Thursday, 22 October 2015

The Alphabet Exercise - a ice-breaker leadership exercise

Here is an idea for an ice-breaker type exercise that you might find of value:

The Alphabet Exercise
An exercise used to help people to understand what are the critical leadership attributes that are most important to them.
  • Intro (5 minutes)
  • Get each person to create an alphabet of leadership attributes that are of most significance / importance to them. One for each letter; minimum of 20. (2 minutes)
  • Collate a group-wide super-set of the attributes chosen by getting people to vocalise what they have written down. (10 minutes)
  • Now get everyone to filter their individual lists to identify the 10 attributes that are the most important to them. (2 minutes)
  • Quick discussion: “How did you find that exercise?” (5 minutes)
  • Now get everyone to filter their individual lists to identify just the most important 3 attributes. (2 minutes)
  • Feedback session getting individuals’ perspectives on their list and collating a new group-wide super-set (on a white board etc.) (15-30 minutes)
  • Open discussion on the super-set. (5-15 minutes)
  • Overall time = 46-71 minutes.

I have the material in a PowerPoint / Keynote form. If you would like it, just get in touch!

About the author / copyright.

Currently available for consulting / interim engagements. Please feel free to contact me!

I am a senior Information Technology professional, passionate about service delivery and people engagement, with wide-ranging experience majoring on transformational change and programme delivery at Director level. Proven track record in managing IT functions, organisational redesign, service improvement, programme and solutions’ delivery, and strategy definition and execution. Accomplished in Customer and Supplier engagement, and with an extremely broad International exposure.
Amazon page: blog: material is copyright of Ian Gouge © 2015. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

How to move from Chaos to Simplicity...

All too often we can be so beset by things that, to use a well-worn phrase, “We can’t see the wood for the trees”. Often the scale of our problem is not simply in an inability to distinguish timber, but also in that a great deal of it appears to be on fire! In any walk of life - professional or domestic - such situations can be overwhelming.
If we were to seek them, helpful words of advice would be abundant, and some more helpful than others: “Pull your socks up!” - a little demeaning; “Get a grip!” - a little too dismissive; “Focus!” - what else?!
But recognition of the true situation is the first key step - but then so is the final one, that state to which you are trying to aspire. On this journey from where we are to where we want to be - from ‘Chaos’ to ‘Simplicity’ - there are two other logical steps; Order and Completion. The secret of the journey from the dark to the light encompasses these four steps, and there are worst ways to navigate from an unwelcome and unhealthy situation than to use these as your guideposts.
Chaos: The situation where something is essentially out of control, non-optimal, impossible to predict, manage and steer. This is where you are and where you no longer wish to be. And to move ahead, something has to change. Remember the definition of lunacy? Doing the same things over and over again, yet expecting a different outcome…
Order: The situation where there are some controls in place; where we can measure and prioritise. We may not necessarily be doing the ‘right’ things at this stage, but at least we have established control of what we are doing.
Completion: The situation where things get sorted and finished, and where we begin to thin out the trees in our metaphorical wood. Of course completion can lead to the spawning of new things, initiatives, projects and so forth - but this will happen on our terms because we have established control.
Simplification: The situation where we have attained our ‘to be’ goal. We are no longer standing in a burning forest, but rather overseeing a well-managed, neatly laid out plantation; and where we can look forward to planting those new saplings with confidence.
Perhaps this is not particularly radical, but then common sense most often is not. Recognising the situation and the potential journey to be undertaken is at the heart of the battle. 
How do you get from Chaos to Simplicity? What it involves is focus - and probably ‘getting a grip’, the ‘pulling up of socks’, taking ‘baby steps’ and so on. It also demands clarity of thought, the bravery to prioritise and to tackle a small number of burning trees at a time rather than the whole forest.
There are tools to help on the journey, inevitably, but perhaps one of the key ones is the ability to plan - and to plan appropriately. There is a symbiosis between the Chaos to Simplicity journey, and the planning approach I have suggested in a previous post [Plan ahead, yes - but how far can you actually see?].
Chaos = What you can see now.
Order = What you expect to see next.
Completion = What you think you will see after that.
Simplification = What you hope to see in the end.
Try it. Think of one thing that for you represents chaos right now. Write it down - just one line or phrase to describe it. What it would need to look like to be under control? Again, note just one line or phrase. Then how might completion be manifest? And finally, how would you hope the simplified end-game appeared?
If you can do this, then you have the basic DNA of your plan. You can now plan forward from where you are (and there are probably things you simply must do now! What do you need to do to bring Order etc.?). And don’t be afraid to work backwards a little from the end-game too - otherwise you run the risk of being totally constrained by your present situation i.e. you may put the fires out, but never leave the wood!
Whichever route or method you choose to take to escape the burning forest, devising a pragmatic, planned, measurable approach is fundamental. As is doing something different. Don’t fall into the trap of lunacy - be brave and make a change!
About the author / copyright
This material (text and photograph) is copyright of Ian Gouge © 2015. All rights reserved.

Plan ahead, yes - but how far can you actually see?!

I once drove across Indiana. At one point the land was so flat and the weather so clear, I swear I could see the curvature of the Earth on the horizon. I have also driven in less clement weather in the Alps. The way the roads turned then, you were lucky to see 100m in front of you!
In terms of mapping out the road ahead, business can be a bit like that - though more often closer to the Alps than Indiana in terms of visibility! Yet why is it, when faced with such a variety of commercial terrain, we persist in planning for the mid-term under almost any circumstance?
Using the visible horizon as the extent of what I could reasonably foresee, my US drive would have allowed me to plan for the next several hours with a high degree of confidence; but in the Alps, I didn’t even know what was around the next corner!
Businesses  - and especially ‘projects’ - spend an awful lot of time planning. Some plans at the strategic level are of necessity longer-term, aspirational, more vague; a bit like saying that once we’d made it through the Alps our goal is to eventually get to Milano. But the vast majority are focussed on specific outcomes or deliverables; quite naturally, they attempt to define the who/what/when of those outcomes. However, often these plans are created without any reference to how far we can actually see. They attempt to predict activities and results miles into the future, and we kid ourselves that because the plan ‘looks right’, then it is a fair representation of the future and one accurate enough to navigate and be measured by.
All too often, however, we need to re-plan because we haven’t hit the dates in our original schedule. Sometimes this will be down to forces outside of our control, but often it will be because the plan was never achievable in the first place. We’ve planned as if we were driving across Indiana and not about to tackle another twisting mountain road in Europe. Claims that a project has ‘failed’ often misrepresent the truth; the planning may have failed, not the project. I’m sorry, but a constant 65 mph just isn’t possible heading south on the SS33 towards Italy…
Where we have a choice, what should we do? Obviously you need to apply valid context and goals to this. Some objectives will lend themselves to supremely low-levels of planning detail - but most will not. The key is to try and make as much of your plan about the achievement of real and tangible things; things you can see or touch. Time frames will vary too; many of us will have seen the 30-, 60-, 100-days type plan from a new Exec. Whichever approach you take has to be appropriate and work for you, but the scenarios will in most cases by broadly the same: 
Define what you can see ahead of you now - and focus on the key deliverables at the edge of your horizon, mapping out all the tangible and relevant steps in between. If these become increasingly subject to assumptions, risks, constraints and such like, then are they truly on your immediate horizon?
Define what you expect to see next - and concentrate on what the next large deliverables should subsequently be (clue: these will be just over the edge of your current horizon; those things about which you cannot be certain, where risks, assumptions etc. are playing a major role). Spend less time mapping out the individual steps here. As this time frame shifts from what you can expect to see to what you can actually see, then you can build the detail i.e. when the horizon shifts sufficiently to clearly include them.
Define what you think you will see after that - and outline only the major things you expect to deliver at that point (perhaps the 100-day goals in the 30-60-100 example). There is little point putting too much detail in at this stage; as the horizon shifts, the deliverables will gain greater focus as they come towards you.
Define what you hope to see in the end - and in many cases this may end up being the ‘single big thing’ that you need to achieve: cost saving, greater efficiency, a new product, double-digit growth etc. Here there is almost no truly detailed planning needed.
By taking this horizon-based, tree-like planning approach, you can align your plan in accordance with what you can ‘see’, ensuring that you make the most of your precious planning time and deliver a plan that is suitably realistic. And as time shifts, so does your horizon; this makes the plan a constantly moving, living thing - and not just in terms of tracking progress against a fixed set of tasks. It can never be a one-off. Risks change; assumptions are proven true or false; constraints fall away or new ones arise. You plan should reflect all of that.
At the end of the day, planning is like budgeting (which is essentially a plan for cash); it’s just a snapshot in time, and something, when produced, that is almost immediately wrong. 
About the author / copyright
This material (text and photograph) is copyright of Ian Gouge © 2015. All rights reserved.