There will be times when you lose your way. Too close to the detail, too fixed on a goal, too willing or too obstinate. Chances are you'll have lost your flexibility, your objectivity, your adaptability. It happens.

What counts is the ability to take a step back, stop, look and listen to what is going on around you. Pay attention, let go of your need to be right, and in a moment of revelation you'll find the path a new. Probably with greater insight than before. Until it happens the next time. Such is progress.
“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”  - Volaire
Question, question, question. Everything. All the time. This is good advice, but choose your weapon wisely. 

Questions that begin 'Why' suffer from two problems. First, people tend to get defensive when faced with a why question because they assume it's accusatory. Secondly any answer is permissible no matter how obscure or vague. 

Why questions ask only for the respondent's personal truth with no demand for translation to an external meaning. Answers tend to result in a dead-end. Consider the following exchange...
Q. 'Why did you do that?'
A.  'Because I wanted to'
The questioner is now in danger of either getting no useful information or pushing for what will appear as a justification, e.g 'Why did you want to?'. The respondent will likely feel they are being poked and prodded and react accordingly.

Consider this second approach.
Q. 'What was the purpose of doing that?'
The respondent can no longer answer 'Because I wanted to' because it makes no sense for that question. Instead they are forced to answer in more detail. Perhaps...
A. 'Because it made me feel good at the time'.
This opens up the possibility of questioning forward from here with increasing specificity and value. The next question might be "What about it made you feel good?' and so on, and so on. Now there is increasing clarity and momentum to this exchange, leading to a better understanding for both parties.

When you want to get to the heart of the matter , ask 'what' not 'why'.

“What’s the talk-time?” he asked,
  “50%” she replied,
  “Oh dear” he concluded.

Spending half the meeting time talking leaves precious little space for listening to other points of view. Moreover, it leaves little time for assessing the room and picking up the subtle signs, the underlying motivations and attitudes. And that results in missing opportunities to influence by pressing the right buttons.

Try it for yourself. Next time you are in a meeting do some talk-time profiling. Who’s doing the talking, who’s doing the listening, who’s making a point and who’s just filling the air. You’ll find there’s a link.

On 2nd August 216 BC near the town of Cannae in southeast Italy 50,000 Roman solders lost their lives, cut down at the rate of 100 men per minute by an outnumbered Carthaginian army led by Hannibal. This was the second greatest defeat of Rome.

At the height of the battle Roman forces pressed into the Carthaginian front line, which was deliberately retreating under orders from Hannibal. In their desire to destroy the retreating opposition, and seduced by their forward progress, the Roman forces were drawn into a pocket, enveloped and annihilated.

The desire to make progress is strong. Most of us tend to feel better if we have achieved, moved onwards, been seen to make things happen. Progress is seductive. It draws us forwards, leads us up the garden path and satiates our need for instant gratification. That’s all very well, but only outcomes get you paid.

Let's be clear. Only if everyone under your leadership can state, without hesitation, the company goal then you’ve succeeded in your messaging. Test it out today and see what you get.

Maurice Saatchi takes it to extreme with his concept of One Word Equity, which is great for global brand management, but you can start more simply. You don’t even have to stick to one word, but you do need your message to be known by everyone in your company.

Here’s an example. The CEO of a luxury house builder had a simple clear message of “zero snags”. In his view this is what customers should get in a premium build and what would ultimately be good for business. The CEO was so consistent in the delivery and management of this message that it was engrained in everyone at all levels, not only in the firm but also in every subcontractor on site.

They didn’t like him for it. They thought he was being anal (and probably related descriptions) but they got the message, they worked to it, decisions were made based on it and they understood the standard against which their work would be judged.

The net result? The firm’s brand became synominous with high quality and it was bought for a handsome price by a larger developer trying to solve its own image problem.

A simple clear message can align and define an entire workforce. It provides clarity of purpose and decision-making. It can colour every conversation within the company, every conversation with your customers, and every conversation your customers have with each other. That is worth spending time on.

“When managing a major incident follow the sequence I.T.M.C”.
That is the best advice I ever received on dealing with major incidents, and it was from an old hand who was himself responsible for business continuity at the BBC.

This is what I.T.M.C stands for:

Start by defining the exact nature of the incident. If you don’t have the details get hold of someone who does. Conjecture at this stage leads to assumptions and bad decisions. Deal only in facts and confirm your sources. Ensure the information you are given is up to date.

Now you have the facts you can deduce the threat to your operation. Take a step back and work through the full breadth of the possible impact now and in the future. Brainstorming with your incident team is a good idea. Then, sort threats by impact, likelihood and the need for further clarification.

For each threat work out an appropriate mitigation. This is where the incident team earns it’s money. You may not be able to control the incident but you probably can mitigate the impact to your operation. Assign, activate and track the implementation of each action.

Now, communicate outwards. You may even choose to use the I.T.M.C format to structure your communication - it is after all what most in your organization will want to know. Effective communication radiating from the incident team reduces cross-talk and confusion at all levels.

Here's a tip. Write “I.T.M.C” on the top of the white board as soon as you convene your incident management team so as to be a constant reminder for the group to maintain logic and order.

Of course there’s much more to business continuity and major incident management. But if you find yourself dealing with a major incident, start with I.T.M.C. 

Last week I wrote about an image of Lara Croft (from Tomb Raider) which projected determination and focus. So what does it take to create this in yourself?

To have conviction you must know 100% what needs to be done AND why the outcome matters. But here’s the catch. It must matter to you. If it doesn’t then others will notice. If its not aligned to your core values then you won’t generate that infectious belief which connects and influences those around you.

As humans we have a complex set of (cheat detecting) internal processing mechanisms which evolved over thousands of years; knowing who to trust was vital for personal survival. Whist “not believing” may be a long way from “cheating” these finely tuned mechanisms unconsciously detect lapses in congruency. Given that content comprises less than 10% of face-to-face communication its not surprising our internal processes correlate words with visual and tonal signals. These non-verbal clues give away our internal thoughts and feels.

So what to do?

Start by getting to know what needs to be done (and why) by questioning everything. Step back and figure out what’s going to make the difference. Be ruthless to understand it’s value. Listen hard to understand its impact. What will it achieve, why is it needed, what would happen if it wasn’t done? What order does it need to be done in?

You understand it, but do you believe in it?

What happens if we logically understand the task but its not aligned to our values? Try reframing to find a different angle on the same subject. Find the angle that achieves the required outcome and aligns to your values. Reframing allows you to create a different view,  a different persecutive and a different mind set.

When we truly understand our objective and the outcome is aligned to internal values we have the opportunity to act with conviction. Having conviction shapes our words, our body language, our tone and how we react when questioned and challenged. When we are congruent we are powerful and, Like Lara, we may radiate determination and focus.

You have a choice. Do it with conviction, do it without conviction, don’t do it at all. Make it your choice and accept the implications.

Lara Croft, the gun toting female heroine of game and film, is back. This time she’s cast in more realistic female form than previous incarnations. “A good thing” I thought passing the time as I studied the billboard waiting on the Bakerloo line platform.

The billboard shows Lara close up and side on, left arm outstretched, fingers gripping a bow, right hand fully pulled back on the bowstring - arrow primed. The tautness of the muscles and the fix of the gaze grab your attention. Lara is ready and she means to show it. The observer is left in no doubt of Lara’s intention and focus. In that moment Lara projects a single-minded determination to achieve what must be done.

 Pondering this, as I waited for my train, I considered two things:

  • How do we create within ourselves the conviction of what must be done and commit to the mind set to achieve it?
  • Having set our minds to a goal how do we convey this resolution of purpose to others?

Why is this important? Because together they create a powerful message. I’m not talking about machismo, that is for boys pretending to be men. I’m talking about being congruent, aligned and utterly set on achieving your outcome in a way undeniable to those around you. When it happens you leave others in no doubt that you mean business. That is powerful, infectious and 100% influential.

So what does it take? I’ll talk about that next week.

Browse the shelves of any manager and you'll likely find at least one volume dedicated to the sticky subject of time management. Unloved and dusty, chances are this book was read once but never used. The promised techniques failing to light the fire of action because they are too long, too complicated or too plain dull to put into action. What to do? Enter stage left ... the ticking tomato, or to use its proper name The Pomodoro Technique. The way you'll work will change ... forever!

First product launch, first blog entry. After several months of testing and refinement our guide to creating high performing teams is ready. We call it The Performance Pack. It's a pack that contains a guide and templates, scripts and examples to help you implement a process which will align your team and make performance reviews effective and productive. Its a practical guide that helps you do it, not just read about it. Today is soft launch. And just for fun we are giving away FREE copies - just to celebrate. Interested?