How to make your team more productive: Start with your shadow

Productivity is one of the key issues encountered by organisations of all sizes, and it’s often one of the most misunderstood, especially by managers. Many leaders look at their teams and at the skills and experience within them, and are baffled that their productivity isn’t greater.

But what they’re failing to look at is closer to home: themselves.

As a manager, the first step towards making your team more productive is to lead by example. Your team’s productivity starts with you. This is why, when we work with an organisation on any productivity issue, more often than not we start with the leaders.

You may not be aware of it, but you are the main influence on your team. And we don’t mean in the sense of giving orders or targets. We’re talking about how your behaviour, attitude and work ethic is noticed and adopted by your people. There’s a saying that your staff leave at the end of the day with the same mood that you walked in with in the morning, and this is often true.

This concept of the unconscious influence of a manager is known as ‘The Shadow of the Leader’ which, as the name suggests, relates to the influence – for better or worse – of the leader on their team. People absorb their leader’s values, and tend to mirror their leader’s behaviour. On a wider level, a leader’s shadow may be cast so wide that it affects the culture of an entire organisation.

Your leadership shadow reflects everything you say and do. Whether you intend it or not, you cast your shadow over your team. Your people will, either consciously or subconsciously, take clues from you about their behaviour, values, motivation and work ethic. They will mirror what you do and say, and how you react to situations.

So, as a leader, ask yourself: Are you aware of the shadow you cast over your team? Is this shadow a positive or negative one? Are you displaying the behaviours that you would expect see from your people?

Why a growth mindset is key to productivity

At Thinking Focus, we work with many organisations on issues around productivity. We’ve met some great teams of people with fantastic skills and experience. So why is it that their productivity levels are not as high as they could be?

Low productivity is often the result of a fixed mindset. This is a mindset that says: I have the skills to do this job so I don’t need to try, my talent is enough. If a team has a fixed mindset, they won’t fulfil their potential and will be complacent, unmotivated and unproductive.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, says: There is always more I could learn, it’s up to me to develop my skills and abilities, I’m open to new ideas. This way of thinking enables people to push the boundaries, become more creative, try things, and do the best they can. People with a growth mindset do not fear a new challenge, and view a mistake or setback as an opportunity to learn.

So, if a productive team needs a growth mindset, how do you help your people to adopt one?

How to instil a growth mindset in your people

The first step is to look at yourself. As leaders, the mindset we get from our people is the mindset we create ourselves. People mirror the actions and behaviours of their leaders, as we discuss in our blog about The Shadow of the Leader here. As a role model for your people, if you display a growth mindset, it’s likely they will adopt one, too. While it can take work to develop a growth mindset, fixed mindsets can be contagious, so if you have one, they will probably have one to.

Help your team identify a goal, and focus not just on what you want them to do but also where the boundaries are, so they have some scope to develop their own ideas. Think of the goal as the pins at the end of a bowling alley. Your role as a leader is to point out the pins and the direction the ball needs to go in, then put up the lane guards on either side of the lane (normally used for small children and me!). But to create a growth mindset, you should neither tell your people how to throw the ball nor throw the ball for them. Trust the strengths, knowledge and skills of your people. Give them guidance, set the direction and the purpose, but don’t identify the ‘how’.

Leaders with a growth mindset inspire their people to do the best they can, and promote a culture of learning and freedom. Praise your team for effort and learning, not talent and experience. Encourage them to adopt a have-a-go attitude and even to take risks without fear of the consequences should there be a setback or a mistake.  This is where the boundaries are helpful, as it ensures that if they do fail, they fail safely.  Help them accept that things don’t always go to plan but, with a growth mindset, they will learn from setbacks and mistakes. This will instil confidence, ambition and innovation in your team.

Behave in a consistent manner and act in a way that is consistent with the culture and ethos you are trying to achieve for your organisation. Understand what motivates your team and ensure that it’s aligned to your organisation’s objectives.

So, set an example to your team by displaying a growth mindset yourself, and helping them adopt one too. By demonstrating that you have made mistakes, and used them to help you grow, you can help your people feel safe and allow them to learn, have a go at new things, push boundaries, and become better at what they do. And that, ultimately, will create a more productive team.

Living with Uncertainty

Look around you. What can you see?

Well, actually that is the point: you can’t see it. Uncertainty, that is. It is all around us.

Whether it be due to the current political and economic environment or changes afoot in your company, or maybe even at home. Children growing up – what will their future hold? How will we deal with them going to school or off to uni, and how will they cope?

The last two and half years of my life have brought tremendous change and the one thing that kept me awake in the early days of things changing around me was the question, “What will happen next? How will it all work out?” I wanted the answer. I wanted a crystal ball. I wanted to know everything would be ok.

The problem with these questions is that once the brain gets to work on them it can create many answers, often ranging from the fantastical through to downright scary. And of course, all of them are not real or true: they are just made up in my own inner world of thoughts, hopes and fears.

Paying too much attention to them is dangerous. If you do spend time believing everything you think, you begin to act out those thoughts, finding clues in things around you that confirm that your inner world of thoughts is actually REAL.

Worrying doesn’t help

In reality, if I have learnt one thing over the last two years of turmoil in my own life, it is that I just don’t know what will happen next… and how it will affect me.

Once I discovered that all my worrying, questioning and thinking was, in effect, not having much, if any, bearing on things, it gave me a kind of peace and confidence that it would all be ok.

Now, you need to make a distinction here between thinking that prepares you for what is coming and thinking that is just a waste of effort. Sometimes, thinking things through, getting ready, dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s is prudent and sensible. However, with all that thinking you still have to acknowledge that it is all done with good intentions and even then… you still don’t know what will happen. And that’s ok.

Preparing for Brexit

Many of the businesses we work with have been making plans for Brexit; thinking about the impact and perhaps already making changes. Some people are very worried about the repercussions of how it will all work out. That, of course, is very sensible and for all of us business owners it makes sense to be prepared. However, the world is crying out for certainty. The media wants and demands that politicians tell us what is the plan, what will happen?

The hindsight bias kicks in as well, with lots of clever people on TV and radio telling us “I can’t believe the government didn’t see that coming”. We are, of course, all prone to knowing more after the act, or looking at things differently once more information comes to light.

We can and should prepare for Brexit in our businesses as much as we think is right and necessary… but then we have to sit back, wait and see, and get comfortable with the uncertainty. There’s nothing else we can do.

Accepting uncertainty

Do you know for a fact what you will be doing on this very same date next year?

Of course, you don’t (unless you have a wedding or something already planned in). But, if you are normal, you accept that you don’t know and you get on with life. We’re all constantly making the best decisions possible with all the information we have to hand.

An exercise that a few of our clients have found useful is to think of all the concerns that you have currently. Write them down, make a list.

Once you have done this, go through the list and pick out the top three things that really require your attention. Separate out the stuff that is just not important enough to really concern you.

Now you have a list of important issues ask the yourself the following questions:

  1. What is really at the crux of the issue?
  2. Why is it bothering you?
  3. What are the consequences of doing nothing?
  4. What would be an ideal solution?
  5. Who could help you?
  6. What are the main chunks of the problem that you need to think through?
  7. Under each chunk, what could you do to move towards your ideal solution?
  8. What could you do within the next 24 hours to help you move towards your ideal solution?
  9. Now you have got a plan, what help will worrying about it further bring?

Ok, so now you have the bare bones of an action plan.

Then, get on with it… take action.

You can actually take action in the knowledge that you are doing the very best you can based on the knowledge you have. That’s it. The future will still be uncertain, we can’t change that, but we can still move forward.

We’re all in the same boat

Brexits, kids, relationships, jobs, the economy, parents, football teams, exam results etc etc… The list is endless and none of us know how things will work out.

At my friends Sarah & Alex’s house hangs a sign that always makes me smile. It says:

“Don’t take life too seriously. None of us gets out alive anyway.”

I suppose there is some certainty in that.

The real question for us all to think about is a yes or no one and simply put is:

Am I doing my best with the information and knowledge I currently have?

If the answer is yes, then get comfortable with uncertainty, safe in the knowledge that you’ll be ok. You’ll adapt and make it work. Whatever “it” is…

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.

The Purpose Principle

I was recently visiting a former client’s office: a company I have not worked with for quite some time but where we still have a good relationship and keep each other informed of what’s going on in our respective businesses.

It was great to catch up with people and see some old friends.

The business in question operates in a very competitive market place and as such, over the last five years or so, has managed its people very closely. So I was surprised to hear that they have decided to remove all local management teams. They now have a matrix structure right across the European business.

“How’s that working?” I asked of a few people that I bumped into. Time and again the answer came back: “It doesn’t work, we get no direction, we get conflicting information on what the priorities are and I don’t know who my boss is any more!”

One particular person went even further and said, “Everybody is miserable!”

It raised the question for me: “Why are you here then… Why are you doing it if it makes you miserable?”

Finding our own purpose

Clearly there are many reasons as to why we do the jobs we do or have the careers that we have, but how many people actually stop and ask, “Why am I doing this? What is the purpose for me being in this job?”

Getting to the bottom of our own purpose is enlightening and helps keep us going when times get tough. There can be no right or wrong answer here either.

So, on a personal level: “Why?”

Is it just a job, a task…? For the money, it pays the bills?

There is nothing wrong with this answer. We all need money and have bills to pay. If that is the case then let’s be clear about it: let’s value the money that the job brings and let’s make decisions about how much we are prepared to put up with or give in line with what we earn.

We also need to acknowledge that you could in theory earn money somewhere else. So, does it really matter what the business does as long as it pays well enough?

Developing your career

It could be more than that though. It could be about having a career in a specific industry: working your way through several experiences within that industry and perhaps working your way towards a particular role that you have always wanted to do. Ambition starts to come into play here. Long term goals, stepping stones and learning as you move towards the desired role can all be important.

This can be really exciting because, if you love the industry you are in, you will regularly feel the buzz that it brings you. It might also give you options to move around the different companies that occupy different parts of that industry. So, if it gets a bit miserable at one company or the culture doesn’t work for you, then have obvious places to look within the industry for a fresh challenge.

Passion for your work

For some people, though, it is not about the money or a career within an industry, it is about a vocation or a calling – a passion for doing something that you believe in. Coincidentally, I met a friend on the same day who told me that she had just been interviewed for a new job with an online pharmacy business. Her current role is focused on customer experience within casinos.

She said, “I could really get out of bed in a morning believing that I am helping someone get the medicines they need rather than encouraging someone to gamble.”

The bottom line here for her is that there is a clear connection to an organisation’s purpose and a belief in what they are doing.

Short-term goals and long-term purpose

For the old clients I visited the lack of local management is resulting in people that have lost sight of the bigger picture and purpose as well as the short-term goals that gave them their energy and helped them feel like there were moving the business forwards. They just don’t know how the dots join up anymore.

For some of them it all feels a bit vague.

If individuals feel lost, then of course teams can feel lost, not understanding what their focus should be, what they are having an impact on or even what they are supposed to be delivering.

Finding your purpose

Whether you are doing the work you are doing because it is a job, a career or because it is a vocation doesn’t really matter; each of these reasons have their own purpose for the individual for that moment in their life.

However, if you are leading a team or running a business ask yourself these simple questions:

  1. What is our purpose as a business? Why are we doing this?
  2. Do our people understand the purpose of the business?
  3. Does the businesses purpose align to the personal reasons people have for being here?

In my experience when you ask people “why are you here?” they don’t always know the answer straight away.

For many, it is not something they think about that often. Digging down and discovering our own purpose (whatever it is) can only be beneficial for everyone. It will ultimately allow people to make better decisions and be more resilient when times get tough.

If leaders can articulate the businesses purpose clearly and often, then even teams that are managed remotely and with a light touch can engage with the organisation’s Purpose Principal.

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.

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.

Why you need to take a summer holiday

As leaders and  managers, we all sometimes fall into the trap of thinking we can’t take time away from work.

We worry about what might happen in our absence and we look at our ever-growing to-do lists and decide it would be better just to keep at it. With other team members taking their own holidays, we often feel it’s down to us to provide consistency to the business by staying at work.

Yet there are sound reasons why taking a summer break is not only good for you, but could actually lead to a productive breakthrough that will accelerate your projects and goals.

Change the setting

Research into problem-solving and innovation has shown that we have our best ideas and breakthroughs when our brain is able to make connections between different things. Great ideas are not really ‘a-ha!’ moments; they are more like the collision of different contexts or worlds.

Yet often, when we are trying to see the world differently we do it in the same old environment, surrounded by the same old things. This conditions and limits our thinking to the known; not the best place to make a break through.

To get new ideas, take a break from your normal environment, go somewhere different to spark different thoughts and memories.  The more different the location, the more chance the environment will help you see the world differently.

Unleash the subconscious

We also know that our subconscious mind is at its most intuitive when our conscious mind is occupied by a task that is not too taxing. When we are doing something that requires focus, the subconscious focuses on supporting what we are doing. Conversely, when we are not really doing anything, then the subconscious mind is not allowed to wander, as our conscious thoughts become distracting as they wander.

To create the best conditions to allow your subconscious to focus on breakthroughs, new ideas or problem solving, occupy your conscious mind in something engaging enough to keep it occupied, while not too demanding. This is why you have your best ideas in the shower, out on a run or diving the car! So, chilling in the pool, or spending some time playing on the beach with family or friends could be just what you need.

The great outdoors

There is a whole area of psychology that focuses on our relationship with nature.  Open natural spaces, especially where there are lots of green and fractal shapes (think plants and trees) create a restorative environment, helping to restore us to our baseline levels.

That sounds a bit technical, but basically the evidence indicates that being in these spaces allows us to reduce stress and recharge. Yet where do we spend most of our time? In man-made spaces, focused on neutral colour tones and straight lines.

In a nutshell, if all you can do is get out of the office and go for a walk in the park, it will make the world seem better. If you can take a few days out to explore more of the natural world, even better.

Accessing positive emotions

On top of this, positive emotions, such as happiness, joy, gratitude and even serenity, enable us to think more widely and see connections and new possibilities. By contrast, negative emotions act to focus our thinking on the problem at hand, limiting the scope of ideas available. This concept of positive emotions was developed by the psychologist Barbara Fredrickson in her ‘broaden and build’ theory which shows how positive emotions help us thrive.

Continuing with the same old routine isn’t going to bring new, positive emotions into our lives. Staying at work day in, day out will just serve to keep us focused on the same old problems. Instead, getting away, doing something different that brings us positive emotions – whether that’s heading out onto the golf course or taking the kids for a day at the beach – will open up our minds to new opportunities.

 

So if you are thinking that you don’t have time to take a break this summer, that you are too busy, or up to your neck in alligators, then it might be time to think again. Some time in a different environment, especially a natural, restorative space, that gives your subconscious the time it needs to process the challenges and goals you are facing is probably just what you need.

In fact, you probably can’t afford not to go on holiday.  If nothing else, it will make you smile, and that alone may be enough to create the breakthrough you need.

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.

Ten questions you need to ask if you want to develop high quality leadership

by Graham Field

Ensuring high quality leadership within any organisation, large or small, has always been a challenge, and much has been written on this subject. Pick up any leadership book or read any leadership material and it must seem like the Holy Grail is waiting to be found!

From our own extensive research and experience, we at Thinking Focus believe that there are three key areas to focus on to become a quality leader, which in turn will bring about organisational success.

Below, we discuss these three areas, as well as giving tips for leaders to focus on in order to improve performance. When reading the following, consider yourself now against the areas mentioned: where do you see your strengths and where are your development areas? What do you, or others in your organisation, need to concentrate on to become high quality leaders?

Ask yourself our 10 questions – and answer them as honestly as you can. Then act on the information you have to make the improvements needed to achieve your aims.

 

  1. Shaping The Business: This is about getting any organisation ready for success, and as a leader the key areas for you to work on are:

Creating, and continually encouraging, a supportive, inclusive environment: Environments don’t just happen; they need to be created. The most basic question any leader should be asking themselves is “what type of environment do I want to create?” The most successful organisations worldwide ensure that the environment they create supports everybody – through effective HR policies, great inductions, mentoring and coaching schemes, and other forms of employee engagement. High quality leaders recognise the value of having these in place as a motivating factor and ensure their people are really included in decision making processes.

Shaping your organisational structure and processes for great success: Once quality leaders understand the ‘what’ (environment) they focus on the ‘how’ (structure and process). As a great starting question, and one that should be constantly revisited, these leaders know the answers to “what structure, systems and processes would be the most helpful to support our overall vision/aims?” This question allows leaders to focus on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of their business considering, for instance, whether the structure actually supports people, really is customer focused or can demonstrate attention to quality. High quality leaders know structure and process must help, not hinder, organisational success and implement them rigourously.

Master the fundamentals of your business: Any great leader works at mastering what makes organisations tick – particularly their own – whether this be through self-learning, through mentoring or through development programmes. High quality leaders make understanding “what key business principles do I need to learn and master?” a daily task.

 

  1. Strengthening The Team: Focus on the people side of leadership, and the importance of developing and motivating the best team a leader can have working with them.

Ensure the team you have has the right people doing the right things: Any leadership text will highlight that leaders need followers – and in the world of the organisation, this is about having the right team. High quality leaders not only recruit the right people, they place them where their skills will be used to maximum effect, ensuring both business success and individual motivation. As a leader, knowing the answer to the three-part question “what does each of my team bring to the party, how effectively are their skills being used and how might their skills add even greater value?” is essential. And this is not a one-time question, but an ongoing one. High quality leaders are constantly aware of the skills mix of their people and move their teams around for maximum success.

Make sure everyone fully understands their role – and how this fits with your vision: There’s a great analogy often used to demonstrate this point about two stone cutters working in a quarry and they are both asked what they are doing. Stonecutter one replies “I am cutting stone” – clearly demonstrating they understand what they are doing. Stonecutter two responds “I am part of a team building a cathedral” – clearly demonstrating they know not only what they are doing, but how it fits with a bigger picture. High quality leaders understand this point and make sure that the people they work with know not only what they are doing, but also why. These leaders ask the question “what can I do to bring my vision to life for everyone?” and then engage everyone in answering it.

Understand that relationships matter: Everyone in an organisation, or indeed who interacts with it, is important – and high quality leaders understand this and work at it. Knowing how to interact with people, how to effectively delegate to motivate and develop people, how to develop a relationship of trust and how to communicate effectively are all important factors that great leaders understand. Answering the questions “which of my people skills need the most work?” or “which relationships do I need to focus on the most?” gives great insight – and helps to forge a development path to gaining new skills, or brushing up on existing ones!

 

  1. Seizing The Opportunities: Focus on building on all of the above, then allow high quality leaders to be the most proactive they can be and either make the most of opportunities as they arise or, ideally, create new opportunities for success.

Dig around in your organisation – find the opportunities: When everything is running smoothly, as it will be if the organisation has been shaped and the team strengthened, reflecting on how everything is working is a key trait of high quality leaders. Unwilling to rest on their laurels, effective leaders will be constantly exploring how things are working, highlighting areas for improvement and seizing these opportunities. Ignoring the rule of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they probe what’s going on with a view to continuous improvement. Make answering the question “where is there an opportunity for improvement in this?” one of your daily habits.

Reduce reaction times on vital knowledge – and create sources of information: Opportunities are always presenting themselves through the information that surrounds us – high quality leaders not only make the most of this, but also find ways of ‘being in the know’. Regularly reading trade journals, attending seminars and networking events, following the news, and really listening to what’s being said in meetings are all seen as opportunities to take in something vital before turning it into meaningful action. Knowing something and filing it for future reference may be helpful, but turning that knowledge into an opportunity for creative thinking and speedy action is the way of the high quality leader. Make sure when vital knowledge comes your way you can immediately answer the question,“what’s the most creative way of using this information for organisational success?”.

Make innovative leaps in everything you do: High quality leaders know that unleashing their own creativity, and that of their people, holds the key to so many problems, challenges and opportunities. Creativity is no longer the gift of the select few in organisations: a function of leadership is to harness the creativity in everyone. Most managers and leaders are able to look at where incremental improvements can be made; the most effective leaders look to move things  up a gear; consider how to develop creativity and innovation to ensure that they are prepared to make giant leaps, not small steps. Answer “what’s the most creative and innovative thing I can do with this?” regularly – and make sure your creativity skills are topped up at all times!

 

From working with our clients, we believe that by following the nine tips above, and putting in the time to answer the ten questions within them, anyone can start to increase their leadership capability. You may already be doing some of the above, and only need to work on just a few of the areas. Whichever approach you need, and decide, to take, as a high quality leader make a commitment to do something with the information above!