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!

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 gamification can help your business

A range of organisations are turning to gamified learning as a way of motivating employees, boosting engagement and driving business success.

The technique allows companies to deliver effective learning content and training strategies combined with an element of fun. Applied successfully, it can help businesses achieve goals and outcomes by using game dynamics to connect with employees, gain feedback and measure performance.

What is gamified learning?

‘Gamification’ is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context to engage users and/or solve problems. It uses achievement, reward, creativity and self-expression and then uses points, badges, levels, leader boards and various challenges to motivate employees.

But these mechanisms don’t always make a difference on their own. The focus of the approach needs to centre on individual development – the ‘human aspect’ – to help employees feel valued and enhance their problem-solving skills.

Board games

Many companies apply gamification within their apps, websites or e-learning tools but the good ‘old fashioned’ board game can have equally positive benefits, as well as some extra ones. A key difference is that they bring people together to play and discuss the game face-to-face. This leads to a greater sense of engagement and a more productive session.

When it comes to the way we behave in different scenarios, board games can develop areas such as communication, resolving conflict, team work, creativity negotiation, empathy and decision-making. They can help to increase learning and create a sense of achievement.

As an example of how even ordinary board games can teach us business skills, take Amazon’s best-selling board games in 2017. They include the classic Monopoly, which teaches us how to seal a deal and use negotiating skills as each player looks to build up their position on the board.  And the fast-talking description game Articulate is not only a lot of fun but also tests skills of creativity, communication and team-work as players work together to achieve a common goal – with the added, high-pressure element of having just 30 seconds in which to describe as many words as possible.

So think how effective a board game would be that’s specifically created to be played in a business environment, and focuses on work-based scenarios. This was our thought process when one of our clients, world-leading car seat manufacturer Adient, asked us to help find an innovative solution to their management training needs. The result was that we created a gamified learning solution based on a traditional board game, using a simple game play premise to improve leadership skills, engagement, and communication between peers.

What Would You Do? is a scenario-based game which tests decision-making abilities both in an immediately reactive as well as a more considered way. Although points are awarded for preferred answers, enabling participants to move up the board and win, the mechanics of the game are really just a vehicle for generating discussion and debate, and sharing experience and expertise. It allows peers to work through business issues in a fun and engaging way.

What Would You Do? is available to all businesses and is aimed at first line managers, team leaders and supervisors. It also works as a resource to develop graduates and identify management potential.

It was launched in May and received overwhelmingly positive feedback, with the board game approach proving particularly successful in engaging participants and helping to make learning stick.

Why do change leaders focus on the plan rather than the people?

It is not uncommon to find elaborate, well-thought-through change plans missing just one ‘small’ component: the people.

Why does this happen? Why do some change leaders get so lost in the detail of their planning that they forget to bring the people involved along with them on the journey?

Paul and Richard discuss why it can feel easier just to focus on the plan and what happens when people get left out of it.

Effecting change involves two things: there’s the practical side of it and then there’s the ‘transition’ of taking people through it. Focusing on both elements leads to successful change. Having an awesome plan without the engagement and support of your people will mean it won’t be as effective as it could be.

A change plan can take up a lot of time and effort but, in a way, it’s the easy bit. Most change leaders have technical or project management skills, and know how to create a strong plan. It’s an area they feel comfortable with. But when it comes to taking people through the transition, the process is more unpredictable.

So, if you’re leading change and have a great plan but haven’t really looked at the people side, where do you start?

We’d suggest taking a step back and assessing where people are on the change journey. Ask two questions: 1, What is their attitude to this specific change? 2, How much energy are they putting into this?

Answering these questions about each individual will help you place them in one of four categories:

  • Spectators
  • Champions
  • ‘Corporate Corpses’
  • Saboteurs

The likelihood is that at least half of the people will be Spectators. They are in the neutral zone, supportive of the change but with low energy. However, the great thing is that they can become engaged with the process if they are given information and choices.

The Champions are the people who are supportive of the change and are putting a lot of energy in to it. They can help the leaders by taking some of the burden and acting as positive role models for the Spectators.

The ‘Corporate Corpses’ are the zombie brigade – people who have very low energy and a very bad attitude, although they’re not being disruptive or causing any trouble.

The Saboteurs are usually the very noisy vocal minority who have a bad attitude and lots of energy. They are the people who are trying to hold back change and undermine leaders. They tend to attract attention and effort which should instead be focused on trying to engage the Spectators.

The importance of trust in organisations and developing trusting leadership

by Graham Field

When we ask organisations about the challenges they face, one recurring theme is trust – how organisations gain, and can easily lose, the trust of their people, and from a leadership perspective, the importance of developing trust.

Trust has been seen as important as far back as Aristotle, who noted that trust (or ethos as he called it) was built upon three perceived factors: intelligence, character and goodwill. These factors were also commented on in a dissertation by Dr Duane Tway (A Construct of Trust – 1993) who similarly suggested that trust was a construct of three parts: the capacity for trusting, the perception of competence and the perception of intentions.

What makes trust important in running a 21st century business?

If you, like many of the HR community we collaborate with, have wondered whether trust is alive and well in your organisation, first of all take a step back and consider how important a role trust should be playing.

As an example, let’s look at the current UK climate of trust with regards our own country’s’ leaders – the politicians.

Like leaders anywhere, this group of people should be role models for ‘the way we do things around here’, but in the back of many people’s minds there has always been a question of how much these leaders are there for their people, or how much they are in it for themselves. ‘Catching them in’ and spotting when they are fulfilling their leadership potential often goes unnoticed, but ‘catching them out’ is quickly picked up, reported and commented on. And in one fell swoop trust gets damaged, role models are lost and leadership is no longer respected.

How many times does this happen in organisations?

If trust is so easy to damage, what makes it important for us in running modern businesses? We believe, as have many others before us, that trust is the bedrock for any organisation structure. It’s part of what makes your business what it is and forms the basis for organisational culture.

As such, trust is important for:

  • Building high performing teams – trust needs to exist for true co-operation and developing great teamwork amongst team members
  • Developing strong relationships – the kind where we can depend on our people doing things reliably and in a timely fashion
  • Effective communication – people need to believe what they hear and read within organisations; the absence of trust generally means communication could be seen as little more than ‘propaganda’
  • Creativity and risk taking – people need to believe that they have the freedom to be creative and take risk in order to seize opportunities
  • Embedding change and managing change effectively – in a trusting environment people will believe that change is ‘for the best’ and will support it accordingly

How can we build trust?

We can still use Aristotle’s three factors as a guide:

  1. Intelligence: In today’s organisations we can translate intelligence for knowledge and skills – how skilled are your supervisors, managers and leaders? And possibly more importantly, how is their skill perceived by their people? This aspect of trust is the easiest to develop, and for us is part of strengthening your teams. What might a skills audit of your leaders highlight as development needs, which could be impacting on how people trust them?
  2. Character: Reliability and honesty are key components here.  Recruitment interviews, references and ongoing performance reviews ascertain the character of the people leading our organisations, but the true test of reliability and honesty will come from an ‘all staff’ approach. When was the last time you fully reviewed your leaders adopting a 360 degree approach – and if you haven’t so far, what could be the benefits of doing this?
  3. Goodwill: The intentions of leaders, as perceived by their people. Unfortunately there’s no easy approach for this – goodwill develops over time, but if intelligence and character are supportive of trust, goodwill will follow. How do leaders develop, and maintain, goodwill in your organisation?

More recently, the arena of trust seems to have been dominated by Stephen M R Covey and his book, The Speed of Trust. A valuable addition to any library, this book clearly highlights ‘five waves of trust’ and thirteen ‘trust behaviours’.

What can we learn from ‘The Speed of Trust’?

Many of the above ideas are echoed in Covey’s work. He emphasises the importance of trust as an aspect of leadership (even going so far as to say inspiring trust is the ‘number one job of any leader’) and suggests that trust is part competence and part character.

Building on this is the suggestion that trust affects the speed of activity and cost within an organisation: where trust is prevalent speed goes up and cost goes down (and vice versa) and that when trust is built between individuals, it builds across a team/department/organisation.

Within all of this, there are ‘five waves’ of trust:

  1. Self-trust – with the underlying principle of credibility. This can be developed through personal integrity, intent, capabilities and results.
  2. Relationship-trust – with thirteen underlying behaviours covering how we speak honestly, demonstrate respect, create transparency, right any wrongs, show loyalty, deliver results, continuously improve, confront reality, clarify expectations, practise accountability, listen before speaking, keep to our commitments and extend trust to others who have earned it and are still earning it.
  3. Organisational-trust – that is aligned trust inside your organisation, This is part of your company culture and Covey believes it is established through systems and structures which support the culture you want to have.
  4. Market-trust – trust generated by reputation. We all know the importance of our external reputation and how this affects our overall performance, but the implication here is that the way we treat external contacts, whether customers or suppliers, is vital.
  5. Societal-trust – trust generated by contribution, often referred to as corporate social responsibility. Rather than a box-ticking exercise of having a charity of the year or doing a day’s work in a community garden, this is about making a genuine positive contribution to your community in the long term.

What loses trust – and how do we restore it?

Trust, once built, can be lost. Common causes of lost trust are:

  • Internally – miscommunication, withholding information, acting against agreed values, mis-handling change, being self-serving and ‘looking after number one’.
  • Externally – poor service, not doing what you say you will do, squeezing suppliers in times when record profits are being made and damaging local communities and/or the environment.

However, even lost trust can be regained if we act quickly to restore that which we have lost, exceed expectations in correcting our mistakes, be honest about why things have gone wrong and not only repair the damage now, but ensure it will never happen again and accept full responsibility.

Finally remember that trust is a relationship built over a period of time, as author Marsha Sinetar said: “Trust is not a matter of technique, but of character; we are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exterior or our expertly crafted communications.”

Why do some people want change to be gift wrapped?

If you have experienced change in the workplace, you have probably met some people who will only get on board when all the Is have been dotted and the Ts crossed.

In this podcast, Richard and Paul explore why this happens, and if you find yourself or those around you in this situation, how you can deal with it.

 

There are some people who only want to engage with any change at the last possible moment. It is like they only get involved when someone else has gift-wrapped the change plan, so they don’t have to take any ownership moving forward.

As frustrating as this can be for a leader, it can help to understand why it happens – which can then give you the tools to tackle it and get people to engage.

Refusal to get on board with change is often related to our natural avoidance of uncertainty. As humans, we like to know exactly what lies ahead and will avoid engaging with something which contains elements of doubt.

It’s simply not possible to create a gift-wrapped change that will suit everyone. People create a story in their own heads to fill in the gaps and uncertainties so, in a large group, everyone may have a different expectation of the change which often doesn’t match up with what is really happening.

Uncertainty usually results in an emotional reaction, as we discussed in our previous podcast. When our expectations of certainty clash with the reality that change means uncertainty, our natural instinct is to see it as a threat.

As leaders, we need to look at ways to tackle that emotional reaction and get people to respond more rationally.

Richard and Paul revisit the ICE strategy: giving Information to reassure people about what we know and being honest about what we don’t; presenting Choices to help people gain more control over what lies ahead, which drives the shift from emotional to rational; and helping people to Engage so they become part of the decisions and solutions needed to shape the change.

By using this approach, you can encourage people to let go of their need for gift-wrapped change and to accept uncertainty as a natural part of the process of change.

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.