Archive for the 'Working relationships' Category

Who would admit to having no integrity?

How many of you have come across organisations where one of the company values or leadership values is integrity?

And even if you haven’t explicitly seen this as a value, would you agree that it is often an unstated principle that people will act with integrity?

So how can it be that criticism often comes when the organisation or the leaders within it appear to lack integrity. Do people go out of their way to act without integrity or does conflict occur when one persons version of integrity is different to another?

A couple of definitions of integrity may help to answer this question…………

Integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions
or
The adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

With these definitions it seems that the interpretation of integrity is therefore dependent on each persons map of the world, their own values and their own moral compass. Therefore, when someone is seen to act without integrity, have they really or is it that our version of integrity doesn’t match theirs?

Let’s take as an example the recent actions of Greg Smith, the guy who distributed his view of the Goldman Sachs culture and leadership. Did he or did he not act with integrity? I suspect that some people would say that he absolutely did, that he was honest, truthful and accurate (see definition) whilst others may question his reasons for doing it and question his moral character.

When integrity is so often a characteristic that is highlighted as essential for leaders I question if this is realistic. Surely it means that we must all operate with the same version of what is right and wrong, the same version of what is morally acceptable, the same version of what honesty is.

I wonder therefore, when integrity is put up as a value or principle and when it is seen as an essential part of leadership what is actually meant? Obviously organisations want people to act within a moral framework that is appropriate for that particular organisation, does this need to be defined more clearly so people understand what integrity means in that particular environment? Is acting with integrity the same in every organisation or might it vary if say you work in the tobacco industry, the armed forces, social services, financial services or retail?

It seems that organisations need to dig deeper to interpret integrity more clearly. What thoughts do you have on whether or not integrity can vary and how it can be defined more clearly in different organisations?

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Symbols that create a culture

Whenever I visit a prospective or new client I find myself looking around the place with my eyes wide open. I love sitting in reception areas, watching people – the way they interact with each other, with visitors, with the receptionist. I love looking at the environment and the symbols that begin to describe the culture of each organisation. And as I start my process of observations I wonder how much thought and effort each organisation puts in to these symbols. Let me explain what I mean………

In a series of visits to one client my understanding of their culture has grown, mainly through the symbols that I’ve observed.

First impressions at reception were of a bustling, professional, modern, people focused business. The triggers that created this impression for me were down to the welcome I received at the reception desk, observing the way workers greeted each other walking in to the building, the design of the reception area and the noise and smells coming from the cafe based just beyond the reception area. My first meeting was then held in a bright, modern room and as I walked through the office I noticed bright space, lots of photos, posters and objects that represented the work done by the people on that floor.

My impression of the culture, based on these symbols was of a modern, bustling and people focused business.

Several weeks later, with several visits to different parts of the office, I see symbols of the culture which are very contradictory.

The first contradiction, is the different environments that exist floor by floor, function by function. What I described on my first visit seems to be isolated to that particular area. In other parts of the business I see different desk lay outs – some looking as though they haven’t changed for 20 years and some being incredibly modern. What is coming through in the culture of the organisation is that all these different parts of the business, with their different working environments, work as separate entities. Whilst they are all sitting in the same building, working under the same corporate name there is nothing obvious that holds them together as one company.

Another symbol that has fascinated me in this and other offices, are the kitchens. First impression in this particular office is of a modern area with a space for people to meet and chat and prepare their food – it seemed to reinforce a people culture. On the first day, when I was going to spend some time in the business my client gave a cursory nod of the head as we walked past the kitchen and said “This is the kitchen if you need it” After I settled in to a desk (another symbol of the culture) I went to find a glass of water from the kitchen – only to find a kitchen with no glasses, no cups, no tea, no coffee and no utensils. I asked what this was about and was told that it’s meant to be environmentally better for people to bring their own things. And it would seem that visitors are meant to go thirsty.

My experience of the office layout and the kitchen environment began to create a perspective of the culture of this organisation. My point here is really about consciousness – are the leaders and decision makes conscious of the symbols that communicate? Are they making decisions based on the culture that they want to create or are the symbols contradictory to and therefore damaging other efforts to develop the organisations culture?

Making an Ass of U and Me

Do you ever have those AHA moments? Those moments when something becomes so obvious to you and you want to kick yourself for not realising it before hand. Do these moments come when you realise that you have made assumptions and may be the assumption is wrong – or does this just happen to me?

Over the last few weeks or so I’ve been registering some of the assumptions that I and those around me have made.

There was the occasion when I assumed that the person I was talking with would remember a conversation we’d had 3 years ago – it took me a while to realise they didn’t.

The time when I was pitching for some work and the potential client had assumed that I would do the work for an almost non-existent budget and I’d assumed they knew what the market rate would be.

And there have been numerous times at home where I’ve made decision based on assumptions about what would be OK for my partner only to realise later that a conversation would have been useful.

At some point after assumptions have been made, it’s dawned on me that assuming really is making an Ass of U and Me. The implications of this can be pretty intense with relationships suffering and time being wasted. When we make assumptions it tends to be due to laziness – laziness in our thinking and laziness in our communication.

It seems to me that a few simple techniques, once remembered will make a big difference and reduce the amount of time spent going up dark alleyways.

The techniques to embed are:

Ask yourself what assumptions you are making and whether or not they are reasonable – for instance, I assumed that the potential client would be paying market rates and should have checked this with them much earlier in our conversations than I did as we both invested considerable time in our discussions before we reached this point. It turned out that our assumptions didn’t match.

Ask questions to clarify, check and inform – I so easily could have asked the ex colleague whether or not they remembered us talking about on-boarding several years ago, before diving in to the conversation. This would have brought us to the same place at the start of the conversation.

Be clear about the assumptions you are making – it’s sometimes worth stating up front what assumptions you are making. If we go back to my communication mishap I made a number of assumptions and it would have been more productive to state some of these upfront to check if the group were OK with them.

What assumptions have you made that have got in the way, led to conversations stumbling or led to you and others going in different directions. I’m assuming we all do this or is it just me?

Self awareness of your communication

I recently attended an industry forum where a panel of speakers were giving their views on different subjects. Within minutes of the event starting I was intrigued by the influence one person had on the tone and success of the event. This person was the MC – let me describe briefly what happened.

It was early morning and a lot of people had made their way to the event in anticipation of hearing some insights from industry leaders. All started well with the MC introducing each of the speakers – this was as far as it got before he made blunder number one.

Having introduced each of the male panelists in a professional way, his intro to the one female on the panel was to describe her as beautiful. Whatever you’re personal views on this type of comment, what I noticed was that the MC had immediately put most of the women in the audience off side. Given that it was probably 75% women this was a big chunk of the audience who were now wondering why they’d got out of bed.

From here there were several further blunders by the MC, including a few rather weak jokes that attacked people in the room and one joke that could potentially be considered as racist. This was followed by a lack of understanding of the role of the MC. As the event went on he seemed to think that it was necessary for him to also give his opinion on each question put to the panel, by this time he had lost the respect of parts of the audience.

So why am I telling you this story? There were several learning’s for me as I observed what was happening:

1. Having a self-awareness about the words you use, the response you are receiving and the particular communication role you have are fundamental to good communication

2. If you are standing in front of an audience it makes sense to think about the audience, what their hot buttons will be and how to involve them

3. Creating rapport is fundamental for effective communication

4. There are times when less is more or to put it differently speaking is not always the same as communicating

As you will know from my previous blog on communication mishaps, I totally understand that there are times when we don’t read the audience right, come out with the wrong words etc. The question that I’m left with though is whether or not the communicator had any self-awareness about the impact he had and will use this self-awareness to do things differently in the future. It’s through this self-awareness that our communication style can grow and become more versatile.

Owning up to a communication mishap

Week after week I share my views on ways to communicate effectively, build relationships and work through change situations. On occasions what I say seems to resonate with the people who I talk to, who come along to a training program and read my blogs. Yet last week I had a sobering experience – under pressure, in a room full of people I froze and went in to a free fall half hour of hell.

To give a bit of context, without having to relive the whole embarrassing situation again; I was in a situation where I was under extreme pressure to perform, with people in the room making judgments about my every move and every word. I started the session feeling well prepared with a certain level of nervousness; I told myself this was a good thing and was ready to go. Things changed just a few minutes before my session started when the lead in the group told me what they were hoping to get from the session. For a minute this threw me as it was different to the things I’d prepared, but I drew on some of the things I tell others and thought I would manage the changes OK.

How wrong I was.

Free fall began……..

I realised within a few minutes of starting the session that I wasn’t connecting with the group and from there it went downhill. With my facilitator/ presenter voices babbling away to me in my head I became tongue-tied, I panicked and I lost my focus.

It’s been a long time since this has happened to me so,as you’d expect, I took time out afterwards to think about what happened and what I would do differently. The first thing I realised was that this particular situation triggered a memory for me from an experience I’d had 20 years ago – it was almost as though I reverted back to the way I handled the original situation and I lost everything I’ve learnt since.

The second thing I realised was that I needed to listen to the voices in my head and my instincts. My facilitator/ presenter voices were telling me to:

– Slow down and breath

– Make it very clear upfront about the purpose for the session and why we are covering the topic

– Make it very clear upfront how the session will work

– Bring out concerns and questions and involve the group early

– And when things seem to be going astray, stop and involve the group in what now needs to change

On this occasion I didn’t have the courage to stop when I knew things weren’t going well. My learning from this experience is that stopping couldn’t have resulted in a worse outcome than the one I had, so I should have done it.

The good news from this experience is that I now have a refreshed and more acute awareness of some of the barriers that come up for people when it comes to talking in groups, presenting or facilitating. I’m also confident that the points above really would have made a difference so practicing this myself and helping others to get these pieces right will provide a great starting point for future coaching and training sessions.