Sunday, July 15, 2018

how people I work with really see me... part 2 of 2

As a quick recap from my last blog post: last month I'd asked people to share some 360-degree feedback with me, sharing an image that to them best conjured up the image of what it was that I do, and how I do it.

Responses included a platypus, shoe, Howard the Duck, and an inflatable Christmas tree amongst others, as well as a gif of me fixing railway tracks while the train is still running on them!

But while those were useful in helping me better understand how people view me and how I approach working with them, they don't help me understand what makes me different to the other consultants, trainers, advisers, and cake-eaters out there. Which is why I also openly asked people:

"Having just been named the UK’s 'niche enterprise support 
consultant of 2018', what do you think my ‘niche’ is?"

The general gist of comments seem to show that my niche isn't as typically definable as it might be for typical consultant-types (i.e. a niche in governance for large organisations; or a specialism for equity crowdfunding; and such like). It seems people see my 'niche' as being more to do with how I can take what appears to be complex and confusing amounts of knowledge, and translate them back into ways that mean others can better get to grips with things that are useful and relevant for them. It seems I also do this in ways that mean people are more confident in being able to work with this new leaning too.

And as with the pictures people shared, I'm encouraged by this - niches are usually defined by a specific type of knowledge or particular skill, yet I've always maintained that any of us can learn any knowledge or skill once we see the point and need for them (I had to resit my maths exam at school but subsequently managed and grew enterprise loan funds; support groups apply for investment; and deliver an accredited course in financial management!). 
For me, it's the relationships we make and work through are more important if we're serious about being inspired and motivated by our values. It's also through the relationships we have that we're able to gather the support and encouragement we need to achieve our aspirations in the way we want to, and ultimately change the world in some way.

In the interests of transparency I've include a full set of the responses below - although despite it being listed on my LinkedIN profile as one of my professional skills people can endorse me for, no-one mentioned my expertise in eating cake...

As a final thought, I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to reply to my open call for suggestions (and for making sure I could repost all your comments without having to edit them for swearing!) - as with lots of other ways I approach how I work, this way of seeking 360-degree feedback as part of my CPD is unusual, but seem far more enjoyable for all of us than the usual questionnaire type forms.



All responses received in response to the question: Adrian's niche is...?

I have always said you are good at promoting yourself. I would definitely say that is a strength. Some people will criticise self-promotion, but relationships are everything if you’re a consultant and this must be an element of maintaining networks and relationships by having a presence and trying to stay in people’s minds?

You use props to get attention, to engage, to play, to make light to make things accessible and it's in a way comedy and fun. but there is so much behind everything you do, the preparation, the observation the analysis. You walk this line between entertainer and ridiculously intelligent and knowledgeable scholar. And I think your niche has always been being so accessible and yet inspiring with awe how much you know and how readily you admit to what you don't. You are you and you empower others to be the same! A rare gem!

The third sector expert

Making complex things simple. Also you are most definitely "The acceptable face of Accounting" 

Your niche: early stage small businesses....especially those who are scared into inaction regarding their accounts and book keeping

You share information, spontaneously and generously / you have a creative approach to what you do / you have strong values and a focus on strengths / you really know your stuff, but wear your 'expert' hat lightly

I would say that your knowledge and understanding of the sector and in particular how to prove the impact we have is the main strength of yours. Your ability to work with a range of people at different levels is also a strength.

Your written blogs and so on which are always valuable and help us learn more and debate things we probably need to get to grips with.

Remarkable ability to raise awareness of the critical issues affecting SMEs and the entrepreneurs and freelancers who run them. You are also good with plastic Christmas Trees and fairy light decorations. You are a super hero of endeavour, with a good sense of humour, and untidy shelves, full of stuff...

how people I work with really see me... - part 1 of 2

Chances are, you're familiar with some of the memes that go around Facebook and the like, where people share how others see what they do vs. what they actually do:


And recently, one of these got me thinking about how others I work with might see me differently to each other (and even to how I view myself). So in the interests of trying to make sure I can build on, and develop better relationships with clients and collaborators, (and continuing to have fun with my CPD framework!), last month I openly asked: 



And people replied with great enthusiasm, as the below montage illustrates:



I even had someone source a GIF!




Now, some of these images may seem a bit obscure... so in the interests of helping make sure their contributors' thinking doesn't get mis-interpreted, here's the list of notes that some people felt they should attach to their responses:

connecting energy’ 

- the platypus (as seen in this old TV adis unconventional and challenging / customer focused / likes to do things differently 

Beer, cake and props: lobbing them all in together because each in their own way demonstrate your down-to-earth, fun, jovial personality

- Apparently in some cultures a clapping of the 'shoe' is a sign of respect. In others the throwing of the 'shoe' is a sign of disdain. (and this contributor also suggested that as the 'Super Hero of Entrepreneurial Endeavour', I'm also a SHoEE!)

- and the GIF = Here’s relentless Adrian, dealing with anything and everything is his way!” 

(others simply felt that the image alone was sufficient explanation).


And as fun as this obviously was as an experiment, I also think that it largely assures me that some of my values and the ways in which I try and approach working with clients, and in project teams with others, are consistent with what I'm trying to achieve.

But as much as pictures can tell a story of a thousand words, they they don't always allow us to convey what we really think about someone, with regards to what differentiates them us others. And my purpose in undertaking these 360 degree-type feedback exercises on myself is to always help me further my role and standing in the marketplaces I work in.

Which is why I also asked an alternate question:

"Having just been named the UK’s 'niche enterprise support consultant of 2018', 
what do you think my ‘niche’ is?"

...and I'll reveal what people said in response to that in part 2 of this mini-series.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

setting goals shouldn't just be something for new year, but take a whole year (and involve the whole world)

Resolutions to be better, or try harder, are things that we all agree are a good idea, and we usually think about at the start of a new year. Or, in the case of organisations, when the latest set of financial accounts are prepared...

But having our attention on them for such a brief moment usually means that we let our commitment to them lapse. But what if we were constantly reminded and encouraged about them over the period of a whole year?

I'd like to think that's the premise behind the UN creating its global 'year of' campaigns - 12 months of dedicated campaigning and lobbying around specific themes and issues of global importance each year.
But strangely, despite the UN having created the 'global goals for sustainable development' framework, there's no designated year yet to help further push for their adoption into the mainstream and public consciousness...


As one of the many people who think that these goals are actually a rather good idea (so much so that I now use them as a frame for my annual impact report on myself), I'm supporting the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) call to the United Nations to create an International Year of Engagement towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and its framework of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in building more inclusive and engaging societies. I'm happy to support the call to help build awareness and focus attention on other aspects of an enabling environment, build capacity for engagement, and help support the achievement of the SDGs. To this end, I'm proud to be included as a supporting organisation in the IAP2 proposal to the United Nations calling for An International Year of Engagement.

So there - that's my cards on the table, and colours nailed to the mast - what about you..?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

in search of a 'niche'...

As you may know, I take a sometimes unconventional approach to how I do a lot of things as a sole trader, and my CPD is no exception – which is why every few years I like to invite people whom I’ve supported, worked or collaborated with, (or with whom I have some other spurious connection), to tell me what you really think of me… (professionally speaking).

In previous years, I’ve invited people to share with me what they think my ‘superpower’ is (see http://thirdsectorexpert.blogspot.com/2016/06/rebirth-of-super-hero.html), but this time, I thought I’d try a different approach and offer 2 options through which you can share some very brief critical feedback and reflection on me: 1) Is there a picture or an image that you associate with me/what I do/how I do it? 2) Having just been named the UK’s “niche enterprise support consultant of 2018”, what do you think my ‘niche’ is?

(and yes, if you’d like, you can do both!) 

As before, I’m appreciative for any time you might be able to take in helping me with this, and I’ll anonymise and collate all responses and share the outcomes on my blog and social media at the end of July.
By way of recognition and thanks, I’m also happy to offer to help you with any reflective practice you may be thinking of engaging in on your own practices or buying you a slice of cake/coffee/beer the next time we’re in the same place together.
Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments below (if you're happy to be identified publicly with them!), or email me direct at adrian.ashton2@gmail.com 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

oh, the places you'll go...


So many books on doing business and being an entrepreneur are filled with inspiring stories of what other people have achieved, and words of advice from people who haven't lived your life or faced the challenges, hopes and frustrations that you do.

Which is why I think 'oh! the places you'll go!' is the ideal book for any entrepreneur – it's presented from the view of a child: and children think that either everything is possible, or nothing is possible: a common mindset for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and the self-employed. And it’s also brutally honest that sometimes the best laid plans can come to naught despite our best efforts, but that somehow we'll manage to survive those tough times.

There are no complex mantras to remember, complex theories or tools to memorise, and it also comes with lots of fun pictures. For all those reasons and more, this is THE book that anyone launching their own enterprise should have by their bedside.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

make noise vs. making an impact - how social media reacted to my impact report

Earlier this month I published my latest annual social impact report on myself - and my deciding to frame it against the UN's Sustainable Development Goals seemed to be well received judging by comments and feedback I've received to date.

A few years back, I started to publish the report on twitter, using the hashtag #AAimpact14 (and adding 1 for each subsequent year). But I never really thought about if twitter was the right channel to be doing this with - sure, there are various hashtags that relate to impact reporting, but that doesn't mean it's the right place for something like this.
So this year, I decided to experiment on myself (again!) - and posted out the sections of the impact report each day across different social media channels that I have a profile on, and then looked at what the numbers suggested 1 week after their original postings.

It's interesting reading, and almost counter-intuitive (if you listen to some of the hype around which social media channel you should be broadcasting your messages on):

Taking a chart based on the average number of impressions per social media post which is how most people I know seem to judge their success on social media (some channels got 1 per day, and others several, based on available characters allowed), I also looked at the number of engagements as a proportion of my total connections/followers on each respective channel.



So it seems that when it comes to reporting our impact and social value, LinkedIn is the place to be for getting it noticed, but if we want people to actively engage with it, then we should be looking more to instagram and blogs.

However, when I re-cast this chart using the number of impressions as a percentage of my total community on each channel (rather than an absolute number), a very different picture emerges:


A 'truer' picture emerges of instagram and blogs being the place where people like to see what's happening in the worlds of impact reporting, but in a much more passive sense than over on LinkedIn...

Thankfully, in an age where we can easily cross-post content and messages across different social media platforms, sharing our impact reporting like this isn't an either/or choice. But it's perhaps an interesting question to pose to ourselves: what are we hoping to achieve by posting about our impact reports - are we simply 'showing off', or trying to stimulate conversations and reflection amongst others as to how we're doing it?

Monday, May 7, 2018

how social impact reports sometimes tell us more about ourselves, than about the changes we've created for others

To my knowledge, I'm sill the only freelance/self-employed consultant to openly publish a social impact report on myself - and this year marks the 13th one!

And this year I've taken a different approach to how I present the findings of the indicators that track my 'social performance' from the stance of economic, environmental, and social themes. As well as continuing to benchmark the results externally where I'm able to source relevant comparisons, I'm also now using them to consider how far I'm contributing to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. After all, small enterprise and freelancers make up the overwhelming majority of all the businesses in the world, so the best chance of being able to make progress against these goals is through our collective efforts, right?

And while this take has been widely lauded so far (some even referring to me as 'genius' in doing so!), it's not this new format which is my stand-out takeaway from this years impact report.

Instead, it's the footnotes and narrative that I add where the results seem to be significantly different to the previous year - a sign that somethings not played out as I'd hoped, or, as has been the case in the past, actually an indication that the quality of my provision is actually far better than might have otherwise been expected in the circumstances (one year learner satisfaction fell 15% on the previous year, but digging into it, I found that over 1/3 of all learners on courses I delivered that year had attended under duress, so the satisfaction scores should have been correspondingly much lower!).
And during the period that this impact report covers, I had a significant change in my personal circumstances - as well as the tail-end of recovering my business from the impact of the massive flooding that hit the Calder Valley at the end of 2015, I also moved out of the family home and relocated in another town (don't worry - I'm still a Northerner in the Pennines).
My professional self felt that I'd be able to manage this transition pretty well, and client feedback has shown that my standards of delivery haven't been affected by this change. However, what this latest impact report shows is that the way in which I try and manage my business has been perhaps more affected than I might have otherwise hoped:
  • I've not been able to continue to use public transport for business travel to the same extent;
  • my ability to procure from other social enterprises, co-ops, and charities has been lessened;
  • the amount of pro bono support I was able to offer was down.

And these are perhaps to be expected during a period of family change and upheaval, rethinking priorities about life, and no longer living in such close proximity to rail and bus terminals as I used to. 
However, these things aren't an excuse not to try and rethink how I adapt to my new circumstances in trying to maintain my commitment to working out my values in how I work - and to that end I'm looking to change how I offer to meet people, seeking to make better use of video technologies: something I'll be adding to my reporting matrix next year.

And I think that that's something which is often missing from many impact reports I read from others - as well as the lack of external benchmarks and previous trends to help make sense of just how far achievements are worthy of recognition, an openness in committing to change their business models as a result of what they show.

(by the way - my full impact report for the year 2017/8 is now available on this link)