Don’t Wait. Design Next Year Now.

In January, I posted Your Year By Design. The idea of deliberately designing how you’ll spend your time over the next 12 months. It’s something that really works for me because it gives me a sense that I’m creating the life I want, rather than life simply happening to me.

As I reflect on my year, it’s been a good one. And it’s also tinged with a sense of intentions-not-quite-realised. There were a few things on my list that I definitely intended to do (like finish my book, for example) but I got busy doing lots of other stuff I’d committed to instead. How did that happen?

Here’s what I learned: January is too late to design your year.

Design It Now.

Now’s time of year when, in the southern hemisphere at least, we’re looking forward to a summer break. For many, December is about cramming. Trying to get work deadlines met, going to end-of-year celebration parties, rushing to get the Christmas shopping done. Most people just want to ‘get to the finish line’ and then collapse in a heap!

January then becomes an ‘unhook and recover’ period. The usual pattern is to get to the end of the year, take a break, and then sometime in late January, start to lift your head up and think about the year ahead. By that time, the year is already moving, and before long, you’re halfway through and wondering where the time’s gone.

As the end of this year approached, I got a sense that next year was already beginning to be filled with commitments that I’d agreed to. My calendar was free, so, sure, why not? But I’d said ‘yes’ to stuff before I’d done the thinking about what I wanted my year to be about. If I kept on with that and waited until January to design my year, I’d be trying to fit the important stuff in around the existing stuff. That’s not going to work!

So, I pressed pause and did my year by design early. Here’s how it’s shaping up.

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As I head into the summer break, I’m feeling good about next year because I’ve already decided what it’s going to look like. I’ve deliberately given myself lots of time out to do the things that are most important to me. And now I know that I can respond with confidence to new opportunities that come up,  because I’ve already booked in the most important stuff.

Design your year now:

  1. Download the 2018 calendar
  2. Follow the steps in Your Year By Design
  3. Go into the break knowing you’re set up for a great year ahead 🙂

 

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Make Change Easier With A Stakeholder Map.

Want to make change happen with less effort and more impact? Do a stakeholder map. Here’s how:

Step 1. Map Who. 

To start with, you’ll need an idea of the change you want to make happen. With this in mind, work out who your most important stakeholders are. Who are the ones who have something at stake and need to be involved in making the change happen? Put their names down on a piece of paper in ‘mind map’ style, along with yourself in the middle.

Put a star next to the ‘critical few’. These are the ones who really matter. The ones you know that if you don’t get them across the line, your plans are dead in the water.

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Step 2. Map Your Connections

Draw lines between you and each person. Think about the quality of relationship (trust, openness of communication) you have with each of them. Give that relationship a rating between 1-10, with 10 being the highest.

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Step 3. Map Their Relationships

Think about what you know about the relationship each of your stakeholders has with the others. Where you know there is a relationship, draw a line between those people. Based on your best estimate, give each of those relationships a rating on a scale of 1-10.

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Step 4. Find The Leverage Points

When you find leverage points in a system, you can make changes happen much more easily. In the case of a stakeholder map, leverage points are certain people, or groups of people.

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In our example, Andy is a strong leverage point. I’ve identified Kelvin and Jane as critical stakeholders. While I have a pretty good relationship with Jane, I don’t have a strong relationship with Kelvin. But I have a strong relationship with Andy, who also happens to have a pretty strong relationship with Kelvin. So, I’m thinking that I could leverage this dynamic to get Andy to influence Kelvin. And given the relatively strong relationships between Andy, Jane and Kelvin, there’s further opportunity to leverage that too.

 

Does this all sound a little Machiavellian? Perhaps. And we know that relationships are the currency of change. So when you map out the dynamics at play, you can use them to your advantage. Sounds smart to me.

Go well.

Who Are Your Cultural Carriers?

I recently assisted a government department to define their sense of common purpose, and to highlight the great aspects of their culture that they wanted to reinforce. It was a powerful experience that created ripple effects across the entire organisation. And I reckon that’s because of the way the senior leadership team chose to approach it.

Traditionally, a senior team first works behind closed doors to come up with a first draft. Brimming with excitement, they then embark on a top-down rollout to get input and buy-in from the rest of the organisation. (Note: If you had your corporate-jargon alert-o-meter on for that last sentence, it’d be maxing out right now). Typically, these efforts result in eye-rolling passivity from the majority of the staff, who just want to get on with the job without being distracted by another poster on the wall. With this approach, you’re hard-pressed to generate the collective energy you’re hoping for.

It doesn’t work. We need a shift. Here’s what that looks like:Culture Conversations Contrast Model.001.jpeg

In the case of this organisation, the senior team chose to do two things:

  1. Invited all staff into collective conversations about purpose and culture
  2. Invited others across the organisation to lead those conversations.

The leadership team recognised that in any group of people, whether it be a single team or a whole organisation, there are a few people who people represent the best of what the entire group aspires to be. They have the sort of energy and drive to really want to make a difference, and when you meet them, you can’t help but be inspired. These people are your ‘cultural carriers’.

If we use the analogy of a petri dish, they’re the bacteria that the culture grows around.

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While some of them might be at the top table, most of them won’t be. They’re spread across the organisation from top to bottom, and they have a disproportionate impact on the culture.

The senior team identified some possible cultural carriers, and shoulder tapped them. They also invited any interested others from across the organisation to join in. We equipped this relatively small, yet highly engaged group with the mentoring, the training, and the tools to host the conversations, and then they were handed the reigns. All members of the leadership team were active participants in the conversations, but they were not the leaders.

What I think is particularly unusual, and ultimately powerful, about this scenario is the maturity of the senior team to know that the culture lives in the organisation, not at the top table. They had the sense to tap into the wisdom of the crowd while playing the roles of hosts and curators. They got out of the way and let the people do the work, accelerated by a few key cultural carriers.

Who are your cultural carriers? How can you tap into them to shift your culture?

 

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You’re More Resourceful Than You Think

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You’re more resourceful than you think.

In my younger days, I was sent to work in Leeds in the UK by the global accounting firm I worked for. Coming from sunny Perth in Australia, it was quite the cultural and climate contrast! Never one to turn down an opportunity to explore a new environment, I set about learning as much as I could about this strange new land in the North of England.

To make it interesting, a mate and I hatched a plan. Every Friday after work, we’d take a backpack to the Leeds train station and jump on a random train, not knowing where it was heading to. Our goal was to have fate decide where we’d end up, and our challenge was to spend the weekend not paying for accommodation wherever we landed.

Over the weeks, fate took us to Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, York, Sheffield and a bunch of other less-heard-of places. Upon arriving, we’d head to a likely looking pub, and rely on our charm and Aussie accents to get to know a few of the locals, and hope that one thing would lead to another. Without fail, it did. We had some amazing experiences and made a whole heap of new friends, some of whom I’m still in contact with to this day.

Whenever I’ve told this story, I’ve noticed that many people respond by saying ‘I could never do that’. As the author, Richard Bach says “argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.”

You’re more resourceful than you think.

I reckon there are two types of resourcefulness. Planned resourcefulness, and discovered resourcefulness.

Planned resourcefulness is where you write the script beforehand. You create the itinerary, you know what’s going to happen and when. It’s the safer option, but there’s less potential for growth, and it ends up being kind of boring after a while.

Discovered resourcefulness is where you put yourself in unfamiliar situations and discover what you are capable of. It’s the scarier option, it requires initiative, and it shows you what you’re capable of, which is usually a lot more than you think.

In this day and age, scripts are useful but they’re not enough. We need less of the scripted-at-the-desk approach and more of the sculpted-on-the-fly approach. We need less tourists and more explorers. We’re increasingly faced with situations where the old way doesn’t work like it used to. When things get complex and keep evolving in front of our eyes, we need the ability to adapt in real time.

More than 2000 years ago, the Stoic writer Epictetus wrote “How laughable it is to say ‘tell me what to do’! What advice could I possibly give? No, a far better request is ‘train my mind to adapt to any circumstance’…in this way, if circumstances take you off script…you won’t be desperate for a new prompting.” In other words, a trained mind is better than any script.

To train your mind to be better prepared to go off script, here are a few tips:

  1. Decide on the thing you most want to happen.
  2. Strip it back to first principles.
  3. Take the first step.

Decide on the thing you most want to happen.

On our jaunts around the North of England, we decided that the thing we most wanted to happen was that we could come back and stay ‘well, that was an adventure!’ That guided our actions and put things in perspective for us. So, when you’re preparing to give that next big presentation, first ask “what do I most want to have happen as a result of this presentation?” For example, it might be that you want the audience to leave saying ‘that was really interesting and it got me thinking’.

Strip it back to first principles.

First principles are those concepts that you can easily remember and draw on time and time again. Whenever I teach a new skill, I aim to help people deeply understand the first principles rather than the tool or script that might go with it. For example, when I teach coaching to managers, I’ll help them understand the principle of ‘meet their people where they’re at’ if they want to have any chance of a successful conversation. When you rely on first principles rather than detailed scripts, there’s less to remember and more room to move.

Take the first step.

No change happens without action. The poet David Whyte suggests we focus on just taking the first step, not the second or the third. As a result, movement happens, and we’re on our way.

You’re more resourceful than you think. What can you do today to prove that to yourself?

 

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How To Own Your Strengths

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Last week I was working with a group of leaders in a session where they were practicing giving real-time feedback to each other. And not just any feedback: they were focused on giving feedback on the perceived strengths of the other person.

In debriefing the activity, I was surprised how many people in the group, both men and women, found it uncomfortable to receive that type of feedback. “I find it much easier to hear the things that I could improve” was a common comment. It appeared that these people didn’t want to know how good they were. Someone even said, “I’m afraid my head will get too big if I take all of that good stuff on board”.

I challenged them to think differently. After all, there’s a plethora of research out there that shows the most effective leaders own, and play to, their strengths. I created a virtual spectrum on the floor in the middle of the group. I called one end ‘Arrogance’ and the other ‘Ignorance’.

I said that I reckon too many people are so afraid of being seen to be up at the ‘Arrogance’ end that they rush to the other end instead, and don’t want to know about the gifts they possess. And I reckon that’s a wasted opportunity.

Then I went and stood in the middle. I called that place ‘Curious Confidence’. That place where you own your good stuff, and at the same time you’re always curious about how you can be improving. It’s a healthy self-esteem blended with a clear understanding that you can always improve.

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We discussed how to be more in the middle, more of the time. Here’s what we came up with:

  1. Say thank you. When someone gives you a compliment, you don’t need to defend against it and try to be in Ignorance. Just respond with a simple “thank you”. Try it, and notice the shift in your inner state towards a Curious Confidence.
  2. Ask for specifics. Whenever someone gives me a compliment about the work I’ve been doing with them, I’ll try to understand more about what led them to say it. I’ll often ask “what was it about what I did that you liked?” or “what difference do you think that made?”. The more I understand the specifics, the more I have to work with and perhaps use in the future.
  3. Write it down. We’re more likely to remember things when we write them down. And it helps us process them further. So rather than let a compliment drift off into the ether, keep a journal that you can refer back to from time to time. You’ll notice patterns emerge from the tapestry of compliments you receive over time.

One thing not to do. Don’t feel the need to immediately respond with a compliment. Unless it’s genuine and relevant, it’ll land flat. Act like it’s your birthday. It’s your time in the light. Accept the gift you’re being given graciously. Soon enough, it’ll be their ‘birthday’ and you can reciprocate.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve learned to be more in a state of ‘Curious Confidence’, I’m more grounded. I get less fazed by new and challenging situations because I’ve built a base of self-confidence that I can draw on. I’m burning less energy and time on self-doubt and rumination. And life is better for it. Do I have the ‘Arrogance Monster’ whispering in my ear from time to time? You bet. And that’s a good thing. But I’ve learned to stay in the healthy middle and avoid the run towards Ignorance.

So, next time you are given a compliment, how will you respond?

 

Picture: From ‘The Red Tree’ by Shaun Tan


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What’s Your Breathing Space?

 

How often do you get your own ‘breathing space’? Here are some brief thoughts on the importance of going against the mainstream and finding your own space.

 

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What Are Your Tentacles?

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Recently, I wrote about ‘Brules’. Brules are the rules you invent that stop you from doing what you really want.

Something else that can hold you back is what I call ‘tentacles’. Tentacles are the things that just make it harder to get the good stuff done. They suck onto you, causing heaps of friction, and they slow you right down.

Tentacles burn time, attention and energy. They’re things like:

  • The to-ing and fro-ing of emails, or endless phone tag
  • The effort it takes to arrange meetings with the five people you need to contact to get something signed off
  • The to-do list you create for yourself at the end of a meeting, to be done sometime in the future.
  • The meetings you feel you need to attend but add no value to you or others.

I started thinking about tentacles as I’d been doing a ‘Hell Yeah’ Audit,  and was noticing that some of the work I’ve said ‘yes’ to in the past has felt so effortless. And some other work (thankfully not much) felt like it could have been a lot easier. I reckon that’s because that work had some tentacles on it. Way too many planning meetings, phone calls and email to get to where we needed to get to. Lack of clarity. Unclear priorities. Lurchy, messy, slow, frustrating. Blah.

When I do my best work, it doesn’t have tentacles on it. And I bet it’s the same for you. For example, over the past few months, I’ve been running a series of coaching conversations workshops for a client. Yesterday the client gave me feedback that I was very low maintenance to deal with, and that things just seemed to be on rails. I put that down to being explicitly clear at the outset about how things were going to run, automating the things that made sense to be automated, and nailing clear roles and responsibilities. Admin was minimised, and we were all focused on delivering the outcomes we wanted in the most effective way possible.

It was a joy to do the work. I was playing to my strengths, my client was happy, and participants got what they came for (and more). Nice.

Tentacles arise because of the choices we make. The choices we make arise from the way we think. Tentacles love a fuzzy mindset.

If you’re not clear about what you want, the way you can best add value, and what your boundaries are, the tentacles will inevitably find a way to suck on.

How To ‘Detentacle-ise’

Existing Tentacles: the ones that you already have to deal with.

  1. Audit. Do a ‘Hell Yeah Audit’. For the commitments that don’t make the ‘Hell Yeah’ grade, go to the next step.
  2. Prune: Your job here is to get rid of the tentacles as effectively as you can. Categorise them:
    1. Do: Some you might just need to do now, and be done with them. Make it fast. Move on.
    2. Delegate: Some tentacles rightly live with someone else. Have the conversations you need to have to hand them over.
    3. Renegotiate: Some tentacles might have some flex in them around their urgency or level of detail required. Ask the question.
    4. Dump: Some tentacles just don’t need any attention. Dump them.

(If you recognise these ‘D’s, you’ll know they’re derived from Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done work).

Incoming Tentacles: the ones that will suck on to you at the next opportunity.

  1. Think about what sort of tentacles might ensnare you. Decide what your priorities, boundaries and offers will be. Know what you will say and do when they rear their head. Remember, ‘No’ is not enough.
  2. Be vigilant for tentacles. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll spot them a mile off and be ready when they try to latch on.
  3. When a tentacle arises, get on the front foot. Make it clear how you’ll play. Do it in service of effective outcomes, and you’ll usually find the other party will agree.

Earlier this week, I had a client ask to book a planning meeting for an upcoming workshop I’ll be running in a couple of months. Rather than try to find a clear time, I suggested we do it immediately following an earlier workshop I’m running with her next week, while we’re in the same room together. She agreed immediately – it was the obvious and easiest solution. No tentacles there!

Tentacles slide off with a healthy, assertive dose of priorities and boundaries. Get clear on yours and get rid of those tentacles!

 

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