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Getting input and buy-in to key decisions and changes

Seven things your team needs to hear you say if you really want their input and buy-in to decisions and changes

If you’re a good leader and you’ve got an important decision or change coming-up and you want to get people’s buy-in and make sure that all the angles are considered, you’ll ask people what they think about it.

But are you aware that there are some really strong reasons why people can’t or won’t actually tell you what they think and how they feel about a forthcoming change or decision?

Here are seven of the most significant reasons why people can’t or won’t say what they think. And what they need to hear from you as their leader to help:

1. They’re a natural introvert
And you’ve maybe asked them to participate in an open forum of some kind. If you want to get the best input from this person and have them get on-board with the decision, you’ll need to offer them the chance to give you feedback privately, or even in writing.

2. They’re a creative soul, or somebody who likes to tinker with stuff.
They may not know what they think about something until they’ve had a chance to play with it, maybe even ‘touch’ it in some way. Don’t ask these people abstract questions about a possible unknown future. Give them something concrete to play around with or experiment on – and then get their feedback and buy-in.

3. Their preferred communication ‘channel’ may not be the same as yours. You’ve probably heard about this stuff before – people need to either visually See a product or an idea, or they need to Hear an oral presentation, or they need to Do something (see 2, above), or they need to Read something. Make sure you either cover all the bases or, ideally, match your channels to the individuals concerned. Also, try to ‘hear’ what’s being communicated back to you, no matter which channel is being used.

4. They might be someone who operates an extreme ‘away-from’ motivation.
Away-from people find it easier to express negatives, or to foresee problems. Sometimes it’s hard to get these people to tell you what they want or what they prefer, so you need to be prepared to listen carefully to what they don’t want – which for those people is more important. Expressing doubts and concerns is possibly their way of getting on-board with you, so don’t dismiss or worry about that – just make sure you’re telling them that’s OK and that you’re hearing them.

5. They’re someone who’s got great instincts but lacks the ability to express them in a formal setting. I like working with instinct. I think of it as the sum of millions and millions of unconscious data points combined with years of deep experience. We ignore people’s instincts at our peril. But we’re also in a data-driven environment, managing our KPIs and making sure our decisions are supported by evidence. At times, it can be hard to stick your hand up in a board meeting and say that your gut is trying to tell you something vague. Good leaders make sure that people’s instincts are also heard. Tell your team you want to hear about their gut feelings. Coach them on how to express this kind of thing.

6. They’re ‘processors’.
That is, they prefer to mull something over and think about it before expressing an opinion, or even before they understand it or know what they feel about it. These people need time and space to process and they need to hear from their leader that it’s OK, even valuable, to take time to think about stuff.

7. I’ve saved the hardest one for last. People generally operate a set of ‘criteria’ that they use to test whether any decision or change is good, bad or something else. The trouble for leaders is that these criteria are mostly unconscious – people don’t know they’re doing this kind of testing. What you see instead – and what they feel – is the result of that unconscious testing expressed as an emotion of some kind.
There is one easy way to deal with this stuff, and that’s to make sure that your decision-making and change-feedback processes all include some specific work on just what those criteria might be – but it takes time. If I’m facilitating group decision-making or getting input to a change-management programme, I’ll do two things. First, make the criteria by which the business will judge the decision or change as explicit as possible (stuff like profit, timescales, quality etc will come in here). Second, I’ll ask people to evaluate it for themselves using a whole load of other potential criteria which are much more personal to them (will it affect their status, quality of life, prospects etc), and to do this privately. Only when they’ve consciously been through these things can you be sure you’ll get some buy-in and have considered all the issues.


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What Time-type Are You?

How to use your brain’s view of time to understand and develop yourself at work – The Ultimate Guide

Try this simple experiment please:

  1. Stand-up.
  2. Now point to where the Future is.
  3. And now point to where the Past is.
  4. Now imagine the past and the future connected by a line.
  5. Does any part of that line run through your body?

If you answered “Yes”, and part of the timeline is inside you, you may be a Time-type A person (see diagram above).

If you answered “No” and no part of the timeline is inside you (see diagram above), you may be a Time-type B person.

The way our brains perceive, sort and use time can be quite different for different people.

As with all of this stuff, there’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ way of looking at time. Just differences which have varying implications.

Similarly, this way of perceiving and sorting time is just a ‘preference’ – that is, it’s not a fixed and immutable aspect of who you are, it can develop, change and adapt over time and in different circumstances.

I’ve set out below some of the key aspects of each Time-type and given some development suggestions that I typically use with my executive coaching clients.

Time-type A Characteristics

(Time-type A = part of the timeline is inside you)

  • Usually able to stay very focused in times of crises or when chaos surrounds them
  • Great at “Just do it now” and of getting into action
  • Able to be ‘in the moment’ and enjoy life as it unfolds
  • Good at starting things spontaneously
  • May avoid setting goals or deadlines (or set unrealistic ones)
  • Tend not to plan things step-by-step or to think through the consequences of things
  • Like to keep their options open and may resist commitments or find decisions hard work
  • Unless they’ve worked on this (and most of my clients have) they can tend to be late and will regard even fairly big amounts of lateness as being “roughly on time”.

Time-type B Characteristics

(Time-type B = no part of the timeline is inside you)

  • Usually great at seeing projects through to completion
  • Tend to plan thoroughly, drawing on their learning from past experiences
  • Often live an orderly, planned life
  • Like to work to realistic timetables and will expect others to set and stick to deadlines
  • Will arrive on time and/or feel very bad about being even slightly late
  • Can see how events are related to each other
  • Find it hard to respond swiftly to a crisis
  • May struggle to focus in chaotic surroundings
  • Often find it difficult to be ‘in the moment’.

Development Suggestions

Development activities for Time-type A people often need to focus on two areas:

First, the way they plan and set goals so that they can realistically deliver something and see it through to completion.

The trick here is to deliberately and visually swing their timeline around so that it’s in front of them, just as it is for a type B person (see diagram above). Any kind of visual planning method, particularly something using ‘swim lanes’ and running from left to right seems to really help. Working backwards from the future (from right to left) having established some clear and visualised goals also helps them be realistic about what can be achieved (whether they are being overly-optimistic OR overly pessimistic).

Second, their ability to take the learning from their past experiences and to fully process the emotions associated with them.

This is a little harder to do without some training, but I like to use methods which draw-on Type-A people’s ability to be in the moment. Take them back to a past experience. Discover what learning was in it. Then remind them how they are now and what new resourcefulness they have now as a result. Then project that forward (“How might you usefully apply that in future?”).

Development activities for Time-type B people often need to focus on these areas:

First, their ability to respond swiftly at work when unexpected stuff happens.

What makes this hard for Type-B people to do is that they’re great at seeing how one thing connects to another and of the consequences. Trying to make sense of all this quickly in a crisis is tough. The trick seems to be to take advantage of their abilities to plan and decide BUT to drastically scale-down their frame of reference. It’s as if, in the diagram above, you had completely chopped-off the future time-line so the range of options they need to consider is now very small. Anything which brings that frame of reference as close in to the ‘now’ as possible will help.

Second, their ability to enjoy themselves in the now.

Simple mindfulness meditation exercises, which focus on the breath, are very useful for this if practised over time.

Similarly, focusing on sensory experiences (what my American trainers would call “getting out of your head Nick”) also help. What can you see, feel, hear and smell right now? What colours are there? What are the textures? What are the different qualities of the sounds you notice?

Hope that helps a little?

Write and tell me or tweet me @NickRobCoach to let me know which Time-type you are and whether this matches your experiences please.


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FOMO, FOLS and FEAR

FOMO, FOLS and others; 20 common fears that will control your life and work if you let them

Fear is a very powerful motivator, a useful survival trait and a handy source of energy. But if you let your fear run the show entirely by itself and make your decisions for you, it has a nasty habit of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So that you don’t do that, here’s some of the most common fears I see in my coaching with people at work:

  1. FOMO: Fear of Missing Out
  2. FOLB: Fear of Lagging Behind
  3. FOLS: Fear of Looking Stupid
  4. FOMM: Fear of Making Mistakes
  5. FOSO: Fear of Standing Out
  6. FOTO: Fear of Telling Offs
  7. FOBO: Fear of Being Ordinary
  8. FOLD: Fear of Letting Down
  9. FOBI: Fear of Being Inadequate
  10. FOGO: Fear of Getting Overwhelmed
  11. FOBU: Fear of Being Unworthy
  12. FOSH: Fear of Suffering Hurt
  13. FOLC: Fear of Losing Control
  14. FOFI: Fear of Facing Isolation
  15. FOES: Fear of Extreme Success
  16. FOBR: Fear of Being Responsible
  17. FOGP: Fear of Gratuitous Praise
  18. FOSH: Fear of Seeking Help
  19. FOLR: Fear of Lacking Resources
  20. FORD: Fear of Regretting Decisions

Once you can see your fears for what they are – a useful mechanism for keeping you safe – then you can decide for yourself what to do with that information and, crucially, what is the bigger picture of what you actually want to have happen.

Fear is information without the cure
John le Carré

 


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Solve One Problem at a Time

How to deal with intractable problems and make powerful progress without having to kill an elephant

You’d have been proud of me last week, because just occasionally us coaches do actually take our own advice!

When the Film ‘The Martian’ came out at the end of 2015 I was very happy to start using it as a fictional example of how to deal with potential overwhelm, overcome seemingly intractable problems and make powerful progress towards our goals.

I don’t know about you, but the thing that people always used to say to me, when I was faced with projects, tasks, problems or goals that just seemed waaaay too big to handle, was this:

Question: How do you eat an elephant?

Answer: One bite at a time.

But instead of helping, this just used to make me feel guilty and sick. Who in their right mind would eat an elephant!?

I much preferred the engineer’s approach: break the problem down into components and solve one problem at a time, and so it was great to see this exemplified in that film.

Anyway, last week, having perhaps bitten-off more than I could chew (although at least it wasn’t elephant), I did take my own advice.

You know already I’m a big fan of being focused. I reckon that solving one problem at a time is a great partner to that approach. These days, when there are so many ways in which we can be interrupted or have our attention diverted to something else, it seems that breaking things down into manageable components and then dealing with each one in turn, is a really powerful way of forging ahead.

So that’s the place to start then, if you’re faced with overwhelming projects, tasks that seem intractable, are feeling lost in the frenetic race to balance too many demands, or have big goals to achieve:

  1. Break them down into components
  2. Solve one problem at a time

And if you’re still  finding it hard to solve anything at all – and this often happens because it seems like everything is connected to and dependent on everything else – then you need to go back and think smaller at step one.


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Decision-Making and Ketchup

Why nature wants your decision-making process to be fast and frugal and how this is a problem at work

Nature wants your decision-making process to be fast and frugal.

Fast, because the primary purpose of your life, from nature’s evolutionary point of view, is to survive long enough to successfully reproduce. And most choices that might have affected your caveman ancestor’s chances of survival required fast and decisive responses.

Frugal, because the brain accounts for about 20% of our body’s energy usage.
If you waste too much mental effort deciding whether to hunt for game, collect berries or set-out fishing nets, you’ll be needing to collect even more food to refuel your brain.

This can cause a great deal of difficulty when we are faced at work or in our personal lives with a wide range of possible choices.

Have you ever had trouble trying to decide what  to buy in a supermarket? Experiments have shown that when shoppers are presented with a large  amount of potential consumer choices (e.g. chocolates, jam flavors) people actually end up making fewer purchases, and are less satisfied.

There was an episode of the Simpsons where the family visited a new supermarket called”Monstromart”; slogan: “where shopping is a baffling ordeal”. Product choice was unlimited, shelving reached the ceiling, nutmeg came in 12lb boxes and the express checkout had a sign reading, “1,000 items or less”. In the end the Simpsons returned to Apu’s Kwok-E-Mart.

And of course, The Simpson’s is a great mirror for real life. At one point in the last few years, the UK supermarket chain Tesco used to offer 28 tomato ketchups!


In an attempt to cope with the large amount of information and potential choices that we are presented with on a daily basis, we tend to rely on so-called “heuristics” (rules of thumb or mental short-cuts) that help guide our decision-making. In essence, heuristics are decision-making tools that save effort by ignoring some information. They act to reduce and simplify the mental processing of cues and information from our environment.


You’ll have possibly been under the the effects of these heuristics in your own decision-making when you:

  • Picked the same thing that you chose last-time, without even really thinking about it
  • Chose the option that most embodies the kind of thing you wanted (e.g. Heinz for ketchup)
  • Chose the option that you were most recently made aware of, or for which you most recently received information.

We shouldn’t think of these heuristics as a ‘bad thing’ by themselves. Other researchers have argued that  such smart and adaptive heuristics have successfully guided our decision making in various uncertain environments over millions of years of human evolution. When pressured for time and faced with many competing options, “fast and frugal” decision making can potentially enhance the quality of our decisions.

Problems with this at work can arise when we’re not aware of this innate drive for fast and frugal decision-making.

Think back to the last management or board meeting you were in when you were faced with an important decision. Did you feel energised or tired by the process? What was your sense of time during the decision-making: fast, slow, rushed, dragging?

The chances are, that if you felt tired and that time dragged, then you were under nature’s influence to have your decisions be fast and frugal.

If the decision you were all making was complex and important enough to require the attention of the management team or board in the first place, it may be that those heuristic mental short-cuts are not the best way to approach things. The consequences of bad decisions can be severe. Research shows that in business the top five casualties of poor decision-making are customer loyalty, company reputation among customers, profits, company productivity and customer service. And in some working environments they can literally be the difference between life and death.

There are a great many decision-making techniques that can help overcome these shortfalls (some of which I’ve written about previously), but for now, I want to focus just on your awareness of this issue. Here are some of my most significant bits of learning about countering the downsides of these heuristics in decision-making at work:

1. Be aware of people’s innate drive to have their decision-making be ‘fast and frugal’. Is it right, given the decision that you have in front of you, to take a fast and frugal approach? Or is this something that demands a greater investment of time and resources?

2. Don’t be blinded by a dazzling array of seemingly different options. Often the differentiation between various choices is not as significant as it seems (Heinz’ reduced-salt ketchup is possibly pretty much the same as Tesco’s own brand…).
If necessary, categorise your choices so that you can more easily see where the real differences are.

3. Rather than trying to close or narrow the choices down too quickly, open them out first. This is something I learned from being around creative people, who tend to be much slower to close down their options. Although this means they tend to take longer to get things going, I think it can produce new solutions to previously intractable problems. So open it out first – we might be faced with a choice of 28 different kinds of ketchup, but is ketchup really what we need right now?

4. Look out for information about your options that isn’t readily available. Dig a bit. This is the power behind the increasing use of ‘big data’ mining. Even if you don’t have access to big data, try to overcome the ‘reduce and simplify’ tendency that nature would like you to use in her fast and frugal approach to dealing with information.

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Systems Science and Decision-making

The Descartes school of getting your board to painlessly make decisions

Clients sometimes say things to me like:

“We’ve been around and around on this issue and still haven’t made a decision that everybody is happy with”;    Or

“Even though I thought we’d decided this months ago, the same issue keeps coming up again and again”.

What is happening that smart, experienced people can get stuck in this cycle? Why do key decisions seem to take forever or get revisited again and again without making progress?

The answer (or a part of it, anyway) is that a top-team or a board of directors is a kind of system – by which we mean:

A set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole.

The 17th century French philosopher, mathematician and scientist René Descartes had some interesting things to say about systems and how to work with them. He used the example of a clock, saying that you can’t take one piece out of a complex system like a clock and expect to easily identify the role of either that individual piece or (most importantly) the functioning of the whole clock.

Similarly, if you are one of the pieces in a system, it’s extremely difficult to either:

  • identify where and why that system may not be working so well; or
  • influence the wider system to change.

If you’re a member of the top-team or board, or an employee of it, you’re already plugged-into that system. This is why an external change agent often seems to have a much easier time influencing the board to make changes.


Here are some of my tips, from a systems point of view, for getting a board or a top-team to address an issue or make a decision that has previously been postponed or keeps being revisited. Whilst they’re not directly attributable to Descartes, I’m sure he’d have approved – especially if Post-Its had been around when he was doing his Cogito ergo sum stuff!

1 Don’t do any work on it at all, until all the stakeholders can be present – otherwise you’re not addressing the whole system

2 Recognise that, by and large, most systems are in a state of “homeostasis” – they will work to maintain a balanced and relatively stable equilibrium amongst their component elements (you can see this most easily in biological systems). Changes of any kind, and the decisions to initiate change, are almost an anathema to a functioning system

3Use the power of the system to introduce desire for the decision – most simply, I often just ask the group to list why they would and wouldn’t actually want to make the decision (as opposed to asking what decision they want to make)

4Design some kind of decision-making process that has people up on their feet and moving around. As this is likely to be the opposite of how they usually do things it will (a) counter some of that homeostasis; (b) make it harder to be passively resistant and (c) introduce some dynamism

5Use plenty of Post-its and other tricks to help make people’s thoughts visible and shared with others. Nothing keeps a decision coming back again and again more than somebody feeling that they haven’t aired their view or had it heard

6Discuss the decision-making process upfront, especially around not making a decision or having to revisit it – What do we do if we don’t arrive at a decision? How we will respond if we’re still addressing this in three month’s time? How will we include dissent if it only arises later on? I don’t think the answers to these questions get any easier by asking them upfront, but experience suggests that these issues are then less likely to be a problem

7Talk to an experienced facilitator about your processes. If you want them to actually help at your meetings, then you’ll need somebody who is able to build a good working relationship with your board as a whole and with the individuals, and who is also able to keep their independence and not become too much of a part of your system.


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Decision Making Hacks Part 2:

How to let fate lend a hand in decision-making to reveal which options are really important

Building on Part 1, this decision-making hack is good for those situations when:

  • intuitive people are struggling find a ‘logical’ justification for what their gut is telling them; and or
  • the options are fairly well-balanced with no outstandingly obvious choice.

I carry around the quirky metal die shown in the picture (which is from a battle-game). The process is really simple:

  1. Number your options
  2. If you have 6 or fewer options = one roll
  3. More than 6 options, number them 2-12 and roll twice
  4. Roll the die
  5. Watch people’s reactions as the number comes up.

Usually what happens is that people are then able to say stuff like: “Oh, I didn’t really want option 2“, so you can at least rule that out. Often they’ll reveal (or you can ask) which number they were hoping for. You’ll also find people asking to do “best of three rolls” etc, which is also revealing about which options are important to them.

Another thing I like about this hack is that even people who are  unaware consciously of what they want or who find it difficult to express it, can be very reluctant to let fate decide for them and are likely to over-rule what the die chooses in favour of the ‘right’ option.

I suspect there’s a cultural bias here, so if you’re working with multi-national teams or in countries where the culture is less deterministic, some people may actually be more happy to let fate decide, so watch out for that.


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Decision Making Hacks for Teams: Part 1

How groups of people can get to properly informed, timely and committed decision-making without too much struggle

Four problems tend to get in the way when teams and groups come together for decision-making:

  • individuals are sometimes reluctant to say what they think, if that might conflict with other people’s views;
  • intuitive people struggle find a ‘logical’ justification for what their gut is telling them, and have no way to feed that information into the decision-making process;
  • the options can be fairly well-balanced with no outstandingly obvious choice;
  • when there are more than three or four factors that might influence the decision it’s tough to keep them all in mind and weigh them up at the same time.

I’ve spent over 20 years helping teams and groups make good, timely decisions and have a small kit-bag of tricks to help the decision-making process along.

Here’s my first hack, which is really good for letting people express a preference without too much risk of exposure and in a way that helps the process be a little more fun:

If you and your team have a decision to make, list out all your options and get people to vote for them. Give people a number of points that they can spread amongst the options as they see fit. So, for example, if you’ve got five options, give them something like 4 points that they can apply as they want.

You can see from the photo that, in this example, Options 2 and 3 are tied for first place, with 4 points each. Now, here’s the fun part – give everybody a Joker card and allow them to double their original vote for one of the options.

Playing their Joker gives people to the chance to show which option they are really committed to and makes it enough of a game to get over their reluctance to conflict with other people. This hack has got me through several difficult boardroom decision-making struggles, especially when there are power-plays and alliances operating behind the scenes.


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