How do we reset targets for this year?

2020 is probably not working out quite as you had planned, that is certainly the case for us at Thinking Focus. If we carry on with our plans as if nothing has happened, then risk running out of steam chasing impossible targets.

When things go off track, you need to reset the targets and expectations, moving the focus to achievable yet ambitious goals that start moving back in the right direction.

Richard and Ricky explore how you can quickly reset the goals, help the people around you let go of the past and embrace the new challenges in front of you.

Re-build trust in the workplace, don’t just make it ‘coronavirus safe’​

As companies are starting to re-introduce people back into their workplaces there will be a range of considerations around whether any PPE is needed, how social distancing will work and what percentage of the workforce should actually be invited back. These are all be very practical considerations and will take some planning. But are these the only challenges organisations and leaders will face over the coming weeks and months?

In a recent round-table discussion we held with some of our clients the topic came around to this type of planning, and it was at that point that someone dropped the following question into the conversation. “But do they want to come back? That’s the challenge!” Food for thought and a question I would like to explore here.

As we enter July it’s worth recognising that there will be some people who have spent more time in 2020 working from home than they have working ‘in the office’ (or your equivalent!). Back in March pretty much everyone was working through the implications of moving their place of work to a home office, spare bedroom or dining room table. This was a time of uncertainty for many people – how would this work, how would they balance getting work done with home schooling, how would they stay in touch with colleagues? And then there were also the people being retained under the furlough scheme (nearly 9 million recorded at the start of June) who were looking at being at home with the uncertainty of when they may be asked to return to work.

Nearly four months on, the ‘how will it work’ has become a thing of the past as it has worked. People have found their working space, they’ve found a way to balance the conflicts of their work and home schooling and they now have well established routines. Working from home, or being furloughed, has been normalised.

And now these people are starting to be asked to break these established routines for something that will resemble their old routines. What thoughts and feelings might this trigger and how, as leaders, might we need to engage people at this time of major change – the second one people will have faced this year.

The thinking that people have leads to them taking certain actions, which in turn will give results (This is one of the core principles that we use with our clients at Thinking Focus: Thinking = Actions = Results). We also know that much of our thinking is done by the subconscious, even though we are more aware of the conscious thoughts that we have, and there are two systems at work: one fast emotional thought process, and a slower, rational thought process. These fast emotionally driven thoughts can be reactive, and lead to our thinking being incredibly unhelpful, trapping in negative world views that can hold us back. Right now, a variety of these thoughts will be being triggered by talk of returning to the workplace.

The posing of the “But do they want to come back?” question led the discussion at the round-table to exploring the different elements of this, noting that there are a number of key considerations for leaders, coming out of the current situation.

The concerns that people may be having will be wide ranging. ‘C’ – who works for a major sports brand – commented “We recently did a survey of everyone to ask, ‘What are your concerns about coming back to work?’ And it was around childcare. That was the big one. And it was around public transport, because we’ve got quite a lot of people who live in city centre coming into where we are. And then obviously shielding issues were mentioned.” And while these were expected, one curveball also came from this survey. ‘C’ mentioned “the one thing that just popped up, was ‘but I have been able to work flexibly. Can I carry on? Do I need to come into the office?’ and it’s come up so many times on all the different responses.”

So aside from some concerns that many leaders have probably thought about, there may be this underlying ‘do I need to go back to the office?’ narrative coming through for people. One of the thoughts put forward by one of our team was “I wonder if the supermarket syndrome comes into play here, you know, you join a queue and only a few people are allowed in. And people seem to conform to all of that social distancing, and then as soon as you’re in the supermarket, it all goes out the window because everybody’s leaning across you. I wonder if that is the concern for some people about coming into the office – will other people respect the distancing?”

There are some known cognitive biases that impact the way we judge our own and others capabilities. They may be playing out here, with some people overestimating their own ability to stick to rules, while at the same time underestimating the ability of others to do the same (Dunning-Kruger effect).

‘A’ from a global Medical technology company mentioned this very thing had come up in a conversation with a colleague. “This manager was one of the ones that tells you this feels uncomfortable. And when she finally could kind of put it into words, what she said was that she knows she’s been seeing more people, but she knows them really well. So she knows that they’ve been following the government guidelines and she knows that they are regularly washing their hands and they won’t invade her space, but she doesn’t feel it’s safe coming back into an office where she doesn’t know those people as well, she doesn’t know what their home environment is like, she doesn’t know who they’re exposed to. So there’s that lack of trust and nervousness, what if somebody walks into your two metres of space and you’re like, what are you doing?”

And of course, if this lack of social distancing happens, will people turn around to a colleague and ask them to ‘back off’ and stay further away?

As ‘C’ from an international print and application company simply put it “And people are not robots, they won’t necessarily follow all rules all the time. And, that’s just not intentional.” Which in the case of their organisation has led them to form the view that they can’t see more than 25% of the workforce being asked to come back to the workplace, to start with.

However, as ‘G’ from a major healthcare service provider put it “I do think it will be safer than public environments like supermarkets or wherever. We’ve got all the tape on the floor, the different measurements (have been made) and we’ve actually invoked a one way system in the building as well.”

So, does this highlight a dual role for leaders at this time? The first being the practical side of getting people back in to the workplace and the second being building the trust for those that are being asked back in, through reducing numbers, through putting practical measures in place and through reassuring people that all that can be done has been? I think so, while recognising that for some leaders the practical side may be easier than ensuring people are reassured.

A more general question to consider is will there be people who are scared of coming back, people who are anxious about this? From our discussions the general feeling was that yes, there will be people who feel this way but the hope is that this will be a transient feeling, as people start to get back to the workplace they will see things are in place, they will see their colleagues working to these new ways and they will, in turn, feel more confident. This fear may well come from the fact that working from home, or being furloughed, has been the ‘new norm’ for many people and people are in safe ‘bubble’ that they feel in control of. Going back to the workplace changes this, with a whole set on unknowns about the workplace and colleagues.

As leaders, it is important that we take time to rebuild the trust that used to exist for the workspace. While it might sound strange to talk about trust in the office being reduced by working from home, the last few months have changed our relationship with a lot of spaces we used to frequent, and we have be subjected to a lot of messaging that has told us to stay away from some places where we used to spend a lot of time. For some people trust will take some time to return.

The office used to be a safe place. Firstly, it was probably a clean space that we did not associate as being a risk to personal health. It was a place where we accepted that we had to cohabit with other people, sharing facilities, working with different groups and using different spaces. We also knew how it worked, the social rules governing the workplace are so clearly defined that most of us have never even had to think about them. All of this has changed. The workplace is now dangerous, it may cause us to interact with people who might make us ill. While four months ago someone sitting at your desk might have felt inconvenient, it wasn’t really a problem. Now the desk may need to be cleaned. For most people, the office has become a foreign place, we no longer know how it works.

To rebuild trust we need to focus on the logic and rules (cognitive trust) and the interaction between people and the feelings that this may create (affective trust). The rational part of this will be easy for most leaders, detailing the new rules, signs on the floor, one-way systems and limits to the numbers of people in at any time.

The affective trust required is more complex. To rebuild this we need our teams to know that we understand their anxiety in coming back, creating psychological safety around the first visit back (such as a trial return). Leaders need to be responsive to the inevitable incidents that will occur, especially around social distancing measures. If we can role model the new behaviours and quickly deal with rule breakers, we can help our teams normalise the new working rules and quickly restore trust in the office.

Should all change be done quickly?

Many organisations discovered that they can introduce significant change rapidly when they had to reorganise their workforce to being home-based.  Does this mean that all change should be quick?

Paul, Rob and Rich explore why this change has worked so well, and ask what are the lessons we can learn from this for future change.

This podcast was recorded while we are still in lockdown.  Like most people, we are working from home (kids and pets may appear at any time).  Apologies for the quality of one of the mics on this podcast. The perils of working without a producer.

We are still focused on the questions that are getting in the way.

Thinking Focus shortlisted in Learning Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does visualisation help goal defining?

Is visualisation an effective goal defining technique, or is it just day dreaming.

If you have big goals or aspirations, visualisation can be a very effective technique.  Rob discusses with Ricky how you can use your imagination to define your future.

None of us know what the future holds but visualisation can be a helpful way of gaining clarity and harnessing our imaginations. Rob and Ricky begin by exploring how some goals are clinical and straightforward, set targets for example. But bigger goals focused on the future require a different approach and this is where visualisation comes into play.

They explore the issue of retirement as another example. Many people can talk very precisely about their retirement even though it may be as far off as 15 years away. To have such clarity, they must have thought about the matter a lot and be very motivated about what retirement is going to bring them. Essentially, they have achieved a level of clarity through visualisation.

Rob and Ricky go onto explore how visualisation has a couple of elements: the first is clarity and the second is focusing on what we want to achieve. By using our imaginations to build a picture of the future, we can define our goals.

Senior Managers will often spend a lot of time thinking about the future. Rob and Ricky explore how they can bring that visualisation to life, enhance their passion and energy, to take the rest of the team on the journey.

Visualisation helps us to turn off rational or scientific thoughts and tap into our imagination enabling us to work towards something we really want to achieve at a future point. To all sense and purposes, it’s about sketching a picture and then giving others the opportunity to add colour and fill in the gaps.

How can you write goals for things that are touchy feely?

 

Some goals are easy to write down, they have clear defined outcomes.  However, goals for feelings, such as confidence, or for perceptions such as relationships or expectations are much harder to articulate.

In this episode, Rob explains to Richard how you can use a benchmark within SMART to create clear simple goals around these harder to define areas.

When it comes to the best approaches for writing down goals around emotions and feelings, there are still useful techniques that can be applied. Rob explains to Richard how you can use a benchmark within SMART – specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time related – to help you achieve a written down goal.

But how do we measure something that is a feeling or a perception? Rob explores how a useful technique is to consider the feeling on a scale of one to ten and then apply a numerical figure. For example, you may judge your feelings to be 4/10 at this moment in time but where do you want to be on the scale by a particular date?

Rob and Richard discuss how this approach allows us to write the feeling down in a SMART goal format: by this date… I will have…. improved to a specific number.

Rob adds that it’s important to use our imaginations. For example, on the scale we know what 4 feels like right now but how much would we like it to be? What would this feel like? We may feel an improved level of confidence in specific situations.

It’s fair to say goals around feelings are more difficult to write but as Rob and Richard explain in the podcast, there are useful methods that enable us to put these to paper.

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

Should the R in SMART be Realistic or Relevant?

Have you noticed how some people use realistic, while others use relevant?

So which is the right one, does it even matter?

Rob and Rich discuss the merits of both.  Maybe they might change your mind about which one to use.

It’s fair to say the acronym that gives us a guide to setting goals and objectives, SMART, has been around for some time. In our podcast, we explore how you get better value if you consider the R stands for relevant.

Rob and Rich begin their discussion by reminding listeners what SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/Relevant and Time-bound. Many people use realistic because that’s what they know but Rob is a big fan of applying the term relevant instead. He maps out how if you have a list of tasks to achieve on a day, we can always choose something that’s realistic. Just as an example, we could easily set ourselves the limiting goal of running 100 metres in 14 hours.

It becomes a different question if we ask how relevant is the goal? We should be looking at the relevance of achieving our tasks rather than just asking can I achieve them. By applying this technique, we can reach a meaningful goal.

Ricky adds that we bring into play questions and thoughts for the person writing the goal about their motivation if we use the term relevant.

Both agree that realistic and achievable can almost be interchangeable when considering the SMART framework. Substituting the R for relevant can help us to prioritise and consider our motivation therefore adding more value to the whole process.

There really are no right or wrong answers but using relevance in their expert opinion will add more depth and value when it comes to achieving our goals.

What’s the best tool to use for writing a goal?

 

Is there just one way to write a goal, or are their different techniques?

In this episode, Rob and Richard discuss how to select the most appropriate approach making defining your goal easy.

How many ways can you write a goal and what methods are best? In our podcast, Rob and Richard discuss the most appropriate approach to make defining your goal easy.

When it comes to the best approaches for writing down goals, there are a few elements to consider. In the podcast, Rob and Richard discuss how it all depends on what the goal is about.

Among the questions to ask ourselves are: is the goal specific or big picture? Rob explains that SMART is a useful technique if the goal is quantitative and you want to achieve it in a certain amount time. This acronym stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time related. On the other hand, if the goal is around feelings, a benchmarking technique is a better approach.

Richard goes onto examine how aspirational goals are another matter and you can break these down into different parts by using a ‘chunking’ strategy. For example, if the goal is to run your own company before you retire, this can be broken down into chunks so it becomes achievable.

Goals set around feelings are more difficult to measure but Rob explains benchmarking can be a useful technique. We can ask ourselves questions about where we are now, where we want to be in the future and look at closing the gap.

The pair summarise the discussion by focusing on the approaches they have examined including SMART and benchmarking. They explore how it’s important to be able to describe and measure the goal in some way. This gives us greater clarity as to whether we buy into the goal or not.

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

Why can’t goal writing be easy?

Goal writing sometimes seems like a mystic art form, limited to a very few highly trained experts.  Are goals really that difficult?

Richard and Paul discuss how to make goal writing really simple.

Goal writing sometimes feels like a complex task that requires specific training to get right. In our podcast, Richard and Paul discuss how to make goal writing really simple.

There are times in the workplace when we’re asked to focus on writing down goals but for many of us it’s not always a straightforward process.

In the podcast, Richard and Paul talk about how we may never have been shown how to put goals to paper before starting work. Sometimes people talk about goals as though there is a magical way of writing them but in reality, if you have a decent structure, the entire process can be simplified.

The easiest way to begin is to set out what you are trying to achieve. Crucially pick a date and then focus on the positive ‘I will have.’ Richard and Paul explore how there can be a nervousness around choosing a specific date but once we commit it allows us to start focusing and really working on the goal.

They go onto examine how many of us play it safe when it comes to writing down goals keeping them vague. But goals need to be sharp: we need ‘picture, perfect, clarity’ and a real point of time in the future by which the goal will be achieved. Sometimes if we feel unsure about a written down goal, it’s because we haven’t given it enough thought.

Richard and Paul conclude their discussion looking at the issue of accountability. If we share a goal, we are more likely to achieve it. Essentially, they say writing down goals is about having a go. Keep it simple: what do I want to achieve and when do I want to achieve it by?

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

Why is it important to write down goals?

What is the difference between a goal in your head and goals that are written down?

Ricky gets Rob to explain the benefits of writing your goals out.

Experts agree the world over that you are more likely to achieve the goals you have written down. In our podcast, Ricky asks Rob why putting your goals to paper could make all the difference?

When it comes to a goal in your head compared to a written down goal, the likelihood of you achieving it becomes so much greater because you have greater clarity. In the podcast, Rob explores how a written down goal suddenly becomes much more important to us. By writing it down, we have committed to it: our thoughts have become crystalized resulting in a more meaningful goal.

Putting your goals to paper has the knock-on effect that we then hold ourselves to account. Sharing goals has advantages too as someone else gets involved. Rob goes onto discuss how written down goals have other benefits as they can be reviewed easily. The goals can be tested and examined to see if they are still the right thing, still achievable and deliverable. The process enables us to sense check the purpose remains relevant. Then there is the question of memory. Many of us are holding multiple tasks and goals in our heads on any given day. By writing goals down, you can capture them.

Ricky goes on to offer some other useful advice. He explains how we can’t rewrite history if the goal is on paper in terms of the original aims. It allows you to be more consistent reducing the chances of drift in terms of timeline, volume or quality. Writing down goals allows us to check there isn’t any duplication in specific areas and has the additional benefit that everyone knows what the organisation is setting out to achieve.

Putting goals to paper increases collaboration and commitment in the workplace and can be a bit like an insurance policy; a useful way to minimise risk. Essentially it all comes back to the issue of clarity and it’s fair to say you get much better value in an organisation if goals are written down.

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