Saturday 27 February 2016

Media Training

This week we had the media training at Cardiff, as part of the Futures programme. I always enjoy this module. The first sessions were about the context and some experiences with the media, with Claire Sanders, who is Communications Director for the University, kicking off, with a very interesting overview of her team's strategy and work.  Then we had Richard Sambrook, who was with the BBC for thirty years, ending as Director of the World Service and Global News. He is now a professor at Cardiff, and gave a great insight into the world of news stories.  He was followed by Chris Chambers, another Cardiff professor, who has his own fascinating story to tell about being misrepresented by the media, getting caught up in a media frenzy, and now working with colleagues to improve the reporting of science in the media, including conducting fascinating research into University press releases.

For the rest of the event, we worked with Karen Ainley and Kevin Bentley, of Mosaic. they are both ex-BBC journalists, and they trained us in the art of radio and television interviews; first by getting us to understand the nature of the medium and the importance of key messages, and then by mock interviews on radio and TV. They were both excellent.

As we were working in BBC Wales, we had the benefits of a proper studio, with some of the Cardiff media team operating the cameras, sound and mixing desks. We also had a tour of the studios, which was both educational and extremely interesting.

I, too, did a couple of interviews, both to show solidarity with the participants, and to keep my hand in - and in fact the TV one may well appear on this blog in due course, as it was a shameless plug for my book, which I have finally finished, and is currently being proof-read.

Everyone was buzzing by the end of the programme, and many said how much they had learned and how much they had enjoyed the programme.


Friday 19 February 2016

Clean Coaching

Today's CPD event at Cumbria Coaching Network was a session on Clean Coaching by Sioe Lan Tjao. I had come across clean questions many years ago when I did some NLP training, but either they weren't well explained, or I failed to understand the underpinning ideas.

And in my subsequent disillusionment with NLP, I approached today's session with some scepticism. It all seemed very interesting, and at one level, quite sensible: if as a coach one avoids introducing one's own stuff into the conversation, one is likely to be able to help the client to pursue his or her thinking further, without distractions. 

However, the particular questions suggested (there is a bank of twelve of them) didn't seem to me to be the only way to do this, and indeed I found it hard to understand why they had been chosen.  I suspect it was limitations of time, and the challenge of trying to cover a lot, and include some experiential work, that meant we didn't cover as much as Sioe Lan had hoped.

However, in getting home and following some of the links that she pointed to, I realised that the background to Clean Questions was an assumption, founded on the work of David Grove, about clients' use of metaphor, and the value of exploring that.

And as I read this explanation by Lawley and Tompkins, pursuing my curiosity about metaphor, I found something very interesting. The final example given, From Bombs to Batons, was remarkably similar, in effect, to the work on Story that I have been developing. That is, where I would see myself as helping a client to discover and strengthen a more helpful story, Lawley and Tompkins would see themselves as helping their client to change his or her metaphor.

That may sound like a very slim distinction; and indeed it is. But what I find fascinating is that although we are seeking to do essentially the same thing, the way in which we reached that point is very different; and so is the process we use to help the client. Which is just as well, or the book I've just finished writing would have been a complete waste of time.

Part of me is sorry that I had not come across their work before finishing mine; but part of me is very grateful indeed! It has already taken quite long enough, and there is plenty of scope for taking my thinking further, beyond the book.

Saturday 13 February 2016

Thinking about Values

Lots of things have been prompting me to think about values and their relation to the work we do. We had a fascinating day in Cardiff recently looking at what it might mean to be a values-led Institution, informed by two of their philosophers, and also a guest speaker from Findhorn; but mainly drawing on the collective wisdom of the assembled academic and professional staff.  I have also been working with Winchester University on a similar agenda; as well as writing about my own practice for my ILM Diploma assignment; and most recently discussing possible futures for the SAgE Faculty at Newcastle, including the underlying principles of any strategy.

Thinking about all of these, I have not been able to come up with anything more potent and relevant for my own business than the classic articulation of Christian philosophy, building on Greek philosophy. That is, I see my business as being founded on the three pillars of faith, hope and charity, and run (as best I can) with prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. 

Clearly, as I am a Christian, each of these has a supernatural meaning for me. But they also have a very definite here-and-now aspect, which I think is relevant to people of all belief systems, including agnostic or atheist ones.

Faith, in that sense, I associate very much with Viktor Frankl's insights on the importance of meaning (see here for more of my reflections on Frankl, and here for an external summary of his life and work). One of the things I do when I am working at my best is help people to find meaning in what they are doing and experiencing, and thus the belief that it is of worth and value (or if not, the belief that it is worth addressing that issue!).

Hope is foundational to my work. More than once, I have received unprompted the feedback that what I help people to do is to discover or re-kindle hope, and how powerful that is. That hope may be built on the realisation that we really can make a difference, that we can make the future better for ourselves and for others, and that however dreadful a situation one finds oneself in, our response to that, and to that extent our future, is open for us to influence: which of course links back to Frankl's work.

Charity is an orientation to the good of other people: seeking to do things for the benefit of others, and avoid things that will be against their best interests. First of all, do no harm... Again, I seek both to live like this, and to help others to do so. A lot of my work with conflict and negotiation is about seeking to get people to understand the perspective of their adversary; and that includes ceasing to view them as an adversary, but as a human being with rights and good intentions and good will.

Prudence, I think, has a bad press. I see it as being about taking courageous decisions, whilst avoiding being reckless. Again, that is something I strive to do myself, but most often see with admiration, and sometimes awe, in my clients. 

Justice is widely recognised as one of the fundamental values to which most organisations commit, and it is very clear that if employees, for example, sense inequity in their treatment, that is very bad for the organisation. Increasingly, organisations are looking beyond internal equity and adopting programmes of corporate social responsibility, to spread justice further afield. In the case of my business, that results in both directors giving significant time on a regular basis to a number of charities.

Fortitude is a virtue that I associate particularly with tenacity and with the courage to tell the truth, even when it is difficult or feels disadvantageous to do so. Again, these are values I strive to honour, but would have to declare them to be work in progress.

Temperance is another misunderstood virtue, in my view. It is the virtue of appropriate moderation. It curbs greed, arrogance and excess. That includes excessive value placed on work activities at the expense of all the other human activities which have a claim on us (our responsibilities to our families and friends, for example) or which would be good for us (such as staying fit). Thus it is closely associated in my thinking with that integration that is at the heart of work/life balance. 

I realise, as I write this, that I am setting a high bar; so I invite those who know me to hold me to these aspirational values, and to let me know each time I fall short of them. Only by constantly working towards them, I think, will I be able to run the business that I want to run.

Saturday 6 February 2016

A Fun Piece of Technology

This week I was running an event with a large group, looking at whether a values-led strategy was a good idea. That included lots of other questions, of course, such as what we mean by values, and what we mean by values-led, and so on.

As well as the usual business of plenary sessions with questions, and syndicate work on case studies, we were keen to do some more participative work in plenary sessions, so we decided to experiment with Poll Everywhere.

This is a web-based solution that allows you to pose questions, and everyone to contribute their thinking, which is automatically, and immediately, displayed on the screen in your conference room. People contribute by logging into the site on their smartphone, tablet or laptop, which then displays the poll question and the options for answers.

So we were able to poll people on arrival, about whether they thought a values-led strategy was a good idea, with the options of Yes, No, and Don’t Know. The Yeses were the largest group, followed by the Don’t Knows.

We then asked why it might be a good idea, and offered a list of options for people to choose from. Likewise, we asked why it might not be a good idea, and again offered a list of options for people to choose from. Finally (in this opening session) we asked them what values they would like to see lead the organisation, and they could write whatever they wanted – the results being displayed as a word-cloud, developing in real time.  That of course meant that people were able to respond to what others were writing: once someone had written ‘Integrity’ many others did so too, so the word grew and grew on the screen.

Later in the day, we also used it to collect answers to a case study, which was read out in plenary; and at the end of the day, we polled them again about whether they thought a values-led strategy was a good idea. The Yeses were a significant majority, having gone up, whilst Don't Knows had gone down, and the Noes had also increased. All of which was interesting feedback both for us and for participants about how views had shifted during the day.

So it was a lot of fun. Participants visibly enjoyed the opportunity to take part in this way (and of course it is particularly good for those who don’t like speaking in front of groups). But it was fun with a purpose. It enabled both us and the participants to get a real sense of where the weight of opinion lay, in a very short space of time, and also how that shifted over time. 

At the end of the day, we were able to pull off a report, with graphics of all the votes and the numbers behind them. All in all, a very good package, at a reasonable cost (I think we paid $199 for a month's package, to enable us to build the questions, try them out and so on. Cheaper packages are available for smaller groups, and you can try it for free).

I will certainly be using it again; and judging from the comments on the day, so will many of those who attended the event.