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Posts Tagged ‘people’

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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What if you Treated People as Assets?

Some time ago, (admittedly over a drink), a software provider was heard to wonder… “What if we selected the people we want to work with first, and then figured out the plan and the system?” At the time, this struck a chord. One of my measures of success is to ‘work with great people’, and I had enjoyed working with this provider.  To me, great people are those who are interested in doing the work and bringing their best efforts to it. I had observed how much faster the work flows and how clarity of decision making helps to smooth the path of working with software teams, even remotely! So, have you ever done this? Selected the people first and then figured out the plan? I’ve seen something like a hybrid approach, in that the big picture goal has been worked out, and then the team put together. Making sure you get the right people on the project team and the right mix of skills and intentions is important but how often does it get the level of attention it deserves? Stephen R. Covey in ‘The 8th Habit’ hits the mark, he observes… People are put on the P+L statement as an expense; equipment is put on the balance sheet as an investment. So his point is leading us to ask the question: What if, instead of treating people as an expense, we treat people as assets and look to appreciate their value through development and learning? How would that be on the balance sheet? Imagine an organisation's investment in people increasing in value over time instead of just increasing the liability accrued against their long service leave? "A good team makes the work go smoother (faster and better). Investing time and energy into developing that team means treating people with respect as a baseline", says Christine Porath author of “Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace.” Her study surveyed over 20,000 employees globally and found that employees who felt respected by their leaders reported: 56% better health and well-being, 89% greater enjoyment and satisfaction, 92% greater focus and prioritization, 26% more meaning and significance, and 55% more engagement.” Compelling statistics in a tide of what feels like a world of increasing dis-interest, dis-satisfaction and dis-engagement. Patty McCord, author of “Powerful” and a founding contributor to the legendary culture at Netflix, (you know, the slide deck that has been viewed more than 16 million times), documents the path that Netflix took to stripping away bureaucracy and developing strong disciplines in their culture. They developed an environment that encouraged “open, clear and constant communication, the practice of radical honesty that was timely and face to face, strong fact-based opinions and rigour around debate." The focus was to take away as many layers as possible in terms of procedures and policies and create a trust that people already understand what the right thing is to do. What you call it is not the most important part. You can call it civility, or radical candour or a manifesto. The most important part is that the people part of the plan gets attention. And that we revisit it, frequently. The business of the business is evolving all the time, and so do teams need to evolve not just to meet the needs of the business but also the aspirations of the people in the team. In our project work, we work with teams who are at varying stages of development and evolution. Teams who are just starting out need vision and alignment of purpose according to this article and as teams grow, leaders need to adapt their style. Making sure that as your project comes to life you’ve considered how the people plan will evolve is a critical part of your success. We have seen exciting businesses with vision and ideas, with financial workability and operational expertise fall at the first hurdle because they have not thought through how to build out their team or create a decision-making framework that will allow them to move quickly. Making people an asset requires a shift in thinking and the ability to go against the status quo. Are you up for the challenge?

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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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12 point Christmas Holiday Checklist for Business

What do you think when someone mentions Christmas & summer holidays? I know my mind goes to lazy days spent at the beach, BBQs, warm balmy evenings that go on forever. An audible sigh of release. Relaxation, a chance to recharge and reconnect. Then you remember you are a business owner, you have the lead up to Christmas to get through first, and that ‘ can almost taste summer’ feeling quickly evaporates. But it needn’t be the case if you start preparing early enough. It is easy to get caught up in overwhelm but like all things; The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. – Walt Disney We have put together a quick Christmas Holiday checklist to help you prepare for the "silly season": (Read more)

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How to be truly focused and present… lessons from the wild

Before opening email or responding to texts and other messages I am enjoying the internal peace that comes from having just focused for the last 10 days on whatever was the ‘next thing.’ As I woke up this morning in my comfortable bed, with my comfortable husband after many nights of less comfortable sleeping conditions, I could feel my mind starting to move back towards the list making mode that is so much of my daily life, and I marvel at the contrast of the Kokoda experience. There have been no lists. I have had no contact with the outside world, just the people I was walking with and the news of the track. (Read more)

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Customer experience comes back to retail basics (the personal touch)

Customer experience doesn’t have to be high tech to be good. As we navigate all the different ways of interacting, remembering the retail basics of personal touch, makes all the difference, not just in terms of experience but also in terms of sales. Research indicates that 95% of customers (Zendesk) share bad experiences with others, and 65% are frustrated by inconsistent experiences across channels (Accenture). Customer focused retailers are working hard to improve these statistics by combining online booking systems with in store experiences. (Read more)

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