Monday, 19 March 2018

GDPR and Ice Cream

On Friday (16 March) we had a very valuable CCNet meeting at Abbott Lodge Ice Cream Farm. And not valuable only because of the quality of the ice cream (excellent though that was). But the real value lay in the opportunity to be taken systematically through the implications of the new General Data Protection Regulations by Mark Wightman (of Aethos Consulting).
Mark Wightman
Mark started by some myth-busting.  For example, people who claim that they can (for a fee) make you GDPR-compliant are probably overstating their case.  The regulations are full of words like ‘proportionate’ and ‘reasonable.’ What that means in practice is that until there have been a few court cases and the judiciary have decided what is proportionate and/or reasonable, we won’t know.
On the other hand, that also means that small businesses, such as those represented at the meeting, will not be held to the same standard as, say Google or HSBC or PWC.
As long as we take a reasonable and proportionate approach, then even if we get something wrong and someone complains, the regulator is more likely to say we should change our policy or practice, than to land us with a large fine.
Mark then took us through the essentials: understanding what personal data is; what principles underpin the regulations, and what sequence of steps we should take to develop appropriate and proportionate policies and practices.
All those who attended found it a very useful, and surprisingly (!) interesting morning, and we are most grateful to Mark for sharing his expertise with us.
(Cross-posted from the CCNet Blog)

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Time To Think Coaching (and Collusion re-visited)

Shirley Wardell
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was booked on the Time to Think Coaching Course, with one of Nancy Kline's colleagues, Shirley Wardell.  In that blog post I also reflected on the risk of collusion that I am concerned about, in non-directive approaches to coaching.

I attended the first part of that course this week, with the second in a fortnight's time.

It was, as I had expected, extremely interesting and stimulating, and took my understanding of the Time To Think coaching process further, as well as giving me the scope to practice the process overall and in particular the elements of it with which I most needed to get more familiar.

It was also fascinating to work with Shirley, who has been a colleague of Nancy's for many years and is extremely familiar with, and skilled in, the Thinking Environment approach. Encouragingly, she is very different from Nancy - an exuberant extravert (ex-sales trainer, dramatic producer...), while Nancy is a more reflective introvert. So seeing the same principles and practices modelled - and in a very disciplined way - by such  a different character was fascinating. There was none of that sense of artificiality that I have sometimes encountered in, say NLP experts: Shirley was following the rules, as it were, but in a way that was wholly authentic and congruent with who she is.

I did raise the issue of Collusion, and of course the first response was to have a thinking round about it: all the course participants, and Shirley as the course leader, thought out loud about the topic.  

A few points emerged that were very helpful. One is that the Thinking Environment includes, as one of the ten components, Information.  That means, unlike in purely client-led sessions, the coach has the right - even, Shirley suggested, the duty - to raise issues that were important to the coachee's goals, if necessary. 

Carl Rogers
That includes the coach's perceptions, insights or wonderings - raised appropriately as questions to explore. She also mentioned Carl Rogers' criteria for assessing whether such things needed to be raised: they had to be striking, persistent, and relevant.

Another coach on the course, Ayesha Malik, highlighted the importance of contracting, in this regard.  (So much comes back to contracting!) If we have explained the ten component well, we will have included a discussion of Information, and whether - and how - we feed back our perceptions as part of the learning process. 

We also discussed strategies for when the coachee might talk through the whole session as away (unconsciously or otherwise) of ensuring that there is no time for such feedback. Again, contracting (and if necessary re-contracting) are important here; and then raising this behaviour itself, explicitly with the client, as a topic for discussion.

So my initial concerns about the risks of collusion when using this model have been largely mitigated: it was largely a lack of understanding on my part; and the helpful part of all that is that I now know how to improve my practice in that area when using the Time To Think approach.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Time Management Tools

Regular readers will remember that I wrote about Toggl a while ago.  Toggl helps you track how you are spending your time, including providing you with the ability to categorise and group items, so you can get an overview of the proportion of time spent on different projects, types of activity etc.

I found it very interesting, as it made clear to me quite how much time I spend travelling; and how well (or not) I use that time.  Also the discipline of recording made me more likely to stick to the task I had started, and less likely to goof off an play on social media, walk the dog, or have a coffee - at least until I had finished the task.

 It also revealed how much time I spend on client projects which I never record (liaising, briefing guest speakers, preparing handout material etc). All of which is fine - and rather lays to rest my image of myself as lazy, which is partly historic, and partly because I don't really count the time sat at home on my laptop as work - but this has revealed that a lot of it really is.

But perhaps this is the moment to confess that I am not using Toggl assiduously (or indeed at all) any more. I think that there are a few reasons for that. One is that I took a break for a couple of days in January when I was particularly busy and didn't re-start.  A second is that I wasn't sure of the best ways of categorising some things (is coaching preparation and review best seen as part of coaching? Or separate? And if separate, is review (which is in part CPD) separate again?) and so on.  I saw the risks of wasting time on the tool rather than doing more productive activities.  So that's a risk with Toggl.  But I think I will continue to use it, periodically, to keep an eye on the balance of my time.

And then, just the other day (as I was preparing for a coaching session, with the chap who had introduced me to Toggl) I found the Eisenhower app. This is simply the famous Urgency/Importance grid, online. Where Toggl helps track what you spend time on, this helps you to focus on what you should be spending time on - and what you should not.

I find the in-built advice less helpful (eg for Urgent but not Important, they simply say 'delegate' but that is not always possible or even appropriate).  For the best online explanation of the grid (he says modestly) see my video:

But the tool itself is useful. You can use it as a to-do list, by adding things you need to do to the appropriate quadrant.  They can be dragged to another quadrant if things (eg the deadlines) change; and once done, deleted (but are still available to read or even re-instate or re-cycle).  And as with Toggl, once you have decreed that something is urgent and important, there is quite an incentive to do it: and then to do the next thing; and then to move on and do something Important before it becomes urgent.  And likewise to contain the urgent but not important activities so that they don't swamp the important ones.  

All common sense, and what one tries to do anyway - but this brings it back into sharp focus.  So as with Toggl, I'll try it for a while; then probably pause and take stock and even take a break from it (perhaps that's when I'll pick up Toggl again).  

As with so many skills, there's something about paying sustained attention for a while, and then making a few tweaks, that is hugely helpful.  And as usual, I will report back on this blog if any learning of note arises.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Own blog vs Linked-In

Every week (or at least that's the plan) I post a blog post, both on my own site and also on Linked-In.  These are about whatever has piqued my interest that week - an eclectic approach that, I hope, reflects my style.

Without having done any serious analysis (Ain't nobody got time for that, as my daughters would assert), I have been mildly interested in some posts getting far more views on my blog than on Linked-In, whilst others are the reverse.  I should add, we are not talking huge numbers in any case: my most viewed post only got 705 hits, and that is far higher than the average.

This reflection was prompted by my last post, on Insights from Transactional Analysis, which got an average number of views on my own blog, but four times the average number on Linked-In.  I can't see that it has been widely shared, so can only assume there was something about it that caught peoples' eye.  And looking back, I think that on balance the posts that get lots of hits on Linked-In are ones that refer to known models or theories (Conversational IntelligenceMore Time to ThinkNon-Judgmental Coaching, The Dynamics of Confrontation, The Problem with Learning Styles), offering new perspectives or insights on something already vaguely familiar.

Whereas the posts that get more hits on my own blog are typically more individual (Strategic Five Marketing: A Scam?, Scotts Law, In Defence of MBTI (sort of), On the 50th Anniversary of the Abortion Act, and [the only one to get unusually high hits on both platforms] The Problem with Learning Styles).

So what do I conclude from this?  Is it that people who read my own blog are more likely to be interested in me personally, and therefore be interested in the more individual-sounding stuff?  Is it that people use Linked-In to look for new takes on familiar topics? Is it that I am seeing patterns that aren't really there - making up a story based on inadequate and selective viewing of low-grade information?

I don't know - but I thought it interesting; at least interesting enough to give me a subject for this week's post. And even as I write this, I am already recognising the flaws in my approach here, which are many. But I've written this now, so will put it out there anyway, rather than bin it and think of something new - ain't nobody got time for that...

And I will watch with interest to see how many hits this one gets - and on which platforms. 

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Insights from Transactional Analysis

It has been a while since I did much with Transactional Analysis, though it remains on my radar as Keri Phillips, who has supervised our Coaching Supervision Group, is an expert in the field. 

However, it was on the agenda to discuss with some university Deans attending a leadership programme in Cardiff, so I brushed up my thinking, and led a brief conversation, touching on Games People Play, but really focusing on Ego States and the famous PAC (Parent, Adult, Child) model.

They found it very interesting and it provoked a lot of insight - a useful way to analyse some conversations (both real and virtual) that had not gone as expected.

As they were talking, I too, had an insight. Recently, I had received an email from a senior person at another university about a day we were co-facilitating. He was saying his diary had been filled and asking if it was OK if he joined the programme at lunch time.

I looked at the morning programme, reckoned I could run it solo, and started to draft an email back to him to say of course I could make that work.

And then I caught myself: was that really what I wanted? Was that really best for the participants' learning?  The answers to both questions were 'No.'  So I ditched that email, and wrote another, explaining what I wanted, and why I thought it would be better for participants. He graciously agreed, rearranged his diary, and attended the morning session too, as originally planned.

What I want to be very clear about is that his original email to me was absolutely Adult - Adult.  Yet I was on the verge of sending a Child - Parent response. And that was my stuff: my relations with figures whom I see as authoritative.  

I've been aware of that for many years, and in my coaching and other practice have, by and large, managed to overcome the habit of being 'courteously deferential.'  But in an unreflective moment, it was still there: the desire to please (and a misplaced desire, at that: I am sure that the individual concerned would far rather have received what he did: an honest email outlining what I really felt and thought, so he could make a better-informed decision).  And the PAC model was helpful as a way of provoking and framing that insight.  I should revisit it more often. 

Friday, 9 February 2018

Sauce for the goose...

Some colleagues and I were discussing coaching supervision, and someone raised the question: Do Coaching Supervisors Need to be Coaches?  We didn't address the question there and then, but we have it on the agenda for future discussion.

But in the meantime, I was interested in my own response. Firstly, I was surprised by the question (which is often the sign of a good question, in my view). And I was surprised, I think, because it seemed so obvious what the answer was: Of course supervisors need to be coaches. How else could they understand the work we do and the supervision we need.

And then I started to reflect a little more. I remembered being irritated at the claim in Blakey and Day's book which I am reading at the moment, that coaches to executives need to have had similar business experience. I, for example, coach senior academic leaders, and senior professional practitioners, and have no such experience in my work history. And I would (and do) make a strong case that coaches can work effectively in that way.

So the whole question of sauce for the goose arises...

Which made me reflect: what do we need from a good coaching supervisor?

In broad terms, we need someone who is skilled to listen to and understand the issues we are addressing in supervision, and to ask challenging questions; who has good knowledge of the coaching profession, to provide both the quality assurance and developmental role that are part of the supervisory process, as well as notice any blind spots etc; and also who has high levels of empathy to provide the support that is also part of the deal.

And, I realise, people may come from other backgrounds and have all of those requirements. I could imagine people from many of the helping professions, having most of them, and acquiring the necessary coaching-specific knowledge by study and experience of supervising.

So I have done a volte-face on this question, and now believe that a coaching supervisor need not necessarily be a practicing coach.

It will be interesting to learn what the others think when we return to the discussion.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Person Centred Coaching and the Risk of Collusion

As my regular readers (if such there be) will remember, I am a big fan of Nancy Kline's work - the Thinking Environment and how valuable that is in (inter alia) a coaching context. Click here for examples of my posts on the topic...)

Indeed, having done the Thinking Partnership Programme with Nancy a couple of years ago, I am now booked on to the Time to Think Coaching Course in a few weeks, with her colleague, Shirley Wardell. 

However, as I recently mentioned, I am currently reading Blakey and Day's Challenging Coaching, and one of the issues they raise is the assumptions we work with when we are coaching. 

They point out that the coaching profession derives much of its theoretical stance from the related counselling and therapeutic professions, and particularly from the work of figures like Carl Rogers and Gerry Egan. The question is whether all the rich legacy we inherit from them is equally appropriate in the context of coaching.

A key issue here is the person-centred approach. In this style, a style which many coaches see as a sine qua non, the coach's job is to work on the agenda set by the coachee, and to facilitate growth and development by establishing extremely high levels of rapport and empathy, providing an environment in which it is safe for the coachee to pursue his or her thinking to new, risky and possibly fruitful places. Whitmore's GROW model is one example of this approach: focused on the coachee's goals as the context for the discussion; and Nancy Kline's approach is, at least in part, a more sophisticated version.

Nancy is fond of talking about helping them go beyond what they normally think, and beyond that; and the assumption is that most people have the solutions to their problems available to them, if they are suitable supported (and challenged - eg by challenging the assumptions that they are making).  

However, the risk of such an approach, as I was discussing in supervision last week, when reflecting on a particular coaching session, is that one can end up colluding with a client who, consciously or subconsciously, doesn't want to talk about a particular issues, or even has a massive blind spot about it.

An example might be someone who seems unaware that his style of interactions is quite intimidating to other people, and who is looking to improve his effectiveness by addressing other, more trivial issues. If the coach is aware of the impact of the individual's style, but is bound by a person-centred approach, and feels unable to raise it unless the client does first, then it may never be addressed; and that would seem to me to be a failure on the part of the coach. This is particularly likely to be a problem if the coach believes that rapport and empathy are so vital, that saying or doing anything that jeopardises them is unthinkable.

So that is one of the questions I will take to the Coaching Course next month: it may be that I am missing something in (or some understanding of) the Time to Think model. I will doubtless blog further about this in due course.


Incidentally, and à propos absolutely nothing at all (except, possibly, the reflection that this, and all my posts, might reasonably be dismissed as first world problems) I was re-visiting The Gulag Archipelago recently, and was struck forcibly by this passage:

I just turned my handle and thought to myself: How quickly a zek gets cheeky - or, putting it in literary language, how quickly a man’s requirements grow! I was dissatisfied because they had torn me away from the play I was writing in my dark hovel; dissatisfied because they had not given me a job in a school; dissatisfied because they had forced me - to what? to dig in frozen soil? to mix mud for bricks with my bare feet in icy water? No, they had forcibly put me at a clean desk to turn the handle of a calculating machine and enter the figures in columns. At the beginning of my time in the camps, if they had ordered me to do this blissful work twelve hours a day, without pay, for as long as I was inside, I should have been beside myself with joy! As it was, they were paying me 450 roubles for it, I should be able to drink a litre of milk every day, and I was turning my nose up and wanting more.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago,  
Part 6: Exile, Chapter 6: The Good Life In Exile. 
Translated by Harry Willetts