Five traits you will find in all the most productive organisations

If, like us, you are lucky enough to work with exceptional companies, you cannot help but look behind what makes them the success they are. And you discover that their success is not an accident but is rather down to obsessive execution underpinned with core disciplines.

From our research and observations, Thinking Focus has identified five traits you will find in all the most productive organisations. These guiding principles can be applied by any organisation to enable their people to be productive in the right way. They also form the basis of our 5Cs Results Model, which we use in our work with a range of forward-thinking organisations to help them accelerate business growth, embed change or transform culture.

  1. Purpose and Clarity

The most productive organisations we’ve worked with regularly reinforce purpose and clarity within all their people. A clear and compelling purpose – the ‘why’ we do what we do, aligned to what we do – is consistently shared and communicated, so everyone has a common clarity of vision. This increases effectiveness as people work to their greatest level of contribution in order to help achieve the big picture.

Take note, though, not to confuse being efficient with being effective. We have worked in, and with, organisations where people were highly efficient and executed their tasks promptly and to a high standard. The problem was, they were not working on the right things!

As a leader aiming to help your people be as productive as possible, challenge yourself: Is it efficiency or effectiveness you’re after? You are likely to have efficient people, but do they understand why they are doing what they are doing? If not, revisit your purpose and get them focused on doing those things that will achieve that purpose.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins shares the importance of getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus, which sounds spot on to me. However, he goes on to say that those right people are the ones who buy into your purpose, not your plan. This means that if, as is often the case, the plan needs to change, those right people will remain committed to the vision and the higher purpose that drives everything you do.

  1. Collaboration

In our work, although we shouldn’t be, we are always surprised by how much internal politics, assumptions and egos get in the way of productivity. The cultural environment is set up to be adversarial, which is not conducive to delivering the strategy. So many senior leaders will argue that they achieve the outcome they wanted, but we often wonder at what cost to their teams. What underlying damage has been caused and what is hidden from view that challenges the definition of productivity? Is the focus on the short-term nature of business and the need to deliver results or is it on the long-term performance of the company?

If I refer back to Jim Collins, he shares ‘level 5 leadership’. Level 5 leaders build with the next generation in mind, they are ambitious and focus on the success of the company ahead of themselves. The level 5 leader is obsessed with sustained results and will do whatever it takes to get to great.

In our experience, companies whose leaders collaborate more effectively achieve more significant results, and we have seen those indicators of level 5 leadership where the focus is always on the higher purpose.

  1. Capability

When we talk about capability, most people think of training but it’s actually much more than that as Paul Matthews, author of Capability at Work, explains:

  1. Knowledge – do I (the worker) have the knowledge to do what is required?
  2. Skills – am I (the worker) able to apply myself to do what is required?
  3. Mindset – do I (the worker) believe I can do what is expected of me?
  4. Physiology – am I (the worker) able to do what is required physically?
  5. Environment – have we (the company) provided the right systems, processes, tools, management support and culture for our people to perform effectively?

In our experience, the organisations that develop more productive workforces and the ones who recognise that there is a need for a balanced assessment of capability. The inclusion of ‘environment’ in the list above is significant and its notable that the onus here is on the company. It is no surprise that the elements that make up the environment are key to engagement, and that the link between engagement and productivity is long since proven.

  1. Capacity

The topic of bandwidth is a perennial one. Most teams will argue they are at full capacity whereas most leaders believe there is scope to do more. The reality probably lies somewhere between the two!

However, the most important thing here is to be clear about what we have on the agenda and why. Does the list pass the purpose test, will doing ‘it’ enable us to achieve the higher purpose? If not, it should not be on the list at all.

Warren Buffet invests much time deciding what makes this list and what doesn’t make his list. There is no ‘We will have a go if we get the time’ list or ‘Let’s spend a bit of time on it’ list. It either makes the list, or it doesn’t; there’s no half way house. Leaders are paid to make big decisions, to choose what strategy we should back and why. Indecision leads to a straddled strategy which is trying to be all things to everyone. In our experience, companies who have followed the mantra of ‘If we could only do one thing?’ are more productive and effective.

  1. Commitment

Commitment is a set of tests or questions which should be asked on a regular basis. This provides a navigational check in the context of an organisation’s vision and strategy to see whether the current plan is going to hit the mark.

  1. Is our purpose clear, compelling, and understood by the business?
  2. Are we collaborating in the most effective way?
  3. Have we developed the capability of our people to achieve our goals?
  4. Are we choosing to focus our resources on the right things?
  5. Are we committed to this vision (are the right people on this bus)?

These questions all elicit a deliberate Yes/No answer, with those who adopt level 5 leadership using the ‘No’ answers as opportunities to fix it on their journey to greatness.

It is worth noting that level 5 leaders show humility and are more likely to be cautious in their evaluation, rather than deluded or over-confident.

Tackling difficult conversations: it’s all a game

Do you avoid difficult conversations?

You’re not the only one: research shows that many of us opt out of having conversations where there’s a feeling of confrontation.

We worry that we’ll say the wrong thing and make the situation worse, our imagination creates a whole host of scenarios as to how they will react or we simply don’t like feeling uncomfortable, so we delay the conversation or worse ignore it all in the hope the problem will go away.

It’s easy to allow ourselves to believe that going into conflict will create a cost to our business – but avoiding it is more costly. It leaves problematic situations to run unchecked and limits your productivity in the short and long term.  Colleagues know you have shirked it and are dissatisfied that you have let them off the hook!

Stop making excuses

If we’re honest, most of us find ourselves putting off those difficult conversations, and we often do it in very similar ways. We come up with justification for our lack of action: “I’ll see if it sorts itself out”, “it might just have been a one-off” or even “it’s better if they work out for themselves where they’re going wrong”.

Essentially, they’re all excuses for avoiding a conversation we don’t really want to have. Recognising when you’re doing this is vital – only then can you stop yourself in your tracks and decide to take action.

Make it a real conversation

Of course, once we do resolve to tackle the situation and have the difficult conversation, we can still run into problems. One of the most common we see in our work is that people try to control the conversation: they prepare for it and plan it out so thoroughly, it’s no longer really a conversation.

For the person on the receiving end, that can be a very negative experience. They don’t feel heard and they aren’t involved in working out how to move forward, so they’re unlikely to engage with it. As a result, the problem isn’t really resolved, resentment starts to build and it’s likely it will all spill out again in future – and will probably be worse than the first time around.

It’s natural to want to feel prepared, but accepting you can’t predict or control the whole thing is an important part of dealing with difficult conversations. You need to listen to the other person and you need to take on board their ideas for improving the situation. You don’t have to have all the answers on the spot, but it’s vital to come back to them with a solution that reflects what they have told you and shows they have been heard.

That may sound like it’s easier said than done. However, there are plenty of ways to improve your confidence in dealing with conflict and ensure everyone comes out of a difficult conversation feeling positive.

The importance of dealing with conflict

According to research by ACAS, 81% of businesses said conflict has a negative impact on performance, 75% said it wastes management time, and 44% said it costs the company money. Yet as few as 61% of businesses said managing conflict was a priority and only half of organisations offered training in conflict management to their leaders and managers.

So companies which help equip their managers to deal with conflict will almost certainly feel the benefit.

Training people to have difficult conversations

You might think there’s no substitute for experience when it comes to getting better at those difficult conversations, but you can train people to be better at them. The key is to do it in a way which is easy to translate to real life so they can use the skills they learn once they’re back in a workplace situation.

Our game-based learning tool, What Would You Do?, is designed to do exactly this. It uses real-life scenarios to get people thinking not just about the best way to tackle a difficult situation, but also how their mindset influences their behaviour and the results they can achieve.

They can debate the merits of different approaches, discuss how their teams might respond to each, and bring in real-life examples of similar problems they have faced. The game encourages people to look at all the options, including their own role in both creating and resolving conflict, and weigh up the best way to proceed.

Creating an atmosphere where those conversations can happen

The beauty of the game is how well it translates to real life. Throughout development, we saw how managers – even those who had been identified as struggling with their role – took on learning from the game scenarios and began to improve their day-to-day approach. Companies testing the game told us it was more effective than any other tool they had tried.

The key is in giving managers the skills they need for real life – not just box-ticking in a training room. By letting them explore the potential impact of different approaches, they begin to learn for themselves that they can achieve more positive results by tackling things differently. This switch in mindset happens steadily during the training process, but it sticks: back in the workplace, their behaviour is immediately improved.

When managers feel confident in handling difficult conversations, they won’t shy away from inviting them. They won’t allow problems to fester, and their team’s productivity is likely to be consistently high as a result.

Equally, if teams know they can take any problem to their manager and have a frank conversation with a positive outcome, they will feel more comfortable raising difficult subjects. Managers who have the skills to listen and engage effectively, and to take positive action, will have a happier, more engaged and more productive team.

Ultimately, there will always be difficult conversations to be had in the workplace, and it’s unlikely anyone will relish the idea of having them. However, equipping managers with the skills to take on any conflict and come out of it with a positive result will help to reduce the impact on the business when they do arise.

If you’d like to know more about how game-based learning could help your managers to take on those difficult conversations, click here, or contact us.

How to increase productivity by getting your team more engaged

When it comes to productivity, employee engagement is vital: only employees who have bought in to your ‘why’ will be giving their all to help achieve your aims.

When engagement and productivity leave something to be desired, it’s tempting to blame the employee: they haven’t understood, they don’t care enough, their motivation is lacking. However, based on our experience working with businesses across many sectors, we know it’s usually down to management’s failure to help them to engage.

Why are my employees unproductive?

If you’re struggling to get your team to produce the volume or level of work you know they’re capable of, you need to examine their motivation – and the biggest factor in that is their engagement.

When you set tasks or targets, you base these on your ‘why’ – the ultimate aim you have in mind for yourself and for the team or the wider business. You can see a clear link between the work being done and the end goal. Where many leaders fall down is in communicating this with the team they need to achieve it.

It’s true that, to some extent, people are self-motivating: the best employees will want the satisfaction of doing their job well.  However, if they can’t understand the part they play in the bigger picture or appreciate the ultimate aims of the business, self-motivation will not be enough to keep them working at their most effective.

In order to buy in to your ‘why’, employees also need to trust you – and to feel that you trust them. If you let them down, go behind their backs or demonstrate a lack of loyalty to them, they will never trust you and will therefore never engage with your aims. Building that relationship of trust is vital, and trusting them to understand and buy in to your aims is part of that.

What can I do to help my employees engage?

This is one of the questions that comes up most frequently in our work, no matter what the situation we’ve been asked to help tackle. While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, there are some simple steps any leader can take to improve engagement and lay the foundations for better engagement.

Honesty: Leaders often feel they’re doing the right thing by protecting their team from difficult situations and not sharing the full details of a challenge. Generally, the opposite is true. Employees are quick to realise when they’re being kept in the dark and it undermines their ability to trust their leaders. Wherever possible, share as much as you can with them about the wider picture – good and bad – and encourage their input in your plans for the future.

Be on their side: What people want from their managers is to feel they are supported and backed up. Managers need to listen and really hear what employees are saying, then act on it, even if that means taking issues to more senior management on their behalf.

Consistency: Following through what you say you will do is vital. Of course, it’s not always possible as circumstances change, but when that’s the case you need to go back and explain it to your team – taking us back to that point about honesty again. Consistency also means treating employees fairly and ensuring they know where they stand. There’s nothing more frustrating than a manager whose reactions are completely unpredictable.

Recognition: When team members perform well, make sure they know it has been noticed. We’ve all been in a position where we have slogged over a project and then felt our efforts haven’t even been seen – it certainly doesn’t inspire us to put as much work in next time. From a quick word to acknowledge individual effort to a team reward for a job well done, there are plenty of simple ways to make employees feel valued. Even the smallest acknowledgement can have a significant impact.

Development: Supporting team members to achieve their career goals is an important way to increase their engagement. Helping them develop skills in areas that will move them towards their ultimate aim, or putting them forward for opportunities that arise elsewhere in the business, will make them feel you are as invested in their future as they are. It’s a hard thing to do when you have a great team member as it may mean they move on to bigger things, but ultimately you will get more from an employee who feels you value them enough to support their future.

How can I get my managers to improve employee engagement?

Of course, it’s one thing to increase engagement with your own team, but getting managers at other levels to do the same with the people around them can be a bigger challenge.

There are ways to encourage managers to develop a more engaged workforce through training and development – and one of the most effective we have found is to use real-life scenarios. Asking managers to consider different ways of motivating their team and boosting engagement gets them to look at their current approach and consider whether it could be improved.

To support HR and L&D teams to do this, we have developed What Would You Do?, a game-based learning tool that can be used by any business. By posing challenges based on the real issues they may face in their day-to-day life and asking them to debate the merits of different responses, the game helps them not just to behave in the correct way in a training scenario, but to adjust their mindset and influence their thinking in the long term to give better results.

The result achieved through this approach have been impressive and the list of major companies turning to it as a training tool is growing by the day.

If you’d like to know more about how game-based learning could help your managers to develop a more engaged workforce, click here and read about What Would You Do?. To find out more about how it could be used in your business, contact us.

Five reasons your team are not productive

Do you wonder why your team are not as productive as they should be? Here are five ways you could be running your business with the handbrake on!

  1. Lack of Clarity

It may seem obvious, but for people to be productive, they need to have a clear understanding of what exactly is expected of them, what rules and boundaries they are supposed to operate within and what timelines exist.

Test it:  Ask your people to describe to you their goal. Are they specific; is there a calendar date?

In the absence of clarity we are effectively saying we don’t care where we end up!  Imagine telling your team we are heading north: exactly where will they end up?  Just one degree out at the start can lead to being miles off where we thought we would be by the time we arrive north.

  1. Absence of Purpose

People will add the greatest value when they connect to the guiding purpose.  They will generously give discretionary effort when they connect with a higher purpose. Look at volunteers for good causes: they gladly give their time for free!  Your purpose provides the sense check for every decision you make.

Test:  Ask your people to articulate their understanding of the organisational purpose.

Consider: how well have you articulated your organisation’s ‘why’? In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes the value of a corporate purpose.  Imagine recruiting your people with all your focus on the ‘what’. If, like many organisations, your strategy needs to change, the connection with the ‘what’ is lost and their commitment is now challenged. However, your purpose should never change and therefore a team recruited to connect with the ‘why’ will happily adapt to a change in strategy: they will see it as necessary to achieve the purpose.

  1. Lack of Autonomy

Being too prescriptive, restricting the space for your people to explore and decide ‘how’ they go about delivering their objectives will feel, for them, limiting and disengaging. This feeling will restrict productivity, and your people will only do what is asked and no more as they are not expected to think. Even in environments that are heavily process-driven to maximise consistency, reduce waste and optimise output, people can be allowed to solve problems or create space for them to work on other areas of the business.

Test:  Ask your people what frustrates them most about their work.

Look for opportunities where you can involve your people in improving the business, create mini projects for them to get involved in and make an impact on the company.  When set up in the right way, these can provide many benefits; engaged people, improve collaboration & teamwork and tangible business results.

  1.    Lack of Confidence

People will hold back or fail even to get started on their objectives when they lack confidence or feel others lack confidence in them. This sense, feeling or perception creates inertia and leads to a waste of time which could cause missed milestones and costly project delays.

Test:  Ask your people on a scale of 1-10 (10 is high) how confident they feel that they can achieve their goals. Look for a 6 or above.

A lack of confidence (a number of 5 or less) stems from ‘unhelpful thoughts’. These thoughts are based on assumptions, limiting beliefs and biases. They may not be founded in fact or reality yet we allow them to have debilitating effects on our performance. Externalising these thoughts is a crucial step to removing the interference they cause. This will require you to create an environment where people feel able to share concerns without feeling insecure or threatened.

  1.    Frustrating Environment

People get easily distracted, whether it’s internal politics, perceived unfairness in how colleagues are treated or the systems and processes driving them mad. While they are focused on these environmental factors, they cannot be entirely focused on delivering their objectives. As Peter Drucker said, “So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.”

Test:  Ask your people, if they had a magic wand, what three things would they wish for to make it easier to achieve their objectives.

Look out for these three areas:

–    Internal conflicts – a common cause of conflict is a lack of strategic clarity and purpose. It is this high-level perspective that enables priorities to be established and decisions to be validated. In the event of conflict, who wins out currently? Whose ego dominates?

–    Do your systems enable your people to do their job or do they perform in spite of them? Designing your systems around your people AND processes will enable them to be more productive.  How many workarounds exist in your business?  Have your people accepted and normalised these productivity killers?

–    Do the processes that you have spent time and money developing really exist and get followed, or are your people finding other ways to get the job done?  Have your processes been over-engineered to meet overzealous interpretations of rules and regulations?

The environment question provides an excellent source of potential value. Your people will happily tell you what’s wrong if given the opportunity – however, this comes with a health warning! Once you ask, you will raise expectations that things will change and whatever you choose to do with the feedback, above all, you must maintain an open dialogue about your decisions and the reasons behind them.

 

Thinking Focus works with teams and business units in organisations around the world, helping them achieve breakthroughs by enabling them to think differently. Our clients range from medium-sized enterprises to divisions of blue chip multi-nationals.

Working with teams on a specific issue, or across a business unit to drive productivity, we tailor the approach to deliver the desired outcome. We challenge teams to deliver accelerated behavioural change and performance improvements.

What Would You Do? The launch of our management training resource

Last week’s official launch of What Would You Do? (WWYD) – our innovative new learning and development tool – was a resounding success, with half of the guests instantly arranging company demonstrations or further meetings.

Taking place in London on May 17th, the launch event welcomed around 50 representatives from major organisations in a variety of sectors, including finance, retail, transport, health, food, law, housing, packaging and public services. It was also great to see representatives of multinational companies, as our vision is to roll the game out not just in the UK but also abroad.

WWYD management training toolThe beauty of the launch event – and a big part of the reason for its success – was that WWYD is best appreciated when it’s played. It takes the form of a board game where participants aim to move up the board by getting points for correctly choosing the most appropriate answer to a variety of work-based dilemmas.

But, as those at last week’s event quickly realised, the game itself is really a subterfuge: it creates a safe environment in which people can reflect on and discuss common issues, sharing experiences and learning from each other, as well as committing to new behaviour. When played between peers, it helps a team to discuss options and best practice, and highlights individuals’ gaps in skills and knowledge, or their management potential. When played cross-functionally, it can highlight incongruities or inconsistencies between different departments and managers across a company.

Playing the game

What Would You Do? gives maximum impact for minimum cost. As outcome-focused behavioural change experts, the team at Thinking Focus created WWYD to enable organisations not only to train their managers effectively but also to drive long-term culture change. Psychological concepts are woven into the game and, when played enough, the scenarios, debate and decisions can turn into learned behaviours which are then applied in the workplace.

The game includes 200 cards, each of which pose a different scenario covering one of eight management topics, to give variety, breadth and depth. The scenarios are split into two types: those which are set against the timer and require quick and test emotional decision-making, and those which are open to debate and result in more logical and rational decisions. The questions are designed to be as ‘grey’ as possible in order to generate the most discussion. Although there are no right or wrong answers, points are awarded for preferred answers.

Teams of up to eight people play the game, overseen by a facilitator. The facilitator role is key to the game, expanding the discussion, offering alternative suggestions, and even pointing out that the best option may not be one of the answers, or it may be a combination of them. Different companies with different cultures will also vary in their choice of the best response. For the launch event, Rob, Rich, Ricky and Graham acted as the facilitators with different teams.

WWYD management training tool

It was fascinating to see how the role and background of each of our launch attendees influenced their answers to the scenarios posed in the WWYD questions. The majority of participants at the launch work in L&D or HR roles, but some are managers within other departments. It led to some interesting and insightful debate – which is exactly one of the main objectives of the game!

It was also great to see people not just talking about what they would do in hypothetical situations, but actually what they have done in similar, real work-based scenarios. There was much nodding of heads and even ironic laughter when some of the dilemmas were read out – showing us that people not only related to the hypothetical situations, but had actually in some cases dealt with something very similar. And, interestingly, some said they would choose one answer, but when the situation arose in real life, they had actually done something different.

The response

The feedback from our guests was brilliant! Here are just a few of their comments:

“I like the simple approach that gives the opportunity for quite deep thinking and discussion.”

“It’s a good tool and catalyst to start conversations.”

“I like the flexibility of it, you can use it at all different levels, flex it to your own business. It’s as useful on the shop floor as it is in the boardroom.”

“It creates genuine conversations, not pseudo conversations.”

“I can’t compare it to anything else really. It’s very interactive.”

“It’s the discussion and the result that’s important.”

“An organisation needs to know the way their managers work things out, and ask: Do we want to keep doing it this way or does this show us that we need to change?”

Inspiration

WWYD management training tool

The launch also heard from Sonia Belfield, Adient’s HR director for Northern Europe. She described how she inspired us to create WWYD and how it has been trialled across her organisation to great success.

She said: “Team leaders are the most fundamental people in our business because they manage the vast majority of people that we employ. For me, WWYD is about helping people to be able to have conversations that make them better managers.”

The facilitator is key

The role of the facilitator is critical to the game, enabling rich discussion between the players. In the wrong hands, people could just end up playing the game and not learning from it. That’s why we give guidance on selecting the right people in an organisation to act as facilitators, as well as offering facilitator training as part of the WWYD package.

Facilitator training takes approximately five hours, and offers guidance on how to make the most of setting the game up correctly and the dynamics of managing the gameplay in the best way possible.

There are some real subtleties about the scenarios, so facilitators need to be able to listen to the answers that are coming back and give reinforcement of any good answers. The training aims to give the facilitator the confidence to be able to deal with different conversations, as well as how to manage the players (for example, how do you deal with the person who doesn’t get involved, or the one who always waits until the others have answered?)

The game also includes a facilitator’s handbook, which includes a debrief of each scenario and offers suggestions for discussion.

WWYD management training tool

Interesting questions

Our launch guests had a variety of questions about the thinking behind the game, and its application within the workplace.

But they also asked about various areas of development, some of which we are already working on, and others which gave us new ideas.

How do you keep the game up-to-date and relevant?

All the scenarios we have created are as valid today as they were 10 or 20 years ago, and they will continue to be so for years to come. But we are looking at adding scenarios based on other issues, such as diversity and inclusion.

We’re also keen to investigate the development of a digital version of the game and – directly prompted by a question at the launch event – will be looking at training facilitators online.

We also intend to create a facilitator community, where facilitators of WWYD can share experiences, issues and ideas with other facilitators from other organisations.

Does it fit in hand luggage on the plane?

This was quite possibly the most unexpected question of the day – although it’s very relevant to organisations with international offices!

The answer is that the fully-boxed version will only fit in the hold – and it’s robust enough to do so – but that flexibility over how the game is played means that the key pieces can easily be packed in to hand luggage.

And finally…

Well, what a great start! We’re now busy following up on all those requests for more information and demos, including some from organisations who weren’t able to attend the launch but are nonetheless intrigued by the benefits that WWYD could bring.

Why not contact us to see what all the fuss is about? Or read more about WWYD: how the game was created, the thinking behind it, and how it works in practice.

Psychological Safety and Routine Thinking

In Transformation with a Capital T (McKinsey & Co) the article begins with the statement: “Companies must be prepared to tear themselves away from routine thinking and behaviour.”

This is a provocative way to open an article, but it’s an idea I can’t help agreeing with. What we like to ask is how and why. But first let’s focus on what:

What is routine thinking?
Routine thinking is based on regular procedures and is often set within the parameters of expected norms. There is a safety in routine thinking: if something has worked in the past, allow it to work in the future too.

The problem here comes in the question of progression. What can be enhanced when we are confined to our way, or our organisation’s way, of thinking.

How do we tear ourselves away from routine thinking?

Now it’s all too easy to create debate. Poke a few holes in a theory and see if it is robust enough to pad out the gaps. If we want to move away from routine thinking, what would be the exact opposite of the routine; how feasible would that be to do?

To carry out this line of questioning through each procedure you have would be impossibly long-winded and ultimately demotivating for your team. So, instead of interrogating a new way of thinking at a process-level, the mindset has to be adopted at an organizational, or team, level. If you are to unlock new thinking and new behaviours in your people, you need to create an environment in which your people can thrive and truly think and behave differently.

Why should we do this?

Simple answer: for efficiency and effectiveness.

Detailed answer: In their Case Study, Project Aristotle, Google sought the perfect formula for creating effective teams. Routine thinking might suggest that effective teams are the result of effective management and leadership. But the results of Project Aristotle showed something else. In their research, over 180 teams were studied but no patterns emerged. They extended their research to review the traditions, behavioural standards and unwritten rules that govern how the team functions.

As no two teams appeared alike, Project Aristotle uncovered that a team’s norms are unique to that particular team.  Something has been established within a team to make it different from themselves. I believe the key to norms is through an emotional connection, and this is echoed in Project Aristotle’s findings that psychological safety is an essential component of an effective team. Teams were found to perform well when certain conditions exist; interpersonal trust, mutual respect and comfortable being themselves.

Key evidence is in the way they allowed others to fail safely, there was respect for divergent opinions, there was freedom to question the choices of others in a supportive way, and they never undermined the trust. This meant that they could do away with routine thinking and rely on the trust of their colleagues.

My primary takeaway from the Google research is the need for psychological safety. Charles Duhigg explores this further in his enlightening book Smart Faster Better.

Can this be more than Silicon-Valley Fantasy?

When I reflect on my own experience, I have only ever felt psychological safety twice in my 30-year career, and they happened simultaneously.

I was part of two teams. I had my own team and was a member of a senior team.  We outperformed all expectations this particular year.  Morale within my team was immense and that gave us a feeling of safety to encourage our colleagues to continue outperforming expectations.. We were unaware, however, of the merger talks happening at the same time.  After the merger was announced, I spoke to a board member about the decision. They spoke ruefully of our success, that “if we knew then how you were going to perform this year, we would never have agreed to merge”.

The psychological safety felt quickly turned illusory, and I wonder now how I would’ve felt if that year we plodded along in our routine thinking; would we have been more accepting of the merger? Was the news devastating in contrast to the high team spirit?

As leaders, there is an interesting choice

…do you:

  • Break the mould and create an environment where people can take a chance, fail safely, learn then grow on the back of it?
  • Accept the safety in routine thinking, play it safe but miss out on potential innovation?

Do you know leaders who sit somewhere between the two? Those who say that they are up for the challenge but revert to type at the first signs of trouble?

It is difficult to embed a different way of thinking to your working life. But to establish an environment of psychological safety offers Googleable advantage.

I accept this is simplistic but business today runs at such a pace. You only have to look at the media to see failure in businesses, large and small. Leaders make commitments to stakeholders on best information available that means results are then demanded. We look to blame others for failures which are then punished and, worse, the opportunity to learn is missed. When you add to this personal agenda and vested interest is it any wonder that performance and people suffer? However well intentioned leaders might be, when it all hits the fan, they revert to type to get stuff done. It is this behaviour that undermines psychological safety and essentially leads to any business running with the handbreak on. People hold back.

When faced with the pressures of today, it takes a brave (or clever) leader to tear themselves away from routine thinking and behaviour.

If you’d like to explore psychological safety in your organisation let’s have a conversation. Email me at ricky.muddimer@thinkingfocus.com and we’ll arrange a time to chat.

 

So, what’s holding YOU back?

In May 2016, my world turned upside down.  The business I worked for collapsed financially leaving 19 people and me out of work.

Left with little option and no job to go to, three of my colleagues and I set up Thinking Focus.  Now, eighteen months on, I can’t tell you what a blast we are having.

We work all over the globe with our clients to change their world for the better; we turn light bulbs on, we get such satisfaction knowing that we play a small part in their success.

The thing is though, what was it that stopped me from doing it sooner?  I can come up with a whole host of reasons or excuses, some circumstantial, such as a young family, maybe a lack of confidence, comfortable in the corporate world, a need for security but in short, I didn’t have the kahunas!

I recently listened to a podcast; it’s by NPR and a series called How I Built This.  A series of inspiring stories from entrepreneurs and how they turned their business idea into hugely successful businesses.  One episode, in particular, really resonated with us. Jim Koch, co-founder and Chairman of the Boston Beer Company, explains how he left his uninspiring cushy corporate job and went on to help kickstart the craft beer movement in America.  Jim shares his mindset behind a pivotal decision which most people saw as a high-risk decision.

Jim uses a lens of scary versus dangerous; he uses a climbing analogy to explain as he contrasts them; scary is when you repel from a cliff, but the fact you are secured with a belay rope which can hold a car doesn’t make it dangerous.  He then compares that to walking over a 35° snowfield in late May where the melting snow could easily cause an avalanche – not scary but highly dangerous.  He sums up by saying that not leaving his corporate job was dangerous, the risk of looking back at retirement, having spent that time doing something that made him unhappy, that sense of OMG, I have wasted my life was to Jim, the most dangerous of all.  I wish I’d spoken to Jim earlier in my career, but hey, I am now doing what I love!

Jim’s story inspired us to develop our Scary or Dangerous model.  Our clients find it useful when making decisions, they can qualify their understanding behind their hesitation.

scary dangerous

We use it too. We ask ourselves the same questions when we are hesitant about a key decision.

Comfort Zone

  • Does this feel scary or dangerous, if neither, we are likely to be in our comfort zone, where’s the fun and opportunity in that?

Reckless Zone

  • What is the level of risk, really? This is a test of delusion, we will know in our heart of hearts the level of risk, are we equipped to do this; do we have (or can we get) the funds, the knowledge and/or skills? If in doubt get a second or third opinion.  Are we in the reckless zone?

Crazy Zone

  • What level of discomfort are we feeling about this, is this both scary and dangerous? If so, we need to calibrate this in some way to reduce the discomfort.  You are officially crazy!

Growth Zone

  • Does this offer opportunity to develop and move forward, it may feel scary but is it dangerous, a little scary is good, it means we try and test to understand our limits to build confidence and accelerate.

Another year is almost complete and if you, like me, use this time of year to reflect on your year and think about where you’re headed, do you feel a sense of clarity, fulfilment and excitement or are you caught in that scary versus dangerous dilemma holding you back from what you really, really want to be doing?

Now imagine you are about to retire, go ahead, ask yourself the killer question; did I do what really makes me happy?  If not, you get a do-over to make the change but do it, you won’t regret it!

 

 

Isn’t it time you changed how you recruit?

Recruiters are lazy!  There, I have said it.  It is all too easy to fill your vacancy with the same type of person, same skills and knowledge that you had before – but is that really what you want?

Recruiting for change

I would argue that the current pace of change in business renders technical knowledge and skills redundant all too quickly. On the other hand, if you recruit for attitude, behaviours and mindset, these will stand the test of time.

The challenge faced by businesses who adopt a rinse and repeat approach to recruitment is that they retain the same thinking, same actions and – you guessed it – the same results!

If all that sounds familiar, you’re hopefully thinking that the way you recruit needs a bit of a shake up.

So, how can you change the way you recruit?

I am currently working with a client that is really struggling to recruit the right individuals. It’s easy enough to decide that you want to recruit for attitude and mindset and even easier – I hope – to understand why you would want to do that and how your business will benefit.

I developed a series of questions to help my client explore how an applicant demonstrates how well they adapt, their strength of resilience and most importantly how they learn (and grow) from failure.

If you would like a copy of them, just email me (ricky.muddimer@thinkingfocus.com) and I will gladly send them over.

As Apple’s Dan Jacobs once said: “You are better with a hole in your team than an asshole!”

 

The boss who took responsibility

This is a story about a head of operations who had lost control. If you’re wondering how bad it was, I can tell you that she was on the verge of walking. Worse still, so were most of her team.

Gill felt her team was bordering on unmanageable and she was feeling less and less motivated to deal with them.  She had lost her mojo.

Her track record was good and she’d always been a high performer who had built and developed teams that performed and delivered consistently.

So what had beaten her this time?

She came to me in search of help. We explored the background and discovered that it wasn’t straightforward. The business was successful, built by an owner-manager.  The entrepreneurial spirit had created a culture built on individual strengths rather than standardisation and consistency, however, which is a nightmare for an operations expert.

Her role was to organise a group of lone wolves and somehow operationalise the business.  This dynamic was made worse by the owner cutting non-standard deals that were hard to resource and fulfil, let alone deliver cost-effectively.

Gill was at the end of her tether. How was she ever going to change things? Could they even be changed?

Her team was also frustrated with that they perceived as lack of control and direction, with duplication of effort and everyone in it for themselves.  Gill, by her own admission, had done little to address this, choosing to deliver hard messages by email and expecting it to land.

We explored the brutal facts but with a growth mindset.

We started by talking about what she wanted, exploring what was important to her and why.  She had a genuine passion to deliver and most of her frustration was with herself.

She also had a get out of jail card – there was another job offer on the table.

It was at this point that Gill took the decision to succeed.

Now that she was focused on delivering a successful outcome, we explored what had gone wrong and why she had succeeded in previous roles. It turned out that she had missed some of the lessons she had learnt in the past because she had adopted the cultural norms of the new team. It turned out that she’d known how to fix things all along.

There was a big but. Would the team go on the journey with her? We worked through the scenarios and explored reactions.  She decided on a reboot.

By reboot, we mean a fresh start.  Gill went back and literally, a couple of days later, sat down with each member of the team individually and apologised for her behaviour. She took responsibility.  She also set out what she wanted the future to look like; she agreed with the team what they should expect of her and encouraged them to call her out if she fell below the standard.  She took the opportunity to agree on expectations of the team, asking them to define what good should look like before getting them to commit to that standard.

The impact was instant, a fresh start. The team still slip into old habits but the new ‘contract’ enables Gill to take action and tackle the issue with confidence.  The team has responded positively and now Gill can address the operational challenges and progress with the system and process improvements that will make the business more consistent, efficient and effective.  Most pleasing of all for Gill is the way the team has engaged, taking on sub-projects to improve key operational areas.

I am so proud of Gill. She stood up to the issue, accepting she was the problem and took action that transformed the team and their behaviours.  The team now focuses on the collective good for the business and not individual agendas.

What I learnt from Gill

Grit – Gill showed real determination to stand up for what she believed and backed herself.

Growth Mindset – Gill was prepared to listen to feedback, albeit brutal in places and was prepared to ask herself “what could I do differently?”

Ownership – Gill could have walked away but decided to take it on, which was ultimately more satisfying.

What if?

If left unresolved, the impact on the business could have been huge.  If Gill had left for that new job there would have a time and cost implication to replacing her with no guarantee that a new person could ‘fix’ the team.

What if the new person adopted the cultural norms and felt like Gill did, following the same vicious circle?

What if the team felt more and more disengaged, become less productive and started leaving, adding to an already high attrition rate?

High cost situations like this can be resolved with support, feedback and coaching.

Do you need a reboot with your team?  

You might not need a hard reboot like Gill’s, but a different way of thinking could tackle some unhealthy cultural norms that have developed.

Think about this: What might it be costing you right now? What could it cost if left unresolved?

 

Are you Getting in the Way of your Own Goal?

Jane is CEO of a retail business based in London and operating nationwide. The operational team is small, close-knit and dedicated to helping Jane achieve her ambitions. They have a few ideas themselves but they rarely share them because they know how she likes things done.

Mastering the art of getting out of your people’s way seems to be one of the best-kept secrets in business.  As a manager, it takes a leap of faith to allow your people the freedom to get on with it.

One of the best descriptions I’ve ever heard of how to achieve it came from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella who summed it up like this:

Tell your people: “Make it happen. You have full authority.”

Treating your people with respect and trusting them to do the right thing will reap real rewards.  Your performance will increase, significantly.  Your engagement scores will rise, your attrition will fall, compliance will improve.

CEOs who lead without trusting their people create managers who also fail their people in the way they lead. Those managers need to know what is going on so that they can prove themselves too. Their fear of being caught out drives them to be ever more overbearing.

Dan Pink in his book, Drive, talks about the science behind motivation; where a role requires a more cognitive approach than traditional carrot and stick approach, the latter fails consistently.

Exploiting these three fundamental principles will reap tremendous benefits:

Autonomy

It is highly likely your people understand the direction of travel; it is even more likely that they know what the key issues are along the way and what they want is for you to get out of their way and let them get on with it.

Allow them to decide how they will get there and you will see a level of engagement, creativity and problem solving that will amaze you.  We see this all the time in our workshops; our clients are continually blown away by their people, who willingly take on business challenges over and above their day job and come back with remarkable results.

Mastery

We like to get better at stuff, we enjoy taking on challenges and making a contribution, and we don’t always want rewarding for it!  Counter-intuitive, right?  Not if you look at examples like Wikipedia, built on free contributions by developers who give their time for free to improve open source software for the betterment of the user base.   What if your people could choose the skills they want to develop and focus that time on improving your business?  Win-win.

Purpose

Your best people are attracted to more than just the money; they want to feel that their work has meaning.  Your purpose, provided it is meaningful, is fundamental to engaging your people. This is the north star, the guiding light towards both autonomy and mastery.  If I connect with the purpose and I am allowed to apply myself I will give more than just what you expect; I will excite you with my passion and energy.  Why? Because you treat me like a person and not a machine that has been designed to simply shift a widget.

Getting out your people’s way makes sense commercially and scientifically, so why not give it a go?

Don’t take my word for it; Dan Pink says it far more eloquently than me in his book Drive and this short YouTube clip https://youtu.be/u6XAPnuFjJc