28 Feb 2015

Warning – You are Entering The Danger Zone

You can’t test courage cautiously’.
This is a quote by author Annie Dillard that I repeat to myself on the occasions where my heart starts to race and my nerves kick in. Every time I face a hurdle or question my ability I remind myself that being outside my comfort zone is what takes me forward.
Sometimes facing the fear is followed by a massive high. Think para-sailing or flooring the accelerator on a speed boat. Feels good doesn't it? A natural high that gives stress a kick in the ass. Then there’s facing a fear because you feel you have no option.
And there are ALWAYS options.
An option can be to say no. An option can be to ask for help. Obvious isn't it? So why don’t we speak up more often? Why are we afraid to admit our weaknesses?
A friend has a crippling fear of public speaking but is expected to present to the Board of Directors and a select VIP audience twice a year. He read a few books on overcoming the fear and watched some videos on YouTube - neither proved fruitful so he struggled on in silence. Finally he confided in a colleague and in talking it through revealed that his biggest worry was his mind going blank mid presentation. He feared looking incompetent in front of his bosses, he feared being seen as a failure. The colleague suggested that instead of presenting solo they stood up together and shared the presentation. If he got stuck, his colleague could prompt him. Working together they turned what was a very stressful situation into a golden opportunity to shine, an opportunity to showcase the progress they were making and their ability to work as a team.
I have a fear of driving in winter weather, particularly on country roads in the dark. This stems from an experience about 7 years ago when I skidded on black ice, hit a stone dyke wall, spun the car and ended up in a farmers’ field in the pitch black night and deep snow. It was like a slow motion horror movie as the headlights lit up the wall, the tree branches hitting off the windscreen and then the sheer terror as I braced myself for the inevitable impact. There was a dreadful silence when I opened my eyes and realised I was in the middle of nowhere, alone and that no-one knew where I was. My phone had no signal. The temperature was below freezing. I sat there in shock for what felt like years until miraculously two passersby saw the tail lights in the field and rescued me. I climbed out of the car with barely a scratch. No broken bones, no blood, just very shaken and bit battered.
Every time I have to drive in bad weather I have to ask myself ‘Is it worth it?’ I weigh up the work that lands on my desk and choose the jobs I can get to without entering the 'Danger Zone'. In winter I'll travel to places I can access by train or in daylight hours by motorway, not country roads. It’s taken me a few years to pipe up and admit to clients that I'm scared to drive in bad weather. Is it a big deal to the client? No. Do I feel like an idiot? Yes, but that’s okay. I do worry that people will think I’m pathetic, or weak or demanding but I’d rather admit my vulnerability than drive in the Danger Zone.
I look around me and notice that I’m continually speaking to people who are undertaking tasks or jobs that challenge them in a negative way. They face major obstacles yet struggle on in silence. The journey is long and arduous, they don’t have the experience, training or tools to navigate the path but for whatever reason are ploughing through, trying hard and feeling overwhelmed. They've forgotten to look for options and are waiting for something bad to happen.
At some point we all need to pull over. Sit in the layby and take a deep breath, stop worrying. Get the map out and find the best way to get from A to B. Is there an alternative route? Who can you confide in to help you find a solution?

We all face the fear at some point in our lives. It could be sitting in the doctors’ surgery, crashing into a field or putting yourself in challenging situations at work. Find the courage to speak up, find the courage to ask for help, find the courage to admit your vulnerability. If you are honest and confide in the right person I’m pretty sure you won’t be facing the fear alone for much longer. You might even solve the problem and feel a whole lot better.
If you need a little inspiration to help you face the fear check out this TED talk by Brene Brown.
Comments welcome.

13 Feb 2015

The Football Phone In

Driving home from work I listen to the football phone in on the radio. I can’t pretend to be a football fan and I definitely couldn't explain the offside rule to you so perhaps it’s a little odd that I enjoy the show so much. What I like the most is the passion in the voices of the pundits and callers as they mull over the same issues week in week out.  I love listening to the male voices talking with such belief or disdain at what happened on the pitch and the colourful analagies used to get their point across. I like that there’s no swearing and that people have to ‘agree to disagree’ and toe the line to stay on air. The pundits are on the ball (excuse the pun) giving everyone a say and adapting their tone to keep the show on track, lightening the mood with humour and cheeky banter when it all gets a bit heavy.

Listening to the voices the show seems inclusive with the young and old, happy and angry, enthusiastic and deflated phoning in to share an opinion. I love the fact that everyone is an expert coach or manager, talking openly and in all seriousness about who would and wouldn't get a place in their team. There’s talk of every aspect of the game, from finances to fitness levels and at all times performance is at the forefront of the discussion. Players are held up or knocked down in the blink of an eye and each week a caller claims their four year old grandchild could score more goals than a first division player. Fact. The banter is priceless.

My experience of the football phone in may be very different to yours because the opinions don’t provoke a reaction from me. I’m a mere listener tuning in whilst I sit in traffic. I don’t know anything about football but I do understand the value of communication and the role it plays in achieving success.

I've work with businesses large and small and I pay attention to how people interact. The management on the top floor, the hierarchy and the rumour mills. Some people are fiercely loyal and give 100% commitment, others show up on time but coast along as they feel overlooked, destined for the subs bench if their talent isn't nurtured soon.

I think large organisations and businesses going through periods of change could learn a lot from the way football pundits interact with callers. Does your business provide an opportunity for staff to have a voice and share their view?  Does your company provide information in advance of change or after it’s happened? Is the rumour mill impacting on morale? Are you talking to all teams or just senior management? Are you acknowledging loyalty and commitment? Most importantly… if criticism is constructive are you open to changing tactics and trying a different approach?

A client I worked closely with involved the entire workforce in early stage product development. The client was developing a new food product and over a one week period invited every department to the kitchen to taste the product. The entire staff from delivery drivers to the CEO were invited to give opinions on flavour, packaging, design and product name. The feedback contributed to making the final version which is on the supermarket shelves today. This approach ensured that the entire team was aware of the new product, given accurate information and could pass that personal experience on to the customer. Was the team motivated? Yes. Did they feel valued? Yes. Did they work harder to ensure the product launch met the deadline? Yes.

A larger client with thousands of staff emailed a weekly newsletter which no-one ever read. It was too long and frankly pretty dull. The revised monthly version consisted of bullet points with key messages, photos or a video and concluded with positive customer comments taken from social networks praising individuals and teams for customer service. The response went from offside to back of the net.

Of course not all of the messages management deliver are positive. Change can be met with a red card but if your business puts communication at the heart of its culture you are more likely to create a loyal staff and a strong support team who will invest energy into overcoming challenges and climbing to the top of the league.

Need a fresh pair of eyes to look at your communications and marketing strategy? Get in touch.