Tag Archives: Reflection

The one with a lack of achievement

There’s a line from the song ‘Sit Down’ by James which is “if I hadn’t seen such riches I could live with being poor”. When the song was first released I never really paid much attention to the line (I was usually in a club far too full of alcohol at the time) but over time it has come to have more and more resonance.

When I was 18 years old the idea of owning a car, any car was something to dream of and a definite goal but by the time I was 35 I wanted an Aston Martin. And not some second hand DB7 but a relatively new DB9 (we can all dream). The cars that seemed like dreams when I was 18 would now be discarded as ‘less than’ and the fact that I own a really nice car which in itself is far more than what I need isn’t the point – I always seem to want the next thing. Whether this is keeping up with the Joneses (or another surname in my case) or the want to have some kind of badge of achievement I’m not sure but it’s there in my head in several respects not just with cars.

I read someone’s Twitter bio earlier and it went something like “I’ve failed lots of times along the way which is why I’ve been successful”. Which from my perspective seemed a bold statement – not that I know anything about that particular person’s achievements but it seemed alien to me to consider one’s self a success to the point where I began to envy the individual concerned that they felt that sense of achievement. The idea that someone felt comfortable enough to self validate themselves as being successful was something that really has me curious.

In the spate of end of year conversations and those looking forward to a new year it does seem that some people (including some i’ve talked to) don’t consider what they achieved last year to be up to scratch or worthy of the investment of their 365 days which begged the question what were they comparing it to? Was there some cosmic score chart that allowed you to sit, reflect and say “yes I did well that year” and if there is can someone please send me a copy?

Success is a delightfully subjective word and in saying that of course I realise it has very different meanings to different people. I suppose where all this is coming to is have I (and we) got to a point where enough is never enough? Will I (and we) always want the next car, the bigger house, the better job? Are we destined to always look back at last year and think that we could have done more with it?

The film “Jerry Maguire” has a character in it called Dicky Fox – apparently the first great Sports Agent who appears at intervals during the film and has some natty motivational quotes but in ending the film he says this “Hey, I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success.”

But what was his kind of success??!

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The one with the grief or the celebration

If I asked you what you knew about Tuckman’s theory of Group Dynamics, you would probably (like me until fairly recently) shrug and look at me with a ‘oh god what’s he read now’ expression. However, if I asked if you’d ever heard the words forming, storming, norming and performing with respect to teams then I imagine I would get a very different reaction.

Bruce Tuckman is to teams what Mr Kipling is to pre-packed cakes – kind of a cornerstone, fundamental kind of ‘brand’. If you are inclined to, there’s a great summary on Wikipedia which you can find here Tuckman. Considering he first published his theory in 1965, I think it says something that it is a) so well known and b) still relevant. It may even have to be considered enduring wisdom…

Some 12 years later, he added a further stage that he termed ‘adjourning’ concerned with completion of the task and the breaking up of the team. The term ‘adjourning’ makes it sound very casual or maybe very processural but it doesn’t sound like something that involves human beings.

It’s fairly obvious (even to someone who works in HR) that we are living in unprecedented times. Over the last 3 ½ years the world has changed and unless you’re a banker (who seem to have bounced back fairly nicely) not likely for the better. I would expect most of you whether directly or through friends have seen the impacts of the economic climate and how it can effect businesses and the inviduals within them.

This brings me back to the 1977 5th stage. The more appropriate term I’ve heard (and I must credit my colleague Charlotte for this) is ‘mourning’ because the teams breaking up I’ve seen are going through a far more human process that simply adjourning something. Whether it’s a triumphal dissolution of a successful team or the team is losing people (which is probably more likely in current circumstances) actually taking the time to reflect on the team, it’s challenges and achievements and allowing yourself and others to make sense of the situation is a powerful but oft overlooked part of  managing the change the individuals are going through.

I have been fortunate not to attend many funerals in my life. I have reached an age where I’m 0 for 4 on Grandparents but fortunately the rest of my immediate family are alive and kicking; although my Dad does seem to be embalming himself in advance! The most difficult of those have been where people’s grief has centred around the loss of an individual, a life cut short or a person central to their general existence and emotional well being. The best, if you can say that of a funeral, have been where it’s been possible to take a step back from the loss and celebrate the life of the individual, how they’ve enriched those around them and usually in my experience have featured the double whammy of alcohol and anecdotes.

The interesting thing about the latter experience is the catharsis it allows, the emotions that are dealt with (in company) and how the overall experience leaves you saddened at the loss but thankful for the experience of knowing the individual. Thinking about this as I write its most like the Irish tradition of the Wake…

Now I’m not suggesting organisations should start throwing piss ups for teams that are breaking up (although I wouldn’t vote against it personally). However, taking the time and giving the support to a team to have that catharsis before throwing them either a) into the next team or b) out the door, may pay dividends both the individuals directly affected but also for the survivors who may be feeling the guilt of not being shown the door.

Therefore I propose a new structure:

Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing-Wake*

*where no one is allowed to drive and the taxis are on expenses

 

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The one with the milestones

If you’ve read this blog from the start then firstly, I doff my cap to you and your carriage clock is in the post but secondly, you’ll recall that it started with me talking about what was in front of me: the end of my Masters course. At that point if I recall correctly (and I do because I’ve just been back to read it) I had an essay, 2 exams and a dissertation/project to finish. The good news is the essay is done (it was about diversity and gender and spawned a post all its own which you can find here). In just under a week all that will remain will be my project as my exams are next week and I say this for all to see: I will never revise for anything EVER again….

I am one of those awful people who leave things to the last moment (if you read any psychological profile on me it will contain the phrase ‘is energised by last minute pressure) which makes any form of academic preparation a gut wrenching nightmare. Things will trot along nicely and at some point I will have the “I haven’t done enough” moment, I will feel sick and from somewhere my memory will gain stickiness that belays its normal average function. With just over 4 days to the first exam, this moment has not yet happened and nothing is sticking. Crap.

But I digress; the reason for writing this was not to complain about my random revision foibles. The milestone will be the end of the exams and hopefully I will be far too drunk (or preparing for something in work that I’ve forgotten) to write about this but the other milestone was a meeting with my project supervisor. To be technically correct she is my second project supervisor as my first supervisor took a sabbatical (oh to be an academic) but the meeting went well and I came away feeling encouraged and on the right track….ish

In the course of the meeting she asked if I would take part in an open day for potential students and as part of that conversation she asked a question that loads of people have asked me (in various tenses), “Have you enjoyed it?”. The answer I gave is pretty consistent with the answer I give/have given everyone which is “I hate it at the time but enjoy it with reflection”. She then went on to ask me what was the most challenging part and got the following list:

  1. Having to read 6 journal articles a week whilst working and travelling for work (I must have been drunk if I thought reading whilst travelling was going to be my thing – jetlag and theory DO NOT mix)
  2. Learning to think and process things differently. This may sounds a grandiose statement but getting my head around the academia of it all has really hurt
  3. The discipline of writing essays and structuring thought constructed around published thought.
  4. The terminology (more of that in a moment)
  5. Putting my pride to one side and admitting to REALLY not understanding things but balance this with the comfort of others being in the same boat
  6. Finally, and most importantly, keeping all of this in context of the rest of my life: work, social, relationships, friends, chores etc

Probably the defining moments in terms of both terminology and pride was our first weekend workshop held at a conference centre (latterly known as the Gulag) in Buckinghamshire. Having been issued with 5 articles to pre-read we went to our first lecture and from there our first discussion group.

A brief aside. Have you ever heard anyone use or used yourself the term “paradigm shift”, e.g. ‘we need a paradigm shift in strategy’. Next time you hear someone use it, claim 20 points at lingo-bingo and then ask them this: “what do you mean by paradigm?”

Our first lecture opened by defining some paradigms, both in terms of their ontology and epistemology. STOP. If you’ve never heard those words before, are you thinking “what the hell do they mean?” Are you wondering if you should know them? Are you wondering if everyone else knows them? I was, and it was only 9.12am on a cold grey Saturday morning. I have wiki linked the two words so feel free to have a look if you fancy it but that was defining moment #1 in terms of terminology and pride.

In the ensuing group discussion we have to go through the 5 articles we had (of course) pre-read and categorise them by paradigm. We didn’t do well. However, the 1 article we all nailed and I felt really comfortable with was the one from the Harvard Business Review so it wasn’t all bad. Ahhh but it was because on the arrival of our group tutor it turned out that academically speaking the HBR article was simple, trite, lacking in substance, not peer reviewed etc etc etc and basically if that was the one you made sense of you were doomed….

This was defining moment #2 but lead to my breakthrough and comfort in realising why we were doing this as a group – no one else got them either! BRILLIANT! As it turned out the rest of the room felt equally alienated, panicked and shared a sinking feeling. And you know what? The course tutors knew it too! It was later admitted that they started us with some of the most complex ideas and material both to future proof us for the rest of the course but also that from there it only ever got easier (or at least was the same).

Now I would normally spend a few sentences talking about the support of groups, pride coming before a fall or something that neatly ended this but I’m not going to. Why? Because my gut has just started wrenching and I need to revise!

And no I’m not taking part in the open day. My decision not hers fortunately 🙂

 

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The one with the unconference part 1

I hate networking…

No, that’s not strictly true. Networking makes me feel uncomfortable and to be honest until recently I never understood why. On every instrument, test or diagnostic I have ever completed I come out as an extravert (and if you’ve met me this is unlikely to surprise you) but it wasn’t until I went on the qualifying course for the MBTI Stage 2 that all became clear. Most of you will be familiar with MBTI Stage 1 – self perception, compare with your reported scores, come up with a 4 letter personality type (mine is ENTP). What Stage 2 does is break each of the preferences down into 5 facets and this is where, for me, it got really interesting, as when it came to extraversion I scored as an extravert except the facet “initiating/receiving” where I scored as an introvert. The mists cleared, the fog lifted and all became clear – I don’t like initiating conversation/interaction with people I don’t know (or as @Thinkingfox has put it “Jonesy, you can close but you can’t open” – the context of the remark I’ll allow you to decide for yourself)

About a year ago I decided, for various reasons, that I needed to get over myself and start networking more proactively and it was through a blog (My hell is other people) and Twitter discussions about music that I started to network with an informal group called ConnectingHR. A year ago they held their first “Unconference” and yesterday was the second. I had watched the first from the Twitter sidelines but yesterday I moxied up, paid my dues and attended.

If you don’t know what an unconference is, Google it. But the fag packet answer is like a conference but with content driven by the attendees, not structured “push” but more owner operated “pull”. So at 9.30am we started and (through some great facilitation from @dougshaw1) we finished with a grid of topics for discussion. I don’t intend to try and summarise any of them here (I will post a follow up which will summarise one of the topics I was part of….but that’s for another time). If you are interested in the content search the #chru hashtag on Twitter and there are several great blogs already out there. If you can’t do that – sign up to Twitter STAT….

I was asked by several people on several different occasions what I thought of it….and my response on every occasion was the same “interesting”. Which can be, and was, taken in different ways. The caveat I added was that I needed time to reflect and digest.

I have reflected and digested and will offer another caveat – what follows is positive if at times constructive BUT completely subjective – this is from MY point of view and isn’t intended as commentary on how it was for others.

An aside before proceeding. Being an extravert is a double edged sword. You are by type more comfortable to take part in a “live fire” environment, to process in the moment, to be able to respond and challenge. The double edged sword is with the energy of all those people and all that discussion how far do you go? I, by nature, cope with feeling uncomfortable by extroverting, I talk, ask questions, discuss etc and have noticed on several occasions recently that it is assumed by others as hogging, grand standing, over two-pennething. In contrast it appears that introverts cope with the same situation by watching, listening and digesting and the response is very different, no one appears to feel threatened by their response and in fact usually are very supportive in making them feel comfortable to contribute. All that by way of saying if at any point I trampled your point, hogged or appeared to grandstand it was largely (with a few exceptions) me coping with my own discomfort…

So, 24 hours later what has “interesting” become?

  • What a fabulous group of people, whose intention is to learn, help, support, contribute, challenge and share
  • As much as at times I adore chaos, the lack of structure in the unconference format was uncomfortable and left me wanting
  • That said I think the unconference format has real legs and have come away excited about how it could be further applied in a corporate environment
  • Visual minutes are awesome (check out creativeconnection.co.uk, Tim and his team do something incredible by turning the dialogue and emerging themes into artwork)
  • Facilitation is good. With the aforementioned struggle between the extraverts and the introverts, having someone to ensure contribution from all and that the conversation doesn’t spiral off into freeform oblivion is good.
  • There are lots of questions and with so many interested parties; the answers can be elusive especially without structure
  • I would have liked a little (not a lot) bit of input, to hear what others are doing, not big scary case studies and by the numbers presentations, but someone saying “we do this and it works/doesn’t work”
  • Live tweeting during an event is great especially if it’s viewable from “the floor” although it did take me a while to get used to people whopping their phones out and tapping away
  • There was a lot of “stuff” out there yesterday and I felt like a missed loads.
  • It is incredible what a group of people with common intent can achieve without permission, accreditation, incentive or financing
  • However much you caveat it, an elephant in the room is still an elephant in the room
  • Unconferencing is tiring but rewarding

If you work with people (and not just those with an HR job title or as I put it yesterday, in the HR cost centre) you should check out connectinghr.org or on Twitter check out the hashtags #chru & #connectinghr, whether you have a similar fear of networking to me or are a seasoned pro, it’s a really good group and will only get better.

I don’t feel this needs wrapping up as the points all stand on their own but there would be too many to thank for yesterday (both organisers and participants) but if one person should be singled out it’s Gareth Jones (@garelaos) (www.garethjones.me) who’s networking activity keeps Starbucks going, has for me been the driving force to me engaging and remaining engaged with ConnectingHR and took the incessant piss taking yesterday with good grace and very few rebuttals!

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The one where its about reflection

When I was 6 years old I wanted to be a Builder… I wrongly understood my Dad to be one (he wasn’t)

When I was 11 years old I wanted to be a Journalist…I had seen “All the President’s Men”

When I was 14 years old I wanted to be an Accountant… then realised it involved lots of numbers and having attention to detail

When I was 16 years old I wanted to be a Doctor…then realised there were easier ways to get a Mercedes and I like my sleep too much (the white coat would have worked for me though)

When I was 23 years old I had a degree (in Biochemistry) but with no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up…

I’m now 36 and seem to have ended up doing something I love without much of an idea how I got here and the nagging fear that if I went back and told the 16 year old me how it would play out if he wouldn’t have run in the other direction!

Why share this?

As you will know if you’ve read some of the other posts, I am currently in the process of finishing a Masters degree and am completing a research project. It involves interviewing senior business people about their achievements as Corporate Entrepreneurs.

So far I have completed one interview, with a guy who used to work for one of the largest retailers in the world (you won’t have to think hard to work it out). It was a nerve racking but seriously enjoyable interview which ended up (probably against protocol) being more a conversation. This guy had done some fascinating things, in circumstances which were probably the antithesis of standard corporate operations for the specific and many other corporations. What was really surprising was his comment at the end, “it’s been really interesting taking the time to reflect and explore this stuff”

Since then I have spoken to several more of my “recruits” and there seems to be a theme emerging on how much people are looking forward to reflecting on their careers and not just over a beer. It seems many of them have charged through their careers with a great deal of momentum but not much direction and being able to have an agenda-less conversation with someone (who isn’t trying to lead them, manage them or recruit them) seems to really appeal.

Personal reflection is a whole other subject and I wouldn’t want to be seen as advocating a session of navel gazing but if there is a take home from this post then it’s don’t wait to be recruited for a Masters project to reflect on your career. You may be amazed at how enjoyable it is and you never know it could inform your future decisions…

Now where did I leave that white coat?

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