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Approach

February 2nd, 2017 Comments off

How I work

What’s it like to work with Stuart Reid?
Here I’ll tell you the kind of results my clients achieve, and I’ll also give you a sense of my guiding beliefs, my approach to working with clients, and how I’m different to most organisation change consultants.

 The results you can expect from working with me

We develop a strategy together that drives your business forward. This is a strategy that cuts through the noise, and gets right to the heart of your business. You get the right people involved in the process, so it’s based on solid information. Crucially, it is a strategy that all of your people can remember – not a document that gathers dust on a shelf. So it guides every decision in your business – big or small.

You have a leadership team that works like a team. Team members participate more actively, conflict is more productive and results come with a lot less struggle and effort. Team meetings are focused and lead to clear decisions – and team members follow through on them. Your key leaders share resources and collaborate across their functions, instead of acting like independent barons.

You transform how your leaders lead change and engage their teams. Your leaders now feel confident and skilled in influencing others. They know how to listen and they are confident in holding difficult conversations. Your people understand why your business is changing, and their part in it. And they get involved, and make the change work by contributing their unique knowledge and their energy.

You finally make progress on those business problems that just wouldn’t go away. Your customer service team and your sales team are suddenly working together instead of complaining about each other, and sales take off. You find new ways to cut costs in the business without harming quality. Your workplace starts to feel like a good place to be, instead of a place you dread going to on a Monday morning. Things just start to click into place.

You road-test your thinking and your ideas before exposing them to others. You sharpen up your thinking by talking things through. You gain new insights by thinking out loud. And you can rehearse and strengthen your arguments before you take them into a high-stakes meeting. You feel safe because you’re working with someone whose only interest is to help you develop your very best thinking.

You find out what’s really going on in your business – before it’s too late. You no longer find yourself blind-sided by problems that ‘come from nowhere’. Now you see them coming: your people warn you about them while you still have time to act. So you spend less time fire-fighting and more time on your strategic role as a leader. Your Board members have more confidence in you, and you feel less stressed and more in control.

My guiding beliefs and values

I am always working to develop my knowledge and skills. I am constantly reading books and blog posts on business, psychology, communication, organisation change and innovation. I set up a ‘Business Book Club’ in my home town just so I could find other people to talk to about the books I was reading! The benefit for my clients is that I read all these books – so they don’t have to.

It’s important to me to have autonomy, and to make informed choices about the things that matter to me. I extend the same courtesy to those I work with. I will provide you and your colleagues with my views, my knowledge and my experience, but I will never forget that the choice about what action you will take lies with you. No one can be forced to change.

I believe that everyone has something of value to share and that most people genuinely want to make a contribution. So in my work on organisational change, I involve as many people as possible who will be directly affected: they all have knowledge and views that matter. This includes employees at all levels in the organisation, and often includes partners, suppliers and customers.

Organisations can and should be great places to work. Your organisation exists in order to make a profit, or to provide a public service. But if your employees dread coming to work every day because of the way the business is managed, you’re going to have serious productivity problems. Most of us spend a large part of our lives at work. A workplace should be a fulfilling and satisfying place, where human beings can bring the best of themselves to work, and develop as people.

 My approach

I’ll really get to know you and your business. When I work with any new client, I will invest time up front in getting to know your business and your people. I will typically have one-to-one conversations with a range of different employees at different levels in the organisation. You will always find me well prepared for any meeting or event that I attend.

My work is tailored to your specific needs. No two organisations are exactly the same, and one size does not fit all. So I will develop a plan that meets your unique needs.

I help you have more honest conversations. Failing to address workplace conflict, poor performance or other issues creates a dishonest culture that blocks change. Crucial conversations are avoided. The elephants in the room just pile up. These issues are avoided for a reason – they are difficult to talk about, and can make people anxious and embarrassed. I create the conditions where an honest conversation can happen – sometimes for the first time ever. That’s when change can suddenly be unlocked. And the sense of relief is palpable.

I will be there when you need me – and only when you need me. It’s important to me to work with a small number of different clients each year – typically around 3 or 4. And I normally work part-time with no more than one or two clients at any one time. I enjoy the variety, and I learn more this way: so I can bring my learning to bear with more clients. I will be there when you need me to keep a project moving forward, but I won’t be a full-time permanent fixture in your business.

What makes me different

I work with the reality of change, not an abstract model. Many consultants who work in organisation change will offer you a simple five-step or seven-step process for changing your organisation. I don’t do that, because in my experience it doesn’t work. You don’t change how people think and behave by following a flow chart.

I support you through the messy business of real change in a busy organisation. Sometimes you take two steps forward and one step back. You try things out (some of which will work and some won’t). You often realise that the change you really need is different to the one you thought you needed. This is normal – and I help you to accept that, and keep going.

I believe that organisations change one conversation at a time. This is a key feature of how I work. Fundamental change comes about because of a series of conversations over time, which lead to changes in mindsets, beliefs and behaviours. When enough people change how they behave, the culture starts to shift. These conversations for change can be one-to-one, they can happen in small teams, or in company-wide meetings. If you want to change your organisation, you need to change the quality and content of the conversations that are taking place there.

 

Sharing lessons learned between projects

May 24th, 2010 No comments

Agenda for post-project reviewI frequently run ‘post-project reviews’ or ‘after-action reviews’. These events bring together teams who have recently completed a project, so that they can learn lessons for the future. The lessons could be ones that the participants will personally take forward with them into their future work, and can also be lessons that colleagues elsewhere in their organisation or partnership need to learn.

I have developed my own approach to running these events, drawing a lot on the ideas of Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell in their excellent book Learning to Fly, and also influenced by Nick Milton. I am quite pleased with the process I have developed, and at the same time I am dissatisfied with how effective it is overall – I think it is effective in helping individuals to learn their own lessons, but not very effective in sharing lessons across projects.

Reading a recent blog post by Nancy Dixon helped me to see where and why my current approach is falling short.

Nancy identifies three stages in the process of learning lessons across projects:

1. Sensemaking: The members of the project team jointly make sense of what they have learned.
2. Formatting: Designers assemble, translate, aggregate, and mine projects lessons in such a way that they are useful to different groups in the organization
3. Moving: KM professionals create both pull and push mechanism so that lessons are accessible to those who need them.

My post-project reviews focus on the first stage, and I feel that they have become effective in helping team members to identify the real issues, discuss openly what went well and not so well and why. But they could be more effective in stages 2 and 3.

The typical output from a post-project review that I run is a set of PowerPoint slides, which include photos I have taken of all the outputs from the review – these are usually a picture of the project timeline, with comments hand-written by the team; boards with hand-written cards showing what the team thought went well and not so well; and more detailed boards probing the key things that went well/not so well, identifying why and pulling out lessons learned. By including photos of the materials produced by the participants, rather than typing up their outputs, I reduce the amount of interpreting or processing of their thoughts – the idea is that the participants will recognise the outputs as their own.

What happens to these sets of PowerPoint slides? They may be read by the participants after the review (or just filed). They may also be discussed by the management team of the organisation that commissioned me to carry out the review (or more likely, the team may look at a formal paper based on the slides I produced). But there may be no other ‘formatting’ (stage 2 in Nancy’s process), and possibly no ‘moving’ at all (stage 3). The likelihood is that most of the learning will stay in the heads of the people who took part in the review.

While it is true that

If knowledge transfer went no farther than sensemaking, a considerable amount of transfer across the organization would have been achieved.

I still have a sense of missed opportunities – that more could be achieved.

What are the implications for me as a facilitator?

I do not think that I want to take on responsibility for stages 2 and 3. My skills as a facilitator are in helping the project team have the conversation during which they identify the learning. I have produced learning materials in the past, but instructional design is not my main area of expertise (nor is it where I want to spend my time). And I do not work within organisations as a KM professional to create systems to push and pull knowledge around.

I do think I have a responsibility when contracting with a client to raise these issues and ask how they think the lessons can and should be taken forward and shared – how do they see it happening? And I could share what I have learned from Nancy’s blog post.

There may also be some learning for me about the lessons learned process. When the team has identified a lesson, I could ask them to identify specifically who that lesson may be useful for – it could be a named individual or individuals, it could be people in a particular role (eg project managers). This would at least help to target the lesson more effectively.

And I could also ask the team to review all the lessons they have identified in a particular post-project review, and identify the top 2 or 3 they think have most value for other people.

What else could I do while still remaining in what Nancy refers to as the ‘sensemaking’ stage of transferring lessons learned?

* The image at the top of the post is from a post-project review that I ran in 2009

Job/career/purpose

May 9th, 2010 2 comments

I got a couple of really good points from the TED video that I have embedded below. The video is a recording of Stefan Sagmeister, who runs a New York design agency. Every 7 years he takes a sabbatical year off, to recharge his batteries and to generate some new ideas.

At 1:30 Stefan describes how he sees his sabbaticals as effectively ‘bringing forward’ some of the retirement he hopes to enjoy at the en of his working life (he has a really nice animated graphic that makes his point very clearly). This is how I have been thinking of my own part-time working over the past five years. Except that I am bringing forward some of my retirement into every week – I am able to do now some of the things that earlier in my life I had been putting off until retirement. But the idea of a year-long sabbatical is even more attractive…

At 2:25 Stefan develops an idea from an earlier TED talk by Jonathan Haidt. He distinguishes between a job, a career and a calling:

  • Jobs: we do them for money, 9-5
  • Careers: we do them for promotion
  • Calling: we would do this even if we weren’t paid to do it

Apart from preferring the word ‘purpose’ where Stefan uses the word ‘calling’, this is also how I think of my own work. I am overjoyed each time I find myself doing work that I would happily do unpaid: playing games with groups of adults; sharing skills and knowledge that I find useful and interesting with new people; coaching people to achieve their goals; mediating between people in conflict. This is great work, and I want to spend more of my time doing it.

Hat tip to Alexander Kjerulf for linking to the TED video.

Interrogating reality

January 3rd, 2010 No comments

Lion and cub

Lion and cub

This post continues my summary of Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations (I got as far as the introduction last time!)

Chapter 1 (‘Master the courge to interrogate reality’) is the longest single chapter in the book, and will take me more than one post to summarise.

Interrogating reality

Reality changes

‘Interrogating reality’ is one of the four key purposes of a fierce conversation (the others being provoking learning, tackling tough challenges and enriching relationships). This is a never-ending activity, because reality changes. Scott uses a great quote from Lillian Hellman to illustrate this:

People change and forget to tell one another

Worse than this, we ourselves change and we mask it from ourselves quite well too.

Scott introduces the analogy of a beach ball to develop this idea further. Imagine that your organisation is a beach ball – with a blue stripe, a red stripe, a green stripe and a yellow stripe. You are the president of the organisation, and you spend all your time on the blue stripe. To you, your organisation is blue.

But your finance director may spend all her time on the red stripe – her reality is very different. So when you lay out your vision for the future in a board meeting, you talk about blue; and your ideas are brilliant, because they take full account of the blueness of the organisation. But your finance director wonders if she is working in the same organisation as you – she raises her concerns based on her red view of the organisation. Meanwhile the VP of engineering, who lives on the yellow stripe, is so uncomfortable in the face of conflict that he sits so still in the meeting that everyone forgets he’s there – he disappears, and no one can remember later whether he was there or not.

How often in organisations do people hide what they really think? When the boss outlines his or her latest idea, how often do people just smile and nod, while inside they are thinking “This is crazy!”, “It will never work”, “We tried that before and it failed last time!”. These are likely to be the very people who will have to implement the idea, in which they have no faith. How often do you find yourself saying things you don’t mean, just to be polite? What conversations have you not been able to have with colleagues, with your life partner or with your children?

Who has the turth?

Scott believes that most people would rather hear the truth, even if it is uncomfortable for us:

[R]ecognize that there is something within us that responds deeply to people who level with us, who do not pamper us or offer compromises, but, instead, describe reality so simply and compellingly that the truth seems inevitable, and we cannot help but recognize it.

In an organisation, as in a relationship, everyone has a piece of the truth.We only know what we know (the blue stripe, for example). So getting at the truth for an organisation requires everyone to put their piece of truth on the table. Does this take time? Probably. But not doing it might take longer. Failing to take into account the views of others will lead them to quietly sabotage your plans – why should they care about your views, when you show little interest in theirs?

A three-step model for interrogating reality

Scott offers a very simple, three step model which helps to get everyone’s reality in the discussion (this summary uses my words rather than hers):

  1. State your view (including your recommendation if you have one)
  2. Check for understanding
  3. Check for agreement

How does this work?

You should clearly state how you see things, including what you think ought to be done (if you have an opinion on that). Some people choose not to express their view, in the belief that it will influence others and stop them saying what they really think. Scott’s view, which I agree with, is that people will assume you have a view anyway, and will try to guess what it is. Better to just tell them. It also gives people a firm starting point to respond to.

You then check to see whether people have understood what you think – let people ask questions to clarify (and if anyone is looking puzzled or thoughtful, invite them by name to ask questions if anything isn’t clear). And then you ask a genuine question inviting people who see it differently to say how they see it – acknowledge that it may be hard for people to speak up, but show that you are genuinely curious about their point of view. So you can acknowledge that you only know what you know, and others in the room will know things you don’t know, and will see it differently.

It is your behaviour now that will make the difference between this being a genuine discussion, and the discussion becoming a ritual. If someone expresses a view that differs from yours, do not become defensive and explain how you were right all along. Be genuinely interested in the alternative view – could they be right? You need to be tentative about your own viewpoint – could your proposal be improved or a different idea be better? Scott also recommends calling on each person individually to express their view. And ask people to comment on each others’ views too, as well as your starting point.

Well, that’s it for now. There is more to come in this chapter, including a way of holding a conversation that stays focused on the most important topic, and drills down to what really matters. I’ll cover that in the next post.

* The photograph at the top is from Flickr.com, reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Seeing the world in a more useful way

December 20th, 2009 No comments

In my last post I wrote about how we don’t see the world they way it is, we see the world the way we are (since writing that, I’ve learned that this is a saying that comes from the Judaic Talmud). In the entertaining and thought-provoking video below, Beau Lotto demonstrates this same point using some eye-popping optical illusions.

Seeing the world in a more useul way

Lotto shows that what we see has no inherent meaning of its own – the same visual stimulus on our retina could come from an infinite number of real-world situations. What our brains do is create meaning and significance by making some assumptions about what it is we are seeing – assumptions based on what has been useful to us to assume in the past.

So evolution explains how we see the world now – those of our ancestors that survived to pass on their genes probably made assumptions about the world that were more useful than the assumptions made by their brothers and sisters who didn’t survive. They spotted predators hiding in the bushes, for example, and reacted more quickly.

The conclusion that Lotto draws in the video clip is that our brains didn’t evolve to see the world the way it is – we can’t do that. Our brains evolved to see the world in the way it was useful to see the world in the past.

Ted Talk: Beau Lotto: optical illusions show how we see

But Lotto also makes a wider point. He argues that what is true of visual information is true of all information in general. There is no inherent meaing in information, it’s what we do with that information that matters – we make sense of it.

Making more useful assumptions

We can see this process at work in the way that we make judgements about other people, including complete strangers. We size people up by the way that they dress, the colour of their skin, how they walk and talk, and so on. We do this in ways that we are not even aware of. So within 20 seconds of meeting someone for the first time, we have decided whether we like them or not.

When we do this we are making assumptions about people based on limited information – assumptions which may have been helpful in the past. But this kind of assumption is also often wrong.

Rather than try to fight our natural tendency to make assumptions – which is nearly impossible to do – what we can do is be aware of the assumptions we are making. Notice how we are responding to other people, and ask ourselves on what information our assumptions are based. That then gives us an opportunity to seek out new information that might change our point of view – we can be more open-minded, and more generous towards the other person than we might otherwise have been.

This is very relevant when we are working with people in conflict. They will be telling themselves stories that make sense of their situations, based on assumptions that may well have helped them in the past. But there may be a more useful set of assumptions they could make instead – more useful in terms of meeting their needs. And we can help them to test out and choose to alter their assumptions.

This applies to mediators too. We need to be aware of the judgements we are making about the parties in the conflict, catch ourselves making those assumptions, and give ourselves the opportunity to change our minds as we find out more, and be open to that possibility.

About

October 9th, 2009 Comments off

Stuart Reid

Hello. I’m glad you found me.

My name is Stuart Reid. I help leaders achieve positive lasting change in behaviour: for themselves, their teams and their organisations.  I believe that change happens one conversation at a time.

The focus of all my work is the people side of change: I work with human beings when they are being human at work. I spend a lot of my time helping managers and leaders have the key conversations they really need to have – with themselves, with their colleagues and with the people who work for them.

I help people to notice and pay attention to what is really going on in the here and now, because that is when change happens.

I am based in the Midlands in England, and work throughout the UK, continental Europe and beyond (I have run workshops in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and South Korea).

In practice my work involves:

  • developing leadership teams;
  • supporting change and transformation initiatives;
  • facilitating large group events; and
  • coaching individual leaders and managers

Developing leadership teams

I work with leadership teams at board level and elsewhere in organisations. I help those teams to clarify their purpose, reflect on how effectively they work and communicate together and make decisions, and review the impact they have on the wider organisation.

Supporting change and transformation initiatives

I help leaders and managers to try out light-touch ways of building greater capacity for change in their organisations. This includes disturbing established habits and patterns of behaviour, introducing novelty, granting permission to experiment and innovate and creating new connections inside and outside an organisation. For me, change is a natural, creative and on-going process in organisations: it happens all the time. It can’t be stopped and can’t really be ‘managed’ or controlled.  I help leaders to keep their nerve when they’re not in control.

Facilitating large group events

I have a particular skill in designing and facilitating large group events. These events can include strategy development awaydays, team-building, post-project reviews and project launch events. I use a range of methods, including Open Space, Appreciative Inquiry, knowledge cafes and more.

Coaching individual leaders and their teams

I provide coaching support to individual leaders one-to-one and their teams as a group, sometimes in combination with developing leadership teams and supporting strategic change. I help leaders to face head-on the issues they find themselves avoiding, and help them to slow down, notice more, and support them in making adjustments to the way they work with other people. People I coach feel well listened to, find me very curious about their perspective and their situation, and get a lot of support from me in trying out new ways of working and behaving.

Recent work

  • Facilitating awaydays for the Permanent Secretary and top team of a central Government department to build the team and help them to develop new ways of working.
  • Designing and facilitating an awayday for a senior leadership team to launch a review of their three-year strategy.
  • Running workshops with staff at all levels – managers, consultants, nurses and porters –  in three London hospitals to embed new values and new ways of working.
  • Working with the management board of a local charity to create a new three-year strategy.

A bit more about me

I have an MSc in Organisational Change at Ashridge Business School. This brought new ideas and approaches into my work, including Gestalt psychology, complexity theory and relational working.

Before running my own consultancy, I worked for twelve years at the Audit Commission, initially in policy and research roles before moving into senior management. In my time there I was personally involved in the merger and de-merger of departments, the launch of new products and services, and coping both with fast growth and with rapid budget cuts. I worked closely with the Chief Executive and Managing Directors on change projects and strategy development. My final three years at the Commission were spent as an internal consultant.

Before working at the Audit Commission I worked in a range of policy and research roles, mainly in the public sector. Prior to that I did some post-graduate study in political philosophy at the University of Arizona, and spent some time as a trainee auditor. My first degree was in Philosophy, Politics & Economics at Oxford University (2:1).

I play bridge, read voraciously, and go geocaching with my children aged 14 and 11. I am learning how to perform magic with playing cards. I avoid gardening.