Authors, Books, Non Fiction, The Writing Process

Author Interview with Irial O’Farrell @evolution_ary #Coaching #Management #BusinessBook

My guest today is Irial O’Farrell, author of Smart Objective Setting for Managers.

About the Author

Irial has always been fascinated with how to match the company’s performance needs with the individual’s needs.  In her first job in Financial Services, in Sydney Australia, she was fascinated by how everyone loved one manager and tried to avoid the other.  She thought her interest was a passing fad but it turns out, it was an indicator of things to come.  Since her first job, she has merrily danced her way through careers in operations, management, learning and development, executive coaching, strategy consulting and change management, across 3 continents – Australia, USA and Europe.  Well Ireland, where she hails from. 

Her curiosity about people, coupled with her high level of abstract reasoning, allows her to help clients make sense of their busines performance blockages.  Once the causes of blockages have been surfaced, she works with them to design interventions that will enable their desired future and supports them to achieve it.  As the first, and currently only, CMI-Accredited Master in Change Management in Ireland, she has a proven track record of supporting clients through the messy process of change.  She pays keen attention to monitoring and ensuring the change momentum, needed to turn their vision into reality, builds.  If momentum isn’t building, she identifies what is stopping it and identifies potential ways to address it.   

She set up her own consulting business, Evolution Consulting, in 2006, and has seen a few boom-and-bust cycles.  She gained board experience through 6 years on the board of Relationships Ireland, 4 of which were as chairperson.  She enjoys writing and has written two books – Values: Not Just for the Office Wall Plaque – How Personal and Company Values Intersect, and SMART Objective Setting for Managers: A Roadmap.  She is currently working on her third book, which explores why issues are unnecessarily escalated up the ladder, due out in May 2021.  In February 2021, she joined Pebble Business Transformation, a consulting company that works with clients to maximise their success through intentional business design. As you can imagine, re-designing business can impact on the design of the organisation and most definitely results in a lot of change.   So, Irial has joined Pebble as a partner and resident Organisation Design and Change Management expert. 

Tell us a little about yourself. (How did you get started writing? What do you do when you’re not writing?)

I’ll start with what I do, as a segue into how I started writing.  These days, I’m a partner in a consulting house, called Pebble Business Transformation.  We work with companies that recognise the need to align their business processes to match their changing needs, arising from a change in strategy, a merger, responding to marketplace changes such as customer experience or digitalisation.  My own story started with a fascination with how does a company match the needs of the business with the needs of the individual.  I’ve been on a path of curiosity ever since. 

My writing started when the natural writing opportunities that I had in my job stopped, when I set up my own consultancy in 2006.  By 2010/2011, the need to write had built a serious head of steam and I just needed to write.  Writing a book was an excellent vehicle, to allow me to write.  While I hope, one day, to write a novel, I decided to stick to what I know and write business books.

When I’m not writing, I’m endlessly fascinated with figuring out what is dragging performance in client companies and how we can help them stop the drag.  I also love reading, running and travelling.   

Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?)

SMART Objective Setting for Managers is my second book.  My fist one, written in 2011, is called Values – Not Just for the Office Wall Plaque: How Personal and Company Values Intersect.  I’m currently in the middle of editing my next book.

What genre is it, and what is it about?

It’s a non-fiction business and management book.  It’s about the purpose of objective setting and how to design objectives that really make a difference to performance, the individual’s, the team’s, the company and the client’s (whoever that might be, because, let’s face it, all companies have clients of some sort).  The book uses the SMART framework but it is the only book written specifically for using SMART between two people. 

What or who inspired you to write this book?

What inspired me to write this book was working with all those managers who struggle to use SMART and/or design objectives in any meaningful way.  The real driver is Chapter 8, which deals with how to design behavioural, “how” objectives.  However, I knew I couldn’t just go straight into chapter 8.  Needed the build-up!

What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?

I’d say just do it.  I didn’t do it for this book but I did use this technique for the upcoming one but I strongly recommend you do a mind map of the book.  Map out the ideas, the order, etc.  I found that very helpful. 

What do you enjoy most about writing and why?

I love the process of getting all the content out of my head and onto the page.  It’s so wonderful to be free of it.  I also love shaping it and bringing full order to it.  For example, in the SMART book, I had to formally articulate that there are different types of objectives, that play different roles.  I’ve never seen that point acknowledged anywhere and I’m not sure I had ever formally articulated it during the numerous conversations I have had with managers.  Yet, while writing the book, I knew it had to be explicitly said.  I love that opportunity that writing a book forces. 

List three interesting facts about yourself

I love to travel and I’ve lived in 4 other countries, for varying lengths of time, as well as my native country, Ireland. 

Is being an avid book reader an interesting fact or just a given, for a writer?  I do love reading and I have a rather eclectic taste in books.  I read a lot of non-fiction but also love a good murder mystery or a romance. 

Over the years, I’ve lived with several cats and dogs but I’d really love a rabbit.

What is your least favourite part of the publishing/writing process?      

By far, my least favourite part of the process is the editing.  I know it has to be done but I find it so tedious.  I find it particularly hard when, on the fifth edit, I find another 20 changes to make.  How do they crawl into the manuscript?  I’ll never know!

What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?

For readers that enjoy my book, they can help in several ways.  Firstly, leaving a positive review is extremely helpful because it helps other readers, who don’t know me or my work, decide to buy the book.  Telling friends, family members and colleagues about the book and recommend that they pick up a copy (assuming they’re in management.  Aspirations to get into management are good too!) is also helpful.  Finally, for readers who have social media accounts, posting the book, a link to it, and what they liked about it would also be much appreciated. 

What is your next project?

My next project, currently well under way, is a book called The Manager’s Dilemma: How to Empower Your Team’s Problem Solving.  Most managers tend to be very good at problem solving but not so good at developing their team’s problem-solving skills.  This book explains the reasons for this, the valid reasons for escalating issues and takes an in-depth look at how to develop a person’s problem-solving skills, depending on where their starting point is. 

Book Blurb

As a manager, what’s your number one pet peeve about one of your team members? I bet it’s something like “he’s too slow” or “she keeps nattering on and on and on”. Or how about “if he asks me that same question one more time, I’ll…”? These are what we call “behavioural” performance issues and this is where most managers struggle in developing their team members.

You rarely hear a manager’s pet peeve as “I wish he’d learn more of the technology” (a knowledge issue) although you might often hear “I wish he’d remember what he’s been shown and use it again”(a knowledge retention and application issue). Performance issues more commonly focus on “how” something is being done, rather than the “what” is being done.

Many managers struggle with articulating the behaviour and why it’s not working, let alone trying to translate it into a SMART objective. So, oftentimes, it gets brushed under the carpet and the team soldiers on. This stoicism results in the staff member not pulling their weight or getting the opportunity to develop, the rest of the team having to compensate, the manager’s focus stepping down, to deal with the knock-on impacts. Everyone is slightly (or a lot) behind and nobody is really benefiting. There’s no win-win here.

But what if there was an alternative? What if there was a book that dissected the SMART tool and explained how to use it more effectively with another person? What if there was a framework that enabled you to articulate the impact of the unhelpful behaviour? What if you understood how to design an objective that really held someone accountable for developing a behaviour that enhanced their performance and, by implication, your team’s performance and your own performance?

Such a book has arrived. With over 20 years of developing high performing teams and managers, Irial O’Farrell has watched managers struggle with objective setting – behavioural and other objective types – and has run dozens of SMART Objective Setting workshops. Participants walk away with confidence in being able to design effective SMART objectives, including behavioural objectives.

So, with a pause due to Covid19, she decided to, once again, put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and shares her insights, which include:

– Relationship between Job Descriptions and Performance Management
– Limitations of using SMART with another person
– 4 Different types of performance objectives
– How to set a tangible behavioural SMART objective
– Understanding the employee’s expectations and assumptions
– Understanding your own performance mindset, as a manager
– Preparing for and conducting objective setting meetings

The proposed approach works in conjunction with any performance management system in place. If you don’t have a formal process, this is just a more effective way of setting objectives.

What if you’re thinking “I’m not a manager. Is this book for me?” Well, I’ll share a little secret with you. Several of my beta readers felt that all employees would benefit from reading this book. Why? If you read this book, you will understand the assumptions that are made that render some objectives dead upon arrival i.e., the objective is doomed before you’ve even left the room. This information will allow you to ask questions that prompt a proper discussion of what is really meant by the objective, allowing you to shape it into a realistic objective that you are likely to benefit from, both in the short-term and in your career, over the longer-term.

BUY Your Copy of SMART Objective Setting for Managers via Amazon UK or Amazon US

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