Important vs urgent: How to have a productive quiet spell

No matter what industry you work in, chances are you have periods when you have less to do.

For a lot of us, those quieter times occur routinely over the summer and at Christmas. These are typically the periods when many businesses are focused on covering staff holidays in the short term rather than embarking on longer term goals such as beginning new projects or making contact with potential suppliers. As a result, businesses across all sectors experience a quiet spell.

It’s common to panic at this point: having spare time is an uncomfortable feeling when you know how closely it relates to your bottom line. There’s a temptation to chase after short-term work just to keep busy, regardless of whether it fits your long-term aims.

But there’s a much better way you could continue to be productive during those quieter weeks.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Urgent vs Important square, is something we look at regularly with clients when we’re talking about productivity. It looks like this:

The Eisenhower Matrix or Urgent vs Important Square

More often than not, our time is taken up with work in the top left of the board – it is important and it is definitely urgent. Examples might include responding to clients’ needs or customer complaints, picking up new enquiries, giving instructions to your team or sorting out broken equipment. If you don’t complete them, there will be swift consequences: more complaints, a loss of business or unproductive time for your team.

Our natural instinct is to focus most of our time on this side of the square. The sense of urgency skews our perception of what is important and our workflow ends up being crisis-led: we’re constantly firefighting, rather than working strategically.

Often, when things are quieter, the urgent side of the square is taking up less of our time. Our first instinct is to turn to the bottom-right square: the non-urgent and unimportant tasks. Browsing the internet, wondering if you should get a new laptop bag or reading a magazine could all fall into this area. We don’t need to do them now, they’re not contributing to our productivity, but in those rare quiet periods it’s tempting to do something mindless and allow our brains to switch off.

Focus on Important but not Urgent

Instead, try turning your attention to the top right of the square: the important but non-urgent tasks. These are all the things which make a difference to productivity but for which there are no immediate consequences if they aren’t completed.

For example, strategic thinking and planning are often in this square – along with things like going to the gym. They are important to the business, or to your ability to work well, but there is no direct impact if you don’t do them. As a result, they are often put to the bottom of the list.

What’s your matrix?

When the quiet times hit, your first task should be to create your own Urgent vs Important Matrix. Focus on the Important side of the square and use it to be productive in areas that you often overlook because urgency pulls your attention elsewhere.

If you catch yourself saying, “I’d love to do that, but I never have time” – now is that time. Prioritise the tasks you never get around to but which might make a significant difference to your productivity during busier times. Using quiet spells to lay the foundations for a more efficient workflow or a tightly focused strategy will help you reap the rewards when the busier months return.

How to motivate your employees and increase performance

by Graham Field

One of the greatest challenges that leaders face in the workplace is how to motivate their employees. How best do we inspire and support them to increase their performance?

There are many theories around employee motivation, but in the this blog we’ll be giving practical suggestions that all leaders can put in place immediately.

To start with, we’d recommend that leaders assess how much they understand their team members’ motivations. This can be done simply by drawing up a table like this:

Team Member: What Motivates Them? What Demotivates Them?
A:

B:
C:
D:

The challenge is for leaders to see how many individuals in their team they could honestly complete this table for. Our guess is that many would find it a struggle! High quality leaders know these basics and use this knowledge to actively motivate their people, avoiding doing the things that they know cause demotivation.

Let’s now turn our attention to three sources of thought which we think are important in employee motivation, engagement and performance.

  1. Gallup Q12

It makes sense for us to use this commonly-cited source as our starting point. Created by pollsters Gallup, it measures employee engagement and its impact on business outcomes by asking employees to complete a survey. The survey questions cover 12 areas of consideration, which we cannot directly quote because they are under copyright.

However, the questions look at areas such as expectations at work; rewards and recognition; opportunities and progression; relationships between colleagues; materials and resources; leadership and support; communication; belonging, purpose and mission; and quality of work.

Asking questions around these areas are really important and give us a great insight in to some of the motivating factors of all employees (ourselves included). But leaders then need to do something with the information they get from asking such questions.

In fact, they need to then answer some questions themselves! Examples of what they could think about are:

  • What could I do to ensure that all my people clearly understand what is expected of them?
  • How could I make praise & recognition a daily habit for my team?
  • What could I do to ensure everyone is constantly involved with driving the business forward?
  • What opportunities might I create for growth for my people?

And then, of course, they need to be proactive in committing to actions based on their answers to increase employee engagement and guarantee performance.

  1. Ohio University Research

In 2000, Ohio State University carried out research into Human Motivational Factors (the things that drive our behaviour). Their research highlighted 16 different basic desires that affect behaviour. We think five of these have the biggest impact in the workplace, so let’s look at each in turn:

  • Curiosity

This is described in the research as “our desire to learn”. For us, this is an important factor in employee motivation. Leaders need to think about their people and the opportunities for learning that are available to them. From our work with organisations, we recognise that many people are given (or forced in to) ‘opportunities’ through training programmes. But, how focused is this development in terms of both what they really need to be a high performer and what they really want for their own development?

As a leader, ask yourself: How could you ensure that the desire to learn is (appropriately) fulfilled in your people?

  • Independence

This is highlighted as “our desire to make our own decisions” and, in our experience, it’s something that many employees may feel divorced from. Leaders need to consider what opportunities exist for their team members to make decisions. It’s not necessarily always about what they do (these will, after all, reflect your team or company goals), but certainly about how they can achieve them. Many managers will highlight what they need people to achieve, which does give focus. But they will also insist on the way in which things must be achieved, and this can stifle creativity, limit continuous improvement and ultimately demotivate. High quality leaders understand that the ‘What’ may need to be told, but the ‘How’ should be within the gift of the employee to decide.

As a leader, ask yourself: What freedom could you give your people to enable them to decide how to achieve your team goals?

  • Honour (morality)

This is described as “our desire to behave in accordance with our code of conduct”. More simply put, it’s about ensuring that our values are met in whatever we do. Many people are demotivated by what they see as a lack of congruence between their personal values and how the company they work in is operating. One a leader’s roles is to understand the values of their people and help them to align these values with where their organisation is headed. As a leader, ask yourself: What could you do to ensure there is ‘values alignment’ for your people?

  • Power

Quite simply, this is “our desire to influence people”. It’s one of the more curious Human Motivational Factors, but it’s something that can be seen every day in the workplace as people strive to gain the buy-in of others for mutual success.

As a leader, ask yourself: How can you use influencing techniques with your team? (this is a whole different blog altogether!)

  • Order

Something that many of us desire is order – in other words, we crave the certainty and organisation that daily routine and habits give us. We all have things that we do in a certain order, and most of us strive to be much more organised and structured. The number of people we’ve helped with their time and personal management demonstrates how important order is to us. We’re big fans of giving supporting structures and certainties to people, as long as they work, bring about success and allow for individual involvement.

As a leader, ask yourself: What structures or order might your people need, and how could you ensure these are put in place to support your team?

  1. Ron Clark, former ‘Outstanding Teacher of the Year’ at Disney’s American Teacher Awards

We believe strongly that inspiration can come from many areas, and the story of Ron Clark shows us that, no matter what your walk of life, when you’re looking to develop the motivation to perform, there are some simple things you can do.

Ron was a teacher in in a tough New York school when he won his award in 2000. He went on to become a New York Times bestselling author and a motivational speaker on the subject of inspiring educators.

We’ve picked out three of the areas he highlights when talking about motivation in the classroom, which we think continue to be very relevant in the workplace.

  • Raising expectations

Setting stretching, yet achievable, targets works! People will generally perform to the level that’s expected of them. If we expect little of people, they will match our expectations. The flipside that we, as leaders, can embrace is expecting great things from our employees – and giving them the skills, tools and resources to enable them to meet our raised expectations.

As a leader, ask yourself: What expectations could you set that might challenge and stimulate your team?

  • Celebration and praise

It seems really easy – and really commonplace – for the negative stuff such as lack of achievements to be brought to the fore. But building in celebration and praise are essential tools in developing employee performance and maintaining motivation.

As a leader, ask yourself: What might you find today that you could praise and celebrate?

  • Have a genuine interest

We recognise that there is value in having an interest in your people – and, as Ron suggests, this should be a genuine interest. At the simplest level, this is being interested in the response to questions; really wanting to know the answer to “How are you today?”.

As a leader, ask yourself: How could you develop a genuine interest in your team, and how could you show that you really are interested in your people?

As leaders, there is no magic wand we can wave to increase employee engagement and performance. However, one thing we can do is to invest quality time in understanding what makes our people tick. This forms the very basis of any aspect of managing people, and is the building blocks of high performing teams.

We recommend taking time to invest in your people and find out what really motivates them. After all, they really are the best asset your organisation has.

How to be an influential leader: Choosing the best strategy for getting to ‘yes’

by Graham Field

 

In our working lives, most of us have come across someone who seems to be able to lead people easily.

Others want to follow them, and even when they don’t, the leader seems able to negotiate an effective agreement without too much trouble.

Two of the most common questions we are asked are: “How do I become an influential leader?” and “How do I increase my powers of negotiation?”

It is worth noting from the outset that true negotiation or influencing is not about manipulation. If manipulation is unethical and, potentially, bullying people into doing the things we want them to, negotiation and influencing is helping people get to the same place as us through motivating them to action, engaging their emotions and ensuring a real ‘win-win’ is achieved.

The Leader as Negotiator

Understanding the basics of negotiation is essential for any leader. Whatever stage you’re at as a leader, the following process will help you in any situation where you find negotiation being key.

  1. Understanding ‘us’: The foundation for any negotiation is the ability for each party to understand the other. This seems such a simple statement to make, but think back to the negotiations you’ve seen where not enough has been found out about who’s being negotiated with, their values and their drivers. The leader as effective negotiator will always understand their counterpart, and will have answered the question “what information do I need about the other person to help make this a success?”
  2. Understanding ‘what’: The basis of this stage is clear objectives: answering the questions “what do I want from this?” and “what do I have to get to meet my needs?” could reveal two separate objectives, but the leader understands why both are important. To ensure the ‘win-win agreement’ is reached, the same level of clarity is needed on both sides.
  3. Let’s negotiate: At this stage, the leader will be creating the right environment for success, establishing rapport and drawing out the relevant information from both sides. Now the influential leader will start to come to the fore. The main question to be answered at this stage is “how can I ensure that we both get what we want from this?”
  4. Let’s disagree: Disagreement is a present in nearly all negotiations, and at this stage the role is likely to complete the switch from negotiator to influential leader. Preferences for dealing with conflict will come into play and at this stage the move from ‘wants’ to ‘needs’ is most likely to take place. If it no longer looks like what is wanted is achievable, the answer to “what do I now need to get from this negotiation?” becomes the prime concern.
  5. Let’s compromise (or I walk away): The leader as effective negotiator knows that this point may come – the time when compromise (giving something up in return for something) is needed or, if not forthcoming, this is the walk-away point. The most basic question here is “what am I willing to give up in return for what I need?”
  6. Getting the win-win agreement: This is the reason for the negotiation – the stage where both parties get what they want, or at least part of it. Having reached this stage, the most obvious answer is “what do we do now?” and from, this formal arrangements and agreements are created.

 

The Influential Leader

Much has been written about powers of persuasion and influencing, more often than not in the context of selling. However, all leaders need to be able to develop themselves in this way – a requirement commonly missed if you’re not a ‘sales leader’. For instance, shaping the organisational structure and getting the buy-in of others, helping others to understand their role and how it supports your vision, getting support for innovative leaps – each and every one an opportunity to make the most of your influencing skill.

One of the greatest texts we’ve come across for understanding how influencing works is ‘Influence – Science and Practice’ by Robert Cialdini, and this research backed book highlights six clear influencing strategies that anyone can develop – and we’ve all seen them in action on a daily basis.

Here are six simple thoughts on how to develop yourself as an influential leader.

  1. Reciprocation: people repay others who have done something for them – often with something of seemingly greater value. It’s a technique we see all the time: the next time you get given a ‘free book’ or a charity sends you an envelope with a ‘free pen’ be aware that the element of reciprocation is being put in to play here. The influential leader freely gives to others, commonly things of low personal value but of high value to others, and so reciprocation is born. Ask yourself “what could I give to others that costs me little/nothing but will have high value/impact for them?”
  2. Commitment & Consistency: here the influential leader is aware that getting an ‘agreement in principle’ or a public commitment makes it easier for the person to follow through when called on at a later date. The power of getting ‘agreements in principle’ is often undervalued – getting a ‘yes’ at an early stage ensures support when it’s really needed so ask “how could I create more ‘yeses’ to increase the commitment of others?”
  3. Social Proof: where you have gained the support of a number of people, their peers and colleagues are likely to follow suit just because they have seen others say yes. Every time you buy something, or do something, because a colleague/friend/family member has done it, you’re following social proof. Creating advocates for you ensures that others will come on board, so ask yourself “who would be my best advocates and how could they help me with others?”
  4. Liking: does what it says on the tin! This is all about people buying people. Think about those around you who do things for people just because they were asked by someone they like and ask yourself “what are my most likeable qualities?” or “how do I develop more likeable qualities?” We all have them; sometimes it helps to make sure we keep working at them!
  5. Authority: there are times when we all accept the words of others simply because they are giving us information from their specialist field. The influential leader understands this and knows the expertise they can trade on. This is not simply telling someone to do something because you’re the boss; it’s explaining something that you have a greater understanding of because of your background and training. So consider “what gives me authority?” and make the most of this where appropriate.
  6. Scarcity: We see this one all the time: ‘Sale must end Monday’, ‘Last few available’. Whenever something appears to be limited, the scarcity principle kicks in. The influential leader knows this, understands the scarce resource that they bring with them and makes sure this principle is applied where necessary – because people want that ‘limited offer’. Understand “what do I have that is a rare commodity?” and think about how this could help your influencing style.

By following the negotiation process above, and developing your powers of persuasion you will be well on your way to becoming an influential leader – and to ensuring that win-win is around every corner.

Why do some people take organisational change personally?

Dealing with any kind of change can bring out an emotional response in people – and when we get emotional, things get personal.

In this podcast, Rob and Paul discuss why some people take organisational change personally, and how thinking of ‘ice’ – Information, Choice and Engagement – will help managers thaw any frosty relationships with their people.

An emotional response to change is natural. It usually starts with shock and uncertainty before moving on to denial and feeling threatened. We only see the bad things and what’s being taken away from us.

These feelings can grow into resistance if left unaddressed and if we don’t feel that we have a choice in the process of change. If people feel they have no idea what’s going on, that uncertainty can very easily turn to an introspective feeling of unfairness, helplessness, despondency and loss of control. This often leads to people being negative, resisting change and sabotaging the process.

As a manager, it’s vital to lead your people successfully through change. Thinking of ‘ICE’ could help: Information, Choice and Engagement. Giving people information in answer to their questions about change will help to ease their uncertainty. But, because people who are feeling emotional won’t immediately process the information they’re given, it needs to be provided consistently and repetitively. Also think about who provides the information, whether that’s you as a manager or someone else.

Move as much choice back to your people, to give them control over details that affect them. For a start, give them a choice about whether they even want to be involved and, if so, to what degree.

Engage people as they go on the journey of change. There are thousands of things, from small details to larger activities, that need to happen for organisational change to take place, so engage people in what’s relevant and meaningful to them.

Why do some people think that managers are keeping secrets?

When senior managers drive change, they can get stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they may not be able to share certain, sensitive information. But if they don’t give their workforce enough details about what’s happening, people will become dissatisfied, suspicious and unproductive.

In this podcast, Rob and Ricky discuss how and why this happens, and the impact that a growing perception that senior managers are keeping secrets can have on an organisation.

In the absence of any clarity or information about change in the workplace, people start to fill in the blanks. Sometimes, it’s with information that may be true – but more often than not, it’s massively assumptive and untrue.

There are many reasons why senior managers do not share information with their people. Some information is confidential or sensitive, or may be withheld because of the perceived reaction it would cause. Sometimes, managers are trying to protect their people.

During times of change, there will be people who embrace it and are proactive about asking questions. They’re a breeze to manage. But there will be others who start to fill in the blanks and – worse still – go recruiting others who are easily influenced by their opinions. Why do they do it? Because they are looking for meaning and certainty when they have a lack of information. They want that classic ‘comfort blanket’. This links to our previous podcast about why people look for evidence that supports their point of view.

Everyone is making assumptions: Employees are filling in gaps with information they don’t know to be true, and managers are deciding what information they think is relevant to their people.

So how does this impact the workforce? Effects can range from falling engagement levels and rising dissatisfaction to people asking difficult questions and spreading false information. Some employees will cause a fuss while others may withdraw into themselves. All of this can lead to a drop in productivity and efficiency.

What can senior managers do about it? It’s crucial to keep people informed and engaged, to tell them what’s going on and why. And involve people in the journey, especially the most cynical or critical ones!

How can you calculate the cost of change?

One of the most challenging things about change for any organisation is facing the unknown.

You may know what needs to change, or why you want to change, but can you ever really be sure how the process will go – and, more importantly, what it will cost?

This uncertainty is never more acute than when you look at the human factors which can influence the way change is implemented. Some people are simply more adaptable to change than others – and some have a stronger attachment to their current ways and bad habits.

Whenever any change is implemented, the workplace itself goes through a transition process which may take longer than the change itself. For example, if a workplace were introducing a change in working hours or shift patterns, that might happen overnight. The transition for the team, however, will take much longer, as they accept the change and adapt to it.

Any manager considering change needs to weight up the potential costs of change against the costs of not implementing that change. While it can seem easier to maintain the status quo rather than causing upheaval, the reality is that doing nothing could be costing you money.

So where do you start?

Looking at the costs of change can feel daunting, so we’ve created a simple formula to help you make sure the numbers stack up and give you the confidence to implement change as effectively as possible.

Calculate your answers to the following questions:

  1. How many employees are likely to be affected by the changes in your organisation?
  2. On average, how much non-productive time is spent per week by each employee reacting against the changes – or on worrying, gossiping, speculating and rumour-mongering activities?
  3. How many weeks has this been going on for?
  4. How many weeks will it continue for if you do nothing?

Then use these numbers in the following formulae:

  1. The number of hours lost so far: a x b x c = x
  2. The number of additional hours that could be lost in future: a x b x d =y
  3. How much it could be costing you financially: (x + y) x average employee hourly rate

Of course, this doesn’t take into account any additional potential revenue which you may have missed, such as if your sales team has failed to focus on the needs of your customers in the way that would have generated more profit for you. In reality, the cost is probably even higher than these calculations suggest.

In considering change, no doubt you’ve done some calculations of your own, looking at how your new system, set-up or project could make the business more successful. Compare those figures with the amount you’re currently losing and suddenly, the need to manage change effectively becomes even more urgent. Resistance from employees not only costs you money now, but also delays the benefits you should be getting from your plans.

If you’re preparing for change, our advice would be to consider all the costs first. Weigh up the cost of staying as you are against the cost of change, then analyse how much higher the cost of that change will be if you don’t implement it effectively.

Rather than waste money down the line as your employees struggle to get to grips with transition and resist a change they have never fully embraced, invest from the outset in getting everyone on board. It will reward you with significant savings in the long run and enable you to reap the benefits of change much sooner.

Don’t worry if you looked at this and thought, Oh no, maths!  We have created a worksheet that will help you with the calculation.  This is a great exercise to complete with your colleagues, as it builds the momentum to take control of the change and do something different.  So, once you have downloaded it, print out a few copies.

Why do people go looking for evidence that supports their point of view?

Change in the workplace can take people out of their comfort zone and make them feel uncertain, powerless and, even, angry.

In this podcast, Rob and Ricky discuss why people look for evidence that supports their perception that change is difficult and undesirable. They also offer suggestions about how leaders and managers can help their teams to navigate and embrace change.

Resistance to change is a natural reaction in most of us. We like doing things the way we’ve always done them, and we don’t like having to learn something new or do something in a different way. It makes us feel like we’re not in control.

So when change is foisted upon us, we look for evidence that supports our deep-held belief that things were fine the way they were. We don’t like being made to accept someone else’s point of view and we want everyone to conform to our perception of the world. It’s classic ‘comfort blanket’ behaviour!

Change in the workplace is often viewed by employees as inconvenient and detrimental to their ability to carry out their job effectively. They’ve made that assumption and they go looking for proof to back it up.

Managers can address these concerns by helping their staff to see change as an opportunity. They can ask people to look for evidence by all means – but evidence that supports the positive outcomes of change. Explaining the reasons why things have changed can also be very effective: perhaps it has helped eradicate a problem, streamlined a system or opened up new opportunities. Usually change is about progress. Give people the answers they need. Explain how change might help them to do their job more effectively or simply. Show them the bigger picture.

By turning a problem-orientated mindset into a positive one, we can understand that change may mean different, but it doesn’t have to mean difficult or bad.

Why do some managers allow people to opt out of change?

Change can mean upheaval for everyone in a team. But why is it that, while some people engage and do their best, other people simply opt out and carry on as if nothing has happened?

In our latest podcast, Richard and Ricky discuss the reasons why these situations arise – and what can be done to tackle them.

There are several reasons why a manager would allow certain team members to opt out of change. It could be that the manager doesn’t have the skills to challenge the behaviour of the team members resisting change, or that the manager views this team member as a crucial player in the team and tackling them could reduce their productivity or even make them leave.

Whatever the reason, Richard and Ricky say allowing some people to get away with this creates a two-tier system, where some team members are allowed to do things in a way that other team members are not able to get away with.

So how do you tackle it?

Richard and Ricky discuss how to engage with resistant team members and get them to want to be part of the solution. Giving them some responsibility that will mean they have to behave in the right way and show those behaviours to others can be crucial, as Ricky describes through one of his own experiences.

They talk about sitting down with the person and talking through the reasons for the change, as well as their concerns. By unpicking their thinking and talking about the impact of their behaviour on the team, you can better understand their thought process and help them to see that they do need to engage with the plans.

If you can’t engage with them and they won’t change despite your efforts, you need to be clear about what that means – is this the right role for them? Even the highest achievers need to be team players, otherwise the benefit of their achievements can be undermined by the negative impact of their attitude.

Why do some people think that change can be bad for their career?

When workplace change is announced, some people assume it will mean their career progression is taken off course – but is that always the case?

In our podcast, Ricky and Richard discuss how combating your initial reaction can help you to embrace the opportunities that change presents and even use them to benefit your career.

Change often means uncertainty – what if the change that’s coming doesn’t match up to how you see your career mapping out? Perhaps you’re happy with where you are, or you know the steps you need to take to reach your career goal. Change may take you in a different direction and leave you feeling unsettled.

Fear of the unknown triggers an emotional reaction and can lead to soul-searching. But instead of allowing your emotions to take hold, Ricky and Richard discuss how you can take control of your reaction to what lies ahead. If you feel confident in your own ability and where your skills lie, you can find a way to have a positive impact.

Essentially, instead of seeing change as a threat, look at it as an opportunity.

Recognise that your initial reaction will be concern, which is only natural. Depending on the scale and nature of the change, you may feel shock or fear. Our brains are programmed to feel comfortable with the status quo and, when something disrupts that, we fear loss – losing colleagues, losing the type of work we’re used to and so on – rather than anticipating gain.

Ricky and Richard remind you to have an open mind to what is being proposed, rather than making negative assumptions and looking for evidence to back them up. Embrace the ways in which you can be part of the change and even benefit from it. The steps you need to take may not be the ones you imagined, but you can plan out new steps and even find a better goal than you had initially.

Why do some people think an emotional response will get them what they want?

Emotions are a normal part of change but in the workplace some people believe an emotional response will allow them to get their own way. In our podcast, Richard and Rob explore why this happens and how managers can respond when emotions are running high.

There are times in the workplace when some people think stamping their feet and shouting loud enough will get them what they want. In the podcast, Richard and Rob discuss how change can often trigger an emotional reaction and this is completely normal. In some cases, it can even be helpful as it may be a way of releasing the pressure people feel they are under.

They go onto explore how given time most people will arrive at a more considered and rationale response where they can start to make sense of the situation. Richard explains how it’s useful to get clarity about what is happening and to surround ourselves with people who are a positive influence. It’s helpful to recognise an emotional reaction as normal, write down everything that’s going through the mind and then question whether our perceptions are real. An emotional response might be triggered because our view of the future has been threatened and is different to our imagined version.

Rather than stewing in an emotional state, Richard and Rob examine how we should seek out answers to any questions and gain greater clarity about the situation. By bringing back a level of control, we can make plans, help to re-direct things and search for meaning.

The pair summarise their discussion by exploring how leaders and managers have an important role to play when it comes to being aware of other people’s behaviours and offering support.