Last night I went to a show. A singer stood alone on a bare stage —no drums, bass, or backup singers. No big show. Just a guy, a guitar and some songs. We couldn’t take our eyes off him. For the past fourteen months I’ve been learning to talk about our new consulting firm. It’s been incredibly difficult to describe our services — the work we do, the clients we help, the problems we solve — in a way that’s interesting, credible and relevant to potential clients. As I listened to the singer last night, it hit me: I’m tired of worrying about my show… I want to focus on the songs. I want to do my own version of an acoustic set: no website, no case studies, no graphics, footnotes or search engine optimization. Just a simple description of what I do. What I do If you hire us, it’ll be because you’ve got a problem with worker safety or you’re leading a big, complicated project. I’ll spend one or two weeks a month in your offices. I’ll sit in on meetings, meet your team and wander around talking to folks. Each week I’ll lead an event — a workshop, meeting or training — but for me, the highlight is a one-hour conversation with you. (We’ll call it ‘coaching’ on your calendar — but that makes me cringe. It’s a conversation.) Conversations about you The conversations will be different than you expected. We’ll talk about work — but I’ll always come back to you: how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, how you relate to your situation. We may do a personality style-assessment or gather 360-degree feedback. Self-awareness is pretty useful for a leader. I’ll make the case that effective leaders are authentic, sincere and genuine. You’ll catch on quick and after a couple of weeks, your conversations with your team will begin to change. They’ll become a bit more personal. You’ll be yourselves rather than your job titles, and slowly, without realizing it, the conversations will become more productive and effective. Weird Questions I’ll ask weird questions like, “Why do you do this work?“ and, “You have to put up with a lot of crap in this job — why does it matter to you?” These conversations will be awkward at first, but don’t sweat it. The company you work for has a fancy ‘mission statement’ hanging on the wall… but no-one feels connected to it. You and I will talk about your mission — the ‘why’ behind yourwork. You’re a quick study, and before too long, you’ll start talking to your team about their‘why’ and the meaning they find in work. Some previously disaffected team-member will light up and start talking and working differently. Suddenly, you’ll have a new ally in your efforts. Really? Relationships? Ugh. During our conversations, you’ll bring up the problems you’re having. I’ll ask about your connection with the other people involved. I’ll avoid saying the word ‘relationship’ (especially if you’re divorced), but I’ll make the case that relationship enables almost everything we do — and if you’ve got a problem, its smart to invest in the relationships with the people involved. We’ll plan meetings with some of those folks and I’ll make you do corny things like talk to each other about non-work-related topics. You’ll begin to notice that knowing someone as a person (rather than their role) makes it easier to work with them. When we understand what the other person is up against, what they’re up to, and how you can help each other, our problems begin to improve. Before very long, you’ll find yourself including corny questions in your meetings, and making sure your people get to know one another. Why can’t they just…? At some point in our conversations, you’ll complain about your team, asking, “Why can’t they be more accountable and take customer service more seriously?” I’ll respond the same way every time: “What would that look like? If we made a video of someone being ‘accountable’, what would we see on the screen? What would we see people do that would indicate they ‘take customer service seriously’?” I’ll make the case that it’s easier to change ‘doing’ than ‘being’. Asking people to ‘be’ differently, without telling them what we want them to ‘do’ doesn’t work. We’ll practice this by picking a few small, high-leverage actions that we want every team member to take every day… and then get them to do it. By the way: the change has to start with you, so I’ll nag you about doing the things you’re asking your team to do. In no time you’ll realize the power you have in the example you set. You’ll develop some new habits that influence the ‘doing’ and ‘being’ of your team. Your meetings stink When the time is right, I’ll take a bit of a risk and call you out on something: your meetings are lousy. I’ll remind you that you want people to be engaged and on-board, but you do all the talking during your staff meetings. You want people to care about safety, but your safety meetings focus on rules (and threats of punishment for breaking them). You want your employees to be a dynamic team, but your new employee on-boarding process is a set of perfunctory slide shows and cover-your-ass briefings. I’ll gently demonstrate that your meetings are undermining your intentions. You’ll protest that your hands are tied, and corporate dictates how you do these meetings! “They make us do it that way! They audit our rosters… and besides, who has time to come up with more interesting stuff?” Time to decide This is my favorite point in our time together — the moment when I shove a fork up your nose… lovingly, with respect… and challenge you to stop tolerating stuff you know could be better. We’ll have a long talk about what you’re really up to, and what you’re willing to do (and not do) in service of your “why”. This is where you’ll really get your money’s worth from working with me: through this conversation, you will emerge as a leader, as well as a manager, and begin to exercise ownership and responsibility for how your team thinks and feels as well as what they do. From talk to action Once you get there, all sorts of things will change: you’ll start attending the new employee orientation meeting to talk about ‘the why’ behind your work; you’ll change your staff meeting to get people talking to, rather than at, each other; your project reviews will include conversations about ‘relationships’ (again, lets avoid that word) and the level cooperation between groups; you’ll re-design your safety meetings and project reviews to focus on what people should do rather than cajoling them to ‘be’ differently. We’ll work together for six or nine months, and then we’ll be done. You’ll continue most (not all) of the things we discussed. You’ll re-create a few (not many) of the awkward conversations I had with you. But you’ll feel more connected to your work and your people; your team will feel and perform better. And if I’m lucky, you’ll tell a colleague, “You should check these folks out… they’ve got a website…” Thanks for coming So yeah, go check out our website. There’s a lot of stuff there about the stuff we do and the stuff we read and the stuff our clients get as a result of working with us. It’s a pretty cool show. But at the end of the day, the song behind the show is simple: you and I have a conversation that helps you see and act differently. Interested in learning more? Ready to perform an acoustic set of your own? We’re ready to help.