Friday 29 November 2013

How to Work in a Hostile Environment

I bumped into an old friend whom I hadn't spoken with in years. It was good to catch up on our families and careers.

She told me that work was not going well. She worked in a hostile environment and although she was working hard, she was not doing her best. There was little to celebrate and she was drained.

The more she described her work culture, the more caustic it appeared: personal interests and agendas guided actions and behaviours; there was little trust for and between executives; and people were focused on covering themselves. Many people had disengaged and, like the 80's Loverboy song, were "working for the weekend."

I knew my friend was a team player who thrived on stretch goals and collaboration. Her focus was on finding the best answer no matter who came up with it. Not a success factor for her current environment.

She asked me what I would do. Here are the highlights of what I suggested:
  • Assess your situation. Are the benefits you are getting worth the personal costs of working in this culture? Is the net benefit better than your best available alternative?
  • Quit taking it personally (QTIP). Everyone's performance is impacted by the environment in which they work. The next person who holds your role will be treated the same way. 
  • Create a sub-culture based on the values and behaviours that make you successful. Who among your peers and team want a better culture? Build it within your areas of influence.
  • Map the key stakeholders and plot what actions trigger their behaviours. You can encourage or limit behaviours by activating or avoiding these actions. 
  • Raise awareness of how the current culture is lowering productivity. This is a long-term strategy but  in time it may limit some behaviours. Money talks.
  • Talk it out with friends. It broadens your perspective, provides advice and reduces stress.
  • Know your limits. Define the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Bad behaviour intensifies over time and your confidence will erode. When will you say "I don't think that is appropriate? 
  • Create new options to assess. The more options you have, the more empowered you will be.
I am planning to talk it out further with my friend.

Friday 22 November 2013

What I Learned From Making a Book Trailer

This week, I received the final version of a book trailer for Change with Confidence that was filmed after I completed my Building Your Change Capability course for Soundview.  

A book trailer is an important promotional vehicle because it provides the potential reader with an overview of the book and the author. I had filmed six 'author tips' videos for Wiley last April but I didn't have a promotional piece about my book, which was a gap. 

I really enjoyed discussing filming options and script choices with Jen and Jackie, Soundview's creative videographers. We weighed the benefits of different camera angles and supporting graphics against the objectives of the video.

Jackie and Jen
Initially, we tried using a Powerpoint slide as a guide for me. This worked well when filming the course because I knew the material well and a reminder of the sequence points was all I needed. 

The support I needed  for the book trailer was different. Since it would be one minute long, I needed extra help to deliver each point precisely and succinctly. 

We opted to use a teleprompter. I had only used one once before while on vacation at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago. Being a pretend newscaster with my friend Dan was not a lot of experience.

It took about fifteen takes to make the video. I spoke quickly for my first few takes as if I would not be able to keep up with the teleprompter that Jackie was controlling manually. I needed to relax and focus less on the screen (an ipad).

What worked best was a mixture of reading and talking freely. I started each point by reading from the teleprompter and then ended it with a follow-on thought. For example, I read "...illustrated by real world examples" and added "many of which I actually experienced in my career." This approach felt natural and captured the key points about the book and the author. 

Jen edited the video and added the graphics. I loved the initial cut. We only made one small adjustment on the banner and it was done. 

Here's what I learned from the experience:
  • Skilled professionals do excellent work - work with the best;
  • Experiment with different options - one will outshine the others;
  • Be yourself. The buyer is buying the book and the author who wrote it;
  • Test the final product with trusted advisers. They know what good looks like for you; and
  • Use it - distribute it broadly - Youtube, blog, Amazon, website, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.

So here it is. I hope you like it.

Friday 15 November 2013

Life is Best When You Are Ahead of the Curve

Preparing for a Journey
I wasn't sure how my week would begin when I landed in Philadelphia last Sunday night. I was there to film a course call Building Your Change Capability for Soundview Executive Book Summaries.

Soundview had awarded Change with Confidence "30 Best Business Books of 2013" status earlier this year and had created both Executive Summary and audio versions of my book - a huge honour. They also hosted a webinar with me in June that was a great experience.

Andrew, Executive Editor and
Ursula, Director of Business Dev.
In August, Ursula and Andrew approached me about a new product offering called SoundviewPro launching in January. It is a series of online courses by their authors that stream to subscribers' computers, tablets and smart phones.

The invitation intrigued me. Online courses, called MOOCs (massive open online courses) is a hot trend in leadership development and I wanted to be a part of it. Doing so with a progressive and enthusiastic partner was even better.

I started writing my course a month before the shoot. I thoroughly researched the format, educating myself on consumer style preferences and the elements of engaging content. A successful course needed both. 

My biggest challenge was creating a narrative arc across all 'classes' to provide viewers with insights on change and a map of the phases of a big change project. I  spent the last two weekends creating slides and writing speaking notes. Building Your Change Capability was completed two hours before the taxi picked me up for the airport.

                    I Couldn't Resist
Like most new experiences that stretch your capabilities, this one was amazing. The entire Soundview team, including the owners, Josh and Rebecca, were welcoming and supportive. They too were excited by the possibilities of this learning format. It felt like we were building something ahead of the curve, something that was big, exciting and not completely known.

Jen and Jackie, my directors and videographers, were excellent. Beyond putting me at ease, they were very knowledgeable and creative. I loved exploring options and selecting approaches for the different segments. We tried to see the content through the viewer's eyes and created some exercises, which added spontaneity and freshness to the design.

Our target course length was three hours, which I thought was longer than the material I had prepared. I had nothing to worry about because after eight hours of filming we captured just over three hours of content over twelve classes:

  1. Introduction (12 min)
  2. Change Success Factors (28)
  3. The Change Leader's Role (12)
  4. The Confidence Factor (10)
  5. Essential Change Capabilities (10)
  6. Assessing what You Bring to Change (16)
  7. Asking and Answering the Questions of
      Change (16)
  8. The Four Phases of a Change Initiative (10)
  9. Phase 1: Figuring It Out (15)
10. Phase 2: Planning for Change (16)
11. Phase 3: Managing Change (16)
12. Phase 4: Making It Stick (20)

It took me twenty minutes to get comfortable in front of the camera (and Kurt). Jen and Jackie were supportive coaches as I felt my way through the practice takes. 

On the Air
After a while, I noticed that I stopped staring at the camera and began using my peripheral vision. This change dramatically increased my concentration. I focused on speaking instead of being filmed speaking. Whenever I made a mistake, it took me a couple more tries to regain this perspective, something that practice will correct.

We talking about where leadership knowledge and education is going over breaks, lunches and dinners. SoundviewPro is the right product at the right time, just ahead of the curve. The excitement about building something new was electrifying.

I left the Soundview offices at the end of my two-day shoot. I knew I had participated in something important and vital.  Something that I would be proud of for the rest of my life. I also met great people who were a delight to work with. I thought to myself, life is best when you are ahead of the curve. 


Friday 8 November 2013

If You Want a Good Conversation, Lose the Notes

Michele Price
Opportunities are more exciting when they are unexpected. That's how I felt when I hung up my phone last Friday. 

Michele Price called after a Wiley publicist had sent her a copy of Change With Confidence. She said that she was interested in interviewing me on her Breakthrough Business Strategies Radio show

Michele had an opening on Monday but the time conflicted with a client meeting. She suggested taping the interview on Sunday, which was a great option. We agreed on a 2:00 pm start time and she said it would go until 3:00 pm.

An hour. I had never been interviewed for such a long time. All my previous interviews were less than fifteen minutes. I wasn't sure how to prepare for it.

I wanted this interview to be different. I wanted it to be a conversation versus a question, answer, question, answer exchange like I had given before. Michele was warm and fun on the phone so I knew she would be a great conversationalist. But what about me?

My past approach to preparation was to write question and answer sheets and spread them around me in case those questions were asked. It worked from a content perspective but my focus was on giving the right answer versus answering the question. My answers lacked context of the discussion. Since they were independent from the discussion, they didn't lead to dynamic dialogue. 

This interview would be different. I would speak from my head instead of from my notes. The only way to do that was to not use notes.

Michele was wonderful and we had a great interview about the challenges of change and ways to manage them. The time flew by too. Before I knew it, our interview was over. We kept talking after the recording stopped and even then I wanted to chat longer. I am looking forward to staying in touch.

Notes are great for preparation but have no role in live activities - speaking engagements, training sessions or radio interviews, if you want to have a good conversation.


Friday 1 November 2013

You Are the Best Version of Yourself in the Present

A key to delivering results is to stay focused on the present. That is what I tested this week.

My schedule was jam packed with meetings and activities for multiple projects with multiple clients in multiple geographies. 

Last weekend, I shared the weight of my schedule with my friend Matt, who helped lighten my load by saying, "If anything, you are the best version of yourself in the present." I thought about the meanings behind his words. Beyond the "live in the present" connection, I realized that to perform your best you need to avoid being distracted by things that have happened in the past or ones that may happen in the future.

I decided to test my ability of staying in the present as I switched gears throughout the week. Could I remain focused on the immediate task at hand? Could I avoid the distractions of thinking about what I had just completed or what lay ahead after my next one? Would this improve my performance? 

The phrase, "you are the best version of yourself in the present" became a refocusing mechanism when my mind started to wander.  As a distraction drifted into my consciousness, I would reframe my thinking with a single thought. It worked beautifully and was required less and less. I felt focused and in the moment, not distracted by the usual noise that wastes time and diffuses efforts.

As I was living in the present I noticed more details and my concentration was stronger.  My memory of events also seemed to improve.

My next experiment is to be in the moment when I am not as stressed. Will I be able to benefit from this techniques when there is more time to spend?  As Parkinson once said, "Work will expand so as to fill the time available for its completion."

It's worth a try. Who wouldn't want to be the best version of themselves more often?