The Stories of Our Lives

A new journey that I started in 2018 was to learn more about Narrative Coaching. Taking the 6-month live virtual Enhanced Narrative Coach Practicioner Program of Dr. David Drake helped me realize that the stories we have and tell about ourselves, and those that others tell about us, are very powerful influences in our lives.

When the stories are “problem saturated,” transforming them into positive stories can make a huge difference in who we become and how things turn out. The origins of Narrative Coaching, as well as Narrative Counseling, spring from Narrative Therapy. Lucky for us who are keenly interested in learning more about Narrative approaches, tools and techniques, so that we can use these in helping others discover and achieve more of their potential, there are many resources available. One is the Dulwich Centre, Australia, that offers a free introductory course on Narrative Therapy.

One resource in the Centre that can help us realize the power of stories is the TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about “The Danger of a Single Story.” One key point is that there is never a single story about a place or a person, and to the extent that we blindly swallow and repeat single problem saturated stories, without ever questioning them, and without digging deeper and wider to learn about different perspectives and alternative realities, we perpetuate misunderstanding. Worse, we may be ignorantly and unfairly destroying others.

There are many stories we create about places, about ourselves, others, and just about anything. In the context of narrative practice, “stories consists of events, linked in sequence, across time, according to a plot” (Alice Morgan, 2000. What is narrative therapy?: An easy-to-read introduction (Gecko 2000) First Edition Edition.)

The power that we have over our stories is that we can re-story, that is, we can choose to create new stories that open new possibilities that can lead to a better future instead of staying stuck in destructive stories. As one colleague put it, “you are not your story.” A story is just a story, and we can break free from bad ones and pivot to new ones.

In the context of family, a lesson for parents is that you must carefully choose the stories you tell about your children, for the seeds of growth or destruction are nascent in such stories. Start with a negative plot line and highlight only negative events over and over, and the pattern will surely lead to a downward spiral. Instead, look for alternative positive plot lines, enrich these plots with positive events, and you have taken control over creating a brighter future.

This one TED Talk can make a difference for us and for others if we let the key messages sink in and stop mindlessly, or worse, maliciously repeating problem saturated stories that may just be based on mistaken assumptions to begin with.

We may have all been at the receiving end of single stories, as well as perpetrators of such stories. If we own that we are part of the problem, then we can begin to choose to take a different and constructive course of action.

Any change takes an open mind, an open heart, and an open will, to borrow from Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.

So, what are your stories about yourself and about others? What would be more positive stories instead?

How to Make the Most of Your Coaching Sessions

Your company has engaged a professional coach for its leaders and high potentials and you are one of them.  How do you make the most of this investment in your personal and professional growth?  Here are a few tips to consider:

  • In the context of your job role and career in the organization, reflect on your strengths and areas for development based on past and present,  formal and informal feedback, from your superiors, peers, and direct reports.  Identify possible developmental goals you may want to be coached on by your professional coach.
  • Talk to your executive sponsors about what they see as your strengths and areas for development that they would like you to be coached on, Take note of where your and their perspectives may be similar or different. Ask questions to better understand the perspective of your executive sponsor and share your own views as well.  Ask about what specifically they would like to see change and improve as outcomes of coaching.
  • If the company invested in a 360 feedback survey as an input to your receiving coaching, learn as much as you can about the tool and what feedback were given to you by the people you selected to be your 360 respondents. Keep an open mind and receive all feedback as the gifts that they are, both positive and negative.  You may not agree with the feedback, nevertheless, that is how you show up to the 360 survey respondents.
  • Remember that our intentions do not always manifest in ways that others perceive them. Sometimes, if not often, there may be disconnects between our intentions and the perceptions people have about us and our actions.  Areas where there are huge disconnects between our self perceptions and that of others are helpful places to start our reflection on how come there are these gaps and what actions we can take, things we can do differently (e.g., start, stop, continue doing), to bridge these gaps.
  • Identify the initial top three priorities you need and would like to be coached on by your professional coach and build agreement with your executive sponsors about these.  If it’s too soon to have specific goals at the start of the coaching, that’s fine. The initial coaching sessions can focus on deepening your awareness and understanding of the situation you are in and what makes sense to work on with your coach.
  • Between coaching sessions, be sure to work on whatever assignment or actions you agreed to do with your coach, and learn what you can from these.  No excuses.  Being a more self-motivated and self-directed adult learner, you take responsibility for yourself. Keep a learning journal to write your questions, perceptions, ideas and insights that can help you move forward with your intentions and goals.

We are all always learning, and brain research shows that we continue to rewire our brains through neuroplasticity and nuerogenesis even as we grow more experienced and older.  (Bergland, Christopher, Psychology Today, 2018) (Bergland, Christopher, Psychology Today, 2017)

KPIs and Alignment of IT Systems

This follow-up piece to the previous one is way overdue. No matter how well thought out the KPIs you have chosen are, and how well cascaded the overall company objectives and KPIs are to each group/department, if the company IT Systems are not aligned as well, then it would be difficult to monitor actual performance and give feedback to those accountable for the results committed.

Part of the rationale for KPIs is to enable those accountable to focus on the few most important results that need to be achieved, and to clarify up front how success will be measured.  If information on the measurement of results are important, IT Systems must be implemented to facilitate the timely measurement and reporting of such measures of success.  Who was it that said, what gets measured gets done?

But what if top management don’t put money where their mouth is and the various departments, IT included, are not given the support they need to enable measurement as part of the day-to-day business operations?  There will be little reliable measures of actual performance to help those accountable assess their progress and take corrective actions to realign their work.

You might think that IT Systems alignment is obvious and that top management would know better to give the support to enable the whole organization to get regular and reliable performance feedback on KPIs through automated information systems. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, perhaps specially with some family businesses and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

It’s challenging enough for managers and executives to maintain high performance without having themselves and their team members also handle the manual collection and reporting of results, or lack of it. The moral of the story is for top management to have the wisdom and discipline to require and support the alignment of IT Systems to report on KPIs.

And, if the company is starting from very little in this area, one way to move forward is to prioritize and create a road map for change.  Typically, a phased approach is necessary to align IT Systems.

What’s key is to plan and then implement the road map for IT Systems alignment, instead of wasting the efforts on defining and cascading objectives and KPIs throughout the company without automated, reliable, and timely measures of performance.

Managing Business Performance Using Objectives, Key Result Areas, Key Performance Indicators and Targets

One of the critical competencies for managers and supervisors is managing the business performance of their departments/sections/units.  More often than not, this is one area where coaching and mentoring is much needed.

One basic approach that can go a long way is to learn more about and apply the use of SMART Objectives, Key Result Areas, Key Performance Indicators, and Targets.  While attending workshops are helpful, reading available materials and books are effective ways to learn as well.  Even more effective is to try out the few KPIs that are most relevant in terms of aligning a department’s objectives with the overall strategic objectives and strategies of the company.

Simply put, a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a measure of how well something, an objective, is achieved and gives valuable feedback on whether performance is on track or not so that the manager and team can take appropriate action to get back on track.

Not having clearly defined KPIs is like driving without a clear destination and directions to guide you.  Don’t leave results and outcomes to chance.  Plan the work and then work the plan.  Always have measures and get top management sign off.

Here are some useful resources to get you started on your journey of learning by doing and experimentation.

Here’s an article if you would like to discover more resources on KPIs:   Finding the Right KPIs – 5 KPI Libraries That Are Key to Your Performance.

If the subject of KPIs excites you, there are many resources to study and learn from, and help you equip yourself and your team with the knowledge and skills to effectively plan, execute, monitor and control, and realign business performance.

What matters in life?

During the Holy Week, many of us may have vacations, staycations, or just a simple and quite time for reading, prayer, and reflection at home. Checking LinkedIn, I stumbled on this short video by Marshall Goldsmith on “What matters in life”?  Food for thought for us to think about what’s most important in our lives.  For Catholics, the Holy Week is a good time for reflection on this question and what is the meaning of life.

On being Able and Ability as a trust booster, referring back to a previous post on the The ABCD Trust ModelTM, continuous learning is not so much for ourselves alone but to continue to develop so that we have more, new and deeper knowledge, experience and expertise, to put to use in the service of others who need these gifts more than we do.

 

Nurturing relationships to build Trust

It’s easy enough to get tied up and busy with one’s day-to-day work responsibilities and forget to build and nurture key relationships. One way to remind ourselves is to reflect on who and what really matters and then to plan trust boosting activities. Put these activities on your calendar. Blocking off time can help you make sure you do them.

Now, whether you plan to have coffee, lunch or other shared activity, here are some trust boosting  things you may want to consider.

Get to know the person on a more personal level.  Learn more about the person’s career aspirations, work-related concerns, family, and hobbies, and share similar information about yourself.

Show sincere interest by listening well and continuing the flow of the conversation based on what the other is saying. Try listening more than talking.

Take note of things done well by the person, or effort made, and give recognition in public.  Give credit where credit is due.  A short praise and pat on the back in front of the team can go a long way to boost the person’s confidence and nurture trust.

Show appreciation when the person may have done more. Often, a simple “Thank you” or acknowledgment like, “I appreciate (and then mention what you appreciate)” communicates that you don’t take the person for granted.

If you notice that the person seems to be feeling stressed or you sense that something may be amiss, take time to inquire and offer help, if that makes sense, or just be the listening ear.

Get ideas and inputs of the person on pertinent matters such as a challenging issue or problem that she can contribute to solving. This communicates that you care about and value her ideas.

Last but not least, follow through on what you say you will do. And, in case you forget, apologizing and making up for it can help you recover a bit of possible loss in trust.

Are you behaving in ways that build or erode trust?

To say that trust is an important foundation of all successful and mutually beneficial relationships is perhaps an understatement. Trust is key whether we are talking about relationships between parent and child, husband and wife, friends, manager and direct report, consultant or service provider and client.

As we may all know, trust is easy to lose and difficult to earn. Trust can easily be lost as a result of one incident. Earning it back can take time and effort, and a strong desire and willingness to restore it.

How we behave either helps to build and strengthen trust, or erode and weaken it.  One useful little book that can help us assess ourselves and others on trust, and also provide a model and specific actions for building trust, is Trust Works: Four Keys to Building Lasting Relationships by Ken Blanchard, Cynthia Olmstead and Martha Lawrence.

Here’s a snapshot of The ABCD Trust ModelTM from the authors.  In a nutshell, we become more trustworthy when:

  • We are Able, meaning, we demonstrate competence and a high personal standard in getting things done when working with others.
  • We are Believable, meaning, we act with integrity, i.e., we are sincere, respectful and nonjudgmental.
  • We are Connected, meaning we show that we care about others by listening, showing empathy, and giving credit where credit is due.
  • We are Dependable, meaning we show that we are reliable and others can count on us.

Some questions to ask yourself if you want to do a bit of personal reflection are:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, how trustworthy might others perceive me to be?”  You can think of a specific person as you may impact different people in different ways depending on your usual behavior towards them.
  • How often do I  behave in the listed ways?”  In applying this question to each behavior under The ABCD Trust ModelTM, you can use the scale given by the authors:  H-Hardly ever, S-Sometimes, O-Often, V-Very often, and A-Always. Be honest with yourself in terms of the frequency you actually do demonstrate these behaviors.

ABCD.Model

How people perceive us depends a lot on our behaviors.  Often, there can be a disconnect between our intentions and our actual impact.  I am reminded of the adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It is not enough to think that we behave in ways that show we are able and dependable. The question is what do other perceive about us?  Trust is a two-way street.

Take stock of your self-rating and ask others to rate you to see if there is an alignment between how you think you show up vs. how you actually do.

The nice thing about the The ABCD Trust ModelTM is that it can be used as a framework to talk about and work out trust issues in constructive ways. Check out the book to learn more about how you can build or rebuild trust through “trust boosters” and avoid eroding trust through “trust busters.”

Trus.Works