Thursday, 12 February 2015

We still see others through our own lenses

I've had many conversations with clients and colleagues over recent weeks where I've been told that the strategy they're suggesting we use is what the client/ stakeholder/ team member needs - ie it's tailored to suit the other person's preferences.

The interesting thing, to me anyway, is that often different people are suggesting a different strategy for the same client or stakeholder - me included. 

How can that be - if we're really putting ourselves into the shoes of the other person shouldn't our solution be the same? 

There's a few things going on, and I would love to hear your suggestions for other things I may have missed - because today my filters are set on the 4th of these suggestions and therefore can't see other options. 

It's quite apparent that in a number of instances the goal for the strategy differs between individuals, and therefore it's no surprise the actual strategy is different too. For example
  • Answering someones stated request or providing additional information to help them do what they're doing (ie I know you only asked for x but here's what additional information I'd also need in this situation).
  • Providing a simple structure to not frighten people away vs providing them with everything so they can look at it at their leisure, for when they get asked a question they don't know the answer to.
  • And of course the obvious short vs long term goals, and personal vs organisational goals.
If you're disagreeing on strategy it's always useful therefore to check you've both got the same objective.

Personal style
To influence person A I might need to use a different style than my colleague.

That's just how 'chemistry' works - whether between two people or two elements. If you want the same outcome but are both starting with different elements the methodology you use will have to be different to get there. Certainly something to remember for face to face conversations & even training.

So if you're disagreeing on strategy you might just want to check who will be implementing it and see if the strategy matches the chemistry involved.

Not understanding the other person
There's so much information we need to know about someone in order to truly understand their preferences, needs and wants etc. If we've only just met someone we're in danger therefore of falling back on stereotypes and own own default (see below). It's only with time and effort that we can truly understand another.

If you're disagreeing on strategy you may just want to check what evidence you have about what works for the person/people you're wishing to influence.

Our own default position
I realise this is what I've been observing over recent weeks. We've all been using our own filters and preferences to decide the best communication strategy
  • The specific thinker hears the detailed questions and believes the other person wants detail (just what they want too)
  • The big picture thinker hears only global questions and assumes a desire to avoid detail (just what they want to avoid too)
  • The perfectionist observes the critique and challenges and sees that as a clue that getting it right is important (just like it's important to them too)
  • The activist hears 'Just do it' and so thinks perfection and detail would be seen as OTT (just what they were thinking too)
  • The theorist sees enthusiasm for logic and best practice models and concludes that's what they need more of (just what they wanted to do too)
  • The reflector observes people need time to make a decision and not to be put on the spot (just like they do too) 
  • The options person hears they don't want to be given just one solutions and gives them 10 solutions (just like they would want too)
  • The auditory thinker observes the desire for chatting through the information, without reference to any slides (just like they would too)
  • The visual thinker notices a preference for graphics and colour (just like they do too)
  • The achiever hears they want results, and certainly not failure, and assumes they're motivated towards success and achievement (just like they are too)
  • The affiliator hears different words about collaboration, autonomy and winning hearts and minds and assumes they're motivated by affiliation (just like they are too) 
  • The influencer hears words about power and influence and assumes they're motivated by the desire to not be controlled by others (just like they are too)
  • I could go on - perhaps I did already :-) !!
  • Late example from friend - the lady with 2 crutches being the only person in a room of 35 people to help my friend with a crutch and a sling take his coat off! 
The key is being able to put our own preferences to one side long enough to observe all the words being used by the other person. There's so much information available we therefore have to filter it - ie reduce it - but by doing that we generalise, distort and delete - using our own preferences as filters to do just that. Thereby missing all the other information that might just suggest a different conclusion to the one we're making (ie that they're just like us).
Someone recently asked me "have you written a blog on everything" :-) - obviously the answer to that is no. However more often than not I do notice tweets that are about subjects I have written a blog on, and therefore can often be found tweeting 'I wrote a blog on that'. My filters don't often notice tweets on sport, motor cross or history as they're of very little interest to me - so my conscious just lets them slip by unnoticed. Just like we're often doing when we meet other people - we notice the similarities between us and filter out the things that are different.
Next time you catch yourself thinking the other person is just like you, and therefore concluding that they can be communicated with in a way that makes most sense to you, stop and just check how much you're filtering out - and look again to see what you might be missing. 

Let me know how you get on - comments and feedback always welcome - after all you thinking "I really enjoyed that" or "I look forward to reading Alison's blogs" isn't something I know unless you tell me. I know some of you don't need to be told you're doing a good job - I do love a little encouragement now and again ........ ok often :-).
Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out - when what you're doing isn't working

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Winning hearts and minds


Someone mentioned 'winning hearts and minds' on Twitter which had me reflecting, yet again, on the language we use and how the solution is often contained within the metaphor we're using.

Winning or influencing someones mind is covered in most influencing theories. It's also something we're all familiar with - facts and data presented in a way our or their mind finds pleasing.

To borrow a phrase from Star Trek 'my mind to your mind' - so the key is understanding how the other person's mind works (using its operating manual if you like) and presenting the information in a way that their mind finds easier to understand. 

Most of us get 'mind to mind' right if we just spend a little time thinking about our audience and their preferences

I then wondered about winning hearts. 

The obvious response, and one I've given many times here before, is - what motivates us is our values and these come from our heart. So if you want to win someones heart then find out what their values are and use those.

I realised as I responded to the tweet there was more to this phrase. 

You see I now wonder if a heart can be won over by mind alone (because whilst someones values are driven by their heart, our assessment of them and our application of them in our communication is driven by our mind).

If a heart can only be won over by another heart then it's no use leaving our heart outside when we walk into work (along with the rest of our soft skills). We have to take it with us and allow others to see, connect and feel our heart. 

Opening our heart at work isn't something many feel comfortable doing but if you're using the phrase "winning hearts and minds" something that's needed.

When will or did you last take your heart into work and use it?

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out - when what you're doing isn't working

The language we use gives so much away about how we process information, our beliefs and our values. Which means it's also a great means of solving the problems too. Other blogs written on the subject include:

Monday, 9 February 2015

Are Procurement asking the right questions

When determining criteria to select suppliers it would seem Procurement need to think outside the box.

Nothing new there - but bare with me.

Today's news that care agencies broke the law not paying care workers for their travelling time between clients had me thinking (yes I know it doesn't take much).

Just to summarise - a care worker may have 10 clients to visit in a day. Some of those visits may last no more than 15 minutes, and could then involve 30 minutes to travel to the next client. Which means if someone only gets paid for the time in front of a client they're actually working for less than the minimum wage. (I won't muddy the water and include the 'waiting' time between some clients - ie the next visit isn't scheduled till 11.00 and you finished the last client at 10.20 and it's only 10 minutes to get there).

The key for me is that this has been going on for years - so how did the care agencies get away with it for so long? 

I can understand how it happened for those care agencies working for private clients. After all the client just pays £x for the hours worked. If the care agency can convince the care worker they just get paid for hours worked they can get away with it. 

The worry I have is many care agencies work for local councils. How did the fact that these care agencies were breaking the law get passed the supplier selection process?

It's simple - procurement didn't think outside the box and just asked too simplistic questions.

The answer "Yes" to "Do you pay minimum wage" was taken at face value without asking further qualifying questions about payment for travelling and waiting time. 

If nothing else this reminds councils to reassess their procurement, supplier selection, assessment and auditing processes. To do what I hate to do (because I like to trust everyone) and assume suppliers are hiding unacceptable, and in this case unlawful, practices behind their woolly answers.

Of course that begs the question about other goods and services procurement buy. After all we don't have to go too far back for other fiascos that highlight inadequate auditing - Horsemeat gate being a good example.

What questions do your procurement team need to be adding to their tender, supplier assessment and auditing to ensure they get through the fog suppliers may wish to hide unacceptable, and in this instance unlawful, practices behind.

What questions do you need to ask your suppliers this week? 

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out - when what you're doing isn't working 

Although I also realise some of this was allowed to happen due to heads buried in the sand and voices not raised by everyone concerned. However you're hardly likely to blow the whistle if walking out of your job due to this abuse means not even the Government will give you income support. After all many of these jobs were supplied by local Job Centres - but that's another subject all together.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The earth cried

Story idea inspired by Visual Verse (1 picture, 1 hour and less than 500 words) and picture used is my collage card shown.

The Earth cried the day the mist set in. 

The grey fine mist had ever so slowly and incrementally, seeped unseen and unacknowledged into every nook and cranny of existence. 

The beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the pale blue skies, the turquoise seas and green lush forests slowly being replaced by grey.
  • Sunrises seen through view finders and unappreciated in the busyness to take a picture to share on facebook
  • Sunsets ignored behind closed curtains in the desire to watch the latest box set on TV
  • Blue skies taken for granted despite humanity spending more time flying through its very heart
  • Turquoise seas filled with the new 'stuff' now required for existence 
  • Green lush forests bulldozered to sustain the ever faster and increasing pace of life
Earth herself relegated to being a means to an end and not the end itself. However much she wished for us to notice and engage in her beauty. However much humanities soul cried out for such connection, and however much individuals' bodies reacted to that separation. 

The earth cried as all she could do was watch the decent of all those she loved. Unable to take any proaction to stop that decent. Unwilling to turn away, and yet heartbroken with what she saw. Optimistic with every new sunrise that this would be the day the mist would start to recede, and crest fallen with every sunset that the opportunity had been missed. 
The earth still cries - can you hear her? 
Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out - when what you're doing isn't working 
I know this is a tangent to normally blogs I write - I do however very occasionally share stories I write. For others I've written see: 
Visual Verse
Having only discovered visual verse on Friday night I'm looking forward to taking part as they add new pictures and accept the challenge to write what the picture inspires. I've submitted my first attempt and will post link here when it's published!

I only started using collage as a tool in the coaching I do in November 2014 and have been blown away by it's effectiveness in a business setting. I'd thought it was purely for personal coaching, and yet am finding it a great addition to the other business tools used.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Incremental progress

The water on the Forth today was like a mill pond - very calm and quiet, and as a result the slow incremental movement of the tide was not noticeable.
So true in life - often the change doesn't come with a big fanfare made in big leaps just continual progress every day towards your goal until you realise you've got there. 
Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out - when what you're doing isn't working 
Metaphors are very powerful tools to obtain insight to what's going on. So it's no surprise that the Landscaping your life (LYL) process used here, that uses nature as our teacher, is very effective. More about the process can be found here:
  • LYL Pinterest Board
  • YouTube Channel - a LYL playlist with a number of video blogs on the subject
  • An insightful walk in nature - insights from just going for a walk
  • Business strategy development - a board of management's strategy away day
  • Speaking with confidence - using the process
  • The solution is right infront of you - :-) it was
    An index of blogs about the other tools I use in facilitation and coaching can be found here.

    Thursday, 5 February 2015

    Summary: The tools I use to facilitate and coach others

    I'm not going to cover the category management, sourcing, supplier management and business tools I use in the work I do for Future Purchasing or other procurement consultancies today.

    This post is more about providing you with a summary of the blogs I've written about the unique tools I use in group facilitation and personal coaching - in procurement contexts and more broadly in other business settings. Whether directly with clients or via the other consultancies.

    These blogs also share the benefits delivered of using these unique tools - which can be summarised as helping groups or individuals to achieve one or more of the following:
    • Identify where they are
    • Identify where they want to get to (for example strategy development might be a session in it's own right)
    • Understand what's stopping them getting there
    • Release what's holding them back 
    • Take appropriate action towards their goal

    More here on a pinterest board I developed on the benefits of coaching.

    As I said in my "But I don't do soft fluffy stuff" post many of the reasons we're not achieving what we say we want can be found in the soft fluffy stuff. So just as it's no use looking for the car keys in the bathroom if you know you left them in your coat - it's the same with resolving what's holding you back - the answer often lies in the soft fluffy stuff and there's a number of ways of getting at that - some more comfortable than others - some certainly less intrusive than others. It sort of depends if you want to get to the root cause or not, or if you're happy just putting a plaster/band aid on it.


    The language we use gives so much away about how we process information, our beliefs and our values. Which means it's also a great means of solving the problems too.

    Landscaping Your Life (LYL)
    I could write a book on metaphors - if a picture paints a thousand words then a metaphor paints a thousand pictures. One metaphor I use a lot is landscapes and nature. I describe it as 'using nature as our teacher'. Nature has been used for thousands of years as a tool of insight and it's still used as such for a reason - because it works.
    I also use gardening as a metaphor for purchasing when training internal stakeholders what it's all about.
    Postscript: a Landscaping Your Life website was launched in November 2015 - so for more on this effective process do please go and visit.


    I only started using this tool in November 2014 and have been blown away by it's effectiveness in a business setting. I'd thought it was purely for personal coaching, and yet am finding it a great addition to the other business tools used.

    Frameworks for Change Coaching Process (FCP)

    This process is the business version of the tool below, and I've been successfully using it in business sessions since 2005.
    Other card sets I have used include Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies and Roger Von Oech's Creative Whack pack. All tools that help you to explore a situation to gather more data about what might be holding you back.

    Transformation Game

    Of all the tools I use this is the only one that is only applicable in a personal setting. It's a game and takes 2.5 hrs per person to play and is hugely insightful. I'm not sure these blogs do it justice but I had to try

    So far this week I've shared summaries of blogs written on soft skills, procurement and the rant's I have on our disconnection from what it is to be human!

    Congratulations if you got to the end of that list - such a great reference for me and anyone wanting to know how I do that I do, and the benefits that I deliver as a result.

    Do call me if you think any of these tools might be of interest +44 (0)7770 538159

    Alison Smith
    Inspiring change inside and out when what you're doing isn't working

    Wednesday, 4 February 2015

    Summary: Soft Skills

    This week's summary blogs continue today with soft skills. I know it's an emotive phrase and I joined that debate with my blog rant last week entitled "but I don't do soft fluffy stuff" and went on to explain that we all do soft fluffy stuff every minute of every day - ie we're not the android above but human. I also wrote the case for soft skills too.

    I first dipped my toe into understanding more about these skills over 15 years ago when I attended a 4 day NLP workshop. I was so enthused about the subject I went on to attend the remaining 16 days of the practitioner, a further 20 days for the master practitioner, another 20 days for the trainer trainer and numerous assistant roles to repeat all of the above. Which in class room time alone must amount to over 200 days on the subject. So yes I was hooked and books on the subject continue to arrive weekly as I explore the subject more fully.

    Further certification in other coaching tools have just added to the melting pot of all things fluffy!  (More on these tomorrow).

    I suppose that's why I blog so often about the subject - my enthusiasm for the subject - but also the ability as I blog to explore the models more fully. Recent blogging on the subject certainly helped when I included a lot of this content in Future Purchasing's Category and Supplier Management workshops before Christmas.

    The challenge is how to summarise the blogs on this subject because they represent over half of the blogs I write. That said if I write on communication over a number of days I'll link to the other blogs from the final one. So that's what you'll have here - a set of favourite subjects with links to the main blog with the ability when you get there to explore that subject further. Although be warned its still a long list!

    Personal change management is at the heart of much of soft skills.

    Values are the key to much stuckness in our lives because they motivate our every action or not, and are the basis for how we judge others.

    Influencing (Also see NLP with links to load of blogs)


    Personal development


    My favourite quotes

    Short stories I've written with wellbeing in mind

    The summary blog tomorrow will share more about what I do and how I do it.

    Yesterday I provided a summary list of blogs on procurement, and the day before a summary of rants on the loss of our humanity. A useful reference for those who enjoy my blogs and more easily want to read those from the archive - ok also easier for me to find them too :-).

    Alison Smith
    Inspiring Change Inside and out - when what you're doing isn't working

    Tuesday, 3 February 2015

    Summary: Procurement

    Yesterday I jumped straight into Miss angry mode, with a summary of blogs that questioned whether we're losing our humanity, I therefore felt it only right that today's summary blog concentrated on the profession that I live, breath and love - procurement.

    I wonder if I'm the only person who went into procurement on the advise of the careers adviser - she said my analytical bias and extroversion were perfectly suited to procurement - and 30 years later (did I just type that - oh my!!) I think she might just have been right. I've tried a few times to escape but my passion, enthusiasm and expertise for the profession seems to keep me rooted here.

    As you will have noticed many of my blogs concentrate on the soft skills required for procurement, and business more widely (and there will be a separate summary blog to cover that subject tomorrow). So yes I am more likely to blog about influencing skills than I am Kraljic. I'm also more likely to be sharing insight on procurement to those who don't work in procurement rather than those who do. On the basis that if others understand the breadth involved in best practice/ world class or just down right great procurement they'd leave it to us and not try to do it themselves. An area I think procurement has failed to tackle that effectively if recent - horsegate and payment terms fiasco's are anything to go by.

    That said, I do at times blog more directly about procurement here, and also for Future Purchasing and Supply Management:

    Procurement the basics
    Procurement Process
    Procurement Management
    Supplier Management
    General Management
    There will be another summary blog tomorrow on soft skills and all things influencing, change management, communication, collaboration and personal development.

    Alison Smith
    Inspiring change inside and out - when what you're doing isn't working

    Monday, 2 February 2015

    Summary: what it means to be human

    This week I'm summarising my blogs - that is I've written a lot of blogs on a few key subjects and to assist those interested in a specific subject I'm going to develop a contents page with links to every thing (ok perhaps not everything) I've written on the subject. It will be a great help to me for reference too.

    Last week's news of ID chips being placed under the skin of employees in Sweden had a number of bloggers and tweeters taking to social media to express their concern. Me included, and had me reflecting that a large majority of my most angry blogs have been about what I see as the erosion of our humanity namely (although they only represent 3.5% of my content):

    and whilst not as angry as some of the above, never the less a sad sign of the times:
    Although I realise that getting angry changes nothing and all I can hope to do is be the change I want to see in the world and business, and hope that the business archetype that's worryingly inhumane at times is replaced by a more enlightened one.
    Don't worry I do blog about other less emotive subjects such as procurement, influencing, language, and well being and will share contents pages for those as the week progresses.

    Alison Smith
    Inspiring change inside and out - when what you're doing isn't working

    Sunday, 1 February 2015

    Facilitating change

    I use a number of different tools * in the work I do - some more conventional than others. The aim of using any of them is to inspire change when, and here's the important bit, when what you're doing isn't working. After all if what you were doing was working you wouldn't be stuck and in need of identifying a solution.

    The key thing I have to remember is not every tool will work for every group or person or every situation, and not everyone will be comfortable with using all of the tools. It's certainly not about bullying people to use a tool they're not comfortable with.

    What it is about is uncovering what's holding someone back and that unfortunately strays into what many call the soft fluffy stuff. But since we're all guided by our fluffy stuff every day it's no surprise the answers can often be found there.

    Some of the tools * I use therefore deal with getting at and exploring the "fluff". It would be no use simply using Porter's five forces, Kraljic or even a stakeholder map if the problem holding you back is your resistance to change. Yes the others tools are safer and don't make people feel uncomfortable, but they also don't solve the problem if the solution will be found in your values and beliefs.

    Never the less some of the tools are much more suited to personal coaching settings and others more applicable in business group settings.

    That said I used the collage cards last week at the Scottish Institute for Business Leaders (SIBL) and much insight was gained and movement forward achieved for the business leaders concerned. Up till then, since attending the collage workshop late last year, I'd only used the process with personal, even if business, coaching clients.

    Those attending the meeting were split into 2 groups - the first explored their issues using Action Learning. A second smaller, and yes willing, group came with me to explore their issues using the collage cards. 

    We spent 2 hours together each pulling a number of cards to help them to:
    • Understand the characteristics of the current situation
    • Identify what was holding them back, and hopefully release it
    • Agree an action plan for the future 

    I don't want to share too much due too confidentiality (to get a sense of what the process involves you can find more here - although it's much enhanced once others provide feedback too) but in summary:
    • A business plan was changed
    • A number of business goals were realigned
    • A few personal goals were stretched
    • Over half had their confidence in their resulting goals increased
    • A couple identified and started to release the fear surrounding their goals (would need an individual session with the individuals concerned to help do this more fully) 
    • Everyone's actions were grounded
    And importantly for me, and a sign of the processes' efficacy
    • everyone asked if we could just bring the cuppa back into the room rather than have the 10 minutes break
    • everyone took a picture of their cards at the end
    • everyone enthused about the process and talked of wanting to use it on other challenges
    No tool I have ever used has ever had such a resounding thumbs up. I know it's a small sample but I'm taking that as a positive sign of what might be possible with this process. I would certainly welcome further opportunities to use it in personal and business settings. You can contact me on or +44 (0)7770 538159.

    Alison Smith
    Inspiring change inside and out - when what you're doing isn't working

    * In addition to collage cards other tools I use to support my coaching in a business setting might include NLP,  Frameworks for change coaching process, creative whack packoblique strategies, landscaping your life, and in a personal setting the Transformation Game. They're used because they're really effective at getting at what's holding people back and more importantly getting you back on track.