Four important questions that don’t get asked enough

questions1I thought it would be a good idea to tell you a little about my experience of ‘developing’ people, given that Tim (one of the editors of this site) and I have returned to the topic of what people need again and again over many years.

Jon, my business partner, and I have been involved in Leadership Development and People Engagement for over 16 years now. Our primary aim has been to help organisations improve their performance. Over the years we have moved from very much a training approach to a developmental approach, to now more of a helping hand with a bit of the previous two to help things happen. This has happened both as our understanding has increased and the needs of organisations have changed. At first we did what businesses asked for, and at the time what we all thought would help with ‘performance’ of their leaders. This included things like: presentation and communication skills, building confidence and having frameworks and models to ‘see’ situations and other people.

Competence and capabilities seem important to organisations and in fact in most HR development thinking, but what we have found over these years is that people need to have a purpose and want to make a difference. Sounds simple but you would be amazed at the resistance to this at organisational, function, team and even individual ‘as an employee’ level.

Over time we became pretty good at training people to be ‘better’, at least in presentations and managing their time. We almost stayed there but felt a need to ‘make a difference’ and so our emphasis has changed from giving people skills, to developing capability, to helping them define their purpose and how they can make a difference. We are working in an organisational context but the edges quickly blur, and often individuals want and need to work on personal stuff. They still need to learn new skills and develop themselves, but it is our experience that clarifying their purpose, both in work and life and being able to make a difference, is what really makes them come alive. This helps them to be high performers both in the ‘traditional’ sense and in their new-found appreciation of what they want to achieve.

We have seen people transform through being given the opportunity to reflect on these important questions:

  • ‘What is my purpose?’ We ambiguously leave this open to interpretation and whether it’s about work or home or both.
  • ‘What I am I good at?’ What does one bring to the party? Even great people have flaws, but it is what we are good at that we can make the most of.
  • ‘What do I need to be better at?’ This is asked in the context of meeting one’s purpose and in making a difference.
  • ‘Where can I make a difference?’ They decide, but when this is left open, our delegates nearly all decide to make a change in their personal/family life and work life, and then often consider their communities and the greater work.

Our courses still have inputs to give delegates the skills they need, but it is the conversations with each other where they become most passionate, and become the most engaged.

I said earlier we help organisations with their performance by improving levels of engagement. I am sure you will know there is a mass of research showing the link between people engagement and organisational performance (the Gallup Q12 being a great source). The Engagement Institute found that even though 80% of organisations survey engagement, less than 50% knew how to improve it! We are absolutely clear that once people have clarified their purpose and what they need to focus on, they are more engaged, and engaging. Just changing this in a department ‘leader’ changes the levels of engagement in their team.

One of the best things ever said comes from Aldous Huxley: “It’s a little embarrassing that after 45 years of research & study, the best advice I can give people is to be a little kinder to each other.” I would only add “and to yourself” at the end.

Finally, I’d recommend these books which we frequently hand out to our delegates and coaches:

  • Finding Your Own North Star, by Martha Beck on finding your purpose and values
  • Drive, by Dan Pink on what really motivates people
  • The Wisdom of Teams, by Katzenbach and Smith on team performance and the need for clarity of purpose and clarity of role
    and of course…
  • How to Make a Difference, by Tim Drake on purpose at work and in life and how to make a difference

Richard GibsonRichard Gibson is co-founder of The Idea Works. The founders’ aim was to run a consultancy that is a pleasure to be connected with. They offer services such as personal, leadership, team and organisational development.


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