Psychological Safety and Routine Thinking

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

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

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

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

How do we tear ourselves away from routine thinking?

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

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

Why should we do this?

Simple answer: for efficiency and effectiveness.

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

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

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

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

Can this be more than Silicon-Valley Fantasy?

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

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

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

As leaders, there is an interesting choice

…do you:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How do you turn thinking to your competitive advantage?

Most companies do the same things, with access to the same resources, making the people, and the way that they think one of the few differentiators left.

In this podcast Ricky questions Rob, exploring how we can turn thinking into a competitive advantage?

Harnessing thinking in a team and encouraging collaboration can undoubtedly be advantageous to an organisation. In the podcast, Ricky and Rob explore how critical thinking skills enable people to understand the importance of goals and gain real clarity about what they and the business are trying to achieve. It also enables us to make critical choices based on likelihood, risk and balance.

The pair go onto discuss what happens if people don’t believe in the set business goals or objectives. After all, belief and confidence are two essential elements if goals are going to be achieved. Rob outlines how creating an environment where there is so called ‘helpful’ and ‘unhelpful’ thinking enables us to clarify the goal and create a gateway to success. By being open to ‘unhelpful’ thinking, any issues can be tackled and dealt with effectively. It gives the team the opportunity to share and boosts collaboration which in turn benefits the organisation.

Rob and Ricky examine how ‘unhelpful’ thinking can provide an opportunity to grow, learn and accelerate performance because people are able to participate. By thinking a little bit differently and being open to ‘helpful’ and ‘unhelpful’ thinking, people will gain a level of confidence when it comes to achieving the organisational goals and objectives.

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on ITunes.

Are you Getting in the Way of your Own Goal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploiting these three fundamental principles will reap tremendous benefits:

Autonomy

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

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

Mastery

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

Purpose

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

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

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

 

 

 

We’re Growing So That’s OK. Isn’t it?

Simon is CEO of a business operating in the Middle East and Africa and when I met him it was enjoying double-digit growth, significantly outperforming similar organisations in mature European markets. The most recent financial year had seen growth of 12%, something his former colleagues in the UK could only dream of.

So why wasn’t I impressed?

“What’s the potential in this region?” I asked.

“Around 40%,” he replied.

“So you’re underperforming by quite a long way,” I said.

He was quiet. For a moment I thought I’d overstepped the mark.

Then he admitted, “I’d never thought of it like that.”

I hadn’t been trying to undermine his achievement, merely open his mind to what was possible and shift his focus to the 28% that was up for grabs.

This led us to get his team together and explore the potential.  We brought his country managers together.  As is typical with these workshops, there was a lot of ground to cover.

Isolating the interference

We started with a venting session, designed to get out all the issues that hold us back. We label this interference. It could be real, imagined or perceived – anything that gets in our way and occupies thinking time or activity.

The team shared over 80 things that bothered them. These were the 80 things that were preventing them from hitting their €1bn target.  

Putting the barriers in boxes

We categorised every item on the issue list – all 80 of them – into three boxes.

  • Bothered
  • Not bothered (at all or right now)
  • Givens (things we can’t change)

At the end of the process we were left with three items in the “bothered” column and we knew that if we addressed those we could unlock €2bn in additional revenues.  Solving them required no magic, no investment and no more headcount.

Think differently

We showed the teams how to take ownership and develop a plan to capitalise on the hidden potential.  Will they unlock all €2bn? Probably not, but they will go beyond their current comfortable level of thinking and increase their productivity significantly.

So ask yourself:

  • What is your real potential?
  • What interference is getting in your way?
  • What are you prepared to do about It?

Why not try the 3  step process for yourself?

  1. Vent – write down all the things holding you back
  2. Categorise
    • Bothered
    • Not bothered
    • Givens
  3. Prioritise – Go to work on your bothered list

Why is thinking so important to business?

 

Thinking underpins everything we do, driving the actions we take which deliver the results we get, yet most people just take thinking for granted.

Ricky and Richard explore how Thinking can have an impact on driving better results, showing how taking control of your thinking can deliver different results.

 

It’s fair to say many of us take the power of thinking for granted. In the podcast, Ricky and Richard discuss how thinking fundamentally affects our actions or inactions. The challenge arises when our thinking isn’t getting the results we would like to see. This could be evidence the team or business isn’t heading in quite the right direction.

Ricky and Richard consider how we need to ask ourselves questions. Are the actions we are taking, as a result of our thinking, working in reality? It’s all too easy to get caught in a loop where we keep doing the same things but somehow expect the results to change. As the pair explain, if we want to see a change in the outcome, we need to change the quality of our thinking.

We also need to ask questions of ourselves that help us to think differently. After all, our subconscious and the long-standing habits we have formed over many years will be having an impact. To drive a different set of results, we need to be asking ourselves a new set of questions and trying to create some new habits. Even if a business has the same products or processes as before, by challenging people’s thinking it’s possible to come up with a new way of doing things and get better results.

Ricky and Richard wrap up their discussion by exploring how in a work environment, the natural focus is often on the output. Thinking is essentially an input and by examining our thinking and collaborating with others, we can increase our chances of success.

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on ITunes.

Why your current situation isn’t the problem

So you’re facing a bit of a business crisis. It might mean answering to shareholders, investment being put on hold, or even layoffs.

At a lower level, it may be that bonuses aren’t paid, promotions are passed over or individuals are held accountable.

It’s a problem, right?

Wrong.

How can the result be THE problem, when the result comes at the end?

Yes, the result may cause a problem and bring consequences, leading to a different set of decisions.

The real problem came earlier – and it was probably one of these:

  • The Unhelpful Mindset.  Often driven by the size of the target, the quality or price position of the product or service or even how well your people feel supported by their manager, colleagues or other departments will reduce performance.
  • Reward Strategies.  It could be the way you manage your people. Do they feel valued and appreciated? If there is a perception that others are valued more, then this ‘treatment’ will lead to a sense of unfairness and unhappiness and lower productivity – or worse.
  • Systems and Processes that make it hard for people to do their job can be immensely frustrating.  Whether I am trying to win business, serve customers or support the internal teams I want to feel like I have the tools to do my job well.  ‘Fighting the internal systems and processes is frustrating and reduces productivity. Worse still, you’ll lose your good people.
  • Measurement.  When you measure the wrong things, you not only drive the wrong behaviours and limit your performance, you seriously p*** off your people.  They don’t get it and you end up creating value destroying processes just to report on the wrong things.

Facing one of these issues is bad enough, but more than one and you’re in big trouble!

Ask yourself – to what extent …

… is your peoples’ mindset focused on ‘how to’?

… is the way you reward and acknowledge their contribution motivating them?

… are your systems and processes enablers for your people?

… do you measure the things that add the most significant value to your business?

Thinking Focus specialises in transforming business performance by unlocking potential in people.  Why not give us a call to discuss your current situation and how we can help? You can also tune in to our podcast series – ‘The Question is…’ available now on iTunes.

 

How can you motivate your team more effectively?

 

Ever wondered if there was anything you could do to motivate your team to achieve the goals and tasks that they have been set?

Ricky and Paul ponder this by exploring how relevance and purpose can be used to engage and motivate.

Ownership is key when it comes to approaching tasks or goals with energy, enthusiasm and passion. In the podcast, Ricky and Paul discuss the importance of giving a team clarity about what they are working on and outlining the purpose. Sometimes, leaders can too easily become caught in the detail of what needs doing but the focus needs to be on the vision and getting people to buy into that vision.

They explore how the issue of relevance is key to motivating a team. It’s important to make sure everyone knows how they fit into the bigger picture. How is it relevant to them and the wider organisation? Ricky and Paul consider how at work some people can be on auto pilot: they do what is asked of them very well but don’t see the connection to the bigger picture.

By giving people a level of autonomy, we can give them the freedom to express themselves and go after goals in their own way. They can deliver them in the way that feels most appropriate and bring a different perspective into the equation. Ricky and Paul refer to the book Drive by Dan Pink which looks at this issue in more detail.

The pair conclude their discussion by breaking the process of motivating a team more effectively into five steps: clarity, purpose, involvement, autonomy and ownership. We are likely to see real benefits and value if we can get people to own the task or goal. This will be apparent in the way they apply themselves and have a knock-on effect when it comes to the wider aspirations of the organisation.

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on ITunes.

Is your CI Team the problem with your CI programme?

A UK food manufacturer was looking at investing in a formal Lean and Six Sigma programme, as they believed that they had done everything they could to optimise their plant. Across the business, there was evidence of people operating in silos, and a fragmented attitude towards Continuous Improvement with a perception that CI was purely for the manufacturing process.   The business driver was to continually find year on year savings.  The challenge was that they believed no further savings were possible.

Why is having a dedicated CI team such a problem?

Typically, businesses invest huge amounts in business improvement methodologies. They create a CI team to drive the improvement agenda seeking to save money on their production and processes. The trouble with that is that the rest of the business sees them as the owners of CI.

By having a team dedicated to CI, you inadvertently create abdication amongst the rest of your business. Your people look to your CI team to solve problems, own the reporting and expect them to take the heat when the benefits of CI do not materialise as expected. After all, you created the CI team to ensure your CI investment pays off. CI is cultural, adopted at all levels of the business. Everything you do needs a CI lens to look at process optimisation, waste reduction and process improvement. You need an environment where everyone can and are encouraged to get involved in the improvement agenda.

What are their limits? 

The CI team have limited reach. When they intervene, they are dependent on the individual or team adopting the revised approach. Much will depend on how they manage the change process. The CI team have the process knowledge but do they have the change skills to take people with them? Are the CI team fighting the culture, the business mindset? Your CI team become frustrated at a lack of support, perceived or real. The overall impact means the business loses out on many levels. You do not realise efficiencies and savings; waste is created by people not being engaged effectively and leaders go looking in the wrong place for reasons.

Back to the food manufacturer

Let’s get back to that food manufacturer. The issue was that their culture was not one where CI was central to everyone’s role.

How did they solve it? They developed a programme which brought together cross-functional teams to tackle seven business projects. The leadership team sponsored the key projects and the project groups were equipped with mental models and tools and then challenged them to apply them to the business. They created an environment where people felt able to have a go.

The impact was a real cultural shift. 

The CI team became enablers, not owners of CI. They provided expertise but didn’t own the problem. In just 90-days they have not only identified over £500k of savings across the business, but improved engagement, streamlined processes, and freed up almost 30 hours a week by removing duplication.

 

Are you getting the bang for your CI buck? If not, I recommend you look at how your CI team operate. A CI team who act as enablers in a culture where the whole business owns CI will unlock huge productivity gains and better still your people will own it! A CI team who own the CI agenda will never realise the potential that exists in your business.

How does visualisation help goal defining?

Is visualisation an effective goal defining technique, or is it just day dreaming.

If you have big goals or aspirations, visualisation can be a very effective technique.  Rob discusses with Ricky how you can use your imagination to define your future.

None of us know what the future holds but visualisation can be a helpful way of gaining clarity and harnessing our imaginations. Rob and Ricky begin by exploring how some goals are clinical and straightforward, set targets for example. But bigger goals focused on the future require a different approach and this is where visualisation comes into play.

They explore the issue of retirement as another example. Many people can talk very precisely about their retirement even though it may be as far off as 15 years away. To have such clarity, they must have thought about the matter a lot and be very motivated about what retirement is going to bring them. Essentially, they have achieved a level of clarity through visualisation.

Rob and Ricky go onto explore how visualisation has a couple of elements: the first is clarity and the second is focusing on what we want to achieve. By using our imaginations to build a picture of the future, we can define our goals.

Senior Managers will often spend a lot of time thinking about the future. Rob and Ricky explore how they can bring that visualisation to life, enhance their passion and energy, to take the rest of the team on the journey.

Visualisation helps us to turn off rational or scientific thoughts and tap into our imagination enabling us to work towards something we really want to achieve at a future point. To all sense and purposes, it’s about sketching a picture and then giving others the opportunity to add colour and fill in the gaps.

How can you write goals for things that are touchy feely?

 

Some goals are easy to write down, they have clear defined outcomes.  However, goals for feelings, such as confidence, or for perceptions such as relationships or expectations are much harder to articulate.

In this episode, Rob explains to Richard how you can use a benchmark within SMART to create clear simple goals around these harder to define areas.

When it comes to the best approaches for writing down goals around emotions and feelings, there are still useful techniques that can be applied. Rob explains to Richard how you can use a benchmark within SMART – specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time related – to help you achieve a written down goal.

But how do we measure something that is a feeling or a perception? Rob explores how a useful technique is to consider the feeling on a scale of one to ten and then apply a numerical figure. For example, you may judge your feelings to be 4/10 at this moment in time but where do you want to be on the scale by a particular date?

Rob and Richard discuss how this approach allows us to write the feeling down in a SMART goal format: by this date… I will have…. improved to a specific number.

Rob adds that it’s important to use our imaginations. For example, on the scale we know what 4 feels like right now but how much would we like it to be? What would this feel like? We may feel an improved level of confidence in specific situations.

It’s fair to say goals around feelings are more difficult to write but as Rob and Richard explain in the podcast, there are useful methods that enable us to put these to paper.

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on ITunes.