Week End…

My weekend is nearly over. Today I took my son back to college. I packed, I drove, I unpacked, I assembled and I helped. Well OK – that last one may not be quite right. I tried to help. In truth he doesn’t need that much help these days. My son impresses me. I am biased I know of course…but I am still impressed.

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday. We were all there – the whole family. She received cards, gifts, cake, candles and a wonderful sung rendition of Happy Birthday. Well OK – that last one may not be quite right. I tried to help with the singing. Suffice it to say my singing was passionate and loud. Actually there isn’t really much else to say about my singing than that.

We took my wife out for a boat ride – punting to be precise – with a guide…in our local city. On the river and canals that pass through and around the town. It was wonderful. Relaxing, peaceful, interesting, fun. And all of those are right. We even discovered some things about the city that we never knew…as well as seeing parts and views we hadn’t seen or experienced before.

It was a superb and relaxing weekend with my family at the end of a week. It is what week ends are supposed to be. Family and/or friends – people you care about and who care about you – relaxation and/or enjoyment. Any weekend. All weekends.

And this weekend in particular. I wanted this weekend to be special of course – it was my wife’s birthday…but I also felt like I needed this weekend to be special. I needed that reminder of the importance of our family and friends. I wanted to recognise the pleasure of their unconditional love and affection. We all need balance not just between our lives in work and our lives out of work…but we also need to balance how much of our time and energy we devote to both.

Last week felt like big news every day…and that was just at work…and Monday was a vacation day in the US! There seemed to be news about people, about roles, about leaders, about change, about challenge and about opportunities. Many weeks include some of this information…some weeks can even feature a little on all of these. It’s not often that any of us get a lot of news about all of these areas in one week.

Whenever a person leaves an organisation I am part of, it always has an impact on me…whether their reasons for leaving are good or not so good…and even more so if the person leaving is someone I know and have worked with…respect and admire.

But I know that people leave. People leave for good reasons, for personal reasons or for business reasons. But people leave. All I can ever do is to wish anyone who leaves the absolute very best. I know from experience that there isn’t often anything I can do to help…but I also know that it isn’t often that anyone leaving ever really needs my help. Good people always find – or create – great opportunities to be both happy and successful…however they chose to define both happiness and success.

And organisations move on. New people, new roles, new leaders…change and challenge and more opportunity. Someone once said that challenge always follows change. I think that’s true. But – more importantly – opportunity always follows challenge.

My weekend is now over. My family are happy. I am happy. I am relaxed and recharged. I am ready. Ready to embrace whatever next week has to offer…

Cheers

Steve

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Memorable Memories…

I once took a 12 week neuroscience course. I can’t quite remember when it was, but I do remember how interesting and informative it was…and how much it seemed we still don’t really understand about memory and learning and brain function.

I do remember it was a long time ago. And I remember at least a couple of the people I met and worked with on that course…colleagues who I am still in touch with via LinkedIn. It’s a general scenario I find…I can remember vividly who I was with…I am pretty sure where we were…yet I can’t really remember exactly what we were doing and sometimes even why….although more often than not it was related to a big change of strategy or leadership or direction…or even all three together.

I reassure myself that this selective memory is just human nature. Friendships and people and relationships are simply of higher ore importance and more significance to us than are events and dates…unless of course both merge into one – like weddings and birthdays and even funerals.

And I find this selective memory to be very reassuring. An old boss of mine once pointed out to me (and yes I am not sure when this happened or where we were) that life would be much less enjoyable if we all remembered the dates and the meeting agenda but couldn’t remember who was there with us.

I worked for a long time in my last company’s research centre in the UK – I was there through good times, very good times and not so good times and very tough times. But if I ever meet up with anyone who worked at the same time and place as me, I guarantee that we only ever talk (and laugh) about the absolute best times and the very best people. And I am certain that we merge events together in those conversations…the best moments of any number of different occasions…to almost create even better times!

But again this is good and fine…and even if the moments we recreate didn’t actually happen in the way we describe and enjoy…they are still the memories that we have…for better or for even better!

I learned almost everything I know about our industry, our processes and our people in that same time, but even those learning moments inevitably focus on teams and people and stories…rather than dates and locations.

I found myself thinking about what we remember over this weekend as I helped my daughter move house again. She has graduated and is moving on with her life. We are so proud and so excited…

Over dinner last night my wife and I reminisced with our daughter about our first apartment after we left university. And sure enough we remembered – vividly – the good times. The fun and the friends, and the parties. We have conveniently forgotten anything about that time that was less…well less anything.

We create memories with other people, and the good news is that being with others and doing good work together can be enjoyable and satisfying together. As someone else once said (actually I think this one is a quote from a movie) ‘If you think about it, your favourite memories, the most important moments in your life… were you alone? Life’s better with company.’

And this applies every bit as much to our life in work as well as it does to our life outside of work. We need to know each other, trust each other and understand each other. We need to invest in our partners….strengthen our relationships…enhance our comfort levels and understanding. Joint memories are created when experiences are shared.

Cheers

Steve

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To Type…

Whatever, and no matter how much, I have learned…I know for sure that I have forgotten an awful lot of it. Most of it in fact. Often this forgetfulness is somewhere between inevitable and necessary. For example, any time I have been involved in communicating major information – good or not so good – within an organisation, I have made sure I fully understand local laws, processes and even politics. I have known the detail of my particular organisation and the individuals involved….but I have needed to understand other related aspects.

Once the news has been communicated and implemented…I have little need to try to remember that additional information (necessary)…which is good news because there is no way I could remember it in detail without working very hard (inevitable).

Other information I have learned – and do remember. I assume this is what I would call my knowledge. Information I believe to be true. And often this will be information or situation that I have experienced several times. What I believe.

One example…is that whenever a situation doesn’t make sense (based on what I know) then I know I am missing – or misunderstanding- something. In any particular situation, if I believe we should move forward in a certain direction – and others have a different opinion – then I must be missing something. A piece of information, fact or experience that if I knew or understood would change my thinking.

So when a situation, course of action, or sequence of events does not make sense to me…I try to find out what I am missing. What don’t I understand? I work to stay open. It may be possible that my interpretation is still applicable, but it is more likely that we can – or will – agree a much better way forward once we all know more.

Times of pressure – for me, my team or for any of our respective organisations – is a classic situation where we experience more things not making sense.

Times of pressure…times when we feel under increased stress…is often a time when we revert to type…revert to our preferred style of operating. If we are naturally more ‘command and control’, then that is what people will see. If we are intuitively consensus driven then consensus it will be!

When we are under pressure we feel we have less time to consider our options in any situation; we tend to react more quickly and more intuitively. It is inevitable that more things won’t make sense to me or to us individually or collectively.

Times of pressure and stress are normal. They can be personal, private, or professional. They can happen when everyone else around us is experiencing the same…or they can just be us alone. They may be normal, but they are seldom enjoyable.

Such times benefit from us helping ourselves and us helping each other as best we can. We are there for each other. We all have a passion for our work, our teams and our projects and our colleagues. We are committed. We want to make a difference…to enjoy and to be valued.

But things we see, hear, do or say won’t always make sense…to me, to us, to our friends and our families, our allies and mentors. And these are the individuals who I know can and do help me at these times. They see me; know me and they are willing and able to hold that mirror up to me. They care and want to help me.

People always help me understand situations, events and messages that initially don’t make sense. I listen and learn. I ask and appreciate. I stay open.

Cheers

Steve

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Change Encouragement…

I find myself thinking a great deal about change. How we are changing, how well (or badly) we are changing…speed of change, direction of change. It’s either quite sad…or very engaging! Truth is that we are all experiencing change all the time…at work, at home, at leisure. We all tend to believe we have more control over change that happens outside of our work…I doubt that it true really….

Organisations tend to be more organised over change. We create teams, appoint leaders, and enrol team members, charter and plan. At home or individually we don’t. If we decide to move house – arguably one of the biggest changes we ever experience – we don’t appoint, enrol or charter…although we do plan I guess!

Back in our work world then…when we set up teams we tend to look to enrol individuals with specific skill sets we believe we will need for success…but also we like to enrol people who are good at Managing Change. Not so much Managers who can lead others through change…but more individuals who we know or believe can personally cope well with changes that happen around them…or to them. Experience shows that these are good people to have on a team set up to help us manage change…

We are organisation. So the immediate next step for a new team in virtually any organisation is to produce and socialise (I know) a charter. A list of activities, deliverables, time lines, team members…

I see (and author) a great number of charters…I am less sure about how many of those charters are great. I am an enthusiast for words, and I have long since realised that most team’ deliverables are indeed focussed on Change Management. This make sense when I think about the basis for how we enrol team members. Change Management is indeed a very common terminology and is important. But I found myself this week – as I was sitting in another airport departure lounge waiting to fly home – thinking the obvious…that we can only hope to manage change…once change has started!

Put another way – before Change Management we need Change Encouragement. Strangely enough, Change Encouragement somehow doesn’t quite run off the tongue. Who knows – maybe I have just created a new concept!

I do know though, that I haven’t seen a charter that talks about the need to Manage and Encourage Change.

Change Encouragement. What is our motivation to change? Individually or organisationally?

It can be based on a clear, exciting and engaging picture of the future – in effect we are helped to ‘See the Light’….we see the attractions and benefits of change (aka the Compelling Vision). Or it can be based on the pain and problems of the current – in effect we are helped to ‘Feel the Heat’…we see the dissatisfaction and risks of no change (aka the Burning Platform).

Most of our experiences suggest that change is encouraged best when there is a combination of both light and heat. We move house when we see our new dream home…but we tend to start looking when we recognise our current house is either way too small or too big for our current needs.

So this is where Change Encouragement…and the benefit we have from identifying individuals who are good change encouragers…comes in. A good change encourager will not simply tell us that we have to change…they are able to explain and envision, encourage and engage, listen and understand.

They have experiences we can relate to. They are people we can relate to. They are Change Encouragers. They are not always our leaders…but they are people we are always happy to follow.

Cheers

Steve

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Sponsoring Executives…

I have long been intrigued by the concept that…‘the most important factor in success of a project is the right executive sponsor’. It’s the specific emphasis that hooks me – not the right sponsor…nor even the right executive…but the right executive sponsor.

This always left me wondering why Executive Sponsorship is so important. It’s not like any project or team sets out looking to fail, or to make bad decisions or to waste time or money. So why is there an assumption that an ‘executive sponsorship’ is necessary? Surely we should be able to seize opportunities without an Executive telling us it’s a good idea…..

This past week, I found myself being asked if I would sponsor two or three important projects… I said yes…and immediately found myself intrigued and wondering again…

The role of a successful Executive Sponsor is to advocate and champion a project…help overcome resistance and help clear a path forward. My own experience on teams also suggests an Executive Sponsor should be involved and committed. Involved but not committed, we don’t get enough support and often fail. Committed but not sufficiently involved, our projects struggle to make progress.

So what then…and why?

My starting point was to consider the sort of projects that require Executive Sponsorship. These tend to be significant efforts…projects to change or transform a business. Rightly or wrongly, successful transformation within – or of – a business is just tough to do. There are far more examples of such projects that don’t succeed than there are of those that do.

Whenever change is on the agenda for an organisation then, we all tend to look to our senior leaders to understand why we are looking to change, what we are trying to do, and above all whether our organisation is really committed to making this change happen. We look for guidance and clarity…we look for leadership.

The appointment and announcement of an Executive Sponsor is a way of showing that the company and that leader are willing to invest the time and effort necessary for the project to succeed. And presumably that we have an Executive Sponsor willing and able to explain why, what, who, how and when…and who can help clarify the benefits that will come from us embracing any changes involved.

Probably one of the biggest mistakes we make – whether as individuals, leaders or Executive Sponsors – is to underestimate how hard it can be for any of us to change what we do and how we act…and to believe that we will change simply because we are asked to.

It seems that to be successful, an Executive Sponsor has to understand their pivotal role in supporting change initiatives in their organization. They have to be visibly and actively engaged…they need to work with the team to develop the compelling vision for change…but they also have to be involved in the detail…the detailed actions and activities necessary to get anywhere close to that future state.

The good news is that it sounds that at least some of the activities necessary for successful Executive Sponsorship are fairly straightforward – communication to launch the project and introduce who will be involved; active engagement to help create momentum, maintain a sense of urgency and demonstrate commitment.

And when any proposed change spreads across multiple parts of a company, we should be able to look to our Executive Sponsor to pull together a coalition of other senior leaders necessary for the success of our project…and who we will need to support us and the changes or transformation we propose.

I am still intrigued and still wonder…but I said yes…and I believe…so here goes…

Cheers

Steve

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Activity Circles…

I was back at work this week – on the US East Coast, attending meetings, meetings, engaging with great people in person, emailing, calling, texting. Coming back to work from vacation is never easy…but the only way to avoid that ‘challenge’ would be avoid vacations…

I always find myself looking for themes…consistent topics from several days of discussion; it’s one way I identify actions or opportunities. People are often a big theme. This week it was definitely true. Helping people, growing people, learning from people, being inspired by people, recruiting people and retaining people.

That people ‘leave their bosses’ is a common belief – as opposed to people leaving their roles or their companies. There are many surveys supporting this belief. I agree. And it seems most people I have ever asked do so as well.

Assuming this is true then…I wondered this week whether the opposite also applies? Do people stay with their bosses rather than their jobs? I haven’t seen surveys on that question, but it feels intuitively correct. Our direct bosses are incredibly important to and for us – they are our window into the organization and our representative of the organization. A good boss is priceless and has an amazing impact. A good boss invokes loyalty and commitment; derives passion and belief; inspires and excites. A poor boss isn’t…and doesn’t.

I was asked recently whether a particular opportunity would give me sufficient ‘intellectual stimulation’. I hadn’t even thought about the concept of intellectual stimulation let alone whether an opportunity would offer it. As a result I found myself thinking more about the question and the person who asked the question…than I was about the role itself. My conclusion? That there are all sorts of challenges in the work we do, but it’s the people we work with who provide intellectual stimulation.

This is certainly something I have always appreciated from my boss. Whether through challenge, encouragement or inspiration. A word here. A question there. A statement or proposition. An insight or observation.

I had dinner last week with a Best Friend at Work. We ended up talking about roles, opportunities and bosses we have had over the years. I recounted a story told to me by one of my bosses about why and how he – of all the individuals who applied for a specific new role – had been selected.

My boss considered himself a deep thinker. But after much analysis, he concluded…that he was lucky!

Lucky because two independent ‘activity circles’ had aligned. He submitted his application at exactly the moment…the moment the recruiter was considering that new role and what the right candidate would look like.

If these circles of activity had not overlapped then likely someone else would have been offered the role. If his application had arrived a month or two earlier, or if the recruiter had taken a month of two longer, then the circles would not have overlapped.

Needless to say these activity circles weren’t entirely based on luck. The individual had experience and qualifications. And he was applying to a company with a significant scientific operation. So yes it is true that we make our own luck, but there is also an element of chance involved.

My boss’s conclusion was that when any of us are looking for growth or opportunity or change then alignment of ‘activity circles’ is necessary to achieve the result or outcome we are after. But we can – and should – seek to do everything we can to influence.

Intellectual stimulation. The right story at the right time. Observation and insight; encouragement and inspiration.

We all want a boss to stay with.

Cheers

Steve

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Social Advice…

I am not a big ‘social media’ person. At least I don’t think I am. Like with many of these sorts of things, my opinion is – at best – only subjective. I know how little (or much) I use social media. I see how much more others apparently use the various options. I deduce that I am at the low end of the scale. Rightly or wrongly.

That having been said, I use LinkedIn regularly and I do use WordPress at least once a week. There are though…many other forms of social media in which I don’t participate. Hence my starting assumption.

I do have one other social media habit that I have to admit to – I am an avid reader and submitter for TripAdvisor. I couldn’t say if I am ‘big’ in TripAdvisor, but I can say that I read it a great deal and I submit as often as I can on meals, hotels, sights etc.

I started on TripAdvisor years ago. We were on a family day out and we chose where to eat based on that classic tactic of reading the menu outside the restaurant. We had an unhappy time inside. The food was poor, service was off hand, price was high and enjoyment was low.

I registered on TripAdvisor there and then because I wanted to record my rating. And as soon as I did, I read the other reviews, the overall rating and immediately realised that ours was not a unique experience.

Since that day I have used TripAdvisor to help select restaurants, hotels and even sightseeing. I sometime read the specific reviews (normally the most recent) but always look at the overall rating.

And yes, I accept this is probably ‘social media’. Hotels and restaurants can’t do anything about the individual scores other than focus on offering the best service and experience they can offer, based on the best people they can recruit working in best facilities and with best capabilities….and then they need to have faith that good things will happen and good reviews will come.

Over the years my reviews have tended to be positive. Someone has to go a long way for me to rate below a score of three out of five (three is defined as ‘average’). And indeed I can remember each of the handful of occasions when I did go for a two or a one. There are not many.

An interesting aspect of TripAdvisor is that the owners of the businesses have a ‘right of reply’. More often than not, public replies are well phrased, apologetic and committed to improve. Occasionally though, they can be surprisingly negative about the customer, how they behaved, what they said…in effect how the customer was the cause of the situation.

I received a ‘personal reply’ last week in response to an ‘average’ restaurant review I had submitted. In short I am pretty sure the reply was me being told off for writing what seemed to be a generally positive review, but giving an ‘average’ assessment. I was surprised.

I was surprised partly because I thought my review was fair and balanced. But more so I was surprised by the restaurant owner’s approach which to complain to me – and to criticise me – about my review.

Customer reviews in any business are just that – customer reviews. We celebrate them when they promote us, we are disappointed when they are neutral and we are worried when they are detractors. But they are still fundamentally feedback from a customer…a customer’s opinion based on their experience.

Our only option is to accept, to learn and to improve…

Cheers

Steve

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