How to increase productivity by getting your team more engaged

When it comes to productivity, employee engagement is vital: only employees who have bought in to your ‘why’ will be giving their all to help achieve your aims.

When engagement and productivity leave something to be desired, it’s tempting to blame the employee: they haven’t understood, they don’t care enough, their motivation is lacking. However, based on our experience working with businesses across many sectors, we know it’s usually down to management’s failure to help them to engage.

Why are my employees unproductive?

If you’re struggling to get your team to produce the volume or level of work you know they’re capable of, you need to examine their motivation – and the biggest factor in that is their engagement.

When you set tasks or targets, you base these on your ‘why’ – the ultimate aim you have in mind for yourself and for the team or the wider business. You can see a clear link between the work being done and the end goal. Where many leaders fall down is in communicating this with the team they need to achieve it.

It’s true that, to some extent, people are self-motivating: the best employees will want the satisfaction of doing their job well.  However, if they can’t understand the part they play in the bigger picture or appreciate the ultimate aims of the business, self-motivation will not be enough to keep them working at their most effective.

In order to buy in to your ‘why’, employees also need to trust you – and to feel that you trust them. If you let them down, go behind their backs or demonstrate a lack of loyalty to them, they will never trust you and will therefore never engage with your aims. Building that relationship of trust is vital, and trusting them to understand and buy in to your aims is part of that.

What can I do to help my employees engage?

This is one of the questions that comes up most frequently in our work, no matter what the situation we’ve been asked to help tackle. While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, there are some simple steps any leader can take to improve engagement and lay the foundations for better engagement.

Honesty: Leaders often feel they’re doing the right thing by protecting their team from difficult situations and not sharing the full details of a challenge. Generally, the opposite is true. Employees are quick to realise when they’re being kept in the dark and it undermines their ability to trust their leaders. Wherever possible, share as much as you can with them about the wider picture – good and bad – and encourage their input in your plans for the future.

Be on their side: What people want from their managers is to feel they are supported and backed up. Managers need to listen and really hear what employees are saying, then act on it, even if that means taking issues to more senior management on their behalf.

Consistency: Following through what you say you will do is vital. Of course, it’s not always possible as circumstances change, but when that’s the case you need to go back and explain it to your team – taking us back to that point about honesty again. Consistency also means treating employees fairly and ensuring they know where they stand. There’s nothing more frustrating than a manager whose reactions are completely unpredictable.

Recognition: When team members perform well, make sure they know it has been noticed. We’ve all been in a position where we have slogged over a project and then felt our efforts haven’t even been seen – it certainly doesn’t inspire us to put as much work in next time. From a quick word to acknowledge individual effort to a team reward for a job well done, there are plenty of simple ways to make employees feel valued. Even the smallest acknowledgement can have a significant impact.

Development: Supporting team members to achieve their career goals is an important way to increase their engagement. Helping them develop skills in areas that will move them towards their ultimate aim, or putting them forward for opportunities that arise elsewhere in the business, will make them feel you are as invested in their future as they are. It’s a hard thing to do when you have a great team member as it may mean they move on to bigger things, but ultimately you will get more from an employee who feels you value them enough to support their future.

How can I get my managers to improve employee engagement?

Of course, it’s one thing to increase engagement with your own team, but getting managers at other levels to do the same with the people around them can be a bigger challenge.

There are ways to encourage managers to develop a more engaged workforce through training and development – and one of the most effective we have found is to use real-life scenarios. Asking managers to consider different ways of motivating their team and boosting engagement gets them to look at their current approach and consider whether it could be improved.

To support HR and L&D teams to do this, we have developed What Would You Do?, a game-based learning tool that can be used by any business. By posing challenges based on the real issues they may face in their day-to-day life and asking them to debate the merits of different responses, the game helps them not just to behave in the correct way in a training scenario, but to adjust their mindset and influence their thinking in the long term to give better results.

The result achieved through this approach have been impressive and the list of major companies turning to it as a training tool is growing by the day.

If you’d like to know more about how game-based learning could help your managers to develop a more engaged workforce, click here and read about What Would You Do?. To find out more about how it could be used in your business, contact us.

Important vs urgent: How to have a productive quiet spell

No matter what industry you work in, chances are you have periods when you have less to do.

For a lot of us, those quieter times occur routinely over the summer and at Christmas. These are typically the periods when many businesses are focused on covering staff holidays in the short term rather than embarking on longer term goals such as beginning new projects or making contact with potential suppliers. As a result, businesses across all sectors experience a quiet spell.

It’s common to panic at this point: having spare time is an uncomfortable feeling when you know how closely it relates to your bottom line. There’s a temptation to chase after short-term work just to keep busy, regardless of whether it fits your long-term aims.

But there’s a much better way you could continue to be productive during those quieter weeks.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Urgent vs Important square, is something we look at regularly with clients when we’re talking about productivity. It looks like this:

The Eisenhower Matrix or Urgent vs Important Square

More often than not, our time is taken up with work in the top left of the board – it is important and it is definitely urgent. Examples might include responding to clients’ needs or customer complaints, picking up new enquiries, giving instructions to your team or sorting out broken equipment. If you don’t complete them, there will be swift consequences: more complaints, a loss of business or unproductive time for your team.

Our natural instinct is to focus most of our time on this side of the square. The sense of urgency skews our perception of what is important and our workflow ends up being crisis-led: we’re constantly firefighting, rather than working strategically.

Often, when things are quieter, the urgent side of the square is taking up less of our time. Our first instinct is to turn to the bottom-right square: the non-urgent and unimportant tasks. Browsing the internet, wondering if you should get a new laptop bag or reading a magazine could all fall into this area. We don’t need to do them now, they’re not contributing to our productivity, but in those rare quiet periods it’s tempting to do something mindless and allow our brains to switch off.

Focus on Important but not Urgent

Instead, try turning your attention to the top right of the square: the important but non-urgent tasks. These are all the things which make a difference to productivity but for which there are no immediate consequences if they aren’t completed.

For example, strategic thinking and planning are often in this square – along with things like going to the gym. They are important to the business, or to your ability to work well, but there is no direct impact if you don’t do them. As a result, they are often put to the bottom of the list.

What’s your matrix?

When the quiet times hit, your first task should be to create your own Urgent vs Important Matrix. Focus on the Important side of the square and use it to be productive in areas that you often overlook because urgency pulls your attention elsewhere.

If you catch yourself saying, “I’d love to do that, but I never have time” – now is that time. Prioritise the tasks you never get around to but which might make a significant difference to your productivity during busier times. Using quiet spells to lay the foundations for a more efficient workflow or a tightly focused strategy will help you reap the rewards when the busier months return.

Why you need to take a summer holiday

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

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

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

Change the setting

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

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

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

Unleash the subconscious

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

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

The great outdoors

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

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

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

Accessing positive emotions

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

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

 

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

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

Five reasons your team are not productive

Do you wonder why your team are not as productive as they should be? Here are five ways you could be running your business with the handbrake on!

  1. Lack of Clarity

It may seem obvious, but for people to be productive, they need to have a clear understanding of what exactly is expected of them, what rules and boundaries they are supposed to operate within and what timelines exist.

Test it:  Ask your people to describe to you their goal. Are they specific; is there a calendar date?

In the absence of clarity we are effectively saying we don’t care where we end up!  Imagine telling your team we are heading north: exactly where will they end up?  Just one degree out at the start can lead to being miles off where we thought we would be by the time we arrive north.

  1. Absence of Purpose

People will add the greatest value when they connect to the guiding purpose.  They will generously give discretionary effort when they connect with a higher purpose. Look at volunteers for good causes: they gladly give their time for free!  Your purpose provides the sense check for every decision you make.

Test:  Ask your people to articulate their understanding of the organisational purpose.

Consider: how well have you articulated your organisation’s ‘why’? In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes the value of a corporate purpose.  Imagine recruiting your people with all your focus on the ‘what’. If, like many organisations, your strategy needs to change, the connection with the ‘what’ is lost and their commitment is now challenged. However, your purpose should never change and therefore a team recruited to connect with the ‘why’ will happily adapt to a change in strategy: they will see it as necessary to achieve the purpose.

  1. Lack of Autonomy

Being too prescriptive, restricting the space for your people to explore and decide ‘how’ they go about delivering their objectives will feel, for them, limiting and disengaging. This feeling will restrict productivity, and your people will only do what is asked and no more as they are not expected to think. Even in environments that are heavily process-driven to maximise consistency, reduce waste and optimise output, people can be allowed to solve problems or create space for them to work on other areas of the business.

Test:  Ask your people what frustrates them most about their work.

Look for opportunities where you can involve your people in improving the business, create mini projects for them to get involved in and make an impact on the company.  When set up in the right way, these can provide many benefits; engaged people, improve collaboration & teamwork and tangible business results.

  1.    Lack of Confidence

People will hold back or fail even to get started on their objectives when they lack confidence or feel others lack confidence in them. This sense, feeling or perception creates inertia and leads to a waste of time which could cause missed milestones and costly project delays.

Test:  Ask your people on a scale of 1-10 (10 is high) how confident they feel that they can achieve their goals. Look for a 6 or above.

A lack of confidence (a number of 5 or less) stems from ‘unhelpful thoughts’. These thoughts are based on assumptions, limiting beliefs and biases. They may not be founded in fact or reality yet we allow them to have debilitating effects on our performance. Externalising these thoughts is a crucial step to removing the interference they cause. This will require you to create an environment where people feel able to share concerns without feeling insecure or threatened.

  1.    Frustrating Environment

People get easily distracted, whether it’s internal politics, perceived unfairness in how colleagues are treated or the systems and processes driving them mad. While they are focused on these environmental factors, they cannot be entirely focused on delivering their objectives. As Peter Drucker said, “So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.”

Test:  Ask your people, if they had a magic wand, what three things would they wish for to make it easier to achieve their objectives.

Look out for these three areas:

–    Internal conflicts – a common cause of conflict is a lack of strategic clarity and purpose. It is this high-level perspective that enables priorities to be established and decisions to be validated. In the event of conflict, who wins out currently? Whose ego dominates?

–    Do your systems enable your people to do their job or do they perform in spite of them? Designing your systems around your people AND processes will enable them to be more productive.  How many workarounds exist in your business?  Have your people accepted and normalised these productivity killers?

–    Do the processes that you have spent time and money developing really exist and get followed, or are your people finding other ways to get the job done?  Have your processes been over-engineered to meet overzealous interpretations of rules and regulations?

The environment question provides an excellent source of potential value. Your people will happily tell you what’s wrong if given the opportunity – however, this comes with a health warning! Once you ask, you will raise expectations that things will change and whatever you choose to do with the feedback, above all, you must maintain an open dialogue about your decisions and the reasons behind them.

 

Thinking Focus works with teams and business units in organisations around the world, helping them achieve breakthroughs by enabling them to think differently. Our clients range from medium-sized enterprises to divisions of blue chip multi-nationals.

Working with teams on a specific issue, or across a business unit to drive productivity, we tailor the approach to deliver the desired outcome. We challenge teams to deliver accelerated behavioural change and performance improvements.

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

by Graham Field

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

How to motivate your employees and increase performance

by Graham Field

One of the greatest challenges that leaders face in the workplace is how to motivate their employees. How best do we inspire and support them to increase their performance?

There are many theories around employee motivation, but in the this blog we’ll be giving practical suggestions that all leaders can put in place immediately.

To start with, we’d recommend that leaders assess how much they understand their team members’ motivations. This can be done simply by drawing up a table like this:

Team Member: What Motivates Them? What Demotivates Them?
A:

B:
C:
D:

The challenge is for leaders to see how many individuals in their team they could honestly complete this table for. Our guess is that many would find it a struggle! High quality leaders know these basics and use this knowledge to actively motivate their people, avoiding doing the things that they know cause demotivation.

Let’s now turn our attention to three sources of thought which we think are important in employee motivation, engagement and performance.

  1. Gallup Q12

It makes sense for us to use this commonly-cited source as our starting point. Created by pollsters Gallup, it measures employee engagement and its impact on business outcomes by asking employees to complete a survey. The survey questions cover 12 areas of consideration, which we cannot directly quote because they are under copyright.

However, the questions look at areas such as expectations at work; rewards and recognition; opportunities and progression; relationships between colleagues; materials and resources; leadership and support; communication; belonging, purpose and mission; and quality of work.

Asking questions around these areas are really important and give us a great insight in to some of the motivating factors of all employees (ourselves included). But leaders then need to do something with the information they get from asking such questions.

In fact, they need to then answer some questions themselves! Examples of what they could think about are:

  • What could I do to ensure that all my people clearly understand what is expected of them?
  • How could I make praise & recognition a daily habit for my team?
  • What could I do to ensure everyone is constantly involved with driving the business forward?
  • What opportunities might I create for growth for my people?

And then, of course, they need to be proactive in committing to actions based on their answers to increase employee engagement and guarantee performance.

  1. Ohio University Research

In 2000, Ohio State University carried out research into Human Motivational Factors (the things that drive our behaviour). Their research highlighted 16 different basic desires that affect behaviour. We think five of these have the biggest impact in the workplace, so let’s look at each in turn:

  • Curiosity

This is described in the research as “our desire to learn”. For us, this is an important factor in employee motivation. Leaders need to think about their people and the opportunities for learning that are available to them. From our work with organisations, we recognise that many people are given (or forced in to) ‘opportunities’ through training programmes. But, how focused is this development in terms of both what they really need to be a high performer and what they really want for their own development?

As a leader, ask yourself: How could you ensure that the desire to learn is (appropriately) fulfilled in your people?

  • Independence

This is highlighted as “our desire to make our own decisions” and, in our experience, it’s something that many employees may feel divorced from. Leaders need to consider what opportunities exist for their team members to make decisions. It’s not necessarily always about what they do (these will, after all, reflect your team or company goals), but certainly about how they can achieve them. Many managers will highlight what they need people to achieve, which does give focus. But they will also insist on the way in which things must be achieved, and this can stifle creativity, limit continuous improvement and ultimately demotivate. High quality leaders understand that the ‘What’ may need to be told, but the ‘How’ should be within the gift of the employee to decide.

As a leader, ask yourself: What freedom could you give your people to enable them to decide how to achieve your team goals?

  • Honour (morality)

This is described as “our desire to behave in accordance with our code of conduct”. More simply put, it’s about ensuring that our values are met in whatever we do. Many people are demotivated by what they see as a lack of congruence between their personal values and how the company they work in is operating. One a leader’s roles is to understand the values of their people and help them to align these values with where their organisation is headed. As a leader, ask yourself: What could you do to ensure there is ‘values alignment’ for your people?

  • Power

Quite simply, this is “our desire to influence people”. It’s one of the more curious Human Motivational Factors, but it’s something that can be seen every day in the workplace as people strive to gain the buy-in of others for mutual success.

As a leader, ask yourself: How can you use influencing techniques with your team? (this is a whole different blog altogether!)

  • Order

Something that many of us desire is order – in other words, we crave the certainty and organisation that daily routine and habits give us. We all have things that we do in a certain order, and most of us strive to be much more organised and structured. The number of people we’ve helped with their time and personal management demonstrates how important order is to us. We’re big fans of giving supporting structures and certainties to people, as long as they work, bring about success and allow for individual involvement.

As a leader, ask yourself: What structures or order might your people need, and how could you ensure these are put in place to support your team?

  1. Ron Clark, former ‘Outstanding Teacher of the Year’ at Disney’s American Teacher Awards

We believe strongly that inspiration can come from many areas, and the story of Ron Clark shows us that, no matter what your walk of life, when you’re looking to develop the motivation to perform, there are some simple things you can do.

Ron was a teacher in in a tough New York school when he won his award in 2000. He went on to become a New York Times bestselling author and a motivational speaker on the subject of inspiring educators.

We’ve picked out three of the areas he highlights when talking about motivation in the classroom, which we think continue to be very relevant in the workplace.

  • Raising expectations

Setting stretching, yet achievable, targets works! People will generally perform to the level that’s expected of them. If we expect little of people, they will match our expectations. The flipside that we, as leaders, can embrace is expecting great things from our employees – and giving them the skills, tools and resources to enable them to meet our raised expectations.

As a leader, ask yourself: What expectations could you set that might challenge and stimulate your team?

  • Celebration and praise

It seems really easy – and really commonplace – for the negative stuff such as lack of achievements to be brought to the fore. But building in celebration and praise are essential tools in developing employee performance and maintaining motivation.

As a leader, ask yourself: What might you find today that you could praise and celebrate?

  • Have a genuine interest

We recognise that there is value in having an interest in your people – and, as Ron suggests, this should be a genuine interest. At the simplest level, this is being interested in the response to questions; really wanting to know the answer to “How are you today?”.

As a leader, ask yourself: How could you develop a genuine interest in your team, and how could you show that you really are interested in your people?

As leaders, there is no magic wand we can wave to increase employee engagement and performance. However, one thing we can do is to invest quality time in understanding what makes our people tick. This forms the very basis of any aspect of managing people, and is the building blocks of high performing teams.

We recommend taking time to invest in your people and find out what really motivates them. After all, they really are the best asset your organisation has.

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.

 

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?

 

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