Is it possible to lead without trust?

How important is trust for leaders?

Is it possible to lead teams without building trust between leader and followers, or is trust an essential leadership skill?

Rob and Paul explore trust in leadership relationships by exploring what trust is and how that impacts leadership when it is done well, and what happens when trust is missing.

Why am I suddenly so critical of myself?

All of us can be hard on ourselves sometimes, but when we are under pressure, or stressed, or like right now worn out after a difficult year, sometimes our inner critic can be very harsh.

In this podcast, Richard and Rob explore why this happens and some of the things that we might be doing that with a little awareness we can take control of and change our thinking to make it more helpful and hopeful.

How can I help team members who are feeling overwhelmed?

Lockdown just seems to go on and on, and even though the end is finally in sight, for lots of people it feels like this last bit might be the hardest.

If you have people in your organisation that look like they are running on empty, then in this podcast, Ricky and Paul will help you understand what might be causing this and provide practical tips to help you to help them.

How can I (and my team) become more resilient?

This year has been tough, leaving many people drained, some days struggling to find the energy to get through the day. Why have the last few months been so draining, and what can we do about it?

This time on the podcast, Rich and Paul explore resilience and discuss small changes that any of us can do to build our resilience back up. These simple strategies can be used to help ensure ourselves, our team members and even family and friends are better equipped to cope.

Why does this lockdown feel harder?

As lockdowns continue in many countries around the world, we wondered why this time feels so much harder than the first lockdown back in March.

With their change management heads on, Ricky, Richard and Paul talk about the factors that are causing us to struggle. 

We cannot promise any answers but hopefully can shed a little light on why we might all be feeling it a little more right now.

Are we learning from the best role models?

Introduction

Social learning theory (SLT) shines a light on how we start to learn as children and continue to learn into adulthood; we mimic and model the behaviour of others. Also, we are adept at modifying our behaviour for varying situations and within the different social groups we spend time within.

If we do learn from others and our environment; then who are your people learning from? What are they actually learning? What or who is influencing their behaviour?

What interests me is how organisations can leverage social learning for better organisational outcomes in their performance and culture.

In 2017 Thinking Focus was challenged by a global automotive manufacturer to help them to develop soft skills in their frontline manager population. They had several requirements: the solution needed to be flexible and run in short sessions to suit their operation; have minimal preparation time and use in-house skills; and it needed to be interactive, fun and without the formality of academic and theoretical references.

Our research into a possible solution led us to consider many options and it became clear that the modelling of behaviour and the effect that peers had on each other’s approach to work was a significant factor. This led to extensive market research and the creation of a solution that we called ‘What Would you Do?’ (WWYD).

WWYD has been carefully engineered with a blend of mechanisms that inspire behavioural change. It incorporates gamification to engage and motivate participants to get involved and stay engaged. It creates a psychologically safe space where participants can be vulnerable and feel comfortable openly sharing their experiences; both the good and not so good. A facilitator manages the discussion, to probe and ask questions (coach) and to help the group understand the thought processes behind the actions. It uses everyday situations (scenarios) to enable the safe exploration of implications and consequences, all in a group forum. Sessions conclude with reflection and public commitment to underpin micro-changes in behaviours.

WWYD is a learning solution that adopts the same fundamental attributes of social learning that we have all been naturally doing all our lives.

What is social learning theory?

Social learning is doing what we see, modelling our behaviours on the behaviour of others and our environment. We are like chameleons; able to adapt our behaviours in different social contexts. We learn this through observing the behaviours of others whether that be home or work, friendship, sport or social groups.

Our ability to develop and adopt new social behaviours, attitudes and emotional reactions comes from imitating the behaviours of our parents or peers. Social learning is based on the behaviour modelling theory, where people learn new things by observing others.

The psychologist Albert Bandura is Professor Emeritus of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University. Bandura considers humans to be active information processors, able to think about the relationship between their behaviour and its consequences. Humans possess the ability to choose, to intervene without merely imitating the behaviour of others.

In the 1960s Bandura undertook a series of experiments to understand the effects of observational learning on children’s behaviour. His findings underpin his 1977 theory, where children learn social behaviour through the observation of others. Children draw their behaviours from a variety of sources: parents and family members, friends and teachers, even fictional characters. These behaviours are interchangeable between boys and girls; they are not limited by gender.

When children observe others, they encode (the way we store information) the behaviour. They may then reproduce that behaviour later. However, the likelihood of them later imitating the behaviour is influenced by several factors.

Children are influenced by people who they consider to be like themselves; this is a factor in them being more likely to imitate behaviour modelled by others of the same gender.

Children are also influenced by the reaction of the people around them. When they reproduce a specific behaviour, how they are rewarded or punished will affect their likelihood of repeating the behaviour. Reinforcement is an important factor in influencing behaviour; this can be positive or negative. Reinforcement can be internal; a feeling of warmth when you do something that makes you happy. Or externally, from the recognition of others. Significantly though, it usually leads to a change in a person’s behaviour.

Children also consider how others are treated before deciding to model their behaviour. If they see the person positively rewarded, they are more likely to model that behaviour. The opposite is also true; if they see an adverse reaction towards a person’s behaviour, they are unlikely to repeat it. A person learns by observing what happens to others (known as vicarious reinforcement).

Children are more likely to identify with a role model when they possess a quality they aspire to have. Identification is different from imitation; imitation usually involves copying a single behaviour. Identification, however, consists of the adoption of a number of behaviours, such as values, beliefs and attitudes of the person with whom they identify.

How does SLT work?

SLT is considered by many as the bridge between traditional learning theory (behaviourism) and the cognitive approach. SLT focuses on how mental (cognitive) factors are involved in learning.

While Bandura agreed that classical conditioning (think Pavlov and his dogs) and operant conditioning (learning through reward and punishment) impact learning greatly, he also contributed two other ideas; mediating processes occur between stimuli and responses, and behaviour influenced by the environment through the process of observation.

Mediating processes are the cognitive intervention, where observed behaviour is not routinely followed but where cognitive reasoning takes place. In other words, our imitation of behaviour is not automatic. This mental evaluation takes place between the observed behaviour (the stimulus) and the decision to copy (the response) or not.

Bandura proposed four mediational process:

  1. Attention: The extent to which we notice or are exposed to the behaviour. We are exposed to many behaviours each day, and many don’t even register and therefore pass us by.
  2. Retention: Our ability to recall a behaviour. We need to form a memory of the behaviour to perform it a later time.
  3. Reproduction: Our capability to perform the behaviour as it was modelled to us. Our ability to reproduce is not always possible, for example if we are limited by our physiology.
  4. Motivation: Does performing the behaviour even register, in terms of importance? What rewards or punishments exist; do we consider it worth the effort?

WWYD was designed to meet all four mediational processes

Attention is captured in several ways:
• The format is group discussion – peers share experiences related to the debate.
• Scenarios are contextualised to the participant’s role- they are practical and not theoretical, presenting situations people can relate to.
• There is progress and jeopardy, which increases involvement. Tuning out, even briefly, could have consequences with a missed opportunity to score points or lose out entirely on the meaning of the discussion.
• Scenarios are set up to encourage debate; some have the added pressure of time constraints. An ‘against-the-clock’ feature causes cognitive conflict, self-doubt and the possible consequence of being frozen out of the round.
• The scoring range includes minus points – creating further jeopardy which increases concentration and engagement.

Strategies for retention:
• The socialising of experiences means that participants can use another’s experience to help prepare themselves for the model behaviour. They can learn from what their colleagues did well and where they struggled. Participants can also ask questions to develop their understanding further.
• The everyday situations are explored through debate. Participants test and probe ‘what if’ situations, their assumptions and biases and the implications of a course of action; as well as exploring what unintended consequences there might be.
• Each scenario offers up four options which are deliberately designed to be ‘imperfect’. This ambiguity causes cognitive conflict with the participant having to justify their choice.

Building capability for reproduction:

• Each scenario debated is concluded with a reflection step. Reflection is where the participants connect to the outcomes of the discussion. There is a debrief where participants determine what the desired behaviour should be. They are coached as a group by the facilitator, to consider the model behaviour for their organisation. The group decide what is and isn’t acceptable through reasoned argument.

Motivation: inspiration to learn and apply new behaviours

• The inclusion of gamification techniques both engages players to actively participate and it motivates them to stay the course. While scoring points is a factor, their main purpose is to keep participants focused and attentive. ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) and the friendly competition makes for a high energy session.
• At the end of each WWYD session, participants are invited to personally reflect on what they have learnt, sharing any realisations they may have had.
• Each participant is invited to publicly commit to one change in their behaviour in front of their peers. This public commitment is a psychological connection, a cognitive reinforcement which increases the likelihood of follow-through.

Seven reasons why you should be more interested in SLT.

  1. It’s already happening within your organisation. Understanding how it is benefiting you will unlock best practice and result in wider shared knowledge.
  2. Find out where it might be working against you. Typical indicators of issues to be resolved can be: culture, productivity, engagement, poor adherence to policy and processes. Who do you want your people modelling – are you leaving it to chance?
  3. Test the understanding of your internal communications. How effectively is your message getting through? SLT can help to ensure the message you intended has landed, by involving your people in the dissemination process.
  4. Your people can collectively decide the ‘right’ way. Build consistency through shared discussion, debate and exploration.
  5. Develop a broader understanding, by sharing perspectives across the organisation. Help your people improve their decision-making, with a greater appreciation for the ‘system’ and how it works. As a result, you become more efficient and effective.
  6. Unlock tacit knowledge. Every organisation is flush with unwritten rules and processes, undocumented knowledge that allows the ‘system’ to work. Socialising the learning across everyday situations will surface these valuable yet hidden practices.
  7. Surface key issues. Organisational politics has a devastating impact on productivity and efficiency. Socialising learning cross-functionally in a safe environment can bring the problems into focus and will encourage your people to own and solve the issues.

There are benefits for your people too.

  1. They learn that they are not alone; they realise that issues and challenges are more common, in other areas of the business – not just theirs.
  2. They build internal networks and support mechanisms which helps them to solve problems quicker and collaborate more effectively.
  3. Their mental wellbeing improves with an outlet to vent, share and gain perspective.

What does it look like in practical terms?

Understanding the principles behind social learning is one thing; bringing it to life is entirely another. How leaders behave is crucial; your people are looking to you.

How you behave when things go wrong will set the tone. Because people learn through observation, employees will look at how you behave in every situation, and they will make a judgement. They are considering if your behaviour is what they want to copy, measuring it against their own values. How your behaviour makes them, or others, feel will impact their decision too. Your people will evaluate how others react and decide whether to model your behaviour or not. The challenge is that you, as a leader, are not in control of their thought process, or how they choose to interpret what they see. This means authenticity is vital, and the need to be a role-model is more important than perhaps any of us thought.

So, what could you do?

Build social learning into your meetings; allow for an opportunity to review your work with three questions:
• What have we learned?
• What should we be doing more of and why?
• What is stopping us from being the best we can be?

Consider how you make your sessions feel safe. Allow people to speak their minds and express their opinions – it clears the way to the problem-solving. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to run sessions face-to-face or online. Create a forum for the group to be open and to share. Invite people to commit to an action – a new, better way of doing something.

Coaching is a proven tool for developing people one-to-one. What if you could group coach? Imagine a one-to-many facilitated discussion with purpose. You could solve common problems, build soft skills through discussion of contextual situations and share experiences to develop a shared vision of what ‘good’ looks like.

Build social learning into your training interventions

Reinforcement is an essential factor for influencing behaviour. Consider what are you reinforcing, knowingly and unknowingly. Are you proactive in celebrating when people model the desired behaviours? No reaction at all can leave people unsure if they are doing the right thing. Positive feedback helps to reinforce behaviours. Similarly, when behaviours are below the expected standard, challenge and coach people to understand why the standard exists and the implications of falling below.
And I did say, coach, not tell! Coaching takes time; time you may feel you don’t have – but it will have longer-lasting effects. ‘Tell’ is just a reprimand, and we all know this has limited impact and doesn’t last.

Some of your people will have aspirations to grow and develop. Think carefully about their mentor or internal role-models. We know that people are more likely to model the behaviour of others when they aspire to gain the knowledge, skill or attributes of the other person. Who do you want them to model?

The final way to build social learning into your development portfolio is through simulation and gamification. The trend towards the use of gamification has been growing. When you combine relevance, context and simulation, it really does bring social learning theory to life. The primary aim of any intervention is to create behaviour change, making things fun and exciting alone won’t cut it. Learners need to feel a sense of reward for the right behaviours or consequences for inappropriate ones. Gamification can add progress and jeopardy aligned to the desired outcomes. Decisions can be tested and explored in a safe space; participants can project the effects of certain behaviours and see how the implications would play out.

Conclusion

Social learning is how we naturally develop. As small children we learn through observation to mimic the values, beliefs and behaviours of others. Social norms also impact on which models we choose and whether to adopt new behaviours or not. This poses several questions for business leaders and learning professionals:

• Who are your people modelling their behaviours on?
• What values, beliefs and attitudes are they adopting?
• Who has the most influence on your culture?
• Are your people adopting your desired values, attitudes and behaviours?
• How are you, and your leaders, modelling the way?
• How do you control the narrative and the observation process?

If you are not already, you should be influencing the social learning experience. How you approach people who fall below your expected standards will have a significant impact on whether they choose to model the desired behaviour, or not. What consequences do they observe others face when they fail to live up to the values? What reward mechanisms exist when they do model the way?

Your people expect consistency; this is how they measure your commitment to your behavioural standards. Your people managers need to model the way; they need to hold others accountable and celebrate those who live up to the expected behaviours, values and attitudes. You cannot condone or accept poor behaviours just because of their perceived business performance. When you do this, you are telling your people that behaviours don’t matter, they are now a weapon to use to engineer the outcomes you really want.

Challenge your people to own the issues but consider how you go about it. You must be prepared to equip and empower them properly.
For clarity, equipping means that people are given the tools to think and plan effectively, the targeted development they need, the resources they need to execute and access to decision makers to ensure that effort is not duplicated and plans and actions are aligned.

True empowerment means giving people the autonomy and permission to go fix things. Experience suggests that whenever leaders ‘pretend’ to empower, they don’t fully let go and, when they inevitably intervene, impose or cast judgement, it almost always ends in tears.

Your people are already modelling the behaviours of others. They are constantly making choices about which behaviours to follow. Remember that their motivation might not be primarily concerned with what is right for the organisation. Their choices might be for social cohesion and the benefit of the social group. They may not want to stray away from existing group norms for fear of being outcast, driven by the fear of not belonging.

Are you prepared to leave the values, behaviours and attitudes you want to see in your organisation to chance?

Why do I feel like I am failing?

As we start 2021, still in lockdown, managing teams that we no longer get to meet each other, while teaching the kids and learning to live without leaving the house; it is easy to imagine that you may not be winning.

As people take on more and more, finding their own way through the new ways of working and living, this may be the time to re-think what success looks like. Ricky and Rich explore how, at times, we set unrealistic expectations and miss the real successes we have.

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash.com

What culture are you creating in your business?

As Leaders and Managers, we very influential in the creation of the culture in the teams that we lead. Taking an idea from sports psychology, are we creating a Challenge or a Threat culture? A Challenge culture that encourages our people to step up and take risks, whereas a Threat culture creates limits as our people, focusing their efforts on remaining safe.

In our last podcast of 2020, Richard, Rob, Ricky and Paul explore what a Challenge culture might mean for us as leaders, and how we might unknowingly be creating the threat culture that limits our potential.

Why do the people I am working with not get that we need to step up?

At some point in our career, probably when we feel like we are giving everything we have, someone above us in the organisation tells us that now is the time to step.  This has never been more true than this year where all of our plans have gone awry, yet we still need to close out the year and get things back on track.

Maybe you are that manager, being asked to have the difficult ‘stepping up’ conversation with your team, yet sensing that they don’t see the situation quite the same way you do.

In this podcast, Ricky and Paul explore why we all react differently when being asked to give more at work, and how as managers we can communicate better with the people around us so that they do not interpret stepping up as secret code for longer hours.

Photo by Jaz King on Unsplash.com

Is coaching all that?

Before we can answer whether coaching is limited in this way, what might be helpful is to define what coaching is – what is the definition by which I challenge the assertion! 

Coaching draws its roots from sports. It is typically a one-to-one relationship between a coach (the person ‘helping’) and a coachee (the person being helped). When you look at sports, the problem is that this type of coaching is subjective, and the coaching techniques used are really for helping high potential athletes to become elite.

In elite sports, the coach is developing the coachee (athlete) who is highly motivated. The nature of the development takes time and effort, meaning their relationship is generally a long term one. The coach will observe technical aspects of a particular routine and provide feedback to the coachee. The coach will also work with the coachee’s physical and mental performance. The high-level goal of the coach is to improve the coachee’s performance level and prepare them for competition. 

More commonly, when people think of coaching, they link it to something they are familiar with, something like childrens football, for example. The problem with this is this type of ‘coaching’ is, in reality, more akin to teaching.

So, what’s the same, and what’s different, outside of the world of sports?

According to the CIPD, “Coaching aims to produce optimal performance and improvement at work. It focuses on specific skills and goals, although it may also have an impact on an individual’s personal attributes such as social interaction and confidence. The process typically lasts for a defined period of time or forms the basis of an on-going management style.”

The CIPD acknowledge that a universal definition is hard to come by due to a lack of agreement among coaching professionals. That said the CIPD suggest common characteristics for coaching in an organisation. These highlight coaching as being:

  • A non-directive form of development
  • Focussed on improving performance and developing an individual
  • Directed more on performance at work, but may include personal factors
  • Something that works with both individual and organisational goals.
  • An opportunity for people to assess their strengths and development areas better.
  • A skilled activity best delivered by trained people which could be line managers and others trained in coaching skills.

Without question, coaching in organisations can be powerful if done correctly but it can also be limited in its effectiveness. Typically, the line manager will be the coach as there is an existing, hopefully strong, relationship. However, their agenda can dominate the discussion; risking them becoming overly focused on the impact on their own goals and less on the development of the individual.  

Let’s also face up to the reality that line managers are hardly blessed with time; they are often spinning many plates at the same time as they attempt to satisfy both the needs of their manager and their people. Yet, they are expected to find quality time to coach their people. Whilst they get the intellectual argument, they may lack the skills to coach effectively, and they will often lack is the time to do it right. Their own time pressures inform where they choose to focus their time.

Additionally, managers may ignore their top performers because they believe (wrongly) that they’re alright and often choose to focus on improving their weaker performers. The contradiction here is that this will almost certainly not give them the best return on their efforts.   Because coaches can only work with one person at a time, and coaches who are line managers typically attend to performance issues, this combination feeds a belief that ‘coaching’ is what you get when you are underperforming. 

The pressure of time causes further conflict for coaches; do they do the tasks where the output is visible, and often demanded by others, or do they coach? It is much easier to defer the coaching conversation as the payoff is rarely immediate. A task with quick, visible results creates a dopamine rush that validates their decision to put off the coaching, slowly moving coaching down their agenda.

At Thinking Focus, we fundamentally believe that developing people through coaching is an essential part of any organisation’s development toolkit. We also challenge the assertion that coaching is purely a one-to-one relationship, the same skills can easily be used to facilitate group development as they would develop individuals.  

Developing skills and behaviours in groups requires three core elements – the skills (including confidence) to run the session, a defined outcome (what is the purposes of the session) and a structured process to follow. It’s likely you will have a skills matrix and behavioural template that will drive the outcomes you are looking to develop in your session, but ensure your session includes the following pillars:

  1. Psychological safety to enable the individuals to feel comfortable being vulnerable among their peers.
  2. Encourage individuals to access their experiences against the development topic 
  3. Create a shared pool of understanding for what works, doesn’t work and why – this will lead to a better answers/results
  4. Collective buy-in to the way forward
  5. Peer pressure to doing the right thing in the right way

Doing this in this way works and creates a host of individual and organisational benefits:

We know that time pressures are not going away any time soon; group coaching is highly efficient, which means you can develop more than one person at a time.

When developing in groups, you can leverage collective peer pressure, accelerate the adoption of knowledge and skills, which means you gain a return on your time, effort and your training investment.

Bring mixed ability groups together and share their different experiences to create a deeper pool of shared understanding. When they learn from each other’s experiences, it vicariously reinforces the desired behaviours and actions. This collaborative sharing means that groups are more likely to adopt the desired behaviours.

The shared experience, discussion and debate underpinned with purposeful coaching creates a shared understanding that leads to collective buy-in to the ‘best way’ for your team, department or organisation, which means more durable changes in behaviour.

Developing people in a group forum, when set up in the right way is more inclusive and psychologically safer. Contribution levels are higher, robust challenge more likely and outcomes more effective. This shared coaching experience means that coaching is no longer perceived to be a performance management tool with negative connotations.

Group coaching is an excellent forum for knowledge transfer, unwritten rules and undocumented practices that somehow make the company function now have an outlet. Sharing these ‘Spanish customs’ means reduced mistakes by people learning through error, which can be embarrassing and disengaging when they realise everyone else knew!

When groups work together on shared goals, it creates an endowment effect which means they are more likely to be committed and see it through. This collaborative approach means projects are delivered more efficiently and effectively.

Bring cross-functional groups together to create a broader systemic awareness of how to work more effectively together. This appreciation of others means that problems are owned and more quickly solved. This improved collaboration and cooperation mean organisations not only save enormous cost at the time, but they also build enduring cross-functional relationships that deal with issues more quickly, with less wasted time, effort and money.

Group coaching is not as well-known as traditional coaching and rarely utilised in development. The reason perhaps is because there is little development available to acquire the skills, so we decided that we wanted to help managers, coaches and organisations to realise the benefits available to them from Group Coaching.   

Back in 2017, we researched what was available and found very little – and less that could actually be used practically in organisations.

With this in mind we developed a product that would bring group coaching to the mainstream. Our goal is to enable coaches to coach more than one person at a time, to make group coaching practical, relevant and easy and to deliver a greater return than one-to-one coaching.  

We built a structured process, which supports and guides any coach and combined it with contextual and relevant subject matter. We harnessed social learning to enable organisations to raise the level of mixed ability groups at the same time. Reflection is in-built not just to land critical learning but transfer it to the day job.  

‘What Would You Do?’ (WWYD) is the plug and play, group coaching solution that improves results and changes behaviour. 

WWYD is available online and offline, from small groups to conferences and is engineered with social learning and group coaching to deliver durable behavioural change and improve results. It comes preloaded with ready-made content contextualised to the workplace. Scenarios frame a facilitated discussion among peers. The inclusion of game mechanics serves to create an environment where participants feel safe and openly share; the same mechanics include progress and jeopardy, and friendly competition maintains interest with the inclusion of scoring and league tables, all of which make for an engaging learning experience. 

So, going back to the original question – is coaching all that? We firmly believe so, and while coaching may typically be limited to a one-to-one activity our own research has highlighted it can be much more than this; and our own desire to build on this has led us to create a unique product to support this. Just because coaching has historically been delivered one-to-one doesn’t mean that that’s the only way, or indeed the best way, of delivering it!

WWYD is interactive and experiential, to experience it for yourself you can:

  • attend one of our monthly open demos
  • book a personalised experience
  • have a go yourself by downloading a DIY kit