Peter B. Stevens, Creator of The Personal Agility System, Chief Agility Officer, Author, and Keynote Speaker
- 🌎 Peter on LinkedIn
- 🌎 Personal Agility Institute
- 🌎 Leadership Development with Personal Agility
- 📖 Personal Agility: Unlocking Purpose, Alignment, and Transformation
About this podcast episode
🎙️ Align your actions with your purpose to 🏆 achieve personal agility
We are excited to have Peter B. Stevens, creator of The Personal Agility System, as a guest on today’s podcast. Peter shares how reflecting on your personal goals will help you on your path to agility.
Both Peter and Bill share personal stories and life lessons we hope you can take as inspiration on your personal agility journey.
In this podcast, you will learn the following:
✅ The meaning of personal agility
✅ How to unlock your purpose
✅ How to build clarity and purpose for your personal life and career
🎉 How to get “unstuck” if you do not have a clear path
(transcripts are auto-generated, so please excuse the brevity)
[00:00:00] Intro clip
Bill Raymond: When you say clarity of purpose, what would be an example of that?
Peter Stevens: My favorite example is I say, okay, I want to be successful in business, but you know, I also want to have an intact family. And I want to have good relationships with my kids and my spouse.
What you can do is you can look at how you spend your time and say, okay, I’ve got this thing called time, which I get to spend only once.
How did I spend my time? Okay. And that’s telling you what mattered to you in the moment. Now maybe how you spent your time and what you feel in your head or in your heart, maybe they’re not in agreement with each other, they’re not aligned.
And that reflection lets you say, okay, well how do I want to spend my time moving forward? Okay. And this is why we call it celebrate and choose, celebrate what you got done, even if you know you had your reasons for doing it, but maybe you want to do something different moving forward.
Speaker: Welcome to the Agile in Action Podcast with Bill Raymond. Bill will explore how business disruptors are adopting agile techniques to gain a competitive advantage in this fast-paced technology driven market.
[00:01:01] Introducing Peter Stevens
Bill Raymond: Hi, and welcome to the podcast. Today I’m joined by Peter B. Stevens, creator of the Personal Agility System, Chief Agility officer, author and keynote speaker.
Hi Peter. How are you?
Peter Stevens: I’m doing good. I’m glad to be here. Thank you.
[00:01:16] Alignment with yourself to aligning within your organization
Bill Raymond: Yeah, I’m excited about our conversation. We’re going to be talking about alignment with yourself to aligning within your organization. But before we get started, could you introduce yourself?
[00:01:25] Who is Peter Stevens?
Peter Stevens: Sure. So my name is Peter Stevens. My day job is I’m a Scrum trainer. I got involved in the agile movement about 15 years ago. And it was this great aha moment for me, finally a way of organizing people that made sense. And once I discovered it, I never looked back.
And so I’ve been a committed agilists ever since. I’m originally from the US. I’m, I guess I would call the Swiss by choice. You know, In the US we would say I’m an American Swiss, or a Swiss American, or something like that. But in Switzerland we say I’m Swiss by choice. I moved here 30 years ago and really fell in love with the place.
And I live in Zurich with my family. Well, my kids are moving out, but that’s what happens at this age, but the number of cats are multiplying. People come to me because they want to get their initiatives moving. Especially in companies, organizations, it’s actually very hard to move forward, it’s very hard to make a decision and so they come to me because they’re looking for help to get moving.
[00:02:16] About Personal Agility Institute
Bill Raymond: That’s great. And can you talk a little bit about the Personal Agility Institute, what you do there?
Peter Stevens: Sure. So, Maria Matarelli and I founded the Institute a couple years ago. We’ve been active now for about two years. We realized that personal agility was this very powerful concept and we needed a place for the, you know kind of a center or focal point for activities. So the institute is basically what promotes and develops the knowledge,
we’re building the network. This is where we share our courses and our ideas. We have a community, what we call the personal agility system.
[00:02:45] The Book: Personal Agility, unlocking purpose, alignment and transformation
Bill Raymond: Right. Cool. And also, can you share a little bit about your book, because that’s how we found you. I really like it. It’s called Personal Agility, unlocking purpose, alignment and transformation. Can you share why you created that book and a little bit about what it’s about?
Peter Stevens: Okay, well, I started doing personal agility, I think it was 2016, looking for better ways, really just to organize my own time. I started with things like scrum and personal Kanban and getting things done and Eisenhower method and all things that you’ve heard of.
And started applying it to my own life and I discovered it really helped me become much more effective at doing the things that I wanted to do. And I started sharing it with people who said, wow, this is really helping us as well. And so what the personal agility book does, this is the collection of our knowledge and learnings and also our case studies.
Okay. About three years into the process, we realized that people weren’t just getting better at getting things done, they were turning their lives around and turning their companies around. we had cases of people going from struggling with existence to really thriving.
We had businesses that were about to hit the pavement that were able to catch the curve and turn themselves around and turn themselves into profitable and growing organizations. We felt we needed to share that. So the first half of the book is basically saying how do we apply agility to our own lives, to ourselves as individuals, so think of the agile manifesto, individuals and interactions. Well, the first half is about the individual, if you will, getting your own act together, being able to align what you do with what you really care about. And very often this helps you become who you want to be.
And as I say, the stories there are quite spectacular, but personal agility, is not a process to follow. At its heart, we have powerful questions. Okay, so it’s really about dialogue first with yourself, which is kind of interesting question, you know? Can I have a dialogue with myself? Well, it turns out if you do you can start to empathize with yourself and be kind to yourself, and that’s actually a tremendous aha moment for a lot of people.
But then you can use the same techniques with other people. And so this takes us to the second half of that first agile value, which is the interactions. And by applying the same approach, you know, powerful questions, listening to the answers, this can take you through a process that we call the alignment process.
Which is basically, first of all, creating empathy with the people around you. So I listen to you, you listen to me, and we care about what the other person says. This enables us to surface information. By surfacing information you can kind of figure out what everyone really cares about and figure out where you have commonalities, where you have consensus and where you need to work.
And on the basis of that, you can get alignment about what the problem is and what a good solution would be. And this enables you to take decisions. Decisions that really mean something. Decisions that you can hold for more than a week or two before the priorities change again, because you’ve agreed on what really matters.
And this allows companies to achieve or larger, you know, larger entities. It could be a company, but it could be a team, it could even be a family. It allows you to achieve long-term goals and it allows you to respond effectively to new information. This whole concept of aligning what you do with what really matters or just aligning action with purpose, this works at the individual level and it works at an organizational level or a team level. And it enables really great things to happen both for individuals and for organizations. And so this book is explaining how to do it, both at the personal level and at the organizational level and giving case studies that show well, what can happen if you do do it?
And hopefully it will inspire people to apply these methods and apply these tools to their own situation. Be it a personal situation or be it a challenge at work, for better results.
[00:06:09] What agility means to you
Bill Raymond: It’s a great book and I think we’ll be covering a lot of these topics in even more detail in this podcast, so that’s a good setup. But I think, let’s step back for a moment. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what agility means to you.
Peter Stevens: Hmm. You know, that’s a question, and I think Agility is really going through an identity crisis right now. As you know, the first papers back in 1995 and the Agile Manifesto in 2001, and then the rise of the agile industrial complex. And then real challenges to the community like, you know what recently happened at Capital One?
When I first started out, agility for me meant Scrum, and I didn’t really get this Agile manifesto thing, but the more I looked at the manifesto, the more it resonated with me. And so I think there’s one level to look at it. We talk about we’re uncovering better ways, and this is where I think we can kind of ignore the software part and just say of doing what we do, by doing it and helping others to do it.
Okay. Our highest,our highest goal. Is to satisfy the customer. And then they say something about software development that we can ignore. So let’s just ignore the software development part. We’re uncovering better ways of doing what we do. Okay. That’s about learning and it’s about collaboration.
Our highest goal, our top priority, this is about purpose. So for me the Agile Manifesto has a very strong commitment to learning, collaboration and purpose. And if you see agility in those terms, I don’t think there are many human endeavors that don’t benefit from more agility.
Okay? Whether this practice or that practice is better in this case or not, that’s a completely different question. But this attitude, learning, collaboration, purpose. I’ve seen it do wonders at every level of an organization. That for me is where the rubber beats the road with agility.
Now, perhaps one other thing, which I’ve come to appreciate, and I’ve been in this business now for 15 years, teaching people about scrum and agility. And one of the things that amazes me is how after 10 years, someone comes up to me and says your course changed my life. Okay? Thank you for introducing me to this agile world. And then you talk to them about why that’s the case. And they talk about some important change in their attitude that their lives are now much better than they were before and they’re much happier. Maybe they’re more successful in an economic sense and maybe not, that kind of depends, but they’re happier in their skin.
Okay? And so for me, you know the stuff about uncovering better ways, do we actually know if we’re ever going to find anything? And the answer is we don’t. Okay, but we keep digging anyway. So for me, agility is most fundamentally about hope. Okay? There could be a better way. And all you got to do is keep digging and you’re sure to find it.
That for me is I think perhaps, at least as far as I’ve gotten, and I’m still digging just like everyone else. And that was the metaphor for the Agile Manifesto. We are a bunch of archeologists, Alistair Cobert explained this to me, digging in the dirt just like everyone else.
There were no gurus at the top of the mountain. Just a bunch of archeologists sticking in the dirt, getting muddy, looking for better ways, and every once in a while we uncover something and that’s the hope that we’re going to uncover something which gives us the push or the jump that we need that really helps us for the better.
Bill Raymond: Yeah, and I think that’s, it’s such a interesting concept too. Because it was just really the manifesto for Agile software development, as you said, I think if you remove the word softwareit would resonate with anyone. Right? And we can look at that, but I do think that it’s simplicity is what’s helped to drive it so far.
You go to the website and you think, oh, manifesto, it’s going to be this long, drawn out thing. No, it’s just a page.
Peter Stevens: It’s just a page. It’s short and it’s very sweet and it’s really challenging the principles of management that made the 20th century what it was. That made the 20th century great. And say, well, all these things on the right, those are things that were great for the auto industry in 1930.
Okay. But now we’re in the 20th century trying to create innovative products. And while those things still have a role to play, but there are other things that are more important and first and foremost are the individuals and the interactions between them. This gets really interesting when we talk about complexity theory and the notion of emergence. Because emergence is simple, individual things interacting with each other to exhibit more complex behaviour.
We can talk about molecules like hydrogen and oxygen make water. Or we can talk about an ant colony. Or we can talk about these marvelous structures that make up our own bodies and brains. It’s all about individual things, interacting with each other to provide more complex behavior.
And I think what the Agile manifesto is really saying is emergence over process, emergence over design process and so as I say, very powerful statements and a lot of depth, 73 words including the title is the first page. You get a little bit more when you go into the principles, but the essence of the manifesto is just 73 words and a lot of power in those words.
[00:10:31] Personal Agility
Bill Raymond: You already mentioned it a little bit with your book, but maybe you could break down what personal agility means to you.
Peter Stevens: What is personal agility? Well, so we have the personal agility system. And we really build on five elements.
Peter Stevens: The first element is clarity of purpose. Now we call that what really matters. You’ll see this in a lot of frameworks, the Agile Manifesto has it as their first principle.
But the thing about what really matters is it’s not only your destination, it’s not only your goal, but it’s the other things that are important to you. So it’s more like navigation stars.
Peter Stevens: And that actually takes us to the second aspect, which is really navigation. Where am I? Where am I going? Now, where you’re going only makes a difference if you have a destination, if you don’t have a particular destination in mind, you can drift anywhere. Who cares? But if you have some place that you want to go to, something that you want to achieve, or someone that you want to be well keeping track of knowing what really matters to you, knowing what the forces are in your life, your life is like an ocean.
You’re in the middle of nowhere, there are no landmarks to navigate by. So you need to figure out where you are and figure out where you want to go. And what really matters is, well, first of all, you got to figure that one out, but once you know the answer then you can use that to choose what you do.
By doing more of the things that matter to you and less of the things that don’t, that helps you become the person that you want to be. Okay? So we talk about purpose, we talk about navigation. Scrum, by the way, calls this inspect and adapt. We call it celebrate and choose.
Peter Stevens: Then we have cadence.
Okay? So the idea is you got to, you know where you are now and you know where you’re going now. Well, where are you a week from now? Well, so you got to repeat that and say, okay, what have I accomplished since last week? What do I want to do next week? Am I on course to my personal, we call the destination Jamaica.
Are we on course to our personal Jamaica?
Peter Stevens: So purpose, navigation, cadence, then we get into visualization. We see with scrum and Kanban, they all have their task boards and Kanban boards and various other things that you can do. Visual facilitation is all about visualization.
Peter Stevens: And then finally, and I think this is the one which the agile movement hadn’t really discovered when the first methods were coming out, dialogue. Basically the skills of the coach, the ability to ask powerful questions, and then really listen to the answers, and that’s where information is created.
Okay? it’s through dialogue. a variation on dialogue is facilitation. This is how you bring your group together to solve problems collectively. Okay? And a lot of the ways that people talk to each other, they’ve, they very quickly devolve into debate and name calling and other things which make it very difficult for people to find consensus and come to a decision.
But a well facilitated conversation can produce amazing amounts of information in a very short period of time. Okay, so at a personal level, we talk about these five elements, okay? So, clarity of purpose, navigation, cadence, visualization and dialogue. And these are skills that you can learn. And those skills. So that’s the first level of personal agility, okay, is being able to navigate life yourself. But then we’ve got these higher level emergent entities like your team or your department, or your value stream or your company. How do you get them moving in a particular direction and keep them moving in a direction so that you can achieve long-term goals?
Okay, so there’s a second level of personal agility which builds on the first. Which we now call the personal agility alignment process, and this is kind of going from empathy to surfacing information, to using that information to create alignment, which is the basis for making decisions that you can really hold.
Now, if you take a genuine decision that’s supported by a high degree of alignment by your stakeholders, you don’t have a lot of discussion anymore about what the decision should be and what the priorities should be, and now with this again, coming back to this simple cadence of updating your position and updating your understanding of what really matters.
Well now you can do both. You can achieve long-term goals, and as an organization you can process new information so you can be responsive to changes in the world. Okay. So basically what we see is, even though we call it personal agility, it’s really the gateway to being effective as any kind of organizational or business agility.
Bill Raymond: Yeah, it really it shapes not only the way you manage yourself personally, but also how you work with others is what you’re trying to say.
Peter Stevens: Exactly. And if you’re not agile, personally, you can’t be agile as an organization.
[00:14:34] How you build clarity of purpose
Bill Raymond: I’d like to really hone in on, on that first one you said there’s five elements, clarity of purpose, navigation, cadence, visualization, dialogue. But it all has to start with clarity of purpose, I would think. So could you dive into that just a little bit more for me? when you say clarity of purpose, what would be an example of that?
How do you start to put yourself into the mindset of developing that? Because that’s something you really have to personalize it’s almost like your mantra or whatever, I’m not sure, but I’d love to hear your thoughts more on how you build a clarity of purpose.
Peter Stevens: Okay, one example is, you know how Scrum works. Scrum says we have a product goal and the team is focused on that goal and they either achieve it or they abandoned it. Okay. Very strong emphasis on focus. That’s fine, but what else do we care about?
Now, you might want to say, I have my career. I want to achieve something at work, but at the same time I want to be a good parent or I want to be a good partner, a good partner for my spouse or significant other.
And so these are also things that really matter. Okay? And clarity of purpose is about knowing what you want to achieve, but it’s also knowing what are the other things that you care about and you use these things to make decisions about how to spend your time.
My favorite example is I say, okay, I want to be successful in business, but you know, I also want to have an intact family. And I want to have good relationships with my kids and my spouse. I look at what I did last week, I didn’t do anything for my wife or for my kids. Gee, so what does that say about intact relationships?
But I can use that information to say, okay, what do I want to do differently moving forward? Ah, now would be a good time to propose something to do for my kids or with my wife, so that we kinda reestablish that relationship. And so basically there’s this duality between what you do and who you are.
Okay. Kind of what you do makes you who you are. And if you say I want to be a good parent for my kids, but you’re not doing anything for your kids, how do you change that? By doing something for your kids. Okay? And it’s that doing something that makes you a better parent. So it’s being able to recognize this duality. Now a lot of people, you ask them the question, what really matters? And they say, oh man, I have no clue. Oh, that’s a tough question. It feels like you’re answering something for eternity. But what you can do is you can look at how you spend your time and say, okay, I’ve got this thing called time, which I get to spend only once.
How did I spend my time? Okay. And that’s telling you what mattered to you in the moment. Now maybe how you spent your time and what you feel in your head or in your heart, maybe they’re not in agreement with each other, they’re not aligned with each. Okay. And that will probably, if you’re feeling unhappy or dissatisfied with yourself, or who you are or what you’re doing, probably there’s a disconnect between how you’re spending your time and how you’d like to be spending your time. And that reflection lets you say, okay, well how do I want to spend my time moving forward? Okay. And this is why we call it celebrate and choose, celebrate what you got done, even if you know you had your reasons for doing it, but maybe you want to do something different moving forward. So, okay, choose how you want to spend your time. And what that does is it, if we get back to the navigation metaphor, it’s saying, put your hand on the rudder and set a course. And when you’ve got your hand on the rudder, all of a sudden you’re the pilot or the captain of the ship, you’re not a passenger anymore.
And that’s just a totally different, it changes everything.
Bill Raymond: Clarity of what really matters is how you kind of take command of your life, how you start setting a course in your life. And even if you only get to spend 30 minutes a week on things that you want to do versus all the things you have to do, well that’s 30 minutes more than you were spending last week.
Peter Stevens: And you got your hand on the rudder saying, this is where I’m going. And that’s something that builds as you move forward.
Bill Raymond: I also find that when I’vesolidified that in my head and I said, this is the clarity of purpose that I have and these things can change over time. Right? We could have a different purpose next year or next month, right?
But one of the things that I do try to do frequently is when people ask me about what I do, if I’m in, even when I’m in business,I will tell people, not only here’s what I’m trying to do with my company for myself, but also some of my personal objectives.
I think it helps people understand you a little bit more when you share those things with folks.
Peter Stevens: Absolutely.
And it’s when they understand you that they can start to think about, well, what do we need? And how can we do things that meet each other’s goals? How can we find win-win solutions? You can only do that when you understand the bigger picture for the other person. And that becomes really important. We talk about a leadership framework. One of the things we hear over and over in Agile transformations is the leaders say, but my people, they can’t take responsibility. They don’t know how. They need new software for their brains.
I don’t know what to do. It just doesn’t work. But the thing is, what they haven’t been doing is they haven’t been asking the questions to understand what really matters. Okay? And if you start to understand what matters to the bigger picture, then you can act in accordance with what really matters. And this is something by the way, we learned from our case studies with former members of the Armed Services. We had one guy who was a pilot for the Air Force. We had another guy who was Special Forces, I think he was a Navy Seal and they talked about how part of their training was how to see the big picture and how to act on the big picture and how they could trust the guy next to them to see and act on the same big picture.
These guys literally trusted each other with their lives. And then we come back into the civilian economy and they don’t see any of that there, and that’s actually very challenging for them. And I think this is something that the civilian economy really hasn’t developed as this concept of leadership.
Which is the trusting people to act on what really matters, but also training them to understand what really matters and encouraging them to think about what really matters. So I think there’s a lot of upward potentialfor companies if we can activate the intelligence of the room.
And that comes from understanding the big picture, from understanding what really matters.
[00:19:55] What are the steps
Bill Raymond: Right. So how do we go about doing that? We are bringing this personal agility into our lives. We’re thinking about all of those elements that you talked about earlier, clarity of purpose, navigation, cadence. And we’re understanding a little bit more why it matters, but
what are the steps that I go about doing this?
[00:20:12] What really matters?
Peter Stevens: It’s actually very simple. We start with six questions the first question is what really matters? If that’s a hard question, we’ll skip it and we’ll come back to it a little bit later.
[00:20:20] What did you do last week?
Peter Stevens: Next question is, what did you do last week?
Okay? What are the interesting things you can do is take a look at your calendar, just at work, and you’ll probably see that it’s half full with meetings. The higher you are in the company,the more meetings you have. And so you look at these meetings and you say, okay, how did I spend my time?
Then you look at your calendar, moving forward, how would I like to spend my time? Or how do I plan to spend my time? So notice we have the question looking backward, what did you do? We have the question looking forward, what could you do? And all those things, whether it’s in your calendar or in your list of things to do, they all represent possibilities. And then you come to the question, of all those things I could do, okay, which of them are important? Which of them are urgent? Which of them are going to make me happy? And that last question is a surprising one because people are saying, you mean I’m allowed to do something for me?
Am I allowed to do that? I’m not sure if I’m allowed to do that or not. But if you don’t do things for you, then you feel like you’re just a cog in the machine and sooner or later you’re going to burn out. Even in a work context, it’s important to do things that develop you as a person.
And so now you’ve got a lens to look at all of the things that you’re doing, that you could do. And this is also where we can start to think about what really matters? Because you look at how you spent your time, you look at how you want to use your time, and you can organize and classify this stuff, and there you start to understand what really matters.
How you spent your time, remember this whole thing about your time is your most valuable currency, you only get to spend it once. You have to spend it. There’s no saying, well, let me think about it. No, you got to spend it in the moment. So how did you spend it? And that’s telling you what mattered to you at the moment.
Now whether you still agree with that statement, that’s another question. And when you look at how you plan, expect, have to use your time, choose to use your time, which verb you use says a lot about your attitude towards yourself how in control you are of your own life. If you feel like everything is something that you have to do for someone else and there’s nothing for yourself. That’s a sign that you’re a passenger on your boat. Okay? And now is probably time to make, even if it’s just 15 minutes or half an hour for something that you want to do, that’s tremendously empowering. But anyway, you look at how you plan to spend your time, you look at the future, and that gives you another perspective. Now you can start to say, well, what are the patterns here?
How do these things relate to each other? And you can start to give names to the things that really matter. I recently did this with the chief financial officer of a holding company here in Switzerland. We looked at his meetings over a but longer period of time, and out of that we were able to distill seven or eight things,kind of seven or eight classes of things that were important to him.
That were kind of part of his job and what he was expected to do. And we could also look at them and say, well, which of them were good uses of his time? Which one were questionable and which of them were making him absolutely unhappy. And particularly that last category, you say, okay, what can we do about this?
So that he could use that time more effectively or make these meetings into something better than what they are.
Okay. And this is where the improvement process starts. So what do you want to do next week? So notice, what really matters? How did you use your time? What could you do with your time? And then let’s relate that, what’s important, what’s urgent, what’s going to make you happy? And the deeper question is, why is it important? Why is it urgent? And oh, wait a minute, what if it’s urgent but not important? Do I really need to do it anyway? Because the last thing is you probably have too much to do. Okay? Most people that I’ve run into, they got too many things to do and not enough time to do it. So what that means is some things aren’t going to get done.
They’re not going to get done this week, maybe they’re not going to get done never. So let’s start to be intentional about what we do and what we don’t do. Okay? Of all the things that we’re going to do, what are the ones that are really, for whatever reason, are important that I want to get them done this week?
So you can kind of start to focus on the things that really matter. I’m going to say "to you" in quotes, because to you might be to your company, to your project, it’s all context dependent.
But the idea is that you know what matters in this context, and you’ve got all these things you could do, well, let’s spend more of our time on the things that are for some reason important and less of our time on things that aren’t important.
Okay. And that’s how youtake the rudder of your life into your hand and turn the boat around and get going where you want to be going. And that proves to be a pattern that works both individually and also for an organization.
Bill Raymond: Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s a very positive way of looking back. So often, I think almost as human beings, the history is in the past, right? Like, well, that happened. But if you think about the way you leave work at the end of the day, or it’s that Friday and you’re just finally wrapping things up and you’re going, Ugh, that was just yet another horrible one.
Maybe ask yourself why that was a horrible one and step back. I loved your case study example of talking to the CFO and going back at the meetings and looking atwhat was adding value. And I bet that person also being at the CFO level has some real opportunity to make change as well.
But I think we all can do that. I think very frequently we end up getting sucked into things that we just allow ourselves to get sucked into, and sometimes we need to step back and say, Do I need to be there? Am I in this meeting because I want to be in front of this figurehead, or because it’s actually adding value.
Are these three meetings who couldn’t they just be one? And if you’re going from that place of improving your own personal life, you’re probably also going to help improve other people’s lives as well.
[00:25:21] Side effects
Peter Stevens: It’s an interesting side effect. And there’s also some interesting side effects of asking questions. Because, how do you learn? By asking questions. If you come into a situation in a state of low knowledge, you can go to a state of high knowledge by asking questions and listening to the answers.
Now notice you’re asking constructive questions, you’re asking powerful questions, you’re helping people very often in position of influence and authority who don’t really have the time to think through their problems. You’re helping them think through their problems, and what they find in you is someone who understands them.
And so that’s that building empathy and building trust. And that raises you in the eyes of the people that you’re working with. And of course, if you do this a lot, you talk to a lot of people in the organization, all of a sudden you’re the guy or gal as the case may be, who knows everything about that organization.
And then people start coming to you because they know that you’re an authority. Maybe not a formal authority, but an informational authority. And that’s a very interesting place to be in, so learning to ask good questions and being able to help people figure these things out.
I think these are hugely powerful skills, things worth learning to help you with your career.
[00:26:20] How to get unstuck
Bill Raymond: And I think that kind of leads really well into this question of around how you’re going to use person agility in your life to impact leadership and culture at your organization. Can you provide an example of what that might look like?
Peter Stevens: I can provide lots of examples. As I say, one of the things that I find to be most helpful.Companies call me because they feel like they’re stuck. They’ve recognize problems. Maybe they’ve even tried to do something about it and five years later they still have the same problems.
How do we get unstuck? The first thing I would do is I would go in and I would talk to each leader individually to understand them and to understand the problem. There’s a tool in the personal agility system called the stakeholder canvas, which kind of leads you through this conversation.
Interestingly enough, it doesn’t start with why, it starts with who are you? People love to talk about themselves. So if, you want to establish empathy with someone, ask them questions about who they are, where they’re coming from, what their job is, get to know them as a person before you kind of go into the details.
Okay? The next question is why are we here? What do you want to achieve? And hear the problem from their perspective. As you’re going through this interview, you just repeat it back to them and say, oh, I’ve heard you say this, have I understood you correctly?
It’s like air traffic control, they give a command the pilot read back to the command and both the pilot and air traffic control now have confidence that if the airplane does what they were told to do, they’re not going to fly into another airplane, which is usually a good feeling.
So it’s a safety measure, okay? And here it’s, maybe it’s a psychological safety thing, it’s a confirmation that I’m really listening and that builds trust. Once we start doing that, then we can start to talk about the problem. What are we trying to achieve?
What’s making this difficult? What is it the operational, the factual, the actual problem solving level? And again, we’re going through this process of listening and reading back, and at that point the person is willing to talk about more delicate things. What are you worried about or what are you afraid of? Or what’s frustrating you? What are the problems that they keep showing up? And this is where you can find out where the skeletons are buried. And at this point now we say, okay, great, so we’ve heard about all the problems. What are we trying to achieve? What’s the definition of awesome? Now you’re kind of directing them to where they want to go with the situation. And then the next question is, well, how can I help you get there? And so notice you’re not spreading your shoulders and trying to assert dominance.
You’re trying to be cooperative and say, okay, what’s going to be helpful? And then they’ll you. Then you can summarize it and say, okay, well if I’ve heard you correctly, this is what we really need to do. Here are the things that really matter, and these are the areas that would be helpful for support and what’s next.
And so now you’ve got a strategy for building alignment with the stakeholder. Now you do that with all five stakeholders on your project. Take good notes and you understand what everybody cares about, and you can identify what they have in common and you can use that to build consensus.
First you build consensus where they agree, everyone says yep we agree, this is all good. And then the areas where they don’t agree, well, now you can say, let’s reframe that as something we need to work on. I did this with one group of people and there was great consensus that half of the team did not belong on the project,
Peter Stevens: but zero consensus as to which members of the team should not be on the project. But even being able to find consensus to frame this as something that we agree on and that we need to find a way forward, this enabled them to talk about it. And enable them to start moving forward.
Peter Stevens: As I say, this is what we call the alignment process. Very powerful in organizations because alignment is the holy grail. As long as there’s been the internet, people have been writing about how hard it is to create alignment.
And I think we’ve solved that problem. So I think personal agility, first of all, it helps you create that alignment with yourself, and then it gives you the tools to build alignment among your stakeholders, build alignment among your management team, or even, I’ve done this with the board of directors.
What is the direction that we need to be going? And you can get a decision, that’s a real decision.
Bill Raymond: Yeah. That’s really good insight. Thank you for that. I appreciate the process that you’re walking us through here.
[00:29:57] How can someone reach Peter B. Stevens?
Bill Raymond: Peter B. Stevens, it’s been a great conversation, but before we wrap up, how might someone be able to reach you if they want to further this conversation?
Peter Stevens: There are a couple of things, one place to look is on Amazon for our book, where we’ve basically documented how to do everything that I’ve told you about. We have the Personal Agility Institute website, which is where you can find events and information. And most of our templates are available to any registered user.
We’re in the process of launching the leadership development program with personal agility, which is basically designed to develop strong leadership skills at all levels of the organization, to enable top management to be more agile and operational contributors to be more proactive and to create that empathy between the two layers. People can reach out to me on LinkedIn, either on LinkedIn or my personal website,
Depending on how overrun I get through this podcast, but in general, I really want to reach out to people and help people, so just reach out to me and let’s start a conversation.
Bill Raymond: I will make sure that all of the links that you just mentioned are on the agileinaction.com podcast. And of course, if you’re in the podcast app right now, just listening to the podcast, you can just scroll down to the show notes, in description, and you’ll find those links there.
Peter B. Stevens, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
Peter Stevens: Okay. Thank you so much, Bill. It’s been a pleasure.
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