Sunday, 26 February 2017

Flawless Consulting

One of the books I return to again and again is Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting. It is packed with good advice, and the overall message is as powerful as it is simple: the need to behave authentically and to understand and complete each stage of the consultancy process effectively.

The reason it has come to mind now is that I am just back from spending a couple of days interviewing many of the members of a senior team. I used a very simple interview structure with just four questions, and listened to each of them for an hour.

As a result, my head is buzzing with the richness and complexity of all that I have been told, and wondering how best to feed it back into the system in a useful way.

And then I remember Peter Block’s words of wisdom: frequently the most useful thing a consultant can do is to offer a clear and simple picture of what is happening.

So I asked myself that question: if I had to offer a clear and simple picture of what is happening, what would I say?  And there, beyond the complexity, is the clarity I need. There are just a few things to focus on, at least initially.  Complexity sits behind them all, of course, but I am quite clear that if we address these few issues effectively, we can make significant progress.

So if you are engaged in consultancy, or if you use consultants come to that, I highly recommend Flawless Consulting: a true vade mecum.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

On The Receiving End...

I have blogged numerous times about Nancy Kline's approach to listening and the Thinking Environment, the various ways in which I have used it, and its consistent usefulness. But what I have not written about before is my experience of it on the receiving end. 

Ever since last April, when I attended Nancy's Thinking Partnership programme, I have had a regular Thinking Partnership session with one of the other practitioners who was on the programme, a wonderful coach, Claudia Danser

We typically speak on Skype (as she is in London and I am in Cumbria), and have learned a lot about the Thinking Partnership process and that medium as a result (for example, on Skype, don't look into the eyes of the person to whom you are listening; rather look at the video camera lens - that feels to the recipient more as though you are looking into his or her eyes, and it makes a difference!)

These conversations have always been valuable, both for the opportunity to continue to practice the skills in a safe environment with a skilled coach, and also for the actual content of the session. Normally, we both find that the first stage, the simple attentive listening, is sufficient to resolve whatever issues we bring to the session.

However, the reason that I am writing about it this time is that the issue we addressed in our most recent call needed more than that. I was experiencing an unusual, and unusually strong, sense of worry about a forthcoming piece of work, and wanted to understand why.

Claudia had to go all the way through the model, helping me to identify the assumptions I was making, decide which one was most limiting, and then construct an alternative positive assumption to try out. 

The result was excellent. Not only did I understand what was causing my unease (which was my declared goal) but also found that by the end of our conversation, I had replaced the sense of unease with a far greater sense of ease and confidence, as a result of replacing the limiting assumption with a more liberating - and truer - one.

Interestingly, that conversation was sound only: we couldn't get Skype to work (possibly because I was in a hotel room, connected via a poor hotel link). But it didn't seem to matter: the process worked, once more.

So yet again, I have experienced the power of Nancy's model; and this time as the recipient, rather than the coach. And once again, it has delivered exceptional results. I remain impressed.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Social Media for HE

John Denham, Sue Littlemore & Gordon Mackenzie
in the panel discussion
This week, we had the media and engagement module of Winchester Futures, featuring a stellar range of guests, including John Denham, Sue Littlemore, Gordon Mackenzie, Alastair Bruce and Alastair Stewart.

John, Sue and Gordon, along with Sam Jones, the University's Head of Communications, were discussing how we can influence policy and practice.  Their insights and experience shed a great deal of light on the political process and appropriate ways to engage with civil servants, policy makers and ministers.
Alastair Bruce: Royal Herald
as well as distinguished broadcaster
The two Alastairs joined us for the subsequent interview skills practice: taking participants in small groups through the essential skills of TV interviews, and then interviewing each on camera. I had the pleasure of welcoming them, but I wasn't present for their interviews as I was working with other groups at the same time on radio interviews. However, all the reports were extremely positive, so we are most grateful for their time and expertise.
Alastair Stewart, stalwart of ITN

We also discussed social media,, with Vanessa Harbour and Debs Wilson sharing their knowledge and experience. I also contributed a bit, and promised participants a list of the links and resources that I mentioned. It occurred to me that other people in HE might find them useful, so I post them here, as a reference point.

One of the points we discussed was the importance of curating your online profile. Even if you have no intention of engaging in social media in support of your work, it is important to know, and to manage, what people will see if they search for you online. Here is a useful checklist for that process.

We also talked about the range of ways in which one can engage. At one extreme is the passive consumer. At the very least, it is worth bookmarking THE, The Conversation, and Wonkhe.  Wonkhe's Monday Morning HE Briefing is worth subscribing to, as well.

If you want to look more seriously at how to use Social Media to support your research, you should have a look at Mark Reed's slides on this. Mark is an academic researcher who has developed a sideline in helping other academic researchers to increase their impact. His book, The Research Impact Handbook has a very valuable section on using social media, and the associated wwwsite is worth exploring, too.

If you want inspiration, have a look at the JISC's list of top 50 HE professionals using social media, here. The range of examples is extraordinary. Here I cite are just a few that caught my eye.

Cardiff University Medical School’s official Facebook page Cardiff C21 is now one of the most influential platforms of communication within the school. The page is used as an adjunct tool in medical education, and is estimated to reach over 70% of the School’s 1,400 medical students. Innovative content, thought provoking articles and other posts keep the content relevant and interesting to students. The team ran some research and discovered that:
    • 42% of students studied topics further due to posts on the page;
    • 26% applied for jobs and opportunities advertised on the page;
    • 47% attended an academic event advertised on the page;
    • 24% of responders joined a club or society due to work of the page;
    • 62% of respondents reported feeling either more or much more satisfied with the medical course as a result of using the page.

Or there is the Jisc-funded social media crowdsourcing project, The Great War Archive, which managed to collect 6,500 digitised items from the public in just 12 weeks.

I also liked the sound of a YouTube 'clone’ site (closed site for students), for bioscience students at Ulster University. Students in small groups of three or four make a reflective video documentary about one of the experiments they conduct; this is then uploaded to the site and shared with everyone on the module; and also #Vetfinals on Twitter: a revision club for vet students at Nottingham, where an expert tweets a clinical case for students to ‘solve’. 

Another valuable sites to explore, if you want more ideas, is the Oxford University Social Media Guide. It has 29 top tips for creating and managing effective social media channels.

 Finally, the Newcastle University Library Services site is excellent, showcasing how a huge range of different social media platforms can be used in support of research.

There are risks of course; one is reputational. The speed and vehemence of social media campaigns when one puts a foot wrong can be breathtaking (remember the Tim Hunt affair?)  The other is time: it is easy to get seduced into wasting a huge amount of time on social media. Both Mark Reed's material and the Oxford Top Tips have something to say about this.

But the benefits are also, potentially, enormous. The reach of social media is enormous; and academics who use it well can both spread their work and engage a huge public in ways hitherto unimaginable.