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Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Mentoring: Learning from Others

A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself. — Oprah Winfrey I love this quote, and mentoring, for me, has been the backbone of creating hope and development in my growth. Mentoring has been one of the best investments of my time and energy and has contributed greatly to my focus on continuous learning. Having been a mentee (both formally and informally), and having learnt so much from those who have shared with me - I am now in the position of being a mentor for others, which is a different kind of learning. To be clear, that doesn’t mean I’m done with being a mentee, there's still heaps of learning ahead! Early in my career, I was lucky to have some great bosses who modelled the best on how to support and protect the team. Something that I consider incredibly important, and which can be basically summed up for me in one phrase: When a goal is achieved credit to the team, when something flops it’s all on the leader. I think so much of learning is about modelling. When you become a parent, one of the most confronting lessons is that no matter what you say, your kids will do what you do! So, those aspirational behaviours that the pre-kids you always knew you would absolutely insist upon, actually has to be lived to really take. It's common sense, but it's very difficult to appreciate until you're in it. So, is mentoring just an extension of this ‘Common Sense Manifesto?’ I have followed Colin Ellis and last year was a participant at one of his courses. I wish I had written the 'Common Sense Manifesto' - just the act of committing it to paper is perhaps the thing that makes the most sense! Colin has a way of simplifying and articulating 'common sense' that can be used in your personal and/or professional day. I encourage you to have a read. I feel strongly that there is another point in there somewhere about not wasting [time, attention, raw materials, energy]. Many times in my life I have looked at situations and people and felt that what was lacking was a strong dose of common sense. To me, having a great mentor relationship fits in nicely with common sense manifesto number 6: ‘Never Stop Learning’. How can you keep learning when you don’t have a formal mentor relationship in place? A friend who has recently started running their own business asked me how I get mentoring in my own business life. I have at points had a formal relationship, but right now it’s less formal. Some of the things that I do that keep the learning alive are: Reading (and Listening): I read and I listen. A lot. In the car, on a plane, I even listen to podcasts when I have trouble getting to sleep (some of my personal favourites are below). They’re not all business focused, some of them are just smart people who I explore ideas that I find interesting. Writing: not as much, or as well, as I aspire to, but writing helps me to construct my thoughts and feeds into the development of my own ideas. Sometimes it’s a stream of consciousness kind of blurt and then sometimes it’s trying to put myself in a position where I can see someone else’s point of view. Sometimes it’s this where I’m sharing what has worked for me. Thinking: putting time aside to think is not something I have a special place or space for (yet, I would really like one). Lots of people I know talk about the benefits of meditation and I agree with them, but I spend a lot of time in my work life at a desk/ in front of a screen, so I tend to combine thinking with exercise. I started running because I really hated it, and I keep running because it makes me feel physically tired and allows me to just think. I deliberately don’t run with music. At the start of a race recently I heard one participant say to his running buddy, “How do you do this without music? If I have time to think about this I’ll start to ask myself why I signed up for 21km” – it made me smile. Participating in groups: I recently signed up to a group challenge online. No one is going to check what I’m doing but it’s creating an action list for me, not all of the items need action but so far, it’s been a good experience to re-align and re-focus on some basics. I am in the fortunate position of working with technology teams; things keep changing and there are constantly new things to learn and grapple with, so learning is part of my everyday. It's this learning that allows me to keep developing, contributing to my own knowledge and sharing it with the teams that we work with. 6R don’t specifically align with one type of software or system, we are constantly learning new software, processes and about the people that we work with. My favourite podcasts Chat 10 Looks 3 with Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales Slow Burn by Slate Art of Charm (advanced social skills training for top performers) Freakonomics with Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner On Being Project (deep thinking and social courage to renew life)  

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Decision Making is Easy (when you ask the right questions)

"In good decision making, frugality matters," says Malcolm Gladwell;taking complex problems, and reducing them to the key levers that help us choose is a critical skill. Getting to the heart of the decision, however, isn’t always so easy! I was recently reminded of this; a project team spent weeks designing, dreaming and negotiating what could be achieved with their new website design. There was a list of requirements that was like an out of control Christmas list, and everyone was very excited at the idea of something new that would improve the customer experience. But one thing had been forgotten. Just a small matter of how much they had to spend. We’ve all been there, beer budget but champagne taste (I do it all the time). So, in the end, the decision was easy and the constraint of having to work within the budget helped them decide. Constraints help the decision making process I  noticed a similar pattern years ago whilst waitressing. When customers came into the restaurant, if there were no bookings, it didn’t matter where they sat. Gesture to the restaurant's ‘sit anywhere you like’ would result in much debate back and forth.  They would often choose one table only to move to another and then another. Whereas, if I gestured to a specific table and said, "would you like to sit here?" customers would either accept the offer or ask to be seated at another table. It’s that old chestnut about cognitive load. If the decision is made for you, it is either accepted or not, but being forced to make an active choice and decide for yourself from the whole restaurant is much harder. The project team were constrained by the limitations of what they had to spend. How much time and effort could they have saved by getting this basic building block in place before the requirements even got underway? The decision could have been made a lot earlier in the project. Finalising the budget and the business case before the project starts helps make the decision process smoother because it’s obvious to everyone the boundaries we’re working within. As soon as we were able to articulate the right question(s) the decision was easily made. Projects are all about working with constraints. Usually, there’s limited budget, time and people.  Clearly articulating the constraints that are going to drive a decision early in the process, can save a lot of time and energy and reduce frustration and disappointment all around. Why does restricting options help us to get on with good decision making? There has been a lot written on the topic of 'choice' and I particularly like the advice of Sheena Iyengar, who highlights 4 ways to help with decision making: (Read more)

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Persistence and Practice; Project training essentials

Years ago, I worked on a project where we took a legacy horse race rating system used by a bookmaker and upgraded it to a modern technology platform. I spent a lot of time with guys who were professional gamblers, they were incredibly knowledgeable about horses and horse racing. They had a methodical practice that took hours each day, doing what they called, ‘rating the race.’ This was a practice that to an external observer (me) involved watching the same horse race over and over again until you had gleaned every last piece of information possible from it and had ‘rated’ (or scored) each horse in that race. After that, the race itself would be rated, and so would many other details that they had been trained to look for. This bespoke system they had developed of rating horses, races, conditions and riders all contributed to their knowledge about how the horse would perform over time. What they had observed over years, was that a horse would improve incrementally for a period but was also capable of ‘jumping’ very quickly up a few levels in performance and it was this jump that they carefully watched for in their rating statistics. It was their ability to be ready for improvement that gave them a competitive edge. Like horses, us humans, can sometimes give the impression of making an improvement very quickly the quintessential “overnight success.” Improvement requires practice and it’s never quite clear when we’re learning something new, when we’re going to improve or whether that breakthrough will happen at all. The constant practice and search for improvement can be a bit daunting and demoralising at times. This week, I was lucky enough to be present for one such improvement breakthrough moment. One of the users we’ve been working with on a project appeared in the doorway of the cupboard/ workroom that we’ve tucked ourselves away in. “I’m so happy, I have to share!” He was beaming from ear to ear. He went on to explain his breakthrough. He has been on the project team since the beginning and has been an active participant the whole way, but it has been difficult terrain. His commitment has never wavered, but we can tell that he’s struggled with the way the new system works, there have been a lot of confused looks and ‘why are we doing this?’ moments over the last few months.  His breakthrough was the result of persistence and practice. He reminded me of the importance of practice, and the absolute necessity of training for the job that people will do with their team. It’s a much more exploratory to learn but it pays off in these moments when someone gets the reward of their own efforts. We’ve spoken before about what it takes to deliver training in a project.  Over the many projects that we've worked on, and people that we've worked with, we learn more about how to better deliver training.  This breakthrough highlighted to me, the importance of persistence and practice. In this situation, we had also used the technique of having a ‘training buddy’ someone to work things out with, a fellow explorer in the new system. This mirrors a development practice in agile process, where two developers work together at the one screen. So the week's learning has been: Practice, practice and more practice! Celebrate the breakthrough moments (we did!) and acknowledge people for their persistence; Buddy up – two heads have more observation power than one! If you are struggling with the best way to train on a new system, get in touch.  We buddy up with retailers to equip internal teams for the project efforts ahead. Our project management tools are light and flexible for retailers. The 6R team work behind the scenes, leading through project management, testing, training and team building to deliver project success.

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Insurance Dis-trust makes customers feel like criminals

Everyone cheats a little bit, says behavioural economist Dan Ariely. Insurance companies know this too, so they have processes in place to assess the validity of claims. From a business perspective, I get this, it’s a very sensible move and one that hopefully weeds out fraudulent claims. My recent experience on the customer side of lodging an insurance claim has left me wanting to take a broom to insurance processes and really clean the place out! (Read more)

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Citizen Karen (part time fighter of crime)

I don’t really know Karen, I have never met her in real life. I don’t know what her hair colour is, or whether she has kids, or a dog, or a partner. I don’t know if she’s into sport or has a footy team that she supports, or if she prefers vodka to gin or neither. Despite knowing so little about her, I feel a connection to Karen, born of our small foray into citizen crime fighting together yesterday. (Read more)

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Why Simple Customer Service is Never Simple

Understanding the motivation for a customer is not simple. This was made personal for me, in a conversation with my son this week. We have started using an ‘order online, deliver planned meals to your doorstep’ type service, and he was asking me if he could have some control over selection of meals. Nope. That’s not how it goes, the whole point is that someone else makes that decision for you. “Why do you think I like that idea?” and he had a bunch of great answers about why I might like that idea, from time saving, money saving, faster cooking the whole gamut. But he missed the pain point for me.  It’s possibly too much, to expect that an organisation, and those who work there, are going to understand my reason for choosing their service, but what they can focus on is giving me the choice in that service. That’s the simple bit. (Read more)

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