You can find David Gouthro on Twitter @davidgouthro
Ever get the feeling that communication and idea sharing in your organization has been stymied?
Sometimes the best way to deal with this is to bring in an outsider – a neutral third party with no personal stake in the decisions or ideas being proposed. Someone who’s entire purpose is to help people move forward with their conversations and helping them draw out innovative and challenging ideas.
Enter the Facilitator – a keenly insightful person who is there to keep conversation flowing, provoke questions, diffuse tension, and get people at all levels talking.
Today’s Talk Shop interview features master facilitator David Gouthro. David has more than 25 years experience facilitating meetings and events for hundreds of organizations. We sit down for a great talk about what stalls or prevents conversation, how to get the communication juices flowing, and how to make the most of the facilitation process at your business’ or organization’s meetings and events.
Prefer to read than watch? Scroll down for the full transcript!
Lauren Sergy: Hello everybody, and welcome to “Talk Shop”, the place where you can learn from industry experts how to bring more power to your words in your work and your life. Have you ever had to bring up difficult subjects within your workplace with several different employees at one time, or maybe you needed to have a discussion about a topic that people found really, really touchy to address, or you needed to announce upcoming change within your organization? For most people, any of these situations will start to make their heart pound faster, but I have got a treat for you today. Today on this show I bring to you David Gouthro, a self-described organizational lubricant, who is going to give you a few tips on how to discuss change as well as other touchy subjects within your workspace.
For over 20 years, David Gouthro has been leading individuals and organizations in an ongoing pursuit of the knowledge and skills necessary for achieving greater effectiveness. Energetic, playful, and sensitive to the unique needs of both people and their organizations, he’s earned the reputation as facilitator and speaker of choice for many major North American organizations. David is a member of the Vancouver Board of Trade, BC Chamber of Commerce, International Society for Performance Improvement, and many other boards and organizations. He is also an experienced nose flutist. Be sure to ask him for a free demonstration.
David, welcome to “Talk Shop.” Thank you very much for being with us here today. Now, you have an absolutely gorgeous image behind you, but tell me, behind that ruse of wonderful little green screen effect, what’s the weather like?
David Gouthro: Actually, it’s dry today, which is quite unusual. It was raining just a little bit when I went walking the dog this morning, but now it’s not too bad. It’s about 5 degrees, a little drizzly, a little overcast. Still sun, but a good day to be inside doing interviews.
Lauren: I have to ask everyone from BC what the weather is like, because it’s a point of both pride and insecurity being in very cold and icy Alberta where it’s currently one degree and sunny and gorgeous outside. We got you there.
David: I’m somewhat envious.
Lauren: Yes. That’s a rare, rare thing. Usually, it’s the other way around. David, tell us what your organizational lubricant work looks like. I love that term.
David: I’m not sure where that term actually came from. I don’t remember saying that, but sometimes I refer to it-
Lauren: It’s on your website, David!
David: I know. I’ll have to check that out. Oh, I know why. because I said, “Organizational laxative,” and the person that’s doing my website said, “That might be a little bit crude. Let’s try lubricant.” Mostly it’s about helping people have conversations that they wouldn’t otherwise and commit to doing something differently. Most of the clients I work with have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done, and there’s something that’s getting in the way from them doing that. Sometimes it’s lack of clarity. Quite often it’s lack of a conversation to bring about agreement, and so part of it is kind of greasing the wheels. It’s not about going in a totally different direction. It’s just about getting off the pot and doing something.
That takes different forms, different formats, different activities, different conversations and things like that. That’s basically like the laxative come lubricant actually does.
Lauren: Right, and an area in which you shine especially strongly is as a facilitator. Now, lots of people think, “A facilitator, they come in, they read some questions, they do some goofy exercises, goofy team building exercises, with the people in the room,” but you know better. You know much better. What can external facilitators actually do for an organization and for the people in it that those same people aren’t able to do for themselves?
David: I think there’s a number of things. One is that you’ve probably heard the term, “speak truth to power”, which these when there’s a shortage of jobs people are sometimes unwilling to speak up, to challenge, to question because that might lose their job. As an external facilitator, that doesn’t concern me at all. I’m quite comfortable speaking to anyone about anything. There’s that factor.
Lauren: You can open any can of worms that might possibly be out there.
David: Totally. With a commitment to leaving people in better shape when they leave than when they got there. I don’t think it’s very appropriate just to open a conversation and leave them hurting and in need of healing and then run. Say it’s up to them to fix it. I think that’s irresponsible, but I think the conversations, the tough conversations, that don’t happen in organizations cause a way more grief than the tough conversations that do happen. It’s the ones where people are talking about someone else rather than with someone else, talking about all the assumptions that no one wants to challenge because they don’t want to look stupid, things like that. I think also because I’m not working on one particular industry I can often bring perspectives from other industries that they might not have thought of just to hold that for them to examine for themselves.
You might remember. I don’t know. You’re a couple of years younger than me. You might remember anyhow Lauren. There used to be a TV show called “Columbo”. Detective show. Peter Falk. He used to ask, “[inaudible 00:05:32] I’m not quite sure I understand this.” Sort of asking the naïve question, and often the naïve question that no one wants to ask because they don’t want to look stupid but actually breaks things open. I don’t have any … As a facilitator I don’t have to prove that I’m smart because it’s not my content. I’m quite comfortable asking the question that may turn out to be the wrong question or a stupid question because I’m not invested in it. It doesn’t have an impact on me.
As a result, I think any external facilitator can ask those questions with relative impunity provided that they’re willing to deal with whatever response comes back from it.
Lauren: I imagine there’s also this aspect of, like you said, you can reflect what other people are thinking but don’t feel they have permission to say. The guy up at the front makes this observation that everyone else is going, “Yes. Thank you. Thank you. Finally, someone said it,” and you’re free to do that because you are that neutral third party. Sorry, go ahead.
David: Just I’m not invested in anything other than the client getting a good outcome, and it’s clear what my intention is. It’s not about me. It’s not about my ego. It’s about being in service of the client. I think sometimes being able to come across as having that clear intent and not eliciting a sense of competition with other people in the room can be very helpful. Lauren, back to you. Another question.
Lauren: I’ll just keep firing them your way. What are some signs that people who are in organizations should look for when it comes time to say, “You know what? We need a facilitator to come in.” What are some of the signs that they should be looking at bringing in a professional to help grease that conversation?
David: What are the signs?
Lauren: Red flags?
David: I think I might ask the question slightly differently as when does the facilitator add value, because there may not necessarily be signs … Well, let me answer your question first, then I’ll go another direction.
I think some of the signs are when there’s a feeling of tension or anxiety and conversations aren’t happening. Sometimes it’s when morale is low. It might be when it takes too long to execute something, when there’s a lot of confusing in the organization about what they’re supposed to be doing, when people are looking up the ladder and saying things like, “They don’t really know what’s going on,” but typically they’re not the ones that will bring in the facilitator. If a senior manager or executive, whenever he or she asks questions doesn’t get any responses back or really neutral responses or is looking for innovative ideas and no one brings them forward, that should be a sign that’s there’s something going on that’s keeping from coming forth with offering some of their ideas, some of their suggestions, their solutions.
Lauren: You led off that with another question, and it is a good followup question. When can a facilitator add that value? Obviously there’s this component of when people don’t feel like the conversation’s flowing more freely, but what about in a fairly functional organization?
David: I think there’s many times when a facilitator can add value, whether it be an internal or an external one. One is when you have a large group of people, and you can’t have a one-on-one conversation if you have two or 300 people in the room.
Lauren: That’s a good point.
David: Sometimes a facilitator with the ability to pull on different design elements becomes really important. To me, a lot of the success of any facilitation is when you have … Obviously having good facilitation skills helps, but prior to that is good design skills so you have a sense of what the outcome is the client’s looking for, how many people are going to be there, and then design to get that outcome. The design is just or more important. Often, if I’m doing a one day workshop or one day facilitation, I might end up spending three days getting ready for it.
Lauren: What are some of your favorite designs then? What have those been through the years in terms of working with groups?
David: Favorite designs?
Lauren: I know I threw that on at you. That is an off the top of my head question, but I’m very curious about this design element now. What do you design for?
David: There’s an issues forum that I’ve worked on in the credit union system in the last four years. I’m doing it again this year in the spring. Fifth year. It’s where there’s a group of it’s anywhere from 500 to 700 people. Personally, I think it’s abusive to have one person speak, 500 people listen, and they go out with a perspective of the person who spoke. I think that’s a huge waste of intellectual capital. One of the designs that I like to think about is how do you engage a group that large in a meaningful way? This would just be one example. Last year we had three very short presentations. They were like seven minutes long from experts in the field about what was going to be happening in the future of the credit union system. Then we had arranged to have two young leaders who were very, very important in the system comment on that.
Then had people move into table group conversations. Literally it was 700 people where the conversation was facilitated by a young leader, which is great learning for them because facilitating with senior executives and board chairs and things like that. How do you get a report out from 700 people? You can’t. It’d be mind numbing, so the question is then how do you engage people in the conversation so they’re actually getting value from it? What we did is have table numbers on each of the table, and I had a random number generator on my iPad at the front. After we’ve had the presentation, the young leader responses, and the table group conversation, we have 10 minutes for group input. What I do is just press a random number on the iPad, and whoever had that table number had to get up to a microphone and have a response. No one would want to take the chance not having a conversation in case their number got called.
It was highly engaging, it lets me manage the time for report out. If there’s 10 minutes or 20 minutes, I just keep calling on tables. Something like that was really helpful, and a version of that there’s something called a catch box. I don’t know if you’ve seen them. It’s kind of a cube that’s got a microphone inside.
Lauren: Yeah. People can toss them around?
Lauren: Okay. I’ve never seen one in action.
David: They are amazing. Instead of having mic runners and things like that, we had the young leaders doing the catching and tossing. Whatever table number was called, they toss the microphone to that person who could speak into the microphone. Not only did it ensure that there were random inputs, it also, just the activity of having this get passed around, kept people’s attention. We probably had four of them running around in the meeting room. Things like that.
Lauren: One area of organizational communication that I find personally very interesting because I come up against it a lot is the issues around dealing with organizational change. What I’ve experienced, and I know that many others have experienced through conversations that I’ve had with them, is that people have a great deal of difficulty talking about change. Of course, change can be very scary, and I imagine that’s part of where some of the anxiety comes in about talking about it, but why does the process of talking about change, why is that process of talking about it so scary? The change is scary, yes, but why are people worried about even bringing it up?
David: I think there’s all sorts of reasons. I think one is just the fear of the consequence of speaking up. Are they accused of not being a team player? Are they accused of holding it back? What are people going to think of them? I think whenever you’re in an environment where people feel they’re going to be judged for their response one way or another, it really shuts down the conversation. You want to get their input, but you want to do it in a way that’s safe for them, so one thing that doesn’t work getting people to talk about change is having people in a large group talking about change. It’s the usual suspects who stand up and speak, and there’s the usual rolling of the eyes and things like that. I think it’s much more important to get people talking in small groups and having people talk about the change from the safety of a large perspective, a table group. Things like that. I think largely it’s the fear of consequence.
I find people generally are … I mean, it takes a lot less courage to make a case for keeping things the same because you have all sorts of evidence of when it’s worked. It’s takes much more courage to talk about something new.
Lauren: That is what we see.
David: Exactly. It’s safer. At least it’s known. That’s why when it’s something unknown and there’s no guarantee, that it’s much more difficult to talk about that. Again, it comes back to the environment. Some environments, when you pose a suggestion or something to be considered, it’s heard as something that someone has to make a decision on, so it’s not even explored. Whereas there’s other environments when someone offers an idea up, it’s looked at as something to be explored more fully. That’s a much safer environment to offer different opinions and talk about change in, but it does tend to be very much dependent on the local culture.
Lauren: What is it then about being in that big group that lets people feel that it is safer to speak their opinion? That there is less of a likelihood of punishment or reprimand if they do bring up something that maybe senior management doesn’t want to hear?
David: I think it’s very difficult if you’re doing it for the first time. I’ll give you an example. A colleague and I were doing some work in a high tech company back in Toronto, and nobody was saying anything. Nobody was saying anything. People were speaking up in the front and trying to get input. No one said anything. I said, “Okay. In your table groups what I want you to do is speculate on why people might not be speaking.” In the table groups people wrote down, “Here’s some reasons where it might be.” It’s not why I’m not speaking, but this is why people may not be speaking. We had some of that information read out in the group and to find out where the patterns were, what some of the different things were, why people were speculating it was so quiet. Once we started to get a pattern … Let’s say it was fear of repercussion. If that in fact is what is keeping people from speaking, what could we do in this room right now to reduce that as an impediment to people actually speaking out?
It was because of the honesty about that and because people were able to say, “This is why I think some other people aren’t speaking up,” that we were able to change the culture and make it safe for people to bring their ideas forth. Still not personally, but we had people speak on behalf of the table. That was their suggestion to do that.
Lauren: That way, too, people have, by verbally acknowledging, haven’t spoken up because, “I’m afraid of this,” that I would think brings some sense of security as well because at least they’re saying, “I am a thinking person. I do have opinions on this, but I am scared because of x, y, z.”
David: They do it anonymously so they’re not actually held out to be judged.
Lauren: Do you find that the communication issues differ at different levels of the organizational hierarchy? You deal a lot with senior management, with executives, with leaders. Do they experience different communication issues like this than if they were speaking among their peers than if they would if they were speaking down the ladder, so to speak?
David:Absolutely. A lot of times it’s unconscious the way that they respond differently. I used to work for a computer company, and I remember the senior management team, when they were discussing something, they would just go at it like crazy, because that’s the way they did things. They were actually good friends and worked quite well together. However, if there was someone else observing that, they thought that these departments hated each other. Said, “Marketing is hated by accounting. Accounting thinks that sales department wastes all kinds of money.” Of course, the people from those departments would go back and say, “These guys hate each other.” They would have a different conversation with each other than if they were in front of the whole organization for sure. I think it depends on your safety and also if it’s around …
You talked earlier about a change initiative. Usually by the time it gets further down, the senior group has had all kinds of conversations about it, and they’re pretty comfortable with it, and they’re aligned. Down below, quite often they’re hearing things for the first time, and so they’re much more anxious. One of the challenges for the senior management team is to say, “Why aren’t people just embracing this like we did?” It’s because they haven’t had the conversation to discuss it the way that the senior team has.
I don’t know if I answered your question. I’ll have some water and do better next time.
Lauren: Do better, David! No. That was excellent, and actually it leads into something else that I wanted to ask about, which was when senior leaders are talking to people further down the ladder, especially when they’re saying, “Okay, we’re doing this new thing,” I have heard this so many times, a leader will come in, they’ll give a bit of information, not all of it, the people listening to it know there’s more to it, they have questions, but then they’re told that they’re on a need to know basis. My experience has been that as soon as that line gets trotted out, the wall comes up, and it’s almost as though the people underneath it think, “Well, am I not important enough to know? What else is there going on that they think I don’t need to know? Do they know what I need to know?” That sort of line, and ones like it, I find are pretty problematic. Do you have any tips for how leaders can talk about change when they can’t divulge everything to their staff?
David: I think part of it’s about transparency and disclosure. I think of it is saying, “I wish I could tell you this, but I’ve got a nondisclosure agreement signed,” or, “There’s this, that, and the other thing.” Sometimes there’s board policies that don’t allow them do, but I think it’s giving the reason why. People may not like the answer, but at least they understand it. In the absence of an explanation as to why they’re not being told, they’ll fill it in themselves, and rarely is it in the most positive framework for that.
Lauren: Right, right. That’s when the rumor mills start up as everyone underneath begins speculating. Like you said, if there was transparency, if they know there’s a nondisclosure agreement, or if they know they can’t be told because there’s some personal information that no one except the parties that are involved can know, then that will allay their concerns, or at least maybe satisfy their information need. I’m not getting everything, but I now know something.
David:You can always address it’s your policies or procedures, but if you look in municipal government for example and everything’s supposed to be open, but there are some criteria around when you can have an in camera meeting, and if it’s around a human resource issue, if it’s around a development issue where someone else might have potential gain or whatever from those conversations, then you bring it in-house.
That being said, there’s a lot of in camera meetings that are not necessary, and they do send the wrong message. It’s a little bit different from what you’re talking about. It’s a little more formal, but I think in the absence of a reason for in camera meetings, sometimes the CEO and the senior management team gets really anxious. Like, “Why don’t they feel they can talk to me about this?” That rarely gets talked about. There’s some organizations that now, as a standard piece, they have an in camera meeting, and it’s just anxiety causing because sometimes they have conversations that are not well enough informed to make decisions that someone else then have to implement and go, “What are they smoking?”
It’s a tough one, because people want to know. Again, in some organizations, the old phrase “loose lips sink ships”? Sometimes people take advantage of information that they have. I remember having someone that used to work with me who said, “I can keep a secret. It’s the people I tell who can’t.” There’s almost that sort of thing like, “If I tell you, do you promise not to tell anyone else?” By the time everyone does that, pretty soon everyone knows.
Lauren: Everyone has to pledge silence to everybody else. You have an impenetrable network of sharing going on. Another area that you’ve mentioned in your work, and actually that you mentioned very briefly at that start of this interview, is this notion of courage. You bring it up a lot. How do you define courage in the context of someone working within a big organization?
David: The definition that I ask people to consider, it’s not a dictionary definition, but courage is an inner quality that’s made evident when you take action, it’s got to be action, under the three following circumstances. There’s an uncertain or unpredictable outcome. “I don’t know for sure what’s going to happen when I say this or do this. As a result of that, I have some discomfort that could range from mild concern to anxiety to fear to terror depending on what I perceive the consequences to be. That there’s a positive value or belief that tells me what the right thing to do is.”
If I’ve done the same thing 10 times, and it’s a piece of cake, and I always knows what’s going to happen, that takes less courage than doing it for the first time. The first time I speak to truth to power or I have a tough conversation with my supervisor or manager, that’s going to take a lot more courage if I’ve never done it before or, when I did it in a previous organization, I got fired, or there’s the rumors like, “Oh, Bob spoke to that manager, and has anyone seen Bob now?”
Lauren: Yeah. What happened to Bob?
David: He was such a nice guy. He seemed to be good. The other thing is it’s got to be a positive value that tells you what the right thing to do is. I can make a case that robbing a bank meets the first two criteria. There’s an uncertain or unpredictable outcome. I don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, if I’ll get caught, I’ll get shot, how much money. If it’s my first heist, I’m probably feeling pretty anxious about that. If I’ve been an experienced criminal, I recommending the book “Confessions of a Jewel Thief”, very interesting book, the more often he did it, the less anxiety. It was more about the game. The more predictable, the less courage, but we also wouldn’t say that robbing the bank meets the third criteria of positive value or belief tells you what the right thing to do is.
That’s why I think it’s so important for organizations to have values that they actually hold tightly to, because if you’re operating out of one of values that’s stated that’s important for the company, in my opinion, you should never get in trouble for that. Sometimes there’s another value that comes into play like, “I want to make me look good. I want to get a raise.” Something like that, so it’s more focused on me than outward to the organization. Probably would say that that’s not really requiring courage, because we wouldn’t line up with that value. Wouldn’t say that was a good value.
By the way, the courageous action is regardless of whether or not it’s successful.
Lauren: That’s a really good point. Success does not mean that someone was being courageous, and the failure doesn’t mean visa versa certainly. Sometimes the outcome that is guaranteed to work is probably one of the least courageous ones. There’s no risk.
David: That’s right. It’s worked before. It happens all the time. Absolutely. Totally agree.
Lauren: That’s when you get “innovation” with giant quotation marks for all of you listeners out there. What kind of courage is especially useful in change management situations?
David In some cases, asking questions. Some people assume, “If it was important for me to know, someone would’ve already told me,” or, “I don’t want to look stupid by asking this question,” so you don’t, and you end up looking stupid after the fact because you did something that was inappropriate. I think having the courage to ask question. For some people, for some managers, it’s having the courage to answer the questions and not have it perceived as a personal attack or a challenge, but really a person’s desire to know more so they have better context, so they make better decisions in the midst of this change. Asking questions is one.
I think sometimes giving people information that you know they’re not going to like takes courage. You could look at … I don’t work a lot in unionized environments, but when I have some people have been unwilling to have the tough conversation because they’re afraid of the consequences of a union grievance being filed, so some people get away with things. That’s a real tough one when you have that sword of Damocles hanging over your head. Dare I do the right thing, or is there a bigger right thing, which is, “If I don’t have this conversation, and yes it blows up but at least I’ve operated from integrity, people know where we stand, they know what’s important.” It’s all the game play that gets in the way.
Lauren: It really does. Part of, and I don’t want to call this part of the game actually, but in terms of helping to foster and encourage courage in other people, but in order to encourage other people to have courage themselves, I do think it’s very important for leaders to demonstrate it, especially for people to demonstrate uncertainty or to show their own nervousness or anxiety about certain circumstances. That’s not to say that they should look out of control. Of course, we do want our leaders to be in control of themselves, but we do want to show that, yes, our leaders experience complex emotions as well.
How can we communicate when we are being courageous? How can we say, “You know what? I’m scared, but let’s go forward and do this away,” without seeming like a complete phony?
David: I’m not sure in sure cases like that that you can actually say anything that’s going to have any merit. To tell you that, “This took a lot of courage for me to tell you this, Lauren,” probably seems more self-serving than anything. People may not know that you’re acting with courage. Those that are paying attention may go, “That was awfully challenging,” but I’d be really hesitant to tell people that this was really tough for me.
It’s like I remember when I was working for a computer company many years ago there was the president had to let some people go. In one case, it was someone he’d been working with ever since the company started. To say, “It really hurts me to tell you this. I’m very uncomfortable with all that,” the person doesn’t want to hear that. They don’t care. They’re on their own [inaudible 00:28:41]. They’re like, “So what?” Then it’s all about you rather than about me.
Lauren: You kind of just want say, “Well thanks, pumpkin, I’m the one losing my job.”
David: I don’t have a good answer to that question, I guess, is what I’m saying.
Lauren: That’s fine. The truth is sometimes there simply aren’t good answers. It’s just difficult. It’s important, but it’s difficult. Do you have any tips for talking about other people’s courage? For encouraging this quality in other people without coming across as condescending or patronizing or self-helpy?
David: I think there’s probably a couple of ways. One that comes to mind is instead of you as the manager doing it, have that as the culture in the organization. Now, there was a company many years ago that had a real focus on customer service. They wanted people to catch each other doing things in this case around service. Could be around courage. If I saw you doing something I thought required courage, there’d be a three part form. I’d write down, “Lauren did this.” One copy would go to you. One copy would go to your manager, and of course would go to human resources. Once a month, they’d pull one of those ones from human resources. The program was called “Dress to Kill”, and so whichever one was pulled out, so there’s no favoritism, it’s totally random, that person got a $250 gift certificate to a local clothier. Hence the term “Dress to Kill”.
I think it’s not so much what you as a manager do, but how you create a culture of people catching other people doing things right. I was in a consulting firm where we had on the wall what we called “Appreciation Station”. It was just people would write down what someone else had done to either help them or their customers and to get used to that. It’s kind of like … I think one of the reasons that people don’t do that is because it’s like, “If I say something good about you or saw you doing something courageous, it’s like I gave up something of myself.” Right? There’s a limited quantity. Do you have any kids?
Lauren: Yes, I do. I have two.
David: When you had your second one, did you have to cut your love for the first one in half?
Lauren: No. Not at all. There’s always enough.
David: There’s an endless pool of catching people doing this right. It’s like you say something good to someone else, you’ve got more. You’ve got a well that you can apply to other people, and to create a culture of that … It’s not Pollyanna, I should say. “Oh Lauren, you’re such a good person. You actually showed up to work today.” It’s not about that, but legitimately saying, “Here are some things I saw you do,” and to let other people know that.
Lauren: David, I am on the upper tail end of the millennials, so I expect recognition for the bare minimum.
David: That’s different from-
Lauren: I showed up today!
David: Okay. [inaudible 00:31:30]
Lauren: Gold star.
David: You did great. I love your microphone. How’s that?
Lauren: Well, if you had one piece of advice, and this is back tracking slightly to the change issue, but if you did have a piece of advice to a leader who needs to address a piece of difficult change within their organization, what would that be?
David:Well, I guess I think one of the important things is to always be really clear why the change is necessary, because I think people expect that as much as possible change is made that’s rational. It’s not change for the sake of making change. “Here’s the anticipated upside. Here’s the downside if we don’t.” I think that somehow you have to make the case that business as usual isn’t going to cut it. You have to do something differently. I don’t want to suggest that fear is the way to go, but there’s all kinds of evidence that people will respond more to take action to avoid a downside that’s definite than to try to achieve an upside that’s just possible.
Lauren: That view isn’t necessarily saying that we always have to base our communication off of what people are fearful about, but it is an acknowledgement of where our heads go. When a new process is introduced, it’s pretty rare that people say, “Oh wow,” and, “X, Y, Z amazing thing is going to happen.” Quite often it’s, “Oh. Now I have to change this, and then I’m going to have to fix that.” They begin to catastrophize. That rationale, that’s an excellent piece of advice, because I do think that rationale is extremely important.
David: To also understand that it’s different for people in different circumstances. Just to give you a quick example, there’s an organization over in the UK called The Fair Banking Institute. It’s a not for profit organization, and one of the things that it does is look at what are the … It’s almost like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Apparently that magazine is still out there. What they do is they look at financial organizations that create a new service or a new product and assess it based on how it has an impact on a person’s sense of financial wellbeing. Not what it does for the company. What it does the for the individual.
There’s a lot of factors that are similar from generation to generation, life stage to life stage, but what varies is of relative importance. The things that might be important to you in a time of change if you are a millennial at whatever end of that scale, or let’s say you’re highly employable. We hear about the gig economy where people are used to going from one gig to another. It’s like, “You know, it’s a change. Okay, I’ll get something else. It’s no big deal.” Once you have a mortgage, that’s a different circumstance. You could be the same person, same competence, but another influence on you causes you to respond different. If you have kids, or if you have aging parents, you’re the primary caregiver for your aging parents, or you have some physical or mental different ability and things like that that you’re dealing with. Same change, same rationale, people are going to respond differently.
I think it’s important to understand that the one size fits all fits none when it comes to change management and how you have or make allowance for personal conversations to understand what impact it’s going to have. Then have people around to help that person move through and see it.
Remember I think it was Buckminster Fuller, someone like that, talked about the trim tab effect in change. Trim tab is a small thing, my understanding, on the back of a ship that if you’re trying to turn a ship, there’s a lot of pressure on the rudder and a lot of pressure on the ship to go in the same direction. What the trim tab does is reduce the pressure around the rudder enough that the rudder can start to turn. The way the metaphor was described is the trim tab factor is about 5% of the people. If you get 5% of the people bought into the change and executing on it, it creates enough space for 20%, for the rudder effect, to start doing things differently. Once you have that the who ship terms, but to target everyone to buy in, especially in a large organization, really, really tough. Who are the people that are getting on board with the change that’ll influence others and eventually have it spread out?
Lauren: For sure. You recruit those early adopters to spread the joy, or at least spread the message and spread the usefulness of the change.
David: The early adopters that have the credibility of other people in the organization.
Lauren: Yes. No loose cannons.
Lauren: Before I let you go, David, I do have one more question. The nose flute.
David: The nose flute.
Lauren: This is, and for all our listeners … Well, for our listeners, I am holding up right now a red thing that looks almost like a very large thyroid. I don’t know how else to describe it. When I met David, he was holding this. I asked him. I was like, “What the heck is that?” He gave me one of these wonderful nose flutes. David, you are a nose flutist.
David: I am, indeed.
Lauren: Why don’t you tell us about this brilliant instrument and give us a little example?
David: Okay. Those flute is a musical instrument, and I wear mine around my neck. We’ll have to drill some holes in yours so you can do that.
Lauren: I do.
David: Yeah. The red and the blue look really good or Hannibal Lector like. You play it by blowing through your nose, which grosses some people out, but you can play tunes. Let’s see. Anyhow, where it came about. A friend of mine brought one to me from Nanaimo, and I just started playing with it. Thought, “I wonder if I could build this into the work that I do.” I do a lot of work with executives, and people of fairly well established egos. Trying to get them to loosen up, get over the sense of competition sooner in a short meeting to get down to some creative ways to move the company is very important. When you have minimum time how do you do that in minimal time?
I started playing with different phrases that will relate to the nose flute, and I could generally get people to agree with the statement that you’ll grow your company faster if you’re willing to make mistakes. Carol Dweck would call that now a growth mindset, but found people would say, “Yes. We totally agree with that,” but then they’d play it safe if their conversations.
I just changed the phrase slightly to, “You’ll grow your company faster if you’re willing to blow it.” If you are working in the gas utility, the phrasing “blowing it” totally different context, so I wouldn’t use it with BC Gas or something like that.
Lauren: Yeah. Refinery Row in Edmonton probably wouldn’t take kindly to that.
David: Yeah. Not good. Fort McMurray and all those kind of folks are against that. If people would agree with that, then I’d give them a nose flute and get them to actually try it. You’d hear people say things like, “I’ll try it when I get home. It won’t work with a nose like mine.” All kinds of things like that. I make the point that that attitude is the same attitude that is going to get in the way of you coming up with a creative idea to move your company ahead, something where you don’t know how it’s going to be judged. The sooner they realize that and start having fun and playing with these and realize that they don’t have to look good in front of each other … It’s like, “Why would you expect to be good doing something you’ve never done before?” But that’s an expectation many people have.
The nose flute kind of released them from that a little bit soon in the meeting, so instead of spending three hours convincing them it’s okay and it’s safe to come up with these ideas, you can do it in about 10 or 15 minutes. From a productivity standpoint in a meeting, that was huge.
I’ve also used it with groups that I’ve been working with where there’s something in the evening. I was working with some miners at a diamond mine in the Northwest Territories where it would be a name that tune sort of thing. They’d play that tune. The first one, they’d always do is this one. Everyone said, “Jingle Bells!” Even though they didn’t change the tone, everyone recognized it. I started doing that with this mining company in the Northwest Territories in Peru in Suriname in Borneo, and it was a way just to get people to relax because it’s that tension, that tightness, that fear of judgment that gets in the way of coming up with the ideas that’ll move their company ahead. I’ve literally used thousands of them.
This particular one is made in South Africa. It’s much sturdier than some of the others I’ve used that are made in the states. I’ve accumulated … That could be a whole other session on some of the stories that I’ve accumulated of how nose flutes have impacted people.
Lauren: I believe it. Getting people to drop their guard and giving them permission to be silly in front of others can unlock such huge creative potential and really unlock the communication aspect too, because now they’re not afraid. I don’t look much dumber than I am doing that and playing a tune through the flute, so why not put that idea forward? Incidentally, what I like using mine for is I chase my five year old around the house with it while playing the tune from the original Star Trek, which for some reason enrages him.
David: Darth Vader-ish?
Lauren: No. Star Trek, not Star Wars.
David: Sorry, sorry.
Lauren: We’re throwing right back to Kirk and Spock here, yep. For some reason it just enrages him, which of course is hilarious and entertaining for his parents.
David:You could use them for porridge and things like that if you wanted to, kind of like a spork. Instead of a spoon and a fork, it’s a nose flute and a spoon. I’m sure there’s a new device there somewhere. I’m actually working with a group of Girl Guides. Girls ages 10 to 12. Their leader asked me to come and do some things on communication, so …
Lauren: Oh, they will get right in on this.
David: I think so.
Lauren: Their teachers will be cursing you until the day that school ends.
David: Guaranteed. I tell them it changes lives, but rarely for the better.
Lauren: David, if people would like to get more of you, you put out regular articles on your website. You of course work with companies with senior leaders. How can people find you and get you to come into their organization and share some of this wisdom?
David: They can contact me at W-W-W … It’s DavidGouthro.com. D-A-V-I-D-G-O-U-T-H-R-O dot com, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or, write this down, 604-926-6858. I’d be happy to chat and explore. If I can’t help, I can probably point them toward someone who can.
Lauren: Outstanding. I’ll make sure that all of that goes into the show notes both for the podcast as well as for the video edition of this interview. If you found David’s advice helpful, if you enjoyed this interview, please make sure you click that like button. Give us both a big old thumbs up, subscribe. That will help us get more great guests on this show. Of course, head over to LaurenSergy.com, sign up for the newsletter so that you can stay on top of all of these interviews as well as on top of all of the other great information that I provide only to my e-mail newsletter subscribers. Thank you again, David, for being with us here today. You have a great day. Listeners, viewers, you have an awesome day, and I look forward to seeing you again on the next “Talk Shop”. Bye bye.