Improve the Value of Your Attention

I recently wrote about attention as the currency of relationships.  What determines the perceived quality of our attention? How can we improve the value of our attention to family, friends, coworkers and clients? Make the most of the time we have together?

I think there are several dimensions to the quality of our attention.  The core of which came from some works by David Maister and company on defining trust from his book the Trusted Advisor.  I’ve modified and added to this equation.  The elements:

  • Credibility
  • Reliability
  • Character
  • Intimacy
  • Focus

In formula it would look like:

Quality of Attention = (Credibility + Reliability +Character + Intimacy)/Focus

Credibility is about whether or not we should even be in the conversation with someone.  I am rarely credible to strangers I meet through work, but if we are discussing something I am passionate about I quickly gain credibility.

Reliability is about doing what I said I would do and in deeper relationships I should anticipate and being to support people without being told.

Character is about proving your integrity over time, not about being interesting.

Intimacy is about being open like vulnerable trust.  In our personal lives this can be taken further than maybe in our business roles.

And Focus is about who you are focused on.  Are you focused on the other person?  That is positive.  Focus only on yourself and you undermine anything you do in the other categories.

Can you improve your relationships by paying a higher quality attention?

Attention is the Currency of Relationships

“Are you listening to me?” It’s a phrase I don’t like to hear because it means I am not paying attention.  What an interesting phrase paying attention.

We talk about how to get attention from customers and new mediums are creating new positions within companies like Chief Digital Officer. We think about monetizing our customers attention.  So many visits, viewers, uniques, and hours spent paying attention.

In relationship development from bonding with newborns to finding our special someone to rescuing a relationship it is about paying attention. We literally pay for attention in the business world.

But attention is really the currency of relationships.  We pay attention to people and it enriches our relationships.

The higher the perceived quality of attention the greater the value.   The more high quality (as perceived by the receiver) attention we give to someone the stronger our relationship becomes.

In fact we have always paid people for their attention.  I hire people to work with me because I want their attention to help me solve problems and to help my clients solve problems.  People buy art because of the attention the artist put into their product.  A high quality product is often because of the amount and “quality” of attention put into its development, construction, presentation and many other factors.  Our monetary currency is in many ways a to represent attention.

Think for a moment on how much of your attention you give to others?  Are some people willing to pay you for your attention at work?  Do people who really mean something to you get the attention from you they deserve?

When you look at your relationships are you paying enough attention to receive the attention you want in return?

Why is successful software development so difficult to repeat?

Why is successful software development so difficult to repeat time and again like a factory?

Well it’s about people.  I think that sums it up. (Though it sounds rather crass as I read it.)

I want to discuss two issues.  First, I think many people ignore the fact that software development is actually about creating not manufacturing the same thing every time. Second, communication between even well intentioned people working together every day is fraught with noise and incoherence.  How can you build software if everyone involved is unable to communicate clearly?

I propose that we need to actively work against the assumptions that so much raw material that enters the software factory creates X amount of value because it creates a measurement biased approach focused on utilization as opposed to value delivered.  Software development management cannot be a game of Tetris-like management of hours by role as the project plan for perfect utilization. There are many efficiently developed software systems that have been developed that have not delivered anywhere near their potential business value.

Our ability to pay attention, to listen and then to understand complex concepts is difficult in the most simple settings.  In a more freeform arena such as custom (think green field) software development it is extremely difficult. This is played out daily all over the world as software projects fail, get delayed and miss on expectations of their sponsors. But it doesn’t have to be this way, we simply choose to ignore that development relies on an unreliable factor, human communication.

So what to do?  Create a new certification program?  Derive a new process? Self-improvement guru’s and methodology coaches have similar business plans.  Hey, sometimes it works.  I don’t like gambling on sometimes.

Eliminating the manufacturing/measurement mentality…

We need to change what we measure for success.  We need to suspend the efficiency experts for a moment and look at how to create real value.  There are not many CEO’s or investor’s that I have met who would complain about making a $2 million dollar software project investment to get $50 million in year over year annual revenue return.  (I know there are other costs for continuing operations, but that can be factored in and we can get logarithmic or even exponential scaling if we can design operations appropriately when we build the software.)

By focusing on value we also are better able to make value focused as opposed to process focused decisions. In the above example if we really needed one more QA for a few weeks, can we just pay for it and launch the project rather than argue about estimation methods and 14 step approval chains?  Go get that revenue!

Remembering people are imperfect communicators…

Project teams (everyone involved not just IT pros) can work to make the objectives easy to understand and model.  This involves breaking down artificial organizational barriers, barriers of understanding and closely held assumptions. Not just technical aptitude.  Yes, it involves more than normal commitment.

This is a prime principle of many newer software methodologies.  But it only works if we make the investment to reap the value.  We can achieve more coherent communication by developing common language to define our problem and create the necessary agreed upon concepts for negotiating and managing when we build the software together.

A collaborative creation process can’t work with a drop in interview or a conversation once a week.  It also can’t be done with lots of lingo that creates assumptions. So whether facilitated time together to let ideas grow and develop or a dedicated person who is a product owner embedded in a team every day, creating common experience around the language and concepts is critical to overcoming communication entropy which only increases over time.

Put it together…

The highly efficient manufacturing model actually dissuades dedicating the right time needed to capture the value we can create. If we suspend the manufacturing/efficiency model, we can actually evaluate and justify the right commitment of resources for a project/program/effort.  Applying solid best practices to reinforce coherent communication and clarity will allow for smaller teams to be more productive, more efficient and reactive to change.  Which is a real offset to the arguments in favor of the manufacturing/efficiency model.

And hey, it’s OK if something cool can’t be justified.  Probably needs to be tuned up or trashed. Better early, than investing poorly with incoherent communication for a bad result.

Wrap it up…

Does your company understand it is creating value with software or is it confused by the manufacturing model focused on efficiency?  Can your organization communicate effectively over time and actually increase the value expected and delivered with software? Write back and let me know or ask for help.

Gary

P.S. I am a voracious self-improvement reader.  Love it.  Sometimes it even works for me.  I keep trying.

Earn the Right to Answer

“Do you like my new suit?” and “What do you think of my business model?”

Have you earned the right to answer?

We get excited! We race ahead! We think we know! We want to share! We’ve been trained to be good puzzlers and so we want the attention, good feelings and share of the spotlight that comes from having the answer.

I sometimes forget we are all working on our own individual scripts, our unique view of the world. People we are interacting with may not want our answer or may have very different information and outlooks on the question than we do.  They may be working off of a different script and the answer we want to give will make no sense to them and might even annoy them. “Next! Please move along.  Don’t call us we’ll call you!”

So what to do?

First, find out about their script.  What is important to them?  What do they want to have happen next and in the future?  How are they looking for events to unfold?  What would be bad outcomes?

I ask these questions, that I learned form other experts so that we can adjust and tune into the people we want to help.  Then I can adjust our answers to the areas that they care about so that our contributions are additive and actually helpful.

For example imagine meeting a new network contact and they are running a sales organization.  They describe some of the difficulties they are having driving new sales.  What you should not do is tell them how to run the best sales organization in the world using your unique contacts and capabilities.  Even if it is the right answer.

Rather I believe you need to understand the issues faced, plumb the depths of the pressures facing them personally and try to find out what they want to have happen and why.  The why is important and it needs to be both for their company and for them.  So first you need to ask them if you can talk about it.  That’s the first step.

After that the conversation should be easy and focused on them.  You can work on having a trust based discussion and developing a real collaborative understanding.  Then maybe you can put some of your ideas on the table.

I know I struggle with this regularly.  I do it even now.  So I often have to apologize and then say that “I am sorry, I think I am racing ahead, maybe I need more information first” or even, “I don’t know I am right”.  While subtle this give back is important to recover.  But wouldn’t I be more helpful if I could have listened and developed an understanding thereby earning the right to answer first?

It’s all about relationships

 “Very little that is positive is solitary.” -Martin Seligman, Flourish 2011

What we can often forget is the most obvious part of our existence.

How do we get anything done?  As leaders we are often charged with lighting a path providing opportunities for those around us.  This is true whether in software development like my background, or in any other leadership role, even within a family.

So how do we succeed in business and in life?  How do we establish the greatest number of options to help solve problems?  How do we really get things done?  It’s all about relationships. I want to talk about what this means for us in doing business and how to be a better leader as a result.

” Relationships are how energy and information is shared as we connect and communicate with one another. “- Dan Siegel, Mindsight 2010

We are social beings. Unless you have telepathy you are living in your own world in your head watching your own picture show of reality as you see it.  As social beings we are wired to communicate with others to relieve that isolation as part of creating well being for ourselves and others.  The currency of relationships is attention: the information, energy and focus we give to others and need from others. We use that currency to get things done in our social world each day and to define our reality.

 “Words and ideas are examples of units of information we use to communicate with one another.”  – Daniel Siegel, Mindsight 2010

We need to learn how to build a network that supports and sustains us. It is something that goes beyond the moment, beyond the job and beyond a given company.  Our network of relationships is part of who we are as human beings. It is up to each of us to learn this truth and to spend the time and attention to nourish those relationships.

We get things done through relationships.  I am cursed by a generational tendency to own a responsibility to work to solve things by myself. “I got it boss! You can count on me!”.  While I can do a lot of independent work, I never really do it myself. In fact, everything I ever get done is done because of my relationships. I may lead an initiative, but I am always marshaling resources available from my relationships to actually get work done. Yet we often lose sight of this simple fact because the bonds of our relationships are invisible and as such are often out of mind.

Look around where ever you are at the moment.  Everything you see within your view has been affected by relationships and in many cases exists only because of relationships between people.  Do you live in a community, a village, a city?  Do you belong to groups or affiliations?  Do you live in a house or an office building?   What about the medium that allows you to read what I have written? All of this has been built and created by relationships.  Some of those relationships might have been transactional and some likely deeply personal.

Positive relationships are something we need as people in order to create well being.  Cited in multiple publications and research studies positive relationships are a foundation for happiness and well being.  Our best moments are often those shared with others personally and professionally.  Deep fulfilling business relationships give us the ability to work through the best and worst of times as leaders.  They are better than the best strategy and tactics, better than the latest research paper and a more important resource for success than even an ever full bucket of gold. Strong positive business relationships fulfill us as social beings and enable us to truly get things done that make a difference.

Amazingly building strong relationships is not taught in our schools. Our most important survival mechanism and success mechanism is not part of a curriculum.  We assume that we will learn the skills necessary to build strong relationships, by living our lives with other people.  However, we all know that even with the best manners, schooling, social upbringing and advantages, some people still need help developing the skills to build strong relationships. How many people do you know look at networking as some sort of strange activity, rather than a chance to build strong relationships for mutual success?

I know I am still learning at age 44 how to be better at building strong positive relationships. I spent my early years passing the gauntlet of primary and secondary education, learning technical skills followed by establishing myself as an independent and capable person.  I had friends and still do, but I didn’t know what that meant to me in a business setting.  Could I have real friends at work?  I once thought business and personal life needed to be separate in some un-definable way. I always found this thinking conflicted with how I felt and acted. Well the way I would like to think I acted.

We abhor silos in organizations for the problems they create, no less the silos in our life.  We live one life.  Why not apply the things we learn to our whole selves?  I am not telling you to invite everyone from work over for every family member’s birthday party every year mind you. That’s over the top and likely won’t build relationships. Rather we need to understand that relationship development and nurturing are skills that are about who we are as people, not just as business people.

Look around you today and think about the amount of attention you give and you get.  Not to create a balance sheet, but to understand you receive back from what you give and to assess how much attention are you giving to nourish your relationships.  The more people you can serve well with your attention the more quality relationships you will build in your network.  If you are really vigilant and value the people in your relationship network, the returns will come by themselves.  We are wired to reciprocate with each other.  Done selflessly for the good of others, you will receive back more opportunities to assist you and those in your network than what you give out.  It compounds like interest over time.  When you experience this you will realize it is all about relationships.

Credits

  • Friends, colleagues and clients…
  • Siegle, D.J. – M.D. (2010) Mindsight:The New Science of Personal Transformation. New York, NY: Bantam Books
  • Seligman, M. (2011) Flourish New York, NY: Free Press
  • Rodriquez, Don Miguel (1997) The Four Agreements. San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing
  • Diener, E. and Biswas-Diener R.– (2008) Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Hoboken, NJ:Wiley-Blackwell
  • Ben Shahar, T. (2007) – Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment . New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

 

Stop Focusing on Yourself!

Do you focus on others or yourself in your relationships?

It’s all about you!  How many times have we said it jokingly.  Grey humor focusing a backhanded compliment for a good laugh.  Often in jest, sometimes in truth it is a phrase that highlights our awareness of when something is wrong in our relationships.  When a leader or an organization forgets this lesson, it creates real problems.

Yet, in our day to day lives we often make things all about ourselves (“me”).  We can’t help it, this is the view we have of the world as we can’t sit inside everyone else’s mind.  But within relationships this creates real issues at work and in our personal lives.

What’s your intent?

Our actions display our intent.  Are we trying to grow with someone?  Are we being selfless? Are we trying to give someone something? Are we at least trying not to control them for our own ends?

Self orientation undermines the trust we hope to build in our relationships.  It is something that pushes others away because it defines anti-collaborative .  I see this most often when we are not aware or don’t declare our intent.  We act from a position of needing something as opposed to helping or sharing with someone.

Aren’t people always aware of our intent?

When we ask a question isn’t it obvious?  Actually sometimes our intent is not obvious.  We each have our own conversations going in our heads.  Our understanding of what is actually going on in someone else’s internal conversations is only our best guess. So we need to expose our intent as a matter of course when interacting with people or everyone simply makes assumptions that you are thinking what they are thinking.  How much more clear would our interactions be with others if we reduced the assumption game by making our intent clear?  “I want to ask some questions because I am concerned about the outcome of signing up for your program.”  Rather than feeling like you are being grilled you can then answer the questioner to help them.

Sometimes we fool ourselves.

Sometimes we don’t understand our own motivations.  We are unconsciously skewing our language to achieve our ends and we don’t know it.  This make it harder for us to declare intent, but  with practice you can develop the self awareness to understand yourself and examine your intent.  I like the work from Daniel Siegle on developing personal objectivity in ‘Mindsight’  as a reference for exploring this capability.  Others may have different ways to help you connect with your intent.  Let me know.

Organizational Self Interest

But our organizations can develop self orientation also.  Often in policies and procedures designed to protect, we create behaviors that are off-putting or distance people from building stronger relationships.  The well intentioned efforts to place controls to help bring consistency and efficiency can actually reduce the value of our transactions if they don’t allow for the development of real humanistic interactions.  For more on this topic read Organizational Trust post from January 2013.

Organizations are easier to step outside of and observe than ourselves. Try looking at your policies and procedures of where you work.  See any self interest only behaviors?  Trace the origins and then the expressions of your own self interest.  See what expressing your intent does to create clearer communication .  Once we under stand self orientation as something that creates distance between people and reduces trust we can change things to help people work together more efficiently without devaluing our efforts.

Friends, colleagues, clients and …

  • Organizaitonal Trust
  • Build Your Trustworthiness
  • Bob Marshall’s blog Think Different
  • Siegle, D.J. – M.D. (2010) MindsightThe New Science of Personal Transformation. New York, NY: Bantam Books
  • Rodriquez, Don Miguel (1997) The Four Agreements. San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing
  • Arbinger Institute (2002 ) Leadership and Self Deception. Getting Our of The Box. San Francisco, CA :Berrett-Koehler Publishers
  • Green C. H. & Howe A. P. (2012). The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
  • Maister D., Green C.H. & Galford R.M. (2000). The Trusted Advisor. New York, NY: Free Press
  • Lencioni P. (2010) Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Build your Trustworthiness

Moving beyond credibility and reliability

Every relationship needs to be built on trust.  Professionally I can’t survive without it.  Personally I can’t thrive without it and I would argue I can’t survive either but that begets a long discussion on survival which I will avoid, sorry hair-splitters and nit pickers!

But how do you build real trusted relationships?  I find these core concepts around individual trustworthiness invaluable for self improvement.  Especially as an IT professional, where I’ve spent my life making problem solving a priority over relationships.  But as I work to become a better leader and to provide opportunities for others, I find these concepts have more weight and bearing on success.

From the work of David Maister and Charles Green in their works The Trusted Advisor and later Green’s The Trusted Advisor’s Fieldbook, an individual’s trustworthiness can be equated to the following

Trust = (reliability + credibility + intimacy) / (self orientation)

I contend that the formula actually should include character – the exercise of integrity over time from Gus Lee in his work Courage, but that can be a whole additional post.  It would look like the following.

 Trust = (reliability + credibility + intimacy + character) / (self orientation)

I have presented this concept during several presentations and it is always refreshing to see how engaged people suddenly become as this crystallizes a concept for them.  Let’s look at each of the elements of individual trust building.

Reliability

Reliability is the easiest component to quantify. Simply put, do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it.   One of my colleagues, Ken Pedersen, has helped introduce valuable language around making and honoring commitments.  He explains we often end up in situations where we have commitments, best efforts and good intentions.  A commitment is something we do come heck or high water ‘I’ll get it done, no matter what’ and is vital and in our power to execute upon.  A best effort falls a little short of that, ‘It’s important;  I will do my best to get to it’ where maybe it is not as critical. And then good intentions where we don’t have complete control even though it may be really important ‘I strive, -but I don’t control the outcome’.

Credibility

Are you qualified?  When working in software development do you have the education, approaches and track record to be credible to people? It is the area we most often work on as professionals by taking that course, this certification or working hard to build our track record and best practices.  This is also relatively easy to quantify so people gravitate to it.

Intimacy

This is not about physical intimacy but more about being a whole person and sharing of yourself, so that others will share with you. We have to risk and be vulnerable to build trust.  I like to use the Pinocchio analogy that we can often be wooden and not sharing of ourselves at work. This is off putting for people to get to know us and thereby share themselves.  Instead, I make the effort to be a ‘whole person’ as opposed to a ‘pure professional’ or to carry the analogy to conclusion, a real boy instead of a wooden one. It’s a risk we need to take in each new relationship.

Character

I’ve introduced character to call it out specifically, though Maister and Green may have included this in credibility.  From Gus Lee, character is defined as integrity defended over time.  For me this is crucial to allow you to build up the good will you engender with people.  Without integrity you are never able to build good will that is enduring.  Integrity inconsistently defended seriously undermines your efforts while evidence of character can help correct for temporary imbalances in other areas.

Self Orientation

Self Orientation is the ultimate divisor of trust.  Everything we do in interacting with people can be undone if we are doing it for ourselves. We need to focus on others not ourselves in order to promote trust.  Even the most benevolent act is devalued if it is done for egotistical or selfish purposes.  As someone learning about business development this was a huge eye opener about how important something was to me, could shape and then derail my relationships and best efforts.

If you can focus on these areas in self reflection and then build a plan of action, you can build trust and even recoup trust.

Warning! You can’t fake it!

Make sure you understand your motivations for what you are doing and why; even why you are suddenly interested in building trust.  When in doubt as to your intent, if you are self aware enough (I keep trying. Luckily, I’ve been told it is a journey not a destination.) expose your motivations and intent.  This will engender honest and open engagement and allow you to work with other people to build trust even when you feel something is really important to you and maybe not the other person.

In my next post I want to explore a twist on this concept, Organizational Trust and the ramifications for IT organizations.

Credits and References

Friends, colleagues, clients and …

  • Ken Pedersen, COO Geneca and much more
  • Green C. H. & Howe A. P. (2012). The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
  • Maister D., Green C.H. & Galford R.M. (2000). The Trusted Advisor. New York, NY: Free Press
  • Lee G. & Elliot-Lee D. (2006). Courage the backbone of leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass