Monday, 9 August 2010

All Change - From Snowdon to the Amazon

I am again talking about change and how it affects us. I remember being horrified that Jaguar had produced a diesel variant, and then an estate version – that is not a Jaguar, I screamed! This week I read that they have laid a tarmac path to the summit of Mount Snowdon in Wales, to make it more accessible, why, why, why? Then again, there is already a railway up there and you can still do it the hard way if you want to (I know I do!)

Much is written about change and our reactions to it. I have been working recently with Royal Mail, who are undergoing a huge amount of change, some would say not before time. Much of the focus on the workshops was on debating and preparing for how people would react to change with considerable emphasis on those who would resist and even attempt to forestall the new ways of working. Of course not everyone is against change, indeed, many of the managers we were working with were positive and even excited about the opportunities that the changes promise. They also reported that many of their people, including union representatives were supportive of the changes.

This does not, of course mean that these champions and advocates are immune to the emotional upheavals common to resistors. They need at least the same consideration, support and encouragement as they will have doubts, concerns and even reversals. They will feel any setbacks or lack of progress acutely. If not suitably nurtured and recognised they may even defect to the nay-sayers.

My younger daughter has just completed her degree and is somewhat relieved that the academic ordeal is over and looking forward eagerly to starting her career. However, even change coming from success presents some challenges. She is now finding that it is not easy to secure a job, which frustrates her ambition and dampens her enthusiasm. Moving back into the family home means she has had to readjust to different norms and standards than those she has become accustomed to; her close circle of friends is dispersed to the four winds and all but lost, despite or maybe exacerbated by the apparent ease of maintaining contact provided by Facebook and email. So lots of changes all brought about by something she wanted deeply and worked hard to achieve. The euphoria and relief of graduation have been tempered with self-doubt and frustration.

Remember that denial and a range of emotion will precede the rationalisation needed for acceptance and commitment to the change, sometimes captured as the mnemonic DERAC. To help people through these stages we need to show that we understand and are willing to offer the support they need. (I remember these stages by reversing the letters and trying to show I CARED.)

A common piece of advice is to beware of spending too much time with the relatively small number of vocal resistors and instead to work with the undecided waverers, who usually form a quieter majority and if converted can provide the critical mass needed for success. Although this thinking is logical, I sound a note of caution. If your focus is too closely on those people, you may neglect your erstwhile allies and fail to recognise important signals of discontent. If you lose your champions, the struggle will be considerably greater to convert the rest.

Spare a thought for Ed Stafford, the intrepid former soldier who has just completed a marathon 4,000 mile trek to walk the length of the Amazon in 859 days. I am sure he is exultant at his record breaking achievement and relieved to have completed it. However, he will now face huge new challenges in adjusting to “normal” life again and without his goal to focus on.

So it is for my daughter and for those managers in Royal Mail, change is an inevitable part of life and careers, but it does exact a toll. Understanding and support from friends, colleagues and managers will help them all to cope.

A change, though can be as good as a rest. So for something different, have a look at for tips on recycling everything from old wall planners to empty walnut shells!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Changing Times Call for New Perspectives and Challenging the Rules

Change, we are often told, is inevitable, unavoidable and should be embraced by leaders. Change, though is not just organisational, it is also social and as leaders we need to recognise and appreciate all its manifestations.

A great friend of mine, in his seventies and a military man is exasperated when he sees young men enter a building or room while wearing a hat. In his day this was completely taboo and considered rude. The offenders are more likely to be ignorant of this tradition rather than rebellious or intentionally disrespectful.
Another friend berates the younger members of the rugby team he coaches for not phoning him with their availability, preferring instead to communicate through Facebook.

I read recently of people “tweeting” each other during a presentation. Normally I would consider anyone using their mobile phones during a presentation as rude and inconsiderate, but are these just new norms and am I in danger of becoming as curmudgeonly as my aforementioned friends? Looking at this in another way, it offers a new way to interact with your audience
The etiquette of social media is evolving rapidly as is this new way of interacting with people. Organisations are trying to come to terms with it, writing rules to avoid the worst potential consequences, but this is not easy. I read last week of a police force that had issued a 7,000 word document outlining acceptable email practice, the size of which may reflect the complexity of the subject, but also inhibits the likelihood of anybody reading it, let alone complying with it. Sites like Facebook are a potential minefield as they are very public, but the traps are avoidable if you use common sense and sensitivity, providing a powerful new communication tool.

Etiquette is peculiar to generations and to cultures. Globalisation, multi-culturalism and foreign travel all expose us to different practices and standards, occasionally causing confusion and offence, but also delight, wonder and appreciation. I remember being fascinated in Hong Kong by the local tradition of burning money and laying out food on graves to honour deceased ancestors. This was all the more intriguing when the money was revealed as “hell money” – akin to Monopoly money and the food was retrieved and enjoyed by the family once the ancestors had chosen not to partake!
When abroad it is tempting and generally a good idea to adopt the local customs – when in Rome – but you can still stay true to your self. You don’t have to use the mixed sauna if you find it embarrassing, no matter how much pressure from your host.
On a recent course with students on an international Masters programme at Nottingham Business School, we were treated, on top of Mam Tor in snowy Derbyshire to songs in several different languages – three of them were to the tune of “Frère Jaques” but were about tigers and butterflies. A wonderful demonstration that in many ways we are as alike as we are different.

When is it correct to bow, when to shake hands, when to hug and when to kiss cheeks? Should emails contain greetings, and polite sign offs? I believe that leaders help to set standards, but not by being stubborn, change resistant or aloof. Leaders should look to set an example, but also to be sensitive to others’ preferences, upbringing and habits, and maybe even embracing the new way. Challenge different behaviour and standards if it bothers you, but more to appreciate why they do things as they do. Remember Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit of Highly Effective People – “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Nature or Nurture – Barbie and Action Man

I was amused and a little exasperated to hear that a couple of Mums have formed a pressure group, called “Pinkstinks,” objecting to what they see as the stereotyping of young girls by toy manufacturers who colour their toys in shades of pink. I believe that many girls like pink of their own accord and it does not adversely affect them in any way.

My eldest daughter liked and still likes pink, has many pink accessories and will almost certainly dress her daughters accordingly. I accept that we bought her pink things, Barbie dolls and My Little Pony, but we also bought her matchbox cars and took her to watch rugby matches. She is now a primary school teacher, which might be taken as proof of the stereotype, but would be blatantly unfair to that profession. Moreover, she spends most of her free time rock climbing and leads international expeditions to remote mountain regions - hardly a helpless girl!

Stade Francais, five time winners of the French Rugby Union Championship are anything but effeminate, almost as well known for their racy calendars and they wear a very shocking pink!

My son did not have Barbie dolls, but did play with Action Man, as I did (still dolls, really) and he has always liked black much more than pink. He is sometimes reluctant to get out of bed, especially to go to school, and I have questioned his resolve, which has prompted him to say it is easy for me because I was a marine. I know I should not read too much into this, it is just Dad-Son banter. However, I have reflected on the fact that his protest is back to front. I was a Royal Marine, am proud of the fact and gained a huge amount of experience and self respect, but did the marines make me what I am or did being who I am help me through the Commando course? The truth is surely a little of both. The unfairness of the jibes at my son is regularly proven when he happily gets up very early to go beating for the local shoot or for a rugby match!

Being dressed in pink or being bored by stories of how hard life was for somebody else may influence our view of life, but it will only be as powerful as we allow it to be. Yes, parents need to be balanced in how they bring up their children; boys can benefit from knowing how to cook, iron and sew as much as girls. It is also useful if girls can wire a plug or change a tyre, but the colour of their toys will not decide which of these skills they most enjoy using.

This is a lesson not just for parents, but applies as much to teachers, coaches and especially managers. For the child, pupil or employee, don’t blame others for how you are or how you live your life, recognise that we are the sum of all our god given gifts and the experiences we have enjoyed or endured, it is then up to us how we interpret and use them – we all have choices every day. Making your own choice and accepting the consequences is the key to personal growth and success.