Lindsay’s In Business: PART 62: Momentum and Learning

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What happens when you realise your path is entrepreneurship rather than employment? Lindsay takes up the challenge and shares an account of her journey as it unfolds…

The Netherlands

On Friday 14 December, we discovered that some reports we had produced for an EU organization in Berlin were incorrect.  The reports were out of our normal scope, and created at the client’s request, for 15 managers based on ratings given to these four statements by people in their teams:

  • My manager sets clear goals and objectives
  • My manager is available to help with problems
  • My manager initiates discussions on progress
  • My manager provides feedback and direction as needed

This is part of a section of our work that looks at factors of team effectiveness that are mainly outside of the control of the team members themselves.

The client had already distributed the reports we had issued to each manager as a basis for their performance review and god – the data in them was wrong.  At first, we thought the errors weren’t significant enough to mention.  But Miss X – my trusted colleague – insisted we dig deeper to find out exactly how bad the damage was.

The timing of this was not good. We were due to give a workshop to all 60 staff in 7 teams at a Xmas Retreat in 3 days’ time.  Just the mere thought of telling the client about this error: undermining their trust in our team reports, creating embarrassment and inconvenience for them, blowing all of our chances of becoming one of their recommended suppliers – made me feel physically sick.

We worked during that weekend to find the cause and correct the errors, discovering that every Manager report had been affected.  Basically, a spreadsheet calculation that should have been a ‘look-up’ formula instead of a ‘relational’ formula was used as a temporary measure but not updated in the production of the final reports. This meant that some of the cells to calculate the results in the reports were the wrong cells – skewing data points by up to 33%!  This was inexcusable, and I’d have to apologise and send the corrected reports.

On Monday I called my client contact and explained the situation (after some coaching from my trusted friend Wiebke).  Do you know what she said?

“Shit happens.  Let’s just work out how to deal with this after the workshop.”

Amazingly professional and constructive.  A huge lesson learned on our side.  That afternoon, I got the plane to Berlin, stayed at Wiebke’s place (she was going to co-facilitate at the event with me), we borrowed a car to get to the venue about 80km north of the city early the next day, and set up the room.


Two weeks earlier:

I had set up Mirror Mirror to run at a top business school with 15 teams of 100 innovation students.  I wanted it to be lean.  I wanted to work with every student, not just one team. I promised the Professor that surveys instead of interviews, automated reporting instead of ‘hand-made’ reports, teams in simultaneous workshops instead of individual workshops were all totally do-able.

And to a certain extent it did work – but not ideally – and we learned a lot.  Lean can be great but not at the expense of quality:

  1. The automated reporting frequently showed ‘no data’ because the responses were too different to match so the reports weren’t so clear.
  2. Mistakenly, the same table of results were copied across all reports (which I didn’t notice until the students queried it).Thankfully they were ok about it when I noticed and immediately told the teams during the workshop.
  3. We relied on appointing and briefing a student within each team to facilitate their teams rather than include dedicated, experienced facilitators per team.The latter would have been too expensive but the quality was lower.

My guardian angel Ineke came with me (she’s a very good friend of mine and an experienced team facilitator) and was able to support. Luckily people at Universities are very forgiving about mistakes, and 69% of students say they felt their project team was more prepared to succeed after Mirror Mirror, but a lesson not to compromise on quality was deeply learned that day.


Over to London

Meantime, on a whole different level, there’s Teresa May and she’s in Brexit-hell. The way I see it, she’s been very clear about her task: “I’ve for been given a mandate by the British people to get us out of Europe and that’s what I’ll do.”

As she went on, people began to admire her clarity and conviction. Despite all the pressure and people trying to pull her left, right and centre, she stuck to her mandate and forged ahead on a dead straight 2-year course to negotiate a deal with the EU.

But the result has not been popular – at all.

To my disappointment, she’s not now adapting to the context around her. She’s just stuck with her old mandate, trying to get her version of Brexit through.  The context around her is that the negotiations are over, the deal won’t be accepted by the UK parliament, and the divisions on what to do next are rife.  Stop with the old mandate.  Time to adapt and lead, Theresa.

But it looks to me like she’s clinging on to that dead straight direction that kept her so safe, before now. What could be characterised as stiff and stoic stubbornness, might well be insecurity and tunnel vision.  You need to change your mandate when times change.

I felt conscious about having that same tunnel vision over the past two busy weeks. For so long, my self-issued mandate has been:

“Please be my client!”

“I just want to prove Mirror Mirror!”

“I’ll go 10 extra miles to delight you!”

I’m happy to say I’ve learned these are out of date. Maybe they were ok at the time but they’re not right now.


My experience over the past 6 weeks with the EU organization

I had agreed to do the EU organization job for more or less half the price that it should have been to fit into the available budget.  But the scope kept creeping and the client kept changing plans:

  1. Moving from a 2-day workshop to a 1-day workshop takes 0.5 days to rewrite the agenda.No extra billing for that.
  2. A line in my proposal for fixed price expenses didn’t account for the fact that the client wasn’t able to confirm a date to meet and prepare everything together, so the flight prices doubled.
  3. I assumed we would be booked a room at the hotel with the participants, but no – I needed to make my own booking – within the expenses budget – and by the time I understood that, all of the rooms had been booked.
  4. And then there was the error in reporting – which probably happened because we were rushing and trying to delight at our expense.

The big learnings here are about taking the time that is needed to do a proper job and making sure you get paid for it.  Sounds easy, but not when you’re operating under my previous mantra.

From now on, I will quote for a certain scope of work. Be clear that if the scope changes and when I need to do additional work, this will be chargeable additionally.

Of course, I was desperate and would rather accept on these terms than not do the work at all – but they’re getting a staff survey, a team assessment, and an effectiveness workshop under one relatively small ‘event’ budget.


Today in Berlin

It’s Wednesday morning and we ran the EU organization workshop yesterday.  It went really well. The client and her boss were delighted. We had a mutual feedback session at the end of the day and she appreciated all of the extra work.  She’s happy to be a customer reference.  She is happy to forward a one-pager to her network.  She was actually hugging Wiebke and I by the end in a kind of locked embrace!

I’m so relieved, exhausted, and grateful.  Grateful for forgiving clients, supportive colleagues, and for being able to get out of tunnel vision and learn.

Tunnel vision prevents you from seeing and aligning to context.  A genuine desire to be open, fearless, adaptive, and to learn is the antidote.

Here’s to 2019 : ) Thank you for taking an interest and reading : ) xx

Mirror Mirror – We go deeper to get the issues and opportunities on the table – safely, objectively and constructively.

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