Lower the Centre of Gravity

The boat was skittish and unstable. Every time a small wave rolled beneath us we struggled to keep it upright. We were planning for an extended sea kayak trip and this experience told us there was work to be done. Fighting the boat for days on end, at times miles from shore was never going to work.

The solution turned out to be simple. A paddling friend suggested attaching a 1kg diving weight to the lowest point inside the boat. That small weight lowered the centre of gravity and suddenly the boat was easy and delightful to paddle.

If you want to build an unshakeable team, lowering the centre of gravity is just as important. Old world organisations relied on hierarchy and decisions being made at the top. It used to work. Now it’s way too slow, and too easy to disrupt. Lower the centre of gravity by empowering your team to make decisions close to where the action is. Here are some ways to do it. We’ll talk more about them in coming articles.

  • Reduce bureaucracy. Be relentless in the pursuit of making things easier and smoother. Pay attention to where people take short cuts and either enhance the process or adopt the short cut. 

  • Set clear boundaries for autonomy. If people know where they can make decisions and be backed by leadership, they’ll start doing more things, more effectively in direct response to the challenges of their work. As a leader focus on removing barriers and establishing the direction. The team will come to life.

And when disruptive situations occur your team will be more unshakeable.

Feel Like a Vending Machine - Ask More Questions.


Many leaders feel like a vending machine. Staff come to them with problems. They dispense solutions. It's exhausting and keeps leaders down in the weeds, rather than focussed on higher level thinking and work. The article I wrote about it hit a nerve and provoked some questions. Over the next few weeks, we'll explore some tips for getting out of the 'vending machine' cycle.

One of the easiest ways to break the cycle is ask more questions. Questions help you and your staff think through the issue and understand it. From your point of view, you want to be able to offer assistance (if it's genuinely needed) without bailing people out too easily. From their point of view, assisting them to think about the issue increases their understanding and ultimately their capacity. For both of you, the process builds greater trust and understanding making future issues and delegated tasks easier to tackle.


Here are some great questions to ask. You don't need all of them every time. One or two insightful questions create the space for your staff member to come up with their own solutions. They also identify what your most useful contribution to the issue, or your staffs development might be. Even if it is an issue that needs input from you, ask some questions first. It establishes an expectation that staff will think for themselves, and that you value/trust their input. The three questions in bold italics are almost always worth asking.

  • Who is involved in this issue? Who does the issue impact the most? Who would benefit from a solution? Are there any people this impacts who may not be aware of it yet? Who raised the issue? Who do we need to communicate with as we work on a solution?
  • When did you become aware of this? Are there any significant or critical timeframes we need to consider?
  • Where are the resources you need? Do you have access to them?
  • How would you solve the problem? 
  • Why is this important to you/us/the company/our stakeholders? Why do you need my assistance?
  • What is the impact if it isn't solved? What would it take to solve it? What resources/connections/networks would help? What attempts have you made to solve the issue? What do you think would be the most effective solution? What barriers (if any) are there to you doing that?

Go on - Unplug that vending machine!

Leading like a Vending Machine


Do your staff keep expecting you to have all the answers and solve all the problems? Do you wish they would show a bit more initiative and try to solve their own problems? Does the constant flow of requests from your team add to your daily pressure and work load? If you answered yes to any of those questions, perhaps you are leading like a vending machine. Over the years I have  coached many leaders who experience this issue. I coined the phrase "Vending Machine Manager". 

Staff come to the Vending Machine Manager and punch in a request "B4". The machine shakes and rattles a bit. There's a couple of clunking sounds. Out of the flap pops the perfect answer or solution to their problem. It's cool and it's sweet. Next time they have a problem, they remember how easy it was. How cool and sweet it was. Back they come. They punch in "A9", and walk away satisfied. Before long, the Vending Machine Manager has a constant flow of traffic wearing out the floor in front of their work station. "D7", Clunk, WooHoo. "F2" Clunk, WooHoo. "B6"Clunk, WooHoo. On and on it goes - and your workload continues to grow.

From a survival point of view, humans are designed to find the easiest return for energy expended. The Vending Machine Manager plays straight into the hands of that design. To change the dynamic you need to move from dispensing answers to building capacity. Work with your team to build their own knowledge and skill. Make them experts in their own right. If you keep vending, they'll keep coming. Change the game!

When the game is over move on

I was talking to a colleague who has a rapidly growing business in entertainment. They manage artists, bring shows to Perth and create venues for great content. She's a great leader with a clear vision for her business. Her team are excited about creating it with her. With growth come several inevitable challenges for leaders. Systems have to move and evolve to keep up with where you want to get to. As the team grows, vision and leadership become more important, and simultaneously more diluted - Getting good and consistent messaging to staff and the market about what you are doing is critical. Growth also means that there may be times when staff who were a good fit when you were a different size, no longer are.

My colleague was describing a couple of conversations she had with staff who had been with her a while. In the early days, they had been awesome - Productive, switched on and enthusiastic. But that had waned.  She had spent considerable time with them attempting to recreate how it had been but nothing seemed to be working. Motivation continued to drop and they were starting to get in the way of progress.

She decided to have a straight conversation about the expectations they each had for the business and the role to see if that would lead anywhere productive. End result, the person left and was relieved. The staff member had been feeling obliged to stay with the business - feeling she would let the owner down if she left. She'd been excited about it when she first joined and had been a big part of creating the success. The rapid expansion was hard for her though, and she really liked smaller teams than this one was now. She found the constant evolution and growth stressful and wearing.

When they had an open conversation about what the owner needed from staff, and how her staff felt about the environment, it became clear to them both that it was time to move on. For the business it has been like taking a foot off the brake. A new person has joined with skill and enthusiasm for the current business, rather than what it once was. No doubt the person who left is also feeling relieved.

Situations like this are often stressful for everyone involved. It's easy to become victim to unspoken expectations and assumptions. Our perspective gets bent out of shape, and sometimes that results in conversations like this one becoming adversarial when there was no need for that.

Actions we can take:

Employers/Leaders/Managers - Set up clear expectations for people and roles early, and check in with them often. Use as many opportunities as you can to deepen you/your teams understanding of the expectations. Create an environment where conversations about what we expect and whether those expectations are being met are safe and regular. Don't let things fester. If there is tension, friction or conflict do something about it as soon as possible - most big problems start out a small ones.

If you work for someone else - Be bold about asking for clarification of what the business expects from you. If your ecxpectations are not being met, raise the issue and explore it. Don't let things fester. If there is tension, friction or conflict do something about it as soon as possible - most big problems start out a small ones.

For both - If it's time to move on - do it.

Get the Basics Right


Anecdotal feedback from many leaders in many sectors suggest Western Australia is currently facing challenging times. It seems that there is more effort required to secure a sale, and that buyers are more consciously looking for lower cost and/or higher value for their spend. Providing good quality and timely service is always important. In a tough market it seems to me that it is essential. Scrap that - I reckon it's essential all the time. I'm amazed at how ofter I hear of businesses not even getting the basics right. In a buoyant market, it may be overlooked, but in a tight one, it could be enough to get you side lined.

A good mate of mine supervises technical work crews. His role is to liaise with clients, ensure the work is done to spec and act as a technical/safety back up to his crew. He gets deployed all over the world. He has two skills that I reckon make him stand out from the crowd:

  • He's quick - His work rate is high, but more importantly he can get to an unfamiliar location and quickly get his head around the skillset of his crew, the issues on site, and build rapport with the people he needs to liaise with.
  • Great Communication - He'll make sure every one is in the loop. He anticipates issues and gets in front of them. And he's always on the look out for ways to improve the standing of his company and their reputation with clients.

As a result he often gets pulled off his main job to sort out potential issues, and it's amazing how often this is the result of the basics not being covered properly. Recently, the supervisor that was replacing him on the next shift did not have the minimum qualifications to supervise the job. If he had left without rectifying the situation the whole job would have stopped costing many thousands and who knows what in terms of reputation. It's a basic of the job. A fundamental specification that was either overlooked or ignored. That seems an unnecessarily high risk to me.

But it must happen a fair bit - I'm amazed at how often people tell me of clients who are grateful for something that seems pretty basic - like follow up, or customer service, or delivering on an agreement, or holding yourself accountable.

I'm sure we have all experienced the receiving end when the basics are not done well. My wife and I did an online booking for a restaurant a while back. We got the usual email confirmation. When we arrived we were told there was no booking. "On line" we said. The owner then proceeded to berate us for using the online system which was broken. We got a table and breakfast, but we haven't been back, and possibly neither have several other parties who were in earshot of the dressing down we got.

A warm greeting at the door is a basic. It is called hospitality after all, unless they changed it to hostility while I slept.

One of the easiest and most underrated ways to stand out, regardless of your job, position or level of ownership is simply to do what you say you will do. I my mind that includes the basics which are surely implied if not explicitly stated. 

If for some reason it is not possible to deliver on the basics, be courteous, accountable and professional while you negotiate a solution. It will help you stand out from the crowd, and often the only cost is discipline.

Banking for the Future

What's it like being on the team you are on? The experience can be dynamic and productive. A great team performs well, exceeding the results that any one member could achieve. Other teams get in their own way. When the objectives are not clear and people are not pulling their weight, a team can add work and confusion. 2017 has been dominated with discussions about teams for me. Leaders and team members have been tackling the ingredients for high performance and also dysfunction. Over the next few weeks I'll share a series of insights about teams from both sides.

"You have to bank for the future and trust that will get you through the challenges"

Picture this:

The sector you are in is facing the largest change it has seen in 40 years. There's widespread optimism about the change, but also lots of confusion. The big picture looks compelling but for some individual staff and customers it's not great. People are looking for answers and they are not always available - not because anyone is trying to mislead - simply because many things are still on the drawing board. The nature of jobs is changing. Employees are dealing with their own uncertainty while facing a barrage of customer uncertainty and angst. 

One leader reflected on the unofficial nature of some of the teams he is leading. Groups of people who are held together more by relationships and common ground, than because they are an actual team. He spoke of "banking" trust and reliability. Doing the right thing consistently. Following through on promises. 

In an environment that is totally relationship based these are the only tools available to make the team perform. They are powerful tools and in a more formal team setting they often get overlooked.

How do you build trust within your team? I reckon the most powerful way to influence trust is to consistently do what you say you will do. Regardless of whether you are a leader, or a team member, backing yourself in this way creates a sense of certainty and reliability around you. "Banking" credit in relationships will help when the team faces challenges. 

Staying Fresh

Do you ever get into a groove? Not the helpful sort that's characterised by flow and productivity, but the sort where you feel you are getting stale. Depending on how deep and long it is you might even call it a rut. I reckon it's part of human nature to experience these times. Most people I speak to have experienced it at least once. Maybe it's a product of our search for certainty.

We are wired to manage our environment in a way that creates some certainty and predictability. Depending on personality and background, some people like more certainty than others. Some of us follow very precise and ordered sequences for almost everything we do. Going back to the same coffee shop, talking to the same people and driving the same way to work are all examples. Others will seek greater variety, sometimes going to extremes. But even then there are ways they create certainty. In the high risk sport of wing suit proximity flying for example, people spend huge amounts of time planning until they are certain enough of the outcome to make the jump. Despite appearances, they don't have a death wish.

Part of life is finding your personal balance between variety and certainty. Enough variety that you don't fall into a rut. Enough certainty that you feel comfortable.

Every year I intentionally do at least one thing that I have never done before. It keeps me fresh. I search for a challenge that will push back some boundaries and expose me to new skills. The experience should induce a bit of fear I reckon - something that puts me in a position of being a beginner with a lot to learn. For me a tandem skydive, or bungy jump would not meet the criteria. While both would be scary and definitely get me out of my comfort zone, neither requires me to learn. In both situations I'm dependant on an expert. 

This year's challenge is a stand-up comedy course that ends with a 5 minute stand-up performance to a live audience. I'm getting sweaty palms just writing about it. Some people don't believe me when I say that, after all I speak for a living, and sometimes it's humorous. But comedy is different I reckon. There's something very exposed about being on stage specifically to make people laugh. And there's nowhere to hide if it doesn't work. Humour is a pretty personal thing as well. What makes me laugh might not make you laugh. It could be a long 5 minutes!  

I recommend this kind of personal stretch at least once a year for anyone. 

  • It keeps you fresh.
  • It's great for brain health.
  • You become more aware of yourself, and sometimes find strength and resources you didn't know you had.
  • You'll probably have some fun.

I think it's especially important for leaders.

  • It reminds you what it's like to be lead, especially if the leader is asking you to stretch yourself.
  • It reminds you that you don't know everything.
  • It awakens creativity and insight that are impossible to access from the rut.
  • It makes you more aware of what it takes to create an environment where people are willing to follow.

What will you do to challenge yourself this year?

If you want to join me at the school of comedy details are here. https://www.schoolofcomedy.com.au/stand-up/

If you want some other ideas here's my article on the same subject from last year.


Be Bold!

Have you ever had moments as a leader when you have felt unsure and timid. I certainly have. Regardless of whether you hold an "official" leadership role, we get called upon to lead in all manner of ways. Leading is an interesting thing to do. And in my experience it's a great way to grow. Leadership has presented opportunities for some fantastically positive outcomes and some subtle influence with people that has steadied the ship. It's also presented challenges, self doubt and a reasonable share of mistakes.

Sunrise over the Southern Ocean

Sunrise over the Southern Ocean

 I spent most of last week on the beautiful south coast of WA with a group of year 9 boys. These emerging young men were walking, paddling, cycling and surfing and learning about leadership in practice.

There were some outstanding young men and we had some great conversations about what makes a good leader.

One in particular stood out from the crowd. He was able to positively influence his peers, rally their focus and energy and organise them for a result. His presence created a sense of calm and certainty. That was on a good day. There were other times when he was right in the thick of disruptive and counter productive action. Chalk and cheese. It was as if a different person showed up. 

We had a great conversation about it. He was really aware of the swing and said he much preferred to lead well. When I asked what was holding him back he had the answer straight away.

Self Confidence. 

He was concerned about what people would think, unsure about making the right call, not wanting to seem too confident, afraid of the attention he might receive, sometimes feeling the weight of responsibility. These are familiar themes from the work I do with leaders, and from my own experience. 

To lead is to step up in many big and small ways. It takes boldness. To say what needs to be said. To do what needs to be done. To acknowledge the efforts of others. To be responsible and accountable for your results. To raise the bar. To move between the spotlight and the background as the situation demands. To think ahead. To collaborate. 

However and wherever you lead. No matter how large or small your role. Be Bold!

Stuck? Make the most of what you know.


A few weeks ago I wrote about focus. Often our focus shifts in response to what is happening around us. Requests, tasks, pressure, health, distraction, fatigue and other variables have our focus moving between hard and soft, fixated and broad. If the shifts happen without us consciously choosing them, we can end up operating with an ineffective focus. Each mode of focus is highly effective in some circumstances and ineffective in others.

Some of you wanted to know more about how to recognise and use focus more effectively.

Yesterday I was talking with a highly competent and experienced colleague. She's one of the best thinkers I know. Few people can match her for productivity. She's highly valued for her ability to analyse complex situations and find clear paths for effective action. Over the last few years she has consulted in many different industries and sizes of organisation, always adding significant value.

She'd been asked to present a case study from her experience. It was to include lessons learned and would act as a catalyst for a strategic discussion in her current organisation. It was creating a focus problem. Her focus was narrow and soft. She was scanning for specific elements (Narrow) across the full range of work she had done (Soft) to find the best single example of effective strategy. Much of the consulting work she has done has been confidential and highly specific to the business she was working with at the time. Very difficult to find an example that she could share, and that had clear lessons that could be generalised to the current context. 

A soft and relatively narrow focus is highly effective when looking for something detailed and specific. That's what my friend was using as she scanned back though her work. One of the problems of soft and narrow focus is that if you can't find what you are looking for it drifts toward hard and fixated. As frustration grows this can be further exaggerated, and an ineffective loop is created. You get more and more fixated.

When she told me about her frustration with finding something specific in her past work that was clear, relevant to the new context and didn't breach confidentiality, I saw a focus problem. I asked, "What if instead of presenting a specific case study, you presented the strategic themes that have been relevant across all the industries, companies and situations you have worked in?"

The question shifted her focus from fixated and hard to soft and broad and she was instantly able to bring her vast experience to bear. She'll no doubt rock the room with her insights and expertise.

If you're feeling stuck, notice where your focus is and ask yourself if it's time for an intentional shift.

As a leader, start paying attention to the focus of the individuals and teams around you. Develop the skill of asking questions that shift focus when people become ineffective or stuck.

Much of the work that I do in facilitation and coaching shifts focus which enables individuals and teams to use what they know to greater effect. Feel free to be in touch if I can assist you with that.



Goals vs Areas of Focus

We have been told for years that goals are the road to success. There's been everything from reputable research through to pop psychology explaining why goals are so important. The snap shot summary is:

  • Without a clear idea of where you are going, it's unlikely you will get there.
  • Setting goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound) makes it much more likely that the goal will be attained.
  • The goal by itself means nothing. Successful people also take massive action toward their goals.

I know many people who are great goal setters. It works really well for them. Goals help them get motivated and focussed and they regularly exceed the targets they set for themselves. But goals don't work for everyone, or in all situations.

More recently there has been a significant body of research suggesting that goals have a dark side and may not be as useful, productive or relevant as previously thought. Some of the factors include:

  • If a goal is not reached exactly (like it ran late or didn't quite reach the specific target), some people find that extremely frustrating and demotivating. They subsequently lose a lot of energy in self criticism due to the unmet goal.
  • In many circumstances, quality of work is sacrificed for reaching the target. While the numbers are achieved, how they are achieved is not always desirable. Some people will cut corners, act unethically, or neglect other important focus because for them the idea of not reaching the goal is worse than doing it poorly.
  • Specific goals can sucker individuals and organisations into an way of operating that is inflexible and unresponsive to changing conditions. Essentially they become too focussed on achieving the goal and their perception narrows.
  • There are other interesting organisational impacts emerging. If you are keen to know more you might like to check out this paper.

On top of this there are personalities and situations that don't lend themselves to goal setting. In these circumstances, goals can be counter productive. For example:

  • I, like many others have a strong negative reaction to being told what to do. At my worst even if it's me telling me what to do, and I think it's a good idea, my default reaction is resistance. When I set goals for myself, it's actually negatively motivating, and I have to play all sorts of mental games with myself to make progress.
  • If you don't know enough about what you are trying to achieve, it is very difficult to make meaningful SMART goals. The plane build I wrote about last week is like that. I don't know enough to be able to meaningfully estimate the time it will take to complete a component.
  • Sometimes a broad, soft focus is the most appropriate response to circumstances (I'll say more about this in a future article). If the operating conditions are highly dynamic, a narrow, specific focus can get you into a world of trouble.
  • Some goals are about creating new habits or just getting more focussed. Consistency over time, just showing up and taking action are more effective than driving for something specific.

That's where Areas of Focus come in. Rather than setting a specific goal an area of focus simply determines where you will focus your energy and attention. For those of us that don't like to be told what to do the softer focus brings greater energy and enthusiasm to related tasks. 

If you are a habitual and successful goal setter, I certainly wouldn't recommend you change what you are doing, but if you have not found goals to be useful, you might like to choose an area of focus.

Ask yourself - Where can I most fruitfully direct my energy and attention? Why is this area of focus important right now? Am I clear about what the vision is for this area of focus? Who else needs to be involved and how can I make it clear to them?

Once your area of focus is decided, the same rules apply as for goals - turn up and take massive action. That's the secret ingredient that makes stuff possible. If you want a great and inspiring example of massive action to get a result check out Jack Andraka, a teenager who is making significant progress in cancer research. The volume of work he has undertaken is impressive. 



Stacking the Deck with Jokers

Group Think for Leaders

There's a phenomenon in survival and safety/accident research where people increase their exposure to risk by getting away with inherently risky acts. Getting away with it creates a mental model that doesn't see the risk, or believes the activity to be safe. In some cases, this is compounded by the fact that every time the activity is repeated it builds up more "energy" for a failure.

A good example of this is people texting while driving. The first time someone does it, they feel uncertain and nervous. Nothing bad happens so they do it again, maybe giving even more time to the screen. Gradually they desensitise themselves to the risk, feeling like it does not apply to them.

I call it "Stacking the deck with Jokers". At some point, someone will brake suddenly in front of them. They are unprepared, not alert, and have no plan in mind. They have no "real" cards to play. The research shows people in this state become victims of accidents that were totally obvious and predictable to others. If they survive, they report being completely taken by surprise...

We do this in the business environment as well. It looks like a lack of self leadership - ignoring an intuitive sense that something isn't quite right, following someone else's lead with blind faith, developing a sense of complacency with team members or customers.

There are some simple measures to avoid falling into this state. A friend demonstrated them beautifully as a pilot in a close formation flying display. It was led by a well known and respected pilot of considerable experience. The weather was marginal for flying to the extent that any good flying instructor would caution their students never to fly under those conditions. He described the lead up to take off:

  • exhilaration for being part of it
  • busy, focused on ensuring his preflight checks were thorough and complete
  • a sense of peer pressure (we have a display to put on, everyone else seems happy to go)
  • unquestioning faith in the experience, qualification and leadership of the pilot in charge - "if he thinks its safe with all his experience, I will follow him"
  • a small niggling feeling of doubt about the weather

At the last moment he aborted his takeoff. The others completed their flight uneventfully, stacking the deck with jokers like "its OK to fly in conditions like that".

What made it possible for my friend to abort? It was all about self leadership:

Intuition - He paid attention to the small but persistent intuitive feeling that he was putting himself and others at risk.
Self Examination - He began to ask questions like "Would I fly in these conditions under normal circumstances?"
Backing himself - He "switched on" his own training, experience, judgment and thinking and assessed the situation himself, rather than just following the group.
Courage - He exercised the courage of the self leader, and took a decision that was possibly unpopular with the leader and his peers

People who apply these principles are of great value to themselves and those around them - they make it possible to "see" risky mental models and make sound choices. They stack the deck in their favour. Those are valuable skills in leadership.

Is there anyone you follow blindly - especially if it is detrimental to yourself, others and the results you are trying to achieve? What would you need to do to exercise more judgement and self leadership in that situation?

The Business End of Gratitude

There are two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
— Albert Einstein

Gratitude is not a new idea. Many religions and positive psychology practices have gratitude as a central theme.

Even in the realm of science, leading thinkers regularly point to gratitude as an important concept.

Expressing gratitude daily for the both the big and little things in life helps us to maintain perspective and positivity regardless of the circumstances we are experiencing.

It is a simple act, requiring only a willingness to find something to be grateful for, and expressing that gratitude.

Research tracking people who expressed gratitude daily in a journal for just 10 weeks, showed they experienced a 25% increase in their happiness.

They became more:

  • joyful
  • enthusiastic
  • interested
  • attentive
  • energetic
  • excited
  • determined
  • strong.

Now to the business end! The list of qualities above is compelling from a business point of view.

What would the impact on your business be if you showed up with some or all of those qualities? People would certainly notice. Would a client or customer appreciate contact with your business if you were more energetic, attentive and interested?

If you manage a team, how would they respond to those qualities in you? In the competitive market place, these attributes in a boss, or fellow team members have a direct impact on staff satisfaction, retention, and productivity.

Imagine then the impact of creating a culture of grattitude across your whole business! The attributes above would become synonymous with your business, including its products and services.

The simple act of gratitude can and does equate to increased team effectiveness, increased customer satisfaction, increased well-being and therefore productivity of staff, increased reputation and ultimately increased revenue.

Gratitude makes good business sense!

Gratitude is just one of the strategies I teach in my business coaching sessions for leaders.  If you'd like a complimentary session call me on 0423 193 196 . Alternatively, you might like to pass the offer on to one of your customers or a member of your team as an expression of gratitude.

I'm grateful for your time - thank you.

Is it Compelling?

If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Four vision lessons from ancient cultures

In business, the ability to create a vision and story for a company (or any enterprise involving a group) has a huge impact on whether people will get behind it - whether they will invest their time, support, effort and passion for its success.

Many of the business leaders I have spoken to find gaps between their vision and the activity within the business. Staff, are often unaware of the vision, or uninspired by it. Does your company vision inspire (breathe life into) you and your team?  

In ancient times the vision and story of a community were shared verbally. People were so infused by them, that they could recall and retell the stories which held their community together. The stories provided the "glue" that gave people a sense of belonging and purpose. To do that a vision/story must be compelling. It must speak to us at many levels.

Ancient and enduring stories all contain some key ingredients. They are fantastic building blocks when crafting company vision:


  1. History - A sense of where we have come from, and the importance of the links between past, present and future. During a leadership workshop last year the "founding fathers" of the company verbally shared the story of how the company came into being, why it was created, what was important to them at the time, what endures today. Their team was riveted and energised by the sharing of the history.
  2. Connection - A reason to connect with each other, with the "place" that holds us, and with the resources we use. Many indigenous stories tell how the group came into being and describe the importance of their relationship to each other, other groups and the land. They tell of who the heroes are and how to emulate their success. Capturing this element in a company story gives people a reason to become a team, to forge a culture together.
  3. Morality - Strong values about how we should act, why we should act that way and the consequence of not acting that way.
  4. Action/navigation - A call to action in the here and now, coupled with a sense of self responsibility to take that action. The great stories of old contain the way to get to places. Around Australia, stories combined the elements above with clear landmarks and maps enabling people to move thought the country safely - even if they had never been there before. A great company vision will provide guidance about the way forward, and how to recognise that people are on track.

Next time you hear a story that really grabs your attention, be it from a book, a movie, or word of mouth, have a look for these elements.

How many of them are present in your company (or team) vision? If some are are missing find ways to create them and them share them widely!

What's holding us back?

Over the last couple of years I've facilitated a number of conversations with not for profit organisations who provide care services to people. Many of them have a long history, being among the oldest charities in Western Australia. They provide services to people who are marginalised in our community. People with disability, folks who are ageing, others who have a mental illness. 

Across Australia, in all three sectors there is major reform - some of the most significant changes we have seen in 100 years. The primary thrust of reforms are that people will have more choice and say in the services they receive, and they will have some control over how their service funding is spent. For the first time, they will be genuine customers, rather than simply consumers of service.

It's no small change. It's taken years to arrive. It's major disruption. There is both excitement and trepidation in the industry.

In the past human services organisations have operated using block funding. Each year a "block" of funding was paid to the organisation to run its services. Measures of success were things like hours provided, or number of beds. People using services had choices, but they were limited to homogenous services that were mostly unresponsive to their voice. It's not that agencies didn't care. Most organisations and people in them are set up specifically to make the world a better place in some way. The nature of funding simply meant that they were more answerable to funding bodies, than the people they served.

Over the last 10 years or so, there has been an increasing move to individual funding. People were assigned an amount of money based on need. Funding was still paid to organisations and service offerings were in a fairly narrow band.

The new reforms actually place money in the hands of the people needing the service. They get to choose who they spend it with. Organisations are needing to be more efficient, more customer responsive and more commercially minded.

So what has this got to do with expectations that keep us here? Historically, many people who have worked in human services have done so precisely because it is not a commercial environment. Many feel that a commercial element is more likely to be cut throat and uncaring. Most of the organisations I have worked with have expressed an expectation that looks something like this.

If we do what it takes to survive in an environment of margins, cash flow and economies of scale we will be less caring to the people who need us the most. It will detract and distract us from our core purpose.

With this expectation, participation in the new models of funding is unappealing and feels like selling out. But as with many expectations, it's not a binary choice. It's not either/or. The best way around expectations that constrain forward movement is to ask better questions. "What would it take to exceed our expectations about caring, and be more commercially smart?" " What are some great examples of large, profitable businesses whose customers love their services, and the way they are cared for?" "How can we ensure that our commercial models have people at the centre, rather than costs?"

Providing a great service = happy customers. Caring about them deeply = connection. If the recipe is right you will have more customers than you can provide a service to, and business is likely to be pretty good too.




Who's involved?

The group sat in the shade and discussed their options. The campsite wasn't great. There was very little in the way of soft sand. In survival mode - literally sleeping on the ground -no soft sand means a hard nights sleep. The problem was it was also getting dark, and the group was walking in a gorge. Walking after dark was not a safe option. The group had almost decided to sleep here for the night. The trouble was not everyone had agreed. 

The group dispersed. Some people got busy collecting wood and water. Others began setting up a place to sleep. Two people were convinced that a better option existed just down the river. They decided to go check it out, recruiting another person on the way. They found a spot they preferred. Two people stayed there, replicating the effort of others upstream. The last came back to get the rest of the group. The trouble was no one else wanted to move. Not only had they not been involved in the revised decision, but they had also invested significant time and effort preparing this spot.

Eventually, the whole group got back together at the original spot. There were lots of disgruntled people, who remained dissatisfied for several days.

Over the past few weeks we have been looking at ineffective loops of behaviour. There are two here.

  1. The majority of the group flew into action too quickly. They thought the decision had been made, but others were not convinced. Spending a few more minutes coming to a firm decision would have stopped the problem before it began.
  2. The others made the subsequent decision without everyone present, and failed to communicate what they were doing and why. If they had gathered the group together for the discussion, or been more assertive in the original decision making process, they too could have headed it off at the pass.

Get clear before taking action. Involve all the key players.