Friday, 28 August 2009

Are you Surviving or Thriving?

I think I am currently experiencing a certain phenomena. In true phenomenological style, I am noticing an increase in conflict behaviour all around me. For example, we have had a marked increase in the grievance / dispute resolution side of our work for clients recently. I canvassed a few of my HR Director and practitioner clients and colleagues - and their experience concurs with mine. So, although not a statistically valid sample or empirical research (in case you are reading this Professor Walton!) I am still wondering where it is all coming from.

My hunch is that the energy to thrive is being used up in a struggle to survive in some situations. The rigidity of defensive survival mode and the energy it takes to maintain it takes it out of us and conflict, poor relationships, resentment and petty reactions become our default position.

I am using that hunch as I am preparing to facilitate a particularly complex and potentially explosive meeting between two warring work colleagues (for a client - not my own!) and I find that the damaging direct and ripple effects of conflict is on my mind. I am also trying to separate the work practices contribution from the personal issues in a deeply damaged relationship.

As always, when planning deep work, I dive into the tranquil waters of Will Schutz and The Human Element for the eclectic mix of scientific with spiritual and practical application, therapeutic tough love and unfathomed wisdom. 

Sure enough, in my facilitator notes, I fnd the questions I need to work with in the chapters on Concordance Decision Making that will help me guide them to find their own answers for their work practices. As always, the issues ebb, flow and crash around the big rocks of inclusion, control and openness.

No real work can begin until those three wants are recognised and acknowledged in a state of awareness. Once that happens, then we can move forward into the space created through mutual understanding where Will insisted that "everyone is 100% responsible and no-one is to blame". Once this point is reached, there is no turning back, hiding or blaming - the only way to go is forward.

I find the process for conflict dissolution using the Human Element method is stuctured and provides safe boundaries for all concerned. From that structure that I now know I will use, are some key questions to ask if we are to use our energy wisely for thriving in relationships with ourselves as well as others:

Which of the things I accuse you of are also true of me?
Which of the things I accuse you of do I think you feel about me?
What personal fears of being ignored, humiliated or rejected do I have in this issue / relationship?
How important it is to me personally to be paid attention to, to look competent and be liked?
and the $64,000 question - what do I do to prevent a solution?

The honest answers to these questions provide choices for surviving - or thriving - in conflict situations.

The man was a genius - thank you Will Schutz for the work and your legacy - and to Ethan Schutz and Pat Young for teaching me so well.

How are you managing your headroom?

Yesterday, I was catching up and swapping driving experiences, having made it through the M6 toll road, (see yesterday's Blog) with a client who had just returned from a family holiday down in the Vendee.  Asking how it was, he told me that it had been an entirely and enjoyable stress-free period. (His face lit up at the "stress-less" description and memory of such carefree times.)

Of course, it's a long drive down to that part of France - but all part of the holiday experience, and the  Autoroute system is (in my opinion) like the girl-who-had-the-curl in the nursery rhyme - that "when it's good it's very very good"... Luckily, he had avoided the "and when it's bad it's horrid" part of the driving equation! Of course - it wasn't the beginning or the end of August - nor the beginning of a sunny weekend after a huge dump of snow...

The lack of stress was consistent - apart from one incident...

There they were, happily bowling along through the various clever tunnels that avoid major towns (I think Rouen? but then - why let the facts get in the way of a good story).

Wherever it was, the height restriction was clearly marked on each tunnel, and the UK-stickered family-car-with-top-box height was well measured - as it has to be for Euro-tunnel - and well calibrated by the responsible driver / Dad /client / person to whom this story really belongs.

Imagine this - two tunnels down, approaching the third at a fairly respectable (and just legal) speed - and suddenly the sign above the tunnel informs you of the height limit - except this time, the height allowed is a mouse's whisker less than the height of your family-car-plus-top-box..

What do you do? Think about it - it's August in France and you are driving South - along with most of the population of France (or at least Paris) behind you, in front of you and either side of you and your UK bumper stickers, scarily reading the newspaper/map in the driving seat at 90K an hour - until you remember that they are not actually driving cos it's the "wrong" side!

So do you:

Option 1)
Stop on the Autoroute, at the mouth of the tunnel, and get your tape measure out? (Providing it's a modern one with mm/cm as well as feet and inches!) - and hoping that your French vocabulary can stretch this
faaaarrrr to explain to the drivers-of-the-cars-behind-you-in-the-queue-that-you-have-personally-caused? But data collection is part of critical decision making after all...

Option 2)
Stop where you are and get your Euro's-worth (or £'s worth - let's face it - they are pretty much the same thing at the moment!!) out of that red triangle and fluorescent jacket in the boot that your Europe-insurance cover insisted on you carrying, (buried under all the luggage that's not in the top-box,) - and rely on the authorities to sort it out once they arrive?
NB.The key to success with this option is probably to threaten ALL passengers in the car that if they utter a single word of school-curriculum French, that they'll be travelling the rest of the journey IN the top-box (even if it is in the back seat of the car behind by this time) along with the red triangle AND wearing the fluorescent jacket - WITH sandals AND socks for the rest of the holiday - or watching you while you do - whichever is the bigger threat*.
*This threat option tends to have varying strengths, depending on the age of your passengers / family members. For example: very small children tend to find their parents amusing whatever they do in that they tend to like bright colours - and other kids saying "isn't that your Mummy / Daddy in that fluorescent jacket, socks and sandals, dancing like they were at a wedding?" doesn't freak them out  at all - in fact they may well join in the dancing - and you are relaxed because you know you have plenty of years to a) pay off the mortgage and b) top up their psychotherapy fund to full capacity.
However, older kids tend to get a bit more neurotic (whilst they learn from us how important it is to be guided by what everyone else thinks)...and adolescents get acutely embarrassed if you can even spell "fluorescent" in public - and the Freedom Pass generation quite likes the security of socks inside their sandals to keep the sands of time out from between their toes.
So if you choose this option, you need to match it with an appropriate level of threat to be really effective.

Option 3)
Pretend that you haven't noticed and drive on regardless, hoping that your top-box doesn't land in the back seat of the car behind, having narrowly missed the driver and not killed or injured anyone on its rapid flight through their windscreen - especially if they are smaller, younger, better looking, or have two (or more) legs than you. 
NB: You might find that closing your eyes and sticking your fingers in your ears whilst making progress is a bit of help in the short term with this option.  Also - if you choose this, then singing "la, la, la, la, la" in a loud voice at the same time will ensure that you don't hear anyone else making comments or sounding alarmed at the time - whether in English or in curriculum French.  It's true, it is a bit tricky while you are driving with that whole "fingers-in-ears-or-on-steering-wheel" choice thing going on - but to be frank, by the time your British top-box is slicing its way through the car behind - all bets are off and "la la la la la" will be music to your ears - fingers or not.

Option 4)
Edge through veeeerrrrry-veeeerrrrry-carefully and hope that if your top-box is clawed off the roof as you go, that at least you can salvage enough clean underwear - and the kids' swimming gear - out of the road and off the windscreen of the Citroen behind,  to see you through the first 3 days of the holiday until the shops open again. (On the basis that lack of underwear is eminently solvable with a bit of creative thinking - but lack of kids' swimming gear from the first 3 minutes of arrival at desination is a disaster of nuclear proportions!)

Is that not the most stressful set of choice options? Have I missed any?

Running out of headroom, especially at speed and with responsibilities, is indeed a stressful experience. It got me thinking that unfortunately, cars and tunnels are not the only places where it hapens in life.

I spent some time checking out my own headroom as a result of this story (thank you Robert!)

In my coaching practice I see examples of people using each of the options to manage their own version of personal or professional restrticted headroom with varying consequences.

How are you choosing to manage your own headroom - in your job, in your life?
How are you helping others to choose to manage theirs?

I think these are important questions to ask ourselves.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Who's Choosing Your Road?

Yesterday, was a great day for me - a coaching session in the morning with a client who is making his progress in leaps and bounds, followed by a meeting with an "old" client consulting together about their strategy for next year.

So - two of my favourite occupations on one day - being lucky enough to be paid for them is practically incidental.

On my somewhat complicated journey (that's another story) to the venue for both meetings, I set my sat-nav to guide me along the way. It needs to be said that it is somewhat old, as it is installed in our trusty-but-aging Mercedes, that we cannot bear to part with.

As part of my planned route, I decided to use the wonderful M6 Toll Road to advance North. However, as I reached a mass of motorway intersections and fast decisions, the instructions coming from my dashboard were urging me to leave the motorway and divert to Coventry.

I am never sure how much to trust the rather bossy female voice (I much would prefer a French male voice giving me directions - making a u-turn would be such a different experience - but that's just me!) and decided to follow my instincts and not the technology.

As I emerged triumphant onto the fabulously clear, wide, perfectly-surfaced ribbon of tarmac, my sat-nav went into a major sulk and informed me that I was now "off-road". (I think it was tutting with a frown and crossed arms and generally giving out bad Karma in my car).

I then had several miles of reflection on random questions such as:
Who's judgement was "the right road?"
What would have happened if I had followed instructions and not my instinct?
How much of my life have I followed the "right road" for other people?
What might others define as "off-road" but that path be exactly the right one for me?

So that's my question to you for today - who's choosing your road?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Why hitching and hobbling only works on horses

Whilst swimming up and down the pool doing my customary lengths early this morning, I was reflecting on what it does for me. I find myself counting the strokes and then adding them up as I do each length. I don't mean to do it - it just happens that way. But it really works for me because I often have great ideas whilst I am swimming. (I need a waterproof notebook!)

I think that because I am counting, my left brain is occupied and behaving itself for a change and so my right brain wakes up and comes out to play. For example, this morning, I worked out exactly how I was going to approach a piece of work that I have been prevaricating about and putting off for a while. I wasn't even thinking about it at the time - the thought just arrived as if from nowhere. I love that!

I was also reflecting on the hitching and hobbling of horses from yesterday's Blog, and wondering why that particular metaphor had appeared for me in relation to people in organisations.

Hitching - an effective, but temporary knot that can be undone in one movement
Hobbling - tying in such a way that the head can't be raised.

Both are pretty useful for cowboys (and girls) to ensure that your horse is still there when returning from the saloon or waking up from a siesta. Horses don't tend to move very far, or very fast, when hitched to a post or hobbled so that their heads stay down.

In terms of employee engagement, I wonder how many of us are unknowingly relying on a version of these methods to retain good people? And how many will remain when the economy eventually wakes up from its siesta?

It occurs to me that now is a good time to work actively on employee engagement and make sure that leaders and managers in your business are not relying on hobbling and hitching your people - it only works on horses!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Hunting in the long grass...

This time of year always has the feel of preparing for a new business cycle for me - perhaps more so than the actual New Year. I put it down to my years of stocking kids up with new pencil cases and the flurry of name-taping everything in sight as the beginning of a new school year approaches.

Following my last Blog, my thoughts have had me hunting through my own business long grass for the achievements that are hidden out there from this year. These had been triggered earlier in the summer through my membership of the HR Forum (at where the question had been posed about how we were coping with a "difficult year".

It got me thinking at the time about whether I would choose to label 2009 in such a way.

For me, personally, I have had a thoroughly interesting year that I certainly would not have had without external economic influence. I have done work and written stuff that I would not have considered accepting before this year - and consequently have learned heaps because some of it was out of my comfort zone and needed thorough research. That alone has really sharpened my saw and I know I have produced some stunning pieces through the re-thinking and re-modelling - and a bit of struggling it's true. It makes me think of the personal development difference between "20 years' consulting experience" or "1 year's consulting experience 20 times".

I've also been able to focus on client relationships that are temporarily (I hope) not commercially based, rather than focusing on project implementation. I have also given time, resource, material and stuff away to people who can't pay for it right now. So there's a fair bit of paying it forward energy out there, courtesy of me - perhaps scarcity is the time to be abundant - I don't know, but it feels pretty good.

I've increased my coaching assignments considerably and have loved witnessing the softening of crusty edges in some clients as they engage with their own vulnerability that executive success and making heaps of money so often masks - and gets in their way.

Have I made as much money as last year? - I don't really know and probably not - but my business and personal expenses are also down considerably. So I look forward to my accountant's verdict at the end of our financial year - my guess is that revenue will be down a bit, but profit ratios about the same and I quite like the reality of stepping off the exponential expectation treadmill that this-year-must-be-better-than-last-year. I reckon I've done twice as much learning though!

I think I have got a lot smarter about the business in general - like taking good care of a friend or family member who needs you - and in a way, I find I have connected back to the delicious early days of starting out and going it alone, when every telephone call was laced with excitement and the highs and lows of getting work (and being accepted) or not (and being rejected) were immediate and powerful - because it really mattered and was hard-won. I realise I've lost some of that intensity in the recent years.

Is it always easy? No - but at least I feel fully alive and present to myself and the business! Vive la difference!

On the personal front, my garden is looking pretty good, with 6 types of vegetables all staked up and soaking up the sun and rain, and I was able to be home for the whole of the GCSE period this time round, rather than phoning from a foreign hotel room somewhere to see how it had gone - so benefits all round!

So, time spent hunting in the long grass was a good investment - you never know what you might find!

Why cowboys didn't name their horses!

I was listening to Radio 4 yesterday,actually to a programme on the brilliant, talented and witty Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, (, when one of them made a comment that cowboys never named their horses - in case they had to eat them later.

It got me thinking about how scarce resources can contrive to create a similar sort of practical callousness in organisations too. I am currently pondering the long-term effects that such defensive mentality will have on the people, their loyalty and levels of engagement in the aftermath of the current economic conditions.

In contrasting but connecting thoughts, I did two greatly pleasurable work assignments last week with forward-thinking managers of talented teams in hotels. Both groups were independent of each other, but the motivation for getting together was the same. They were driven by a wish to get together, nurture their team and to plan their strategies for their new fiscal year. Both businesses have a version of a balanced scorecard to guide their strategic planning.

In both groups, the work they did together revealed the same theme - their route to profit and success is directly through their people. Their independent and collective intelligence was telling them that now is the time to get closer to their people - to lead, direct and manage them as authentically and consistently as they can.

In theory, they all "knew" this to be the case, but it was interesting to explore the degree of management hold-back that had surreptitiously crept in as a form of defence. A great example of knowing not being the same as doing or being.

These insights triggered questions for myself, and my hunch is that they are relevant for other business leaders...

Firstly, what nameless horses are currently "hitched" to your metaphorical business posts? Remembering that hitching is a specific quick-release, non-secure and temporary knot for tethering horses so that they can't run away. (Another method is "hobbling" where they are tethered so they can graze, but can't lift their heads, so they don't go very far!)

A brief review of the past year also revealed that, whilst trading has been extremely difficult and some tough decisions have been made this year, there were some fabulous nuggets of achievement and success to be celebrated too. Some of these were lying forgotten and abandoned in the long grass.

What shiny successes and achievements are out there hidden in your own version of the long grass that could benefit from some recognition?
Now might be a good time to name them.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Why Consultants Should Blog

This posting is somewhat oxymoronic as I was very taken by a brilliant (imho) article by Jonathan Bailey at I notice that he markets as "Plagiarism Today" - so I am wondering about the boundary of sharing my learning - and plagiarism! I'll do my best anyway and state credits where due.

I found this article really helped me in clarifying a clear professional and business case for blogging.

Jonathan Bailey is clear about the purpose of sharing knowledge - which after all is what we aspire to do as consultants. The web just expands the platform for being able to do that.

I work with a team of talented people, and my clients are talented, clever people in senior positions - so every day I gain some new insight, idea or wrinkle in the general arena of "people" and organisational behaviour. I am also meticulously well organised and focused about my own development and learning - so the idea of sharing knowledge, learning and discoveries with a wider population is attractive to me.

What is even more attractive is the idea of being able to write good, fresh, high quality content in a way that will rank well in the search engines, create inbound linkings and drive us even further up. There is a theme in my head of "more content, more rankings, more connections" that excites me.

As I acknowledged in a previous Blog - I have become lazy and allowed the internet market place to develop without me - and it's time to change.

We do some cracking good and groundbreaking work with teams, groups and individuals using a variety of disciplines and in the course of my working life, I have learned a thing or two. Sharing some of the knowledge and information gained is a great way of creating a mutual respect and proving that I am out there doing it - not just talking about it.

For me, that's a pretty strong case for why consultants should blog.

More on Beginning to Blog

Following on from an earlier entry, I promised to share some of what I had learned about beginning to blog. I found an oasis of calm, sensible and knowledgeable advice.

Larry Brooks (thank you Larry ;-)) clarified some ideas for me in his "Four Flavours of Blogging" article, in which he puts his tongue (or perhaps his mouse?) in his cheek and classifies bloggers as:

1) Diarists - of the "what I did today" variety, (often with a plethora of flowers on the page)

2) Gurus - people who know a lot and want to share their knowledge - (spot the "buy now" button on the sidebar.)

3) Geeks - who's main interest is in sharing the latest gizmo, gadget or widget

4) Bloggers blogging about blogging - (oops - that'll me me then!)

He says that all are good and contribute, but it is important to "identify a niche and go vertical with confidence". (That makes me think of my mum hissing "stand up straight" when I was 13 and reached an early 5'6" / 1.524m - "go vertical with confidence" might have done the trick back then.)

Anyway - that kind of makes sense and made me think that it is important to start with some sort of strategy in mind. As my new blog-friend very clearly shared "if you mix expectations with a vague demographic strategy, then you won't be optimising your efforts". So, I guess I need to put some thought into that - who do I want to reach and why?

To write within my niche is clearly important - but I'm not sure that it's that clearly defined yet - so it seems that this blogging is going to be a good learning curve from that point of view. I hope that it will help me to develop my sense of "web-self", my brand and underlying values and help me to develop a writing style with personality and credibility.

Thanks Larry - that really helped.

If you missed it before, I also shared some other stuff I learned from the same site, but another contributor - Jonathan Bailey - on "Why Consultants Should Blog"...

Beginning to Blog

This is weird.
I have decided to experiment with blogging. The reasons are various and perhaps by writing this they will become clearer. I feel excited and nervous about being "out there" - and at the same time, increasing my presence is the main reason for beginning to blog.
If you are reading this (is anyone out there??), it might be worth backtracking to help you understand where I am coming from.
I started my training and development business with a typewriter that needed tippex strips to correct errors, spending days before running courses typing up my handouts and preparing acetate slides with wonky Letraset kits. (My Dad was a master printer, so I had good coaching on layout and composition).
I wasn't unusual - that's how everyone did it at the time - in fact, with my Dad's eagle eye on everything I produced, I probably did it better than most.
Since then, I've had over 20 great years of picking up the 'phone, responding to e-mails (later) and executing the projects that my lovely clients briefed me to do. The business grew year on year and all our work was generated by referral and recommendation. I married a man with an eagle eye to compete with my Dad's and an artistic and graphic design passion to boot. I've been lucky - and I am beginning to recognise that I've also been lazy. Quite simply, I have never had to market myself or develop my own brand presence before - and now, I do.
With the current economic climate, it is becoming clear to me that presence in the market is king and nowadays, that means web-presence. The days of reactive consultancy are over. I know I might be slow on the uptake - but I'm there now! So here I am - blogging.
My first challenge was "what to write about" - that's taken me a good while to prevaricate over.
However, my passion and business is about learning and development - and boy am I on a learning curve right now! So - I thought a good way to start might be by recording my learning about blogging so far. This might be useful to someone else, because at the beginning of today, you could take what I knew about blogging, stick it in a mouse's ear and still have room for the Vienna Boy's Choir.
One of my strengths (I think) is that I am endlessly curious, and once I ditched the tippex and typewriter for the internet, I have developed into quite a good researcher. So I decided to do some research on blogging and getting started.
Here's a collection of tips on what I have learned so far....
1) It helps to know why you are blogging and to have a sense of mission. (At the moment I don't - but I think it will develop)
2) Think about your audience, who they are and what they are looking for (hmmm!)
3) Start small and regular - so I need to keep a list of topics I guess and develop as I progress.
4) Think about how I can create links before I publish - that's a tough one as I am developing all sorts of other presence stuff in tandem, so I guess it will all meet up in the end.
5) Read other peoples' bloggs and get a feel for what you like and don't like - so I did that and found some absolute nuggets of wisdom and generosity about blogging....I'm doing a list for my next blog.