How to end the day with a satisfied feeling

Isabel De Clerq and I have never formally met though, like many, we are virtually connected. So. it was with great pleasure / anticipation when this little green book, with a nice note from Isabel inside the front cover, landed on my doormat a few weeks back.

This is a book you will not want to put down. As one page merges into another, the dog eared pages multiply and whomever is in the vicinity hears “listen to this, we do that..”, accompanied by nodding. I knew I was going to enjoy “Hybrid Work: A manifesto” as the opening paragraph is set in Isabel’s kitchen and my good friend Luis Suarez‘s thoughts on #distributedworking are referenced early in the book.

I promised Isabel (who has a love of Portugal) I would read it overlooking the Rio Tejo.

New Year’s Day by The Rio Tejo

It’s a book that spawns ideas. Here are some of my reflections.

What complements my thinking?

  • Meetings: Isabel places great emphasis on meeting preparation and conduct. A few decades back I was Business & Strategy Advisor to a fledgling dotcom business Sopheon. Globally acquisitive, with offices in Amsterdam, Maastricht, Minneapolis, Denver and Guildford, we added to the portfolio of companies by acquiring a software business in Frankfurt. It became rapidly apparant that work was needed to get everyone on the same page especially when holding meetings. We drew up a code of conduct “Meetings Matter” around preparation, attendees – roles and purpose and proposed outcomes. It worked and I use it for all client meetings.
  • Connection between people and organisation: This stood out

The presence of that greater good; the knowledge that your contribution matters; a match between your values and those of the organisation; and the fact that you can develop yourself through your work, these four elements ensure a strong connection. A connection that goes further than an office building with a trendy lounge and a matching coffee corner.

Unanswered questions?

  • In Suggestion 4 – “The office as a vibrant hub” – Isabel casts doubt on its future role and that of the ubiquitous coffee corner unless underpinned by a deeper connection between people. While I totally agree with the importance of a collaborative and supportive culture (see my most recent blog Simple steps), as Gillian Tett wrote in an excellent article in The Guardian last year quoting from a study on performance of virtual vs in person co-located trading teams:
    • “in-person teams had more incidental information exchange and sense-making, and at times of stress this seemed doubly important.”
  • In “Suggestion 7” Isabel dares to dream. “I dream of an organisation where knowledge workers end the day with a satisfied feeling.” The term “knowledge workers” has never sat comfortably with me since I heard it back in 1994! To some extent we are all knowledge workers not merely those tasked with white as opposed to blue collar tasks. Tradespeople who use their hands also draw on knowledge. Likewise farmers, who might equally be termed agricultural engineers, often develop a sixth sense of weather and growing patterns based on knowledge. Where, if at all, does the term knowledge worker start and finish?

What are my takeaways?

  • Importance of neutral space and focus time: a few years back in advance of a masterclasses with Martin White on Managing Virtual Teams we ran a survey that asked contributors where they had their best ideas and conversations and where they worked best. The overwhelming response was “Not in the office”, universally they noted the importance of a space that was not home! In my 3rd CILIP Presidential Debate (Shift happens – the future office / library in a connected world) the premise was that “In the future, rather than being fixed in one place with a single purpose, people will move seamlessly between different contexts – home, work, college, community – at a time and place that suits them, enabled by always-on smart devices.” The conclusion, that people wherever they are working still need some neutral (decompression) space.
  • It’s ok to clarify: – “I heard you to say and understood you to mean” is a phrase I’ve often deployed with organisations with a polyglot of nationalities where English is a second language. It is especially important in hybrid work where the propensity for miscommunication is great. I advise every team I work with to develop a practice that encourages clarification.
  • Virtual peripheral vision: When I am giving an in person speech or masterclass I can guage the audience’s response and if need be to focus more on areas of uncertainty. I’ve not yet honed my virtual peripheral vision so build in more “I heard you to say” time to understand what landed.
  • From 90 to 60 minutes per session: Hybrid work is tiring and as Isabel suggests it is most effective when everyone adopts the same mode of communication rather than having virtual outliers. I try and build breaks every 60 minutes when working virtually rather than the traditional 90 minutes blocks I use when conducting in person sessions.
  • People who ‘wing it’ tend to get exposed in a Hybrid Work environment so preparation is one of the critical success factors!

And finally

Hybrid (Distributed) Work is undoubtedy the way to go – it’s revolutionised the way we interact with each other. Imagine how without it we would have coped with the effects of the pandemic. Our challenge now; how to retain the human characteristics that differentiate us from AI powered machines and create environments that allow everyone to prosper not merely those with access to technology?

Isabel’s lovely little book poses many questions as well as answers, it gets you searching for your own solutions. I commend it to you!

Virtual Teams: simple steps to help with self isolation

What do you do when one of your team has to self isolate just before Christmas and is unable to join the pre Christmas celebration? Put the celebrations on hold, go on with the show without them, or make them centre stage of your event?

The team at Bees Homes chose the latter and having dusted down a few of my “Managing Virtual Teams” notes, we asked our Team Executive, Gemma who was self isolating, to come up with an online quiz to accompany our hastily (re) arranged pre Christmas gathering.

It proved to be a success with much laughter. Why?

  1. Snacks (and wine) were shared as we had passed by her home on the way to the office and left food – Gemma had what we had.
  2. Gemma was the host so drove the pace of the event which lasted a couple of hours.
  3. Drawing on some great ideas on this Team Building site, she came up with a “Spin the wheel” quiz and added questions such as “What is your favourite Christmas Song?”
  4. The whole team were visible throughout – see Gemma’s view from my laptop.
  5. We have spent time in f2f team meetings developing a collaborative and supportive culture.
  6. Gemma is someone who responds well to adversity and takes responsibility.

It reinforced many of the tips I’ve given clients over the last couple of decades about managing virtual teams.

Happy New Year!

Dad are you really a spy?

Undertaking international assignments

Many years ago Nicola, my daughter, asked this question. I spent at least 3 months of the year going to places that would not feature on any list of recommended travel destinations. And when I came back much of what I would discuss was somehow from another world. She was mystified (and probably still is) which is one reason I started recording my adventures and writing books.

I’ve learned much about people, places and culture to the point where I have more friends outside of the UK than in it. Someone asked me how many countires I’d visited – while not yet in three figures the number is not far off.

During a 40+ career I’ve managed countless assignments while pursuing a portfolio of activities and dealt with many clients while I was a banker plying my trade in the Middle East.

So, I was delighted when, on assuming office as CILIP President, I received a request from one of their special interest groups, International Libraries & Information Group, to give a talk to them about working internationally.

They very kindly recorded the event for posterity and here it is:

When the light flickers

It’s been a tough 12 months as we’ve all come to terms with isolated living. For many it’s seen personal relationships flourish while more have witnessed them collapse.

Help yourself in order to help others

A few weeks back on LinkedIn I put up a post “Put your oxygen mask on before helping others...” which attracted a lot of comment. I’d written it after a conversation with a friend who is a very perceptive relationship therapist. She and I had talked about the effect of Lockdown Fatigue and I was drawn to a comment she made:

“…we’re missing out on the life-affirming impact of seeing our value reflected back at us through the eyes of our friends, family, work colleagues and clients.”

What followed via LinkedIn chat was a very thought provoking discussion about #distributedworking and the need to develop some form of virtual peripheral vision.

Luis Suarez who many of you will know commented:

Yes, there is no substitute for the F2F interactions. We would always need them. After all, we are social creatures who crave for a strong sense of belonging and bonding, but through ESNs we’ve definitely being able to augment a different kind of interaction, just as powerful: conversations.

eating scraps from bins in Austria

These conversations came back to me as I heard the sad news this week of the passing of Lotti Henley one the people I featured in the ‘most admired’ section of my site. Here’s what the Mayor of London said about her a few years back:

‘…an 86 year old war hero; an Austrian aristocrat who was forced to eat scraps of food from bins to survive during the Second World War...She says her lasting memory of hunger is the motivation behind her new campaign, Plan Zheroes, which aims to link up hundreds of shops, supermarkets and other food outlets across the capital with local charities in need of free food.’

Lotti was a person who made it difficult to say no to, a truly unique person.

Here’s a moving montage of her life in pictures put together by her grandson.

Inspiring stories

I’ve spent much of the last couple of months balancing commitments. People often talk about work / life balances; for me the boundaries have become so fuzzy over the last few years as I’ve got older and have the ability to make a choice of where to spend my time.

I regularly get asked at dinners (when we were able to attend) haven’t you retired yet? What this year has taught me at least is to devote time and energy to those who don’t drain you of it!

Which is why I’ve found the “in conversation with…” sessions I’ve been conducting each week with a member of CILIP so rewarding. I hope to do some of the stories justice in a couple of month’s time when I host the 2nd Presidential Debate alongside award winning journalist and best selling author Kate Thompson.

And finally

I was delighted to have been invited to be the launch ‘act’ for the KM Lobby a program of Pioneer Knowledge Services hosted by Ginetta Gueli, Monica Danese-Perrin, and Edwin K. Morris M.S. We spoke at length about the importance of KM Chartership and Standards. It was a fun 45 minutes which is available here

Trust, leadership and culture

It’s almost 6 months since the first lockdown was imposed in the UK yet the media is awash with stories of second waves of infection and a failure to meet demand for testing. Add the continuing furore over the “oven ready deal” to leave the European Union the electorate was promised in Q4 last year and its clear that trust in our organs of state is being seriously eroded.

Is that relevant in a business context? I would argue yes. Business doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It is on the receiving end of policy decisions made by government, often having to interpret guidance that is unclear. ‘Thriving on ambiguity’ works in a diplomatic environment enabling many interpretations of a word or phrase and allowing all parties to present outcomes as beneficial to them.

Professor Geert Hofstede who conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by country culture notes:

British are comfortable in ambiguous situations – the term ‘muddling through’ is a very British way of expressing this. There are generally not too many rules in British society, but those that are there are adhered to (the most famous of which of course is the British love of queuing which has also to do with the values of fair play).

In work terms this results in planning that is not detail oriented – the end goal will be clear … but the detail of how we get there will be light and the actual process fluid and flexible to emerging and changing environment. Planning horizons will also be shorter.

It is not a sound approach to managing a crisis or meeting treaty obligations.

If guidance is not informed by the best knowledge and data, or deemed politically expedient to ignore it, frustration, chaos and a polarisation of society is the outcome.

Once trust gets eroded at the top of society, and professionals tasked with enacting the guidance are held accountable for the actions of their masters, there is a ripple effect on business (and life). How for example can NHS Trusts conduct effective After Action Reviews or Lessons Learned exercises if any admission of error may result in dismissal or court action?

And the behaviours people see in their leaders often reappear further down the chain.

What is becoming increasingly clear in the UK is:

  • There is a shift towards a hybrid model of home and hub working;
  • Many organisations are reshaping their workforce concurrent with the phasing out of furlough; and
  • Law firms and HR specialists are awash with requests to draft new contracts and assist with the laying off of workers.

What might you ask has this to do with Knowledge Management? Unfortunately a lot.

In the ISO 30401 KM Standard considerable attention is paid to the role leadership and culture plays in developing an effective Knowledge Management programme. Underpinning both is the need for trust: that what we are being told is the truth; that decisions are based on an assessment of all the facts; and that those tasked with coming up with solutiuons are not in some way tied to those who gave them the contract to do so.

Today, few organisations are equipped to handle the impact of the pandemic on their organisational knowledge and even less on the efficacy of their knowledge and search systems (“where do I find…?”).

This is not a new situation. A few years ago I was in a client’s office when some key employees with very domain specific knowledge announced their departure. If you want to read more about the approach I encouraged the client to adopt take a look at: Going but not forgotten: how to conduct knowledge capture in a hurry“.

Impact of country culture and values

My recent (restricted) travels resurrected my interest in the role country culture plays in how people (and organisations) respond in a crisis and how they collaborate (or don’t).

A month previously I’d been in Germany staying with a Dutch friend. I’d seen the Germans universally adhere to track & trace, to social distancing and the wearing of masks. My Dutch friend had described in some detail how her countrymen struggled at first but were ultimately respectful of others. In Portgual over some amazing bottles of wine, superb food and horse riding (sorry I just had to put the picture in) I’d asked family and friends of all ages and status to rank their government’s performance. Each came out at about 7/10.

The media in these countries has for the most part been broadly supportive and in most cases the prevailing feeling was one of trust. I didn’t get a sense of polarised societies. As I’ve lived and/or worked in all three I was intrigued.

German Values, Gezellig & Saudade

Perhaps most revealingly each country’s characteristics play out in the way they’ve responded:

Germany

Hofstede notes:

…A direct and participative communication and meeting style is common, control is disliked and leadership is challenged to show expertise and best accepted when it’s based on it.

Communication is among the most direct in the world following the ideal to be “honest, even if it hurts” – and by this giving the counterpart a fair chance to learn from mistakes.’

Separate research revealed 5 core values most Germans aspire to:

Family, Order, Punctuality, Truthfullness and Attitude towards work.

Netherlands

Hofstede says:

.. keep the life/work balance and you make sure that all are included. An effective manager is supportive to his/her people, and decision making is achieved through involvement. Managers strive for consensus and people value equality, solidarity and quality in their working lives. Conflicts are resolved by compromise and negotiation and Dutch are known for their long discussions until consensus has been reached.

Wikipedia notes:

“… gezellig, does not have an English equivalent. Literally, it means cozy, quaint, or nice, but can also connote time spent with loved ones, seeing a friend after a long absence, or general togetherness.”

Portugal

Hofstede says:

… a close long-term commitment to the member ‘group’, be that a family, extended family, or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount, and over-rides most other societal rules and regulations. The society fosters strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group.

Echoing the Dutch example there is a word that sums up the national consciousness:

Saudade is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one cares for and/or loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never be had again. It is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places, or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, and well-being, which now trigger the senses and make one experience the pain of separation from those joyous sensations. However it acknowledges that to long for the past would detract from the excitement you feel towards the future. Saudade describes both happy and sad at the same time, which is most closely translated to the English saying ‘bitter sweet’. Wikipedia

In Portugal unlike the UK 70% of professional staff are back at work. Everyone wears a mask when in public, hand sanitisers are everywhere, the mercado has a disinfectant machine to go thru before entering, there is a curfew on the sale of alcohol after 8pm, nightclubs are closed and police are seen enforcing the use of masks in supermarkets.

The government has recovered from a slow start, is seen as being transparent and The President who is widely admired leads the public. Statistics and data are trusted.

Back to Hofstede. Here’s what his team concluded about dealing with the British:

Critical to understanding the British is being able to ‘’read between the lines’.’ What is said is not always what is meant. 

Remote working implications

Over the past few years I’ve run a number of Masterclasses on Managing Virtual Teams. What this period has reinforced is the need to think much more deeply about set up, composition and language especially since I will be runing a number of virtual events in the coming months. The first of these is on September 30th for KMSA .

What do I takeaway from my excursions and time helping my town to respond to the crisis:

  • Country culture is amplified in a crisis
  • Remote or virtual working exagerrates country culture
  • People need some form of social interaction to make virtual work
  • Virtual facilitation requires taking a step back to let the silence hang!

And finally

For the last 6 months I’ve been involved in my town (Eastbourne’s) response to the crisis. I encouraged the civic leaders to follow KM principles and for a time that was successful especially in the planning phase. All meetings have been held virtually and participants from Leader of the Council to Volunteer Heads adapted well to using Zoom and MS Teams.

The majority of the 110k residents would probably applaud the collaborative non partisan efforts. The homeless were housed, people rallied round making PPE, incidence of infection is among the lowest in the country despite it being a town dependent on tourism and a number of recovery initiatives originated from within the group.

And yet it’s been galling to witness the disconnect between the headline announcement and the article (guidelines) those charged with implementation are faced with!