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Supporting organisations to bridge the gap between strategy and action at moments of change, making sense and shaping conversations with Big Pictures.

Blog

Filtering by Category: Behaviours

The Eve of Disruption

paul stroud

Transformation programmes can be challenging and disruptive, especially when staff are expected to get on with their business as usual efficiently throughout. Hunkering down to try to focus on what they need to get done, with a dull ache of change fatigue, they’re not at their most receptive.

To break out of this defensive position people must feel that they are actively involved in a programme, not merely on the receiving end of the latest salvo from the leadership. A chance to be listened to, to contribute, to influence. That the issues they have experienced personally can be recognised more widely, and addressed. In that way they can become active participants, playing a part in driving a change rather than just being observing passengers.

Without this meaningful involvement a transformation programme risks being hobbled from the start - regarded by employees as the latest attack on the order they’d carefully established, and something to be resisted or quietly subverted.

It should be an opportunity to embrace, as the route to changes that could make a positive difference for them and their organisation. One way or the other they will find a role to play: it all depends on whether the transformation is done with them, or to them.

How do we respond to change?

julian burton

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When change is poorly communicated it can often create discomfort, and people react to that discomfort in different ways. In that state important strategic messages are unlikely to land because people’s minds are focused on their own fears and concerns.

Panic, denial and avoidance are common reactions which are often interpreted as resistance to change. It’s easy to judge these reactions as resistance, though they are natural, largely unconscious responses to what can feel threatening, overwhelming or scary. I know that when I’ve been worried or concerned about my future, I’m not usually in the best state of mind to listen to other people’s helpful advice. Emotional responses to change often go unvoiced if there’s not enough safety or trust to share them with someone.

In this situation it’s really important to find an opportunity for catharsis - which is the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

We believe that by acknowledging the emotional impact of change and allowing space for it’s expression, conversations can become more productive. Then there is more chance of creating a shared story that everyone cares about and feels part of - because they feel cared about too.

Are there some things that money can’t buy?

amy morton

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Today, almost everything is up for sale. So says Michael J Sandel in his book “What money can’t buy”. The question is, says Sandel, do we want to live like this? Are there some things where it just isn’t appropriate to pay money for them? How about buying a prison cell upgrade (apparently a nicer cell costs you $82 a night in Santa Ana, California)? Or buying the right to shoot an endangered black rhino (yours for $150,000 in South Africa)?

Sandel makes the case that whether or not something should be up for sale depends on how we value it. Would buying and selling it somehow corrupt or degrade its nature? If so, then maybe it shouldn’t be traded for money.

The book got me thinking about the things that money can’t buy. In our work we get a privileged look into the world of our clients and the relationship between employer and employee. When employees “go the extra mile” it’s not because of their pay cheque. You can’t pay your employees to give something that is, by its very nature, discretionary.

Self-disclosure, team cohesion and the importance of sharing stories

julian burton

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I’ve recently been thinking about how important self-disclosure is in building relationships, and how I can learn to make it more of a part of my personal development. What started me thinking about this was a recent inspiring story about how England’s football squad learnt self-disclosure to build the trust and cohesion in the team we saw this summer in Russia.

In a recent Guardian article about the England football team’s sports psychologist, Pippa Grange, has been credited with their relative success in the 2018 World Cup by, amongst other things, encouraging self-disclosure amongst team members. As part of their training before the tournament, they regularly sat together and shared some of their intimate experiences and feelings, particularly around their fears about failure. The point, Southgate has said, is to build trust, “making them closer, with a better understanding of each other”.

Yet it can often be confronting to take of the armour off and share feelings and experiences at work. A lack of trust can mean that it’s not safe enough to reveal personal truths such as fear of failure. When you create a safe space to share its possible to learn about each other’s experiences, and in the process change our stories about ourselves and each other. As with the England team’s example, self-disclosure fosters stronger bonds between team members, uniting them around a common task or purpose and so improving performance. 

In our experience we find that the most meaningful and motivating narratives are co-created through sharing stories. When people have opportunities to share how they feel, what they value and what motivates them, the shared narrative that emerges builds a stronger sense of belonging and common purpose. It’s common in organisations these days for leaders to want to create a new strategic narrative. Developing a shared narrative helps groups make sense of change, linking personal experience and identity to the organisation purpose and its wider context. 

In the 2014 World Cup, it was reported that some of the England players were actually questioning whether they wanted to play or not, such was their fear of failure. Compare that to 2018. When Fabian Delph’s wife was about to give birth, his team paid for a chartered jet to allow him to be there for it and get back in time to play Belgium. 

This is a wonderful story about Pippa Grange’s vision and commitment for creating a new team narrative of belonging and cohesion, nurtured through taking risks and encouraging the self-disclosure that led to a more effective team that we can all be proud of.

The Picture in the Attic

paul stroud

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Every once in a while there is news of a trusted, successful brand that suddenly lurches into unexpected trouble. More than suffering from misfortune, they are revealed as deeply flawed, and are not what they seemed to be at all. When the internal reality doesn’t match the projected image they are effectively living a double life - one that is ultimately unsustainable.

Is it unreasonable for an organisation to want to project a flattering picture of itself, to instil pride and confidence in it’s staff and customers, while shying away from contemplating its faults and weaknesses, be they systemic or those of individuals?

Imagine if all the challenging, difficult stuff could manifest itself in a ghastly hidden picture instead of being lived, worked-out and resolved – like some fantastic deception in a gothic novel. That could be tempting, especially if problems are being suffered and managed by others and all the easier to disregard. Some may consider things are better left unsaid, to allow them to be managed discreetly and preserve the reputations (and dignity) of those involved.

However, exploring troubling issues openly can establish their true extent throughout the organisation, as well as offering a valuable opportunity to share experiences, correct misconceptions, and learn from each other.

While it may be appealing to avoid the upfront cost and disruption of directly confronting difficulties, how costly will it be in the long run to constantly bend to accommodate them? An informed, strategic response can attempt to share out the burden more fairly, rather than leave problems to be borne by just the individuals directly impacted. That could make for a story with a happier ending for everyone, not just those telling it.

Crushed and squeezed - do you recognise this?

Elinor Rebeiro

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My colleague drew this image the other day after we were discussing some of the challenges employees experience in their day-to-day work environment. Does it resonate?

It makes me consider the fluid nature of the way I work. As a consultant I am struck by the dichotomy or competing forces that come into play when trying to meet the needs of each client and the needs of the people that I work with.

I quite often feel myself getting overwhelmed trying to meet these expectations - my own included (but they definitely sit at the end of the queue). I think there is something so difficult in this because it is easy to lose perspective and no longer be able to see past the thing that is right in front of you.

A lot of what I am talking about here is perceived as well as 'real' pressure, and can be triggered as much by my own work ethic as it can by my clients’ expectations. When I am in this space it feels completely real and completely crushing – mind, body and soul.

So, what stops me saying "Sod it, I’m getting out of here"? Somedays, honestly, I don’t know. I know that I love my work, I know that I also love my daughter and husband who invariably end up as one of those competing forces rather than one of my reasons for being and why it is so important for me to work.  

When I look at this image I keep asking myself 'Who are these little devils?' For me they are every best intention I have, plus an obligation to my colleagues, plus a commitment to an organisation that pays me to be there. This is in part due to a work ethic, and in part due to a standard I expect of myself.

No-one actively chooses to put their head in a vice, but when you are in that vice how easy is it to take your head out again? Are you even aware that the vice is there?

The answer, for me, is to be able to step out and explore what is happening, take some time to be mindful and reflective. The double bind is, of course, that to do that I still need to be aware that something isn’t right in the first place. Perhaps more realistically it is about stopping often to reflect not only when there is a problem, paying attention to the body response and trying to notice when things seem out of sync. And having a colleague you trust enough to share with how you are feeling can make all the difference. 

 

Help! We need to be less reliant on help!

paul stroud

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When managers see things going wrong in a department they may respond by moving staff with key talents to help those who are struggling to cope. Hopefully these specialists will contain the situation and restore normal service, but their talents mean they could be redeployed just as quickly to be of use elsewhere. That can leave the department in the lurch; vulnerable once more, dependent as ever on external capability.

Likewise, it can seem cost effective to bring in external consultants to deal with a specific issue, but if the underlying causes remain then there's the makings of an expensive dependency - unless the required skills can be adopted by the permanent team.

Must it be a choice between getting an expert to deal with an immediate problem quickly, or equipping that department with the right tools and skills it will need to remain robust and reliable? If support doesn't include learning, then how much of a help is it in the long run?