Pegasus Conference

I attended the Pegasus conference from Sunday October 4th through Wednesday October 7th. The conference title Amplifying Our Impact: Strategies for Unleashing the Power of Relationship was well defined. The speakers, the break out sessions and the tone of the conference fully honored and supported conversation as the foundation for change in our world. And over and over again, I gained perspective on how I could personally amplify my impact on our world. In particular, I found the partnership with The World Cafe and the Society for Organizational Learning to be very powerful. I had the opportunity to participate in meetings and sessions with both organizations and came away from the conference with renewed hope for our world. I also came away from the conference with new friends and partners, all focused on the work that I love.

There were about 1000 participants at the conference all focused on building communities that focus on learning, systems, and conversation. What an extraordinary experience. I could not have asked for more from a conference. Some of the personal highlights for me included Otto Scharmer, Peter Senge, Juanita Brown, David Isaacs, Nancy Margulies and her wonderful graphic work and then Van Jones who is proving that we can change the world through a focus on solutions rather than problems.

I have provided a link to The World Cafe Blog where Amy Lenzo of The World Cafe has done a wonderful job of capturing the tone and essence of the conference. I will not even try to replicate this fantastic work. I highly recommend that you go to this blog and not only review this post but sign up and participate if your love is around creating conversations that matter.

One of my personal insights was about the emerging field of work around conversational leadership, see my Conversational Leadership model that I talk to, a field that I am fully engaged in and focused on. I first defined this field of work in my paper on conversational leadership, Con versare: To Dance Together, in my last year of my masters program in late 2002. It was so gratifying to know that this field of study is begining to gain some recognition.

Pegasus has another conference scheduled for next year in Boston on November 17-19, titled Systems Thinking in Action, a conference I will surly attend.

I wish you the best and keep the conversations going.

John

The role of conversation in change

As I have been moving into a new position in a new organization, I have been considering the role of conversation in creating positive partnerships. My role is leadership development and as I work with a team of 95 leaders, the frequency, tone, and content of the conversations that I have with my team creates the relationship that I have going forward. Needless to say, trust and rapport is the cornerstone of these relationships and trust and rapport will not happen without conversation.

I have noticed that it is very easy for both me and my internal customers to focus on tasks and forget that the power of leadership comes from being in conversation. Executing tasks is important but will not create a world class organization. So much of my work is involved in creating conversations around questions that drive performance improvement. The relationships that my leadership team have with their team members and the quality of their conversations determine the performance of their operating units. There is a direct relationship between the quality of conversations and the performance and sustainable of performance of the operating unit. Those in leadership who shy away from conversations struggle in performance where those who are in continuous conversation with their team members, have reduced attrition and higher performance.

So the notion that I am exploring is how to reinforce conversation as a leadership practice. How do we create the rewards, feedback loops, and reinforcement that will not only encourage conversation as a leadership practice, but insure that it is happening? My work in the near future will be focused on driving conversation into our culture with the intent to create sustainable performance improvement and substantially reduce attrition of our quality team members.

Conversation and performance appraisals

I copied this post from a forum entry that I made in the Harvard business school working knowledge newsletter. The topic is performance appraisals. You can see the whole topic at http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5563.html.

In a perfect world we would talk to each other. Simple, respectful, daily conversations. Have conversations about performance, goals, expectations, rewards, recognition, and about individuals as people. If we all did this, appraisals would not be so traumatic for managers. I suspect that those who in this forum have indicated that they embrace performance appraisals also talk with their team members, not once a year but daily. I too do just that; continuously talk with my team members so that they always know where they stand and where they can improve.

With that said, I seem to remember, maybe someone here can quote the statistics, that 85% of managers do not discipline employees because they do not like confrontation. If that is the case, 85% of managers will always have a hard time with performance appraisals. If this is indeed the case, we can not as managers and leaders simply expect that everyone will jump on the performance appraisal bandwagon. So what do we do?

I like tools and processes to help managers focus on team member’s development. We also might consider aligning our expectations of our managers with their rewards so that they are rewarded for and focus on the development of their people rather than solely focus on management tasks. Add coaching and training in performance appraisals and combine with processes and tools to help with the performance appraisal process and we just might help all managers become effective in the process.

Forced ranking is quite another thing altogether. It is a tool and a process so it does help facilitate the performance appraisal system. In a perfect world it would be unnecessary I believe. I am uncomfortable with the process because it seems like a substitute for regular conversations…an easy way out. I have seen other performance appraisal tools and processes that are robust, easy to use, aligned with corporate goals and objectives, and are effective without forced ranking. So for now I am a bit ambivalent about forced ranking.

Untying financial increases from the performance appraisal is one way to create a less threatening environment for managers. Tie financial increases to enterprise and/or team performance with a component of personal performance. Tie to skill, competency, or education improvement. There are several ways to go about this. Probably a matrix approach would be best. Just as with executive compensation, if you reward only on one dimension, you will see all decisions skewed in that one direction. If the rewards are balanced and are designed to drive fulfillment of the goals, objectives, values, and vision of the organization, the negative stress created by out of alignment expectations and rewards will be greatly reduced.

I was asked today how I would handle a disciplinary issue with an employee

I thought about this question for a few moments. Do I use a formula? Do I have specific steps that I have memorized? What do I do? I have a conversation with the employee, plain and simple. We sit down for a respectful conversation and I explore what I could be doing to help this person succeed. Do they need more resources to excel at their work? Do they have roadblocks in the way of doing an exceptional job? Have I provided clear and unambiguous expectations? Does this person know what success looks like? Only after exploring a variety of issues, all of which I have control over, do I then explore what the employee brings to the table as far as baggage. And what kind of baggage am I looking for? Willingness and ableness to do the work assigned. If a person is willing and able, I can teach them to be successful at almost anything. But none of this happens without simply sitting down and talking.

Just think how you feel when you are called into someone’s office that has the power to remove you from your position? Regardless of how you feel personally about the person, the person does have this power over you. If they threaten and attack you, my guess is that you close down, don’t listen, or if you do listen, you are fuming. You are investing all of your energy guarding, defending, protecting, and maintaining. There will be no resolution. And of course this person who has power over you is absolutely not accountable for their decisions and actions. It is all your fault. I would love to be inside your heart right now and feel what you are feeling. My guess is that you have relived situations just like this.

Now imagine this same person asking you to sit down for a respectful conversation. You talk, he/she asks questions, understanding develops, and learning happens. You both explore your part in the issue at hand. No ego driving the process just a sincere desire to establish understanding and a resolution that will be shared and actually work. Good for the people and good for the enterprise. This is what conversation is all about.

Create learning conversations with your team members and build respectful relationships. Happy conversations.

John

Self management and leading change through conversation

How many change efforts fail due to a lack of communication? In Kotters book, Leading Change, he talks about not being able to over communicate. And this does not simply mean sending out memos and directives, this means talking with people at all levels of the organization. Asking questions, listening, sharing ideas, and engaging with team members, in other words being in conversation with others. This is how we learn and create change. This is how we can change the world and create healing in our communities.

It is always a frustration to me that so many people who call themselves leaders, refuse to talk with others. They may have their small circle of elite supporters, but they are not out engaging with the community. I have not fully figured out what the problem is. Are they so insecure that they are afraid to find that others might disagree with them? Is it simply easier to bark orders and demand action? Certainly if one explores leaders from around the world and in any type of community, one will find that the great leaders engage with the people in the community. Their leadership may come in many styles, but more importantly, conversation is what they do share in common.

There was a recent series of answers to a question posed in the Harvard Business Review Working Knowledge posed by James Heskett, Are We Ready for Self-Management? As Jim says in his summary, the predominant reactions to notions of self-management explored in this month’s column could perhaps be described best by two words, “enthusiasm” and “skepticism.” He used my comment to sum up the thoughts of many:

But John Inman’s comments suggested a concern that was more strongly voiced by others, when he commented that “if you are a command and control manager… keep away from self-management… However, if you can ask and not tell, engage people in learning conversations, coach, develop, and create a clear picture of the result, you probably will be thrilled with the result…”

The ability to drive self management is driven by the ability to be in conversation with team members. See the full treatment on this topic at http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5507.html#forum-summary.

Keep up the conversations.

John

Does an e-mail substitute for a conversation?

This happens to be a major frustration of mine. Rather than a meaningful face to face or over the phone conversation, people launch a cryptic e-mail. And many times this e-mail is not respectful or considerate. I happen to be one of those odd people who will always return an e-mail or a voice mail and only on rare occasions do I flake out. However it has gotten to the point that I actually send people thank you e-mails or voice mails for actually responding to me. What has happened to courtesy in our relationships? Are we really so very busy that others are of no importance? What I of course would far rather see all too often is someone walk down the hall and talk with me directly. Far less misunderstandings etc. And we build relationships and we learn and we build trust and we actually save lots of time.

So here is John’s rule for communication. If it is only data or something that must be documented, or distance or time zones are an issue, then an e-mail will do. If it is at all important or urgent, at the very least launch a voice mail. But if distances or time zones are not an issue, stand up and go talk with the person.

So what are your pet peeves on communication and where does conversation play a role for you? Have great conversations this week.

John

Can a conversation be based on a lie?

In my work I have always focused on building integrity into myself, my relationships, and my communities. I have often gotten into a discussion, note this is not a conversation, about whether you can be in integrity if you are unethical. My position has always been that you can not be integrity based if the actions are unethical. Even if your behavior is inline with your values. This simply does not fit for me. An ethical life is an integrity based life. And so it goes with conversations I believe.

A conversation is an intimate experience, a dance between two or more people generating new knowledge, learning, and understanding. And how can one enjoy that experience if it is based on a lie? I do not believe that is possible. What evolves may be something, but it is not a conversation in my opinion. New knowledge, learning, and understanding seems to be absent from a non-integrity based interaction.

So to have a conversation, one must open up, self disclose, be vulnerable, be honest, and be open to learn and grow. It reminds me of the old adage that you can not love if you do not risk. I believe the same goes for conversation.

Go forth and risk. Join conversations and make a difference.

John

Creating a sustainable conversation

Conversations do have a life time. The life of the conversation generally is influenced by the question that is on the table. The more compelling the question, the longer the life of the conversation. Some conversations seem to last for years because they generate enough passion to keep going. Others can last only minutes. This is always of interest to me as some of the questions that I pose have short life times and I am absolutely certain when I pose them that they will generate an in depth conversation. Other times, a simply question will generate an unexpected conversation.

There is an art to learning how to pose questions that matter. I suspect that with practice and experience one can get better at asking questions that matter. I recently asked a question on a board for an e-learning course that I took. The board was almost void of conversation and I wanted to generate an online community so I posed the question, “What does it take to generate a conversation in an online setting?” and surprisingly this question did generate quite a conversation.

I have been actively participating in online communities for quite a while but still am frustrated with the lack of conversation within those communities. Some are of course better than others. Finding a community where you can share, learn, grow, and make a difference is no easy task and if one finds a community such as this, you are blessed.

I wish you well in your conversations.

Coaching and Conversation

There is much being written about coaching as a management framework. There are steps and models, and what to do and what not to do’s out there. My feeling is that it all boils down to conversation. To coach one needs to be in conversation with another person. Not telling, not demanding, not scolding, not demeaning, but simply respectful and courteous conversation. Let’s not make this to complicated. Management is difficult enough as it is particularly if employee development is viewed as important as it should be.

I have read that 85% of managers are unwilling to discipline as they are uncomfortable with conflict. If they would default to having a conversation with someone, getting to know that persons life, issues, fears, concerns, and struggles, it would be so much easier to reach out a helping hand to assist rather than punish which seems to be the prevailing paradigm.

Learn the simple art of conversation and management will be more effective. People will be treated with respect and courtesy, and the enterprise will be far more effective and efficient in delivering the value to the customers.

Coach on and stay in conversation and have far more fun being a manager and leader.

John