Friday 31 January 2014

The Easier it Looks, the More Preparation it Takes

I heard Commander Chris Hadfield speak at the HRPA conference last Friday. He commanded the International Space Station last year and developed a worldwide following by posting Youtube videos about life in space. He also recorded a version of David Bowie's Space Oddity that was watched by ten million people in three days - 21 million to date.

Chris talked about his career and his experiences. He also spoke about the importance of teams having a shared vision, developing deep relationships and investing in exhaustive preparation. He told stories of working with his crew for five years in preparation for their mission. 

At the end of Chris' talk it was announced that he would be staying to sign copies of his book, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. Hundreds of us bought a copy and stood in line for the opportunity to share a few words with this inspiring man.

After thirty minutes of waiting, a coordinator apologetically said that given the unanticipated high interest to the book signing, Chris would have to leave before everyone could get their books signed. A pre-signed card was offered as a consolation prize. 

To my surprise, forty of the sixty people on the wrong side of the line left. They had just heard a hero talk about perseverance and giving it your best then quickly they took "no" for an answer. 

The twenty, including me, who stayed were a motivated bunch. We reasoned that there was no way a commander of a space station would leave without signing our books, not this commander. The next twenty minutes were spent strategizing and reviewing scenarios - how many security guards were guarding him, which way would he exit, should we get his attention by singing Rocket Man or Oh Canada? Failure was not an option.

We were not disappointed. Once Chris saw the band of twenty he welcomed everyone to join the line. After shaking his hand I asked him if it was a bit overwhelming. I was referring to his popularity but he assumed I was talking about the long book signing. He said, "Absolutely not, I get to meet all these great people." He made it sound easy.

That night, I watched the Space Oddity video a few times. It was well edited and Chris looked like he spent all of his time in orbit calmly singing, play guitar and floating around a space station. It looked easy.

I searched the Internet for details on making the video. The process started with Chris' son, Evan, convincing his dad to record the song. Evan rewrote the lyrics so that the astronaut returns to earth safely, a good omen for his dad. 

Chris recorded an initial vocal track on his ipad using Garage Band software. He asked his friend Emm Gryner, a musician who had toured with Bowie, for her opinion. She liked it and added a piano track and asked her friend, Joe Corkoran, to add instrumentation. The song was sent to Bowie, which he really liked. Once his permission was secured and legal requirements were completed, Chris rerecorded the final audio track. 

In his spare time, Chris filmed himself singing and playing guitar in different parts of the space station. After mixing and editing, the video was uploaded to Youtube by his son on May 12, 2012, the day before the commander returned to earth.

What a story, what preparation. Definitely not easy. Phil

Friday 24 January 2014

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

I thought of the Steve Martin and John Candy's movie Trains, Planes and Automobiles when I was stranded in New Jersey on Tuesday.

It was a busy week that started with an early Monday morning flight to Newark followed by a day and a half of client meetings.  

I rarely take afternoon flights but I needed to be home the next day for an HRPA Conference speaking engagement and book signing. I remember Morten Hansen, the co-author Great By Choice, saying that he never travels on a speaking day because of unforeseen delays. I didn't want to test his rule.

At 10:49 am, I received a text from Air Canada informing me that my flight had been cancelled due to weather. I had been rebooked on a flight at 6 am the next day (the day of my session). It was inconvenient but my flight would still arrive seven hours before my 3:10 pm start time. I toyed with the idea of driving home but the 10 hour trip and loss of sleep didn't make sense.

Throughout the morning people talked about the big storm that was about to hit the northeast coast. The first snow flakes fell at 8 am and by 12 pm the storm was in full swing and most people had gone home. 

By 3:30 pm, visibility was low and there were six inches of snow on the ground. I left the office with my fellow traveler, Tim, to buy a change of clothes at the local Marshall's. The roads were slippery, especially since our rental car did not have snow tires.

Back at our hotel I received another text from Air Canada: My 6:00 am flight had been cancelled (due to weather) and I was rebooked on a flight the next morning at 8:40 am (the day after my presentation!).

"Dread" is the best word to describe how I felt. It was possible that I would miss a speaking engagement at the one of the largest conferences in Canada where over 100 people had signed up for my sessoin. The car option was back on the table.

Tim and I analyzed the problem. How important was the commitment? Extremely important - cost was not an issue. What were my options? Planes, trains and automobiles.

The train option didn't work due to schedules. The car option didn't work either: New York City's mayor declared a state of emergency and hotel staff shared stories of four-hour commutes. I wouldn't make it through the storm.

Plane was my only viable option. Although Air Canada had cancelled all of its flights, Tim located a Porter Airlines flight leaving Newark at 11:10 am. I would arrive in time for my session as long as the flight was less than 90 minutes late. 

I had kept the conference coordinator apprised of my situation since the first cancelled flight. Also, my wife, Barb, was on stand by, ready to meet me at the airport with a suit. The only thing left to do was follow the plan.

I got to the airport two hours ahead of my flight. The calm of the deserted airport seemed at odds with the magnitude of my challenge. Even the border guards and coffee baristas were chatty, which I would have enjoyed under other circumstances. I kept thinking, "take off on time, take off on time".  We did. 

I arrived at the conference centre with 55 minutes to spare. I tested my slides with the tech team and was settled in my room before the first attendee arrived. I opened my session by saying, "The hardest part about working in change management is following your own advice when you are managing personal change." My planes, trains and automobiles story was an effective metaphor for organizational change.

In managing change, you do the best with what you've got. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn't. The only thing for certain is that you will have a good story to tell when it is over.


Friday 17 January 2014

How it Feels to Launch an Online Course

SoundviewPro Course Library
This week, SoundviewPro launched its massive open online course (MOOCs) program. It's always exciting to be part of something new, progressive and rapidly expanding. I am honoured to be one of the first twenty instructors to provide leadership coaching in this format.

One of my goals for 2014 is to provide more change support globally. SoundviewPro enables business people from around the world, including people who travel, to access learning wherever and whenever they need it. The thought of someone watching my course on a smart phone 3,000 miles away is as global as it gets. 

I designed the course to enable the flexibility that SoundviewPro provides. I put a lot of thought into the course structure so that people could easily access the content they needed most. Just like managing change, learning is not always linear.

Marshall Goldsmith Explains the Program
My fellow instructors are all highly accomplished and expert in their field.  I was pleased to see that I had connections with a couple of them. Marshall Goldsmith, esteemed leadership coach and best-selling author, was the keynote speaker at the HRANS Conference I presented at in June. Also, I had written a guest blog for Dan Figliuolo's top-rated thoughtLEADERS blog. I will be introducing myself to all other instructors to learn of their experiences.

It was good to read the course description a few months after the course was filmed. Here are some of the things people will learn:
Course Outline
  • How to understand the connection between people and change
  • Why confidence is an essential change agent
  • The seven keys to lead a successful change initiative
  • Five areas to discover what you will bring to the change project
  • The four phases of any change initiative 
  • How to prevent the post-change return to the "old ways" of working 
The introduction video captures the tone of my session. While filming, I thought of myself as a trusted coach who was sharing practical tips and approaches to manage change well. I wanted to arm the learner with what he or she needed to navigate the uncertainty and ambiguity that comes with change, to be their guide when things were unclear. 

So how does it feel to launch an on-line course? It feels really good. I look forward to reading learners' review on the site. What did people value most? What insights, how-to activities and watch-outs were most helpful? In this way, it feels similar to when Change with Confidence was published last year; it feels both anticipatory and exciting.

Now it's time to get the word out. I would appreciate you letting me know what you think of the course and passing it on to anyone who might benefit from building their skill, behaviour and confidence to be their best in times of ambiguity and change.

Thanks for your help,

Friday 10 January 2014

Are you a change agent? Are you lucky?

Recently, I noticed a couple of celebrities crediting their successful careers to luck. 

Elton John said that answering an ad for song writers led to a producer giving him Bernie Taupin's lyrics to write music to. Forty years and 300 million records later, he is still working with him.

Steve Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen's lead guitarist (and Sopranos actor) said that his mother remarrying and moving from Boston to the Jersey Shore led to him developing his sound and working with "the Boss". He is going on tour with Bruce next month.

Although both stars consider themselves lucky, they had and important part to play in capitalizing on their golden opportunities; they took them. I wondered what character traits separated them from those who wouldn't.

I found my answer in a Psychology Today article called Make Your Own Luck by Rebecca Webber. She compiled a list of research-based behavioural traits of people who felt lucky. People who take advantage of serendipity are:

  • Competent
  • Self-confident
  • Risk takers
  • Open to new and different things
  • Flexible in thinking and behaviour (not rigid)
  • Positive 
  • Resilient

These traits seem to describe Elton and Steve. They also describe people who excel during change. The ones who take on new ways of working and realize the benefits they provide. Maybe someone's view on luck is a good predictor of his success during change. It's worth a chance.


Friday 3 January 2014

What 3 Words Will Keep You Focused in 2014?

Like many people, I have taken time over the holidays to reflect on 2013 achievements and 2014 goals.

I read a newsletter from Chris Brogan about his approach to 2014 planning. He invited his readers to choose three guiding words that sum up what you want to work on in the year. He included a link to the words he had used over the last seven years with tips on what words were most effective.  

After checking them out, I scribbled a few words down in my planning notes but moved onto other things. It wasn't until I described the exercise to a friend that I became excited by its possibilities. What a simple and effective way to remind you of your priorities and keep you on track. 

The following day, I read a post from another leadership guru, Dan Rockwell's, called Don't Make a Resolution; Find a Word. He advocates a one-word approach to focus your actions over the coming year. 

I am definitely a three word person. Here are mine for 2014:

Everything I do must connect to my purpose of helping people and organizations be more successful by working in new ways. My watch-out is becoming absorbed in interesting side projects that are not aligned with my overarching goal. Time is a luxury I cannot afford. 

I am at my best when I am out of my comfort zone. I need to focus on developing new change support offerings and different ways of providing them. More on this in a couple of weeks. 

I wrote Change with Confidence from a global perspective based on my experiences and researched international examples—change is universal. My business also needs to be global, including my writing, speaking engagements and clients. 

Of the three words, only "global" remains from the words I scribbled down last week; better words emerged with time. What this tells me is that I wasn't clear about my areas of focus until I went through the exercise a few times. 

Maybe this will be true for you. What are your three words for 2014?