January 18, 2018

Learning or doing, which is the priority?

Woman thinkingWe need to keep learning e.g. about people; and we need to keep doing or delivering e.g. in a business. So which is more important? Delivering perhaps (it’s certainly likely to be more urgent), but what if the delivery is weak because we haven’t yet learned some vitally relevant information?

If learning is the priority then perhaps the opportunity or expectation will pass before we have made ourselves ready.

Obviously, it’s a balance. Do you have it in the right place? Could you benefit from moving learning up a bit?

Sometimes, of course, we need to act in order to learn: We can’t merely think our way to the right solution. We need to gather some experience of the issue. We need to attempt delivery and see what happens.

Which is more likely to make a long-term, sustainable difference: Learning or delivering? Probably learning, I’d say.

How do you balance this out?

New Year every month?

Calendar dates from monday to sundayHow often do you review your goals (assuming you set some in the first place, of course)?

Obviously, it’s traditional to set personal goals at the turn of the year and it’s a good idea. It’s a good time to do it too, because we need a bit of downtime to reflect on what our direction should be. I have benefited over the years from doing this reasonably diligently, not least because it’s made me re-assess my priorities and what I am aiming for. The actual outcome has definitely been different from what it would have been had I not taken the time to think over what I could achieve in the 12 months to come. (I also think about three years ahead, to make sure I am radical enough.)

Because of the fresh direction that comes out of the process, last year, I decided to attempt to take stock and re-assess my yearly aim and objectives every month-end. Of course, I didn’t manage every month, but I did manage about six of the month-ends. That definitely contributed to a successful year. Each time, there was experience and learning to reflect on and I made some adjustments to my aim for the year—upwards, generally—because I could see more clearly. That redirection definitely wouldn’t have happened without making time for the review. (I’m not saying it’s a comfortable kind of thinking, by the way. It’s work, no doubt about that.)

I suggest you try this, especially if you are entirely responsible for your own direction. At the end of the year, you’ll be glad you did.

I know this is kind of serious, but it matters.


New Year every month?

Tip: Schedule your monthly review in your diary—perhaps for the weekend nearest the beginning of the month.

And, of course…

Best wishes for 2017.

Blending the intervention

Four people speaking in front of a laptopWe don’t have all the answers. That’s true whether we’re on the outside of the issue looking in or on the inside looking out.

The leadership team knows its business, whereas the change agent knows something useful the insiders don’t currently have. Neither has all the answers, nor even all of the pieces available collectively.


The way forward needs to be a blend of both—both what the leadership team already has and what the change agent is bringing, but not usually all of either.

For the necessary co-creation to happen, both parties need to let go of something—to give up part of their model.

Are you ready to do that?

Asking the right question

Group in discussion at computerThere’s no such thing as the right question, of course, but some enquiries contribute more to moving things on than others.

It’s worth thinking about…

What’s your intention when you ask a question – helping things along in the direction they need to go in for the benefit of everyone, or making a point to enhance your position?

Both have their place, I suppose.


It’s good to be clear about your aim.

And if it’s to move things on, there’s a skill in asking just the right question to pick things up where they are and carry them on to the next step.

How well do you do that?

You can’t really assess your staff…

Four business people in a discussion… unless you’re sure you’ve provided effective leadership.

If you’re looking for the people who work for you to be self-motivated and highly productive, you can’t sensibly begin to assess whether they are or not, unless or until you’re sure you’ve provided good leadership.

Otherwise your actions (or inactions) are a bigger factor than their character.

And it’s probably not a question of just telling them what to do.

Yes, you may well need to be demanding, but the key point is, is the direction you are providing clear, or at least are any ambiguities clearly understood and balanced?

If not, the inertia caused by lack of direction will be the dominant factor.

And you won’t really know whether your people are any good or not.

And, of course, with the right leadership…

Ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things.

So you survived the recession…

Worried manSo you successfully steered your business through the recession—a significant achievement which no doubt took a lot of courage, determination and energy, and probably involved a fair amount of pain.

You learned a great deal. You established a tight grip. You had good governance.

You’re going to keep these disciplines going. (We may not be out of recession yet, so that’s wise.)

And yet…

You might need something different now, or perhaps more accurately, something else as well.

You might need some innovation and change if you’re not going to be left behind by more adaptable organisations. And if you need some innovation, you might need to loosen up. You might need to create some freedom.

You might need to find a way to balance disorder and order.

Do you know how to do that?

Brand—a relationship thing?

High Street sceneWe tend to think of brands in isolation, as if they exist in their own right, in an absolute sense. We think of a logo perhaps, or a style of packaging, or a particular tagline or strapline.


The properties of a brand only really exist in the minds of its followers, or the people who are aware of the brand; the community built around it.


A brand really has the features of a relationship, and a brand and its following are two sides of the same coin. The one doesn’t exist without the other.

Without a following, you don’t have a brand.

Build a following, and your brand will mean something.

Have a clearer brand, and more people will follow.

Action plus brand equals result

High Street sceneMaybe there’s something we’re missing…

It’s healthy to believe we can replicate others’ success in leading change, or in achieving business results.

We can, and the approach is a good one.

But there is something we need to remember…

There is a missing element…

And that is the esteem in which we (or our exemplar of success) are held by our market, our audience or our constituency – whatever the most appropriate collective word is for the people we intend to influence.

One word for that relationship between a business and its market, or a person and their following, or a change agent and their community is “brand” – a kind of label summing up the relationship. Brand is something we can develop, of course, but only over time.

If you think about it…

Brand really refers to something that exists in the audience, not in the business. And if you want to study a brand, you need to talk to the market.


When we take action in expectation of a result…

Members of our audience weigh our action in its own right, yes, but then they factor in their beliefs about us; how they perceive our standing and credibility; in other words, our brand. And then they decide: Yes or no.

Same action, different brand leads to different result.


What’s your sense of your brand?

How might it be affecting your results?

And how might you develop it differently for the future?

Is it a mistake to focus when you don’t know what works?

Signposts pointing in all different directionsFocus, focus, focus—the key to having an impact, making progress, gaining traction.

But what if you don’t really know what works, or don’t know yet?

If you’re doing something new, you’re very unlikely to get it right first time. If you had enough knowledge to hit the target at the first attempt then it probably wasn’t such a new thing you were doing.

If your idea or product or service hasn’t engaged a market or an audience before then it’s unlikely you really know what they want, not least because they probably don’t know yet either. Only when they see something that makes some kind of connection will they realise what their true need is.

So maybe you do need to keep things more open than conventional wisdom would suggest. That’ll cost more and take more effort than just following one option, but not as much as focusing on the wrong thing—the one it turns out nobody actually wants.

The gradual narrowing of options toward a truly effective focus is an art in itself, and a welcome development when it comes.

To mangle Albert Einstein’s words… Everything needs to be as focused as possible, but no more focused than that.

What’s your experience?