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Posts Tagged ‘learning’

How Better Listening Can Improve Project Outcomes

An upsetting recent experience Have you ever felt like the person you’re speaking to is just not listening? Last week, we pulled the plug on a server migration. If you've ever done a move like this, you know how hard a call this is to make. The team had been working on this for the past five months. Multiple teams of people had gone above and beyond to make it happen, and to say we were gutted at this result doesn’t even begin to cut it. What brought about this unexpected and disappointing outcome? In the end, it came down to one question. It was one of the first questions we had for the software vendor. It was asked multiple times through the process, and it turns out, at the last minute, that the wrong answer had been given, multiple times! It was like the software vendor was hearing the words and doing the surface motions of listening but not really getting it! Oscar Trimboli (deep listening expert) really had this covered when he made this comment: 'Projects that run over schedule and budget, (and) customer opportunities that are missed, nine times out of ten can be put down to that we're listening to the words but not the meaning'. Stephen R. Covey, of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame, shares his ideas on effective listening framed as a ‘listening continuum.' Like a ladder of improvement, the pinnacle of his continuum is empathetic listening, at which point the listener has achieved the ability to listen within the other’s frame of reference. We see empathetic listening practised among a variety of professionals who want to help their clients, including counsellors, HR managers, CEOs and VPs. It's an important quality of leadership. One of the key qualities of empathic listening is to stay out of judgement. Christine Porath and Douglas R. Conant researched the turnaround at Campbell Soup and credited an increase in what they called ‘civility,' a vital component of this was ‘listening better.' You can read about their findings here. They talk about the time and effort that is required to create a culture of civility that has its foundations in listening, respect for each other and working to make people feel valued. Like lots of other research, their findings showed that it’s the small everyday interactions that count towards building trust. They heard the question and answered it, more than once, but they missed listening to the meaning. The meaning for us as the client (customer) had a significant impact on the rest of the business. To me, deep listening is a bit like an indicator on a car; right there and available for use but not used as often as would be helpful. So how can we all get better at listening deeply? Well, Oscar is an expert, and he describes four types of bad listening habits. I myself am an interrupting listener at times – seeking to solve the problem before the whole thing has been explained. In the case of our server migration gone wrong, someone seeking to solve the problem might well have helped us out. Some tips for better listening Sometimes it helps to have a physical thing to do, as a reminder or trigger. Some tips that I have picked up along the way that sometimes help me are: Take a deep breath (or three) and calm your own mind. Open your mouth a little (in a relaxed way, no goldfish impersonations required). Studies show that when we’re sitting in judgement, we’ve usually got our mouths firmly closed. Uncross your arms. Developing our listening skills benefits all team (and personal) interactions. This means spending an effort acknowledging people’s contributions and improving our own capacity to listen better. Getting to the meaning of what's really being asked can save you a lot of re-work and time wasted. It might even mean that when you ask that one super important question, your software vendor will really understand what you mean.  

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Giving and Receiving Feedback

Feedback: Tips to help calm the nerves I was recently asked to contribute a ‘customer’s perspective’ to a room full of people who are delivering to customers (like the one I shared with this software vendor). It took a lot of time and thinking to come up with a way to frame up a few insights in a way that I hoped would be heard by the audience I was speaking to. I kept coming back to Brené Brown's (BB) advice and guidelines in ‘Dare to Lead’. I’m paraphrasing her advice on feedback, but the things that stood out for me were: Make sure you’re bringing the right intention Preparation is key; prepare yourself and the other party. Self-preparation is thinking about what it is you’re trying to get across, what the desired outcome looks like. If you need to write it down to help sort through your thoughts, then do that.  Try to consider the situation from as many points of view as possible. If you’re delivering a message that might be hard to hear, let the other person know that something is coming they might find hard to grapple with. BB’s advice; don’t give feedback until you’re ready to sit next to the person you’re talking to. If you can’t sit next to them and put the problem in front of you both to work on together, then you’re not ready. It’s a simple yardstick and I am a fan of things that are simple and easy to remember. It’s a great ‘guide’ for my own state of mind and whether I am coming from the place of problem-solving or coming from hurt or annoyance. Examine even poorly delivered feedback for truths There are those truths that you have a visceral reaction to, which to me is the ultimate tell on whether feedback contains truth and over years of living and learning I have gotten better at noticing this when it happens. I had a recent experience on a project where I had sat with a team several times to talk through the approach and assured them they were part of the decision-making process and would be consulted, but I kept getting feedback from the project sponsor that they didn’t feel heard. It was difficult to hear and to figure out what to do with this information because I felt like I had given it time and attention. I had restated in as many ways as I could that we were not moving on without including them in the decision process. We did finally have a breakthrough when the project sponsor explained that the horizon for this piece of work was shorter term than they were expecting. A lesson in continuing to look for the source of the problem! Build on what’s already working Sometimes it’s hard to name exactly what is working, especially if you feel like nothing is. This article in HBR challenged some assumptions around feedback and why we think it’s a good thing. My lived experience is that there are some things that it’s hard for me to see about myself, and when others have shared their observations, I’ve found that helps to better understand how I might be perceived and to potentially adjust my behaviour. And this one didn’t come directly from BB but from me; it’s about making things more palatable and acknowledging that we’re all bound to fall flat on our faces from time to time Bring a bit of humour and humanity with you If we’re not talking about life-threatening situations where security of state or person is at risk, injecting these conversations with a bit of light laughter at the situation, at ourselves and at the flawed condition of being human can make difficult conversations easier to navigate. The more we normalise being clear about ‘what’s working/ what’s not’ and having conversations directly with people, rather than putting energy into getting agreement from others on what annoys us, the easier it becomes to listen for ‘what’s useful’ and improve our working relationships. To discover more - contact me or comment below to share an experience you've had.

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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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