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Wednesday, 14 December 2016

No seat at the table

I'm a firm believer that the words we use to describe a problem often have the solution hidden with them too. It's certainly something I often use with coaching clients.

For example, if you're describing a situation as not being able to see the wood for the trees, what solution would you have in a real wood with real trees (yes I really have written a blog on that, and had senior managers walking around a wood to explore it too).
Solutions when seeing the trees and not the wood might include:
  • Getting a map
  • Getting out of the wood
  • Following a path
  • Taking to higher ground to get more perspective
  • Chopping some of the branches or even trees down
  • Following the sun
  • Waiting till winter when the leaves have fallen 
  • and so on
The aim being to identify the solutions in the metaphor first, and once you've exhausted the ideas to then determine what they mean in reality. For example, what would getting a map, or perhaps using the one you have, mean in the situation you'd been describing as not being able to see the wood for the trees about?

Yesterday I saw the headline of a recent Procurious blog by Nicholas Ammaturo,

No seat at the table, time to build your own chair.

The blog explored what action procurement needed to take to improve the current situation of exclusion from the top table, which included improved education, communication, and sales.

I wondered what a metaphorical exploration of the words would uncover, and here's the outcome of my wondering. Do please leave your own thoughts in comments below, after all a metaphorical exploration will certainly be impacted and limited by my own beliefs and ways of thinking.

The first consideration is what table do we want to sit at?
Are other tables more or less favourable? What shape are you imagining the table is, and if you change its shape does the situation feel different?

There's no right and wrong in metaphor just suggestions and ideas. The aim is to stay away from the real life situation for as long as possible, to just get as many ideas written down. Go silly, go even sillier, certainly go off on the tangents your mind provides. Once you've explored the metaphorical situation from as many angles as possible do then decide which of the ideas might have the kernel of a solution contained within it for the real life situation.

To continue ... What's taking place at the table that's so important? Can't it be covered when you're not at the table? What would your advice be to a 5 year old who's feeling left out at dinner time in school?
  • Speak to a teacher
  • Find a friend
  • Offer to share a tasty lunch
  • Build up their confidence
Or perhaps it's about starting by sitting on the children's table first before we've demonstrated we're able to join the adult table?

Solutions to not having a seat at the table may also include:
  • Bringing your own chair
  • Bringing your own chair and table
  • Sitting on the floor
  • Standing
  • Sitting on the table
  • Standing on the table
  • Suggesting they move to or make the table bigger
  • Go for a walking meeting 
Building my own chair might also be an option, but it's an option that takes effort, skill and potentially enthusiasm I'm lacking. Although there I am doing what I'm suggesting we don't do, and being critical and negative too soon! All ideas are good ideas, and building a chair might work for someone. After all in the Field of Dreams movie they did say "If you build it, he will come".
So perhaps IT IS about having our own table and chairs and inviting people to come and sit with us?
If the table we want a seat at is at a swanky restaurant then the solution might be:
  • Making a reservation well ahead of time
  • Getting someone else to take you
  • Finding out and following the dress code
  • Saving up
  • Engaging the restaurant on social media
In most homes someone would find you a seat if they wanted you there - so perhaps it's actually about getting an invite to sit at the table.

If we wanted an invite to something, a party for example, what would we do:
  • Go as someones guest
  • Bump into the host, in the hope they'd invite us
  • Invite the host to something first
  • Send them a present
  • Just turn up
  • Ask for an invite
  • Ask why you've not been invited
  • Have other people who are attending ask for you to be invited
  • Pay for a ticket
  • Offer to make a donation to charity if you get an invite
The idea is to steer clear of thinking about the meeting/table you do want an invite to. When doing that it's too easy to start thinking "that won't work", "I've tried that before" and that stops us coming up with innovative solutions. This process keeps us open to finding a solution that might just work. 

Exploring what we'd need do to get invited to other sorts of meetings might help - to attend a local book club for example we'd need to:
  • Be interested and passionate about reading
  • Read the book
  • Have something interesting to say about the book 
  • Not want to talk about other books
  • Offer to host the meeting
  • Turn up on time
Or what about getting an invitation to see the Queen - we'd need to:
  • Have made a difference to other people
  • Do work which delivers fabulous benefits
  • Be the best at what you do
  • Ensure others talk about you to the right people
  • Become an expert corgi looker afterer
  • and so on. 
Think of other meetings and other tables and consider how you'd get to sit at them. Perhaps even chairs you'd rather not sit at:
The song from the musical Les Miserables takes empty chairs and tables into a new direction and asks us to consider the impact of actions that ultimately end up in us making sacrifices! (I did warn you - there's no good or bad ideas - just tangents to be explored that may, or may not shed any light)


Going in another direction completely we might even do a problem reversal exercise, and think about what you'd need to do to definitely not be invited to sit down. It's a great technique for identifying things you might be doing that are getting in the way of an invite coming your way. (Another technique where being absurd, and having some fun pays dividends.)

You may even want to play around with the words being used - what happens if you think about there being no 'bench' at the table? It's certainly feels less formal, and perhaps opens up the opportunity for more sociable discussions about inclusion at the meeting.
As I'll discuss more tomorrow the aim is to change our internal representation of the situation from one that is a problem with no solution, to a challenge that can be overcome. Any of these explorations might enable internal resistance to be lowered, and a solution to be found.

What happens if there was no seat on the amusement park ride ..... for me the insight is that there's always the next one to sit in, and it's never that far away!

Yes I'm afraid it's easy to get carried away, but sometimes out of absurdity comes clarity!
After you've got a lovely list of potential solutions it's time to determine what that means for procurement and them getting to attend board or c-suite meetings. Solutions might include:
  • Inviting the leadership team/ c-suite to your meeting
  • Having a regular meeting that everyone wants to come to
  • Ensuring you talk their language
  • Ensuring you're making a difference (one that would make the queen proud)
  • Demonstrating you have mastery of procurement - ie not just good at it but are experts
  • Believing you have a right to attend the meeting (rather than waiting for an invite)
  • Demonstrating the value procurement have delivered
  • Developing alliances with senior managers
  • Not running before you can walk
  • Ensuring you're visible and bump into the right people
  • Releasing your impatience
  • Releasing the formality and making it more sociable
  • ??
It's easier to apply the solutions we've discussed when you're applying it to a real life situation ie your mind will see the analogy and make sense of it and offer a suggestion. It's certainly much harder for me to be doing it remotely without reference to a specific culture, board, people, motivations, values, experience and process etc.

Next time you describe a problem using specific language you may want to spend some time exploring how the language might also contain the solution.

Tomorrow's post will explore how our words can stop us finding solutions to the challenges in our lives.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Inspiring change inside and out - sometimes a little unconventionally

Other posts exploring solutions hidden in our language
Follow the hypertext links in the above text take you to posts written on the subject highlighted.

Image of trees at the start of the blog is one of my brothers - for more do see his website.

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