Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Did you hear me?

I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” is a simply great quotation - apparently credited to Richard M. Nixon.

This seems to have a synchronicity of its own in the week of Thanksgiving as I had a similar gift from a colleague skyping me from a presumably sunny LA in the week. He opened the conversation with an enquiry as to whether I was currently "deluged". 

As I have been extremely busy, and was three quarters of the way through my day, as he was just beginning his with, no doubt freshly squeezed oranges from the garden, I launched into an explanation of just-how-busy-it-had-been-with-last-minute-budget-realisation-for-clients, with lots of demand for work to be completed in Quarter 4 and delivered before Christmas, and then, like a complete idiot, continued with a brief outline of what Quarter 1 was looking like for 2010...

...and then he explained that what he actually meant was - "how is the weather". After the reporting of all the flooding, it's a perfectly reasonable question, even though the floods were (sadly) in Cumbria and I am in London, I do know how, once in the US, Africa or Australia, the geography of the UK kind of shrinks to something the size of the M25.

Then last week, my colleague and I were running a workshop and explaining how to collect and organise lots of information for planning a presentation. One of the activities we use to illustrate is a theoretical "how to make £100 today" - collecting lots of ideas from the group to a flipchart and then organising it into cateogories and sub-sets.

Usually a straighforward-enough activity, we got ourselves hilariously hooked on a prong of language when someone in the group suggest "pawn" and it was heard by someone else - for whom English is not first language as "porn" - which could indeed be a way of making £100 in one day - but wasn't quite what we had in mind. Big points for creative thinking though.

So - twice in one week - I have believed you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

Now I am wondering what that coincidence is telling me - I may have more in common with Nixon than I would feel comfortable with.

So - I intend to live in the question for a while...Did you hear me?

Saturday, 21 November 2009

What is appropriate?

I have had an interesting week! Unusually for me, I have been back in that place of delivery to slightly grudging groups of people who were "told" to be there, rather than participating from their own free will. The project-related delivery content was also quite cognitive, procedural and task focused in nature, designed to be delivered in just one half-day. 

Because of the situation and their initial state, I was treated to a fair selection of unconscious and some (I suspect) conscious defensive behaviours - including all the usual favourites - cynicism, yawning, over-talking, aggressive challenging, negativity, victim status, sniding, silence, in-jokes, hooking, wooden-legging, frustration - a rich mixture indeed!

With only half a day and a set agenda to deliver, it meant embarking on the content and making specific choices in the moment in order to keep on track - and not let my self concept issues around my own sense of significance, competence and likability get in the way. My defenses colliding with theirs at any point would have resulted in a horrible mess.

During the sessions, I was constantly reminded of my precious facilitator cube, based on the work of John Heron and developed by Pat Young at Learning Edge. I have written about the first two faces of the cube in earlier blogs, (see blog of the 22nd Sept) but realise that I have not yet completed the remaining four. This week has provided me with a perfect opportunity:

Face 3) Foundation - Awareness, Intention and Contract.
This face provides the solid foundation from which all facilitation actions emerge. The remaining faces are a menu led selection according to the moment - but this face requires all three to operate simultaneously. My contract involves my agreement with the client (of course) and considers what I have contracted to deliver for a fee. However, it is deeper than that, forming at least a three-cornered contract between me, my client and the group. The best explanation for the three-cornered contract that I have read is in Julie Hay's marvellous "Transactional Analysis for Trainers".

With my contract firmly in mind, awareness of the here and now will assist me in honouring it in the moment and my intention flows from my awareness. If my intention, through awareness, is to maintain a clear and balanced space in order to honour my contract, then my management of myself in the face of defensive behaviour from the group members becomes clearer and cleaner.

Face 4) Focus - Individual, Procedural, Group
This face is invaluable in managing the group process and dynamic. With defensive behaviour and a degree of acting out in evidence in my groups this week, I was finding myself using these almost like gear levers to move us on to another place when appropriate - or necessary. Because of the time limits and the nature of the session, the laddering up and down of the different foci was a conscious choice that I made numerours times during the single mornings and afternoons recently.

Face 5) Depth - Task / Content, Relationship, Source
This is the depth-gauge for all facilitation work - and a vital judgement according to the contract. What depth is appropriate? is a key question to keep asking on a continuous basis in all facilitation situations. The task/content deals with the cognitive level. The relationship level gets into affective learning and feelings, emotions about myself and others in relation to me and me in relation to them. The source level begins to take the lid off "why" - where in my self-concept, hidden self is the reason why and the source?  It's that murky area where coaching nudges up to psychotherapy, where inept or unskillful facilitation can do the most, deepest and long-term damage.

Face 6) Ability / Skill - Perverted, Degenerate, Appropriate
Linked to the above - although they are all linked in a brilliant web of client-centred concern - is the question of awareness of my own ability and skill levels and the constant brush with my own self concept and underlying values. If I stay awake, aware and present, then my conscious choices will be more likely to be appropriate.

Interventions risk degenerating if  I lose awareness, if I am not awake enought to be fully present or if I choose to work with material beyond my competence level.

A perverted intervention may arise from any situation in which I allow myself to willfully or consciously make a decision to do something devious or contra to my values or integrity. That split-second moment of departure from myself, the urge to score a point over someone else, to get irritated, to brag about something that I don't really know that much about, to bulls*t, to pretend or to do something in order to be liked or feed my ego with a soothing spoonful of competence or significance. Faced with a group of defensive and disaffected individuals this week, I was very mindful of the pull to jump in to the warm seductiveness of the perversion pool - and the value of this work in providing me witt the awareness not to do so.
With all the faces of the cube, it is important to remember that there is not a "right" or "wrong" place to be - but there is ALWAYS an appropriate place to be and to be serially inappropriate is just inept.

Elegant and effective facilitation of any situation is driven by self-awareness and sense of value - for myself, for my client and for the individual and collective members of any group. Even if they don't know the difference - I can't escape from the fact that, thanks to Pat Young, I do!

What is "appropriate" for you right now?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

How do you manage performance?

Synchronicity is a wonderful thing. I have had a question buzzing around for a while now about peak performance and how to further explore and identify it for my clients when coaching.

Then on the Training Journal forum, ( the question was posted this week - "what is performance?" That has taken me to a place of comparing and contrasting the notion of "performance" in other contexts...
For example - if we consider performance in the arts, we could separate it as something we watched and experienced as the audience - giving applause and showing our appreciation (or not). Or we could take on the role of the critic and offer witty or pithy comments about it - but not perform ourselves. (Many professional performers don't read their critics anyway - too damaging for self esteem and confidence!)
Then I shift to wonder how improvisation arts performers - comedy, drama or jazz - would access and continue to develop their creative genius if they were subject to external feedback (or appraisal) after every impromptu experiment?
Also, a virtuoso music performance can be awesome, but I notice how moved I can become when experiencing choral music of almost any description - the sound of humanity in harmony is quite profound for me. Similarly with many orchestral performances - it works because all those deep subject matter experts are playing on the same page, conducted and led from the front.

Because we also advise on employee relations cases, I have also been noticing an inner friction for myself with some client organisations in their application and understanding of "performance management" as a management activity and often equating it with the disciplinary procedure.
So I am now pondering why managers make such efforts to transform work-based performance into something we manage externally? Or whether better results would be obtained by developing it internally? Musical performers know a good note from a wrong one, actors, comedians etc know instinctively what works and what doesn't- so why is the assumption and practice so different in the work place?

Competent, aware individuals and teams don't generally need "performance managing and disciplining" - they already have the discipline and providing they know and commmit to the requirement, can usually perform their socks off - or learn to do so.

Surely better results could come from coaching, encouraging and exploring the possibilities of developing their craft or knowledge still further?

So, next time we get asked to provide a "performance management" workshop, I might take a risk and suggest a "manager as coach" piece as an alternative.

My question is - how do you manage performance?