route.

They might not get there any sooner (the risk is the traffic will clear just as they make their exit), but they might find out a lot of interesting new stuff on their new route. Who knows what opportunities lay in wait for the company that makes a detour?

My New Reality

So I’m both an Optimist and a Pessimist (with the optimism just winning out!).

  •  I’m optimistic because I’ve made big changes in my life and things improved, so I know I could do it again.
  • I’m pessimistic because bad things have happened in the past and they could (probably will) happen again. Just because things are ok today, I don’t expect them to be ok tomorrow.
  • And I’m prepared to believe that things won’t automatically happen unless I help them along.

If we have these elements working in harmony, we can all feel more in control of our life and work than if we were relying on luck or chance alone.

It’s a simple message: don’t lose hope, don’t dwell on despair, but:

  1. do something, and
  2. if that doesn’t work look to do something else.

And if you see a flying pig, celebrate your optimism but just pray it hasn’t got an upset tummy!

Tim Lambert is the founding Director of Kay-Lambert Associates Limited, a People & Organisation Development Consultant, and a Qualified Coach.

His organisation exists to provide clients with tailored and professional support in the areas of Leadership Development, Team Effectiveness, and Management Skills Training. For more information, visit their website at www.kay-lambertassociates.co.uk

Blind to Reason

I’ve been blind all my life. And so have you. We all have, and we all are.

And before the optometrists leap for joy, this isn’t a blindness problem they can fix.

But you can!


If you’re managing people who:

  • need to collaborate to bring about secure and lasting change
  • need to make sound decisions
  • need to be innovative to bolster your competitiveness

…then you need to know what’s going on, and how to fix it.

We all have blind spots.

They have a massive impact on the way we and our teams conduct business.

It’s not just the obvious things we miss, though sometimes we don’t even see what’s staring us in the face. We even see things that aren’t there at all.

It’s an essential part of our biology, and in most situations we’re happy for it to be that way.

When I look in the mirror does it really matter if I see a dashing, handsome young man with jet black hair instead of the greying, slightly portly middle-aged specimen that I actually am? What’s the harm in that?

However, it’s does matter when we are trying to make decisions that are of large and lasting consequence for our organization.  It matters because these blind spots close our minds to new and significant data, or trick us into dismissing data as irrelevant or wrong.

Freeing our minds in order to let ideas flow and information in, is one of the significant challenges we face in our decision making.

We need to increase our field of vision, and take a long hard look at what’s preventing us from seeing the full picture.

What’s the Reason?

There is a scientific explanation for blind spots, which shouldn’t serve as an excuse, but rather an opportunity to be honest with one another.

One of the reasons we have blind spots is because without them our brains would have too much information to handle.

All day long we are bombarded with stimuli through all our senses and somehow we need to decide what will be sent to our unconscious mind and what will be allowed to reside in our conscious mind.

Some experience simply doesn’t get through to the brain at all; it gets repelled at source because we don’t want it.

Within our brains there’s a small cluster of cells collectively called the Reticular Activating System (RAS).

Its job is primarily to regulate arousal and sleep-wake transitions, and one of its effects is that it acts like a filter which keeps us believing what we want to believe, unless we actively challenge it. In essence, it helps us create the life we want.

 Let’s say I’m happy believing I could be George Clooney’s double.

In this case, I would benefit nothing by   troubling myself with the little matter of reality. I don’t have to (or want to) see all the blemishes and signs of wear and tear on my pock-marked face, so I don’t! I might be delusional, even mad, but I’m happy.

It’s probably not a deliberate act: my friendly RAS is simply filtering out information and stimuli that I’ve decided are of no interest to me.

Instead, like a magnet, it’s only attracting information that I am interested in receiving or I believe to be relevant. The door is open to new data only if it is consistent with my current beliefs.

The consequence is that over time, I amass a huge amount of (disproportionate) data that confirms what I want confirmed. I have created my own positive reality.

Where it starts to Go Wrong

Now clearly, even to the casual observer, I am no George Clooney. (At which point everyone jumps to my defence and says “you don’t look bad…for your age”!).

But what if I believed (as many people did) that building up huge mortgages and debts was a safe and sensible way to manage my lifestyle and resource? Some people believed that investing in foreign properties (irrespective of where they were) was a sure-fire way to get rich quick.

Having arrived at this belief I might be far more receptive to information and data that backs this up, and less amenable to statistics and patterns of behavior that suggest otherwise. After all, we have a vested interest in proving ourselves right.

It’s often only in hindsight, when we are proved wrong, that we go back to the data and ask in exasperation, “why didn’t I see that when it was staring me in the face? What possessed me to buy a property in a country with falling tourism?” “Why did I think it was such a good idea to borrow 8 times my salary?”

This is where we discover that our RAS has let us down.

But typically we don’t go looking for this information and we don’t ask these questions early enough. We’ve already convinced ourselves that we are going to do it anyway. We have become blind to reason.

So, whilst the RAS enables us to function in a world full of complex and multiple stimuli, it also does us a disservice.

  •  It’s the friend of prejudice.
  • It closes our minds to new possibilities.
  • It narrows our peripheral vision.
  • It keeps our blinkers on.

The Chain Reaction

Having established a belief system, we largely select what data to observe and what things to experience (based on our interests, beliefs and positions), and then move further and further away from reality as we pile on meanings, assumptions, conclusions, and further beliefs. Some of these (in fact many of these) might be built on foundations made of sand.

It’s our way of managing our limited ability to hold, retain and recall information.

Memory Blindness

Sometimes we don’t even remember why we believe something: we just believe it. The belief is based on so many levels of abstraction that we have forgotten entirely where it came from.

We move further and further away from the TRUTH because we allow our beliefs to influence the data we select next time.

Chris Agyris described this process through his model which he called the ‘Ladder of Inference’.  He calls this reinforcing of behaviour and beliefs the ‘reflexive loop’.

A good colleague of mine, Lynn Leahy, tells the story of being confronted by her daughter on why she always cut her beef joint in half before putting it in the roasting tin.

Lynn’s response was, “That’s what my mother used to do”. When Lynn traced this back to her grandmother, she discovered that the habit of halving the joint originated because her grandmother only had a small roasting tin.

This is a great example of how we accept and absorb habits, behaviours and beliefs, without ever really testing them. But in an age where we have access to different size roasting tins, we can afford to do things differently.

Roasting tins are one thing, but what about a company decision to buy a new computer system, or to move manufacturing operations to the Far East? Being closed to alternatives here could be catastrophic.

Let’s not con ourselves!

 Con men know all about RAS, habits, and our ability to be highly selective with data. They exploit it mercilessly, preying on our fears and dreams, telling us what we want to hear, being careful with the truth, or even telling outright lies!

But that doesn’t mean we have to con ourselves.

If we recognize the role blind spots play, the impact they have, and the way they can be manipulated, we are one step nearer to doing something about it.

We have to break the pattern and point ourselves in a different direction for a while because we’ll only get a different outcome (and viewpoint) if we start behaving and thinking differently.

Doing things differently might mean being:

  •  a little bit more suspicious of people who profess to be so certain
  • braver about  questioning some of the things we’ve always held to be true
  • prepared to consider ‘what else’ a set of circumstances might mean.

Starting to Clear the Blind Spot

 We can make our RAS work even better for us. It only needs feeding. Just a small stimulus can be enough to get it going as long as we’re prepared to be receptive and inquisitive.

Until I came across a reference to a country called Micronesia in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, I never knew it existed. I could have missed it, but it intrigued me. I read it more than once because I wasn’t sure I had read it correctly.

Having opened myself up to it, I kept noticing references to it in the media for days afterwards. You probably will do as well, now.

It’s because as soon as my interest was aroused, my antennae were ready to pick up more signals. I wasn’t ready before.

Maybe you have bought a car recently. Until you purchased it you were probably largely unaware of how many people were driving exactly the same make and model (and colour!).

It’s only at the point of purchase that you become sufficiently interested to spot them, but they were there all along. They didn’t just appear overnight. They were hiding in your blind spot! And this is especially annoying if your car purchase was intended to make you stand out!

 If only you had had your eyes open earlier, your RAS could have been working for you.

  

Improving Your Vision

 Here are some practical suggestions for helping your team (and yourself) mitigate against blind spots when you are involved in organizational decision making.

  1.  Draw upon people who have different views and experiences, even if they are not subject-matter experts. In fact, the green and naïve contributor can often introduce the necessary spark or stimulus to help a team change direction.
  2. Use tools and processes to help test the information you receive (or select) and the way you interpret it.
  3. Set time aside to look at issues from more than one perspective. This will always pay dividends…if you stick to it.
  4. Be inquisitive. Go back to basics and go back to the source – if you can find it. Ask, “at what point did we establish this as a fact?”

And the next time you are managing a team decision-making process consider the following points:

  • Be very clear about your decision criteria
  • Always make time to genuinely challenge your assumptions
  • Test your decisions, especially with other people whose judgement you trust
  • Force yourself to create and evaluate choices
  • Use decision making tools and frameworks to lead you through the decision making process
  • Manage your time so that you are not always having to make decisions in a hurry or on the spot

Keeping Your Eye In

This is perhaps the hardest stage, and where most of us come a cropper.

This is where we find out whether our activities above were a genuine attempt to broaden our minds, or a cynical exercise in trying to prove ourselves right all along.

Breakthroughs happen only when people increase their field of vision.

That’s why we call them ‘visionaries’.

Visionaries see things that other people don’t see and they challenge received wisdom; but they often have a very hard time getting people to change their position.

Until very recently the scientific position was that anti-bodies attacked virus cells only from the outside. In recent days new evidence has emerged that shows how antibodies can also work from within the virus cells. This opens up new ambitions and possibilities for a cure for the common cold. Who would have believed that?

Beliefs take time to establish and they feed on repetition.

Unless you keep reminding yourself of your new belief (or understanding), it will be unable to compete with the one you have held for much longer. It will be too tempting to keep looking for evidence or examples that continue to reinforce the old belief.

So this process requires tenacity…and also a realization that the new belief itself may need to be tested and challenged at some point in the future. Because getting too attached to a new belief is just another cycle of blindness.

And maybe we shouldn’t be quite so cocky when we try to assert that the real reason for chopping the joint in half is to improve the flavour!

Tim Lambert is the founding Director of Kay-Lambert Associates Limited, a People & Organisation Development Consultant, and a Qualified Coach.

His organisation exists to provide clients with tailored and professional support in the areas of Leadership Development, Team Effectiveness, and Management Skills Training. For more information, visit their website at www.kay-lambertassociates.co.uk

Are We Being Short Changed?

 We know that change is good for us, don’t we? We even believe it’s as good as a rest.  We’ve grown accustomed to radical overhauls, wholesale change programmes, new initiatives, organisation redesign.

But we’ve never really learned to love them.

Maybe you can have too much of a good thing. Maybe we’ve had too much change all at once – all our Christmases came together and now we are all maxed out!

And maybe the new change mantra should be “little and often” rather than “binge, binge, binge!”

How refreshing if our change programmes actually allowed us time to digest and extract the value from change.

How great would it be if we could actually develop a taste for it?

Sadly for most of us, we have lived through so much badly handled change that it actually induces stomach cramps rather than whets our appetite for more.

And it’s the big change programmes that seem to be the most unpalatable.

Big Change

Many of the reasons for large-scale change taking place within our institutions and organisations are spurious and more avoidable than we’ve been led to believe.

  1. Fixed term appointments (e.g., governments). These encourage massive change initiatives over a short period of time before the next lot get in! Adversarial politics mean that nothing the previous lot did can be considered right.
  2. Pressure to Perform Immediately. Where the stakes are high, and the difference between winning and losing is a very narrow margin, we require our leaders to act quickly, decisively and successfully.
  3. A new CEO feels compelled to make his or her mark and leave a lasting legacy (for the next CEO to come in and undo). New Leaders seem biologically programmed to distance themselves from the legacy of the past.
  4. A sudden catastrophe, unexpected and extreme, forces radical action. This is Crisis Change and is exemplified by the recent financial crisis which originated in the US sub-prime lending market and generously spread throughout the world. It’s like the shifting continental plates of the earth that suddenly buckle and redraw the landscape in one fell-swoop.
  5. Long periods of stagnation result in the need to take a huge leap just to catch up.
  6. The last wholesale change didn’t work and created so many problems that we have to come forward with a brand new design.

It’s questionable how valid these reasons are as justification for the monumental upheaval that we have repeatedly subjected our companies to.

And the way we have responded to some of the above has forced us into an endless cycle of damaging change.

 1.      Fixed Term Appointments

It’s not only governments who adopt this model, but we can just about stomach it because at least in a democracy, we feel we have a chance to boot them out if we don’t like what they’re doing.

Theoretically shareholders and board members can do the same in business, but it doesn’t happen that often.

The pressure on people appointed to fixed term posts is to start running quickly. No time for a slow build up. No time for a starter, just skip straight to the main course.

And because the impact of any change they introduce has to be seen and measured within a certain time-frame, the temptation is to go for the big rather than small.

Companies often advertise posts on a fixed-term basis. Internal appointments are often specified as 12 or 24 months duration, and in some cases, the role is rotated on an annual (or longer) basis.

So instead of absorbing and considering subtle changes that will bring lasting benefit in the long-term, the expectations we seem to place on our appointees is to deliver a big plateful of change.

2.      Pressure to Perform Immediately

This is similar to the above, but subtlety different in that the appointment is not explicitly fixed to time.

Of course, everyone knows that if the person doesn’t perform, they’ll be out on their ear, but it’s not time that is expressed as the limiting factor, it’s what they manage to achieve…as long as they do it quickly!

We see this happening in organisations where the environment is very dynamic, the margin that separates one company from another is very small, and the stakes are very high. Big sums of money are involved, and these can fluctuate dramatically within a very short space of time.

Sports managers are a prime example. They are often only given a few matches to prove themselves, so they have to be big and bold.

3.      New Leaders

History shows us that each new incumbent in a senior role has a tendency to start reinventing.

We’ve created this because we haven’t dedicated enough thought to succession planning and how to hand over the strategic reigns in a seamless way.

Instead, the appointment of a new leader can almost feel like a take-over. He or she gets to work like a new chef, signalling a new kitchen regime, and a new menu.

Of course, there are different reasons why a new CEO is appointed and one of those is as a result of the spectacular failure of a predecessor. But why should we accept this? What are we doing allowing our major institutions to be run by people who are so incompetent? And why did we give them so much power in the first place? Maybe we gave them too much gas?

4.      Sudden Catastrophe?

If we leave the gas on, sooner or later it’s going to explode, so we shouldn’t be overly surprised when it happens. A lot of the catastrophes that befall us aren’t sudden at all, they were waiting to happen.

Our increased levels of sophistication mean that we can now predict things more effectively and further in advance.

And then we can take necessary steps (in advance) to mitigate against the catastrophic event when it happens, if it happens. But we don’t always predict and we don’t always take the right action.

Comparing the different actions and outcomes of the Haiti and Chile earthquakes in 2010 tells us a lot about prediction and how to manage change more effectively.

  •  The Chile earthquake registered 8.8 on the Richter scale.
  • The Haiti earthquake was 7.0
  • The death toll in Chile was 486 people
  • The death toll in Haiti was nearly 300,000

Even accounting for different demographics and population densities the difference is striking.

Both earthquakes were predictable, yet the actions taken over time to ensure a better outcome were very different.

This isn’t about blame. There are many factors, some of them political and some of them economical, why Haiti was not prepared for what happened to it. But it does show that the extreme suffering and the on-going struggle to get Haiti back on its feet, at phenomenal expense was actually avoidable to a great extent.

What about some other so-called sudden catastrophes?

Did no-one realise that the New Orléans levees were inadequate before Hurricane Katrina devastated that city and its population?

Of course they did, but it wasn’t politically expedient to acknowledge it or do anything about it – until disaster struck in 2005, and then the scale of the clean-up was absolutely massive.

And what about the global financial crisis that hit in 2008. Did no-one see it looming? After all, it’s a catastrophe that has resulted in big changes becoming part of our staple diet and it has preoccupied board rooms the world over.

The truth is that people had warned about it for years. But it seems we didn’t take any notice.

We can only guess why. Perhaps, whilst the money was apparently pouring in, we didn’t want to look at the reservoir emptying. So we buried our head in the sand, exposing our rear to the mighty kick of a recession.

Maybe our focus on instant gratification made us take our eye off the ball. We were enjoying the cake too much. Even if we had doubts about what it might be doing to us, we didn’t want to go there. Like the smoker who knows that it’s damaging to health but thinks it won’t happen to them or only in the distant future.

So the term ‘sudden catastrophe’ is often used as an excuse for big change programmes.  The truth is often out there if we’re prepared to look for it and act on it.

 5.      Stagnation

 If you leave a soup for days and weeks on an unlit hob without stirring it, before long it’s going to go off. The bacteria will move in and have a feast. And then the only option is to get rid of it and start over again.

Chefs in large restaurants keep their stock pot constantly on the go. They keep feeding it, draining and condensing, reducing it down to a sauce, adding seasoning, consuming and replenishing.

They never allow stagnation, because it’s easier to keep working with something that’s in motion than starting up from scratch. And the flavour is that much richer.

The longer a company operates in a stagnant state, the more inevitable it becomes that the change, when it comes, will be huge.

6.      Last Change Programme Failed

You have probably been part of an organisation that has veered precariously between Centralisation and Decentralisation, between In-house and Out-sourcing, between Growing and Contracting. These changes tend to last a few years, but they typically come back round again in a cyclical fashion.

Organisations argue that this is because they need to respond to the changing landscape: new buying patterns, new markets, new laws, new pressures on cost and margins, new competition. All of these appear to sensible reasons for making adjustments in the way companies operate.

However, the scale of the adjustment is often out of proportion with the challenge. It’s like over steering a car on a mountain pass to avoid a butterfly.

Changes of this sort usually designed to save money, often end up costing money and damaging productivity.

Confidence, morale and skills dissipate and companies are left with few options other than a reversal programme a few years down the road.

Too many change programmes are an over-egged attempt to recover from the damage of a failed change programme that went before.

 

Big Change isn’t Bad!

  We’re not saying that big change is always bad for your health. But it should carry a warning.

Sometimes big change is both necessary and justified. Sometimes it is a brave and ultimately successful attempt to launch or re-launch a business in a way that delivers the element of surprise to its competitors.

So this isn’t a case of being afraid of change. It’s not that we aren’t up to the task: that we can’t stand the heat so we’re trying to get out of the kitchen.

This is about recognising that there is a time and a place for big change, and that the change should be appropriate to the situation.

It’s also about dispelling some of the myths we have created about change, and giving us a new recipe.

Change should be manageable, appropriate and well-managed. Our experience so far has probably felt somewhat different.

Slow Cooker

If we are to reduce our need for and exposure to colossal change, we’ve got to start small.

Evolution is the most successful example of change we have. But you can’t really see it. It’s slow. It happens in very small steps. It’s only once it has happened that we can look back and notice how far we’ve come.

Small adjustments, modifications, improvements, revisions, additions, rejections: they are happening all the time. We see the outcome although we might be largely unaware of the process as we live through it. So it isn’t that nothing is changing, but that we are not overly disturbed by the change.

Language is another great example. It needs to grow organically. People resist any attempt to fix it or re-invent it. It develops because we develop it slowly over time, as new influences and experiences are allowed to permeate and become absorbed.

These are more than interesting examples of change. They are a clue as to where we might have gone wrong with much of our organised change in the past: change which is typified by too much, too soon, too fast.

Well, maybe it’s time to slow things down a bit. Maybe it’s time to embrace the notion of bite-size change, small chunks, little mouthfuls.

We still want to eat… but we don’t want the whole cow in one go!

The Long Game

 Change doesn’t have to:

  •  feel like we’re being hit by a speeding train.
  • be a hammer to crack a nut
  • over-face us.

Change can be:

  •  Small and measured, delivering big change but over a longer period
  • A detailed and controlled processes that works incrementally

We can manage it so that it creeps up on our organisation in such a way so as not to cause distress, outrage and panic. We can reap the benefit of change without the ensuing heartburn.

But to achieve this we need to adopt a different strategy: the Strategy of CREEP

  • CONTROL – slow, well-controlled small steps
  • RECALIBRATE –  modify and mend only what’s broken; don’t throw out the whole
  • EXTEND – think in terms of 10 years or 20, not 2 or 5
  • EVOLVE – don’t revolve
  • PLAN – for succession, and a successful handover of your strategy to new leaders

Control:

 Big change often feels out of control because it is. It’s too much for people to handle. It’s too complex for people to grasp. So corners get cut, and the little things get overlooked.

By contrast, focusing on the small steps that will gradually elevate you to your desired destination increases your chances of success. Why? Because people can assimilate and accommodate them without them interfering too radically on their business-as-usual tasks.  They have time to make the change work and the new method to become embedded, they can feel the benefit of the change, and they feel less threatened by the process.

But to introduce big changes in this incremental, bite-size way takes great management control. It requires you know where you are going and to be rigorous about putting all the building blocks in place.

Recalibrate:

If a light bulb goes in your home, you don’t decide to move house. You change the bulb. You might decide to seize the opportunity and change the light fitting whilst you’re at it, but that’s as far as you need to go.

If your car runs out of petrol, you don’t scrap it. You fill it up. If its starts to perform less well, you get it checked out. You take it for a service.

Big change programmes have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water. They over-do it. The change required was a small modification, a new injection, or a simple replacement, but instead you get a full-scale re-design.

We are constantly recalibrating our own living space. As our families grow and our needs change so we reconfigure our homes to accommodate those new needs. Eventually, we might grow out of our home and have to move, but there’s a lot we do before we get to that point. We re-decorate, move furniture around, change some of the furnishings, convert loft spaces and cellar spaces, and build an extension. These are manageable, sensible steps we take to make the best use of what we’ve got.

Of course, if we want to and we can afford it, we might choose to move to a much larger house. We always retain this right to choose. But for most of us, the best option is to make small adjustments as we go.

Extend:

Business plans, strategic plans, project plans, goals and objectives are often created for the short to medium term. Some of the reasons why have been explained in the opening section of this article.

What would happen if we started planning for the long-term?

By long-term, I mean beyond 5 years, where small changes are seen in the context of a well-controlled and thought-out bigger change that delivers over a larger time-frame. A change programme that is designed to complete in 5 or 10 or 20 years allows for greater control, and the opportunity to re-calibrate as we go.

And because the change is gradual, new and appropriate habits are given time to form.

Just because the change is gradual doesn’t mean it should go unnoticed. People still need to be made aware of what the change will require of them and what it is designed to deliver.

That means also, that the change should show a discernible and measurable improvement. If people can see this, and it didn’t cost them too much to get there, they are going to be much more willing to accompany you on the rest of the journey.

Evolve:

We’ve seen how evolution works. It doesn’t go back, it only goes forward. It creates species that can survive or perish on their own merits.

It’s typically slow, and occasionally has to recover from natural disasters, but it keeps moving on.

We need to do the same.

Going back to a solution that didn’t work before might not always be sensible. Learn from it, adapt it, but don’t repeat it.

Sometimes solutions are ahead of their time. That’s why they don’t work. And attempting to repeat them within living memory is very challenging, even if circumstances have changed sufficiently for you to believe the time is now right.

So factor in all the new circumstances, and build the solution in the here and now, never forgetting to communicate why this is different and why it needs to be different.

 Plan:

 I explained earlier in this article how the appointment of a new leader can radically change the direction of a company, and that we shouldn’t see this as inevitable.

Developing the right successor and handing over the reins in a smooth transition is far better for companies than the uncertainty and upheaval that we more commonly see.

So to avoid this, we need to plan more carefully how the long-term strategy can survive the appointment of a new leader.

 This means:

  • creating a clear vision for the organisation and handing it on
  • creating plans for the long-term
  • succession-planning to develop a board who can fill each other’s shoes
  • drafting clear expectations of new leaders around the delivery of the plan

The purpose here is not to constrain the ingenuity of a successor, but to give them a context and a framework within which to work. It’s more about establishing continuity than stoking revolution.

Conclusion

Past decades have been characterised by a big-bang approach to change leadership. We’ve witnessed huge change initiatives whilst never feeling very comfortable with the way they make us feel.

We’ve grown tired of it because it hasn’t worked well enough, often enough.

Change can and does happen in ways that nourish and sustain us. Some of that change is big change which has been thrust upon us.

But mostly it’s the small, slow gradual and incremental change that leaves us looking back with wonder and delight at how far we’ve come.

CREEP don’t Leap.

Remember the Tortoise and the Hare?

Tim Lambert is the founding Director of Kay-Lambert Associates Limited, a People & Organisation Development Consultant, and a Qualified Coach.

His organisation exists to provide clients with tailored and professional support in the areas of Leadership Development, Team Effectiveness, and Management Skills Training. For more information, visit their website at www.kay-lambertassociates.co.uk