Psychological Safety and Routine Thinking

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

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

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

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

How do we tear ourselves away from routine thinking?

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

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

Why should we do this?

Simple answer: for efficiency and effectiveness.

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

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

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

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

Can this be more than Silicon-Valley Fantasy?

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

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

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

As leaders, there is an interesting choice

…do you:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Isn’t it time you changed how you recruit?

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

Recruiting for change

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

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

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

So, how can you change the way you recruit?

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

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

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

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

 

We’re Growing So That’s OK. Isn’t it?

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

So why wasn’t I impressed?

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

“Around 40%,” he replied.

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

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

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

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

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

Isolating the interference

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

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

Putting the barriers in boxes

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

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

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

Think differently

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

So ask yourself:

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

Why not try the 3  step process for yourself?

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

Why your current situation isn’t the problem

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

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

It’s a problem, right?

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

Ask yourself – to what extent …

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

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

… are your systems and processes enablers for your people?

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

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

 

5 fears that WILL lose you the sale

More often than not, it isn’t what we say that loses us the sale – it’s how we think.

Sales, more than any other profession, plays with our minds and at certain critical moments during the sales process we are particularly vulnerable to talking ourselves out of a sale. Subconsciously, fear can distort our thinking during these decisive stages which is why having an awareness of how our minds work can make the difference between success and failure.

Be honest, have you ever caught yourself thinking any of the following?

  • I’ve got a new lead but what if it’s a waste of time?
  • I’m about to become one of those irritating sales calls but hey, it’s another appointment to add to the log.
  • Our product isn’t the best on the market and it probably won’t be what they’re looking for.
  • They’ve gone quiet – we must have been too expensive …
  • … or maybe they’re talking to someone else?

As sales people we are great story tellers. This is how we convince our prospects that we can solve their problems. It’s also how we talk ourselves out of a sale. Whenever we’re persuading ourselves or someone else of our point of view we go looking for evidence to back it up. What really matters is where we look for that evidence.

Our minds are powerful and use all our senses to store multiple experiences on the hard drive that is our subconscious.   Our subconscious is incredibly complex and I do not pretend to understand the inner workings but if you want to learn more get a copy of Incognito by David Eagleman, he knows his stuff. For the purposes of this argument, we simply need to be aware that the subconscious stores experiences and emotions associated with those experiences.  Within the subconscious filing system are ‘folders’ where we store habits, beliefs, cultures and biases.

Although we store our take on reality, it is not necessary the truth, although we will be convinced that it is exactly as we remember. When faced with a new, scary or challenging situation, the way we’re feeling at the time will influence which subconscious files and folders our conscious mind chooses to access.

Conversely, these files and folders will inform how we feel going into a sales situation.  Contained within them will be the culture of our company and sales team, our biases relating to prospects, products and services, past sales experiences and beliefs about our capability and ability to deliver what the prospect wants.

So what can we do about it?

As we’ve already acknowledged, a seller’s mindset can be their best asset, but it can also be their undoing.

Developing a winning mindset relies on us revisiting the way we think at critical moments in the sales process.

Listen to the voice in your head

Is it being helpful or unhelpful? What many of us don’t realise is that we can choose how we think – in other words, what our inner voice is telling us.

If you start thinking about the negative reaction you might get when you make a call, you’re not going to have the right mindset to maximise the impact of your sales message during the conversation. When it comes to discussing price, the wrong mindset can leave you wide open to cost challenges and a lack of conviction. Assuming you’ve managed to seal a deal, the way you think will influence your ability to ask for referrals. Are you being a bit cheeky or do you feel you’ve done a great job and have earned it?

Changing your thinking takes time and the first step is simply being aware of how you think in different situations. By taking control of your thinking,  you can develop a winning sales mindset.

 

 

What is the value of a growth mindset to business?

 

 

 

Having the right mindset is often talked about in companies, but how can a mindset make a difference to results.

Paul and Ricky discuss how a growth mindset can help deliver better results, allowing individuals and teams to grow and learn from their failures as well as their successes.

 

The idea of mindset comes from the psychologist, Carol Dweck, following extensive research on achievement and success. In the podcast, Paul and Ricky explore how people often approach the world with one or two different mindsets. A growth mindset allows you to see the world as abundant and to have the ability to grow and learn from situations. In a fixed mindset, people will tend to have a more emotional reaction and look at the world in a very specific way.

In business scenarios, Paul and Ricky discuss how it can be very useful to promote a growth mindset. In the 21st century, modern economy things are changing all the time so can we really afford to have a fixed mindset? They go onto consider the benefits of a growth mindset. Fundamentally, it allows us the ability to learn from failure as a group, individual or organisation. People with a fixed mindset may use up a lot of time, energy and resource when they could be moving forward.

It’s possible for many of us to have a combination of the two but how do you achieve a growth mindset in an organisation? Paul and Ricky examine how leaders have an important part to play, for example, in the way questions are asked. If a mistake occurs, the first question many people might ask is why it happened? This will need to be considered, of course, but someone with a growth mindset will ask what can we learn and take away for the future?

Paul and Ricky conclude their discussion by looking at how a growth mindset in the world of business can help deliver better overall results because it allows forward thinking to thrive.

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

 

So Why is Great Service So Hard to Come By?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I put it down to two things:

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

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

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

Why we dread difficult conversations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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