My Offer Of Being Helpful A Little Everyday (almost)

What makes the world go around?  I think part of the secret sauce of what makes the world worth enduring is neither money nor fame. I think that it is being helpful to other people – personally and professionally.

One of my life strategies is giving freely what I have to get what I want. I practice this both professionally and personally and it has overwhelmingly been a successful strategy. Living this way has brought me into some pretty interesting collaborations and I’ve met so many beautiful people.

So I want to do more of this.

I have decided to offer time  – one hour a day, 4 days each week – to anyone, from anywhere to explore anything. 

SoHelpful

 

Details of my Offer

  • I shall be using SoHelpful.me to offer this help and it will be free, forever. Book me on my SoHelpful.me page.
  • The slots are 30 minutes long and to make it most accessible there are slots AM and the PM and are typically available Monday-Thursday.
  • The slots are first come/first served and are open to individuals and groups.
  • It is free to book and meet with me during those times. I will never charge for this time, though I reserve the right to cancel it.
  • Even though it is free – I am asking and trusting that people who book me do not undervalue my time by not showing up without notice.
  • Recurring bookings are discouraged because I want as many people to have a chance to get some help. But I may make exceptions.

How Might You Use This

Here are some ideas depending on your context of how you might use this:

  • You’re thinking of starting a Startup – I can help by sharing what I have done and what I am doing – also what I have learnt. Or mostly I can shut up and listen and help you sanity check your approach, devise experiments etc. Let’s see, why not book a slot on my SoHelpful.me page
  • You’re working in a broken company and need to talk to someone who understands – I work in trying to help broken companies fix themselves and help people get more Joy. I can help with strategies to create awareness for change in your company.
  • You are part of an agile team/department/company and would like to get some help about practices, pains etc – I’ve worked with agile teams for over 12 years and coached companies for over 7. I can help development, product  and management people. Maybe I can remote facilitate something, observe and help you improve your process or help with some mini training. Let’s explore –  book a slot on my SoHelpful.me page
  • You are trying to find strategies for enabling conversations in your circles and life – I struggle with this too and I can help with building rapport, asking powerful questions, facilitating large groups and having non-violent communication. Book a slot on my SoHelpful.me page and let’s get the conversation started.
  • You just need someone to talk to who will listen, never judge and will only offer suggestions if you invite them? Let’s do it – book a slot on my SoHelpful.me page

I’m excited about this decision and my offer. It fulfils my need to be helpful and be the shoulders that others might stand upon as they reach for their stars.

I look forward to being so helpful to you on my SoHelpful.me page 

psst… do someone a favour and share this.


Featured Image By: Murray BarnesCC BY 2.0

Joy and Genocide. Happy Birthday to me!

Today is April 7th. It is my birthday.
Today I celebrate making it to 40 years old, when 10.5 million males die – on average – every year before their 40th birthday.

I am also celebrating because my life is pretty much perfect. Almost all my needs are met – save two. That is not bad, I’m a couple of things away from perfection. And one of them is actually not a biggie, plus it is tremendous fun trying to get it.

My life is near perfect because I’m pretty fit and healthy and generally feel great.

I’m genuinely happy with here I am – joyful in fact.

Joy.

My Joy comes from spending my life around my wife – Katharine – and my boys – Ruben and Haydn – in whose love, playfulness and curious wonder I delight.

My Joy is multiplied when I think of my daughters – Erin and Brianna – who have been through so much that was not of their choosing,  yet emerge as these strong, intelligent and beautiful human beings who feel and care so deeply and love so unreservedly.

My Joy comes from our little village in Andalusia, Spain – with 300 days of gorgeous sunshine and surrounded by beautiful people who understand that life is better when it is simpler.

And my joy just got boosted with Maya – our new puppy, who was abandoned and destined to be destroyed. Instead she is our family and we are hers.

When I look over the last 35 years – I cannot remember much before that – I see beauty and strength in the people and the events of the past – even those that would otherwise be ugly incidents.

I see the soul light and hear the heart song of my friends and my family, whose lives I am so proud to have been a part of.

I see my mum – Harinder – who is truly incomparable to anyone who has ever lived and possibly ever live.

Harinder – whose passion for humanity, justice and fairness extends far beyond her family and lays unshakeable foundations for magnificence in all those who know her.

Harinder – who redefines ‘family’ to mean the World and by doing so, widens the circle of love for her and her children immeasurably.

I also see my dad – Hartley – who only now – 23 years after his death, do I begin to understand deeply who he was, what he endured and how – despite everything – remained such a beautiful soul and who I will miss forever.

I take Joy from my memories.

Wherever the winds of time take us, I never forget that once we laughed and danced together – like children – unafraid and as though no one was watching.

Genocide.

Twenty years ago today, a country went mad as though possessed by forces bent on brutal genocide.

Twenty years ago today, began 100 days of slaughter. Over 800,000 men, women and children were slaughtered by their friends, teachers, neighbours, adoptive family, priests and protectors.

My birthday is forever connected with the Rwandan genocide and I’m OK with that because the World needs a reminder that unless we actively work to turn our differences into our collective advantage then we are doomed to repeat the violence of Rwanda, Serbia and all those bloody chapters in our story.

The question is what we do with that reminder?

At the heart of genocide is difference and the dehumanisation of people based on a perverted perception of  differences. But genocide is only one outcome from differences.

Everyday, millions of people – like you and me – can make a choice to acknowledge and celebrate our differences and make them work for us.  How might we get more people to make those choices?

Please make my day.

The last missing bit of my perfect life – the reason Joy cannot ever be total, is something outside my control. But I can do something towards getting it. I can make a simple invitation.

Please will you be willing to find someone today – a friend or stranger – and ask them as sincerely as you can:

What are you needing, right now?

Wait, let them speak without interruption, listen and help them share it with you.
Then do whatever you can can to meet as much of that need as you can.

That would make my day.

Happy Birthday to me. Thank You.

My conclusions from doing 30 days of free remote organisation coaching

In December, I made this offer and invited help to learn how it might work. I got 11 responses and chose 3 organisations to work with. As the experiment evolved, I shared some early lessons and more here.

With the experiment now complete, here are some conclusions I can draw both from qualitative feedback from doing the experiment and quantitative feedback from surveys conducted during the experiment.

Always face to face before going remote. Always!

I had two groups that I met with and worked with, face to face,  for 2 days as a kickstart to the experiment. During this time I made the invitation  as sincerely as I possibly could, reinforcing it regularly during the workshops in my actions and through my language.

This facetime was essential in creating the bridges through which future collaboration. People had online conversations with a friendly personality they knew by name and sight and someone they had laughed with and exchanged stories with vs simply a voice on the end of the phone.

The third group did not have the facetime, we simply spent 2-3 hours online using tools to create the improvement lists and to make the invitation. Whilst this may have generated the same outputs – stuff to improve – I don’t think it we ended with the same outcomes – great rapport and bridges. This third group whilst still somewhat engaged, lost interest very quickly and had fewer collaborative sessions with me and with each other.  I also got quantitative feedback that this group would have preferred a face to face workshop at the start.

Remote work tools generally suck

I tried to keep tools to a minimum. Mostly we used google docs and Trello for online collaboration. For communications I tried lots of different tools – iMeet, Skype, GotoMeeting and Google hangouts.

Each tool had its benefits and drawbacks, but the take-away for me is that anything that travels on the interweb is going to be slow and unpredictable at various times. So I need backups and alternatives.

Most effective for me, was not the tech but the design of the sessions. The secret for me was to have shorter sessions with fewer people and to use video sparingly, maximise visual collaboration – ex: google docs to draw vs speak.

Buzzwords like “Agile”, “Scrum” are turn offs

From the very first improvement workshop – it was clear to me that people lost interest in the conversation when we talked on Scrum, Kanban and even Agile. The conversation suddenly stopped being about them – the people and their needs – but about the tools.

Everyone had some opinion why ‘technique A’  wouldn’t work. Different ‘truths’ about how these techniques work and experiences of ‘how’ they work.

At the risk of introducing yet another over-used word, I tried to steer the groups away from dwelling too much on techniques, but focus instead on outcomes and on some fundamental truths.

Keep the focus on effectiveness

Overwhelmingly across all the groups, ‘effectiveness’ was the key word that everyone could get their head round. It wasn’t divisive – even if we didn’t define it explicitly, everyone had a similar understanding that it was about making things better.

I  helped by offering my perspective on 4 elements of ‘effectiveness’: Value – what we are building/doing, Flow – how smoothly are we building/doing it , Quality – how suitable for purpose it is and how easily are we able to keep doing it and, finally, Joy – how do we each feel doing what we are doing.
(Major hat tip to Emergn and Joshua Arnold for their invaluable work on Value, Flow and Quality  – VFQ).
I invited everyone to consider effectiveness to be these 4 elements in balance; or the first 3 at levels that keep the 4th – joy – high and trending higher.

Most people – more than 80% of all participants – understood and agreed with this simple perspective on effectiveness.

Improvements take time and persistence

Without a doubt, the energy of the workshops and the enthusiasm for improvement was really high at the end of the workshops with all the groups. I believe the openness of the invitation helped the participants give the whole thing the benefit of the doubt and participate more fully. I was really impressed, yet concerned.

I worried about how could we transfer this energy into the work to continue the improvements when people got back into  their ‘day jobs’. I was concerned because I thought it would be difficult and undesirable for a single individual to sustain work on any improvement  item, so  I suggested that groups of between 3 and 5 form around each of the most popular improvement items that we dot voted on and prioritised by the number of votes.

Yet, despite the groups forming, the improvement work – even just meeting to explore questions that could yield greater understanding – still took time to get off the ground. In one case we didn’t even get to have the weekly reviews until the very last one, where it then turned out that there had been a lot of activity that had happened to move the improvements forward!

Persistence is hugely important – at one point, only two out of the five members of one working group turned up to have their conversation. I was so glad they persisted – because what they discovered helped attract greater interest in that improvement and more people joined later.

There is a need!

In my experiment, I worked with over 80 people in total – some more closely than others. Most had experienced some kind of ‘injection’ consultancy and most had generally a negative view of this model of consultants coming in – usually to coach or work with a team in Scrum/Kanban or something packaged – disrupting how people are working and then leaving after a few weeks or months. Most often, people shared that they just went back to how they worked – a bit more disillusioned.

The management in the various groups also generally felt they got less valuable outcomes from these engagements for the amount of money and time invested and disruption that everyone endured.

Almost universally, participants welcomed help and support to help them to focus on their improvements and explore different ideas and experiences to help them work on the items.

I believe there is a need because of a fundamental problem that many organisations have. Here are what I believe are the crux of the problem:

  • There are always things to be improved and some of them are critical.
    Each group averaged 26-35 things they would like to improve. Some of these were pretty big things –  like ‘getting more customers’ and  ‘feeling more appreciated for my work’.
  • Improvements take time and effort.
    During the experiment, most of what people shared were symptoms and therefore needed deeper exploration to understand, diagnose and find solutions for. It took time to get people together, time to explore the questions and sift through data. Most of this time was ‘stolen’ from the other time that people are normally busy.
  • There is a general lack of facilitation skills in companies.
    The biggest discovery for me – a huge proponent of self organisation – was that empowerment with permission is not enough for people to self organise. To do it effectively and to enjoy it requires supporting that empowerment with facilitation skills. If self organisation means everyone having pointless meetings that go on and on with no measurable outcome, then it is little wonder that groups would rather be told what to do than be more autonomous. My belief now is that everyone should have basic facilitation skills as a fundamental requirement to work with others. Basic techniques to get a group together with clearly articulated purpose, a framework to explore the purpose and means to converge the conversation into summaries, clear next steps and action.
  • The people who can best explore the problems that need improvement are hardly ever invited to do so.
    This is perhaps one of the biggest aspects of the problem that I observed. The experiment was based entirely on making an invitation -a request – for which there were no consequences for not accepting. Even with the invitation made, I got regular feedback about the fear of it not being genuine or genuinely supported by management. I found myself having to reiterate and reinforce the open-heartedness of the invitation often.

The core need that I identified and validated is that people involved in the improvement work need help, access to expertise and support at a pace that suits them. Most importantly, I discovered that there is a distinction to the way the help must be presented – friendly, empathic partnership is preferable to pushing knowledge or being an aloof teacher/trainer/’guru’.

What Next?

So, I have data, many mostly satisfied experiment participants, plenty of learning, great ideas and some validated conclusions. What next?

I am working on finalising the details of a new service to meet this need that I have identified and validated and I will be sharing it soon. I would really love your input when I have something to share.

If you would like to learn more about the smaller details of the experiment or are thinking of running something similar, consider booking a free slot on my new soHelpfulMe page and I would happily spill the beans about how it worked, the gotchas, what I would do differently and even share some of the feedback – anonymously , of course. 

For all other comments – please use the commenting system or tweet me @mhsutton. Please consider sharing this post. Thanks.