Friday, 26 June 2015

Never Pass Up the Chance to have Lunch with a Neuroscientist

Carlos Davidovich
I had lunch with Carlos Davidovich recently. Carlos is a 'neuromanagement' expert, medical doctor, university professor and leadership coach. We met at a networking event a couple of months ago and promised to get together soon.

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system and how the brain impacts behaviour and how we think. 

For a few years now, the change management community has been enamoured by neuroscience because it provides a new lens through which to understand why people do what they do. Influencing people to align with and support positive change is our business. 

The application of neuroscience discoveries has helped people adopt new ways of thinking and behaving to improve performance at work. For change leaders, it has added to their toolkit of practices and approaches used to communicate and enable change. Also, its research-based insights on how the brain works has provided credibility and a cool factor to change.

Carlos and I talked about the importance of a positive future vision when communicating change and how this form of storytelling needs to paint a picture in which people can see themselves doing meaningful work. This is a must for someone to consider supporting it over time.

We also discussed how understanding the workings of the brain can help people take on new mindsets and behaviours that lead to greater performance. Successful change has a lot to do with creating the right environment to support these changes.

Leadership coaching, a passion for both of us, was the crescendo point of our conversation. We traded stories of how to best help leaders lead change based on what has worked and not worked in our careers.

Time flew and we felt our conversation was cut short by our afternoon commitments. We would have to continue our discussion about human nature another day. 

As I rode the subway back to my office, I wrote notes on our conversation. Most were insights on how and why people do what they do. A couple were opportunities to partner in the future. I underlined them knowing they would involve meaningful work in the future.


Saturday, 20 June 2015

You Would Be Better Off if You Knew What People Think

Last week, I received three gifts in my inbox: three critical book reports on Change with Confidence from master’s degree students.

I first met Dr. Len Karakowsky, Professor of Human Resource Management at York University, in the spring of 2013 just after my book was published. We were introduced by someone we both knew and had an excellent conversation about our passion for change management.

Soon after, I spoke at Len’s Organizational Change and Development course that is part of York’s Master of Human Resource Management program. I was delighted and honoured when Change with Confidence was added to the course reading list the next semester.

Len and I had discussed getting feedback on my book from his students. I was excited by the prospect of people commenting on what was useful (and not useful), based on their experience and needs.

The winter session included a critical book report on Change with Confidence:

For Change with Confidence: On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest rating), how helpful is this book to you as an HR professional who will be involved in managing or leading change? What area(s) is/are this book’s biggest strength(s) and what is/are its biggest weakness(es) as a change management tool for YOU (or your organization)? Why?

StephanieTirelli, Emily Candy and Anne Gibbs kindly agreed to share their excellent reports. Reading them brought me back to the time when I was making decisions about what and how I would share my advice.

Here are most of the strengths and weaknesses and my reflections on them:

I am grateful for Stephanie’s, Emily’s and Anne’s reviews of my book. It is instructive to validate things that are useful and identify things that aren’t. Both have me thinking and both will make me better off for future projects.


Friday, 12 June 2015

If Learning is Social then Up your Sociability Now

"It takes two brains to learn," said a friend over coffee. He went on to say that people learn through their interactions with others.

I agreed and added that people learn best this way. You can learn on your own, but not as much and not as fast. We started discussing what is known as Social Learning Theory. Albert Bandura coined the term and believed that "people learn from one another via observation, imitation and modeling".

This simple but powerful concept has been used in advertising ("monkey see, monkey do") and leadership development ("walk the talk," "lead by example" and "fake it till you make it").

My professional learning curve has been shaped by social learning. Most of my growth has come from interactions, observations and practice. Learning from others has become second nature. 

My personal learning hasn't followed the same path. Development of interests have been mostly solo. When I was five years old I had a passion for chess. I played a lot, including tournaments, but didn't socialize with or learn much from my opponents.

More recently, my passion for running has also been an individual pursuit to increase my speed. I run alone and develop alone. Or at least that was my approach until three weeks ago when our son, Sam, started running. We began running together, first doing hill repeats (painful) and then long runs. 

I noticed that Sam ran at a faster pace than I did. I also noticed that his pace was consistent, something I had never been able to do. If I wanted to run with Sam, I had to change how I ran; I had to run like he did. I had to become a better runner through observation, imitation and practice.

The last 200 metres
Last Sunday, we ran our first charity run, the Bread and Honey 15K. Although challenging, we ran in Sam's style, fast and consistent.  

Our plan was to sprint once we saw the finish line as we had practiced on our long runs. It was amazing to see Sam bolt to the end and fly past the time clock. 

I crossed the finish line a minute faster than last year, five seconds per mile faster, where each second is a personal victory. I had grown as a runner.

I am now committed to changing how I learn in my personal passions. I will up my sociability, grow more, and enjoy the process.

Our next race is on Sunday called the Spring Fling 15K. We are planning to run even faster. Social learning is fun.


Saturday, 6 June 2015

How Music Affects What You Buy in a Grocery Store

I was at the local grocery store and I noticed my head nodding to the background music. Next, I realized I was singing the song (and nodding). I was close to dancing with my cart, oblivious to those around me, in my private happy zone. Okay, I might have do a couple of dance moves.

The song that grabbed my attention is called "Stomp" by the Brothers Johnson (of Strawberry Letter 23 fame). It is a memory song from my youth. As soon as I recognized the chorus I smiled and felt happy. Grocery shopping had become enjoyable.

As I progressed to the dairy section, I wondered what effect my new joyous mood was having on my purchases. Similar to how shopping with children can increase your bill, was the youth in my head doing the same? Was I buying more or different things? I felt I was being more carefree about my choices and buying multiple items on sale seemed like a good move.

When I got home I did some research on music's effects on buying behaviour. Most sources referenced the same studies and I thought this article captured the highlights really well:

  • There are 3 qualities of music impact buying behaviour: Tempo, Volume and Genre
  • Tempo: Slow paced music increases time in store by 38 percent and increases sales by 32 percent
  • Volume: Less time is spent in stores playing loud music versus background music yet the purchases are higher when louder music is played for those younger than 50 years old.
  • Genre: Purchases are higher for classical music over top-40 and the items bought are more expensive.

The research contrasts my perceptions. I think I stay longer in the store and spend more when I was hearing music that I liked, especially memory songs from the past. 

Another study may explain the difference between my perception and retail reality. High tempo music increases the level of arousal which increase the pace you go through a store. It also can cause you to lose focus and distract you from buying. I was definitely distracted.

I have noticed the effect of music on participants at training sessions and change launches. You can excite people or ease them into a reflective mood by the music you play. Perhaps these experiences are similar to those in a grocery store. Both are selling opportunities.


Friday, 29 May 2015

Best Made Plans Usually Change

Change agility seemed like a fitting topic for my presentation at ProjectWorld conference this week. 

A month ago, I received an email from a client stating that I was needed in Dubai the day I was scheduled to speak at the conference. I felt one of those 'oh no' moments when things don't go as planned.

My first action was to check flexibility on the Dubai date. Although it was part of a three-day conference, my session needed to come first.

My next step was to check flexibility with my flights. The earliest I could be back in Toronto was 11:35 am on Tuesday. It would require taking a 1:35 am flight from Dubai to Frankfurt and a connecting flight to Toronto three hours later. 

I called the conference event director to see if my session could be moved to Tuesday. Fortunately, I could change spots with someone presenting at 1:30 pm on Tuesday. I would have almost two hours after landing to get home, shower and travel to the conference centre. It would be tight, but I was feasible. We assessed the risk of travel delays and decided to go for it.

The first leg of my journey home went well. The plane took off and landed on time. I got four hours sleep on the six and a half hour flight, above average for me.

I showered in the lounge and finished final preparation for my presentation. Things were going as planned. 
At Scheduled Landing Time
The second flight also took off on time. I got another four hours of sleep on the eight and a half hour flight. I felt jet lagged and was dropping things, but mentally I was alert. An hour before landing, I asked a flight attendant if we were on time. She said landing had been delayed by 45 minutes. Things were not going as planned. 

My backup plan was to go directly to the conference centre from the airport. I had packed an extra dress shirt and would wear the jacket and pants I had worn in Dubai. If needed, I could be at the conference centre in 35 minutes. It was time to activate my plan.

I shaved in the washroom and emerged a wrinkled version of presentable. Traffic was good and I was in my presentation hall with 30 minutes to spare. I was ready to talk about change agility. 

My schedule was too tight for comfort and I will avoid reliving this experience. I jotted down these notes after my session:

  • Avoid over-scheduling your calendar--risk of poor performance and stress are high costs of doing more
  • Share risks with your partners--taking them is a joint decision
  • Options lead to solutions--always have a back up plan
  • Open presentations with a personal story about your topic--it demonstrates relevance and establishes a bond with your audience
My next session is in two weeks with no schedule conflicts in sight. I will pack an extra set of clothes. Anything could happen.


Friday, 22 May 2015

Don't know where your career is going? Join the club.

I sat beside a really great guy on my flight back to Toronto from Santiago, Chile. Raymond is law student who was returning from a one-week school exchange. 

We had brief conversations throughout the first 11 hours of our 12 hour flight--how was your meal, how was the movie, did you get any sleep? Pleasant, but not life altering.

For the last hour we had a great conversation about his career options after law school. It wasn't clear what his career path should be or the criteria how should use to make this decision.

These are life altering decisions. I have found that most people don't have the self awareness or information required to make these decisions after school.

I shared with Raymond the following observations and insights I had gained when I held a Global HR role at Cadbury:

  • Many people don't know what they want to do professionally until they are in their forties (some never do)
  • Career paths are rarely linear
  • People's stories about their careers sound more planful than they were
  • Most people fall into career opportunities versus plan for them
  • Those who take these opportunities are the most successful and happy
  • Those who help others to be successful have the most career opportunities
  • Most people motivated by status don't get enough of it to be satisfied—the same goes for money
  • Some choose professions they are good at that they are not passionate about or enjoy
  • Many people build careers that are different from their education major or first job
  • People with the most diverse careers tend to have the broadest perspectives 
  • A career or role choice that didn't work out can provide the best lessons and compelling story that demonstrates self awareness and capability
  • Many people find meaning in their work—it's a good criterion for career and role selection
  • It's never too late to change your career (but most people don't think so)

I hope my views are helpful for Raymond. I gave him a copy of Change with Confidence as a parting gift. It felt like the right thing to do for someone I know will figure out the best path for him. 


Sunday, 17 May 2015

10 Things I Know About Training

I am writing this post as I change planes at the Santiago, Chile Airport. My trip home to Toronto from Buenos Aires is 20 percent complete.

The workshop I co-facilitated yesterday went well and I am feeling a post-training high. It's a mixture of fulfilment, satisfaction and exhaustion. 

People were engaged throughout the day, even after spending three 12-hour days at a conference (not including team dinners and evening activities). Also, my co-facilitators were superb. We achieved all of our objectives.

As I was typing the flip chart notes, I wrote down the following training 'truths' based on the comments I read:

  • People want to perform better regardless of how   successful they are
  • People intuitively know when new ways of working will help them be more effective
  • Respect for learners' perspectives is an important requirement for engagement
  • People learn best through dialogue with their peers
  • Retention of new information is increased when facilitators make mistakes that are corrected by their peers--I increased retention twice!
  • Real-life scenarios provide context for new ways of working
  • Game-like activities make learning interesting, which increases engagement and retention
  • People need time to ask questions as they process new concepts
  • Training is only the first step to adoption of new ways of working; people must apply new concepts during their day-to-day routines and tasks for them to stick
  • Asking people what they need to transition to new ways of working is the best way to create a plan to do so 
The next stop on our 'world tour' is Dubai. Applying these truths will help us achieve our objectives and give me similar feeling on my flight home.


Friday, 8 May 2015

What do you do when you run into someone from your past?

This week, I traveled to New York and Dubai. It was a whirlwind trip with most of my time spent in the air. 

As I was waiting for a taxi outside the Movenpick Hotel Ibn Battuta Gate, I saw someone I had worked with in England who I hadn't seen in six years. 

It was one of those times when you know a person's face but you don't instantly make the connection because he or she is out of context. Keith was standing in front of a massive marble entryway that was 5,500 kilometres away from where we had worked together. Definitely out of context.

Seconds later we both made the connection and said hello. We laughed at the coincidence of seeing each other in Dubai after so long. What were the chances? We caught up on work and family and agreed to catch up when we got back to our respective homes.

This isn't the first time I have seen a former colleague or friend in a different location. When I tried to recall other examples I realized it has happens more often than I would have thought. 

They have all been good experiences that have gone by too quickly. Invariably, memories of the time I knew the person flood my mind.  These scenes become distractions to our conversation and before I know it we have said good-bye. Typically, I think of a question I would have liked to ask if I had been prepared for the our meeting.

I have decided that I will be prepared for the next time this happens. I will:
  • Ask them how they are doing - both personally and professionally
  • Share how I am doing
  • Update them on mutual acquaintances
  • Ask if there is anything I can do to help them
  • Ensure we are connected through LinkedIn
  • Honour what I say I will do quickly
I have been thinking of my conversation with Keith since it happened. I am definitely sending him a note this weekend.


Friday, 1 May 2015

What's In My Bag?

On Sunday, I am beginning a "world tour" to help launch a big global change. Over the next two months, I will visit New York, Dubai, Buenos Aires, Dubai again, Miami, New Jersey and Singapore. 

I will be on planes a lot. One of my small pleasures will be reading Air Canada's monthly En Route Magazine. It's a lifestyle magazine that is both interesting and and educational. 

My favourite article is called In My Bag where frequent flyers are asked what they carry in their luggage. I thought it would be fun to share what I carry. Here is what I am packing in my carry-on luggage.

I am ready for adventure!


Friday, 24 April 2015

Personal Qualities and Skills that Help You Lead Change

This week, I received a request for an interview for an industry website. I was asked to write answers to five questions on my change experience and practices.

One question made me pause: "What personal qualities and skills have helped you to lead a change management  effort?" I speak about the importance of people taking stock of their strengths before they work through a change. It reminds them how to show up and what they can lean on if times get tough. 

Here is my master list of qualities and capabilities. I wrote about the first four in my article.

Empathy: Putting yourself in other people's shoes, being aware of how people are perceiving a change and why they feel this way.

Interpersonal Skills: Creating quality relationships and connections. Solid relationships lead to trust, which lead to collaboration and partnership.

Perspective: Seeing the forest and the trees, seeing the big picture and focusing on small details at the same time.

Priority Setting: Identifying the important activities and issues in a sea of urgent ones.

Action Orientation: Getting things done versus just talking about them or being paralyzed by information overload.

Tenacity: Pushing through challenges, like resistance to a change, until they are overcome.

Focus: Concentrating on goals and performing your role without getting distracted by the dynamics around you.

Communication: Getting across your ideas to diverse groups of people.

Planning: Mapping how you get from 'here' to 'there' including who needs to do what, when.

Agility: Responding quickly to new opportunities and challenges.

Personal Learning: Identifying what works and what doesn't and being able to apply knowledge to different environments.

What I learned from writing the article is that taking stock of my strengths is just as beneficial in the middle of a change initiative as it is at the beginning. It resets you to where you need to be.

It's a good reminder of how to show up and what I can lean on if times get tough.


Friday, 17 April 2015

The Best Presentation is the One the Audience Gives

Courtesy of Linda Kennyhertz
I gave a great presentation at the 2015 Global Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) conference in Las Vegas this week. Actually, the participants gave it to themselves.

It was called Leadership, Process and Culture: How to Build Change Agility into Your Organization. My premise was that we must build flexibility into our organizations so that people can quickly and easily respond to change because today's pace of change is faster than change practices can support.

For large audiences like this one (200), I would typically speak on topics that would build to an overall recommendation. Each one would include a question and participants would be asked to share their answers to the group. This usually results in me talking 80 percent of the time.

This time, I flipped the ratio: I talked for 20 percent of the time and participants talked either in their groups or presented to the entire group for 80.

Here are the questions they discussed:
  • Describe a change agile environment in which you have worked?
  • What is the biggest risk to change agility? Why?
  • How do you ensure that the right conversations are being had?
  • Share one highly effective practice related to embedding new ways of working into normal operations
The atmosphere was engaging. It was also noisy. People were learning from each other and the examples they shared demonstrated the topics perfectly. 

I have learned that the best presentation is the one the audience gives because it is the most relevant, interesting and educational. It's also the most memorable, which helps learning.

I didn't give a great presentation this week. I facilitated one.


Friday, 10 April 2015

When was the last time you took a minute to celebrate?

I have been working long hours lately, often past 1:00 am, including weekends. Balancing consulting assignments and staying ahead of my commitments has been more than a full time job. 

Two nights ago, I finished writing a training program that was a 'must do' task before I could sleep. It was 12:30 am and I only had one more thing to do before I could go to bed.

As I scanned the document, I realized that not only had I finished a learning module, I had completed the suite of support materials I had been working on for six months. People would soon be using these tools to help them navigate their change. My work was done.

I quickly closed the file and called up my next one. Then I paused. I felt I had missed something: I had skipped paying tribute to my accomplishment. I didn't feel like celebrating (I felt like sleeping), but I knew that not taking a moment to acknowledge my work would set a bad precedent. 

I wanted to avoid the trap you can fall into when in constant production mode: getting work done becomes more important than the benefit from doing it. I needed to stop and acknowledge this milestone. I needed to celebrate it.

I closed my new file and opened the one I had just finished. I scanned through the over 100 pages of guidance and tools, imagining how people would benefit from them. I noted the design changes I had made to overcome challenges and the input I had received to make it better. I was celebrating the experience as much as the outcome.

Here are some of the benefits of taking time to celebrate your accomplishments:

- Marks the end of a piece of workyou did it!
- Gives meaning to the work you dothis is why you chose your profession
- Acknowledges lessons learned―both what to do and not do
Honours a commitment ―as promised
- Demonstrates what you are capable of doingto a client, manager or your team
- Marks the beginning of a new chapterwhat's next?

It only takes a minute to celebrate and the benefit lasts much longer. Next time I will plan for my celebration.


Friday, 3 April 2015

How to Manage Yourself When You Are Unprepared

Last Sunday, Barb and I ran the oldest road race in North America, the 30K Around the Bay

This is a popular warm up race for those who are running a Spring marathon. It's not popular for those who are not in shape.
The Grim Reaper at 27 k who I avoided
I was not close to being prepared for this 18.6 mile endurance test. For the past 6 weeks I have had to prioritize work over running. 

As Oprah Winfrey says, "Running is the greatest metaphor for life because you get out of it what you put into it." Since I hadn't prepared, I knew that I would not achieve a personal best performance. 

My running predicament is similar to work challenges that we are not prepared for. In these situations, you usually don't perform at your best. You can,however, focus on being the best you can be under these circumstances.  

Here is a checklist of things you can do to manage yourself when you are unprepared:

- Be realistic--False expectations often leads to big errors: starting the race too fast would have weakened me further and increased the probability of being injured
- Confirm what you know--what facts and experiences can you leverage? I had run this race twice before so I knew where the hills were
- Ask for help--Barb shared that a final killer hill had been removed from the course so I adjusted my speed accordingly
- Call on your strengths--Draw upon your skills and what you do well: I made sure that I perfectly angled my turns that eliminated extra distance I would needlessly run
- Adjust your approach if it isn't working: I usually speed up in the last mile, but this time my legs cramped and I dropped my speed until I could regain my gait
- Remind yourself that the situation is temporary--you are managing a moment in time: Counting down the remaining kilometres gave me confidence that I would manage through my challenges and reach the finish line
- Document your learnings--documentation is a way of committing knowledge to memory: I captured my reflections and lessons learned about the race in my running log as soon as I could hobbled to my office.

My results were not my best, but they were the best I could have achieved under these circumstances. I ran 30k in 3 hours, 7 minutes and 55 seconds. This time is 8 minutes slower than last year's race when I was training for a marathon, yet 4 minutes faster than the year before when I wasn't. 

Sometimes being unprepared is unavoidable in both our personal and work lives. Being the best you can be under the circumstances can be good enough.


Friday, 27 March 2015

Are you making choices as if your best work is ahead of you?

On Wednesday, I logged into a live-streamed press conference being held at the Norwegian Embassy in Berlin. The members of A-ha were making an important announcement.

A-ha is best known for its 1985 hit single and award-winning video, "Take on Me." At the time, it filled the summer airwaves around the world and has been rerecorded or sampled by at least 12 artists, most recently Pit Bull and Christina Aguilera in their song Feel this Moment.

Take on Me Video
A-ha is much more than a band to me. This group has exemplified the "best work is ahead of me" mind-set over their 30 year career. They experimented with different styles on each of their nine albums, supported important causes, recorded a James Bond theme song, The Living Daylights, played for the largest audience on record (198,000 in Brazil), and disbanded twice to work on solo pursuits―they confidently followed their united and separate paths.

A-ha's music has been part of my life's soundtrack as I followed my path. Their third album, Stay on These Roads, traveled with me when I left my first post-university job to fulfill a personal goal of backpacking through Europe. Also, their eighth, Minor Earth, Major Sky, was my travel companion during my first global change management role when I traveled weekly. The "best work is ahead of me" belief was with me both time.
At the press conference, A-ha announced they were reforming for two-years, releasing a new album, Cast in Steel, and embarking on a major tour.

Morten Harket said, "I knew that this would be a real genuine effort. We have never been ones to look back...all three of us are doing this because we know we can create something new." It caused me to think if I was making choices as if my best work is in front of me. If not, I would need to make some changes.

How about you? Are you making choices as if your best work is ahead of you? I hope so.


Friday, 20 March 2015

You're Only as Good as Your Opportunities

I read an intriguing quote from the actor Ethan Hawke: "One of the most frustrating things about acting is that you're only ever as good as your opportunities." This struck me as a profound insight: people are only as good as the environment in which they are in.

I have seen this phenomenon play out during organizational change. People perform at their worst in a poor work environment, regardless of their skill level. On the positive side, people perform at their best in an engaging and supportive environment, regardless of the level of change. 

An important part of Change Management is creating an environment where people can successfully adopt new ways of thinking and behaving. It's difficult to build because everyone (including senior leaders) are wrestling with their own transition. If done well, however, they choose hope over despair and in so doing remove their own barriers to adoption.

My second reflection was that Ethan was frustrated by his reality, whereas I found it elating. If you are only as good as your opportunities, you need to find the best opportunities so you can thrive. Networking through public speaking, seminars, association meetings, newsletters and this blog has provided me with many opportunities. Most of them have taken me in directions I wouldn't have thought of or found on my own.

If uncovering opportunities is the goal, how do you find them? Here are some tips on uncovering opportunities that will enable you to be your best:
  • Believe that your best work is ahead of you -- some people stop looking because they are in maintain mode
  • Make connecting with others a priority -- as Ernest Hemingway said, "You make your own luck"
  • Help others find new opportunities -- your generosity will be appreciated and reciprocated
  • Define what a good opportunity means to you -- they are easier to spot when you know what they look like
  • Give yourself flex time in your schedule so you can seize them -- I am working on this one
  • Evaluate the details before agreeing to an opportunity -- it might be a burden in disguise
  • Thank those who connect you to opportunities -- gratitude is linked to satisfaction and it will remind you to return the favour 
  • Tell people you are looking for new opportunities -- many will become your ambassadors
This week, I had a great call with someone I had been introduced to by email. It turns out we had the same manager at different companies when we worked in Europe. What are the odds? I want to connect him with an opportunity. The odds are very good.


Saturday, 14 March 2015

How to Write for People You Don't Know

In business, we are often asked to write to people we don't know. It could be an email to someone you need information from or a reply request that includes a group of unknown recipients. You must communicate with strangers. 

Many business people spend most of their time crafting their message instead of thinking about the people who need to understand it. They write in a style that works for them, assuming that it will work for others--instruction manuals, help desk scripts and earnings statements are good examples of this approach.

This weekend, I will be writing a guest blog post for an audience I don't know. They are student members of a financial association. Since I am not a student and don't belong to this association, I am taking extras steps to ensure my message is not lost in translation.

Here is the process I am following to align my message with my readers interests:
  • Meet with the association's communication coordinator to better understand reader preferences
  • Review a topic list of articles published this year to identify themes and titling
  • Read the latest two issues to study style, tone, structure and length of articles
  • Visit other student sites, such as Talent Egg, to better understand student needs
  • Create a draft and review it with the coordinator
  • Gain feedback from readers to learn for the next time
I remember speaking with a leader who was frustrated by his employees' poor knowledge of the company's strategy. He had spent a lot of time writing about every aspect of his plan. Why didn't people get it?

It turns out that his writing style was jargon filled and complex. His desire to share every detail left people confused, bored and annoyed. Before long, people stopped reading.

Getting to know the people you don't know is the only way to effectively write to them.


Friday, 6 March 2015

10 Tips on Managing Yourself through a Crunch Time

Most people experience spikes in activity that appear to be greater than the hours available to complete them. There's much to do and so little time to do it in. Does this sound familiar?

My challenge in crunch times is not changing my behaviour to accommodate the extra work. I try to cram everything into my existing schedule, which causes frustration and stress. I even take on new activities, which increases the pressure.

What I have realized is that you need to adjust your thinking and actions as soon as you realize that a heavy workload is coming. Here is how I plan on managing one I am about to take on:
  • Block off time on your calendar to complete key tasks―they can't be compromised and need to be protected from less important activities
  • Maintain your fitness―sustained energy is necessary to effectively complete a period of high performance
  • Negotiate new timelines if your work exceeds the available time to complete it―attempting the impossible leads to poor quality
  • Track your time―measurement leads to improved effectiveness
  • Say no to new tasks―this is easier and more effective than trying to adjust your existing commitments to accommodate new ones
  • Let everyone know you are entering a crunch time―intense focus can be misinterpreted. Also, this discourages people asking you take on new tasks
  • Mandate a six hour sleep rule―any less and you quickly reach diminishing returns 
  • Set an end date for when the crunch period is over―if not, the crunch pace can become your new norm
  • Capture lessons learned―throughout the period, ask yourself what is going well and what could be improved upon?
  • Reward yourself and those close to you―celebrating acknowledges sacrifices made and helps frame the experience as worthwhile
Spikes in activity are common in most roles and professions. It's a side effect of today's constantly changing work environments. How you manage them determines whether you crunch the work or the work crunches you.


Friday, 27 February 2015

10 Tips on How to Co-present a Presentation

This week, I co-presented a webinar with Jocelyn Bérard called Change Agility: Mastering Constant Change

We gave a similar keynote presentation at the Canadian Society for Training and Development (CSTD) Conference in November. Although the content was similar, the format was very different. The biggest change was that we couldn't see any of the over 500 participants. 
In many ways, webinars are easier to lead than in-person presentations: you can use your notes, you are sitting down and you don't have to think about your gestures.

There are also some challenges with this format: vocal mistakes are more noticeable, any background noise is a distraction and the only way to convey emotions is through your voice. 

Technical risks are just as big. Fortunately, we had Sarah managing IT and production. She flawlessly managed the communication software, emceeing, polling questions and choreography.

What I loved most was the partnership the three of us shared. Like any productions, it takes a well-coordinated team to make them work well.

Here are some tips on how to partner on a presentation:
  • Write a script―it improves flow and leaves little to chance
  • Listen and be open to your partners' recommendations―it leads to better quality and personal growth
  • Show up well-rehearsed―this is a given for trust-building and ability to perform
  • Arrive very early―remove a risk that would let down your audience and partners
  • Practice as a team―co-presentations are like dances: you must be in step with your partner for them to look good
  • Focus your practice time on transitions―hand-offs have the highest risk of going wrong
  • Know the technology―Sarah was the expert, but she needed to educate us on its fine points for the recording to work well
  • Discuss what could go wrong―contingency plans lead to fast corrections
  • Have an sense of humour―it builds and communicates rapport
  • Eat together―I remember Neil Peart, of the band Rush, talking about the importance of sharing meals with his band mates (Jocelyn shared his lunch with me twice!)
The presentation went well and as planned. We had a great time interacting with participants and ourselves. When we finished our closing comments and the recording ended, my first thought was 'when would we get the opportunity to partner again?' A partnership doesn't get any better than this.


Friday, 20 February 2015

How to Make the Most of Business Travel

My flight from Zurich to Munich was on time, which was a good start to journey home to Toronto. It has been a year since I have traveled outside of North America and a few since I did so almost weekly.

The rituals of business travel came back to me faster than I thought, from packing efficiently to researching local transit and store schedules. I even remembered to take melatonin pills on the overnight flight to regulate my sleep cycle and minimize jet lag. I was back in the business traveler zone.

What I had forgotten were the many benefits of international travel, which help counterbalance the losses of leaving your family. They are often unexpected, exciting and inspiring. Here are the ones that I noticed this week:

  • Experience a new culture -- day-to-day differences in culture are fascinating. I feel like pinching myself every time I am abroad
  • Increase your knowledge -- reading local magazines and newspapers provide glimpses of what is important
  • Broaden your perspectives -- talking with people about their lives expands your frame of reference and makes you more tolerant of different realities
  • See old friends -- this trip I saw great people who I had worked with many years ago The highlight was being invited out to dinner by an old friend and his wife (a new friend)
  • Practice your manners -- a test of character, especially when things go wrong and you don't speak the local language
  • Take time for reflection -- the best time to reflect is when you are in a new environment, without distraction of your regular commitments and schedule 

My second flight of the day, from Munich to Toronto, is also posted as being on time. It looks like I will return home without incident, tired and motivated. I don't want to forget my new experiences so I can make the most of my business travel. 


Friday, 13 February 2015

How to Help Someone Who is Lost

Yesterday, we headed off on a family skiing vacation at Mont Tremblant, 130 kilometres north of Montreal.

The drive went well, especially using GPS. Other than a few twists and turns through Montreal, travel was smooth and on time.

We eagerly watched satellite navigator click down the kilometres to our checkered flag destination marker. "You have arrived at your destination, the route guidance is now finished," it confidently exclaimed. The problem was that we were still on an unlit, two lane highway with only trees on both sides to welcome us.

We kept driving until we reached the Mont Tremblant Village. There were no passersby to ask at 11:00 pm in -25 degrees Celsius weather so we kept going.

After confirming we were lost by driving in all directions, we headed to the only resort we could see. We asked the the person at the front desk if this was where we check in to the place we were staying, he said, "no." We then asked how we could get to where we were going. He gave us a map of the area, drew a line to our destination and then pointed out our mistake, which sounded like the old Bugs Bunny line, "You should have taken a left at Albuquerque." 

We headed off again but realized that where we were to check-in was not where we were staying. We called the registration office and the woman said that our mistake was using GPS: "You shouldn't have used GPS. It doesn't work here." When we mentioned a restaurant that was in sight, she confirmed we were lost. "No, that's not where you should be." 

Our guide directed us to go past the golf course heading toward to mountain. Since it was completely dark and being our first visit to the area, we didn't know where either of them were. It now seems amusing exchanging comments in the care like, "Do you see the mountain...I don't see the mountain...could it be over that a golf course under the snow?" 

The good news is that we were only a minute away. The bad news is that we continued driving in the wrong directions for ten. The only remaining option was to backtrack the way we originally came past the invisible GPS checkered flag point. In minutes, we arrived at our destination an hour after estimated arrival time.

Travel stories are excellent metaphors for working through change. There are clear start and end points, landmarks define the path and usually there are people available to help them to get to where they are going.

Here are some tips to help travelers of any kind:

  • Be clear on where people need to go, including landmarks they will see along the way
  • Tell people multiple times where they are going―repetition and accuracy are connected
  • Check in with people to make sure they are on track
  • Put yourself in their shoes―no one tries to get lost and they can't always see the mountain to show them where they are
  • Inform people that they are not the first to get lost―confidence and success are connected
  • Assure people they will get to where they are going
  • Confirm that people get back on track when they are lost
These may seem like simple tips, but many change initiatives focus on the destination without checking in to make sure people are progressing toward it. The destination becomes the focus over how people are getting there. 

Mont Tremblant is beautiful, especially when you can see it. We have reached the checkered flag and it feels good.