Saturday, 28 February 2009

The age of relationships at last?

I have to say that I’m very “chuffed” that the sort of stuff that I’ve been working for, on, in and with particularly the last decade or so, like collaboration; specific patterns of behaviour that spell caring in interpersonal communication; and against the stupidity of most received Management ‘wisdom’, seem to be fast becoming almost de rigueur in popular advice on how to survive the global financial system meltdown.

It seems that everything does have its season and this is the season for intimacy in leadership; knowing who and what we uniquely are and fearlessly standing out for that in our all organisational relationships.

Suddenly it’s right, good, and financially advantageous to actually, really treat employees as valued customers; to be emotional in business and organisational relationships and to leave personality in problem solving (along with the ‘facts’); to be a manager and openly not-know; to trust that the best business strategy comes out of best interpersonal relationships.

Hallelujah! Thank God for the financial crisis! At last we have a real chance to really “keep it real” – for management and leadership to un-stick from 100 year old industrial assumptions and practices: for the age of relationships – where being fully functioning human beings is the greatest personal and commercial advantage.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Making mistakes

I was fortunate to see Leonard Cohen perform in Auckland earlier this year - a welcome antidote to the market obsession with Youth. Baby boomers filled the stadium.

A line from his song/poem "Anthem" stuck with me, hauntingly appropriate to these times: "Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

These times, more than ever, require experimenting: to abandon the quest for the “right answer”; to abandon the pretence of knowing; to risk listening to those we usually ignore; risk voicing ideas and observations that may seem 'odd' or challenging; to risk new action that may fail.

More than ever we need to learn to communicate in ways least likely to trigger defence; that enable collaboration.

In my recent past I taught Project Management and Communication in The University of Auckland. I risked abandoning lecturing completely. I set up the class (of 80) as its own organisation to plan a major (real) change project in the University Business School. To do that they had to find out together (learn) about project management and communication – a learning project - to simultaneously manage the project to plan the main change project; three simultaneous projects.

We defined the main product of this organisation to be 1st time mistakes. Members were rewarded for making these mistakes. We set ambitious targets for 1st time mistakes produced.

My primary role in this process was to coach the members to communicate more effectively by shared reflection on their communication behaviour in their project teams and organisational roles.

The result was 'miraculous'. They blew their own socks off. They discovered a myriad of talents in their midst. It was a revelation for those Business students: explicitly experiencing collaboration and real (deep) learning for the 1st time in their formal organisational lives.

The Business School managers tried to shut it down – too risky – but the result was a triumph for stakeholder engagement.

Most of us have never experienced collaboration explicitly like that in our education or in our working lives. Will we risk it? What's the alternative?

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Doing good things together

I am reminded, in my conversations with clients today, that people's desire to do good things together is the imperative perhaps most overlooked, ignored, even denied by conventional managers.

One outstanding example: an SME owner was astounded at the response by his employees when he annonced to his senior managers that unfortunately, due to the current downturn, he needed to make two staff redundant.

They implored him not to. They went to their people and returned with the consensus proposal that the whole workforce (of 10) reduce to a 4 day week and thereby retain the valuable, very productive interrelationships that they had built. They argued that that way they would be better prepared to sieze opportunities for recovery and growth and respond in their characteristically outstandingly quick and competent manner.

What a crew!

Monday, 23 February 2009

Coaching from within

Reflecting further on my encounter with Tom Peters, with fellow coaches today . . . . Tom is like a super coach to the Results organisation – he can do what I can’t do because I am effectively part of the Results organisation. He’s not. He’s Tom Peters! He’s his own person. He’s also an excellent speaker, fluent in his discipline, wise and well read!

He communicated what I had tried to communicate for almost 2 years but I failed mostly because, although I’m a leading coach, I can’t coach an organisation from within. The relational assumptions and dynamics won’t allow it.

After Tom’s address, a (NZ) Partner commented that I seemed to be getting better at expressing myself. No doubt there’s truth in that but equally at least, having heard Tom, the Partner was now more able to listen to me. We had a new shared experience and language to communicate with.

I am delighted. I feel like the windows have been thrown open and the light is flooding in.

Next step: collaborate to implement the insights, starting today, with the advantage of new shared experience and language.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

What do they hear?

I gotta wonder what others heard when Tom Peters spoke to NZ SME owners at an Auckland seminar on Thur 19 Feb 2009 and to a conference of (NZ) partners, coaches, administrators and BDMs the next day.

If Voxy (American Business Guru Tom Peters Offers Hope to Kiwi Companies During Visit on Voxy) and the NZ Herald (Tom Peters Top tips: To pull through the recession) are a good indication then what seemed to me to be Tom's key message seems to have been lost in the panic. It's all the usual managerial stuff.

Tom's emphasis on interrelationships between people seems to have been lost in translation and selective listening.

My take on what he said is that interpersonal communication and relationships are the key: upstream and downstream of the business and particularly inside it. For instance, he emphasised several times that he would be very disappointed if there was as a single firm in the room (350 people) that didn’t, as a result of his seminar, implement a programme to develop listening and talking skills and behaviours of its people. (I'd put money on no more than a hand-full doing anything more than a token action).

That’s how fundamental he thinks effective communication is to business survival and growth. He even ventured that business strategy isn’t the prime issue - communication and relationships are: if the relationships and communication are effective then effective strategy will emerge and be implemented; that learning and change will happen and that ability to learn, change and innovate is the crucial competitive advantage in this economic climate.

In other words, the interrelationships within and around the owner and his firm are perhaps his greatest asset. . But the interrelationships probably receive the least direct attention, certainly aren’t on the balance sheet, and probably aren’t measured! (If Tom's right, then maybe it'd be a different story if the owner is a woman)

As Tom said, effective communication can be learned and interrelationships made more effective.

Trouble is that the usual managerial actions to send the people to a course on “Effective Presentations” and/or “Handling Difficult People” won’t do it. Making it a KPI won’t do it. Making it someone else’s responsibility won’t do it.

It’s a slow process that begins by the boss by changing his/her behaviour. They have to work with others to do it. They have to learn to communicate better to do it. They have to learn new communication habits. They have to be personal, emotional, and intimate: messy qualities and behaviours typically avoided in “business”.

There are some “obvious” things that can be done to begin to improve the quality of communication like revisit your BHAG (Jim Collins) and building emotion and passion into those Rockefeller habits (Verne Harnish). They can recruit communicators. They can create opportunities for themselves and their people to be ‘real’.

They can pay attention to the little thoughtful things that Tom demonstrated achieve apparently miraculous effect. And there are many other important, focused strategies they can implement to develop and get the best return on their relational asset.

Will they get it? I reckon that some will, with some excellent coaching.