Engagement - What's in a word?

Following up the last post on Leadership, I have used the same What's in a word? technique to explore the theme of employee engagement. Here goes:
E: Whether Employee or Employer, both have Expectations
N: Certainly both employer and employee have Needs that must be met
G: This can be for Goals and for the truly engaged might mean Going the extra mile
A: Might have to do with Action or Aspiration but here I want to use the term Attitude
G: An employee may want a career plan. They will want to Grow that career
E: Another E. Engaged people seem to get Enjoyment from their work
M: Might have to do with Mission or Making a Difference, think Magnificent!
E: Another one? Good job we have terms like Enthusiasm; how about Empowerment?
N: This letter could be for Nurture but could be for No Problem!
T: This obviously must cover Training for the role. And when good at it, go for Trust.

What's in a word? L-E-A-D-E-R-S-H-I-P

Spelling it out!
Sometimes middle managers are called upon to give a presentation or a talk on some theme relevant to their business situation. Past posts on this blog have offered a few suggestions on how to organise thinking around a theme. This one deals with a simple technique of focussing thinking on aspects of the theme itself.
I call the technique "What's in a word?" To use it, spell out the theme to be considered. Then taking each letter in turn come up with other words that are relevant to the theme. Let's take an example. Suppose you have been asked to explore the theme of leadership in your team or organisation. What would the characteristics of good leadership be? Let's spell out the word and see:

L: For me good leaders are people who Listen and Learn
E: They need to be good at Enabling and Encouraging. Energy helps
A: Staff note a leader's Attitude or Aptitude and sometimes their Adaptability
D: Leaders have to show Determination, be good at Decisions and chart Direction
E: How about Envisioning or Enthusing colleagues and staff?
R: Leaders focus on Results, are good at Relationships and Recognise their people
S: They need to be Sincere. Sure they can be tough but Sensitive when needed
H: In a workplace squeeze we need leaders to be Honest. Humility not Hubris
I: Integrity is a must. They need it to be able to Inspire
P: Passion and Positivity in leaders are vital and they have to put People first.

When you spell the theme out like that, the words follow naturally. So do others!

Proposing a solution: Strain the peas!

straining the peas
Ever had a workplace squeeze where you had to propose a course of action for your team or department?
Where do you start? How do you organise your thinking to get it right?
Here's an easy to remember technique that might come in handy when you are asked to write a position paper or outline a proposal for a course of action or solution.  A former colleague taught me the technique many years ago and I have used it ever since.  Here is what he shared.  Think about the issue around themes, each beginning with the letter "P".

1: The first "P" is for Position. It describes the present circumstances. . Keep this bit short.  It's an introduction to the issue - a "Where we are now" statement.
2: You are probably having to suggest a course of action because something isn't quite right.  That brings us to the second "P" - the problem.  State this as objectively as possible, sticking to the facts.
3: What might happen as a result of this problem? What's the worst case scenario, the least and the ones in between? Take a moment and consider the next "P" - the possibilities.  Again be as objective as possible and try not to get too worked up about the negative impacts of the problem.
4: Most of the possibilities are unlikely to materialise but there are some that probably well.  That brings us to the next "P" - probabilities.  Get a sense of those and write them down.
That's a fair bit of analysis so far but make sure it doesn't lead to another kind of "P" - paralysis.  Now's the time to think solutions.
5: Based on the points that you have considered so far: Position | Problem | Possibilities | Probabilities move to make your last "P" - proposals. This is the time to be action-focussed. Make your proposals, get a decision and go for it!
It can be a tighter workplace squeeze if you have been asked to keep this to a single side of A4 but with a bit of practice you could probably be quite effective there too.
The technique is also useful when thinking on your feet to verbalise a solution.
Think of those "P"s, keep it simple and strain them.

Making haste slowly? Hurry up and slow down

Are you good at getting things done quickly?  Or are you known for being slow and methodical?  It seems to me that in this fast-moving world it is the first of these skills that is most appreciated.  However, I will be making the point in this piece that there is a need for both these states. The trick is how to be good at both.

Workplace squeeze:
It’s holiday time in the office and many of us are focused on trying to get things cleared up before taking leave.  Have you ever noticed how productive and selective you can get about work when the holiday season arrives?  Wouldn’t it be something to maintain that kind of momentum the rest of the year? 

It’s not really possible of course as we need time and space to re-energise and keep sharp.  When we work at peak levels we need time to recover and recreate otherwise we suffer burn out.  The advent of cut-backs and shortages sometimes means that fewer workers have more to do to make up for the shortfall in staff and resources.  It is too easy to simply ask workers to relentlessly push harder and faster. That’s not how we are most productive. 

The French have a saying, “reculer pour mieux sauter” – which means taking a step back to be able to jump better.  When did you last take a step back to measure up the job and consider ways of doing it more effectively?  If you haven’t, would it help if you did? 

What’s that I hear?  Too busy?  Not enough time?  Have to get this done!
Tell me, if you haven’t enough time to get it right, first time, where do you find it to do it right next time? 

Don’t get me wrong here.  I am all for a proper sense of urgency and occasionally we simply have to pick up the pace.  We can put ourselves into that frame of mind by simply moving faster.  Taking the stairs more quickly or taking a brisk walk away from the desk often does the trick for me.

But I am also a fan of slow food and taming the pace of life.  When I take breaks and slow down an interesting thing happens.  Ideas come.  And some of these ideas help me work smarter.
The fable of the race between the tortoise and the hare comes to mind.  The tortoise won.

I thought about this today on my way home from work.  If you drive then you’ll know that you have to change speed many times to match the particular speed limit for the area you are in.  That might be 30 mph through town; 20 around schools; 50 mph on the open road and a max of 70 on the motorway.  Yes, there are maximum speed limits.   Here’s the thing: My car can travel much faster than the top speed permitted, so there are other factors to bear in mind.  Safety for one! 

And so with the workplace there are times when we need to slow down and other times to speed up.
What would help you speed up sensibly in your area of work?  Will you practise it?
I decided to pick up momentum writing this piece; aiming to have it written, checked and posted within 45 minutes, (I usually take twice that time).  I have a minute or two to go then time to slow down.

A goal for a smarter workplace

How do you stay focussed on your goals?  Assuming you set them of course.
Having a goal and a plan to reach it is generally agreed to be an important personal and career development strategy.  Some set SMART goals in which the desired state is specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound.  In John Adair’s Handbook of Management and Leadership he added two further criteria for goals that made them SMARTER, and these additional criteria were: evaluated and reviewed.  Adair went on to propose that goals should be smarter to the power of two.  His SMARTER2 goals were Strategic, Meaningful, Attainable, Rewarding, Teambuilding, Empowering and Rewarding.  I buy that!
Some writers suggest that goals should be outside our comfort zone and that we should aim for HUGGs, Huge, Unbelievably, Gigantic Goals.  Dreaming big in other words.
Whatever the goal, most agree that we need ways to keep it in mind.  Some writers advise that goals should be written out each morning.  In that way they become a focus for attention throughout the coming day.  Some personal development writers suggest writing the goal on a sticky note and placing it strategically so that we are reminded of it when we see the visual reminder.  Such notes might be positioned on a fridge door, on a bread-bin or on a car window visor as visual reminders of what we are aiming for.  You might guess from the first two that I am focussed on weight loss!
Others in the personal effectiveness literature say we should sleep on our goals.  They recommend that we review them last thing at night and go to sleep positively visualising the desired outcome.
Over the years I have used many of these techniques and it has to be said I have achieved many of the things I have aimed for.
I am a fan of focussing on something for a month at a time.  If it’s a new positive habit I want to develop I figure that daily action over a month is a good start.  Develop a positive habit and then add a new one.

Here’s how I use it in the workplace.

In my job our IT managers require staff to change their computer log-in passwords once a month.  I used to see this as a chore but now I view it as an opportunity to come up with a password that reflects my positive action focus for the month.  I take time over this, aiming to be as creative as possible.
How would your password support your goal if you were to type at each log-in a related word or phrase?  Phrases like Improving, Connecting, Customer focus and Effectiveness turn a routine IT requirement into a useful reminder of a meaningful and rewarding goal.  Is this worth trying?  If so, give it a go.
And then develop it further and consider applying it to a screensaver or desktop wallpaper where the opportunities to use pictures as metaphors for greater effectiveness are enormous.

Got a goal?  Me too!  At least to the end of this month!

Helping a team to reach an agreed decision

Are the meetings that you attend fully focussed on achieving their intended outcomes? The intention may be to generate ideas or share information but sometimes the exact focus is not always clear.
Setting that focus is something I could be better at - how about you?
Generally I find that meetings work best when participants collaborate effectively to acheive a successful outcome.
I want to share what I have found to be an effective approach to group decision making.
A few year’s ago, I had the great fortune to attend a seminar conducted by leading thinker, Edward de Bono. Among the many creativity and thinking tools that he has developed, there is one system that I return to over and over again. He refers to it as PMI, where the acronym stands for Plus, Minus and Interesting.
It works by considering each of the headings in turn and spending a defined amount of time to reflect on and note the likely outcomes of a particular course of action.
It goes way beyond simply listing pros and cons as each participant, regardless of any previous view they hold, has to contribute suggestions under each category.
Here’s a squeeze point. You are at a team meeting discussing the desirability of a course of action. Opinion is divided and a decision is needed. Sound familiar? Here’s what I do?
Get participants to take a blank page, laid out landscape style. Across the top, state the proposed course of action. Draw two vertical lines to create three columns and head each P, M and I respectively.
Allocate a precise amount of time to gather the pluses, minuses and interesting points about the issue. Remember the egg-timer from an earlier post?
Feedback. At this point, interesting stuff starts to happen as often people begin to modify their thinking.
Even when it is clear that the pluses have indicated the desirability of a course of action, having taken the time to reflect on the minuses enables participants to identify possible risks and plan mitigations.
As for the interesting list? That’s the bit I really like as it takes us into the area of innovation and win/win solutions.
Edward de Bono’s website has some interesting PMI topics for consideration as well as some suggestions for applying the technique. Check it out here and see what you think.
You might want to run a PMI first to check its usefulness in shaping up to workplace squeeze!

How to move ahead when you feel stuck..

Here’s a workplace squeeze. You have been trying to make headway with a project or a task and it just does not seem to be working for you. You feel challenged by this, so what can you do?
Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has written that sometimes the way we see the problem is the problem! Albert Einstein is reported to have said that you can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.
I am no Einstein, so for a long time I never really knew what that meant but I get it now. And what I get connects with Covey’s point about “seeing” the problem.
Robert Dilts has developed a model of thinking called Neurological Levels. This can be presented as six focal points: Environment; Behaviour; Capabilities; Values and Beliefs; Identity; and Mission or Beyond Identity. The model has generated opposing views. Don’t you just love it when that happens? I do. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Anyway, some have criticised it saying it doesn’t make sense while others, recognising its limitations, report that the technique still works a treat . Why not check out the articles at those two hyperlinks and make up your own mind?
Here’s what I do when I am stuck and can’t make headway. If there is no one in the office, I place 6 sheets of paper on the floor – well spaced out. On each is written one of the words above. Then I stand on each piece of paper in turn and think about the word and how it relates to the challenge. The area of stick usually shows up! Then the question arises, “So what am I going to do about it?
That’s where Einstein comes in. Remember, “You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created”. When you get to the stuck area, think about the other levels or focal points. Anything need to shift there? Any changes needed?
For example, if you have issues about your capabilities – (I used to wonder if I was good enough or when I would be found out; how about you?) – have a think about your values and beliefs. What’s important about what you do? What do you believe about yourself? Then carry this into the area of identity and think again. And then mission. What comes up? What are you learning?
The cleaners have caught me doing this – I wonder if they think me untidy. So for busy periods during the day when people are around here’s what I do:
As I prefer to do this exploration physically, I take out an A4 file sheet that I keep in my desk. On it are printed all the words above, again well spaced out. Then I take a coin and move it slowly around the page, stopping to explore where I am stuck. Referring to next levels or focal points I figure out what I might do about it.
Maybe it’s just having taken the time to think about a problem from different angles but I find that the solutions come.
Sometimes I use this technique with colleagues to help them work through their challenges.
Usually they hold on to the coin and keep the change!

Always running out of time? Try this cheap, simple tool

One of my favourite tools for keeping a focus on time is the low-cost, low-tech kitchen timer. Designed to run for precisely three minutes, I use it several times a day, yet never when boiling eggs. That’s because it sits on my office desk and there’s not much need for cooking there!
I like the timer so much that I wanted to use it as a metaphor for what this site is about. The key point about the timer is not so much the two chambers or the quantity of sand, although these are important, it is about that aperture in the middle that manages the flow.
And then there’s that hourglass shape, need I say more? Well yes, you would expect me to, wouldn’t you?
As I mentioned, the timer sits on my desk doing what metaphors do. I notice that shape in lots of other places too. On my computer screen, for example, where I have learned to be patient until that symbol disappears and the program is ready for action.
I occasionally use the timer as a weight to anchor and draw attention to time-sensitive papers and sometimes, have used it in a fun way to focus conversations. When a colleague once asked for a couple of minutes to discuss something, I flipped the timer and pointed out that he had precisely three! When you see that time running out it helps in getting to the point. Remember the humour though; you wouldn’t want egg on your face!
Squeeze scenario:
I find the timer most useful when used with other tools such as MindMaps®. Here’s a squeeze scenario. Your direct wants a verbal position report on some project or other. It is needed in 10 minutes time. Scary? Needn’t be. Here’s what I do.
Start by getting some blank sheets of paper, flip the timer and take three minutes to write down as many key points about the project as possible in the time. If I can get to 20+ in the three minutes then that’s doing okay.
Flip the timer and take another three minutes to group and organise those thoughts - one of those 4-colour ink pens is great for this.
Flip again and take the last three minutes to edit and present the map. When I’m doing that list bit, I rehearse what I’m going to say when dealing with each point.
That leaves one minute to get relaxed, composed and focussed on the meeting.
Would this work for you? Try it out with your work in progress? Let me know how you get on.
If you find it’s not for you then remember that original purpose. It’s great for timing eggs.

Shaping up to workplace squeeze

You may have heard it said that people should teach what they most need to learn. For years I have been fascinated about developing effectiveness and realising potential. I have been learning from all sorts of books, audio programmes and seminars that I have attended. Now it's time to put all that into practice and share the learning with others.

I have started middlefocus as my response to the observation that many middle managers are caught between a rock and a work place. They face daily challenges in managing and leading their own teams while being on the receiving end from their senior colleagues. To top it all, they have their own work to do often against difficult deadlines. They need time and space to work but often find themselves either squeezed or stuck! Sometimes their work and personal lives tumble out of control and they could do with some help to regain their balance and move forward.

That's where middlefocus comes in. Over the years I have acquired a range of "tools" that have helped ease my working day and I want to share them with others. I aim to do that through this blog and through a regular podcast that will be reaching your headphones soon.

Focus on this space!