Article by Lorna Stellakis, MD of Q2Q IT
Is the phrase: “we simply don’t have enough time or resources to make the changes needed,” something you’re hearing all-too often?
Here, Lorna Stellakis, MD at Lancaster-headquartered IT support firm Q2Q, looks at how a shift in narrative can prove vital to a refreshed outlook.
Although I am not one for micro-management, part of my role at the helm of Q2Q – combined with my passion for psychology – involves looking for tweaks that can make our SME operate that little bit more efficiently.
After becoming MD of the firm last summer, I looked at some of the hurdles, reluctances and frustrations of the team, and one common thread appeared; everyone wanted to see change, but felt it either wasn’t their place or they didn’t have the time to implement it.
Over the past year, I’ve made a conscious effort to personally spearhead the development of my colleagues – and from time to time, that of our clients too. And whenever I’m delivering a one-to-one coaching session, one of the key areas I tend to look at first, is how each individual talks about themselves.
This helps to tap into their inner narrative, and it’s an approach which is equally applicable when training a small team or entire business.
How to identify the underlying narrative
If you were to sit back and listen for a day, what are the typical words or phrases that are frequently used around the office or in meetings? Often, when a business is going through a period of growth or change, common themes are:
- “We’re too busy to get around to it!”
- “There isn’t enough time for projects, the day job takes up all our time!”
- “We see there is an issue, but it’s not our responsibility to change it!”
- “If only we had more time/resources/finances, we could improve efficiencies.”
The truth is, if you’re brave enough to really dig deep and ask the difficult questions, you may also uncover things such as:
- “We have great ideas, but the management isn’t really interested in what we have to say.”
- “I am trying to change the culture, but the team isn’t interested.”
- “There’s no point in sharing my ideas, no one listens.”
If left alone, these underlying beliefs and feelings will seep into the culture of the workplace and end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. The narrative will become the truth, and when new recruits join the team – no matter how positive or proactive they are – it will eventually become the norm for them too.
How to change your SME’s storyline
It isn’t all doom and gloom though. You can change a person’s, team or company attitude by asking them to focus on something they believe they cannot do – and explain the reason why. For example: “I can’t stick to an exercise regime because I am too busy!” is a person’s inner narrative and – because of the language they use – the statement will manifest itself as a perceived fact.
However, if you switch the word ‘can’t’ to ‘don’t’, the phrase takes on an entirely different connotation. The power of saying: “I don’t lose weight because I am too busy!” implies there is an opportunity for change.
At a service-led business such as Q2Q – and in among the chaotic world of IT – we invest a lot of time and energy in prevention, but the nature of our workload is often to fix whatever problems arise during a client’s working day.
As a result, planning can be difficult, as can finding the necessary time to work ‘on’ the business as opposed to ‘in’ it – particularly for a typically hands-on MD. Truthfully, one of the first team development sessions I held at our HQ uncovered a lot of frustration around this, and a clear belief that there was simply nothing that could be done to improve the day-to-day madness.
What would great look like?
Ask yourself this question whenever you’re planning a new project, or even when you’re in a quick-fire problem-solving situation. Once you know the answer, you can set about making it a reality.
It really does help to strip any negative thoughts or language from your office – but that shift will take time. One way to prevent it creeping in is to actively encourage the team to challenge each other.
For example, if someone opens their conversation with: “I’m too busy to…” make sure a colleague prompts a discussion around what single step will make a difference in the short-term, until a more permanent fix can be found.
It’s vitally important for any SME to be absolutely clear on what the company narrative is – and whether it’s affecting business growth. If it is, take the time to recap what the underlying message is, and how you can shift the focus to be one of positivity and drive.
Remember, often a subtle shift in language can make a huge difference – why not give it a try?
About the author
My role is to provide the overall direction and “eye on the compass” as to where we, as a team are heading, setting the overall business strategy and financial budgeting. Whilst always having been involved with systems implementation throughout my career, I have an operational background and no specific IT experience. However, if anything, I believe this makes me more qualified to ensure the team deliver great service, drawing from my operations experience, and having been on the wrong side of poor IT support in the past. I can relate to how crippling this can be to a business, making it paramount that we ensure that IT issues are as invisible as possible, leaving the customers to get on with running their businesses smoothly.