Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Why isn’t work meaningful for all?

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

A recent McKinsey report talks about MQ ( along the same lines as IQ and Goleman’s EQ).  The term stands for ‘meaning at work.

The report goes on to talk about how people who really understand how their work has meaning are able to be much more productive.  This feeling of ‘meaning’ is often described as a sense of being in ‘flow’ or being in the zone.

It isn’t difficult to see how some people in the workplace find it hard to reconcile their daily tasks with the organisation’s bigger goals. Some feel alienated and unhappy about not knowing what’s going on.  Often people are even more frustrated by having no control over what happens to them or their team mates.

The report talks about the importance of telling stories for adding meaning.  The best stories relate specifically to how each individual makes a difference to the outcomes of the work they are involved in.

This communications focus shouldn’t be on counting widgets or how many calls they manage in a short time frame, but instead on how their work makes a difference – to their customers, their workmates and their community, as well as to themselves.  The stories are even more effective if each person tells their own.

This is a salutary message to everyone involved in implementing change. Big picture images, statistics and logical messages might be fine for the already converted, but to the individual employees  need real stories that they can relate to.  Even better would be to get them to write their stories themselves.

A refreshing perspective on leadership

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Today I attended a session on Leadership Development on a Shoe-string at the online canadian pharmacy Leadership SIG of the local HRINZ.  Peter Walls, ex- CEO of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, was a member of the excellent panel of speakers.

Peter pointed out that the leadership role of the conductor of an orchestra has many similarities to other leadership positions:

  1. The conductor must convey the vision for the music from the podium, so that the orchestra has a very strong sense of what the music is meant to be.
  2. The conductor must have terrific competence to have enough of a grip on the various groups of instruments to be able to have supportive and challenging conversations with the leaders of the various groups, in order to get their team’s best contribution.
  3. The players must have  developed a relationship of high trust in the conductor – high enough to be able to feel part of the important larger whole, but also to know they have enough scope and space to deliver the best solo performance when required.

Despite the obvious differences, isn’t that so like any leadership position? So much so that it reminded me yet again of the very interesting work by conductor Ben Zander. I’ve blogged before about ‘The Art of Possibility’.  

I think it is one of the most readable of personal development books, partly because of Zander’s ability to embed the ideas in the music context.

There’s a wonderful Ben Zander quote: ‘The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound.  He depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful’

If you like the analogy, The Maestro Executive  can take your leadership thinking further. The article identifies 4 parallels:

  1. Have a ‘sound’ vision. Don’t just communicate it, embody it.
  2. Exercise your leadership in real time, not just from the boardroom or by email.
  3. Lead without doing. You provide the vision & leadership, they make it happen.
  4. Remember your job is to make magic!

Making the most of your introvert

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Want to read an interesting book that will change the way you see people? Try ‘Quiet: The power of the introvert in a world that can’t stop talking’.

The author is Susan Cain.  I posted a link a few weeks ago to her  TED Talk: The Power of the Introvert.

Cain explores her thesis that the brains of introverts are wired differently and are just often out of sync with the extroverted Western world.  Her book covers the research on introverted and extroverted brains and has a series of interesting cameo stories to carry the key ideas.

If you are an introvert struggling to manage in the extroverted world this book will help.  If you are an extrovert struggling to communicate with introverts,this book will also give you some excellent insights.

She’s really suggesting that our work environments would gain hugely in productivity and engagement if we broadened our approaches to accommodate introverted styles as well as extroverts. There’s an attractive blog on this subject with more tips on managing from both sides,  at Introverted and Loving It


How to ask for a pay rise and do you deserve one?!

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Recently I have noticed a few friends complaining about a lack of money and that they would love a pay rise to help pay for school fees, holidays and so on.  This got me thinking about writing a post about the dreaded task of asking for a pay rise.  Surely this must be one of the most daunting conversations you can have with an employer.

In order to achieve a positive outcome, I have gathered some tips for you.  But firstly, be aware that your employer isn’t interested in funding your lifestyle so do some research so that you have some good convincing material to get you the increase you want.

As with any difficult conversation, you need to plan your approach first.  If you are not prepared and do not come across well, you may have blown your chance, which could mean waiting another six months or more to bring up this issue again.

Firstly, ask yourself : Do I deserve a pay rise?

Have you recently taken on more responsibility? Do you frequently work longer hours?  Is your job now quite different from the job description when you first started?

How much of an increase do you want?  Do some research into this. Don’t expect to be paid well over the market rate. Be realistic. Have a look at the  salary guide in the jobs section on TradeMe

By being well prepared you may find that the dreaded conversation works surprisingly well!  Go into the meeting confident of the work you do and what you achieve.

Explain why you are asking for a raise.

Tell your employer what pay rise you are looking at getting and have with you the research documentation that backs this figure.

Be prepared to negotiate. One of the best books on negotiation is also the simplest:

Timing is also important.  Obviously you shouldn’t request a meeting when you can see your employer is dealing with a big workload.  Perhaps try timing a meeting on or before your anniversary of employment or at the end of the financial year.

Here’s hoping you get what you want!  Good luck!

The key to understanding social interaction?

Monday, March 5th, 2012

When we were kids, my uncle used to play a trick on us while we sat at a meal: He would start scratching his nose, gradually we kids would start scratching too. Suddenly he would shout: ‘Caught you!’ We’d look up and burst into giggles, realising we were all doing the same thing.

That was back a few years….well, a lot of years. It turns out that such imitation is the very essence of what makes us human. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, neurophysiologists found what could be a major way that the human brain creates this unconscious mimicry and called it the ‘mirror neuron’. If they are right, our rapidly expanding knowledge of mirror neurons has very wide implications for understanding how social interaction happens – how we develop into socialised humans, how we can improve our communication, even possibly an understanding of the basis of civilisation itself. So expect to hear the term used frequently in many fields.

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I am a little bit skeptical. In recent years, I’ve watched, at very close quarters, a relative make an exceptional recovery from a serious brain injury. A sample of one, I know, but it has left me in awe at the complexity, multi-layeredness and sheer unexpectedness of the connections in the human brain. The mirror neuron theory sounds almost too handy to be true – a bit similar to the gross over- simplification of the right brain/left brain dichotomy.

Still, who am I to know? Some scientists are expressing wariness. Alison Gopnik, Professor of Psychology at University of California, Berkley is one. She wrote the wonderful book, ‘The Philosophical Baby’, so she knows a lot about human social learning. On the other hand, the great V.S Ramachandran is a fan, so it can’t all be bad! The Integral Options Cafe has a good brief summary of some of the debate. Anyone have any thoughts on it?

Using stories to get your message across

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Two contrasting events happened in Communicate this week that put the power of stories firmly in mind:  I was working with a group of auditors and discussing options for presenting technical auditing issues in an engaging way.  Back in the office I picked up an email asking for presentation help for a guy described as a bright guy, very theatrical in his style who enjoys theory and concepts but is too abstract and jumps around ideas too much for people to follow. Obviously he needs to build some stronger audience engagement.

In both cases story telling is the answer.  All humans enjoy stories and a good story can turn knowledge into something that really connects with us and can stimulate us to understand and to act. Even something as technical as auditing has human story behind it – stories as to why that rule was developed, what happened when the rule was broken and so on. 

Often when I ask people about the best presenter at a recent  conference, the answer relates to story telling – the presenter told a story that the listener could relate to and use as the basis for future action.

An example?  A new team leader hearing a presenter talk about the issue of sometimes having to make an unpopular decision as a leader. The presenter told about her son falling over that very morning and getting a bad gravel graze.  The mother had to inflict pain on the boy to clean out the graze so it could heal well.  Who knows how true that small story was, but it lingered with the listener and gave her the confidence to act on some difficult issues she was facing. 

Don’t get stuck on the idea that your life is too mundane for stories.  You don’t have to have chopped off your arm with a multi-tool to escape from being trapped under a rock!  Often the most powerful and long-lasting stories are built from very simple accessible material – as in the grazed knee example.   With this type of story, an audience can think: ‘Ah ha! Yes, I get that.  This is familiar’,  then they have the basis for understanding or action.   

 A while ago I worked with a group young army recruitment personnel.  Some of them had coped with some very dramatic situations during their overseas service, but the most compelling story came from a woman who talked about how joining the army had enabled her to find a route out of a  very negative and limited background. The audience could relate to the story and use it as a message for action.  So, just look at your ordinary daily life for compelling content.  If you want an example, take a look at Carmen Agra Deedy telling the story of taking her mother to the shopping mall. Okay, she’s a brilliant story teller and has really worked on this one, but the source of the content is very simple:

So look around your life for some real stories, then when you have some ideas or concepts that are difficult to get across, ask yourself: ‘What else  in my life is similar to this concept or has the same kinds of elements? Who knows how your life might be compelling for someone else.

Some other useful resources:

Migrant staff struggling with NZ workplace communications

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Do you have ESOL staff who find it difficulty with the subtleties of NZ  workplace communication?  cialis 5mg Now there’s an excellent practical book available called ‘Workplace Talk in Action: An ESOL resource’  Written by Nicky Riddiford and Dr Jonathan Newton, it provides practical tips,  exercises, and dialogues on topics such as making requests, small talk, and apologising. On purchase you get the opportunity to download the relevant audio  dialogues. It is available from the university or from Vic Books

The book is based research into NZ workplace communication by the  Applied Linguistics Department.  This research has provided the basis for Nicky Riddiford’s  teaching in the  University’s very successful Skilled Migrant programme.  When I was presenting the workshop last week, I asked Nicky how she would describe the main change people have to make to manage communication in the NZ workplace. Interestingly her answer was that they have to soften their approach. Seems we’re not as straigth forward as we like to think we are! 

Through my involvement in the Rotary Club of Wellington,  I present a regular workshop titled ‘Thinking on Your Feet’.  It is always very interesting working with a group of professional people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. Here’s me presenting the programme.

The Skilled Migrant  programme won an EEO Award last year and Rotary is very proud of its involvement.  Rotarians provide workshops on specialist topics, people to give interview practice and role play other work situations.  It helps with internships for the students and provides mentoring for the students as they graduate from the programme. a great town-gown partnership.