Improving workplace productivity, step 3: The cost of interference

If I told you that you were only performing at 60% of you, would you want to do something about it?

Once you got past the emotional reaction of feeling criticised (“Who is this guy?”, “Who is he to challenge me?”), it is likely you will feel the need to justify yourself. You’ll probably point out how hard you and your team are working and highlight your performance versus your targets and KPIs.

But this is not about targets and KPIs, this is about potential.

It is not my intent to criticise; I am instead challenging the way you see the world. I see it in every client we work with, and it sits at the heart of our Thinking Focus belief statement:

We believe that people, teams and business units underperform, not because they want to, not because they mean to, but because they can’t get out of their own way!

Every day you and your people face challenges and constraints, either self-imposed, real or perceived. Your people face systems and processes designed with the best intent yet which fail to empower them to deliver greatness, forcing compliance and restricting innovation and creativity, all in the name of consistency. Well, guess what: the only consistency is your people consistently underperforming and not reaching their potential!

In over a decade of working with clients across the world, I and my colleagues at Thinking Focus have noticed the startling reality that, when asked, people in all businesses state that ‘interference’ (the stuff that gets in our way) amounts to an average 40%. Yes, 40%! Which means that, if this is true, people are performing at an average of just 60%!

While I accept that this observation is hardly scientific, the consistency in what more than 200 clients have reported to us over all these years is uncanny. Moreover, a CIPD survey suggested the exact same number, give or take 1%. It would seem that our anecdotal findings are actually supported by an external reference point!

So we know there is a problem, now let’s look at what can you do about it.

Here are three things you can do to get started, and they won’t cost you a penny or a huge amount of time:

1. Quantify the size of your problem or opportunity

The key here is not to get to focused on the number, but instead to look for the opportunity. Dig beneath the surface. One obvious thing to do, which is rarely done, is to ask your people what it is that gets in the way of them doing their best work. So ask them:

  • What ‘interference’ do they have to deal with every day? Get them to externalise it but don’t justify, defend or seek to fix it at this point. Your goal is to understand the issues
  • Can you quantify this interference as a percentage? Ask them how much it affects their ability to perform at 100% of their potential
  • Use this as a rudimentary guide, to size your problem/opportunity

So, for example, if they suggest that the ‘interference’ is at 35%, this means that they are performing at 65% of their potential. Ask them what impact a 1%, 2% or 10% shift would have on their performance. Is it worth fixing? If yes, go to step 2.

2. Review the ‘interference’ list

Invite your people to review the list of ‘interference’ and ask them to focus on just three right now; three that could add the greatest value with least effort. In essence, identify the ‘low hanging fruit’ which will eliminate, improve or mitigate the impact of ‘interference’. Then invite volunteers to pitch up and take on the challenge to fix one.

3. Let them go!

Now, support them, provide time and resources, and let them go unlock some potential for you. This is important as you are empowering them to own the problem and fix it. It also means that any long term solution will be owned by them and will likely lead to wider adoption of their solution than any imposed by management.

There are many benefits from adopting this approach, including:

  • There is a cathartic release from sharing ‘interference’
  • Your people feel listened to
  • They feel included in the choice of priorities
  • Your people feel empowered to improve their world
  • Ownership will increase as they go fix it
  • Business performance improves

I am not sure I can see a reason not to, can you?

Improving workplace productivity, step 2: How interference affects productivity

In our last blog Improving workplace productivity, step 1: Recognising interference we looked at the different constraints within the workplace that stop individuals and teams being as productive as they can be.

We talked about how this interference can be either organisational or self-imposed, and discussed the importance of recognising interference as the first step to improving productivity.

In this blog, we’ll take a look at how important it is not just to identify these barriers, but to understand just how interference affects productivity.

Regardless of whether the constraints to productivity are organisational or self-imposed, all forms of interference have the same effect. Here are just some examples of how interference affects productivity:

  • It slows down our rate of work, which causes frustration
  • It causes us to repeat work tasks and processes, leading to inefficiency and wasted effort
  • It creates mistakes, meaning that valuable resources need to be used to rectify the mistakes
  • It causes us to avoid doing things, which means that potential deadlines can be missed and work is not completed on time
  • It creates stress, which can ultimately result in absenteeism
  • It causes a feeling of isolation and anxiety about doing the right thing, which means that we don’t achieve our best result
  • It can lead to poor decision-making, lack of clarity and ambiguity, all of which means that we don’t actually complete the work required to the standard that was asked of us
  • It causes tensions and protective behaviour by individuals within teams, leading to disagreements or arguments, and people avoiding responsibility and not taking ownership
  • It creates the need for more supervision or management of tasks and people, which means that the amount of management time and resource increases
  • It can become a talking point among individuals and teams, rapidly turning into moaning, fault finding and finger pointing – during which time less work is actually being done
  • It can create a perception of unfairness when a person or team doesn’t seem to ‘suffer from’ the same interferences as another person or team, which in turn creates gossip, rumour and a culture of blame

Thinking Focus works with organisations to identify and remove barriers to productivity, helping teams and business units achieve their potential. Read more here about our approach to unlocking productivity.

Improving workplace productivity, step 1: Recognising interference

When your people are not being as productive as they could be, it can be frustrating and sometimes puzzling, both for you and for them. The potential is there but the performance is falling short – and you have no idea why.

At Thinking Focus, we sometimes find it helpful to refer to the things that stop us achieving our potential as interference. In the book ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ the author Timothy Gallwey proposed that performance (Pe) is equal to potential (Po) minus interference (I), or Pe = Po – I. We use this equation to help individuals and teams to get an idea of just how much interference is getting in the way. As potential is always 100%, if you think you’re only performing at 70% of this, then interference levels equate to 30%.

We believe that removing interference enables people to think and work differently, gives them purpose and helps them enjoy their job. All of which leads to higher productivity, smooth transitions during times of change, and sustainable results.

The first step to removing interference is to recognise it. So, what exactly is it? In the work place, it can fall into one of two categories: organisational or self-imposed.

Organisational interference

This covers any constraints to productivity that come from the organisation itself, and which slow down and sometimes even stop work processes.

Examples of organisational interference are:

  • Outdated processes, that could be improved or replaced
  • Legacy IT systems that don’t connect or integrate with each other
  • Silo working – isolated or non-collaborative work teams
  • Assumed rules or ways of working
  • Inconsistent leadership and management
  • Internal politics, due to hierarchies or individual power-play
  • Unhelpful competition between departments

Self-imposed interference

This refers to internal constraints that an individual puts on themselves and which prevents them from being as productive as they could be. Each person has different elements of self-imposed interference, and some have more than others.

Examples of self-imposed interference are:

  • Attitude, belief and mindset
  • Assumptions about how we work or are expected to work
  • Waiting for permission to do things
  • Expecting to be told what to do and how to do it
  • Lack of confidence, low self-esteem, and self-doubt

Thinking Focus helps teams and business units become more productive by identifying and removing interference. Read more here about our approach to unlocking productivity.

Like this? Why not take a look at our next blog, Improving workplace productivity, step 2: Recognising how interference affects productivity, for more on this subject.

Five traits you will find in all the most productive organisations

If, like us, you are lucky enough to work with exceptional companies, you cannot help but look behind what makes them the success they are. And you discover that their success is not an accident but is rather down to obsessive execution underpinned with core disciplines.

From our research and observations, Thinking Focus has identified five traits you will find in all the most productive organisations. These guiding principles can be applied by any organisation to enable their people to be productive in the right way. They also form the basis of our 5Cs Results Model, which we use in our work with a range of forward-thinking organisations to help them accelerate business growth, embed change or transform culture.

  1. Purpose and Clarity

The most productive organisations we’ve worked with regularly reinforce purpose and clarity within all their people. A clear and compelling purpose – the ‘why’ we do what we do, aligned to what we do – is consistently shared and communicated, so everyone has a common clarity of vision. This increases effectiveness as people work to their greatest level of contribution in order to help achieve the big picture.

Take note, though, not to confuse being efficient with being effective. We have worked in, and with, organisations where people were highly efficient and executed their tasks promptly and to a high standard. The problem was, they were not working on the right things!

As a leader aiming to help your people be as productive as possible, challenge yourself: Is it efficiency or effectiveness you’re after? You are likely to have efficient people, but do they understand why they are doing what they are doing? If not, revisit your purpose and get them focused on doing those things that will achieve that purpose.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins shares the importance of getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus, which sounds spot on to me. However, he goes on to say that those right people are the ones who buy into your purpose, not your plan. This means that if, as is often the case, the plan needs to change, those right people will remain committed to the vision and the higher purpose that drives everything you do.

  1. Collaboration

In our work, although we shouldn’t be, we are always surprised by how much internal politics, assumptions and egos get in the way of productivity. The cultural environment is set up to be adversarial, which is not conducive to delivering the strategy. So many senior leaders will argue that they achieve the outcome they wanted, but we often wonder at what cost to their teams. What underlying damage has been caused and what is hidden from view that challenges the definition of productivity? Is the focus on the short-term nature of business and the need to deliver results or is it on the long-term performance of the company?

If I refer back to Jim Collins, he shares ‘level 5 leadership’. Level 5 leaders build with the next generation in mind, they are ambitious and focus on the success of the company ahead of themselves. The level 5 leader is obsessed with sustained results and will do whatever it takes to get to great.

In our experience, companies whose leaders collaborate more effectively achieve more significant results, and we have seen those indicators of level 5 leadership where the focus is always on the higher purpose.

  1. Capability

When we talk about capability, most people think of training but it’s actually much more than that as Paul Matthews, author of Capability at Work, explains:

  1. Knowledge – do I (the worker) have the knowledge to do what is required?
  2. Skills – am I (the worker) able to apply myself to do what is required?
  3. Mindset – do I (the worker) believe I can do what is expected of me?
  4. Physiology – am I (the worker) able to do what is required physically?
  5. Environment – have we (the company) provided the right systems, processes, tools, management support and culture for our people to perform effectively?

In our experience, the organisations that develop more productive workforces and the ones who recognise that there is a need for a balanced assessment of capability. The inclusion of ‘environment’ in the list above is significant and its notable that the onus here is on the company. It is no surprise that the elements that make up the environment are key to engagement, and that the link between engagement and productivity is long since proven.

  1. Capacity

The topic of bandwidth is a perennial one. Most teams will argue they are at full capacity whereas most leaders believe there is scope to do more. The reality probably lies somewhere between the two!

However, the most important thing here is to be clear about what we have on the agenda and why. Does the list pass the purpose test, will doing ‘it’ enable us to achieve the higher purpose? If not, it should not be on the list at all.

Warren Buffet invests much time deciding what makes this list and what doesn’t make his list. There is no ‘We will have a go if we get the time’ list or ‘Let’s spend a bit of time on it’ list. It either makes the list, or it doesn’t; there’s no half way house. Leaders are paid to make big decisions, to choose what strategy we should back and why. Indecision leads to a straddled strategy which is trying to be all things to everyone. In our experience, companies who have followed the mantra of ‘If we could only do one thing?’ are more productive and effective.

  1. Commitment

Commitment is a set of tests or questions which should be asked on a regular basis. This provides a navigational check in the context of an organisation’s vision and strategy to see whether the current plan is going to hit the mark.

  1. Is our purpose clear, compelling, and understood by the business?
  2. Are we collaborating in the most effective way?
  3. Have we developed the capability of our people to achieve our goals?
  4. Are we choosing to focus our resources on the right things?
  5. Are we committed to this vision (are the right people on this bus)?

These questions all elicit a deliberate Yes/No answer, with those who adopt level 5 leadership using the ‘No’ answers as opportunities to fix it on their journey to greatness.

It is worth noting that level 5 leaders show humility and are more likely to be cautious in their evaluation, rather than deluded or over-confident.

Thinking Focus shortlisted in Learning Awards

Thinking Focus has been announced as a finalist in the Learning Awards 2019, a prestigious celebration of outstanding achievement in workplace learning and development.

The company, which was founded in 2016, was among hundreds of entries from companies across the world, and is vying for the title of Start-Up Learning Provider of the Year alongside five other organisations based both in the UK and abroad.

Ricky Muddimer, a director at Thinking Focus, said: “We’re delighted to be shortlisted in the Learning Awards and to be recognised for our achievements since setting up the company just over two years ago.

“The last couple of years has seen Thinking Focus win 49 new clients, work on assignments in 12 countries and across 21 sectors, and meet, work with and develop well over 2,000 interesting and inspiring people. We’ve also taken on our first employee, produced a book and created a gamified learning product called What Would You Do? which helps develop managers in a way that makes learning stick.

“But what gives us the biggest buzz of all is seeing how our work delivers impact, and hearing our clients report fantastic results.”

Run by the Learning Performance Institute, the Learning Awards are a leading event in the learning industry, and recognise outstanding examples of high standards, best practice, innovation and excellence in the corporate L&D sphere. Around 400 people will attend the glittering presentation evening at the Dorchester Hotel, London, in February next year.

Thinking Focus are people productivity specialists who work with organisations around the world to unlock productivity, implement change and deliver sustainable results. Using a flexible and practical tools-based approach, combined with their proven psychology-based methodology, they focus on developing growth mindsets to enable people to think and work differently, and to help them define a clear and shared vision.

Ricky added: “We’re so proud that our hard work, innovation and growth has been recognised in these prestigious awards, and would like to thank all those who have helped, inspired and supported us: We couldn’t have done it without you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why a growth mindset is key to productivity

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

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

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

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

How to instil a growth mindset in your people

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

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

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

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

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

Living with Uncertainty

Look around you. What can you see?

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

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

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

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

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

Worrying doesn’t help

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

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

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

Preparing for Brexit

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

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

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

Accepting uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, get on with it… take action.

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

We’re all in the same boat

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

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

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

I suppose there is some certainty in that.

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

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

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

Tackling difficult conversations: it’s all a game

Do you avoid difficult conversations?

You’re not the only one: research shows that many of us opt out of having conversations where there’s a feeling of confrontation.

We worry that we’ll say the wrong thing and make the situation worse, our imagination creates a whole host of scenarios as to how they will react or we simply don’t like feeling uncomfortable, so we delay the conversation or worse ignore it all in the hope the problem will go away.

It’s easy to allow ourselves to believe that going into conflict will create a cost to our business – but avoiding it is more costly. It leaves problematic situations to run unchecked and limits your productivity in the short and long term.  Colleagues know you have shirked it and are dissatisfied that you have let them off the hook!

Stop making excuses

If we’re honest, most of us find ourselves putting off those difficult conversations, and we often do it in very similar ways. We come up with justification for our lack of action: “I’ll see if it sorts itself out”, “it might just have been a one-off” or even “it’s better if they work out for themselves where they’re going wrong”.

Essentially, they’re all excuses for avoiding a conversation we don’t really want to have. Recognising when you’re doing this is vital – only then can you stop yourself in your tracks and decide to take action.

Make it a real conversation

Of course, once we do resolve to tackle the situation and have the difficult conversation, we can still run into problems. One of the most common we see in our work is that people try to control the conversation: they prepare for it and plan it out so thoroughly, it’s no longer really a conversation.

For the person on the receiving end, that can be a very negative experience. They don’t feel heard and they aren’t involved in working out how to move forward, so they’re unlikely to engage with it. As a result, the problem isn’t really resolved, resentment starts to build and it’s likely it will all spill out again in future – and will probably be worse than the first time around.

It’s natural to want to feel prepared, but accepting you can’t predict or control the whole thing is an important part of dealing with difficult conversations. You need to listen to the other person and you need to take on board their ideas for improving the situation. You don’t have to have all the answers on the spot, but it’s vital to come back to them with a solution that reflects what they have told you and shows they have been heard.

That may sound like it’s easier said than done. However, there are plenty of ways to improve your confidence in dealing with conflict and ensure everyone comes out of a difficult conversation feeling positive.

The importance of dealing with conflict

According to research by ACAS, 81% of businesses said conflict has a negative impact on performance, 75% said it wastes management time, and 44% said it costs the company money. Yet as few as 61% of businesses said managing conflict was a priority and only half of organisations offered training in conflict management to their leaders and managers.

So companies which help equip their managers to deal with conflict will almost certainly feel the benefit.

Training people to have difficult conversations

You might think there’s no substitute for experience when it comes to getting better at those difficult conversations, but you can train people to be better at them. The key is to do it in a way which is easy to translate to real life so they can use the skills they learn once they’re back in a workplace situation.

Our game-based learning tool, What Would You Do?, is designed to do exactly this. It uses real-life scenarios to get people thinking not just about the best way to tackle a difficult situation, but also how their mindset influences their behaviour and the results they can achieve.

They can debate the merits of different approaches, discuss how their teams might respond to each, and bring in real-life examples of similar problems they have faced. The game encourages people to look at all the options, including their own role in both creating and resolving conflict, and weigh up the best way to proceed.

Creating an atmosphere where those conversations can happen

The beauty of the game is how well it translates to real life. Throughout development, we saw how managers – even those who had been identified as struggling with their role – took on learning from the game scenarios and began to improve their day-to-day approach. Companies testing the game told us it was more effective than any other tool they had tried.

The key is in giving managers the skills they need for real life – not just box-ticking in a training room. By letting them explore the potential impact of different approaches, they begin to learn for themselves that they can achieve more positive results by tackling things differently. This switch in mindset happens steadily during the training process, but it sticks: back in the workplace, their behaviour is immediately improved.

When managers feel confident in handling difficult conversations, they won’t shy away from inviting them. They won’t allow problems to fester, and their team’s productivity is likely to be consistently high as a result.

Equally, if teams know they can take any problem to their manager and have a frank conversation with a positive outcome, they will feel more comfortable raising difficult subjects. Managers who have the skills to listen and engage effectively, and to take positive action, will have a happier, more engaged and more productive team.

Ultimately, there will always be difficult conversations to be had in the workplace, and it’s unlikely anyone will relish the idea of having them. However, equipping managers with the skills to take on any conflict and come out of it with a positive result will help to reduce the impact on the business when they do arise.

If you’d like to know more about how game-based learning could help your managers to take on those difficult conversations, click here, or contact us.

The Purpose Principle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding our own purpose

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

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

So, on a personal level: “Why?”

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

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

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

Developing your career

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

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

Passion for your work

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

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

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

Short-term goals and long-term purpose

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

For some of them it all feels a bit vague.

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

Finding your purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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