An unconference experience

What happens when we connect and discuss our challenges and opportunities in a place where there’s safety, freedom and no judgement.

A bit of a different post for me today. Sharing my summary from co-hosting an Unconference in Leicester just over a week ago for LnDConnect.

The Curve Theatre, Leicester with clear blue sky background
Image by Mark Gilroy

It was a beautiful sunny day at the Unconference last week and the Curve was a brilliant venue for us! Thank you to Mark Gilroy for his amazing photography beginning with this gorgeous one of the venue. read more

Racing with square wheels

I was with a Board team last week who were talking about change. How it takes courage and can be hard because we’re having to lose something of us to adopt something new or move to something different.

This is true but only when we attach to our personal thoughts

When we attach to our personal thoughts it’s like putting square wheels on a racing car. We clunk along. Sometimes stopping all together, unable to move forward. Certainly not able to quickly change direction when needed.  But we believe in these wheels, we created them. Even if “horrible” or “negative” there’s a familiarity about them that brings comfort. We know where we are. We’ve adapted ourselves to drive with these wheels, forgetting how things used to be before we had them.

Then we start to consider maybe this isn’t ideal. Maybe I would benefit from a smoother ride. Normally we start working hard to change the wheels. Intellectually analysing how they were fitted, what they are made of. But some of the bolts seem stuck. Or maybe there’s a square wheel we subconsciously like the look of so we find a justifiable reason not to change it.

Now we’re driving with 2 square and 2 round wheels. Better but not exactly a smooth ride. Then you meet someone who glides on round wheels. You’re fascinated & slightly freaked out by their difference. It reminds you of glimmers in your life when you’ve glided, when smooth wheels suddenly appeared and for that short while you enjoyed it! Thinking it must have been what you were doing at the time that created that feeling, you repeat the activity, repeating the external conditions to create the smooth-ride magic as often as you can.

Maybe you didn’t realise that you brushed off the truth of what was going on because it seemed so simple and we all know simple doesn’t win kudos prizes.

The truth is that round wheels are our natural state. Round wheels are what we are born with. We just acquired the square as we grew up & blindly followed the square-creating rules of the world. Once we really see the truth of how the square are created, moment-to-moment, and what they really mean, then our attachment to them drops away with a natural ease and we slip into the round. The natural place we fall back to. Our innate state of clarity, wisdom and wellbeing. From here we glide round the corners, speed along the straights and rediscover a life of richness and fulfilment. All the while connected to our innate brilliance.

If you’re curious to learn more, this is what we’re going to be exploring through LearnConnctDo this year. The thread that’s going to weave through all the sessions.

We’re starting on 14th March* with an introduction to the psychological understanding that underpins this smooth-wheel place. The Eventbrite will be up very soon on this page – if you don’t want to miss it jump on the mailing list by getting in touch with me here. As last year, all ticket profits will be going to Twenty:Twenty as we continue our partnership with this wonderful charity.  Thank you to PKF for continuing to host us so we can maximise how much we donate.

*3-6pm at PKF Cooper Parry’s East Mids offices (near East Mids Airport).

My experience of flotation!

This is my experience of a flotation pod at Calm Water Flotation, Nottingham who (despite how you’ll see my thought flowed) were very helpful at explaining how everything worked and how we might feel in the pod.  Giving floating a try was for our Aligning Teams Christmas Do and on the back of Mark Gilroy’s experience – we decided that the usual meal and drinks wasn’t for us and instead we plan to try a different therapy or experience each year……

I step into the warm, thick water….

Oh it’s not as thick as I expected.

[Closes the lid]

Lie back. Oo I’m floating!

The blue light and sounds of the ocean on the shore are calming.

Is my ear plug in right? I’ll just adjust that.

[Sits up, with difficulty! This water’s floaty! Lies back down.]

I’m breathing. But it feels hard. there’s a tightness in my throat. Is that anxiety?? Even with the light on??

Just breathe. In and out. Calm down. You’re just in a tank. Floating.

Rest your head right back. Test out this buoyancy thing. Oh yes, that works.

[Lies there for a bit, still thinking about breathing quite alot]

Wow my neck really hurts!

I wonder what it’s going to be like when it goes dark. If I close my eyes I won’t notice when the light goes out and it’ll just be the same.

They do turn the light off for me…don’t they? Maybe not…. Maybe I have to do that for myself….

I’ll just turn it off.

Wow it’s dark. I swear I’m moving. Spinning. Oh, there’s the side. Am I on the opposite side? I think I am. It’s hard to tell. I’ll put my hands out to see what I can feel.

I can feel the wall on one side. And one of the struts from the lid. Where’s the other side? That’s where the light switch is. I want to be near the light switch.

Slight panic sets in. [I’ve since realised there’s a light switch on both sides!!]

[Fumbles for the other side]

Just open the lid. See where you are. Then you can get back to being near the light switch and relax.

[Opens the lid]

Wow I’ve turned 90 degrees and yes, I’m on the opposite side! This thing is so big!

Right, back to where I want to be.

[Closes the lid]

Now there’s a gap where the lid meets the pod! Have I not closed it properly? I’ll just open and close it again. No, the gap’s still there. Oh well. I’ll just close my eyes, it’ll make no difference. It’s still darkness. Oh but the man said to replicate the REM state you need total darkness. This will affect my experience. I could go and tell them. Ask to move pod. But that means getting out, using a towel to walk to reception.   I don’t think I want to walk to reception like this!! It’s fine. I’ll just keep my eyes shut.

Just relax and make the most of the time.

But I’ve paid for this. Am I being silly not going to ask about this? Should I press the alarm button? But is that just for real emergencies? I can’t remember what they said.

Maybe if I open the lid fully like I did to start with then it’ll close fully.

[Opens lid fully and closes it again]

No. that’s not worked. Oh and now I’ve got a splash of salt in my eye. Ow that hurts.

[Blink, blink, blink]

Why do I have no tears! Has the salt dried my eye up?? There’s the spray bottle out there on the seat to wash eyes out with. Oh it’s fine. It’ll pass. I can’t be bothered to get it.

Close your eyes again. Rest your head back. Relax.

My eye still hurts. Just keep them closed. It’ll pass. My neck really aches. It’s always the left side. I needed a massage before I got in here.

I can feel a tiny breeze coming through that crack from the lid. Quite soothing on my eye actually.

Relax. Look at your knees. They’re so tense. Relax them.

[After a short while]

Shall I open my eyes?

Oh! It’s properly dark! The lid’s closed fully by itself!!

And my eye’s stopped hurting! I did have some tears afterall. But don’t wipe them away. You might get more salt in your eye!

Lie back. Relax……

 

I’ve no idea how long I spent with all this faffing! It might have only been 10 minutes! Felt like ages!!  But after this was all done I was able to lie still. I was able to meditate, with my mind drifting off to work, kids, back to breath, more work, how I was feeling, what I was noticing, back to breath. Sometimes with my eyes open, sometimes they naturally closed. I didn’t sleep but I can see how you could. Towards the end I felt like I was just a head, neck and shoulders floating in the water. If my neck hadn’t kept aching I might have just been a head. My arms, body and legs seemed like they’d disappeared and I didn’t have the inclination to move them to check if they were still there. It was nice!

When the music came back on it seemed so loud, although I’m pretty sure it won’t really have been. And the light was so bright. Sitting up I felt really heavy but once I was up and showering I felt so refreshed and alert.  This was followed by relaxing with a herbal tea in their quiet space which was the perfect way to absorb the experience before heading home.

So would I recommend? Yes. Definitely! I could never lie in a bath that long to switch off – the managed temperature of the water and the air make it perfect. And I don’t think I could ever meditate that long on dry land. In future I’d seriously consider a shoulder massage first so my neck aches less and, although the relaxation wasn’t as deep as I’ve experienced in acupuncture, I did spend a VERY long time faffing about so it’s not altogether surprising!  Next time I’d have it down!

 

 

 

 

When did you last check under your carpet?

Bansky street cleaner – Chalk Farm, London

It’s not that unusual for people to cry when they work with me.  Stopping the daily busy-ness and task-focused activities to pause, reflect and to think well can often bring things to the surface that people hadn’t noticed were there.  Our always-on and busy lives lead us to sweep things under the carpet and carry on with an “it’s all fine” and “I’m fine” face on.  Sometimes a client’s upset is “normal level” upset, sometimes it’s a symptom of medically-recognisable anxiety for which they need different help than I can provide.  And when I say anxiety, don’t picture “jibbering mess, barely able to function”.  Instead picture the reality which is genuinely what’s in front of me – capable, confident leaders who are very skilled at what they do and who are able to hide their anxious turmoil REALLY well.

It happened to me too.  Not anxiety but definitely the surfacing of a collection of stuff which I’d been sweeping under my carpet for about a year.  For me it was starting yoga that brought my tears to the surface and my yoga teacher tells me I’m most definitely not the only one.  Taking time out to spend an hour in my own headspace while doing gentle yoga poses, flows and meditation gave me that non-task-focused space to allow my hidden stuff to come to the surface.

Since then yoga has become a weekly class and I don’t cry.  Doesn’t mean I never will, nobody and no life is perfect, but for now I’m not.  I’m also going to seasonally-timed yoga & art retreats for 5 Sundays this year.  They’re amazing, luxurious time out from everything.  I’ve worked with a fantastic therapeutic coach who helped me look deeply into myself and my past to reconcile some things and help me feel OK as I move forward, which has also helped with some relationships around me.  Still some work in progress but a definite, significant shift, and lots of learning about me as coach.

And so what?  Well, all this reflection was prompted by reading some good news in the world of mental health – that organisations are starting to make talking about mental health OK and that they’re providing solutions.  The fact that The IOD are talking about it and not just The CIPD is a significant step in the right direction.  Being able to help people consider a range of support options is brilliant to meet different people’s needs.  Yoga doesn’t work for everyone, and neither will coaching, but an Employee Assistance Programme might, or counselling, or medical support, staff networks or buddying, and more.

For me, coaching on its own provides fantastic headspace to reflect, and I’ve also expanded what I offer to clients, making walking coaching and yoga + coaching definite options for those who want to give them a try.

Whatever’s right for you, the more you can address the causes and check under your carpet more regularly the better.

 

[Photo credit :https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bansky_street_cleaner_-_Chalk_Farm_(1205714884).jpg]

The Soulless Hotel Room

For this post I’m delighted to be hosting a piece from Andrew Page. I worked with Andrew and a number of his fellow leaders alongside Lane 4 as part of their leadership development programme at Loughborough Uni, and I subsequently went on to work with more of the Anglian team at one of their main UK locations.

Andrew and I have kept in touch on Twitter since we met about a year ago, and it was after a recent phone call that I asked if he’d write a post for my blog. During that call he talked about how, for many years, he was a task-focussed, ‘traditional’ manager – managing resources (both human and otherwise) rather than engaging hearts and minds. Now, since the leadership programme, he’s seen another way. As a leader of contracted teams – rather than direct reports – it could be argued that he has a much more challenging leadership context. And yet his teams have flourished under his new-found people-focused leadership.

Here’s Andrew’s story about the power of choosing to make a change…..

yurt

 

What if business leaders didn’t stay in soulless, global chain, hotels?

We all do it. Check-in, find your room, walk in and, yep, everything is pretty much where I expect it to be. No matter where in the world or what chain of hotels, yep, it’s all where I usually find it. And guess what. We go for food, and see similar people to us, talking about how business is so tough, talking about last night’s football match, how they wished they had gone to bed earlier etc etc. All very familiar.

We get what we always get.

It’s comforting in a way.

Recently I opted out of this ‘routine’ and stayed in a yurt. It got cold at nights. The food was prepared in the wood burner in the yurt. I spoke to the entrepreneur who has created this fabulous business as part of her portfolio of Green Economy businesses – she was full of optimism and hadn’t stayed up late watching a game.

As I set off for my meeting on the first morning, I looked back, saw the view captured above and grinned. I don’t ever recall walking away from a hotel and grinning…. My day started with a feeling of happy confidence…. As I headed off to corporate hotel meeting venue…

So, what if we don’t hold meetings in soulless office meeting rooms.? We don’t all have the pleasure of working in environments such as google or apple… Well, actually we do. In fact, we have better. It’s called ‘outdoors’.

I am fortunate that I work for a great company that allows me the freedom to Lead as I choose. They give me the tools, support and coaching (that’s my link to Wild Fig Solutions) to get on and Lead to the best of my ability.

So I took my team out for a walk in the woods. Literally. This is a team of Contract Managers. Not usually seen as a ‘soft and genteel’ bunch. So it’s fair to say they were probably curious at best and cynical at worst as we set off.

But here’s the thing. Out of the standard soulless office environment, we had laughter. We had ideas. We had a new energy to face the rest of the day. We had Contract Managers that said ‘we must do this more often’.

I work for a progressive, forward thinking company. Since we worked with Helen at Wild Fig Solutions and Lane4, I see more and more meetings being held in the great outdoors by others around our business.

Our CEO declared our business performance last year as ‘Stellar’. ‘Nuff said.

 

 

#cipdldshow – Purpose, Culture, Coaching and Leadership

Last week I was honoured and excited to be invited to be on the blog squad for the CIPD at their annual L&D show at the Olympia in London.

It’s the third year in a row that I’ve attended. The first of those I was blown away by some of the content I was hearing, the first insight for me into a big world outside of my day job where great stuff was happening in organisations with inclusive cultures based on the belief that everyone has talent, it’s just about unlocking it.

A year later and a lot had changed. I’d spent nearly that whole year getting clear on what was important to me about work, what I cared about, and connecting via Twitter with a load of fantastic HR and L&D pros who cared about similar things to me – although always with a twist or nuance to bring some fresh challenge.

So by the time #CIPDLDShow 2014 came around I had started my business and had my first opportunity to blog the L&D Show. However I left feeling less inspired than 2013. Maybe my expectations had been too high after the previous show, maybe it was too much ‘sage on the stage’ with not enough of the actual sage, and maybe I had shifted my learning during the year so that my frame of reference was different.

Whatever the situation, the show felt different again this year. There was a wealth of 30 minute sessions in the Exhibition Hall, where Julie Drybrough spent more time, and which she reflected weren’t hard-sell like they used to be, and that they were focussed, on message and providing great insights to their audiences. For free! There were Ignite presentation sessions with canapé-bite-sized injections of learning on a variety of topics. For free! There were of course the exhibitors’ stands with cake / chocolate / sweets / pens / oh, and some learning stuff. For free! And there was my own networking event to help people turn their learning into action while also connecting with some new people. For free!

With the opportunity to attend the seminar sessions and share them more widely I chose to spend my time there. At the end is a list of the ones I attended, so you know where my insights have come from. And here’s a link to Phil Wilcox’s post where he’s collating all the content together.

With my own passion and purpose in mind, you’ll notice a theme around where I went – coaching, leadership, culture, mindfulness, neuroscience.

OK so not every session did exactly what it said on the tin, but it was very much closer than last year, and the sessions felt real, rather than suggesting these organisations were untouchably polished and perfect. They were sharing their ‘we’ve done it, and got the T-shirt, and we’re still wearing it and adjusting it as we go’ stories. So yes, some “look-at-what-we’ve-done-isn’t-it-marvellous” – of course – why else would you have someone on a stage. But it was balanced by some great honesty about ‘and it’s not a destination’, ‘and we’ve not cracked that bit yet’, ‘and we’re not sure about this bit over here’.

Because no individual person is perfect, therefore how can we expect a collection of individuals to be perfect, finished, done?

And yet we do. Isn’t that fascinating?

So from these sessions, I’m going to pull together the common threads I heard which I hope will give some insight into what this could mean for where you work. Many of these examples are large organisations, and there are some which aren’t, but much of the success comes from conversations and human connections which we are all capable of.

To achieve what we want, rather than what we’ve got, requires us to make choices.

Purpose

Get clear on this.

Why? Because people come to work for more than just money. I know what you’re thinking. You can point to people in your organisation who only come to work for the money.

So here’s my question back to you – do you have a purpose for your organisation?

What difference does your organisation make by existing in this world?

In what way does what you do matter?

When you find that purpose and share it, and start to live and breathe it, you might be surprised to find that money becomes less of a topic of conversation (as long as you’re paying at least minimum wage, and maybe even helping people out with how to manage their money).

So this fabulous session with Unilever was incredibly strong at showing how you can have a purpose beyond profit which is the anchor for everything you do, every decision you make, every supplier you work with. And which enables you to bring together ‘doing business’ and ‘doing the best for people’ in the same breath – “We win because we care” – is their subscript to their purpose of “We will make sustainable living commonplace in the UK and Ireland”.

So no longer are sustainability, employee wellbeing or CSR things you do, initiatives you implement, which sit over there to counteract what you do over here in the main business. They’re engrained and woven into everything you do so, to borrow from the Spice Girls, Two Become One!

Resilience

Something which Unilever acknowledged is that, when people are connected to the purpose of the organisation, their resilience is greater.

There’s something in this about being focussed on achieving something bigger, rather than getting stuck in the day-to-day weeds of work. And that, even when those weeds get a bit tangled around you, the purpose – your purpose – is what helps you find a way out. Because to create this link of organisational purpose improving resilience, you as an employee need to also believe in that purpose. So as a business, if you want to attract and retain people who believe in what you believe in, you have to be clear and able to communicate that purpose to others.

Resilience was a topic that came up again later with Tesco who, in the VUCA world we live in – maybe especially in the VUCA world Tesco’s live in – people need to be able to manage themselves and their emotions, so they can make choices to balance work and life. This is especially true when you run a 24/7 operation which takes its toll on people physically and emotionally.

Different organisations are, and will, take different steps to enable resilience – and in fact wellbeing.

Some examples that came out were –

Unilever – a click, call or conversation away from support (which they’ve implemented for £40 a head)

Tesco – a positive psychology basis to their development programme, in partnership with Nuffield Health, and which has resonance with Steve Radcliffe’s Future, Engage, Deliver work (see image below of the Tesco Vitality Framework).

NHS Ambulance Service – using mindfulness, physical activity (even if just a short burst of 15-20 mins), being outdoors and music – all to develop helpful brain wiring.

One theme was that organisations are using evidence and academic research to choose what they do in this area. This is great! And one challenge over the coming years, I believe, will be keeping pace with the new insights coming from neuroscience and ensuring that it’s ‘proper’ validated insight. Knowing people who are more expert than me in this area means I can be guided to the helpful and away from the ‘Daily Mail’ neuroscience. Who do you know that could connect you to the good stuff?

At this point I feel the story naturally tips into coaching because of all the psychological disciplines, Positive Psychology is the most relevant to a professional coaching practice.

Coaching

Based on what I know right now, coaching is the best form of development to achieve lasting, sustainable success and change.

But before I dive into what’s going on out there which confirms my belief, I want to be clear what this version of coaching is because coaching is (currently) an unregulated market where anybody can call themselves a coach and which can therefore cause some confusion for buyers of this service.

So when people say they’re a coach, they may use some initial coaching questions or a coaching approach, and then fairly quickly tip into consultancy, mentoring or training. And these may be what you need. And that’s not good or bad – your needs and your organisation’s needs are unique. Just be clear about what you need.

The coaching we’re talking about here is non-directive coaching where you draw insight from the person or people in front of you through skilful listening, sharing observations without judgement, and curious questioning – sounds simple, and yet the simplest things are so often the hardest.

The definition the BBC use is that of Myles Downey; “The art and science of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another”.

So “facilitating” that stuff, enabling it. Not enforcing or telling.

Because when we are enabled or facilitated to find our own way and our own solutions we grab hold of our decisions and actions with both hands and run with them – achieving that sense of empowerment, ownership and capability – which breeds confidence and resilience.

What’s clear is that an increasing number of organisations are recognising that the world is fast and constantly changing (VUCA if you will), emphasising the need to work smarter not harder (which Tesco picked up on) and that employees are looking for more from work than to come in, be told what and how to do their day job and go home.

And managers, given that context, are no longer able to be the heroic, all-controlling, all-seeing-eye. They will, and are, literally falling over, be it mentally or physically.

So bringing coaching into an organisation is a way to shift that manager-employee relationship into a more adult-adult place, away from the historical master-servant or parent-child.

Developing yourself as a coach involves developing your self-awareness and emotional intelligence because you can’t be at your best to enable others unless you know how to get yourself in the best place to do so – put your own oxygen mask on first.

There were four great examples of creating a coaching culture shared at the event. These came from the BBC, Visa, Freebridge Housing and BT.

Each of these are different sizes of business, with different contexts, different structures, different geographical spreads – we are all unique.

I’d invite you to read more of what they’re up to – both Ian Pettigrew and David Goddin bogged about both of these sessions, see the link to Phil’s collation post above – because these examples may give you some idea of the variety of approaches that can be taken.

But all having some common themes –

  • Senior team buy-in and role modelling
  • The importance of coaching ‘in the moment’ – as a living culture this can’t always be a sit down for 1 to 2 hours session
  • What they’ve created is sustainable and has created a momentum of its own.
  • read more

    #CIPD14 #streetwisdom

    I was really gutted I missed out on the Sheffield Street Wisdom a few weeks back so I was delighted that David D’Souza was bringing it to #CIPD14.

    All I knew about it was that you came with a question
    You walked around
    You tried to find answers.

    I believe in mindfulness, I know the power of our subconscious mind and I even know the difference a good walk can make to my own creativity and problem solving.

    And yet I still wasn’t convinced that Street Wisdom would really answer my question.

    But it did. I slowed down, I stopped and observed, I allowed those things to show a meaning.

    IMG_5738-0.JPG

    I’m not religious but this stuff echoes the times when people say their God has given them a sign to take a certain path.

    And maybe Street Wisdom is the modern day version of connecting with others, connecting with your environment and finding your way – something which the majority of people used to do in their church/temple/mosque….

    What I do know is that it makes a difference – different differences depending on your starting point, your question, your mindset – but it makes a difference.

    If this stuff can help us take one step towards better workplaces, one step towards greater innovation, one step towards feeling more balanced, grounded and clear – then it’s really worth it.

    Want to experience it too? Give me a shout and I can help make it happen.

    IMG_5747-0.JPG

     

    I believe in people being the key to success in a business and that success is unlocked by great bosses. I’m an Executive Coach for SME leaders to help create success for you, for your team, for your business.

    Get in touch for a chat if you believe in this stuff too and you want your business to be even better – helen.amery@wildfigsolutions.co.uk
    or take a look at my website to find out more http://www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk