What is it you DO?


It’s the question asked at every chance meeting, networking event and social occasion. ‘What do you do?’ On first meeting I have never heard someone ask ‘What is it you say you do?’ ‘What is it you promise to do?’ or ‘What is it you are going to convince me you will do?’

So why do we spend so much time formulating the replies to these questions when preparing our marketing? Do the demands of the internet and social media confine us to the medium of words so resolutely that key word analysis and search engine optimisation models are bleeding into our everyday conversation? Is the art of conversation so lost that all we are left with are collections of elevator pitch statements and buzzwords stacked like an ammunition stock pile?

My impression is that ‘soft skills’ were so termed to help us see the art of conversation as a ‘softly, softly catchy monkey’ approach to business. The art of softening up your target customer with words. That is my impression, it is not my experience. My experience is that people who do business in this way are ‘doing business at people’ rather than ‘being enterprising with them.’ What you say you do will never matter as much as what you then actually do, and how you do it. The promises you make will never be as influential to your customers as how you live up to those promises. Your guarantee is never as relevant as what you do to honour your clients investment. It’s about building trust.

For me it helps to think of ‘Hard skills’ as the technical skills required to do a job. Soft skills are the skills you need to arrive at a decision about what job to do, and how you communicate what you have done. If you find yourself talking with the aim of manipulating someone into a deal stacked in your favour, or talking your way out of a sticky situation you acted your way into – chances are you are not using soft skills. You are simply blagging.

So when someone asks you ‘What is it you do?’ try dropping the ammunition and think about what that statement has replaced over the years. Try to hear ‘How do you do?’ and talk about that too. Try using real stories that communicate the style in which you go about your business. Style is the greatest point of difference we have. Ask questions and listen out for how your new contact does business too. It will give you a much stronger impression of the value of the network they bring with them, and the health and wealth they help to create.

Soft skills are about using interpersonal skills to build partnerships with trust, integrity and commitment to shared vision. They are about the recognition that together we are greater than the sum of our individual parts, and finding ways to leverage that synergy creates greater wealth for us all.

Regardless, it doesn’t really matter what they are called, it’s what you do with them that counts.

 

Andrew Tilling

How to turn a situation around #5

I was asked this week for my top five tips for turning a situation around when staff are demotivated. My immediate reaction was the realisation of how widespread this problem is right now as the fall out from government cuts comes into effect. This week I’ll be focusing on a different top tip each day. Each tip utilises soft skills to generate hard, measurable outcomes. And since soft skills often cost nothing more than a little time, the returns can be pleasantly surprising.

The fault is always in the system

When you are ready to make some changes about the way things are done, when you are ready to work towards that vital short term solution and everyone is feeling inspired once again about that long term vision, it’s time to start building some momentum toward your goals. And for that you need people on board.

If I ask you for a chocolate, you give me one and then I stamp on your foot because it wasn’t the one I wanted, you would be hesitant to give me another the next time I asked. Similarly, blame kills creativity.
Blame kills creativity. If everybody thinks you are going to jump on them if their idea goes wrong, nobody is going to voice their solutions! Positively reward, encourage and celebrate new ideas and actions that are intended to move you toward your long and short term goals. To take great leaps requires great inspiration. It takes an exceptional person with a strong view of the bigger picture to find inspiration in an unsupportive environment. When that support is strong, when ideas are encouraged and responsibility for their success shared by everyone in a team, ideas can flow freely. It requires a shift in languange and in instinct. Instead of ‘Who’s fault is it?’ try ‘What could we do better?’ Instead of ‘You should have done it my way’ try ‘Let’s see if we can communicate more effectively.’ A fault is a fault in the system, not a person. Focus on shared responsibility for that system, communicate the relevance of each tiny connection between each role, help people to see how what they do is vital for that long term goal.
People are given the space to flourish this way and, with little more than a promise of a party when you are done, you can gain real momentum into a bright new future.

 

Andrew Tilling

How to turn a situation around #4

I was asked this week for my top five tips for turning a situation around when staff are demotivated. My immediate reaction was the realisation of how widespread this problem is right now as the fall out from government cuts comes into effect. This week I’ll be focusing on a different top tip each day. Each tip utilises soft skills to generate hard, measurable outcomes. And since soft skills often cost nothing more than a little time, the returns can be pleasantly surprising.

4 – The Relevance of Long Term Vision

Orchestra

Another phrase in my firing line is ‘manifesting’. I may be positioning myself in an unpopular position with pop psychologists and the like, but the notion that any one can create a future reality just by dreaming about it is, regrettably, poppycock.

Any many can. But any one can’t.

Or rather, it takes a shared enthusiasm for a shared vision to create any real difference in the world.  Its more many-fest, than manifest. Or many people partying for change. Take the ‘i’ out of manifestation and remember the ‘why’. We need less ‘I want’ and more ‘hey, lets!’

I’m all up for co-creation.  Ask your team what is important to them personally about your long term goals.  Approach this sincerely and you’ll be surprised at the depth of the answers. Remind your team why you are all there in subtle ways. Email links to relevant articles, champion significant contributions and efforts, keep people up-to-date with the latest significant news. The clearer and simpler you can communicate your shared vision, the easier it will be to keep it fresh in people’s minds. And remember, if your vision is not a constant source of inspiration to the vast majority of your team, it will be worth finding a way to make it relevant again, or changing the whole darn thing for something more worthwhile.

 

Andrew Tilling

 

How to turn a situation around #3

I was asked this week for my top five tips for turning a situation around when staff are demotivated. My immediate reaction was the realisation of how widespread this problem is right now as the fall out from government cuts comes into effect. This week I’ll be focusing on a different top tip each day. Each tip utilises soft skills to generate hard, measurable outcomes. And since soft skills often cost nothing more than a little time, the returns can be pleasantly surprising.

3- An excuse to party

When your long term vision seems disjointed from what’s actually going on, maintaining motivation in your team is even more challenging. How can I get inspired when all I have in front of me are problems I don’t actually want to be responsible for?

Creating a short term vision – a solution to all your problems

Spinning Plates

Having something medium term to aim for can help focus your team and avoid time lost through fire-fighting. Fire fighting is that awful feeling that you are never ahead of the difficulties that come your way. It’s doing everything you can to maintain business as usual, tackling the problems as they arise and praying next week will be a little easier than this one. I need to shoot this phrase down because it doesn’t actually describe what is happening. Firefighting suggests that if you focus on one of the fires, there will be less damage. The reality is more like plate spinning. When you have many plates spinning at one time, if you focus on one plate alone, the others fall resulting in more damage. Likewise, when you focus on trying to solve one aspect of a problem when there are many problems still to solve, your efforts result in catastrophe. We are left having to run around from problem to problem implementing a temporary fix.

If you have ever been in this state, you know how impossible it feels to implement any significant changes. The solution is to take all the plates off the spinners, sit down and have a jolly nice team supper. Or rather, table all the problems collectively and use them as the starting point for discussions with your team. Together, try to understand the whole picture, not just one problem at a time. The real problem is the demand of time spread across numerous issues. Split focus. When you aim for multiple targets you are unlikely to achieve any of them.

Innovation lies in one big plate everybody helps turn that in turn turns other plates too. Your short term vision needs to be something everyone can focus on that, if reached, will bring those pressing immediate concerns back into line. Make sure you all party when you reach it too!

 

Andrew Tilling

How to turn a situation around #2

I was asked this week for my top five tips for turning a situation around when staff are demotivated. My immediate reaction was the realisation of how widespread this problem is right now as the fall out from government cuts comes into effect. This week I’ll be focusing on a different top tip each day. Each tip utilises soft skills to generate hard, measurable outcomes. And since soft skills often cost nothing more than a little time, the returns can be pleasantly surprising.

2- Listening out for change

When genuine concerns are ignored and it’s simply business as usual, we risk the health of our working relationships. Relationships are two way, and communication needs both the message being communicated and the acknowledgement of receipt in order to be effective and stress free. When someone feels they are not being listened to, don’t expect them to pay much attention to your requests for them to go the extra mile.

When people feel heard, their position immediately changes

It’s not possible to please everyone all the time, but we can try. I hear people argue that compromise can jeopardise progress. Equally, trying to convince others of a certain way of doing things can seem a thankless and pointless task. There is a middle way. Consideration of particular requests and preferences can go a long way to winning hearts and minds. It may not be possible to give everyone free lunch, but if stocking fresh cupcakes on a Friday makes a few people happier and you don’t make a loss, then where’s the problem?

Equally, if a policy or procedure makes people’s lives difficult, ask and listen for suggestions on how to achieve the same result in a simpler way. People are often scared to raise ideas when they may get blamed if the idea fails.  Opening the discussion, hearing complaints with patience and then asking for suggestions for proactive solutions instantly makes work an easier and more engaging place to be – not just because of the potential that lies in the new ideas, but because of the visible reduction in stress that arises from people finally feeling heard.

 

Andrew Tilling

Hey! You can bring calm to my day by using the links below and letting me know you have heard me through connecting with Twitter, LinkedIn or writing a comment. Even an RT “Reduces Tension”. ;)

How to turn a situation around #1

I was asked this week for my top five tips for turning a situation around when staff are demotivated. My immediate reaction was the realisation of how widespread this problem is right now as the fall out from government cuts comes into effect. This week I’ll be focusing on a different top tip each day. Each tip utilises soft skills to generate hard, measurable outcomes. And since soft skills often cost nothing more than a little time, the returns can be pleasantly surprising.

1. The effectiveness of any action is dependent on your understanding of the situation.

The first rule of turning performance around is that there are no rules. Every situation is different because every person is different. When what we are doing is not working when we think it should, we need to change what we think before we change what we do, or soon enough we will turn back to old, and potentially costly, habits and procedures.

Policy often classifies people according to roles.  When we clump people together under a category like ‘staff’ or ‘management’ we immediately negate everything we don’t yet know about every individual within that category. Sometimes thats useful, especially when we are reaching analysis paralysis, but it also limits our ability to find creative solutions.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is ‘Do we know enough to empathise with those concerned?’ When we take time to relearn a person or a situation we open ourselves up to new discoveries and new insight. Remember Einstein’s observation that a problem cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created it. When we are involved in a situation we a seeking to understand, the most effective way to change our level of thinking is to stretch it. Go deeper and more detached simultaneously. This is easier than it sounds. All it takes is to make the decision to strive to understand the point of view of each person involved or influenced by the current situation – including yourself. The moment you view yourself from a distance, as another concerned party in the mix, you give yourself a detached perspective of the whole situation too.

So that’s the first thing you need to do; reacquaint yourself with the situation from the point of view of each of the key stakeholders. You’ll see that your understanding is just one point of view, and the more points of view you factor in, the clearer you’ll understand what is actually going on.

 

Andrew Tilling

When a project doesn't work what do you consider?

When my partners and I set up Preseli back in 2009 I was looking for a name that reflected people coming together to create something that would stand the test of time.  Stonehenge was on the news at the time and archeologists had traced the origin of the blue stones that predated the large sarsen stones. They came from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire. It’s quite some distance from Preseli to Salisbury plain. It seemed a fitting analogy for business. That sort of feat is simply not possible when working alone. No worthwhile project is possible without forming partnerships.  Partnerships are the cornerstone (if you pardon the pun) of business and form the basis of our definition of self too. We all have at least two names. One to identify us, another to identify our immediate family, perhaps our most influential and significant group of partnerships.

It is given then, that the success of our projects hinges on how effectively we work together and understand each other. Unfortunately it is often treated that way – as a given. We assume, since we learned to work with one group of people, that we won’t have any problem working with the next group. Problems arise and we search for quick solutions to keep our projects on track. Then relationships break down because ‘the project didn’t work.’ We often don’t realise that it may have more to do with how we worked with our partners, how well we understood the other stakeholders (the people involved or influenced by our actions) and how much we took the time to understand the implications of each choice along the way.

We can learn to be better communicators, team players and leaders. These skills help in our home, work and social lives. We call these skills soft skills. People worry sometimes that these ‘soft skills’ are too ‘fluffy’, that nothing hard ever comes from them. At Preseli we beg to differ. Outcomes are only possible with soft skills. And outcomes are measurable when you know what to look for, and since soft skills are applicable across so many different scenarios, they stand the test of time.

So that’s why we chose Preseli as a name. Soft skills development, outcomes hard as stone.

 

Andrew Tilling