Thursday, 27 September 2012

Advice for Change Agents from an all-time Master

There are a handful of universal truths that are so simple and so profound that they can apply to any situation.

Here are Gandhi's Top 10 Fundamentals for Changing the World. - A really solid foundation to any change programme, even if it's not quite on that scale!

Poster - Ghandi's 10 fundamentals for changing the world

 Thanks to my friends at Kiva for sharing this.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Performance Objectives: Restriction or Liberation?

Managers are sometimes concerned that setting clear and highly measurable performance objectives or targets is restrictive of creativity and innovation; after all, we want our people to work flexibly and be responsive to the needs of the business or service, we don’t want them tied down! However, experience tells us that people like to have clear and unambiguous targets and they can be felt as liberating – we just don’t want our whole life to be governed in this way!
If, as a manager, you have control in mind during a performance management discussion, you’ll probably end up with high control, low empower targets for your team member. If you have growth and empowerment in mind you’re more than likely going to negotiate performance objectives that are genuinely helpful to your team member so…

…check your mindset before you begin!

Performance objectives for delivering results.

This is the classic performance target:
“By the end of October process 500 widgets in compliance with the agreed quality standard”

It’s great for… well, processing widgets! And if the quality standard is comprehensive and clear that’s great. But what if we’re not quite in control of the number of widgets that are needed:
“Provide a comprehensive response to requests for information within 3 working days of receipt of the request”

You might use an objective like this where your team member has tended to slip a little on the timeliness.
This allows for flexibility in demand; of course we could go on to define ‘comprehensive’ but we’re talking about people having some discretion and some inherent skill and knowledge here so, unless there is a particular performance issue that needs working on you might want to leave this to the individual.  Equally, you might want to agree a monitoring arrangement – a recording sheet, occasional sampling etc. But again, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Far better if you are able to trust your team member to monitor their own performance!

Performance Targets for Behaviour

This seems a bit more tricky, but how many times do you find that it’s not what someone delivers that causes difficulties, it’s how they deliver it?

Many organisations aim for a strong value base across everything they do. So how can you use performance objectives to support a team member to demonstrate those values? After all, if someone has the habit of being a little rude or dismissive to colleagues they’re likely to need some support to find some new behaviours and practice them until they become natural.

A word of warning here: if you start setting objectives in the absence of honest and participative discussion things can start to feel pretty patronising. On the other hand, used collaboratively and set collaboratively, clear objectives can be really helpful to an individual in, firstly, helping them understand the behaviours they need to adopt and secondly, helping them create new positive habits.

Obviously then, the objectives you negotiate in respect of changing behaviours will be very personal, but here are a couple of illustrations.

For the staff member who is described by colleagues as aloof and distant, not part of the team:
“Every morning for the next two weeks, say ‘Good morning” to colleagues when you arrive in the office and on three occasions over the next two weeks, ask a non-work question or start a non-work conversation”

Or, for the staff member who is highly efficient, but not a ‘team player’:
“On three occasions over the next two weeks, offer to help someone with one of their tasks”

Of course seeing this written down emphasises the need to set behaviour objectives collaboratively. It’s far better if the staff member comes up with his or her own performance targets!

A couple of other things to remember:

  •  Behaviour objectives should be short term; today, next week, or a couple of weeks maximum. Anything more and they become almost impossible to sustain and we really need to reinforce with success.
  • Behaviour objectives need review, so an objective needs underpinning with “Lets meet at the end of the two weeks so we can talk about how you got on and how the new behaviour felt to you.” This review enables the staff member to set new and perhaps slightly more challenging targets for the next period.
  • Habits are really hard to break. An objective about stopping doing something is unlikely to work. Try instead to add a positive behaviour.
  • New habits are much easier to create. Ten to fifteen concurrent repetitions of a behaviour are enough to start to form a habit, and then it gets easier and easier!


Don’t be tempted to set performance objectives for everything! Focus on the things that most need development and agree just four to six clear, measurable and meaningful targets in total.

Monday, 10 September 2012

A lesson on performance management from the London Paralympic games.

“Lifting the Cloud of Limitation”

(Quote from a London 2012 Games Maker)

- A lesson on performance management from the London Paralympic games.

The Paralympics closing ceremony has just started as I write this; full of emotion, of happiness, of inspiration, of humanity…. asd it’s only 9pm!
Looking back less than two weeks to when the first competitions raised the curtain on these remarkable few days and countless moments of history,  I’m recognising a fundamental change in the types of conversation we’ve been having.

Just twelve days ago we were having conversations about disability: “What’s wrong with him?” or, “She looks normal.” and even  “He’s almost as good as a normal athlete.”  The focus was on “can’t do”, it was on limitation and it was on deficit. It was on making the most of a bad job and at very best, it was patronising.

Athlete first, disability second

Fast forward to today. How much of today’s conversation is about deficit? Not much! It seems like the world has been blown away by the  power, the determination and the achievements of these amazing, dedicated and finely tuned athletes. The disability has become secondary; the ability  has become the focus.

What’s this got to do with performance management?

So many performance management meetings seem to focus on deficit. What have I not done well enough? Which targets have not been achieved? etc. Would we even be having the conversation if there wasn’t  something wrong?  In this environment, performance management quickly becomes seen as a negative process, focusing on the disability rather than the ability… and you get what you focus on!

If performance management discussions were about ability, aspiration dreams and excitement couldn’t individuals and organisations start to find the true greatness that rests in all of us?

Of course not one of our paralympic athletes has been naive enough to pretend that they have no disability; part of the success process is to be clear and honest about the challenges we experience. A performance management discussion that avoids these sometimes painful issues is not going to help at all. Our paralympians have learned to work with their disabilities to achieve the truly exceptional.

So, a heartfelt plea: Let’s stop thinking of performance management as a deficit process or as the assertion of restrictive control and instead be determined to deliver performance management as a key process for supporting people to unleash their amazing talents!

Friday, 29 April 2011

The Importance of Rituals.

Royalist or not, you can’t deny that the marriage of William and Catherine has evoked a really strong reaction! (This will be clear to readers in the UK, - what about the rest of you?) It seems for most people, that the reaction has been hugely positive (although I accept that viewing events through the eyes of the media probably means we only see one side!) I was struck by the numbers of people who chose to spend their day off standing for hours on an unforgiving pavement in London on the promise of a fleeting glimpse of a couple of strangers pulled down a road in a horse-drawn carriage!  Why?!
Ritual and tradition  prevails in all societies throughout the world. It happens in families: in mine, we’ve just been through our annual Easter egg hunt… again!  I’m confident that my twelve and seventeen year-olds have outgrown the Easter Bunny, but it’s still an important part of family life! It happens with football fans: the chants, the songs the rivalries. It happens everywhere.

So what about the rituals and traditions that provide unity and commonality in businesses and other organisations? They are there, and they can be a powerful force for good… or for bad.
  •       The Christmas party
  •       The annual bonus
  •       The Friday after-work drink
  •       The fund-raising event 
  •        The jokes at the expense of the sales team, or HR or Finance
  •       The quarterly presentation from the boss
  •       The morning coffee break
Some of these rituals are big and inescapable; some are so much the norm, so much part of the culture that we don’t even notice we’re engaging in them! – But they are powerful!
So some questions:
What are the traditions & rituals that characterise your workplace?
Firstly, look at those that have been deliberately created. Are they creating the positive outcomes that were intended? …. Really?  Most times there is a balance – some positive outcomes, but some resentments or annoyances. What could you do to add to the positives and minimise the negatives so that an OK process becomes something fantastic?!
Secondly, what about the traditions and rituals that are just there? These are likely to provide the most accurate reflection of the culture of your organisation. Are they a force of organisational health? Are they pertinent to the current environment? Or do they reflect a situation that existed ten years ago and therefore hold you back?
Do your traditions and rituals have the same positive impact on everyone? What about the groups who feel marginalised by them like the anti-royalists who view the Royal wedding as illustrating nothing more than extravagance in inequality? What could you do to ensure inclusivity?

Rituals are often artefacts of culture so they could use some examination. Making sure that they support the aspirations of your organisation can provide a much more powerful energiser for change that twenty carefully crafted policy documents!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

What's your excuse?

This is a bit different.  Powerful & challenging.

Thanks to Neil Cocker   for bringing it to my attention and to Sean Mullens for the artistry.

BIRTHRIGHT from Sean Mullens on Vimeo.

So, now for the challenge:

What is it that's stopping you from doing that thing which you know is of crucial importance to you?
What is the dreadful disability that superimposes "Can't DO" in big bold letters over our aspiration?
Whether it be something in our personal life, or a fundamental belief that there's a better way of doing things at work, most of us are great at expending loads of energy finding reasons not to take the risk!

Our global economic and environmental conditions are screaming out for us to find new ways, radical approaches, different outcomes.  I don't believe we're short of creative ideas and innovative delivery - but we do seem short of the courage to do what really matters to us.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Lessons in Leading Change from the Dancing Man

I came across this clip whilst researching for a team-building event for a new client. Take a look it, it’s just short of four minutes long but please don‘t try to take a short-cut, watch to the end!

To me, this presents a great metaphor for the leadership of change and I’d like to offer the following thoughts to those of you who are working hard to create excitement and momentum for change:

  1.  If you’re really committed to achieving your change goal, go for it big-time! A bit of self conscious hand jiving just won’t do, - you have to get stripped down and put your soul into it! We don’t know if the dancing man felt embarrassed, but he certainly didn’t show it! Note too, that you don’t have to be a fantastic dancer – but you do have to commit, - and to show everyone just what great fun dancing is!
  2. Don’t intellectualise too much. I don’t suppose the dancing man crafted a compelling PowerPoint explaining the features and benefits of dancing. Nor did he commit too much time to persuading others to join in (he tried but it didn't work too well!). Yes, talking and explaining is good – but active demonstration is much more powerful!
  3. Find the right dance-floor.  Yes, you want to be visable so you can have an impact, but dancing all over someone else's picnic is not going to make you many friends!
  4. Don’t give up. I suspect most of us, if we had been brave enough to start dancing on our own, would have given up after thirty seconds or so. It takes a long time for someone to grow the courage and enthusiasm to join in. While you’re dancing, and while you’re showing your commitment and enthusiasm is not easily damaged, you’re building up ‘trust-credits’, you’re showing yourself as the sort of person who it’s safe and good to follow.
  5. Make a big fuss of your early adopters! “Wow! You are the best dancer ever! So tasteful! So classy! You are so much better at it than me!” Allow your new-comer to enjoy the experience on their own terms and don’t try to control them too much. This is often difficult for a ‘change leader’. After all, it’s been your dance for so long it’s only natural you will want to show people how to do it and make sure they do it in the way you’ve been dreaming about for such a long time. Sustainable change needs to be organic. As soon as someone joins in it stops being ‘yours’ and starts being ‘ours’. Welcome the new creativity and energy and if you hadn’t envisaged handstands? – well get over it! Of course in practice there will need to be some rules but try and keep these to a minimum early on emphasising values and commitment instead.
  6. Don’t let up. It’s a great feeling when one turns into three and three turns into six but remember that these early adopters will probably not have the commitment or staying power that you have demonstrated. A less experienced dancing man might have stood back with delight and pride, taken a well earned rest….. and watched the support disappear! Notice the successes but be aware that change takes time to bed in. Others will not be as resilient as you have been. They need your inspiration and example, they need to see that you are just as committed to the change and just as passionate as you always were.
  7. Finally, can you imagine how our dancing man felt at the end of the sequence? That’s going to be you someday – maybe sooner than you think!