The importance of listening when trying to bring about change

Last week I had the pleasure of leading a couple of workshops in which I was working with colleagues to help them redesign the way their teams are organised and operate. The changes are quite significant, which is why I felt it necessary to gather them together in a room for half a day to do so.

Everyone who attended had already been briefed on the rationale behind these changes and had the opportunity to ask questions. I had structured each half-day workshop to be working sessions, where after explaining the basic principles people would get to work.

The first workshop played out pretty much as I had anticipated. We spent a little more time at the start reviewing the rationale for the changes, but that was only to be expected as the ideas were still fresh in peoples’ minds. By the end of the first workshop each person or small team had created the beginnings of an organisation design that they could continue to refine with their colleagues.

The second workshop started quite differently. There were twice as many people in this workshop and a few of them are quite vocal. Quite soon into my introduction people started asking questions about issues that are outside of their control and they believe need to be addressed for the overall objectives to be achievable. These questions were not directly relevant to the objectives of the workshop – specifically because they were outside of the areas that each of these leaders were responsible for. Nevertheless, many people in the room have often been impacted by these issues, which is why they believed they were pertinent.

So, I was in an interesting situation. It was clear to me that I was not going to be able to progress with the workshop as planned until some of the attendees had an opportunity to express their feelings and concerns.  If I wasn’t careful the entire workshop could have degenerated into a venting session, which might have helped the attendees feel better (a problem shared is a problem halved) but we wouldn’t have made any progress.

At this point I was reminded of the book Time to Think by Nancy Kline. This book was on my colleague Mandy Chessell’s recommended reading list and I devoured it when I first read it many years ago. The fundamental premise is that for people to be creative you need to give them the space and time to think. The author specifies 10 components for a Thinking Environment:

  • Attention Listening with palpable respect and without interruption
  • Equality Giving equal turns to think and speak
  • Ease Offering freedom from internal urgency
  • Incisive Questions Finding and removing untrue assumptions that distort thinking
  • Information Supplying the facts and dismantling denial
  • Diversity Ensuring divergent thinking and diverse group identities
  • Encouragement Giving courage for independent thinking by removing internal competition
  • Feelings Allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking
  • Appreciation Practicing a 5:1 ratio of appreciation to criticism
  • Place Creating a physical environment that says to people: “You matter”

I decided to employ many of these techniques to help the team in the room make progress. I made sure that I listened to their concerns – I knew that if they didn’t feel but also believe they were being listened to we would not be able to progress productively. However, I couldn’t just listen and then move on. The reality is that everyone’s concerns were totally valid. They might not apply to everyone in the room, but for each person this was their truth and it was important to them. Therefore, I focussed on giving each person my complete attention, asking questions to clarify their issues and explore what the impact is.

One of the techniques I was taught in an influencing skills course helps me to restrain my initial reaction to what someone says or does. It was recommended that I say to myself: “Hmm – that’s interesting” – as opposed to disagreeing and challenging. I was also encouraged to ask myself: “What would have to be true to cause them to say that?”. This internal dialogue, enabling me to both participate in the conversation and observing it from a 3rd person’s viewpoint are really helpful tools for dealing with confrontation.

I was also careful to contain my own desire to move forward with the objectives of the workshop. If I had displayed any signs of frustration or urgency to move on I would have lost the trust of the participants.  I had to be in the moment.

Fortunately, after a couple of hours I judged that the participants felt a lot better having shared their frustrations and concerns. I suggested that we take a break and then get started with the design work that we were gathered to do. Everyone gladly agreed and went off to get a drink. During the break one of the more experienced attendees complimented me on the way I had handled the situation with calm and professionalism. I thanked him for his appreciation and explained that it took several years and a lot of personal development for me to develop such skills and experience.

The rest of the workshop went well. Everyone engaged with the process and by the end of the day had produced designs that they could continue to refine with their colleagues. There was lots of collaboration between people in different teams – sharing ideas and experiences. The mood in the room was positive and productive. And I like to think that I helped to make that happen.

I have more of these workshops to run over the next few weeks, so I was thinking about how to help them run more smoothly. I decided that I will introduce the topic of all the issues people are frustrated with. I will explain that these are being addressed and are not the scope of this workshop. Let’s see if it helps!


Would you like some innovation coaching?

I spend much of my time at work coaching individuals and teams on how to “do” innovation. Whilst there is often a certain amount of luck and creativity, there are also effective techniques and practices that can put you in a good place to be more creative and innovative.

There are many books you can read to learn about innovation, and if you have a large budget, you can engage innovation consultancies. Many people don’t have large budgets, and find that learning from reading just isn’t enough. So I have decided to offer some affordable help so that people can get started and make progress with their innovations.

I learned about the platform a while ago and decided that it would be a good place to offer my services. They have a structured approach and a certification that ensures the coaches are knowledgeable and experienced. The website and mobile apps provide a platform for regular communication with your coach(es).

I’m starting by offering coaching in a few related areas:

Innovation leadership – creating an effective innovation programme tailored to your needs and that of you and your organisation.

Introduction to Design Thinking – developing your Design Thinking skills and planning how to best deploy them within your organisation.

Facilitate effective workshops – providing you with the structure and information you need to plan and run effective workshops of any type.

The platform provides the opportunity for free trials – a no risk opportunity to see if this type of coaching is right for you.

So if you’re interested in exploring if innovation coaching would be helpful, please visit

[Edit: I have deactivated my profile for the moment, so if you are interested in coaching then please get in touch via twitter]



Sleep training for the children of exhausted parents

My wife and I have two kids – a girl who is almost 5 and a boy who is 2. Everyone who has kids is more tired than before kids as there’s so much more to do – but for those parents whose kids don’t sleep through the night, the tiredness can become almost incapacitating.

Our daughter wasn’t a great sleeper but with a little support we managed to help her to learn how to sleep through the night relatively consistently. She still sometimes wakes up and wants to be tucked back in to bed, or needs to relieve herself – but then she’s only human.

Our son, on the other hand, has been a relatively bad sleeper since birth. He would regularly wake several times in the night and it would take ages to settle him back to sleep. Sometimes he was clearly uncomfortable – probably something to do with his digestive system. Other times it was because he was upset.

So after over two years of almost never sleeping through the night, we brought in a professional. This lady is an incredibly experienced nanny and childcare professional. We had consulted with her a few times previously but this time decided on a 3-day package of intensive sleep training. The benefit of this level of focussed attention is that every aspect of our day was under the microscope as there are so many factors that affect sleep.

I won’t take up valuable reading time describing her techniques here – I’ll focus on the changes that we made – there are many. Some readers will wonder why we weren’t already doing these things; others might think we’re being over the top. I suggest that you find what works for you – and remember that whilst these techniques have worked for us, your mileage may vary.

So, in no particular order – well just the order that I recall them:

The Changes

Family Breakfast

Before: Breakfast in our house was sometimes a high-pressure experience. Trying to get two children out of bed, dressed, fed, teeth brushed, bags packed, and the same for the two adults was never easy. There was no real structure – each person ate breakfast when they were willing and available to. There was always debates and negotiation over what to eat. By the time we all left the house we were already a little frazzled!

After: Every Sunday we prepare a menu for the week for all our meals that we eat at home – breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Clearly this doesn’t include meals at school & nursery and if we are out at friends, family or restaurants. The menu is stuck on a cupboard door in the kitchen for all of us to read and refer to. Breakfast each day follows the same pattern: one cereal, toast and butter or one other spread (cream cheese, peanut butter or honey), and one fruit. It’s different every day but the structure is the same. All four of us are dressed and sitting at the breakfast table at 7.15 having a calm, congenial breakfast. We prepare the breakfast table the night before and have even moved the toaster to the island in our kitchen that is next to the table so there is as little getting up from the table as possible. It sometimes feels like a surreal experience having such a relaxed breakfast. What really amazed us is that the kids didn’t object at all to the lack of choice. They can decide if the want the cereal or not; same for the toast and fruit. They can’t choose anything that’s not on the menu. We really thought there would be huge resistance, but I can confidently report that after a month of pre-planned breakfasts there have been no objections.

Vitamins in the morning instead of the evening

Before: We used to give our kids their vitamins at bath-time. But then it was pointed out to us that delivering a high dose of Vitamin C just before bedtime might be providing an unwanted energy boost at just the wrong  time.

After: Vitamins are now served during breakfast time

No fruit after dinner

Before: We try to encourage our kids to eat healthy food – sugar and salt are rarely in the food that we prepare or buy for the kids. Therefore deserts have usually been fruit and/or yoghurts.

After: We learned that having fruit before bed might be generating some of the digestive discomfort. Therefore the kids have fruit throughout the day until dinner time. Desert, if required, can be a yoghurt, but certainly no fruit.

Black-out the windows upstairs at bed time

Before: We live in a converted bungalow so every room has a sloped roof with velux windows. We also have a skylight above the landing, just outside the kids’ bathroom. So bedtime, particularly in the summer, was a very bright affair.

After: We have blackout blinds on all the windows (added one to the bathroom window) and we also use blackout material to cover the skylight. At bedtime it doesn’t matter how light it is outside, it’s now dark upstairs.

Calming music at bed time

Before: Whilst we would try to be calm and quiet during bath and bed timem energy levels would sometimes become elevated, which wasn’t conducive to settling two active children into bed.

After: We have a Bluetooth speaker outside the bathroom that we connect to a tablet or phone, from which we play calming music. It starts quite loud, when the kids are still downstairs, to provide an audible cue that it’s time to calm down. The music continues during bath time and all of the bed time preparations. It might be just a minor change but it certainly sets the tone for bed time.

No more carrying

This is a biggie!

Before: There is nothing our son likes more than a cuddle. This meant that it became quite normal for us to carry him around when he was perfectly capable of walking. Of course, we didn’t carry him all the time, but it was usual for us to carry him downstairs in the morning, and quite often whenever he asked at any other time too.

After: Now he has to walk everywhere! Cuddles are still absolutely fine – we’re not monsters! But going from room to room is achieved using his two perfectly good legs. We hold hands quite often – particularly up and down stairs – but no more carrying! Initially this was quite tough as he would sometimes have a melt-down when we declined his request to be carried up or down stairs. If he did have a tantrum then we would calmly explain to him that this is “not acceptable behaviour” and that he should come and find us when he’s finished shouting or crying. What’s amazing and slightly amusing is that when he has finished his tantrum he’ll come over and tell us “I’m finished” ! We then ask him to say sorry for shouting, which he does. After a quick cuddle it’s on with whatever we’re supposed to be doing.

Rapid settling in the middle of the night

Before: Whenever our son woke in the night it would take ages to settle him. In essence this was a reward for waking up – cuddles with mummy or daddy. There was a time that we’d sometimes give him milk too – but we managed to wean ourselves of that habit a while ago thankfully!

After: If he wakes in the night (typically between midnight and 2am) we’ll go into his room, pick him up, give him some water if he’s thirsty (it’s been really hot here in England over the past few weeks) and then put him back to bed. Just before we put him back to bed I’ll say “Mummy is sleeping. <Sister> is sleeping. It’s bedtime. Goodnight”. My wife will say the same words, replacing Mummy with Daddy. We’re told that it’s important that we use the same words for consistency. Like many of these changes, what’s amazing to us is that it works!

Leaving to cry if he wakes before 6.45 am

Before: I would wake up in the morning whenever our son woke up. I’ll put my son’s literacy and numeracy down to the many episodes of Countdown that we’ve watched at 6am on a weekday!

After: If our son wakes before 6.45, and it can be as early as 5am, then we leave him to make whatever noise he wants. Most of the time he eventually settles himself. It can take quite a while, which is frustrating as I find I can’t then get back to sleep myself. But in the long-term this is really helpful as his ability to self-settle will improve.


When we look back on all of these changes, as well as the ones I’ve surely forgotten and therefore omitted from this blog post, it’s impossible to identify if there were specific changes that have made the biggest difference. Our son still wakes in the night but his sleep is considerably better than a month ago. He sleeps through the night several times a week, and if he does wake up then settling is quick and relaxed.

If you’re struggling with getting your toddler to sleep then you might find that some or all of these techniques work for you. But then again they might not. If so, get in touch and I’ll let you have the details of the professional who helped us. I’m sure that she can help you too.

Runners: slow down every so often

Recently I have been focusing my running on High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) thanks to one of Tim Ferriss‘ podcasts where he interviews Martin Gibala. I learned from the podcast and subsequent reading that my Interval sessions weren’t hard enough. To be more precise, my hill intervals were fine but many of my other sessions needed to be more intense.

Most of my runs for the past few weeks have either been 3 x 5 min with 2 min recoveries or 10 x 1 min with 1 min recoveries. It’s hard work but I think it’s paying dividends. It’s also an efficient use of the limited time I have for running. Most of the runs were on pavement so that I could focus on speed and effort. I much prefer running off road as it gets me away from cars and the views are nicer too.

I hadn’t just gone out for a run for a few weeks – a run with no goal apart from running itself. So the day after one of my HIIT runs I decided to go for a run through some local woods. 20 minutes into the run I reached a clearing where the sun was shining down on the green grass. I heard the birds chirping and singing and enjoyed the scenery.

I had missed it! I had been so focused on the HIIT training that I had forgotten one of the reasons I love to run: the joy of being outdoors, allowing my mind and body to wander wherever they wanted to go. I find that the mental benefits I get from running at least equal the physical ones.

So, if you find yourself focusing on training to the exclusion of anything else then try slowing down once in a while. Your immediate goal might be a 5k PB or completing a marathon but that shouldn’t detract entirely from the other reasons you run.

Avoiding the 10,000 step fallacy

In March 2016 I was given a Garmin Forerunner 225 watch. It’s a running watch that tracks where you are running and your pace using GPS. It also has a wrist-based heart-rate monitor. I wanted this watch because I find the chest-strap heart-rate sensors uncomfortable. My Garmin Forerunner 405 and Polar running watch both used chest straps. After over ten years of using this style I was pleased to see that Garmin had adopted optical technology, which I presume is similar to that used on the Apple Watch.

But this blog post isn’t about heart-rate monitors….

To facilitate distance tracking when running on a treadmill, the Garmin 225 also has a sensor that counts steps. I’ve used this feature a few times when running in hotel gyms and it appears to be quite accurate. So it’s not a big leap for Garmin to add a step counting feature to the watch to help people achieve the Utopian 10,000 steps per day.

I had previously flirted with a Soleus Go activity tracker, which I received as a gift. But after a few weeks I gave it up. I can’t remember exactly why but I do remember that Soleus didn’t have an equivalent web application to Garmin Connect, which I have been using since 2009. I does a good job of helping you visualise and understand your exercise patterns, what’s working, where to improve, etc.

As the Garmin 225 had a step counter I thought I’d turn it on, mostly out of curiosity. I don’t need a device to tell me how active I’ve been during the day. On a weekday I find I typically have three levels of activity: If I have a meeting in London then I’ll achieve 10k steps just by walking to & from the tube stations. If I’m working from home I will usually manage to get out for a short run at lunch time, which gets me most of the way to 10k steps. And If I’m driving to a meeting then I’ll probably only walk a few thousand steps – and most of them are getting the kids ready in the morning and bath & bed-time in the evening.

Many people are obsessed about counting their steps. My colleague Lisa Seacat DeLuca’s desire not to miss counting a single step led to us filing a patent that would address her angst! However a significant proportion of these people are not counting quality steps. Just ambling around the shops or between the kitchen and lounge does not count – particularly if it’s go get another cake or packet of crisps. You don’t need me to tell you that a healthy lifestyle has a combination of exercise, sleep, good nutrition and avoiding stress. But so many people appear to be deluding themselves that by achieving 10k steps per day they are being healthy. Of course it’s better to walk 10k steps than not, but if the steps are not raising your heart rate, getting you out in the fresh air and generally exercising your body I believe that the benefit is marginal.

There are a wide range of exercise philosophies, and it certainly depends on how fit you currently are. Most sports scientists and doctors would agree that for exercise to be effective you need to raise your heart rate. It doesn’t have to be High Intensity Training (see Dr Martin Gibala). Raising your heart rate above its normal resting level is a good start. And walking fast enough to get out of breath every so often is even better.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself missing my step counter! I had been having issues with the Bluetooth connection on the Garmin 225. It has a great feature where it will communicate with an app on your phone to upload details of your runs, sleep and steps to Garmin Connect. It saves having to connect the watch to your computer. I had returned the watch to Garmin as we weren’t able to fix the problem by performing all the usual resets. I received an email yesterday informing me that a replacement had been dispatched, which I should receive in a few days. I was looking forward to receiving it as I do make use of the heart-rate monitor. I had been using my Garmin 405 in the interim but couldn’t be bothered with the chest strap. So I had a fair idea of how intense my running intervals had been. The data just makes it a little more scientific – gives me the confidence to know I can push that bit harder.

I was walking to the station this morning, safe in the knowledge that I’d cover 10k steps despite not having time for a run. Ten minutes into the walk I started wondering how many steps I had walked so far. “What the ****?” I thought. How did this happen? How did I become a slave to the activity tracker? It’s probably just because the feature was there. It sucked me in – or, more accurately, I had subconsciously convinced myself that the step count was useful information, which I intellectually believed it wasn’t. Some people like to accumulate data, often just for the sake of it. They are data hoarders. This can be great if you’re a curious person as you might discover some interesting insights by looking for correlations between data sets. However I feel that much of the data that is collected is stored “just in case” or “because we can”.

When I graduated from university, my Dad bought me a lovely TAG watch. I really like the design – it has a metal strap and a granite watch face. I love watches and someday would appreciate a Rolex or Breitling – but even in those brands there are ony a few models that I favour above my TAG. Since receiving the Garmin 225, it had become my day-to-day watch. Meanwhile, the battery on the TAG has run out and I haven’t got around to replacing it.

Given that I’m not planning on making any lifestyle changes based on the number of steps I walk in a day. And I already know whether I have been active or not during any one day, I plan to keep the Garmin 225 in a drawer apart from when I’m going for a run. I’ll replace the battery on the Tag and resume getting pleasure from wearing it again.

Shorter outsourcing contracts demand Agile transformation

At the noa symposium Kerry Hallard shared her view that outsourcing contracts are reducing in duration to perhaps three years. This presents a challenge to delivering cost effective transformation.

When an organisation decides to outsource for the first time or switch to a new partner they do so because they expect (and contact for) a benefit. The outsourcing provider has their systems, tools and processes that they deploy to deliver cost savings and efficiencies. But this deployment is often costly and time consuming. It’s not unheard of for the first year of a large outsourcing contract to be spent on transformation, with the upfront costs spread over the ten year duration.

So if contracts are only going to last for three years how can the cost of an extensive transformation be economically recouped?

I suggest that it can’t, so we need another way:

One option is not to transform – just take on the service and run it as-is. But if you don’t do any transformation then how will the benefits be delivered?

Perhaps, instead of applying the transformation to the complete service, a Design Thinking approach can help focus the minds of the customer and supplier on the areas that really matter.

– Start by understanding why the customer wants to outsource. What benefits are they hoping to gain?

– Identify and prioritise the components of the outsourced service are core to delivering the required benefits (be that accounts payable, recruitment, IT infrastructure, facilities management, etc.)

– Run Agile sprints to transform these components into the new way of working.

– Measure the benefits delivered at the end of each sprint, and compare to the cost of delivering it.

– Don’t transform the non-core components if there isn’t going to be a measurable benefit in doing so

This approach does make me concerned about what is called technical debt in the IT world. Eventually everything will break if it isn’t improved. The non-core components could be addressed as part of a continuous improvement programme that runs throughout the contract.

These are just some initial thoughts. What do you think?

Success invoice for week beginning 17th August

So here’s my second attempt at a weekly success invoice. It’s interesting to see how much discipline is required to actually fill this out! I’ll update the content as I progress and hopefully have several successes by the end of the week.

What difference do I want to make? Support colleagues in running a client innovation day for a telco client

Continue to help progress the Extreme Blue project

Make progress on an internal reporting project

Write up another innovation success story !

Present to the Extreme Blue Interns about IBM Global Technology Services – to help them understand more about working in IBM

Support client teams by running quarterly innovation reviews

Help a client team plan an innovation day for a retail client

Successes this week Completed an innovation success story describing a cloud and security initiative

Agreed the way forward for an internal reporting project and already have an updated template for the innovation plans I ask each account team to complete every quarter.

Value I’m adding Created and distributed the joining instructions for an Innovation Leaders Masterclass in September

Reviewed the structure for a white paper produced by the Extreme Blue team

Presented to the Extreme Blue interns about IBM, my career and Global Technology Services. (You can read the Extreme Blue blog here).

Ran some innovation reviews with client account teams. Suggested some people who could help progress some of the innovation initiatives.

Helped a client account team with their planning for an innovation workshop

Hosted the researchers I am working with from Loughborough University – shared my insights into IBM’s adoption of Design Thinking and Agile in the context of innovation.

Key contribution this week Helping the Extreme Blue team keep focussed on delivering the core functionality that our client has asked for. I reviewed their work several times this week – and it improved significantly each time!
Who is benefiting from what I’m doing? The Extreme Blue teams

Loughborough University Researchers

Client account teams I am supporting

A new approach to the success invoice

Who would have thought I’d find it so hard to make time to complete a success invoice every day? I guess a combination of work and family pressures meant that I missed a few days last week. So I’ve decided to do a weekly success invoice instead. At the start of the week I’ll post my plans, and at the end of the week review how well I did.

What difference do I want to make? Support a Smarter Buildings meeting with a client – help to align client requirements with IBM and partner capabilities.

Produce a client innovation success story

Progress updates to our Innovation Masterclass course

Continue to mentor the Extreme Blue team I am working with – in particular help them to keep focussed on the specific data requirements our client specified last week.

Start to plan an internal idea online generation event focussed on bringing Agile practices to part of the business.

Successes this week Completed a Taste of Agile course, which has inspired me to encourage the teams I work with to approach innovation in a more agile way.

Completed a client innovation success story ready for internal publication

Learned about Watson for Technical Support services – will look at how we can help clients benefit from this innovation

Value I’m adding Provided a collection of innovation examples and resources to a colleague who is working on a proposal for a new client.

Helped the Extreme Blue team gain clarity on some of their work and effected introductions to some people who can help them make further progress.

Key contribution this week Ran a successful smarter buildings client workshop and gained agreement to define a Proof of Concept to be run in one of my client’s offices.
Who is benefiting from what I’m doing? A student who is spending his summer with IBM shadowed me at the Smarter Buildings meeting – I think he learned a lot from this client meeting.

Helped a colleague with her plans for a major client project

Success Invoice – 4th August – plate spinning can become a full-time job!

What difference do I want to make? Help to make progress on an internal data analysis project

Write-up a success story for an innovative cloud & security project some colleagues delivered for a client.

Successes today Completed the success story – almost ready for publication; just needs a final review

Agreed the scope & content for a Technology Innovation Exchange presentation.

Value I’m adding Provided feedback about the members of a team I’m working with to their manager to help with their development & progress evaluation
Key contribution today Agreed a plan for the internal data analysis project – and successfully logged-in to the server where the software will be installed (small victories!)
Who is benefiting from what I’m doing? No immediate benefit today – however I expect that many colleagues will eventually benefit from the insights we gain with the data analysis project. Similarly, I hope that the success story will benefit many colleagues as & when they need to design similar solutions.

Success Invoice – 3rd August 2015 – a morning of progress and an afternoon of agility

What difference do I want to make? Support the extreme blue team so that they have a successful client presentation.

Share insights into Agile adoption

Successes today Gained client agreement to take a proposal to the relevant business leader for their support.

Agreed with a client that the Extreme Blue team can borrow some technology for their project – this will help make the demos more real

Value I’m adding Shared some ideas and insights on Agile with a team who have a mission to help their client’s CIO to enable his team to become more Agile
Key contribution today Supported the Extreme Blue team in their client show & tell session
Who is benefiting from what I’m doing? The Extreme Blue team

The client account team I was discussing Agile with