Sometimes I am asked: “How do you know if a person, team or organisation is serious about achieving success?” The answer is simple.
People who are serious move from
the philosophical to the physical
Changing the physical things often leads to changing the psychological things. People feel more alive and see things are happening on the road towards achieving success.
This rule also holds true when working with teams and organisations. Great organisations, for example, are clear on their story, strategy and road to success. They then often get some early wins to translate these words into action.
Why? People believe what they see, not what they hear. Poor organisations get lost in intellectual talk. Great leaders look at their philosophy and ask:
“How can we make this physical?”
Let’s explore how you can use this approach when working with individuals, teams and organisations.
1) You can help individuals to move from the philosophical to the physical.
People can often change how they feel by changing their behaviour. There may be many reasons why a person feels bad, but they can do things that make them feel good.
Imagine you have experienced a serious setback. You can spend time in a sanctuary – because you need time to reflect – but then move towards shaping your future life.
Focusing on what you can control, you can set specific goals and work hard to achieve success. Changing your behaviour – rather than just talking – can change how you feel.
Certainly this was the case with the young people in Lancaster House, a therapeutic community I ran for troubled teenagers. The youngsters had many labels: such as delinquent, maladjusted, schizophrenic, neurotic, OCD or whatever.
This philosophy of the community was simple. We could help them to work towards their life goals, but they must be prepared to follow the community’s guidelines. The youngsters had got into trouble because they had adopted irresponsible ways of trying to satisfy their needs.
They could choose to take responsibility for their behaviour – no medical or other drugs were allowed – encourage others and spend each day working towards their goals. A key aspect was to expect the youngsters to take positive roles. So they were expected:
To speak at Universities and conferences about how social workers could best help teenagers.
To regularly host visiting social workers and psychologists, show them around the therapeutic community and explain the philosophy for helping teenagers.
To continually act as positive models for newcomers to the therapeutic community. Youngsters often copy people they admire, so it was vital that the more experienced residents behaved in a positive way.
Sounds tough, but it seemed to work. It called for the youngsters changing their physical behaviour.
Many had got into trouble because, when suffering setbacks, they had chosen to become depressed, take drugs, resort to violence or lapse into other self-defeating patterns.
Certainly we could have talked for years about the reasons why they felt bad. But acting in a responsible way – and getting rewarded for it – reaped more positive results.
(You can find some old-footage from the community on YouTube. Skip the first few minutes, which are mainly positioning my role, and move to seeing the youngsters in action. There are four parts to the programme, but you will get a flavour in the first installment.)
People can talk forever, but development often calls for moving from words to action. If you want to be healthier, for example, you may choose:
* To exercise more.
* To eat healthier food.
* To get enough sleep.
* To spend more time with encouraging people.
* To follow your passions – be these writing, painting, music, gardening, creating or whatever.
* To appreciate your assets.
* To pursue your overall life-purpose.
These sound big things, but you will break them down into small actions. This calls for moving from the philosophical to the physical.
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Imagine a person has asked you to help them work towards their life goals.
Certainly you will need to spend time clarifying their picture of success, but then move from words to action. How can you help them to take these steps? Try completing the following sentence.
2) You can help teams to move from the philosophical to the physical.
Several years ago I worked with a football manager – let’s call him Dave – who took over a prominent but under-achieving club. He inherited a culture of excuses.
Players arrived late for training, blaming it on the traffic. They gambled heavily in card games when travelling to away matches. This became the main aspect of the trips, rather than preparing for the match.
Players argued with the referee, with each other and with the coaching staff. They ruled the roost, even though the club slipped down the table and narrowly missed relegation.
Dave immediately did several physical things. He brought in four experienced professionals: a goalkeeper, two centre backs and a central midfield player. The two centre backs were appointed captain and vice-captain.
Before taking the squad on a pre-season tour to Spain, Dave outlined his goal for the season and the guidelines he expected the players to follow to reach this target.
The Team’s Dos included:
* Do have a positive attitude.
* Do take responsibility.
* Do be model professionals.
* Do be good ambassadors for the club.
* Do keep yourself healthy.
* Do be on time for all sessions.
* Do follow the team’s strategy during matches.
* Do encourage each other, especially during difficult times; do show respect to referees.
* Do give 100% in every training session.
The Don’ts included: Don’t behave in a way that embarrasses the club; don’t argue with referees; don’t waste your talent.
Dave immediately met resistance from three ‘old-pros’ who had previously ruled the dressing room. Twenty-four hours after arriving at the training complex in Spain they chose to test the rules.
Staying out late, they behaved badly in front of the locals, drinking until the early hours. Arriving late for training the next day, they were confronted by Dave. All three were sent back to Britain that afternoon and never played for the club again.
“The players did me a favour,” said Dave.
“They gave me the opportunity to lay down a marker. Anticipating such behaviour, I had already lined-up replacements. During a practice match another player started arguing with the referee, so I substituted him immediately.
“That afternoon I invited our four most promising youth players to fly over and join the training. They were met at the airport by our new captain and vice-captain, who took them under their wings.
“The whole team rallied and, within three years, we qualified for Europe. The errant players gave me the chance to signal we meant business.”
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Imagine a leader has asked you to help the team to achieve success. You will probably invite the leader:
a) To outline the goals.
b) To outline the guidelines they want the team to follow to reach the goals.
c) To outline how they plan to encourage, educate and equip the team to do great work to reach the goals.
What suggestions would you make for helping people to move from words to actions? How could the leader give some positive messages?
How could they ‘reward the behaviour they want repeated’? How could they also communicate and act on tough messages? Try completing the following sentence.
3) You can help organisations to move from the philosophical to the physical.
Several years ago I worked with a superb high-tech company. The whole company set about co-ordinating its strengths to achieve its picture of success. How did this happen?
The leadership team set the tone, but realised they would be judged by their people’s performance. Bearing this in mind, they guided people through the following philosophical and physical steps.
* They clarified the company’s strengths and opportunities.
They started by focusing on the company’s positive history and the principles it had followed to perform brilliantly. They then moved onto clarifying its strengths and potential opportunities in the future.
* They clarified the possible strategic routes the company could follow in the future.
They clarified the pluses and minuses of each route.
* They settled on the company’s future strategy.
They clarified the specific things they could do: a) To build on the pluses; b) To minimise the potential minuses.
* They clarified whether they were really serious about implementing the strategy.
They rated this on a scale 0-10. They concluded they were serious, even though this would involve taking some tough decisions.
They saw their chosen strategy as the best way to improve the company’s future chances of success.
* They clarified the company’s story, strategy and road to success – the ‘What, Why, How, Who and When’.
They clarified how to communicate this story, give people a sense of ownership and get some quick successes. They also clarified how to maintain the momentum.
* They revisited the strengths in the company – the organisational, team and individual strengths – and how they could harness these talents to achieve success.
* They clarified their own strengths as leaders and how to be a good a leadership team.
They were aware that, as leaders, they were always ‘on stage’. So it was vital they acted as positive models for the business.
* They clarified the structure that would enable people to deliver the strategy and how to implement this structure successfully.
* They revisited the overall story and practiced it thoroughly before communicating it to their people.
They also explored the various tough questions they would be asked and how to answer these questions in an adult and fair way.
* They shared the provisional story and strategy with key managers across the business.
They did this in small groups and one-to-one sessions. They gave people the chance to provide input, ask questions and make suggestions regarding the way forwards.
These inputs helped to both enrich the story and provide a reality check. They then finalised the story.
* They gathered the whole company together to share the story, strategy and road to success.
They began by explaining the possible strategic ways forward for the company, together with the pluses and minuses of each option.
They outlined their chosen way forward and the reasons behind this decision. They explained how they would get some quick successes and the events people could expect in the future.
* They explained that each team would get the opportunity to attend a day workshop where they would be able:
a) To become more familiar with the strategy.
b) To clarify their team’s road map towards achieving the picture of success.
c) To start clarifying their individual contributions towards achieving their company’s goals.
* They explained the workshops would be followed by each team completing their road maps and putting these on the ‘Share Point’.
Everybody would then be able to see how each team was contributing towards achieving the company’s picture of success.
* They explained that each team member would be asked to clarify their best contribution to the team goals.
They would then meet with their manager to make clear contracts about their goals for the next year.
* They began to introduce a common language.
This was based around the themes of the story; super teams; strengths; customer service meaning helping the customer to succeed; choices and consequences; clear contracting; and managing by outcomes, rather than managing by task.
Language is vital. Winston Churchill maintained that first we shape our buildings, then our buildings shape us.
When working with people, it is good to remember that: “First we shape our language, then our language shapes us.”
So it was important to build a common language.
* They gave every person a copy of the company story, strategy and road to success.
The leaders attended each team workshop and gave everybody the opportunity to talk about:
a) The things they liked about the plan.
b) The concerns they had and any other questions.
c) The support they needed to deliver the picture of success.
* They translated their intentions into actions.
Each team attended a day workshop; each team made their road map; each person focused on their best contribution towards achieving the goals.
Each manager was given extra support in developing their leadership skills and building super teams.
Each team also made extra efforts to get closer to their customers, clarify the customers’ agendas and help the customers to succeed.
* They kept revisiting the story during the regular company meetings.
They updated people on the progress made and the road ahead towards achieving the picture of success.
* They explained ‘The Deal’ to people.
The company’s responsibility was to communicate the story, strategy and road to success. It was also to give people the support they needed to make their best contribution towards achieving the goals.
The colleague’s responsibility was to choose to opt-into the future culture, make clear contracts about their best contribution and do their best to achieve the picture of success. Most people chose to opt-in, some chose to move on.
* They promoted people who embodied the spirit required in the future culture.
They also implemented other structural changes that were required to deliver the picture of success.
* They made many physical changes to the office, making it more colourful and alive.
* They announced that, within four weeks, each team would be invited to present a video showing:
a) The specific things they had delivered on the road towards achieving the picture of success.
b) The specific things they planned to deliver in the next 3 months.
The videos could be in any form. People were asked, however, to use their creativity and make the videos memorable. A date was set for a whole company event at which the videos would be shown. There would be a prize for the best video.
* They spent more quality time – in one-to-ones and in groups – with the key managers and focused on how they, as a leadership team, could help the managers and their teams to deliver success.
* They published many success stories about the great work done by their people, both inside the organisation and when serving their customers.
These stories reinforced the spirit and specific actions that would be required to deliver future success.
* They invited outside speakers who had been through this process before to address the company. These speakers described:
a) The specific things that had gone well with the approach – and the efforts required to make these happen.
b) The more challenging things that people might need to tackle – and how.
c) The specific outcomes of the approach.
* They held the video event in which each team presented their videos.
This proved extremely successful. The positive energy and creativity it generated reinforced the feeling that people were on the right road.
* They continue to hold quarterly feedback events where each team is invited to present their successes and plans for the future.
Each event takes a different form and invites people to be even more creative. At the same time, they ask people to submit their suggestions for: “How we can keep the momentum going.”
They implement many of these ideas, keep updating people on the story and give them a share in the fruits of success.
The high-tech company still has a long way to go, but it continues to be on track. One key element was producing some quick visible successes after sharing the story.
Why? They realised that it is vital: “To change the physical things to change the psychological things to change the philosophical things.” People believe what they see, not what they hear.
There are many ways to help individuals, teams and organisations to move towards their goals. Certainly it is vital to clarify the overall strategy, but also to create momentum.
One way to do this is to move from the philosophical to the physical. People then feel something is happening. They begin to generate the energy required to achieve the picture of success.
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Imagine a leadership team has asked you to help them to work towards the organisation’s picture of success.
How could you help them to translate their words to actions? Try completing the following sentence.