Phil's Blog

Looking at things through the lenses of moderation, noble purpose and more

“…a simple trick to get along with all kinds of folk…”

ThinkNo Comments

I recall being in an English class at school when I was 14. My teacher was encouraging me to read more. I went back the next week and proudly said I had started on my fathers stack of Readers Digest. I remember her saying, that wasn’t quite what she had in mind – she was keen on full novels not abridged stories, little jokes and tales of wilderness bravery.

So, you see, I didn’t read some of the classic texts when I was younger. However, I know the second book from Harper Lee is due out in July, so thought it was time I read ‘ To Kill A Mockingbird’.

You probably know I like seeing things from different angles and through alternative perspectives – see this self assessment from 6 months ago.

I liked this section of text early on in ’To Kill A Mockingbird’. Atticus is talking with Scout about her experience at school – and the teacher who wants to hold 6 year old Scout’s ferocious reading back to fit the class scheme. Her father explains about the importance of seeing things from another point of view, particulary the new teachers.

“First of all, if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

The theme – the skill of walking a while in someone else’s ‘skin’ or shoes – occurs a number more times in the book. In fact, you could say it is the heart of the story – or even the whole book.

What topic would you like to know more about?
Where would you like to think more clearly?
Who would you like to understand?  Maybe a customer view (marketing)? Or a co-worker (engagment)?
This is all about discipline – learning to see WITOS, as i have discussed before. A skill that is worth developing – and one that requires continual honing.

The Attributes and Skills of a Critical Conversation

ImprovementNo Comments

Further to my blog on fads and fashions last week…I have been thinking…(which, picking up the themes of this blog, could be called an ‘Inner Conversation’…see more below).

On my shelves I have a number of books with similar sounding titles
Difficult conversations
Fierce conversations
Changing conversations
Dialogue
etc
etc

You hear, and can easily find references to, Vital Conversations, Tough Conversations, Crucial conversations.

My take on all?

There are two key – and difficult – skills that are important in any enterprise, be it business, home, hobby, voluntary…

These are the two key attributes in a ‘critical’ conversation, see this.

Firstly, are you able to identify – and agree to discuss – the critical issues. Here structured thinking methods help identify the important topics: analytical tools that can be worked through individually or interactively – question fanning, logic modelling, issue mapping, iceberg deep think etc.

In the first take on ‘critical conversations’ it is essential to get the focus right: Critical, as in focusing on what is the most important topic or issue. Discussion themes that are the IMPORTANT ones to get right. This is about NOT avoiding the tough, challenging issues. NOT getting sidetracked by the minutiae: as in the example of a senior team being diverted by endless discussions of seating plans in a new office location, and not achieving the fundamental purpose of significant change. About NOT ignoring the ‘elephant in the corner’.

Secondly, are you able to engage in a critical debate – where you and others are able to disagree, but in a way where you differ well as you explore differing perspectives (with a stronger relationship at the end, and not – as often happens – a weaker one). Methods here that can help include: the six thinking hats, balancing inquiry with advocacy, starting with appreciation, getting to know each other to develop trust, developing skills in the 3 levels of feedback, working on perspective management. Personal qualities are important too – have you some insight into personal hot (or blind) spots? How do you increase that awareness and develop the ability to delay your hard wired response?

In this sense ‘critical’ involves putting a different (and you probably believe better) perspective forward: this leads to discussions that are HARD or CHALLENGING to get right and that might come over as pretty hard hitting too. Here we need to know how best to explore different opinions: mining conflict (managing diverse views in a way that is productive), disagreeing well (so trust is preserved, or even increased). Being able to challenge others – and being open to it ourselves.

I am going to risk a mechanical metaphor to illustrate this! I believe that the engine of innovation in any institution is curiosity, and the ‘oil’ for the behaviours that turns good ideas into action is how we talk with others. The two skills in ‘crucial conversations’ are at the heart of the motor of improvement.

Critical Conversations are discussions that are both hard to focus and challenging to get right. They ‘cut to the chase’.

In a way they focus on the top right grid in a 2×2 matrix made with the dimensions of importance and challenge – they are important and hard to get right. A difficult place to get to and stay. It is the zone of productive conflict.

However, it is easy to be avoiding by choosing to be focused on the irrelevant and un-stretching topics. However, eventually, I believe this maxim is often a truism (in terms of conversations, if not flight safety!): “what seems safe is risky, and what is risky is safe”.

Important and non challenging topics achieve a chorus of agreement. Get those under your belt and move on. It is easy to dwell here.

The worst place to be is arguing over minutiae – a common ‘defence against the anxiety’ when facing the spectre of the critical conversation.

Finally, remember…

The Mother Abbess in the Sound of Music, when asked to admonish two quarrelling nuns:
“No, they are helping me to think by expressing two points of view”.

And an ancient encouragement from a (translated) latin motto: “The will to succeed – and the grace to compromise”.

Big on Burnout?

Personal productivityNo Comments

In the last week I have spoken with a few people who have felt a bit close to ‘burnout’. This has been clear in conversation and as indicated by this tool, developed with my colleague Steve in Australia.

You probably have met someone who has become burnout through their work, or maybe exhausted from some of their voluntary roles and obligations.

You will know it is a tough place to reach – and getting back from that point can take a while.

As this 4 step model illustrates burnout can be the ‘natural’ result from a stress response to pressure.

So, if ‘prevention is better than cure’, what are the options?

1) avoiding pressure might be useful – for example if you are hugely overburdened and are only coping by sleeping less, ‘running faster’ and cutting corners. Here you are looking to change your context. Maybe changing your job or negotiating some different obligations at work and home. This may be a temporary thing after a period of grief, for example

2) however for many of us pressure is inevitable (and to a degree desirable), so how to cope with the resulting stress becomes the key place to focus. Here you are looking to change your response – for example with exercise, meditation, reflection, coaching (or supervision or counselling), hobbies. This self assessment might be of use in thinking about your personality and how you respond. As this classic – and old - 1983 advert illustrates, some people have sources of personal energy that will keep them going longer than others. “Know Thyself” is key. Which sort of ‘bunny’ are you?

3) one self-preserving and common response to stress amongst staff in many organisations – especially those with an (?initially) attractive noble purpose – is cynicism: to management, to colleagues, and even to the end user such as patients or clients. However, this response can make the work and working environment more wearing and stressful for colleagues (and often to the cynic too). So cynicism isn’t sustainable for an institution long term, nor probably to the individual themselves either – as cynicism can be associated with over-eating, drinking too much, misery etc leading to ill health.

4) Once burnout is reached the key actions are acknowledgment, seeking help – and being kind to yourself and stepping back from the patterns that created the situation. Please let me know if you would like more information on this.

Being a bit self-focused maybe…
Be Ambitious in your plans.
Be Insightful about your capacity.
Be Kind to yourself (and others).

‘On-Trend’ is on-trend

EngagementNo Comments

Fashions?

Phrases: put it out there, reach out, super, on-trend

Foods et al: from sourdough to the, now, ubiquitous flat white (remember this from 2011) – though some in California are still struggling…the Antipodean approach to beer is pretty big in the UK craft scene too.

Fads at work: Alignment, Momentum, Pecha Kucha, unconference, compassion, stories, conversations  etc. (I hold my hands up).

And do you recall the speed of some fads, for example.

Thoughts on what next?

Do you support the rSPB?

Improvement, UncategorizedNo Comments

I live in Cambridge. The city and its surrounding area is home to one of (if not) the biggest and most vibrant conservation communities in the world. The RSPB is part of it. However, that is not the rSPB I am thinking of here.

I work across sectors. Time and time again I see the attraction of structural change to leaders. The more senior they are, the more they are attracted it seems.

However, I largely agree with the Australian organisational commentator Peter Fuda that the search for the perfect structure is futile and that “With the right values and behaviours, almost any structure can work.”

If we see organisations as communities then getting the processes, as well as behaviours, right is also crucial. Actually these ideas can be implemented more quickly than structural solutions (which, to be clear, are important too). Simple rules to guide day to day choices and moment to moment decisions about the processes used and behaviours lived are enormously helpful. I wrote about this a few years ago using a rather unsavoury example.

rSPB?
Recommendations for results from Structural, Process and Behavioural change. Think of something you are trying to achieve right now. Is your approach balanced – like a bird in flight?

NPO: What (and where) next?

Noble PurposeNo Comments

Time for a short pause in this daily series on Noble Purpose Organisations.

I will be back soon – with a case study, to be run as a mini-series over a number of instalments.

This is partly written. However, I would like your questions and challenges to complete it.

The story explores the tale of Bart, Elizabeth, Jenni and Jean-Paul. Four people with very different roles and lengths of service in (the fictitious and factious) anti-malaria campaigning charity Malfly.

What would you like to learn through their tale?

Noble word association

Noble PurposeNo Comments

Noble work

Organisational work

Noble Purpose

Noble Organisations

Purposeful Organisations

Noble purpose organisations.

NPO, a research agenda?

Noble PurposeNo Comments

1. How far it is true that “organisations with a compelling mission tend to risk bad behaviours internally”? How far are the ‘shadows’ of co-workers a feature of noble workplaces?
2. Does it matter about being nice to each other if you have noble intentions? How far does a ‘toxic’ culture actually hamper the achievement of core goals?
3. What are the best ways to establish a family foundation to ensure the risks of the Noble Purpose Organisation Paradox are not institutionalised from the start?
4. Are the challenges of boosting productivity in public services largely due to the NPO paradox – or simply due to the context of the sector or ineffective leadership?
5. How far are NPOs more at risk of group think and team dynamics degenerating to chaos and entropy?

Debate…

NPO, from the archives

Noble PurposeNo Comments

One
Two 
Three

The Spectrum?

Noble PurposeNo Comments

There is a spectrum of business models.

From the noble purpose – to those with a purely commercial mission.

And there are some – maybe plenty – in the middle
– The CSR team in an investment bank
– Those looking to source ‘fairtrade’ raw materials for a fashion brand
– The bar staff in a live music pub
– The projectionists in an arts cinema
– The research team in a pharmaceutical company
– The human rights experts in a city legal firm
– The procurement specialists in a government department
– The team managing the endowment of a charity.

So maybe the spectrum it actually more of a Venn diagram. As a starter for 10, which Cambridge College has a stained glass Venn Diagram – and why? See here.

[Btw, a colleague extends this spectrum from noble through commercial to ‘vile purpose’. Depending on your politics that new end to the spectrum could include all capitalist enterprise or ‘merely’ tobacco or arms companies…or drug cartels, human traffickers, terrorist cells)

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