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Posts Tagged ‘goals

Narratives are better than goals

I was talking today with @dominiccampbell and he helped me resolve another question that has been hanging around my head.  Why are narratives so much better than goals and targets for guiding action?

Goals do raise performance

We psychologists know that goals raise performance.  Put a target on the wall and people will try to meet it. Performance can leap by huge multiples of 100, 200, 300%.

Add feedback, that is add the circles around the bull’s eye, and performance goes up further, even by 20% for top performers.

We like making targets.  Just watch a dog at a sheep trial. We love it!

Narratives are better

But, now we are in election season in the UK, the poverty of goals becomes so clear.

Parties are tossing around specific promises for everything from deficits to bus timetables.  It’s most odd.  For a start, most of these target are the job of mid-level civil servants to set and manage.  Not sure what we employ them for if politicians do this.

The targets are also spurious.  Can anyone really set these targets for a year ahead at any time and can they do so now when the world is in such disarray and a double dip recession might happen within weeks?

Most of all, goals are wrong because they are artificially simple.  I pointed @dominiccampell to a Gen Y blogger who paints a depressing picture of the life being led by fresh graduates in the UK.   This is the life they lead and they can “see” themselves leading.

Politicians need to paint the picture of what they see happening in the UK and how it is unfolding.  Stories of the one-legged man they met on the way to the forum, or arbitrary numbers just don’t cut it.   (Can’t remember what they other fella said.)

We need a visual picture of UK – a synopsis of the movie we are living out.

This, dear psychologists, is why we should use narratives.  We need a moment of ‘aesthetic arrest’ where the relevant factors are brought together within a frame, in a story which shows how the main factors come together, counteracting and influencing each other, and it must be “true”.   We need a sense of “yes, I see it now”.  Aha!

Goals and anecdotes don’t deliver ‘aesthetic arrest”.  They are one dimensional or 2 dimensional cutouts.  They cannot deliver a picture of the world in all its complexities.  And that is what we need to hear.

The dreaded western customer service job

Yesterday, I had to sit around offices a bit and I watched two people work in jobs that aren’t very high powered.

The noobe

In the first, the relatively more senior job, was a young fellow, baby faced but with determined lower body movements. He was racing the clock as he tried to execute what, for him, is still a complicated sequence of moves.  He took great pleasure in deftly picking up the paper, entering stuff in a computer, standing up, sitting down, and barking out commands to customers.

He needs the time and space to practice but should he really have been released into the wild?

The old hand

The second was a very much more junior job but a more experienced guy was handling two customer points simultaneously.  He was relishing the challenge and got ahead by anticipating what people wanted and priming his work station.  He was still racing the clock, but out of boredom rather than inexperience.

The old hand vs the noobe

The big difference between the two came when the experienced guy had forgotten something I asked for it.  Then I got a big smile and “I am onto it Miss”.  The younger guy would have snapped.  And this is why.

Feedback cycles

Noobe vs old hand

The goal for the the ‘noobe’ was his own performance.  The  goal for the second man was my convenience and satisfaction.  Multi-tasking was just the way he stopped dropping from boredom but he would drop multi-tasking in an instant if customer satisfaction was threatened.

Understanding the psychology of ‘noobishness’

This sounds as it the ‘noobe’ is being morally wrong in some way.  A psychological analysis helps us out of that evaluative trap.

We see what goal is driving someone’s performance by watching what feedback they look for and respond to.

A rank ‘noobe’ attends to their own performance.  They have to.  Indeed, if we want to design a really bad job, we interfere with their do-check cycle.  They cannot get good at a task until they have repeated the task often to their own satisfaction.

Customer service is not the place for ‘noobes’

The trouble is that customer service is one level higher.  It is the same level as supervision.  They have to judge a situation as well as execute work.

In a front line where a lot of customer situations are utterly predictable and require no attention whatsoever from the attendant, then it is OK to put a ‘noobe’ there.  But a supervisor should be close to hand.  The supervisor mustn’t micro manage, because that muddles up do-check feedback system. They must be there to step-in when the situation has changed from a ‘practice turn’ to a ‘choose the bundle of tasks that will lead to customer satisfaction’.

Training supervision

This distinction between situation and execution is the key to training a supervisor.  Are they able to say clearly to their charge: the situation began like this – it has changed to this – now do this – or I’ll finish this and I’ll show you after ward what I did?

So how do ‘noobes’ get experience?

I’m a teacher and I also consult.  All my life, I’ve tried to take on work that creates practice slots for juniors.  But there have to be some rules.

  • Confidentiality:  I teach them to forget everything they see and hear in the office.  Write it down. Put it in a file.  Wipe your mental slate. Then when someone tries to find out things from you, you can honestly say they’ve forgotten.  Everything is recorded and forgotten.  (This may be less essential in other businesses but we deal with personal data.)  The sweet line “Tell me again what you do” is anyway a great conversational opener.
  • Rhythm: I teach them to look at me and make sure I have given them permission to speak before they open their mouths in front of a client.  The reason is this. I might be following a conversational line that they don’t follow. If they interrupt, the client loses their train of thought.
  • Alerts: If they believe there is something that I should know about, they can catch my eye.  That look is very different from the look of “I would like to practice a little now.”  I’ll immediately take them outside and ask what has concerned them.

With these three rules, ‘noobes’ can observe interactions with customer and gradually ease into bigger roles.

They earn their keep with carefully calibrated back room tasks following two principles: (A) Never give to a ‘noobe’ what cannot be redone and (B) Show them and make them practice over-and-over again until they can do it “with no hands”, so to speak.

Then they are able to handle the rapidly changing requirements of customer service.  But they aren’t handling the customer on their own until they can do all the technical stuff with “no hands”.  Their minds must be free to attend to the people they are speaking to.

Three goals, only

At any one time in my life I have three goals. Only.  For example, when I ran a large entry level course in New Zealand, my goals were

  • the course
  • settling in New Zealand
  • my family in Zimbabwe

Whatever I did had to fit into one of those three boxes.

Settling on three goals is hard

Since I have moved to the UK, I have struggled to settle down to three goals.  I need three catch-phrases that I can remember and that will persist for a few years at least.

As an academic, the three goals are easy: research/writing, teaching, community service.

Jim Collins has three goals: creativity & writing (50% plus), teaching (30%), other (20% or less).  He has three stop watches in his pocket and he switches them on and off all day long.  I could never be that compulsive but I like three goals and I like the way he commits half his time to one of them.

Then he has the “big jump” or mission.  To leave a lasting body of work.  Just in case you don’t know, Collins is know working on narratives of companies as “anti-heroes” – the story of failure.

What are your three goals?

Can you settle on three goals and state your “big jump” in a phrase?

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Our goal had gone walkabout

On my travels, I found myself teaching systems thinking in a university which broke a large course into 25 student groups. A few people determined the curriculum and an army of people taught students who wrote a common examination.

I was shocked by the examination papers. Students rambled on tossing in whatever thoughts came to mind.

We sensibly had an interim examiners meeting and I voiced my concerns. Well, it seems that I was the one to have misunderstood the curriculum.  The curriculum designers were trying to convey the idea that there are many perspectives on any issue. They didn’t see a common goal or direction as an essential part of any system.

I am cursed with an “open mind” so I hastened to the internet to double-check and the idea has hung around my mind ever since as unfinished business does.

3 misunderstandings about system goals

I’m afraid that systems do have common goals. That is entirely the point. But it seems that this is a point that is often misunderstood.

Some people think the system’s goal is their goal

No! There are still multiple perspectives. We can add the system as a virtual person and ask what is the system’s goal! We have the boss’ goal, we have the system, goal and we have each of our goals.

Some people think there is no common goal

It is true that the organization does not have a goal. An organization cannot think! When we say that the organization’s goal is X, we must ask who says that?

But we not only want to understand the multiplicity of goals but we also want to understand how the many goals come together and how the system goal morphs in response. We cannot ignore the system goal ~ or we do as a sailor might ignore the weather ~ at our peril.

Some people think goals are constant

They are ~ for a second. Goals morph as situations change. When we ignore the dynamic quality of goals, then we get mission creep. Conditions change and if we don’t stop to think about what we want, what we all want, we find ourselves doing too much of one thing and too little of another. A mess in other words. Goals are infinitely variable.

Articulating the morphing of goals in any group is what makes a leader

A leader understand the multiplicity of goals in a community and sees how are contradictions and conflicts, agreements and alliances come together to make us what we are – how the whole comes from the parts and affects them in turn.

A leader is a person who is able to articulate this dynamic mix so that we feel supported by the whole and essential to its well being. This is a tough call when a group is determined to quarrel or terrified by its destiny. The hall mark of a leader is that he or she looks for the common ground where we all belong and keeps looking.

Facilitating the agreement is the hallmark of the greatest leaders

Helping us find that common ground is the hallmark of the greatest leaders. We often doff our caps to leaders who were in the right place at the right time. They represent what is the best about ourselves and we throw them into the limelight to remind us of who we are and where we are going. In time, we choose a new leader because our direction has changed and we need new icon on our bows.

We remember these leaders because these were times that we felt great. The greatest leaders, though, help us identify the right questions. They know how to “bound” the group. They know how to focus our attention on the question that we must answer if we are to find the way forward and the place where we feel great.

That’s why it seems as if great leaders set goals. They set a boundary which focuses our attention on question-asking.

It is not the goal that is important, but our compulsion to find out how we should reach the goal.

Colin Powell once said “Leadership is about ‘Follow Me!. Even if it is only out of curiosity.”

Leadership is the art of engaging the imagination in the search for collective answers.

The system is important. With good leadership, we accept the system as a virtual person ~ a popular virtual person who we all want to look after and please.

I Want Rhythm Not A To Do List

When I was young, I loved To Do lists. What a buzz! I would list everything I had to do, set a priority and set about ticking it off!

I loathe To Do Lists now. I threw away my diary years ago when I worked on an MBA programme and the lecture times changed so frequently that my diary looked like a dog’s breakfast!

Now I like a rhythm. I like to sense the time during the week, the month, the day, the year that I should be doing whatever I should be doing!

Rhythmless Britain Where Seasons  Take Us By Surprise

It is difficult to dance through life in Britain. Bills arrive at odd times and are paid at odder times. The tax year begins on the 6 April – why? Who knows. There is no rhythm to anything. People even seem surprised when winter approaches. “It’s cold”, people say. It’s December. What did they expect? I know what I expect.  “Good!  It is cold.  Now I can  .  .  .!”

My Seasons By The Bottle

I want my life to be a dance with my goals. Like these bottles at the Vesuvius Cafe on Canary Wharf in London. 52 bottles laid out in 12 sets, I want to mark the passing of the seasons with the right wine and the right food. I want to celebrate the seasons of life by going to the market to buy food in season and cook it with a sense of adventure.

I want my head around learning to dance with life. I don’t want to spend my time chasing the clock and ticking lists. Lists and clocks lower quality of life as surely as squalid air travel and grubby packaging around supermarket food!

It is not only Luddites who like to savor life

Now believe me, I am no Luddite. Never have been. I like progress. I like thinking up better ways of doing things.

But I want to savor life. I want to have time to listen to people. I want to notice the seasons and enjoy them, not complain about them.

To represent the season of my life, I have a handful of goals

I’m not sure I have the system right, but at any time in our lives, I think it is good to have 3 to 5 ‘goals’. When I was in New Zealand, I had 3.  I had my rather large university course.  I had settling in a new country.  And I had departing from an old country. That’s enough! What didn’t fit into those three folders had to be put aside.

Now I have five ‘goals’ ~ I wish I had three but I have 5!

  • I have settling in a new country
  • I have my writing ~ this blog mainly
  • I have my community and town of Olney
  • I have my next website supporting career decisions
  • And I have the website I want make – a gratitude site.

My goals change with the season of my life

In due course, the season of settling in (another) new country will pass and my goals will change.

For now, I can ask whether what I am doing helps me learn how to achieve these goals. What do I learn about my own thinking? What do I learn about my overall story from each of these goals and the way they come together?

It is the way I explore these 5 goals that will give me the rich life that I take into the next season as surely as my summer harvest must be full to provide a good autumn and a good Christmas supports an energetic spring.

I’ll achieve my goals better if I slow down and explore them well

My goals are a framework to coddle my efforts and softly support the tentative explorations of the land in which I live.

The way I explore my goals determines how well I meet them.  To explore them well, I must make plenty of space for them and stop rushing around being in a hurry.

Put that to do list aside!  What are your goals?  What are you learning about how to achieve them.  Enjoy!  In a few years, these goals will be gone from your life and replaced by others.

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New beginnings and getting going

I’m shifting gear a little with projects. Some tasks are moving to the perfunctory box ~ get them done and get them done fast.  And I have new tasks that aren’t hard but they aren’t habits yet.  I could easily founder simply because I haven’t done them often enough to slide into them without thinking.

Getting over dithering

As I dithered, just a little, in the normal way we do when we settle to something big, I came across a post that I wrote about Inpowr, the Montreal based web2.0 platform where you rate areas of  your life and set goals.

A digital reminder

Inpowr has some good looking interfaces.  Moreover, it pings you every day at your chosen (Montreal) time and reminds you to review your goals.  That makes it great.  To develop some good habits, it helps to have someone to nudge you!

Choose between your positive and negative versions of events

A tip though: Inpowr will ask you to rate your achievement of each goal on a 1-5 scale.  Don’t just rate and move along.  Expand the task a little. Describe how the day went.  Rate 1 and answer the question.  Change your rating to 3 and answer your question.  And then change your rating to 5 and answer the question again.

Answering all three questions helps you to see your negative and positive thinking and choose between them.  Which is most useful to you?  The negative or the positive version?

Privacy

Oh, and do watch the privacy settings.  It is possible to make your goal setting open to the world.  Maybe you would prefer your exercise to be private.  Check your settings!

21 days on Inpower

Inpowr runs on 21 day cycles.  What can you accomplish by Christmas?

 

Chain-of-command

Imagine 6 000 students gathering in a hall and becoming a little rowdy.  The police arrive. The local Chief Constable arrives.   So does the head of the riot police.  Who is in charge?  Who decides what will happen?

Well, the riot police often think they are in charge because they are bigger and more powerful. The local Chief Constable is likely to assert him or herself, though, and say, “I am in charge in this place.  Everyone will take their instructions for me.”

Chain-of-command in business

We might think that this reasoning only begins in the uniformed services. But it is relevant in business as well.

At any moment, it is someone’s job to make a decision.  We should not get in their way. Even when we are bigger and more powerful, we may not have all the information we need to make a good decision.  Nor can we follow through.  We simply have no business making decisions that we will not see through to the very end.

Work & organizational psychologists and the chain-of-command

Work & organizational psychologists, or occupational psychologists as they are known in UK, or IO psychologists as they are known in the US, are well trained to identify who is making the decision and what information they need to make it.

We often have massive status but we should not get in the way of the people who are doing the work. We wouldn’t get in the way of a surgeon and we should not get in the way of anyone else either.

Work & organizational psychologists respect the skill of decision making in each and every job

The information that people use to make decisions is also not immediately obvious to us.  Skilled workers have mental models for organizing their work.  They have goals, they recognize information as signals, and they pick up information as feedback which tells them whether they are approaching their goals.  We don’t have their expertise and when we move things around, we can utterly muddle the way they organize information.  Taking a single piece of paper off someone’s desk can be akin to knocking out a a supporting wall of a house -whereupon, it all falls down.

When we are working in someone elses workplace, we are trying to read what they are noticing, what they are responding to, and what they are trying to achieve.  None of this may be obvious particularly if they’ve been doing the job for a long time.

Work & organizational psychologists do not set up goals or targets for other people

Setting up goals or targets for skilled people is utterly absurd. When we do so, we imply that they have no mental models or expertise to organize and to bring into being a smoothly operating system.

Setting up targets shows incompetence on our part.

Goals & targets are set up in basic professional training

The time to set goals and targets is during professional training.  At that point people are learning what information is available and how it comes together into a working system.

Everything we do thereafter needs to recognize that organization or requires a hefty reinvestment.  We will always look first to see if we can wrap a system around skill models before we take that route.

So how do we work out how people make decisions?

  • We watch what they do.
  • We watch how they respond to different situations.
  • We notice what irritates them because that tells us their efficient operations have been disrupted.
  • When it is safe to do so, we interrupt and listen to their inner talk as they try to remember where they are in a complicated process!

And above all, we are patient.

The people we are working with may have inefficient habits.  But, it is much more likely that they have deep professional considerations for what they are doing.

Our job is to broker boundaries and space for people to do their work

Our first obligation as psychologists is to broker the space in the organization for people to follow the logic of their trade or profession.

Are we doing that?  Are we adequately setting the boundaries and making the space and time for people to be effective?

Complicated vs Complex

I am so chuffed to see my post on Complicatedness and Complexity take off – even if belatedly.

The difference between the complicated and complexity is important.  We love the complex sound of music and are quickly tired of the repetitive noise of a jackhammer.

And complicatedness wears us out in seconds.  Meetings which are run around the manager’s whim leave the rest of us to hang about like spare parts. Not knowing when our delayed flight will resume and not being able to call ahead to rearrange our transport and meetings renders us astonishingly irritable.  Internet banking cluttered with advertising and instructions below the fold don’t allow flow.

The opposite of complicated is flow and we do know how to make flow.

#1 The task must allow us to act autonomously

All the information must be in front of us. We shouldn’t have to open dozens of files, folders and notebooks to find it.  Nor should we have to ask anyone.  Eveything we need should be in front of us and obvious.

#2 The task must give us feedback

As soon as we try the task, it should be clear whether we are doing the right thing.

#3 The task must allow learning.

A toddler persists in putting a square into a round hole until they achieve the insight, quite accidentily, that the shapes and holes match.  We like to learn.  We don’t mind at all.

But we must have time to learn.  Don’t shout at us or time us our while we figure things out.

#4 We must be allowed to finish.

Once we get going, we want to get everything done.  Please don’t interrupt.  Wait!

We also know how to test flow

It’s easy!  We take the group who is likely to do the task and we let them do it.  We watch.  We learn where we have misunderstood their skills, needs and working conditions, and we redesign!

Complicated – how I hate it!

But then I’ve always been a flow junkie!

2 months to go in 2009!  Are you on target to meet your goals?

One of my goals in 2009 was to increase my blog traffic.  In January, I reviewed my blog and what I had read about good blogging and bad.

As ever when we have a big push, we often achieve what we want, and learn that quite different rules apply than ones we had previously thought. This is my story of how my blogging goals shifted as I coped with the ebb and flow of 2009.

The received wisdom in blogging amount to

  • Stay at the top of people’s feed readers
    • Have an RSS feed so people can subscribe
    • Post often
  • Be found in search
    • Choose keywords for which you want to be known
    • Include them in the title and in the body of the post
  • Great content
    • Write scanable short posts
    • Show the benefits of post to the audience
  • Comment on other people’s blogs
    • Your interest in their work is your best advert
    • Your comment provides a permanent link back to your blog which humans follow and which Google counts for page rank

These are the blogging rules I would add

  • Comments
    • Cut out the elaborate logins with Disqus etc.  People will leave comments if you let them do it quickly
    • Have an RSS for comments as well the post and have it next to the submit button
  • Take search seriously
    • Alexa rankings will tell you what percentage of your traffic is from search
    • Mine is low – less than 10%.  Obviously I could improve that.
  • Great content
    • Write for yourself.  The pros do write great magazine pieces.  Write normally and develop your own style.
    • Alexa rankings also tell you the bounce rates, the number of pages each visitor reads and the time spent on site.  I have a very low bounce rate (below 25%), high number of pages (above 5) and high time on site (more than 5 minutes).
    • Google Analytics also gives these numbers.  I use WordPress.com which doesn’t allow a link to Google Analytics
  • Get recommendations
    • Your real goal on the internet is to get people to recommend you.
    • Visiting your site is a recommendation.
    • Commenting on your site is a recommendation.
    • Commenting on other people’s sites is a recommendation (even though it is made by you!)
    • Also Stumble your post and use tags from their basic list of categories.  You will get 50-100 hits from your own recommendation.  Among those visitors some will give a thumbs up.  Your traffic and your chances of another thumbs up goes up exponentially with each thumbs up.

My Results for 2009

I started well in 2009 driving up my traffic upwards each month to 5 000 hits a month which was my modest goal.  Then I got busy on other things and my blog suffered.  In September, I got back to blogging and began to blog more than once a day to catch up.  I also started to use Stumbleupon better.

I probably won’t make 60 000 for the year, but better still, I’ve discovered the art of getting 10K a month.  Such is the result of making a big effort. We learn.

And our goals change accordingly.  Ultimately we set goals to give ourselves control.

In what areas of your life are you in more control than you were last year?

 

 

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Imagining goals doesn’t quite cut it

It’s a fact.  Our brains don’t distinguish very much between imagining something and doing it!  Mentally rehearse your perfect golf swing and your real one gets better.  Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?  Pity it doesn’t work with losing weight.

The trick is to imagine fully enough.  We have to be able to imagine something in its entirety and reasonably accurately.  We must have no objections or leave anything out!

That’s the rub.  By the time you can imagine something completely, or be totally confident that it will work, you have done it already, and probably often!

Using our brain’s confusion to our advantage but keeping it real

We want to capitalize on the inability of our brains to distinguish fact from fiction but we also want to keep it real.  We want to use our imagination to get us going, but bear in mind that we still have to do whatever it is that we do.  We still have to stumble and fall, and get ourselves up again.  (In fact, stumbling and falling and getting up again must be part of the story that we imagine – we need that skill of error recovery too!)

The ravine exercise

I’ve been using David Whyte’s story of walking alone in Nepal and coming to a ravine with a rickety bridge.  He couldn’t cross it and he couldn’t double back because he had insufficient supplies.  Panic!

We often find ourselves in similar predicaments.  We look at what we want – the other side of the ravine.  And we look at the bridge.  It’s too rickety to walk on.  The gap between where we are now and where we want to be feels too big.  We can’t help ourselves.  Our attention is drawn to the gap.   We stare at the ravine and the long drop down – and  we can think of nothing else.

The current advice is to do what you would do if you are on the edge of the ravine:  check your pockets, see what you have to help you, make sure you are safe.  Get your feet back on the ground. Then funnily, you find a way out of your predicament.  Or, at least survive until the rescue party arrives.

This metaphor works – but it is still hard to do.  The ravine draws our attention no matter how hard we try not to look at it.

The fast forward exercise

I’ve been trying out another mental trick but I haven’t tested it fully.  Would you try it too and let me know how it works?

Think of yourself as you are now, warts and all.  Now play yourself forward 10 years.  Don’t change a thing.  Just make yourself older and fatter!

You probably won’t like the image all that much. And you will be motivated to take the next step.  List the first thing to change and do it right now.

Do you do it?  Of course keep a record too.  In a few weeks, you’ll look back and be surprised at how much you have got done.

I’d also like to know how much effort it took and whether you got a lot done attending to little things.  The extra chocolate biscuit.  The internet banking that is not done.  Whatever!

The psychology of forward movement

The psychology is simple.  We keep our feet firmly on the ground rooted in now.  We imagine what we can imagine – what we understand – and roll it forward with obvious changes – slower, greyer, not as good looking.

Then do what has to be be done now.  It is so much easier!

At least, I hope it is.  Do tell me!

 

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