Author Archives: Tim Lambert

Signing Off but Not Out

I hope you have enjoyed following my blog over the past few months. If so, you have the opportunity to carry on reading but on a new site.

You can access all my new blogs by logging on to www.kay-lambertassociates.co.uk  as of today March 12th 2012.

 

You will still be able to view my old blogs on this site for a while.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Tim

5 day-programme

We’re bracing ourselves to deliver another intensive 5-day Train the Trainer programme. By the end of it we will be exhausted and the client will have 8 accomplished trainers who are ready to deliver key modules as part of their Culture Reshaping journey. Working with other trainers really keeps us on our toes, which is how we like it.

Under the Influence

Running an Influencing Skills workshop for a Housing association client. It’s great when people realise just how resourceful they are and how many options they have.

Is anybody there?

Running more Absence Management courses this month. One of our clients already has absence below 2% but like us, they believe that it can be and should be lower. You don’t get and keep these low levels by punishment and fear, but by creating great places to work.

Getting our Act Together

We’ve been working with a great actor, Carol Noakes, who really brought a performance management workshop to life for one of our clients.  The uncanny skill of people who are so attuned to what the situation requires, brings resonance to the role play and participants start operating at a completely different level.

Give the Performance of Your Life Today…and Everyday

This round of award ceremonies is coming to a close. The Brits, the Oscars & Baftas are off to hibernate for a few months, and life returns to some semblance of normality for the rest of us.

But why should it? (dramatic pause).

‘Normal’ is a pseudonym for ‘dull’ or ‘boring’ or ‘just so-so’. It’s hardly inspiring.

Instead, I think we should be getting in shape to play our very own leading role in the performance of our company.

Work spaces are dramatic places.

  • They are alive with twists and turns and cliff-hangers.
  • They have a motley cast of characters: designers, directors, technicians, creatives; walk-ons, guest appearances, leading and supporting roles.
  • They buzz with the energy of egos rubbing up against each other.
  • They vibrate with the tension of unspoken thoughts and feelings, humming with rich sub-text.

The drama unfolds in fits and starts: one day it’s more like a soap opera; the next it starts to feel like a Danish thriller. It veers from sublime comedy to ridiculous whodunit in an instant.

So the stage is set for a great performance, and you are the person that can give it.

You don’t need to be given top-billing. You don’t need your name in lights (or on a door). You don’t need to prepare an acceptance speech or come over all emotional. You don’t even need to remember your lines because there isn’t a script.

Despite all this, you have the power to find a role that inspires you and then play it. By bringing all your strengths to bear, you can elevate your performance to levels that will inspire those around you.

So whilst the judges retire and the red carpets get their long-awaited beating, let’s get our act in gear. This time next year you could be …

whatever you want.

Best Intentions

I have a fundamental and perhaps misguided belief that people mostly act out of good intentions. It may only be my version of the truth, but I base it on many observations over many years.

Before you write me off as a hopeless romantic, let me explain.

It is a rarity to stumble across a situation where someone’s behaviour is driven by malicious intent. An intent which is so focused on deliberately undermining or hurting another person. People can often be mortified when it is brought to their attention that this has been the effect of their behaviour.

So terrorists aside (of which you may have the odd one in your organisation), most people I encounter take the actions they take because they believe a better outcome will be the result.

Much of this behaviour is unconscious. They behave in a way that feels right to them, but they may not be consciously aware of how they are behaving or even the effect their behaviour is having.

Our beliefs, feelings, experiences and values drive our behaviour. We may challenge back when these are threatened because we need to protect them. The primary intention, therefore, is not to kill off the alternative stance, but to protect our own. It is an important distinction. However, we may see that the only way to protect our own belief system and values is to attack and undermine the belief systems and values of others. This is a strategy whose starting point is the need to protect and preserve, not to destroy.

Role-Play

I was facilitating a small group through a role-playing exercise where, working with an actor, each person was required to concentrate on a particularly challenging conversation with an employee or colleague, and explore various ways that they might be able to handle it.

Jenny (not her real name) wanted to focus on a historical encounter which she felt dissatisfied with. It later transpired that the way she had handled this situation at the time was pretty much text-book stuff, but she did not feel this.

The skill of the actor coupled with Jenny’s willingness to revisit the situation, resulted in Jenny becoming very emotional. She raised her hand as a pre-agreed signal to say that she wanted to pause whilst she recovered her composure, regrouped and tried again.

At that point, two of her colleagues ‘leapt to her rescue’.

The result was that Jenny became more overcome, angry with herself, embarrassed and unable to continue.

What was going on here? It seems that the intentions of her colleagues were to protect Jenny from harm. They equated tears with unparalleled distress; regarded this as unfair and cruel; and felt obligated to intervene on Jenny’s behalf.

I reflected on the situation for days afterwards. Maybe the action taken by Jenny’s colleagues was more selfishly motivated rather than being driven by a need to protect her. Maybe they were embarrassed by the emotional display and sought to protect themselves from it.

It’s not uncommon for people to become emotional during role-play exercises, especially when working with an actor who adds an extra dimension of reality. Neither is it something to apologize for. It’s not a sign that it’s all gone horribly wrong.  Clearly, this view wasn’t shared by the two colleagues who intervened.

Bit by bit I started to form a picture of what might have happened.And then I was reminded of the Drama Triangle, a simple model from transactional analysis first espoused by Stephen Karpman.

What I believe was happening was that Jenny, in revisiting a difficult experience, had re-entered the non-resourceful state that she felt at the time. In short, she felt she was back there. And given that she has never accepted that she actually handled the situation extremely well, her negative feelings of her own incompetence started to overwhelm her.

Before Jenny had time to regroup, compose, and experiment with a different approach, her friends reaffirmed her Victim status by leaping to her rescue (rescuers, of course need someone to rescue). So Jenny became locked in the role of the Victim – someone who lacked resources to get out of the situation on her own, who felt small and helpless and needed someone to charge in and take over.

I do not believe that the intention of Jenny’s colleagues was to turn her into a Victim, or to lock her in a non-resourceful state. But that was the outcome. And as a result they have added to Jenny’s catalogue of remembered experiences which reaffirms the notion that she can’t cope, she is weak and vulnerable, she lacks capability to manage certain situations, and she needs rescuing. Is it any wonder that Jenny freely admits to lacking confidence?

What was missed in this situation was an opportunity for Jenny to re-enter her resourceful state and play with different ways of handling the situation. The opportunity to create a more positive memory bank was lost.

It’s also possible that Jenny may begin to resent the intervention of her colleagues. She may begin to feel persecuted by them, because they are confining her (deliberately or inadvertently) to a role she is not happy to play.

Her colleagues weren’t terrorists. They weren’t bad people. They were simply doing what we see people doing every day. And we’ve probably done something similar. But that doesn’t excuse it. And there are things we can do to stop it.

What can we do about it?

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel like a victim: look around and see if you can spot your persecutor and rescuer. They will be there and not too far away. In the scenario described, I suppose I was cast in the role of the Persecutor for allowing the situation to arise and not stopping it. I didn’t feel too good about that.

You see, Rescuers need a Victim and a Persecutor. Victims need someone to Persecute them and someone to Rescue them. Persecutors need a Victim. The three roles become locked in a revolving triangle, and all of the roles are operating out of a non-resourceful state.

Rescuers reinforce someone’s Victim-hood. It’s an unhappy consequence. And Rescuers place other people in Persecuting roles which, subsequently makes those people feel like they are themselves being persecuted. So they become the Victim and seek out a Rescuer. In this situation, I looked to the Actor for reassurance that I had done the right thing. I wanted confirmation or support. Am I in danger of becoming Jenny’s colleague’s Persecutor?

What’s the alternative? Good intentions did not on this occasion bring about a happy ending.

  1. First, take a moment to reflect on the role you have adopted or feel you have been placed in.
  2. Second, remind yourself that if you have cast yourself (or been cast) as a Victim, Rescuer or Persecutor, you have entered a non-resourceful state.
  3. Third, expect that if you are in a V, R or P role now, you will move at various times to any one of the other two roles in an unhappy rotation.
  4. Fourth, step out of the role, walk away from it.
  5. Fifth, take a rational look at the situation from all angles whilst constantly checking to see that you are not inadvertently still looking at it through the eyes of the V, R or P.

Breaking the cycle might take practice. It can be useful to have some rehearsed statements up your sleeve so that you can call on them when the time is right.

Here are some examples.

If you feel that you are being place in the Victim role: “Thank you for your help and concern. Right now I would like to see what I can do to resolve the situation for myself”

If you feel like stepping into the Rescuer role:  “I am feeling uncomfortable with this and want to intervene, but I believe that the person best placed to deal with this situation is the individual themselves.”

If you feel that you are being placed in the Persecutor role: “My interest must be to allow my colleague to regain his/her resourceful state if I am to avoid becoming a Victim myself.”

It’s not only other people who place us in these roles. We place ourselves in the Victim role by the demands we place on ourselves and some of the beliefs we have habitually held. And in so doing we make ourselves visible to Rescuers and Persecutors.

So the best way to avoid stepping into the self-perpetuating cycle of victim-hood is to remind ourselves that we are all extremely resourceful people and that we always have the capacity to find a solution. Solutions will not be found in V, R, P states but they will be found when we call upon all that is powerful and unique within us.

We all became victims at some point during Jenny’s ordeal. How much greater if we had raised our hand and signalled that this was not a role we wanted to play.

Memories Are Made of This…or are they?

Memory is a funny thing. You can rarely be sure about it. Recalling to mind an experience of the past is as much a work of creation as it is a reliable documentary activity. Perhaps more so.The point at which we remember something which, is of necessity after the event, we have other memories and experiences to load upon it. This changes however subtly, or even radically, our understanding of the original event.

Even writing stuff down to read at a later date doesn’t protect the integrity of the original event, because as soon as we read the description we are overlaying it with new perceptions from a later time.

 

Many arguments and disagreements at work are the result of two people remembering an event or an instruction differently. This is either because their understanding of the event was processed through their different receptors at the time and therefore interpreted differently; or because the act of remembering has skewed the way they recall the event.

 

In any case, holding out to have our version of the truth (our memory) accepted as the most reliable seems to be a pointless and provocative activity.

 

We try to get round this by putting everything in emails.  Hundreds of people get copied in to ensure a liberal smattering of our version of the truth. And we’ll dredge up those emails at a later date when something is in dispute or needs corroborating. It’s an evidence trail we leave like Hansel & Gretel’s breadcrumbs in the forest, which will lead us back to certainty.

 

Unfortunately, leaving the email trail is a misguided and wasteful strategy because even if it’s ever referred to again, it will be viewed from the perspective of a different time…that inevitably adds a different gloss.

 

Our justice system, which relies on witness statements given after an event, is easily hi-jacked by the fallibility of memory. I recently came face-to-face with a group of aggressive schoolboys who in very graphic and admirably creative terms described what they would like to do to my face and other parts of my body. But when I studied their mug-shots in the school files the next day, I couldn’t identify any of them.

 

This wasn’t a temporary lapse induced by trauma, or even a sign of my diminishing faculties. I would have been the same if I was twenty-something instead of forty-something. I couldn’t be sure: the memory wasn’t strong enough or accurate enough for me to be certain. Selecting a face from the mountain of mug-shots would have been tantamount to guesswork and led to a possible miscarriage of justice.

 

We take our memory for granted, and we rely on it to provide a photographic and filmic context for our lives. Yet, it is often little more than a faded sepia tint.

 

So the next time you get into a spat with a colleague about your understanding of what you think you agreed at some point in the past; or you fall out over your take on who said what and to who; try to remember that memory itself is a fabrication. It’s the breadcrumbs but not the loaf.

 

Make what you do in the moment count, but don’t expect to remember exactly what you did tomorrow.

Is Your Work Driving You to Distraction?

At a conservative estimate, I’d say that 95% of all mobile Apps are designed for fun and filling time. Most have no other function apart than that.

Extreme sports, bungee-jumping, sky-diving and a host of other high-octane activities have far less to do with keeping fit and healthy than they do with providing an adrenalin rush.

Social media for most people is less about keeping in touch and making friends, and more about feeling important and significant…and passing the time.

Gadgets, apart from emptying our pockets and bank-reserves quicker than a RBS Executive, are for many people just a way of bringing a bit of glamour and excitement to an otherwise dull day.

I’m not a Luddite. I’m not against all this technology and the fantastic things it allows us to do. And I’m really glad that thrills (whilst not cheap) are much more widely available today than I remember when I was younger.

What concerns me is the question: why is our work so dull, boring and unstimulating that we have such a craving for distraction which these things provide?

 

A quick dart into Marcus Buckingham‘s book, ‘Go Put Your Strengths to Work‘ quickly reveals an apparent universal truth that  less than 20% of people feel they are playing to their strengths for most of their time at work. When we play to our strengths we feel energised, focused, inquisitive, fulfilled. In short, we don’t feel bored! So 80% of us feel sufficiently bored (or stressed) by our work to need distractions. Lots of people find their work a misery. We need things to take our mind OFF our work. We feel the need to inject some life, energy, and excitement into our dull routines. We need to have FUN and we find it wherever we can.

Work just doesn’t do it for most people. And when people do appear to be having fun at work, I’ve seen managers and other colleagues start to get a little paranoid. “What do they know that I don’t?” It’s often frowned upon when there’s laughter in the office; when people make an attempt to brighten up their work space; or when staff get playful. Somehow, it seems to go against the grain.

But when did it become a bad thing to have fun at work? Who decreed that ‘work’ needed to be a drudge? Where did the idea surface that having a stifling work experience is as inevitable as death? How sad that so many of us need to compensate for our work by accessing a multitude of distractions that stop us thinking about it.

So managers get hung up on how long someone might be surfing the internet, or checking their Facebook page on their smartphone, or rifling through a holiday brochure at their desk.  They do this instead of asking: “why do they feel the need to do this whilst they are at work?” or “why is this so much more appealing than what we are paying them for?”

I’d like to propose a new mantra for work. It goes like this:

Work will be joyful

Work will be fun

We’ll want to do more

When our day is done!

What will this mean for all of us who work and all of those who manage workers? Maybe we’ll focus more on:

  • Outcomes – what people actually achieve
  • Productivity rather than presenteeism
  • Playing to Strengths
  • Getting the Culture right
  • Releasing Potential
  • Generating Trust
  • Creating appropriate Challenges
  • Building work streams that take full advantage of people’s Talents
  • Designing work environments that stimulate us rather than deflate us
  • Recognising and celebrating Successes
  • Giving people a break!
  • Having fun

This seems to be a far cry from what most of us experience…and that’s not a fun place to be! Which is why we need distractions.

I want my work to be a distraction. I want it to absorb me, impel me, nourish me, invigorate me, delight me. I don’t think I’m asking for too much. It’s asking for too little that has got us into the state we’re in.

Sticking it Where the Sun Don’t Shine

OK, I admit it. I’m frustrated!

Why aren’t things perfect? Why do people behave so badly? Why can’t I work for a company that really values and supports me instead of making my life difficult.! Aaarrrggghhhhhhh!!!!

Yes, some days it can get to you. We’re human and what we want or expect doesn’t always happen. I still get a shock every morning when I look in the mirror and realise I’m not 21 anymore!

But carrying  these frustrations around with me all day is a bit like dragging a suitcase full of books up 15 flights of stairs. And what’s worse, they are probably books I have no intention of reading!

Sometimes we get so preoccupied with the frustrations of life and work that we don’t allow any of the good stuff in.

We look at everything that is good through the lens of everything we are dissatisfied with. And it really doesn’t seem so good when you look at it like that.

I have occasionally had unwelcome guests staying in my home. Fortunately not for too long, and not very often. The last thing I want to do is invite them back, lock them in, and force them to follow me around all day. But that’s what it’s like when we let grudges, frustrations, disappointments and anger in. If we’re not careful, they can become like an evil conjoined twin.

I am not suggesting that these thoughts and feelings aren’t real or legitimate. But do they help? Do we need them all the time? Surely they make us less and less resourceful; less and less able to get on with things.

I propose that we write some of these frustrations down, fold the paper and put it in a dark dismal place for an hour or two at a time. If after this time you are missing it so much and desperately want to clutch it to your breast, fine. If not, leave it there,  rotting away bereft of the nutrients it needs to flourish.

Even if you take it back, at least you had 2 hours without it…and that’s got to be a healthy thing.