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.”

Are the best intentions of leaders accidentally stressing out the people they lead?

The ability for anyone to keep going in stressful times – that pool of energy that we have inside us that helps us to cope – has several names.

We might call it grit, resilience or hardiness, and it has been investigated by psychologists looking to understand why some people can cope better than others.

One of the most surprising things is that this capability is not fixed: it is something we learn and can be built up. Think of it like a large tank, like a water cooler or coffee urn.  As things happen, we open the tap, and some of our resilience drains away, enabling us to cope with ebbs and flows of life.  With practice and experience, we can learn to quickly fill up our tank, and even upgrade the tank size, making ourselves more resilient.

Research in the early 80s into hardiness identified the traits that help us top up the tank.  Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba identified three underlying beliefs or attributes that come together to create the pool of coping behaviours required. They called them the three Cs:

  • Commitment – This is all about being aligned to a purpose, having a belief in what you are doing
  • Control – a belief that you can influence your surroundings, make a difference to how events transpire
  • Challenge – that the struggles and pressures allow you to grow. This is as much from the bad things that happen as the good.

Increasing focus

This is where I think the problem lies. If you look at how leaders manage through times of change or when the ‘chips are down’, they become laser-like in their focus on what they want and how they can get it. That is normal. It is actually what negative emotions like fear and worry are designed to do: they reduce attention and focus it on the problem at hand.  Really useful when the problem was getting away from something that might eat you!

However, in modern working life, this focus can cause them to do three things:

  • They focus on the ‘what’. What needs to be done, what they want, what they want others to do. This focus on the ‘what’ drowns out the ‘why’, removing the connections that help people maintain or rebuild purpose through the difficult times.
  • They take control. It is just easier for everyone concerned if a small group make all the key decisions; everything will get done faster.  This is inevitable and probably the right thing to do for some key decisions, but it is never true for all decisions.
  • They only focus on the next problem. The conversation goes from one problem to the next, without ever taking stock of what has been done so far.  It starts to feel like that whatever is done will not be good enough, no learning, no gratitude.

Building resilience

So, if you want to be a leader that builds resilience and not be a walking cause of stress then think about how you might be able to consistently stimulate the three Cs.

  • Connecting people to the ‘why’. Partly this is about starting every ‘what’ conversation with reminders of the ‘why’.  However, to be successful at this you will have to help people make the connections between their role and the higher purpose of the team or organisation.  Some people do this naturally for themselves, but you should not leave it to chance.
  • Create opportunities for people to take back some control. You don’t need to make all the decisions, so focus on the ones you need to make and give up the rest.  If you need to, create choices for people so that they have a sense that they have a say in how this affects them, even if that means they get there in a less efficient way.
  • Stop and reflect. Remind the people around you how far you have come so far, and what that says about their skills and abilities.  This might be building in time for formalised structured reviews, but it can be as easy as asking a question that creates a moment of reflection.  Reminding people to think about their growth and learning will help them to build their resilience.

Just in case you think that the people around you just need to ‘man up’, then a word of caution.  If you allow their resilience to drain away, they will burn out.  This means that you need to pick up more of the responsibility, so you may be putting your own wellbeing on the line as well – unless you are lucky enough to have someone helping you recharge.

Is there a topic that leaders and teams just never talk about?

We get asked this all the time. The answer is yes: mental health.

The thing is, mental health is often such a taboo topic that we don’t even realise that it is not being discussed, we treat it like it does not exist.

It does exist, and it effects businesses every day in subtle and often hidden ways.  Research carried out by Mind (a UK-based mental health charity) identified that 1 in 5 people had called in sick because of stress in the workplace, and over half had resigned or considered resigning because of workplace stress.

If anything else had this impact on the bottom line of a business, there would be a project team and a war room!

So, as Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May 2018) is focused on stress this year, I want to talk about talking about it.

Stress, like all mental health issues, is not as easy to identify as physical illness. When someone walks into the office with the flu, that is easy to spot, so you can do something about it.  When they walk in feeling so stressed they are not sure if they can get to the end of the day, you may have no idea – the clues can be difficult to spot.

This is one of the main reasons that when it happens to you, very quickly you believe that you are the only one; there must be something wrong with you.  You are not – remember the research statistics: 50% of people have thought of quitting because of stress.  This is why it is so important to ensure that mental health or stress or wellbeing, or whatever you want to call it, gets discussed.  This is the first step to making things better.

I know this from personal experience.  I have been part of that 50%, feeling like I was failing, feeling like I had no more to add.  I was lucky though, I had managers and colleagues who were prepared to talk and, more importantly, were prepared to listen.

As I think back to those times, I appreciate that these were difficult conversations for them: they were terrified of getting it wrong or making it worse.  Even so, they took time out and listened, talked, shared some of their own fears and worries, but mostly they helped me put my worries and fears into perspective and put plans in place to resolve issues, so I could move forward.  They told me through their actions that they had my back.

At the heart of it all, they cared.  They cared enough to have a conversation that they were not comfortable with.  They cared enough to give someone else time when they were busy.  They cared enough because they thought that one day they might need someone else to care about them.  I am not sure I ever really thanked them enough, so I am left with the only other option, to pay it forward.

So, during this mental health awareness week, just talk about it.

Start the conversation, acknowledge the issue exists.  If we can start to talk openly about stress in the workplace, then together we stand a chance of fixing it.

Unconscious bias: The Starbucks dilemma

So Starbucks in America is closing all its stores for the day to undertake training on unconscious bias, following on from an incident in one of its stores.

Now, I am not going to comment or go into the incident itself – there are plenty of others doing that just fine.  I am more interested in the role of unconscious bias in all this.

Unconscious bias refers to a bias in our decision making that is happening outside of our awareness.  These biases are mostly helpful, but they can backfire on us, causing us to make inappropriate or just bad choices – such as the one that leads to Starbucks closing 8000 stores!

What is unconscious bias?

When people talk about unconscious bias they are actually talking about a whole range of different cognitive biases (and there are a lot), and specifically about the ones that lead to poor decisions.  These could be biases we have around issues such as age, race, gender, sexuality or disability, but they can also just as easily be biases in the workplace around seniority, education or even the roles that we do.

These biases have been learned by each of us over time, based on our experiences and environments, and act as cognitive shortcuts, helping us to make decisions. They are formed in our heads as part of the process of us working out who we are.

We create our own identity by becoming part of a groups. I am not talking about joining the local whatever club, but rather the way we identify ourselves as being like other people in an informal grouping. To define the group, some people need to be in it (in-group) and so some people need to be outside it (out-group).

We slowly learn to appreciate all the good things that being in the group offers, while at the same time noticing all the reasons why we would not want to be in the out-group, ensuring that we have made the right choice.  Each and every one of us is in lots of groups, and it is the mix of the groups that goes to the core of who we are.  This all happens outside of conscious awareness, so when this small and subtle biases kick in, generally we have absolutely no idea.

The psychologist Jonathon Haidt uses the wonderful metaphor for the mind of an ‘unconscious’ elephant with a ‘conscious’ rider. The rider is trying its best to influence and nudge the elephant into doing the right thing, but really the elephant is in control, making decisions that the rider then needs to explain away. Because these decisions happen outside of awareness, often the rider does not even know they have happened, so will act as if this a rational, thought-through decision, when it may not be.

By now, you are probably thinking, “So what? This does not affect me,” – but the thing is, it affects all of us, all the time.

Unconscious bias and diversity

Let me give you an example: if you are recruiting, unconscious biases will play out in who you pick. Clearly, if one person can do the job and the other does not have the skills, you will make a rational choice, but when all other things are equal, then the decision is made by the ‘elephant’.

Over time these biases mean that we end up making the same decisions over and over again. This is one of the main reasons why many organisations struggle with diversity in their senior ranks.

The best teams and organisations require diverse thinking and decision making.  We need leaders and managers who are making decisions not biased by their past, but made rationally about the organisation’s future. This is only possible when we acknowledge that everyone has unconscious bias, and without being aware of it, we can all make decisions that might not be in our, or our organisation’s, best interest.

Understanding the effects of unconscious bias does not stop it, but allows us to check our decisions, make allowances for the biases that we all have, and make better decisions. Starbucks thinks this is worth taking a day… Do you?

 

By the way, if you want to find out more about the unconscious biases you may hold, psychologist have developed a test. It is called an implicit association test, and it mixes up our views on different areas of bias, with language associated with good and bad. 

By mixing up these different categories and then measuring the difference in how quickly we can respond these tests identify areas of automatic associations between mental representations.  Or put it more simply, the test pokes below the conscious layer and gives us a glimpse of what we really think. 

You can find these tests online, such as the set produced by the team at Project Implicit.

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.

 

Isn’t it time you changed how you recruit?

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

Recruiting for change

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

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

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

So, how can you change the way you recruit?

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

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

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

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

 

The boss who took responsibility

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

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

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

So what had beaten her this time?

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

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

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

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

We explored the brutal facts but with a growth mindset.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I learnt from Gill

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

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

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

What if?

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

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

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

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

Do you need a reboot with your team?  

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

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

 

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.

 

So Why is Great Service So Hard to Come By?

Today I had two experiences that made me want to let off steam about customer service. Or rather, the lack of it. I feel I may have reached that age, the age where one turns into a grumpy old man. Some may argue that ship sailed long ago.

Please don’t tell my wife, but I visited a well known fast food chain for my breakfast, my weakness the sausage and egg McMuffin. I used the drive through and when I came to pay the server  was bright, bubbly and smiling. Wow, I thought.  She’s enjoying her day. Two seconds later I approach the main event, the bit where I get my snap. This server was the polar opposite. Efficient, yes, but very dour.

Later the same day, I have the misfortune of talking to my business bankers, an experience to behold. I interacted with a call centre, my online account and the online chat.

Let’s start with the online chat. I went through the entire process only to be told I would have to start again as this chat was not secure. That meant I had no option but to contact the call centre. Including the 15 minute wait to be connected this whole process took up an hour of my time.  All because they cannot communicate swiftly and efficiently. This gross inefficiency (or incompetence) is causing them and more importantly their customers to waste valuable time. All because they have failed to design their systems and processes with their customer at the heart.

To add insult to injury, I decided to give some constructive feedback (see paragraph one, grumpy old man). I presented my facts in four clear bullets only to be thrown off the page because I failed to complete my mobile number in the way they wanted. The contact form deleted everything on the page and forced me to start again, or abandon. So now, if transacting with them was not hard enough, complaining was even harder.

Now, banks will hide behind a load of rules and regulations. I know, I used to work in one, and that was over 20 years ago. I see nothing has changed.

Service is a lottery, and yet it is the one thing that all organisations have in their gift.

I put it down to two things:

1. The systems and processes make it impossible for the decent people in the service industry to deliver the service they can. The system disempowers them.

2. The engagement of their people is so poor that they have failed to communicate their vision and purpose in a way that their people can connect. If they don’t get why service is so important to the customer, then businesses are putting more than that customer at risk, the brand, future revenues and a lot more besides.

Of course, individuals can take ownership for how they behave but businesses, please stack the deck in your people’s favour and give them the tools to deliver, both they and your customers will thank you for it.

Why we dread difficult conversations

The ‘difficult conversation’ is something that, as managers, we all have to face up to at times in our careers. Whether it is having to tell someone that their performance is not up to scratch, having to share changes to the structure, process or work environment or let someone go, it can be a daunting prospect whatever your level of experience.

Why do we find it daunting? The answer lies in how you talk to yourself.

Your self-talk is the voices in your head; we all have them. You ask questions and say things about people, about the situation or yourself. These voices will either be helpful or unhelpful.

Is your self-talk working for you or against you? 

We are great imagineers; we play out given situations in our mind. We search our memory banks looking for examples from the past; we look to the future playing out the conversation with the person.

You imagine their reaction. You can almost see them vividly kicking off, crying, shouting or arguing. You remember similar situations and how others may have behaved/reacted to this type of news. This imagined future will create emotions and will position our state of mind.  Do we see this in a calm, rational way or how most of us see it: as difficult, challenging or potentially confrontational? Our imagination creates the story, the narrative of how we see the conversation going. It is this story that informs how we prepare. If we have imagined a difficult conversation, we are likely to go into it with a level of emotion, expectation and tension. Hardly the best preparation!

What can we do to prepare ourselves for these types of situations?

The great thing about your self-talk is that you can control it. You just need to programme it in the right way. If you find yourself in an unhelpful mindset, the simplest way to change that mindset is to ask yourself three questions:

1.     What could you say that might be more helpful?

2.     What memories could you recall that might be more helpful?

3.     What future could you imagine that might be more helpful?

These questions are part of the Thinking Focus Self-Talk Model, a mental model designed to help you to find ‘ingredients’ to create a more helpful mindset. You can harness the helpful mindset to prepare yourself better for the conversation you need to have.

 

We believe that individuals, teams and business units underperform. Not because they want to, not because they intend to, but because they can’t get out of their own way.

This may not be down to them; it could be the culture or work environment. Our experiences shape our mindset and work habits, often causing people to get stuck.