Connections: where to from here?

by Graham Constable
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Do we need to think more about our own learning? GRAHAM CONSTABLE continues his thought-provoking series.

Marcus chinked his glass against Harry’s. “Cheers!”

It was a warm evening and the cold beers were quenching.

“Mmm, not bad, Harry. Thanks.”

“My pleasure.”

“So, how’ve you been since we last spoke? How’s all that change going?”

Harry leaned back and eyed Marcus.

“Shortest five weeks I’ve ever known!” He grinned. “How about you – who takes five weeks off these days anyway?”

“Those who’ve planned their time well and have successfully finished all their commitments – in that plan – before they go away for five weeks.”

“You would say that, Marcus!”

“Why wouldn’t I? If one of my clients asks me how he or she could take five weeks off, I’d have to prove it could be done.” Marcus finished his schooner. “No point giving advice if I haven’t demonstrated how to do it myself.”

“I guess so.”

“What’s on your mind, Harry?”

“A lot these days! Never been so busy.” “How about we discuss over another of these? My round.”

“Sure.”

Marcus caught Harry people-watching when he returned.

“Hey there, thinker! Where were you just then?” Marcus placed Harry’s beer in front of him. “Cheers again!”

“Watching behaviours.” Harry raised his glass. “It’s all your fault, you know. All this thinking and planning and learning…”

“Ah, the learning word. How is that working for you?”

“Hasn’t stopped since you came on the scene.”

“You damn me with faint praise! If I recall, you contacted me!” Marcus grinned. “I’m pulling your leg. You’re an excellent student and a credit to your company, your team and to yourself.”

“Thanks, Marcus. To be honest I don’t recognise myself from all those months ago. I’m wondering ‘where to from here’?”

“Do you know where ‘here’ is, Harry? Have you kept a ‘learning diary’?”

“A learning diary? No I… explain.”

“First off, it’s good to see you’re considering your current situation. The best part, however, is you’re thinking about your own learning.”

“Am I?”

“Sure you are. You just admitted to not recognising yourself from when we started working together. Unless you believe you’re worse off, this can only mean learning. And you’re thinking about it.”

“Yeah OK. So, what about…”

“A learning diary? Learning is complex, and can be a demanding process of managing things like experience, information, feelings, thoughts and actions. Because of this I recommend you keep a diary. This will help shape the answers to your question ‘where to from here?’”

“How so?”

“Boy, this is a good brew!” Marcus sipped his cool beer again. “In your diary, you could ask yourself three things each time you make a record. First, ask yourself what you consider to be the most important point of the day.”

“Why?”

“This will direct your thinking to something that’s happened that has specifically enabled learning. And by the way it can be salutary
or disadvantageous in nature. Either way you learn from it.”

“Mmm, OK.”

“Don’t worry because, second, you go on to ask yourself with what have you been particularly impressed. Have you had a light bulb experience for instance?” Marcus noticed just such a light bulb in Harry.

“I guess I should be reflecting on how well I deal with anything disadvantageous?” Harry offered.

“Precisely. Not every happening is joyful!” “Don’t I know it.”

“You’re in a profession that thrives on such things, Harry!” He finished his beer. “Anyway, you still with me?”

Harry nodded.

“Good. Now last of all, you identify issues and other things you have to follow up on in respect of – and here’s the key thing – your own job. No one else’s, just your own job.”

“Explain please.”

“If something important has happened that changes you, but you don’t act on it the impact will be lost – at best. At worst, you may end up repeating a mistake. The best thing is to record them and decide what your next steps are to capitalise on the learning, something that embeds it and enables you to build on it.”

“Not sure I’m fully with you, Marcus.”

“Since we started working together how much of my advice have you followed, reinforced with your own actions and behaviours and learned as you see the dominoes topple? Or have you ignored everything?”

“You know that’s not true, Marcus.”

“I know. So, in asking just now ‘where to from here’, do you know where ‘here’ is yet?”

“I need to think about that some more.”

“Good, because you can then build on it to get to where you want to be. How about we talk further when you’ve figured out the ‘here’?”

“OK.”

“By the way, what’s driving the reflection?” Harry finished his beer. “Like you said, I want to know how I can be better and get further.”

“OK, let’s talk again.”

“I’ll call you on Monday.”

It was Tuesday before Marcus took the call. “My ‘here’ is I am gradually working towards being better client-focused.”

“OK, but where’s here for you?” “I’m certainly better at what I do…”

“And?”

“I’m more confident, better equipped…”

“But?”

“I want more.”

“More what, Harry?”

“Variety I guess?”

“You want to be a consultant!?”

“It’s crossed my mind – at some stage I’d like to give it a go.”

“Sounds like you’re having an entrepreneurial seizure!”

“A what?”

“Have a look at a book called The Entrepreneurial Myth by Michael Gerber. A great read for people like you contemplating radical change.”

“As I say, some time in the future.” Harry chuckled. “Not going to challenge you yet, Marcus!”

“No? Maybe join me instead.” Silence. “OK, let’s finish off the learning conversation and cover off some pointers for client focus.”

“Sounds good.”

“You will remember me saying that real achievement is when it is shared?”

Harry nodded.

“One of the prerequisites, I believe, for customer focus and continual improvement is where learning is shared across the team. Try encouraging your team to also keep learning diaries. You could then share your diary entries and leverage each other’s feedback. You may find some common themes to
build on.”

“That’s worth trying. I have a much better relationship with my team now.”

“Now, tell me, what does being customer focused look like to you?”

“Being proactive and aligned with their needs. Communicating well… those kinds of things.”

“Agreed. What does being proactive mean though?”

“Not being reactive I guess.”

“What if I were to ask you: are you a catalyst for change and improvement? Does your client see you as being influential or effective? Do you look for opportunities or do you wait for them? Do you make time for relationships?” Marcus nodded enquiringly. “Any of these ring a bell?”

“I have to say I’ve done these things, but not consistently.”

“OK, but have you been these things? Have you been proactive in this way?”

“I guess so.”

“Remember it is important to ‘be’ as well as ‘do’.”

“Mmm, I definitely should aim for consistency.”

“In the same way, what does aligned mean to you? Do you understand your client’s goals and his world and revisit them regularly? Does your client use you to bounce ideas off? Are you an indispensable part of his team? Do you know what keeps your client awake at night?”

“Well again, I have to say some of these things some of the time.”

“That’s OK. The alignment thing points to your collaboration and sharing values. Is that you?”

“More so recently. Thanks to you.”

“Kind of you to say, but you’re acting on my input. It’s your achievement.”

“Thanks, Marcus.”

“What does communicating well look like?” “The client being fully briefed on what is happening.”

“Sure. How good are you as a communicator? Are you articulate, concise and compelling? Do you really listen to what your client is saying and expressing – in a non-verbal way also? What’s your outreach like, how extensive is your audience, so to speak? ”

“Explain non-verbal Marcus.”

“Body language, other signs and patterns of behaviour that give away the emotional state or intent of your client. What is he not saying, for example?”

“Mmm, sounds more like psychology to me.”

“Well, you’re sizing people up all the time. We often get it wrong because of the lenses we choose to put on, but we’re all closet psychologists.” Marcus laughed. “I’m going to get into trouble for that oversimplification. I don’t mean to be flippant because it requires skill and experience to do it right.”

“Well, you’ve pretty well grilled me on what customer focus means to me. I see I need to be more consistent.”

“We all do with lots of things. This brings me back to the learning diary. You could extend this to developing a learning plan centred on customer focus, for example. You can, for that matter, develop any plan for any goal.”

“I’ve written plans in the past. Is the learning plan the same kind of thing?”

“In a way. I suggest you carve out five stages in your plan.”

“Hang on, let me get my pen… OK, shoot.”

“First, work out what your priority is. That is what you want to work on, or the skill or behaviours to develop. Decide what, for example, the skill looks like when it is achieved.”

“Hang on, slow down.”

“Second, in respect of behaviour development, for example, you could, for any particular situation, decide what new behaviours need to be actioned. You’re implementing development here. With me so far?”

“Yep.”

“Third, reflect on what you’ve learned. What worked and what didn’t, for example. Fourth, seek feedback – people-based and from other sources like books and mentors, like me.’

“If you don’t mind, Marcus?”

“Of course. Last, and importantly, transfer all the learning into realistic next steps. This requires evaluating progress against your goals and deciding what you need to work on next.” Marcus chuckled. “Simple really! And try all this at the team level too.”

“I’ll let you know next time we meet. You’re not going away for more holidays, are you?”

“Not just yet!”

This article is part of Graham Constable’s regular column ‘Connections’, published in Facility Management magazine. You can follow Marcus and Harry’s journey in every issue of FM.

 

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