What does it take to be a hero? As I look at the news feeds about rescues in Syria and some of the monumental acts of sacrifice that take place daily, my first thought is that a hero is someone who does something super-human. Somebody who gives everything he or she has for a purpose they believe in. Not something that your every day, run of the mill individual is necessarily cut out to do.
And then I watched the Olympic Men’s triathlon.
I was watching Andrew Yorke. Andrew is my son Rory’s friend, a young man that I watched grow up. I have pictures of Andrew bobbing for apples in our basement, snowboarding with our family, and even some from he and Rory’s grade 8 graduation. Memories, too, of loading bikes on my truck and going over to Albion Hills to ride up and down the hills with a crew of kids that always included Andrew. Always moving, always playing, always laughing.
Still, kind of a run of the mill individual from Caledon East.
But Andrew was also the kind of kid who, when Rory was deciding whether or not to go to the regional arts high school and leave all his friends behind, called him up to tell him he had to go there…and they’d still be friends, even if they didn’t go to school together. Pretty heroic for a run of the mill 14 year old.
Andrew was ready for the Olympics, and in the best shape of his life. He stood at the beach, ready to enter the water, obviously prepared to give everything he had. And he did.
Yes, Alistair Brownlee won the event. He out-swam, out-rode and out-ran all the other competitors, Andrew included. But it was Andrew who is my hero. Because he gave everything he had. And more. Who knows what happened to cause the crash, but Andrew and Jason Wilson went down. Then Andrew did what he always does – he got up and kept going. Imagine spending years of your life focused on this single outcome, and then have your goals shatter into smithereens in a heartbeat….and then having the guts and the internal strength to get up, push your bike uphill, and keep going.
Something like that would crush most of us average mortals. We would sink into the ground and be afraid to rise. Not Andrew. He kept going. He finished the race, and he turned and waved to the crowds.
If you must know, I was crying when I saw Andrew cross the finish line. Not because I felt sorry for him, but because I am so fiercely proud of this young man. He is our Olympian, with a spirit and determination that knows no bounds. Andrew, you are a hero to Caledon, to Canada, and to all who know and love you.
Imagine you went for a hike with your dogs in a local Conservation Area. As you wander
along the wood-chipped trail in the sunny weather, you hear voices up ahead. You can’t see anyone, but the voices you hear are deep, and there seems to be three separate voices, so you conclude perhaps there are 3 men ahead of you. As you wind your way through the bends of the trail, you can just make out the men up ahead, standing together near a small viewing bench.
There are actually 4 of them, and they are all large men, with one distinguishing characteristic: they are each wearing dark hoodies with the hoods up, hiding their faces. They are clustered together, lowering their voices and quietly laughing.
What is your first reaction?
Do you feel a bit of anxiety? Do you slow down? Do you want to turn in the other direction before they see you, or before your dogs see them and start to bark? What is the first thing you think about?
PAUSE for a moment…and consider what your own reaction might have been.
That happened to me last week. It was one of those exquisitely lovely, sunny spring days and I was hiking along the Gorge Loop Trail at the Belfountain Conservation Area. That when I heard the voices. Roxy and Lucy were too busy sniffing to notice the men, and had I wanted to, I could have turned around and headed in another direction to avoid them. But I was not going to be intimidated by a few guys with hoodies on a sunny day! So on I forged, anxiety at bay, to firmly walk past the Bench and the hoodies.
And as I rounded the bend and the men could see me, the largest of them quickly pulled off his hoodie…and grinned at me! The other others did the same, and they all smiled and yelled outhello. I thought of all the things that had gone around in my head, and the first words out of my mouth were “You know, you 4 look like a bunch of thugs out here with your hoodies on!”
They all roared with laughter and the first young man said “I know! I didn’t want to scare you with my hood, but it is so windy that I waited till you came close”. His face was full of concern and humour, and before we knew it, we were all laughing so hard two of them had to sit down on the bench!
As I wiped my eyes, said my goodbyes and headed back on the trail, I realized I had actually made myself feel anxious about what might have happened. And yet, what actually happened – unplanned shared laughter – was wonderful. How often do I think something is going to happen, and then pre-empt my own activities to prevent something that MIGHT happen from happening?
I literally stopped walking to consider whether I do that in my personal life, and what the implications are. I know I sometimes imagine all sorts of crazy outcomes, but like the day on the trail, I tend to forge on and take the “risk” of the unknown. But when I consider my work life, I am not certain that I am the same kind of risk taker with my business. I have been known to not look at the horizon for growth opportunities and instead, focus on the potential negative things that might happen. I envision the challenges rather than the benefits.
Erika Anderson, writing in Harvard Business Review, talks about changing your inner narrative. So rather than first being negative, be curious, and motivated to find the positive.This requires a willingness to experiment, to be confident and to trust…your business, yourself and others. I know I need to do more of this in my work life.
If I had turned around and walked the other way on the trail, I would have been fine. The dogs would have had a good walk, and I would have made it home safe and sound. But I was willing to be curious, and to risk just a little. The rewards of the risk – the laughter and the smiles, and the incredibly delightful change in my mood, was well worth it. I think about my business and I am determined to risk a bit more, and to not just be safe and sound.
I challenge you to do the same, in business and in personal life. You may find hoodies, but you’re also sure to find happiness!
On Monday night, March 7th, something quite wonderful happened in the hamlet of Belfountain. The Outside Track, http://www.theoutsidetrack.com/, a Scots, Irish and Cape Breton fusion band, performed at The Higher Ground Coffee Company,
The café seats about 25 people comfortably. We had close to 50, without counting the band, the baristas and people who arrived because they saw the Open sign lit up. It was an evening of tunes, dancing, singing and laughter. When I introduced the band, I looked out at a sea of incredibly happy and excited faces. I knew that the night was going to be special.
The room was filled with people from all walks of life. A real estate agent, a project management specialist, a retired French teacher, a flamenco dancer, someone battling cancer….a panoply of personalities and experiences, squished together, cheek to jowl, anticipating the celebration of music.
These people were from my community. Or rather, my communities. I knew them all, from living in Caledon East or Belfountain, from going to physiotherapy together, playing fiddle, taking our children to swimming lessons, walking dogs together. And as I reflected on the magic of the night, I wanted to write something about the power and connection of community, and remind us all that a community’s heart and soul is something that draws us all together and gives us energy, love and hope.
But, well, you know, life got in the way. I had another workshop to run, then two reports to prepare, a proposal to get to the courier, groceries, laundry….you know the drill. And now it’s March 23rd, and the incredible show seems so long ago. Who cares about community anyway?
I woke up yesterday morning to the radio blaring news of the tragedy in Brussels. I felt weighted down in my bed, feeling an overwhelming sadness at yet one more senseless and heart-wrenching chapter in the theatre of the world.At least 30 people were killed in two explosions, one at the Brussels Airport and another at the Maalbeek Metro Station. This was close on the heels of the Paris attacks in November, where gunmen and suicide bombers hit a concert hall, a major stadium, restaurants and bars and left 130 dead and hundreds wounded. That followed the Boston Marathon bombings where two bombs went off near the finish line, killing 3 spectators and wounding more than 260 other people.
How could I write about community, about joy and music, when these tragedies keep hitting us in the face every time we look at the paper, or listen to the radio, or stare at our computer screens?
But how can I not?
In the Globe and Mail this morning, I read an article about the Brussels event. Phil Gurski, an author who worked for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and just finished a book entitled The Threat Within, was quoted. “For more than a decade now, European civilians have been killed in the streets, oftentimes by terrorists who grew up in the very cities that they hit”.
Imagine that, if you will.
That brought me squarely back to the night of March 7th, and The Outside Track. In one room, on one night, the communities that make up my life converged for one purpose – joy. Oh sure, we wanted to stamp our feet, sing along and get carried away with the fiddle and the accordion. But what was clear was the joy that infused the air and drew us all together. Nights like that won’t change the world. The people at the café that night may not have known one another previously, because they come from different communities. But for one night, we all shared something powerful and wonderful. We were all in the same community.
My blogs usually end with a linkage to a piece of business advice, like: “Imagine the worst-case scenario and build from that”, or “Start your mornings dealing with the hard stuff, when your mind is clear and you can make progress”. But not today.
Today, I want you to think about yourself. Who are your communities? Where and how can you connect them? Don’t worry about your business environment or your financial success. Think about bringing joy, by connecting one concert and one community at a time, in your life and the lives of others. The Outside Track did it for 50 disparate people in Belfountain. I hope that we can all find ways to make that happen again and again and again.
I was running south on Shaw’s Creek Road and a beautiful tune came through my headphones, an Andrea Beaton original that made my feet dance and my face grew a smile. I found myself humming along and by the time I got home, I had to grab my fiddle, pull the tune out of my memory and play it.
I’m lucky like that. I can’t always remember the words to songs, or have the first notes of a tune ready to just start and play. But if I hear a tune few times, I can almost always play it back. I’ve never thought much about that skill, until I met my most wonderful friend Anastasia.
Anastasia (or Aunti-Stasia, as I sometimes say in my head) is an amazing fiddler. She picks up her bow, and she looks like a professional player, with an intense focus and drive. She’s also aNINJA when it comes to sight reading. You can put anything in front of her, and she can play it. It is almost as if her brain doesn’t even have to register the notes she sees, and the tune goes from the paper to her eyes and down to her fingers in lightning speed. At our Tuesday night fiddle group with Sandy MacIntyre, she puts us all to shame when we get a new set of tunes, because she can play them perfectly as soon as she sees them.
But here’s the thing: she has serious trouble memorizing tunes. She can read anything. But take the music away, and she’s temporarily lost.
I have read about how people’s brains are different, and I can acknowledge that, intellectually. But it really wasn’t until I spent time playing music with Anastasia that I really, truly understood how different people can be.
At first glance, Anastasia and I pretty similar. She’s got a handful of university degrees, and so do I. We are both medium height, with Germanic last names. We are both runners, and we play the fiddle. And we both smile a lot.
But the way that we process information is dramatically different! My brain seems to capture the tune in its entirety, and I can reproduce it. Anastasia’s brain sees the individual parts of the tune, as transcribed in notes, rests, time signatures, and she reproduces it. We can both play the music, but we do it using different skill sets.
I was running a workshop for York Region last week, and I had a room full of people who worked in the forestry sector. A quick glance around the room told me everyone was pretty much the same – outdoorsy types who prefer to wear plaid shirts and hiking boots, but were stuck behind a desk doing management plans. I imagined that everyone was going to have the same ideas and perspectives about the upcoming tree planting programs.
But then I thought of Anastasia and our differences. How many people around the table had brains that worked like mine? And how many were like Anastasia? And (gasp) how many other kinds of brains were out there???!!!
Before I got myself twisted into a knot, it occurred to me that I could just ask a question and I’d find out what kinds of brains were going to contribute to the discussions. So well before panic set in, I simply asked people to tell me how they “thought”. Were they problem solvers? Were they skeptics? Did they see a few clear choices, or did they see a variety of options? Could they hear the music and repeat it, or did they prefer to see all the notes beforehand?
As each person shared the way they “thought”, I wrote down their responses on a flip chart so we could all see them. Once I realized the wide variety of thinkers who sat around
the table, I got excited about the diversity of ideas, options and models that we could generate. And interestingly enough, once everyone else understood this incredible diversity, they looked at one another differently and with a more critical appreciation of what each person could contribute.
Suddenly, the plaid shirts appeared quite different!
My take away from this? If you are a facilitator, or a participant in a meeting, or any living, breathing human being, please don’t forget that there is a wealth of diversity all around you, and that is goes above and beyond gender, culture and apparel choices. Take the time to recognize and take advantage of that diversity in your work and your personal life, and celebrate the differences as your move closer towards your goals.
I read a quotation this morning that said: Play the music, not the instrument. So listen for Anastasia and I playing music this weekend. She’ll be the one paying close attention to the notes, making no mistakes and playing with joy. I’ll be the one with my eyes closed, playing whatever notes come from my fingers, and also playing with joy. We may get to the music in different ways, but the result makes us both happy!
For the first time ever, Jaime didn’t come home for Christmas. My daughter had just moved out west, and taking a week off her job was not really possible. So her Dad flew out and spent some time with her, and we skyped and talked and laughed while opening presents. Jaime sent her presents home with her Dad, and it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I opened my gift from her.
It is something small and elegant. A leather journal, handmade in Victoria, B.C. My son, Rory,told me Jaime had explained that she had actually seen it being made. How remarkable. And how perfect for me…the keeper of lists, of ideas, of many little journals, calendar books and note books. This was something unique in which to capture my most special moments, given with love.
I decided that this special journal would be used as a place to record wonderful things. In fact, I decided that each day, I would purposefully look for something wonderful to include in the journal. It might be something that I had seen, like colours in a sunset or a message from someone I love. It might be a moment in time, a conversation that brought me joy, or anything that makes me pause and be grateful.
I decided I’d share with you, friends who read my musings, 2 of my entries that have taught me something, and ask you to ponder on them and how they relate to you.
January 20th – Rory was not blessed with a natural sense of direction. In fact, one of his first important tools upon going to university was a GPS to make sure he made it home from Waterloo without getting lost!With two parents and a sister who all seem to have an internal compass, Rory was unique, and we assumed he’d always need that GPS to get around. But we should all know the fallacy of assumptions.
Rory quietly made it his purpose to learn how not to get lost, and understand directions. How lucky for me. Because last week, when we were meeting for coffee, I missed a turn in the great void of Mississauga, and got lost in a never-ending series of parking lots. I drove in circles trying to escape, and finally made a frantic call to Rory for help.Once he knew where I was, he was able to calmly talk me out of the parking lot, back on the road and over to the Starbucks.
I never thought I’d turn to Rory for directions. But look what happened when I did?
January 25th – “Don’t you want to talk to me?” It was my birthday, and yes, I wanted to talk to people I love. Like Jaime. But I had crushing deadlines and was taking the entire day to simply write, write more, and finish writing. I needed about 10 hours of staring at my computer. Then Jaime called. I was clearly distracted during our conversation, and she finally said “Don’t you want to talk to me?” Well, actually, I’d rather talk to Jaime than do almost anything else in the entire world. Those 7 words made me pause…and to remember what was important in my life. “Yes, I do” was my response. I stood up, left my desk, sat down on the couch, and settled in for a wonderful talk with my daughter.
I decided, in that moment, what was most important to me was the person I love, not the work.
Both of these little vignettes hold a message for me. And maybe for you, too. Rory knew his weakness was his sense of direction, and he worked on it. Had I not asked for help, I would never had known that he is no longer directionally-challenged; that he is someone who can help me, instead of me helping him. (And I would still be driving in circles in that *^#$@ ing parking lot!). He reminded me that in life, in business, in everyday, to never underestimate or assume things will be just so. Alan Alda has some advice that applies here: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Rory reminded me to abandon my assumptions and let the light in. And get out of the parking lot!
Jaime also helped me remember, in just a few words, what was truly important. My work, regardless, will always be there. But the time I get to spend with my daughter will not.
So I answered her question with an open heart and open mind. What resonated most for me was that when I returned to my desk, after laughing and listening for about a half hour, I was ready to tackle my work with focus and drive. In the end, I got to talk to Jaime, and was refreshed and reinvigorated for work. I know we can’t all have the luxury of doing that, but perhaps the message here is to look for those opportunities and seize them when we can.
Jaime’s gift of the journal is now being filled with my life’s gifts. Making faces through the window of an airport hotel last week; seeing a purple finch perched on my bird feeder; picking up a used Tim Horton’s cup, and then looking at how beautiful the road looked after that the litter was gone – these are all gifts. I spend my days actually looking out for those incredible moments, and sifting through them to decide what fits best in my journal.
I challenge you to get your own journal and for one week, write down one thing each day that amazes you, that brings you wonder, or brings you joy.
Perhaps you will find, like I have, that every day is jammed packed full of incredible moments.
Any of you out there interested in creating change? I believe we all are…just some of us are more motivated to do something about it! The Toronto Blue Jays are taking part in the postseason for the first time since 1993, and the changes they have made in their lineup are part of the reason. New pitcher, change in left field, and more, have all been positive changes.
Change, for anyone, is hard. Large changes or transformations within an organization – like a baseball team or soccer team – are even harder. It means taking all those individuals and helping each and every one of them to change. Sounds like a lot of work, and not very easy, when you look at it like that.
McKinsey is a global management consulting firm that does extensive research into improving client performance (http://www.mckinsey.com/insights). Their latest findings suggest that investing time and effort UP FRONT to design initiatives for change works better than putting equal time and effort in after the change has started. These findings suggest that the most effective initiatives involve four key actions: role modelling (BE the change), fostering understanding and conviction (help people to understand and believe), reinforcing changes through formal mechanisms (put it in their job specifications) and, and developing talent and skills (provide formal and informal training). These actions are critical to shifting both mind-sets and behaviours.
I can see you now, eyes all glazing over and wondering why you’re even reading this. I’ll tell you why: you’re reading this because it is going to make a difference in how you do change management! McKinsey’s research demonstrates that when companies or organizations (or teams) design a portfolio of change initiatives based on all four of those key actions, success is like to follow.
They go on to suggest that you must ensure these change initiatives complement and support one another, but at the same time, are truly innovative. Indeed, some companies indicate that just using tried and true activities often limits successful change. The most effective initiatives focus on an organization’s strengths and take advantage of where they are already effective, preparing and encouraging change in unique ways.
For you Jays fans out there, or supporters of Toronto Football Club, it means finding out what the team does really, really well, supporting that, and then introducing the change…say, like a new pitcher or incredible striker. And the team morphs around that introduction.
At the same time, the research tells us that being systematic in prioritizing change initiatives also helps to predict successful change. So preparing and planning for change in a systematic way, laying out which initiative will follow which other initiative, is going to help you in your change efforts.
And do you develop these innovative, creative initiatives by yourself, locked in your little change management office? NO! We know that involving people across an organization (or a team) with the design of that change will be wayyyyy more successful that ignoring them.
When I coached my daughter’s soccer team, I recall struggling with a defensive line problem – too many balls were getting past our defence into our net. It just seemed so obvious to me to sit down with my defence players to brainstorm ways to improve. It was the players themselves who came up innovative ideas, and created their own demanding practice drills that tightened up our defence. I coached the drills, but because the players had such a critical role in how we were going to strengthen our game, they chose to work hard. Talk about a change in behaviour and performance. FYI, we won the league that year.
You too, can win your league or at least be successful with your transformation when you adopt a multi-initiative approach to change. Consider how to role model, help your folks to understand what’s going on, use formal AND informal change mechanisms and develop (or bring in) talent and skills. Mindsets, behaviours and your entire organization are sure to change…is a good way! Just look at those Jays…some positive change, and they are on their way to the World Series!
I just spent a day at a 2 day Change Management Conference. I hoped that it would provide critical and meaningful insights into change, and help shape my future as a change leader and manager. The agenda had references to a variety of exciting change specialists (Rick Maurer, John Kotter), creative thinkers (Michael Bungay Stanier) behavioural economists (Neil Bendle) and a host of others on the cutting edge of business change. But I left the conference without my expectations being met. Not even close.
On the drive home, I called my father and he asked me what I learned, despite my disappointments. This caused me to do some critical thinking as I explained my thoughts. I then sat down this morning and reviewed the notes to compare them to what I had shared with my Dad. There, I found some ideas from Michael Bungay Stanier of Box of Crayons fame (http://www.boxofcrayons.biz (that I had read on my iPad while I was bored during one of the presentations). These made real sense to me, and had it not been for my distraction at the conference, I may not have read them. Have a look and see what you think:
Be guided by opportunity, not sunk costs: This conference was expensive. As an independent consultant, I rarely indulge in professional development that costs more than my per diem. But I decided this might be worth it, and “sunk” a lot of money in the Conference – the registration fee was my sunk cost. (Economics 101 tell us that a sunk cost is any past cost that has already been paid and cannot be recovered.) In my case, the first day of the conference was a bust, but since I had already invested the money, surely I should return the second day. But if I returned simply because I had already invested in the conference, I would let myself be led by that sunk cost.
I chose to be guided by opportunity. If I didn’t return, I would be gifted with the opportunity to have a morning coffee on my deck, to complete an exciting project proposal AND go for a long trail run with Lucy Blue. I jumped at those opportunities, because they were more valuable to me than the sunk costs of the conference.
Be ready to adapt: Michael explains that he saw a presentation by a senior manager at McKinsey, a company known for its strategic planning excellence. This individual noted that they don’t really do strategic planning anymore, and to paraphrase Michael (who is also paraphrasing the individual) …”We meet every three months, test out a range of different scenarios and imagine our best responses to them … and then make our best guess on the direction for the next 90 days.”
If McKinsey can adapt and excel, then so can I! I started my career as a wildlife biologist and educator/interpreter; adapted to become an education specialist, and as I moved further in my career, found that the skills sets that I was acquiring – communications, facilitation, consultation – make me uniquely qualified to help lead and facilitate change. My plan of being the best educator/interpreter got re-routed as I acquired new skills, and I adapted to become the new and improved Susan Gesner!
Connect with those who matter: To quote Michael “To get back on track, reconnect with those who hold you with love and generosity in their hearts. “ I believe that’s not always easy in the business world, but if we do it in our personal lives, it may make us stronger and more capable in our business life. This is one idea that I take advantage of on a regular basis. Connecting serves to ground me in reality. Too often, sitting in board rooms or conference rooms, I find myself wondering if senior managers with whom I work have a real life on the outside, or if they tuck themselves under their desks at night and rise, fresh and refreshed, the next day. In my work, I strive to meet the real people behind the leader/manager role, and remind them that human connection is both acceptable and beneficial in the business world.
Don’t sweat the sunk costs – be guided by opportunity and what might be the unexpected result of an expensive conference. Be ready to adapt: if it makes more sense to read your iPad or talk to your Dad, or take advantage of evolving skill sets, then do that and adapt to those new outcomes. And don’t forget to connect with those who matter, because they will help you realize what is really important in business and everyday life.
Those three pearls of wisdom guided me today: I took the opportunity not to go to the conference and to finish a proposal (and have a coffee and go for a great run); I continue to read, learn and adapt as I aim to become a better change leader, facilitator and consultant; and I will be heading out to my deck shortly to have a cold one with my friend Bonnie and try to answer all the important questions of the world.
Consider your own day (week, month or life), and share with me how you’ve embodied these three ideas. I find it helps if I write things down and share them. Why don’t you do the same and share them here!
“And I felt a change
Time meant nothing
Never would again.”
From “Time Warp”, by Richard O’Brien
I saw a picture of my friend Kathleen today. Kathleen is the Executive Director, Chief Pooba and heart and soul of the Cleveland Restoration Society. If memory serves me correctly, we entered the world 24 days apart, so we are the same age….just youngsters, by my count!
Kath’s photo was taken during Cleveland’s 2015 Community Luncheon. She looks outstanding, with cool glasses, great hair and passion simply emanating from her being. I was so proud of her!
Then I looked at a few other pictures of folks attending this luncheon. Boy, there were lots of grey haired people, and folks who looked their age, if you know what I mean. Not my Kath, though. She looked younger and cooler than anyone else I could see in the photos.
Was she? I mean, given the demographic of the group who were made up of representatives of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, perhaps she was. Or was it what I saw when I looked at her? Did I see Ms. Crowther, power professional from Shaker Heights, Ohio? Or did I see Kathy Hackman, who biked across southern Ontario with me one summer (from youth hostel to pub, etc), and then the next summer, hiked Assateague and Chinctoteague Islands with me (waking up to the wild ponies at the door of our tent in the morning!).
When I look at her now, I see etched in her face those memories of the times we laughed so hard we cried, danced to Time Warp a zillion times, sang Emmy Lou Harris songs while drinking Rolling Rock from the can…you get the drift. I suppose I don’t see the 58 year old professional who singlehandedly defines the urban gentrification of downtown Cleveland. Nope, I see a young woman lying on a bunk bed outside of Stratford, Ontario, trying to convince herself to get up and on her bike after a very long night at the pub!
Shared experiences bring richness and a unique perspective to our vision. We peel away those things that are apparent at first glance, like laugh lines or a new hair colour, and see what the individual really represents to us. It can be a gift or a curse, depending on the nature of those experiences. I look into the faces of those I love or respect, and I see beauty, ability and potential. In others, I often see something very different, just what is on the surface.
Can you recognize and use this phenomenon in your working life? When I consider the change management activities that I help shape, I realize that sharing positive experiences between and among change agents, leaders and all impacted by the change makes a huge difference to success. When we are undergoing change, if we can “see” the people who help us with the change in a positive light (much like how I “see” Kathleen), perhaps we can create more successful outcomes during the actual change process.
There are about 23 gazillion change management continuums/processes/activities, give or take a few, that you can find online.
But thinking about how I see Kathleen reminds me that those real life, positive experiences MUST be a central part of helping people through change. I must build in the opportunity for those actual experiences into my plans. Sure, I can create briefing notes, build slide decks, host senior management information meetings, town halls and deliver internal videos till the cows come home. But until all people affected by that change share experiences that allows them to really see the good side of the change…and of each other…the change will be in name only. It won’t be anchored in your organization. Or your heart.
Change impacts us all. And the spectre of change, the fear of change, can loam large. But managing change means figuring out how to navigate those fears, recognize the obstacles and move forward with a light heart. It means recognizing a multitude of positive shared experiences that includes everything from grabbing a cup of coffee to dancing to the Time Warp, again, that will allow you to see past the grey hair and the uncertainties, and find the stuff that really matters.
Failure has its place in the career of a consultant. I learn a lot from failure, even if it doesn’t feel good at the time. Responding to “Request for Proposals” often means putting my heart and soul into something, waiting for a response, and then crashing down because I come second. Again.
The past 3 weeks have seen me on the receiving end of three failed projects. I can handle one or two with aplomb, but three is a bit much. It is time to do some serious thinking about the why and how of what happened, and find the good in these rather difficult experiences.
Each “failure”, if you allow me to call them that, was unique:
I was invited to let my name stand to be a member of a Board of Directors.
Bart and I partnered on a proposal for facilitation activities related to First Nations and the provincial Growth Plan.
Nicole, Lisa and I bid on a HUGE contract with a national not for profit organization. (We wanted this one. Big Time.)
You know the end of the story for each of these already. I didn’t get the position on the Board, we didn’t get the provincial contract and we didn’t win the huge contract. That’s the life of a consultant, and the risk we take. So what’s to learn?
It’s all in the details, I often remind myself. I need to reflect on my personal and professional priorities, look closely and learn from the experiences. And determine why I don’t feel quite so bad about losing these contracts.
Member of the Board? I wanted the position because I would be paid to sit on the Board! How cool is that! That’s a big upside. Downside? I wasn’t passionate about the organization. I was in it for the money. In fact, during my member interview, I asked them what they really needed in a Board Member. They told me someone with financial expertise. I said don’t select me.
They took my advice.
Small provincial contract? We worked hard on the proposal. BUT (is there always a but?) neither of us was enamored with working with the particular client team assigned to the project. We had worked with them previously, and the personalities were more challenging than satisfying. When I found out we didn’t win the contract, my reaction was “Oh well”.
The huge contract? The three of us really wanted this one. We made it to the short list and landed an interview. I drove to Toronto with my formal consulting clothes on (read: real shoes, not my usual Blundstones, hair brushed, and the casual suit that even makes me look professional). Despite knowing ahead of time, the interview team had not prepared for a conference call, so I had to connect Nicole and Lisa with the 4 of us in the boardroom myself. I had that niggling feeling that the clients were not impressed that I was the only one there “in person” and it became evident that no matter what we said, we were not going to wow and amaze them.
I left the interview feeling like I didn’t really want to work with those folks.
And I won’t be.
Learning opportunities? I can always find them, no matter how distant or impossible they may be. Let’s explore each scenario.
The first one is clear – I need to be passionate about what I do. Whether it is fishing, running, or working – without being passionate about something, I get little joy from it. Being a Board member would have brought money, but without being passionate about their purpose, that was not enough for me. So I am not upset about not getting the Board position
The small provincial contract? Bart and I were both passionate about the project. But we had a previous experience with the clients and it wasn’t great one. Had we landed this contract, we would have done a great job and gotten well paid, but been unhappy. Money isn’t worth that amount of stress.
And finally, the huge contract that we wanted so much? Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts. The clients weren’t interested in preparing for a conference call, and my instincts told me that they had made their minds up about us before we had even started.
You know all those websites on the Internet that tell you how to empower yourself to be the best; to recognize and manifest the laws of attraction; to be the fountainhead of information? This isn’t any of that stuff! This is simply me, an independent consultant, telling you what works for me:
Find your passion, and do things that relate to your passion. You may not make as much money as others, but you will be richer by far.
Work with people you like, and you will help to guarantee that you will be happy!
Trust your instincts. Challenge them, yes, but be informed by them.
I had a really great meeting today, with two people who work for an organization that does great environmental work that I am passionate about. I liked meeting with them, talking to them, and my instincts tell me that there might be some future opportunities working with them. Wish me luck!
I was driving home from the hospital after visiting my mother in law the other night. I was weary, traffic was brutal, and all I could find were nasty cover versions of Christmas songs on the radio. As I pulled up to a set of lights, I saw a bus next to me in the right lane. I glanced over, and the young driver was wearing a Santa hat and a smile. He waved, and mouthed “Hello and Merry Christmas!”. Then he pretended to reach out and shake my hand.
I started to laugh out loud, and I did the same. We “shook” hands and grinned.
One moment in time was all it took to move me from close to tears to delight. One moment and one person. That’s it.
In our personal lives, and our business lives, it often only takes one moment or one person to make a substantive difference. When my workload seems overwhelming, I just have to hear Bart’s voice or Rochelle’s laugh, and I am back on track. When I am worried about my mother in law’s health (she pulled through the heart surgery brilliantly, by the way), the world is better when I hear my cell phone make the ringtone of my son, or get a voice mail that makes me laugh.
I am one of the lucky ones who can find immense joy in the most inconsequential things: a Santa hat and a smile. I have learned that it takes a bit of effort to become that way, and thinking and planning about it sometimes helps shape the spontaneity of future events. As I was reading the Globe and Mail business section on the weekend, I came across an article entitled “What will your personal theme be for 2015?” It recognizes that in the rush of the busy-ness of this season, it is easy to get swept away, and lose track of those little things. The author poses some questions that can help focus thinking and perhaps help each of us to recognize and celebrate all those inconsequential things that 2014 held, and that 2015 will bring. Here are a few of my answers. Please share yours with me…the more we share the positive things, the more positive there is to go around!
What went well?
Duh! I had a great bike tour with Rory, Sigrid and Bill. Just look at us here!
My NRCan change management training workshops were OUTSTANDING!
A new business relationship with my friend
What changed for the better?
My relationship with my mother in law!
My Information Management (IM) understanding (I had NONE before I started working with NRCan)
My level of patience
What were the gifts of 2014? (this one is hard because every day is a gift…but if I had to choose…)
The positive participation of the Rep Prep participants in the change management workshops…each interaction with those folks was a gift of joy and learning.
My annual fly fishing adventure made even more wonderful by being with people I love.
Working with Bart and Gerarda in creating our new company, SHiFT.
What and whom are your most grateful for right now?
My new house – I LOVE IT!
My business partner(s) – Nicole, Barton, Guy, Gail, Tony…the list goes on!
My personal partner(s) – you know who you are.
My children – they continue to amaze me
What is your theme for the year ahead?
Gratitude – for so many little and so many big things.
It’s Christmas Eve Day, and a new year is just around the corner. I know that in Seeley’s Bay, Whitehorse, Bragg Creek, Palgrave, Pictou, and other places far and wide, there is someone thinking about me, and I am grateful for that. I know that a bus driver in Mississauga is most likely remembering a happy interaction he had with some crazy lady a few days ago, and I am grateful for that. If you are still at work, or if you are already happily eating shortbread cookies and defrosting a turkey, please be grateful.
Over the next few days, I will be on the look out for all those moments and all those people who make a difference in my life. I hope you do the same.