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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcoming a new change and development expert to our team

We’re delighted to welcome Graham Field to our team following recent strong growth at Thinking Focus.

Graham is an experienced consultant, facilitator and coach with more than 20 years’ experience in delivering a range of development and change programmes for organisations across the UK.

An advocate of encouraging people to develop simple, effective action plans, Graham turns learning into results, and will be a great asset to us as we continue our work with clients. He’ll also support the roll-out of our new gamified learning tool for management development, What Would You Do?

Graham’s career in the industry began in a retail bank, before working with organisations in a variety of sectors, including contact centres, the NHS and local government, manufacturing, FMCG, retail, health and leisure, hospitality, property services and charities. He has supported and developed all levels of staff, from front line, through team leaders, managers and project managers, to senior leaders and board members.

Highly skilled in one-to-one coaching, structured development programmes and team facilitation, Graham has developed programmes world-wide and is passionate about achieving measurable outcomes. He’s an expert in removing self-imposed limitations and organisational interference to unlock individual and organisational potential.

He says: “I’m delighted to be joining Thinking Focus at this exciting time in their development. Like them, I believe that development should be simple and easy to understand, and motivate participants to apply their learning on to their role. It can make a massive difference to the individual and, by default, to the organisation they work for.”

Thinking Focus director Ricky Muddimer says: “Graham’s approach to delivering people productivity solutions fits perfectly with ours, and his depth of experience within the industry means he’ll play a key role in driving Thinking Focus forward, continuing to build our reputation as one of the leading organisational change experts in the UK.”

Unconscious bias: The Starbucks dilemma

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

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

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

What is unconscious bias?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unconscious bias and diversity

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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.

 

How can you get your team to contribute more ideas?

 

Ever asked one of your team, what do you think we should do?

Did you even get an answer?

Getting people to contribute ideas sometimes can feel like pulling teeth, but it does not need to.

Rob explains to Paul how, with a few simple steps, you can help everyone channel their creativity and expand the range of ideas available to you.

It can sometimes a feel a bit like pulling teeth when it comes to getting people to come up with ideas. In the podcast, Rob and Paul explore a few simple steps that can make the whole process run more smoothly.

At the outset, we need to be clear of the benefits when engaging a team to generate ideas. In the podcast, Rob and Paul discuss how it’s a two-sided equation. As team leader, we must be willing to let go and let others come up with their own ideas in the knowledge those ideas will subsequently be valued and considered. In turn, the benefits to the organisation are you can harness the collective thinking power of the group rather than just relying on one source.

Rob explains a lot of creativity comes from a combination of different ideas. It’s important to break the process into two parts. Some people are very good, for example, at coming up with lots of ideas whilst others are talented at evaluating those ideas. There needs to be a clear topic and a clear rationale: we then need to apply techniques to generate ideas and establish afterwards how these will be taken forward.

The pair conclude their discussion by focusing on a strategy known as the 20-idea method. It’s a simplistic but powerful way to solve challenges and get the creative juices flowing. It involves setting out a clear topic which is usually posed as a question. Everyone then individually writes down their ideas. Not only does this method generate a volume of ideas, we can achieve a wider scope of ideas. It allows us to compare, contrast and add to ideas with the further benefit of ensuring the whole group is involved.

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

5 mistakes when implementing change

Do you wonder why organisational change feels so hard? Why do people react poorly? Why does the original business case for the change seem to get lost? Why has the scope changed so dramatically to the original plan? These are all too common questions in the world of organisational change. At the heart are five easily preventable mistakes.

The secret when implementing change in organisations is to recognise that it is your people who will determine whether your plan is a success.

1. Are your leaders aligned with the change?

All too often change can be undermined by senior leaders. They will be seen to lack enthusiasm; they may even distance themselves from the change or worse behave in a contradictory manner. People are great at spotting misalignment and even better at working out how to play it to their advantage.

2. What are we supposed to be working on?

Businesses are ambitious in their goals. Shareholders demand a return; executives have egos to maintain and a requirement to maintain or keep ahead of the competition. Add to the mix external stakeholders (government, regulators or similar) imposing their will on the business and how they believe it should operate. Confusion reigns amongst your people on what are the priorities and which are the important ones. Even worse when competing priorities emerge, the battle commences for essential resources.

3. Imposition or involvement?

Having made the strategic or tactical decision to change how you engage your people will determine your success. Business is both busy and demanding; it expected the results yesterday. It is all too easy to focus solely on the execution of the plan. Being able to tick off the task on the project plan is one thing, but the lasting effects can be both costly and ultimately fail due to the lack of adoption by the end user.

4. Why do we measure the wrong things?

We all know that businesses move at a fast pace. A symptom is failing to track the impact of the changes implemented. Success gets measured in the execution of the project. The reason for the change gets lost and the impact not measured. Ineffective change represents an enormous hidden cost. Benefits are unrealised due to lack of engagement, employee resistance, and worse, workarounds (the way we have always done it/the way we prefer to do it) are created.

5. Why does it feel like everyone wants a say?

It’s important to decide who you will involve, why you are including them in the process and how you will engage both internal and external stakeholders as getting this wrong can create landmines. Is there agreement on their level of involvement? If not, you will find yourself spending a disproportionate amount of time managing fallout and not advancing your project.