24April 2017
An evening with 80 other accountants exploring challenges around communicating and engaging non-financial people with financial information may not be everyone’s idea of fun but stick with me…. I am fast approaching the 30th anniversary of qualification as a chartered accountant and if I am typical of the group in terms of the amount of experience in the room then collectively there was around 2,400 years of experience that is an amazing resource! After we’d broken the ice we set about identifying the challenges and there were a number of themes that emerged that I will explore in a series of articles. Finance professionals have for many years worked with colleagues in different functions – and not all of these colleagues speak ‘finance’ or numerical language! What we are usually seeking to achieve when we share financial data is to create knowledge that then affects behaviour. So let’s just unpick that a little… What do I mean by knowledge? We each take in data and information and make sense and meaning from it based on our own experience and values. This is something that is completely unique for each person as no two people have exactly the same life experience. Knowledge is the meaning we each make from data and information. Our actions or behaviour come from the meaning we have made. So if you have ever wondered why people have taken action you didn’t expect after sharing a spreadsheet of data with them you might just begin to see why this can happen.

A key learning here is to get really clear about the story you want to tell and what action you are seeking from that then think about how best to present the information so that when people make meaning they are more likely to come to conclusions in line with your own.

Using visual language creates clarity and understanding Communicating with others visually is highly effective in creating greater clarity and understanding. One familiar aspect of visual language is using graphs in presenting financial information. This simple visual way of presenting data is often helpful in supporting the story that we see in the data. In getting the story we want to tell across more clearly to people there is a higher chance the meaning taken from it will be more consistent. There are many other options in visual language and you absolutely do not need to become a great artist to use them either, trust me, I know this! For example, when working with a European finance team who needed to improve their month and year-end close processes having implemented SAP I used a very simply drawn arrow on a large sheet of paper on the wall and a lot of post-it notes and we mapped the process together. This created much greater clarity and understanding of why things needed to be done when they did to meet reporting deadlines. It also allowed the team to identify opportunities to make improvements that made the process more efficient and effective. Another approach that has worked well for me is to use a simple drawing to represent a metaphor.  So for example communicating a three-year revenue target using a picture of a mountain with the target at the top and camps along the way to illustrate annual progress. Really simple and very effective as everyone knew what we were aiming for. The choice over what type of visual to use comes down to what outcome is sought, or to put it another way, what story do you want to tell and what actions or behaviour do you want as a result? Creating clarity and understanding when working with a group is one factor in building trust and improving performance. Visual working is a great tool to use in achieving this and a great way to demonstrate the creativity and innovation that our roles as finance professionals require.
09March 2017
“What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality”   Plutarch This quote sums up for me how change really happens.  It is about leading change by example, or to put it another way, truly walking the talk.  A change in how we behave or how we do things has an effect on those around us. The beauty of this is that we are all capable of making change happen. If you want to see something specific change in your organisation or team culture, maybe you are seeking greater collaborative working, more creativity or agility. What is it that you can develop more in yourself to support this? On a deeper level we can work to continue to develop ourselves as aware, awake and truly alive human beings and bring this into the workplace. In many organisations, if you talk to people who work there, they have very strong reasons for why they work where they work and do what they do. Really understanding these reasons can actually be the ‘pants on fire’ drivers for people’s behaviour and for change. Just think about the potential that could be untapped within your team or organisation if you can truly connect to this. This is about really getting to know and understand people as whole human beings not just the bit that comes into the office and does the work.  It means creating an environment where people feel comfortable about bringing their whole selves into. Can you see the benefits of this for everyone and the organisation? How often is the work environment truly lacking in humanity? At a physical level we often see muted colours and uniformity – that’s not human at all! It certainly doesn’t encourage people to be who they are – a very large part of each person is left at the door when they walk in or possibly in the car park, on the train or on the bus when they switch into ‘work mode’. It is so much more than just the physical environment that matters here. How can we as individuals and leaders create a work place where people show up as their whole selves, contribute through all of their talents and are truly valued for all of this? You won’t be surprised to learn that I believe this starts with each of us. By bringing our whole selves into the work place and truly showing up we give others a way to do this too. Taking time with people to let them see more of us and to listen to what is happening for them.  If we are also comfortable with not having to have all of the answers we can truly unlock potential. It really doesn’t need to be dramatic either as small changes in how you are at work can make a big difference. I know this is true from personal experience. From someone who has had her ‘pants on fire’ about this for many years I am hopeful that this connects with you too.
08March 2017

Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s strapline is #BeBoldForChange. This got me thinking about what is bold and what stops us being bold. My simple view is that bold is ‘doing something even when you are sh***ing yourself!’ and one of the things that prevents us from being bold is when we feel ‘down’. Here is a lovely parable from Robert Terry about Ups and Downs

The Parable of Ups and Downs by Robert Terry

What makes an UP an UP and a DOWN a DOWN is that an UP can do more to a DOWN than a DOWN can do to an UP. That's what keeps an UP UP and a DOWN DOWN. The UPS tend to talk to each other and study the DOWNS, asking the DOWNS about what's UP, or what's coming DOWN, for that matter. The DOWNS spend a lot of time taking the UPS out to lunch or dinner, to explain their DOWNNESS. The UPS listen attentively, often in amazement about the experiences of being a DOWN. They contrast one DOWN'S experience with another DOWN'S experience and usually don't worry too much about what the DOWNS are UP to because the DOWNS never get together. If they did, the UPS would have to shape UP. After a while, the DOWNS weary of talking to the UPS. They tire of explaining and justifying their DOWNNESS. They think, "If I have to explain my DOWNNESS one more time, I'll throw UP." And so they form a process which they call "networking and support groups." This act makes the UPS nervous. Three UPS together is a board meeting; three DOWNS a pre-revolutionary activity! Some UPS hire DOWNS, dress them UP, send them DOWN to see what DOWNS are UP to. We sometimes call this "personnel and affirmative action." This creates a serious problem for the DOWN who is dressed UP with no sure place to go. That DOWN doesn't know whether he or she is UP or DOWN. That's why DOWNS in the middle often burn out. Sometimes what the UPS do to smarten UP is to ask the DOWNS to come in to a program one at a time to explain their DOWNNESS. UPS call this "human relations training." OF course, the UPS never have to explain their UPNESS, that's why they're UPS rather than DOWNS. There's good news and bad news in this parable. The good news is, we're all both UPS and DOWNS. There's no such thing as a perfect UP or a perfect DOWN. The bad news is that when we're UP it often makes us stupid. We call that "DUMB-UPNESS." It's not because UPS are not smart. It's that UPS don't have to pay attention to DOWNS the way that DOWNS have to pay attention to UPS. DOWNS always have to figure out what UPS are UP to. The only time UPS worry about DOWNS is when DOWNS get uppity, at which time they're put DOWN by the UPS. The UPS' perception is that DOWNS are overly sensitive; they have an attitude problem. It's never understood that UPS are underly sensitive and have an attitude problem. I used to think that when DOWNS became UPS they would carry over their insight from their DOWNNESS to their UPNESS. Not so. Smart DOWN—dumb UP.  

What I love about this tale is that it is amusing and yet it makes a serious point.

In organisations it is often the ‘Downs’ who have the finger of the pulse of what’s going on, who probably have the insights about what is key to staying ahead of the curve, and yet it is often ‘Ups’ who are the leaders.

In the words of Robert Terry himself…

The tests for leadership are: Are we grasped by the injustice of the issues that need to be addressed? Are we in dialogue in up-down relationships so that we do not have blind spots? Are we in motion to address issues in collaboration with others? Our goal is to get rid of arbitrary up-down power relationships. We should not have up-down relationships based on color, gender, or anything else that is arbitrary and capricious or has to do with how we’re born. Rather, we need to find ways to stand side-by-side, so that as we look out at the world together, we can eliminate any of the barriers that keep us from building an authentic, vibrant, human community. The Parable of Ups and Downs exists in several versions. It appears in two books by Robert Terrry: Authentic Leadership: Courage in Action (ISBN 1-55542-547-X) and Seven Zones for Leadership: Acting Authentically in Stability and Chaos (ISBN 0-89106-158-4). Robert Terry was the President of Zobius Leadership International (formerly The Terry Group) and his work is now carried on by The AWL Group. You can find a shorter version of the parable at Thankyou also to Walt Hopkins, for helping me find the source of this parable.
09February 2017
We are very used to hearing that change is a constant in business nowadays. As most of the work that I do is about change on some level then it is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. As individuals we change constantly – cells in our bodies are replaced on a cyclical basis, we react and respond to events around us that bring about a change in how we behave or sometimes what we believe. Conscious change is not easy. If you think about trying to change an old habit or develop a new habit both can be really challenging and often we need support to find a way to make the changes. There is some pretty shocking research about people with heart conditions who were advised to make lifestyle changes for health reasons. The shocking part is that only one in seven actually made the prescribed changes despite knowing their lives depend on this. This led to some fascinating research by Kegan & Lahey published in their book, Immunity to Change. There’s a brilliant video summary – ‘an evening with Robert Kegan and immunity to change’. The key principle here is that our existing behaviour or habit often is underpinned by very strong reasons. Critically we are not always aware of what these reasons are so when we try to change we fail because the original reasons override any new motivation. So change at an individual level is challenging. Now think about relationships in your life, friends, partners and family for example. All of these relationships are changing constantly too as we are affected by experiences so too are our relationships – and this is a massive simplification as it is anything but a simple cause and effect dynamic going on. We know that maintaining any meaningful relationship over time takes work and effort. It definitely isn’t easy either. So we know all of this complexity about people and change. Yet when it comes to organisational change there seems to be a belief that you can drive change in a way that is akin to fixing a machine that isn’t working quite they way it should be. Organisations may take a logical/cognitive approach where someone or a group of people present the change and explain all the good reasons why it is needed. The expectation here is that because it has been explained the necessary change will happen. It really doesn’t. There is a big flaw in this approach as any presentation however inspiring is a tell. The presenter is telling the audience what to do and we know from the research mentioned above this doesn’t work. Actually we don’t need the research to back this up – just ask yourself when was the last time you changed your behaviour simply because someone told you to? Communication around change can be truly excellent, well thought through and engaging and still it doesn’t land. Each of us makes meaning from what we hear, read or see. For us to choose to do something differently we need time to make meaning and make a commitment at both an intellectual level and at an emotional level. Simply – we have to want to do it. Even then we will probably need support as we work to change. This support is a very important aspect and can be tricky to get right as there can be many and varied factors that can influence the outcome. A simple example can illustrate this. Greater collaborative working is often a change that leaders are seeking as they recognise that no one person can know all there is to know in the business. A very sound logical reason for change. So why is it that people don’t just change? There can be a lot of reasons – maybe there is a bonus scheme that is based upon individual targets or perhaps the predominant management style within the organisation has been telling people the answers and what to do. This may make people wary of taking action that hasn’t been instructed. Possibly the leader him/herself is unaware how much their own behaviour impacts on change. An example here is coaching that really isn’t coaching – just a nice way of telling people what to do. I believe working to create change requires an approach that works with the whole system – and the levels within it: e.g. individual, relationships, groups and organisation, recognising that in each case it is a complex living system where cause and effect is not linear or direct. There definitely isn’t one single method that brings about change; it is not something that can be done to any individual, group or organisation – it comes from within and sometimes small changes can have big impact. For me there are two quotes that I believe support this: “Be the change you want to see in the world” Mahatma Gandhi “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel” Maya Angelou What are your thoughts?
18July 2016
Involving people affected by change and allowing them to provide input on issues that matter to them, for example, large scale strategic conversations, is more likely to result in people owning the change process and its outcomes’ This principle was used in our work with the University of Brighton recently, here’s what we did... Our challenge The University of Brighton may trace its history back to 1859, but its style of governance and the scope of its ambition for students and faculty is notably forward-looking. The institution serves 20,700 students across five campuses and  is a major university for the professions.  UniBrighton’s strategic leadership called us in to help drive a new approach to developing their future strategy: they wanted the initiative to be broad, inclusive and engaging, to harvest and build upon a wide and representative selection of ideas and suggestions. Our approach
  • Five 2½ hour meetings at each campus, supported by a website and informal drop-in sessions.
  • Journey-through-time meeting design, highlighting the assembled experience in the room by creating a physical circle of participants ordered by their length of employment at the university.
  • Creation of a large-display history map drawing on the wealth of experience in the room, supported by live graphic recording.
  • Graphic representation of influences impacting the university now and in the future, to spark off ideas for the future from each group. We used a large-display mind-map format to graphic record inputs.
  • Summaries of ideas generated at each meeting, in spreadsheet form, to make it easy for the strategic teams to assimilate quickly.
 Our results The meetings were attended by around 400 staff from all campuses, across the professorial, administrative and support dimensions. The concentrated ideas and insights will be used to create a strategy for UniBrighton. uobmetrics Our learning The physicality and psychology of people arranging themselves in order of their length of service was fascinating!
  • It wasn’t a pecking order – fresh thinking came from all parts
  • Passion isn’t based on length of service.
An awful lot can be achieved involving a lot of people in a very short space of time! What people said mm2
16July 2016
I have been reflecting on the post-referendum chaos in the UK, through the lens of change, which I practice in my work. These reflections have lead me to be hopeful, and here is why
  • There needs to be chaos before profound change. Just think about when you tidy out the garage at home – no, really, it’s the same thing! The garage has to become a scene of chaos, as boxes become unpacked and decisions are made about what to keep and what needs to change, before a new order can return. It’s the same with human systems – groups need to get all jumbly and chaotic before they can settle on a new way.
  • There is a change in the conversation. One of Margaret Wheatley’s principles for profound change is, ‘When the conversations keep going round and round, we should change who’s in the conversation’. We seem to have been going around and around, superficially talking about the state of our nation, without addressing the real issues at stake. The intervention of this vote seems to be changing the conversation – changing the nature of the conversation and getting different people involved.
  • Paying attention to the shadow side in all of us. As people have been grappling with the decision to Remain or Exit Europe, some extreme views have emerged. Racism towards immigrants, and Contempt for less educated views are just a couple that I have seen. The positive that comes from these views being aired, is that we are forced to really see the range of views in our country. However unpalatable we might find then, they are in each and every one of us, in some form, and it is only maturity that means we don’t act upon them. By paying attention to the breadth and depth of views about the issues facing our country, we are much more likely to surface the complex polarities that drive our system.
There is probably some fear in all of us, when we consider the uncertainty of our current economic and political situation. Fear rarely brings out the best in us, as it tends to lead to the less mature responses in us all. So, I refer you to the words of Marianne Williamson, ‘As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’ What is the light within you, that can support our country moving through this change, to create a positive, respectful and inclusive future state?
25November 2015

Creating a mutual relationship with outsourced suppliers

There has been a theme in the conversations I have had this week. The theme is about customers, outsourced suppliers and how we go about buying services into organisations. This has got me thinking about the the paradigms and pitfalls of B2B services buying that I have experienced as both customer and supplier. Organisations place a big emphasis on the management of suppliers of raw goods and products. There is a clear link between these tangible suppliers and a company’s ability to deliver. However, I think there is a lot more ambiguity in the area of services buying and I see the need to shift, as organisations evolve into new ways of working. (more…)
26September 2015
One way to charge up your group, team, section, division or your entire organisation is to bring in some bespoke training. Not only do we offer four highly regarded workshops, we will design bespoke training that targets your specific needs, including building in the new energy you need to spark commitment, ideas generation, strategy and action. We target your training needs. Have a look at the offers we have posted on our site then give us a call to discuss what we can do to energize your company or your team. Serious work gets done in meetings, we help energize your meetings and we can help you do that, too. +44 (0)20 1628 471 114 or complete the contact form to tell us what training ideas you'd like to explore.
26August 2015
We are excited about our newest pages on the website. In addition to our popular Advanced Facilitation Training (AFT), our training offers now cover Collaborative Leadership, Vision to Action and Team Performance. These four offers round out the messages we have been sharing with clients and offering in training for our 16 years of service.
  • Collaborative Leadership: supporting management and directors who understand that harnessing group working creates a stronger, more focused organisation with rewards for all stakeholders.
  • Vision to Action: our unique formats for creating vision and understanding how to take the vision off the shelf and into committed action.
  • Team Performance: an in-depth exploration of how to sustain trust, commitment and momentum in groups of all types and in all sectors of an organisation.
While the AFT is offered as open, public training (with our next dates of 11-12 November), these new titles are offered in-house so that we can explore the topics within the context of your organisation, applying real-life issues and questions in a non-threatening environment. For more information on each of our training offers give us a call at +44 (0)20 1628 471 114 or complete the contact form telling us the training options you want to explore. We love training. Give us a call.
19June 2015
C1 pg2a impact I t is my view that HOW things get done has as much impact on bottom line performance as WHAT gets done in business. Most organisations have unhelpful patterns of behaviour that recur in the way people work together (in meetings). These disfunctionalities lead to slow and poor quality decision making. By looking at meeting culture organisations can identify what's getting in the way of performance and drive more effective ways of working. This is not just academic! This approach is practical and it doesn't add work into your business, it utilises  the spaces that exist in business to drive change.
11June 2015

Some really interesting research released today by CIPD in their Employee Outlook 2015 Survey got me thinking...again!

In the survey, "around 50% of the 2,226 respondents described their organisation culture as 'a formalised and structured place to work, where procedures govern what people do and hold people together." (more…)

26May 2015
We highly recommend this workshop by David Sibbet. If you can't make it to our Advanced Facilitation Training workshop 9-10 July near London this is an alternative worth considering.
11May 2015
Many leaders have clear visions and strategies that they communicate by 'telling' and 'selling' to stakeholders and the marketplace. 'Telling' and 'selling', when done well and within a solid communications strategy can be effective and get desired results. (more…)
05February 2015

This article by Katherine Woods first appeared in January 2013.

 I like to make my articles practical and helpful for our readers. My most recent experience of new leaders has come through my work in supporting clients whose roles have changed. So, for this article I've enlisted the help of Chris Shepherd, an established client of mine. We first worked together when he was at Mars. Last summer, Chris became the Global HR Director for Edwards Vacuum, a leading global supplier to large technology firms such as Intel and Samsung. (more…)

15October 2014
The problem with meetings today isn’t necessarily that one meeting has challenges or that one meeting leader has issues. The problem with meetings in organisations is usually a systemic problem that needs systemic solutions. (more…)
07April 2011
Most large organisations continually go through cycles of change, in order to remain competitive. In this day and age, it's not enough to command and control a workforce through organisational change. (more…)