Questions

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Finding Your Inner Emoji

emojipeopleWhat will be the impact of this curious language?  🙂 

The fastest growing language of modern times is not English or Mandarin – it is the language of emoji. The emoji, taken from the Japanese word for e-character, has only been around for a few short years, but is increasingly adopted as a universal method of communication.

The reasons behind its popularity are not surprising. Emojis represent concepts and emotions much more simply than words and take far less time for the brain to decode.

Pictures transcend language barriers and allow us to communicate quickly about things that are important to us. In a modern society characterized by increasingly short attention spans, the emoji can be an answer to the question of how to do or say more with less.

Indeed, the rise of the emoji actually takes us back full-circle to our anthropological origins, where our ancestors made survival decisions based on instant visual stimuli.  So what might this mean for a learning environment? 😕

The fact that using visual images helps learners to process information more quickly and/or easily is nothing new. Whilst words are technically also images, reading is a translation process and so takes much longer for the brain to process than a well-chosen image.  In fact, according to research by 3M we can process visuals 60,000 times faster than text.

However, the emoji reminds us how powerful very simple images can be in putting an important message across quickly and to a mass audience. We see with our brains, via pattern recognition, which is why we tend to be able see very familiar patterns such as faces in everyday objects.  So, the image that we are projecting does not have to be very precise, it just needs to trigger a pattern recognition in the brain.

The challenge for most learning providers is that as a younger workforce moves into the marketplace, we’ll need to communicate with them in a way that we’re not used to.  How many workshops have you designed using emojis?  😯

Whilst the effectiveness of the emoji in personal, informal communication is relatively well understood, its application as a tool for business is less so, but help is at hand.  Many large brands have begun experimenting with emojis as a marketing tool, as emojis can help brands humanise themselves by adding an emotional layer to their communications.

For example, Domino’s have created a service that allows a customer to order a pizza by texting a pizza emoji.  The World Wide Fund for Nature also used the panda face emoji to raise awareness about endangered species, and this was designed to encourage those who regularly use emojis of pandas to donate to its conservation efforts.

The key challenge will be how to translate the work being done with emojis in a marketing context, to work being done in an L&D context.  It’s quite clear that emojis offer the L&D world a way to increase engagement and trigger deeper emotions and conversations, but only if they are highly relevant to your message and your target audience.  😎

As the world’s understanding of Visual Literacy grows, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the rise of this new form of language.  As the age of our workforce changes and the young people of today bring fresh forms of communication into the workplace, it would be wise for us to be already able to speak their language.

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Cultural Differences?

Tomato1 400x265

You say tom-ay-toe, we say…

Are cultural differences across the globe a problem?  Do they stop global Learning or Organisation Development programmes from working?

We often get asked about training for people working across cultures: “Can you give me guidance on how to work with our teams in Latin America?  I’m going to China for work, what advice can you give me?

And having been asked these questions for so many years, even though we’re not experts on cultural differences – we’ve tried to be as helpful as possible.  We’ve always said “that’s not our area of expertise, but here’s a suggestion you could try…”  But does our advice work?

So having spent the past few weeks working with people from the UK, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Singapore, China, The Philippines, The US and Australia, we’re pretty chuffed to report back – yes, it works!

Totem Gummi Bears

The key learning point for us (with this and in most of life) is simply… to not make assumptions

Or rather to question the assumptions we immediately make.  When a delegate highlights that “this approach won’t work in x location”, we have simply asked what makes them think that and what might make it work better.

And when we introduce an idea that we know works well in the UK, we ask, “how might that work for you?  What challenges might you face with this in your workplace?  How could you make this work better for you?”

These are the same questions we ask regardless of cultural differences, and they work because they put the ownership on the individual to explain the cultural challenges and importantly, explore how to overcome them.

Why does this approach work? 

It is worth remembering that our brains crave control: we do not like uncertainty or a feeling that we are not controlling a situation.  So going to work in a different culture, where our usual patterns of working and set expectations of how conversations go are challenged, can be very uncomfortable.

So we try to control the situation by coming up with theories and ideas on how to adapt and fit.  The problem is that our theories will be based on our culture and assumptions, so can often miss the mark.  Asking another person, “how do you think this could work here?” Or “how can we adapt this idea so it works?” Brings multiple benefits.

– you gain insight from someone who knows the culture better than you

– that person feels valued and appreciates that you want their opinion

– you make the process collaborative, building trust and helping you better understand the culture

– you avoid making inappropriate assumptions that backfire

So here’s our suggestion, stop worrying about what difference culture might make and simply ask the question.

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The Trusted Advisor

trusted-advisor2By David H. Maister

It’s always great when someone recommends a book to you because they’ve found it really useful and helpful in their work.

And for the ego, it’s amazing to then find that you’ve already been doing a lot of the stuff described in the book!  When I got over myself and moved past that over-confident initial reaction, I realised I was learning some great insight into why what we do works and how we can make it even better.

The Trusted Advisor helps us understand why we call one person a supplier or service provider – yet call on someone else in the same position or profession as more of a friend, confidant or – you guessed it, trusted advisor.

Getting somewhat complex in places with equations, which I fear could make the reader obsessive over the details – the ideas shared are powerful for considering how we can all build trust and be better advisors.  That’s invaluable to any roles where consulting and influencing is key (are there any roles where that isn’t the case?) – whether as an external supplier or as an in-house partner.

Can you describe three fascinating ideas suggested by the book?

Be more curious

We’re often asked how we know what questions to ask – whether that’s in a coaching context, consulting situation or everyday conversation.  This book nails it by simply explaining why we need to be more curious.  Of course there’s not much in the way of practical tips on how to be more curious – as it’s simply seen as a yes or no mindset.  Are you being curious right now or assuming you already know everything you need to know?  The powerful point here is that we can choose at any moment to be more curious and ask more questions.

Park your personal agenda

Low self-interest was consistently found in the authors’ research and examples as critical to building trust.  It makes sense –  if I’m going to trust you, confide in you and think you can help me, I must believe that you’re in it to help me, not yourself.

In spite of the common sense this seems to tap into, this is the number one area where people fall down.  We’ve all got our to-do lists, priorities, objectives and we come to every meeting with an agenda – so how can we possibly have no interest in what we need from every conversation?

What I love about this concept is once again, it’s a choice in the moment.  I may go into a meeting that immediately I sense suits me to drive my agenda and get what I need.  And minutes later, I may realise that the other person is not where I thought they were, they’re unsure what’s next and they need to talk about it.  I have a choice in that moment to park my agenda, and pay attention to my broader purpose: To make a difference.  I can’t possibly make a difference if I’m not listening, so I make my choice, and have a greater impact.

Give good advice (I know, it’s not rocket science!)

If you’re a fantastic listener and have no issue with the point above about parking your own agenda, maybe this tip is more for you.  Where a lot of people fall down with self-interest, others may fall down by not being forthcoming enough with their opinion, expertise and thinking.  It is a fine balancing act to take a high level of interest in a person, be curious and focused on their agenda – then as soon as it’s required (judging when that is may be the biggest challenge) – come in with your advice and suggestions.

The book suggests a three-step approach to giving advice – offer options, explain the pros and cons of each, then make a recommendation.

What’s the one thing that will stick with you after reading this book and why?

For me personally, as is perhaps evident from the way I have written this review, it is the need to be more forthcoming with advice that will stay with me.  At the time I was reading this book, I was working with a client who wanted me to give far more advice on how I thought a project should run, rather than follow his lead on what happened when.  That will not be the case with all people I work with, but I know the idea will stay with me for life that when I have an opinion on a subject that may be useful for someone, it’s better to share it.

You can buy the book from all good book stockists, or click on the image and be whisked away to a rainforest…

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First Break all the Rules

break-rulesWhat is the Q12 and how can I use it?

Despite being written in 1998, which might leave you thinking it’s old and a bit dusty, the book; First, Break all the Rules is still challenging the way many companies manage and lead their people.

This was the book written by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, following their research at Gallup. This is a global research organisation that advises companies on how to improve employee engagement, and subsequently see increased performance.  If you’d like to know more about Gallup, you can follow me.

Q12 is the short-hand given to the 12 questions Gallup found most highly correlated with overall job satisfaction, loyalty and high performance.  People who agreed strongly with the 12 statements were shown to have 10-20% higher performance in a wide range of measures.

So what are the 12 questions, and how can you use them?  Below are the Gallup Q12 questions translated into employee statements.

  • I know what is expected of me at work.
  • I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  • At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  • In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  • My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  • There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  • At work, my opinions seem to count.
  • The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  • My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
  • I have a best friend at work.
  • In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  • This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Ask your team how they strongly they would agree with those statements (you could use the 1-5 scale where 1 is strongly disagree and 5 is strongly agree).  And ask yourself, how well are you enabling each of those statements?

Totem Lollipops

It’s worth noting that the questions are in priority order.  Every time we look at these questions and Gallup’s research on high performing teams, we’re asked about question 10.  “Really, people need to have a best friend?”  The fact is that yes, people who said they did have a best friend at work (along with all the other statements), showed higher performance than those who did not.  But before even considering booking in more socials and getting people to be more buddy buddy – there are nine other things to get right first.

Many organisations stumble at the first three – so start there.  How do people describe why their role exists, the critical outcomes of their work and how they are measured on quality?  Are people consistent in their understanding of what the firm is all about?  Are they clear on what’s expected of them?  Make sure people know what’s expected of them, have the tools they need to do their job and get to do what they do best every day.

Rather than becoming distracted by the amount of things to do, or the challenges with item 10 – focus on getting the basics right.  And even better, ask the team how they will work with you make everything better.  How would the team address item one?  How could you support them?

Hitting two birds with one stone, if you involve the team in responding to these statements, considering how to make things better – that itself is an engagement activity, which hits statement seven.

If you’d like to have a closer look at the book, simply click on the image…

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Burning Questions

Kettenreaktion - Konzept mit ZündhölzernWhat questions your hiring managers are failing to ask at interview and how that burns through your bottom line.

How do you encourage hiring managers to interview more effectively?  Where do you start?  What skills do they need?  How will they know what questions to ask?  And once they’ve learned the skills, how can you be sure they’ll use them?!

Bringing in external consultants to interview and assess candidates can be highly beneficial for large volume and senior level appointments.  It can certainly be expensive and after that external person gives you a recommendation, what next? And what about all the other roles you recruit for?

When we ask managers to use a new system or process, we provide guidance or training.  Sadly, as with many people management skills, this tends to get missed for interviewing and hiring candidates.  So if you’re considering doing something about this, where can you start? What challenges might you face and how can you overcome them?

Getting Started

Gaining buy in to the time out of a busy workload can be a challenge, so managers will need a good reason to be doing this, seeing both personal and commercial benefits.

Companies we work with have used various combinations of the following to explain the need for change;

We need to be consistent – we don’t have a consistent view on what good looks like, so we risk making decisions that aren’t right for the whole business.

You haven’t had any support and we want to change that. We feel we’re letting you down if we don’t give you the core skills required to interview and select candidates.

We’re losing money, wasting time, making work harder and upsetting the rest of the team. Making a bad hire takes up management time, lowers morale and costs hundreds of thousands. Let’s avoid these pains by making more robust decisions – it will make your life easier.

Prepare for the future. Few other decisions we make as managers can affect the business for five, ten or twenty years. If we’re bringing someone in who might stay a long time, let’s make sure they’re the right person.

Totem Lollipops

Back up what you already know and build your skills for your future.  If you’ve been interviewing for 10 years already, you’ve probably got a way you like you do it and habits that work for you. Let’s learn from each other, find out the science behind what works and all become better interviewers, a key skill for future careers.

Learning Content

Once you have a group of people to work with, what will you cover on a skills workshop?

Two key principles are critical with this content. Firstly, make sure it is a facilitated, adult conversation. It’s easy to sound patronising without ever intending to, simply because this content can be assumed to be something we all already know.  Ask people what already works for them and what they find challenging.

Secondly, make sure the focus is on more objectively agreeing criteria and more objectively assessing candidates against that.  This is the single most important learning point, yet workshops on this topic often end up stuck on debates about whether we should put candidates under pressure or not, how we should avoid too many CVs, what to do when you know in the first two minutes the candidate is no good etc.

Whilst those questions are valid, the focus should be on the criteria for the role.

And that’s what is usually missed before and during interview – which causes bad hiring decisions and burns through your bottom line: A full understanding and assessment of the needs for the role.

Encourage hiring managers to ask questions amongst themselves before advertising a role like:

  • Why does this job exist?
  • What value will it add to my team / department / business?
  • What might be some success measures of the role?  How would I know after say 12 months that someone is doing well in this job?
  • What skills, knowledge and previous experience would be essential for someone to fulfil all of the above in my team / department / business?

And then the interview questions are written for you.  Let’s say for example that answers to the final two questions brought up things like “increase sales by 10%, so I need to see they have a track record in sales – particularly in a saturated market.”  So the interview question can be written: “when have you delivered sales increases in a saturated market?  What was the context?  What did you do?  How did you achieve growth through those challenges?”  And so on.

Or the questions raise people management needs like “turn around team performance to deliver better results (as measured through KPIs).”  The interview question could start along the lines of… “when have you turned around a team’s performance?  How did you go about it?  What was your understanding of why the team was not performing at their best?  How did the team respond to your approach?”

For fear of stating the obvious (but since when is common sense common action as we always hear?!) the simplest way to interview most effectively is to clarify what the role really needs – and ask questions against those criteria.

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Six Thinking Hats

hatsIf we’re trying to make a decision, how do we stop the most critical person being the one who gets all the airspace?

Have we really considered all the angles when we make decisions?

What questions should I ask in a meeting?

These are questions we get asked a lot by business leaders, HR professionals and anyone who is questioning the value of the time we all spend in meetings.  Based on the concept of Six Thinking Hats, our experience and our focus on keeping it simple, we have developed an approach that works for making decisions, reviewing an idea and a wide range of other contexts.

This is an overview of how it works and how you can do it yourself.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Edward de Bono revolutionised the way we consider decision making and thinking overall.  He highlighted that since the Greek philosophers we have celebrated critical thinkers.  It is the most critical person in a meeting who gets the most airspace.  And what is the outcome of too much critical thinking? A lack of action.

De Bono highlighted the importance of more balance in our thinking, challenging us to yes be critical, as well as positive, creative, data driven, emotionally open and structured.

So how does this work in practice?

For meetings to be effective we need to be thinking in the same direction.  How often do we waste hours in meetings playing the tennis of,

“I agree with Richard, but I’m not convinced that will work here.”

“Well I disagree with that, we’ve got early data telling us it does work.”

“Yes but that was only in the area of…” and so on.

This is thinking in opposing directions which is unproductive.  De Bono showed us a simple way to all think in the same direction, which takes disciplined facilitation and works extremely well.

The six hats represent six types of thinking – and we can all put on every single hat.  Some people take this to the letter, have people wearing coloured hats and stick to the structure very strictly.  We like keeping it simple, so we tend to simply ask the questions that we find helpful under each hat – and if someone goes off topic, we remind them we’re only looking at this angle at the moment.

Totem Lollipops

We’ve listed some of the questions we find most helpful here under each of the topics or hats for decision making and considering a challenge:

Positive

  • What is good about this idea?
  • What are the benefits of this approach?
  • What could be a potential benefit of this?
  • What are the positive features?

Critical

What is not so good about this?

  • What are the risks?
  • What could go wrong?
  • What experience tells us this might not work?

Creative

  • What could we do to make this better?
  • What new ideas could grow out of what we have already discussed?
  • What else could we do to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks?
  • How could we overcome barriers to doing this or things that have stopped it from working before?

Data-driven

  • What information do we already have to help us make a decision?
  • What further information do we need to make a decision about this?
  • What data will we want to monitor our success?
  • What other data might be interesting to look at?  What might that tell us?

Intuitive

  • We’ve talked rationally about this, now let’s just acknowledge that we’ll each have an emotional or intuitive reaction to the idea as well. How do you feel about it / what does your gut tell you?
  • What are you excited about?
  • What are your fears?
  • How might this affect you personally ?

The final topic or hat is the process or structure of facilitation itself.  You might use this in your own preparation time, thinking about how to best structure the meeting, or it may be that you use the concept of structure to end the meeting with questions like:

  • What have we agreed?
  • What will happen next?
  • Who will do that?
  • When will we review that?

You can find out more in Edward De Bono’s frankly amazing book, click the picture and be whisked away!

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