Gracefully disruptive

Disruption is essential in the workplace when it comes to challenging the status quo (for the right reasons of course). Practices and methods become engrained into the team, into the organisation, and over time these are met with reluctance to change.

‘This is how it’s always been done’, you’re told. ‘It’s worked fine without anyone sticking their nose in’.

‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke’…and all that carry on.

In order to progress – whether it’s professionally, entrepreneurially, or at work – there needs to be disruption. I deliberately use the word ‘progress’ too, as opposed to ‘get ahead’.

Many people can get ahead without disruption. Indeed they use the status quo to their advantage by seemingly playing the safe route to get ahead.

However, by choosing this option, they miss out on the opportunities to broaden their mind, develop existing skills, and be open to new learning experiences.

Where’s the problem-solving? Where’s the creative thinking? Where’s the approach that’s right for you?

This route is too narrow, having been formed probably years ago, and one that once worked either appropriately to the time or the individual (or both).

By being disruptive, you ensure that unexplored territory is identified, examined, assessed and tried out. And with such big risks may come big rewards.

So what do I mean by disruption?

Being disruptive is not about talking the loudest or stamping your feet the hardest. It’s about applying curiosity and inquisitiveness into questioning already-mapped-out procedures, career paths, processes, ways of working, even thought processes, and seeing if there’s a better way.

‘Rocking the boat’ sounds almost destructive, and we’re not rocking it to be awkward. Where a boat rocks comes ripples that could have a detrimental impact to the ecology and banks of the river for example. Without forward thinking, this could ruin any sort of credibility to going against the status quo again.

The term I much prefer is gracefully disruptive. It’s challenging status quo with grace, with forethought and thorough consideration.

So how do you become more gracefully disruptive?

Firstly, you need to understand why you want to be disruptive, and understand when you shouldn’t be disruptive.

The latter is probably the best starting by process of elimination. When you shouldn’t be disruptive is where emotion plays a heavy part in the decision making.

Using emotion to steer your disruption won’t be graceful. Of course emotion can be the foundation of the decision-making, the stimulus that urges you to react for a greater cause or better way to do things, but you mustn’t let it rule your actions.

Emotions, most times, are temporary. Your actions can be permanent. Tread carefully – or better yet let your head determine your actions.

Having decided to take a more emotionally intelligent approach, you can move on to why you should be disruptive.

Why bother?

The very act of being gracefully disruptive itself will provide you with strong leadership capabilities.

This isn’t necessarily leadership over people (although it can be); it can be leadership over processes, your career, your fate, your confidence – anything that is within your control that you have found, over time, slowly but surely, has been consumed by the status quo, or by other people’s assumptions that their way is best.

‘You need a degree for a good job’, they say, ‘that’s the way it’s always been done if you want a decent job.’

Not true at all; you can be successful without one (while also not drowning in tens of thousands worth of debt).

‘You need to do this particular process in this particular way because that’s how it’s done.’

Not necessarily; when was the last time this process was questioned? Is there a better way we can be doing this? Isn’t it time that this process is assessed for efficiency? If new ways haven’t been explored before, isn’t it narrow minded and dismissive to insist that this one way is the way?

‘You have to stick with one job with one interest in order to do well for yourself, nobody likes a job-hopper.’

Not the case; portfolio careers have proven successful for many professionals now and indeed may help them stand out from the crowd. New learning and new experiences have led these to the point where they have a unique set of skills that play off of each other and open up new, more effective ways of doing things.

Avid Doers v The Naysayers

This is where we avid doers can do so well in. We refuse to accept that one way of doing things is the way of doing things.

We have the stubbornness and can-do attitude to make things happen, and adopting a gracefully disruptive approach to our endeavours can only lead us to things quicker, more efficiently and more effectively.

Unfortunately there will be (and are) naysayers who like things mainstream and consistent with solid, trustworthy practices, and see avid doers as being awkward or sometimes even clueless. They don’t ‘avidly do’, they passively do, and therefore dismiss any sort of alternative ways of thinking.

Let’s question how things are done. Let’s disprove that the one way is the only way.

Let’s explore new ways of doing things that are right for us and our career and developmental needs.

Think of the learning and development opportunities that would go amiss if we didn’t question what is already in front of us and instead decide what is right for us by being gracefully disruptive.

Establishing professional credibility

I’m lucky enough to be part of a tribe of fellow avid doers – HR professionals. We tend to be just as enthusiastic about practising as we are preaching, as well as having a professional drive to lead, manage and develop our careers in confidence. I see an HR professional as a person, regardless of their role, and not a person who has an HR role.

A lot of this is down to having professional credibility. For those who are striving to get into the HR industry, have just started, or need a boost to the next level, they need to establish this professional credibility.

Professional credibility sits at the core of any person, in any profession, and acts as your career’s reputation. This can be easy to establish for those who have years of experience and contacts, with a wall full of framed qualifications to match.

But for those who have little or no experience, proving your professional credibility is that little bit harder. Sometimes this can be down to:

  • age (due to less years of experience rather than an ageist assumption that younger workers are less professionally credible) – years of experience can only come with age, but only if we’re looking at it quantitively; those who have to wait for Father Time can rest assured knowing that the best experience, like a lot of things, relies on quality;
  • lack of confidence – lack of confidence correlates with lack of knowledge. We lose confidence when we’re unsure of things: the direction of a conversation; the specifics of a particular topic; the reactions of others;
  • lack of drive – sometimes it can be a result of just not having the get-up-and-go needed to develop credibility, having an expectancy of it rather than working at it.

So if you do have the get-up-and-go, and you want to work on the first two points, two steps to establish professional credibility are:

  1. Immersion
  2. Application

Immersion

Breaking into a new profession, finding your feet with it, or looking for ways to progress within it is no easy feat. Immersion is one really good way of making this a lot easier.

So what do I mean by immersion? Immersion looks at immersing yourself into the industry, any industry, by being a human sponge. Absorb everything and anything about it to the point of obsession by researching into everything about it. Books, magazines, social media conversations, blogs, contacts, short courses, long courses, podcasts, videos – anything you can get your teeth into.

A lot of industries have become saturated with the internet making it easy for everyone to have a platform (even simple dorks like me!). While some people might think this is a bad thing, I like to see it in a more positive light.

You see, when starting out, or building on your professional credibility, you feel like you need to know more than you currently do. But with anyone being able to talk about any old gobbledygook, who do you listen to?

I say: ‘everyone’. While you have a blank (or more blank than you would like) canvas, there is no telling who to listen to or who to ignore. By absorbing everything and immersing yourself into that world, you begin to form opinions of your own, to link multiple ideas together, to spot discrepancies in arguments. In time, you’ll then have all the information to hone in on the methodologies and ideas that make sense to you and that you believe in; you’re not excluding the left over bits, you’re actually using them to establish the grounding of your understanding of the topic.

You’re gathering everything you need to know to a point where you can start to reject and question findings based on your own knowledge you have suddenly developed and not on other people’s thought patterns.

And to think, if you had decided to ask someone else for their opinion on who to listen to and ignore, you would’ve only been given their ideas, their opinions, thus losing out on all the other information and the opportunity to form an opinion and way of thinking that’s uniquely you.

Having worked in a number of industries and made a go at a number of careers, I have always immersed myself in these (…well the interesting ones anyway) with this method. Accounting, holistic therapy, and health and safety? Courses, research, qualifications and industry-related media for all the above. And ditto for HR where the immersion exercise grabbed me, enthralled me and adopted me. Which takes me to the second step.

Application

After immersing yourself in the profession and you feel like you have a good understanding, even at a foundation level, so much so to form opinions, acceptance and rejections, all this knowledge you have needs to be used to establish your credibility.

By applying this knowledge, you’re demonstrating everything you have discovered; most of the time this can be done passively – you’ve immersed yourself so much into the field, it is second nature and can be applied by discretionary effort.

Being more active about it involves some creative thinking and understanding your intentions and goals so that these actions are aligned to them. Actively establishing your professional credibility takes a lot of effort and mental energy so you need to be aware of the direction your efforts are taking you and that they’re lined up to what you want in your career (have a look at this post on professional motivation if you need a hand with this).

Applying your new-found knowledge is essentially putting your understanding to practice, putting it out into the world in real life scenarios which in time gives a grounding to your credibility.

There are a vast array of ideas to apply your knowledge:

  • contribute your own opinions and findings to work conversations, debates and meetings (thereby proving that you are someone who knows their stuff and can contribute your own unique perspective to work matters)
  • putting yourself forward to lead projects, talks and meetings (thereby building your confidence in taking your knowledge a step further to ‘leader’ rather than just ‘thinker’)
  • allowing your own skills and knowledge to shine through your daily work, as well as supporting other teams and projects that may not necessarily fall under your remit (thereby demonstrating you can apply your professional know-how to your role, developing it into your own, as well as applying it in unfamiliar territory and other specialisms)
  • contribute to blog posts, articles and profession-related online forums (thereby developing a network and contributing your opinions and voice to a wider audience, outside of work)
  • finding your voice through a number of extracurricular activities outside of work, for example starting your own blog, actively managing your online presence and putting yourself forward to write, speak and facilitate on areas of interest (thereby establishing yourself as a professional dedicated to their specialism, strengthening your reputation, and forever developing your own skills, knowledge and confidence)

These are just a few examples of establishing your professional credibility both inside and outside of work. It’s a good idea to ensure you put yourself out there beyond your place of employment, even if you intend to stay there for the foreseeable future, as not only is it a great way to network, you get to learn from so many people who think differently to your organisation. And if you are thinking of leaving in the foreseeable future, this is a great way to progress in your career in your chosen area.

Building integrity

Applying your knowledge to establish your professional credibility can only work when you are trusted and have integrity. Establishing credibility and trust are logically synonymous but sometimes forgotten. If you are seen as someone who lacks integrity and trust, your knowledge, regardless of its ground-breaking qualities, will fall on deaf ears. People will just not believe you and not take the time to listen to what you have to say. As a side note, if for whatever reason you need to establish yourself as a trustworthy professional, work on this first before applying your knowledge.

Establishing your professional credibility can be good fun. Indeed, I’m having immense fun establishing my own professional credibility; writing this blog is just one way I’m doing this. It takes time and the end result is barely measurable but having patience, and trusting the process, the steps your making day by day to put yourself out there as a professional dedicated to the profession, will inevitably pay off.

 

Leading brainstorms in 5 easy steps

Last week I shared 3 easy steps for preparing a brainstorming session and explained that putting in the effort and hard work into these steps will make leading the session a lot easier, as well as maximising its effectiveness.

As a recap, the 3 steps to prepare a session were:

  1. Identifying the objective – why is there a need for a brainstorm, what are the desired outcomes, how will these be presented to the end user
  2. Additional information – what information will you need to give you and the group some background knowledge to put the session into context
  3. Format – which approach will you take?

Now you have prepared the session, you should hopefully know feel more confident in leading the session. These 5 steps should help you:

Step 1 – Introduction

It’s crucial to set some basic ground rules for any type of brainstorm session. This should always include the likes of:

  • No belittling or dismissing ideas – all ideas, no matter how far-fetched or ridiculous, are allowed
  • No interruptions
  • Respect other people’s views and communication style
  • If the group wanders into a tangent, explain that the idea will be noted separately (so not to lose any good ideas) and that the group should come back to the main topic in the time they have.

The introduction should also include a brief summary to the group about why they’re in the group, the reasoning behind the session, the objectives, and how the findings will be used.

Step 2 – Leading the session

At this point, most of the hard work has already been done. You’ve prepared, you’ve told everyone why they’re here and what you expect of them. Your main job throughout the session is to make sure people stick to the ground rules and that each attendee has their chance to participate.

You will also need to make sure the input is balanced, for example, if someone is doing most of the talking, thank them for their input and tactfully ask if someone would like to add to their point or come up with a new idea. This opens the floor to everyone else, briefly but professionally silences the person doing all the talking and subconsciously gives permission to those who feel they need it to speak up. If there is someone who seems disengaged or just doesn’t provide any input, use this time to single them out by asking for their specific view.

Just don’t single out too many people – if a lot of people are disengaged or not participating, it might be appropriate to ask the group why this is. Word it in a way that isn’t accusatory but more inquisitive for example “The group isn’t coming up with a lot of collective ideas, do you think we’re missing something? Do you feel this approach isn’t the right one for idea generation? Do we need to work on this individually and reconvene at a later date equipped with more information? If so, let’s discuss what this information should be and decide how we will find it.”

But what happens if there’s a lot of enthusiasm and participation? Keeping an eye on the time is essential. If there a number of sections or topics you need to get through, you must make sure you stick to the allotted times. Going over time on one topic will have a knock-on effect for ALL following topics. However, enthusiasm shouldn’t be killed purely because an agenda you have created states the group needs to move on to the next topic.

Over time you will be able to figure out a way of allowing the time to go a bit over and shuffling the timings for the other topics. This of course is more restrictive the less time you have, but if you choose to do this, make sure you inform the group so they are confident the time is being looked after. If push comes to shove and it’s evident a lot more time is needed, you can always look into the option of having a follow up meeting at a later point.

Step 3 – Collating and relaying the information

About 10 minutes before the session comes to an end, you will need to start to discuss as a group which ideas are going to be taken forward. So that no ideas are lost (for example they might not be appropriate for one particular issue but is a good enough idea to not waste) you might find it helpful in categorising the ideas. Below are some examples of categorising your ideas:

  • Immediate action/Non-immediate but important action/Park for another project
  • Action within a month/Action within 6 months/Action within a year/No immediate action
  • Actioned by Team A/Actioned by Team B/Actioned by Team C
  • Needs approving/No approval but needs referring to/No approval or reference needed
  • It’s worth have a separate category for any ideas that weren’t related to this topic

Once the ideas have been categorised, relay the information by category to the group. This helps everyone structure the ideas in a logical pattern, but also highlights how ideas will be acted upon.

Step 4 – Formatting the outcomes

After the session, begin to format the ideas in the best suitable way, which should have already been determined in step 1 (third bullet point). Usually you could summarise the ideas by both category and as a whole. In some instances, you might find highlighting key themes in the ideas, or starting off with the big ideas that then feed into the ones with less impact. As with any presentation of data, it is all about the audience. How do they want to use the information? What do they really need to know? What would constitute as being too much information? Can the data be presented visually, for example with a word cloud to highlight common themes, or with a graph, or even infographic?

Step 5 – Follow up

Be sure to keep the brainstorm group updated with how the information is being used. It can sometimes be disheartening when you take part in a session and you hear nothing from the lead again, especially after having put the effort into the session. Even if the ideas haven’t gone any further, for example with management, let the group know this, ending it with a general “I will continue to chase and will contact you if there is any progress”. This means you won’t have to keep updating them on a regular basis if there is nothing to update them on.

It is also important to follow up with the end user. If the findings have been presented to the end user (see the post for tips on presentations) it is useful for them to also receive the same or more information by a follow up email for them to peruse in their own time. It’s always courteous too to remind them that should they need any more information or more work done on this (eg to include you and/or the group in any follow up actions) for them to get in touch.

I’ve taken these 5 steps on leading a brainstorm, and the 3 steps we looked over when preparing for brainstorms, and combined them in an awesome infographic which I’ll share on The Avid Doer’s social media accounts, and put at the end of this post.

Brainstorms are a great way not only to collect and formalise ideas, but to also bring different teams and people together whose differing perspectives can really add a fresh light on an issue. Essentially the success of a brainstorm lies within the solutions that are generated; making sure the preparation, format and facilitation of the session only makes the generation of solutions more time effective.

It’s also important to remember that as long as the solutions are found, the group have a say in how they are found. If you have a certain way in which you wish them to reach the end goal, but the group are veering to a more productive or innovative approach, it’s OK to take their lead and ‘roll with it’ – granted that the desired outcomes will be met in the same (if not less) amount of time.

Now, of course leading any sort of group, including brainstorms, involves an element of public speaking but as avid doers, we recognise this is something we need to work on to succeed in our careers. Even if your dream career doesn’t involve any public speaking, it’s a skill worth developing, especially if you consider yourself as an introvert or shy (please note these are two completely different things).

Over time, I will share ways that have helped me overcome these jitters, as well as inviting guest writers to share their tips on confidence. In the meantime the post I wrote on presentations offers a few pointers on how to handle speaking to a group of people.

 

Preparing and leading brainstorms