Working from home is, for some, a great adventure, for others an absolute hell. Either way it looks like it is going to be our future.

Why do we all respond so differently?

There has been a lot of material over the last few months providing tips on working from home, you have probably already read some of them.  Mostly the advice is practical, sensible, and heavily grounded in the tricks and techniques that many people who are already home workers are well versed in, but it misses the point.  A lot of the people currently having to work from home are not the kind of people who would typically work from home.  For some of us this ‘best practice’ might be useful and a healthy approach, but the assumption that there is a right way of doing things can be the very thing that is causing stress.  I have worked from home on and off for most of my working career.  I don’t do half the things that are being advised, they are just not me.  However, I am no longer the only home worker in my house, and this has allowed me to see the areas where the right answer for each of us is very different.

To maintain the best mental health when working from home, the golden rule is ‘do what works for you’.  If the suggestions help, then go for it, if they don’t, feel free to let them go.  The thing is, we are all different and we all think, work and react differently.  Trying to force your working style into the routine that someone else believes in the correct one will at best be hard work, but it could easily be chipping away at your resilience, mood and overall mental wellbeing.  Regardless of how you work, you will always be more productive by being you than spending energy conforming to so-called ‘best practice’. 

This is also something that we need to consider as managers.  Recognising that the way we want to work will not be the best way for some of our team, so we need to decide if we are interested in getting the best out of people, or making them conform.  This will mean letting go of some of the beliefs that you may hold about work.  For instance, does it matter if a member of your team starts early in the morning, but takes an extended lunch break just to get out of the house for a while?  There are two questions I find myself asking; “is the work getting done?” and “are the team OK?”.  The priority as a manager is to find a balance between these two, which means that if getting the work done requires more flexibility in working style to maintain the team wellbeing, then that is something I need to promote and support.

One of the ways that psychologists think about how we are different is by using the model known as the big five personality traits.  It offers an interesting way to think about the range of individual differences, and how we will each be impacted differently as we settle in to working from home. These are explored below.

Openness to experience – Some of us are very open to new things and will see working from home as a bit of an adventure.  If you are working with someone with a high in openness to experience you can expect them to be finding new ways that you can work together; this might come across as a stream of websites,  software or tools that they want to try with the team.  In moderation this can be really useful as they will find solutions to the challenges of working in a different way.  However, you may need to slow them down, as those who are much lower on the openness scale will find the volume of change created by home-working challenging enough without these additional new ideas.

Conscientiousness – Some people like the world to be formalised and ordered, others like the world to be flexible and spontaneous.  For those who are high in conscientiousness, the moving of deadlines and changes in targets that might be necessary to facilitate home working will need to be carefully communicated, and if possible locked down quickly, while those low in conscientiousness will look to keep things more open, creating as much flexibility as possible, just in case things change even more.  The key will be to find a balance between creating a new routine, yet not locking things down so tightly that your team cannot respond as the world changes around us.  One of the classic bits of advice often given to home workers is always dress smartly for work.  If you are high in conscientiousness you might find this really helpful, formalising the work part of the day, if you are low (like me) then remember nobody needs to know you are wearing shorts on a video conference – although do wear something, just in case you have to stand up to fetch something!

Extraversion – So, you don’t need to study psychology to work out that some people in the team are loud and outgoing while others are much more quiet and reserved.  The extraversion scale is looking at this difference in how we relate to the world, with extraverts looking to the outside world for their energy, while introverts look inside themself to recharge.  Homeworking can be really draining for extraverts, who are not getting the ‘fix’ of people to ‘top-up’ the batteries.  Even video calls are going to be like a slow charger compared to what they are used to.  This can cause the extraverts to become drained very quickly when working on challenging things as they cannot recharge quickly.  Introverts need time and space to recharge.  It is not that they don’t like spending time with people, just the time needs to be more intimate, and they prefer group sizes to be smaller.  While homeworking might suit introverts as they are being left alone to get on with their work, there is a risk here too.  Some introverts will so enjoy the working style that they withdraw too far from the group, not really joining in with group calls, or working on other things when the conversation seems like banter.  They can easily find themselves left behind by the rest of the team as the world rapidly changes. 

Agreeableness – Agreeableness is a measure of your preference for social harmony, people who are high in agreeableness like it when people are getting along, whereas those who are low on this scale will place their own self-interest over that of the group.  Having to communicate by video call makes it much harder than usual to have difficult conversations, without them becoming arguments.  If you are highly agreeable, this may be causing you to maintain social cohesion at your own expense, which may generate some resentfulness and frustration.  Low agreeableness might cause you not to see where you need to concede to allow the group to move forward, damaging working relationships unnecessarily.  Watch out for situations where you push forward too quickly in the desire to get things done, when others just needed a little more time to get their heads around it.

Neuroticism – Some people are more emotionally stable than others.  While everyone will react emotionally to things that happen, some of us process these events much more negatively, and this is what the neuroticism personality measure is looking at.  People who are high in neuroticism may find that they are unsettled at the moment, worrying about the future, their security or their family.  They may take work things more personally than they used to, and the lack of interaction with the team may mean that it takes a lot longer for misunderstandings to get resolved.  This may also play out in other areas of their life, so lockdown frustrations at home may spill over into work, and work into home, particularly as the boundaries between these is so blurred.  People who are low in neuroticism are probably less concerned about what is happening, which may also mean they are less stressed, which is good.  That said, while worrying all the time is a bad thing, small amounts of anxiety can be a great warning signal that we need to focus on an upcoming threat, which means that low neuroticism may cause people to be complacent during times of rapid change, like now.

Of course, these personality traits are not simple binary choices, they are spectrums, and very few of us sit at either end of the spectrum, most are somewhere in the middle.  The key is recognising that we are all slightly different, and therefore need to find a balance that works for us in new situations (such as remote working).   If you are in the position that many of us right now find ourselves in, finding it difficult to separate out work and home life as the boundaries blur into one, then think about your personality and what you need to do to make it work for you.  This might be breaking up your schedule from the usual work 9-5, or creating better work and home boundaries, such as designating a space for work, or dressing for work and then getting changed at the end of the day.  Mostly though, accept that right now things are different, and you probably won’t get it entirely right all of the time. Be kind to yourself, and those that you work with, as we all try to find a balance for this new way of working. It would also be nice if our acceptance of each other’s different styles became part of the new normal.


Photo by Dillon Shook on Unsplash

Where should a leader focus their attention?

This podcast explores the challenges that leaders face of where to focus their attention. In a crisis situation, leadership time is required to make fundamental day to day decisions, that generally would be taken elsewhere. Finding a balance between getting stuck in and keeping the wider view is one all leaders and managers face.

Rob and Rich suggest that time needs be split between Growing, Running and Protecting the business, and how the need to protect (in the current COVID Crisis) and run (with key staff on furlough) may cause leaders to lose focus on moving their business forward.

This podcast was recorded while we are in the middle of lockdown. Like most people, we are working from home, making do and still looking to answer the questions that are getting in the way.

How to Combat Loneliness when Working Remotely

For all its perceived advantages, like, for example, not having to commute and working when you want to, remote working also has its challenges. Loneliness is a primary risk and will have a very real impact for the thousands of UK workers who now suddenly find that remote working is going to have to be the ‘new normal’ for an unspecified amount of time due to the spread of the coronavirus.

At Thinking Focus, we have worked remotely for years, so it is so much our ‘normal’ that we would probably initially struggle to adjust to working in a central place of work and fit into a structure of regulated office time, physical meetings, commuting to and from work and working shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues. We’ve learned a few things over the years and would like to share some of that with you.

A real focus for your own well-being – let alone remaining effective when you have to work remotely – is making sure that you never feel isolated or alone. Here’s how to stay connected as a remote worker, including as an employee and as a person, during any time of uncertainty.

Set up regular remote meetings

Getting regular, consistent feedback is an important part of productive remote working. If you’re the manager of a remote worker, or a remote worker yourself, consider implementing some of these strategies for staying in touch:

  1. A daily check-in: It’s always good to make sure that everyone’s on the same page and that everyone knows which daily tasks to prioritise.
    A weekly team meeting: When you’re working remotely team, it is important to hear about what other people are working on—even if it’s outside of the scope of your focus. It helps to keep you connected.
  2. Video is more personal than a conference call—and can help bond a team together, setting the groundwork for collaboration (even at a distance). After all, much of communication is non-verbal. faces need to be seen & expressions interpreted.
  3. Regular person-to-person meetings: Regular video calls with other remote teammates is important. Plan days to work together. You can use the time to share business updates, individual successes and failures, even social, non-work related chat for a time. The point is to feel more connected to each other.


Designate an in-office contact for remote workers

Now that you are practically away from your normal place of work, it can be easy to feel out of the loop—or worse, like your concerns or questions aren’t being addressed. One way to combat this issue is to designate an in-office contact. This person can be a manager, or they can be on the same level as the rest of the team. Part of their responsibility would be to make sure that team conference calls run smoothly by letting remote workers have equal air-time and making sure that issues are heard. In some cases, you’ll need a manager or an HR professional to help set up this designated role.

Find a remote working buddy

Friends and colleagues will be immensely important right now. People with a work buddy typically feel more engaged with their work than those without one. Try to find someone that you can regularly check-in with who can help keep you motivated when working alone. Don’t wait until you feel loneliness taking hold.

Use a remote working office platform

Communication is clearly the key to successful remote working. Find an effective office platform where team workflow can be monitored and important documents shared. This will provide a transparent way for everyone to monitor each other’s progress, as well as their own.

Communicate about more than your remote work

Keep in touch with your co-workers about more than just your daily tasks. If you can, try to stay up to date with people’s birthdays and what’s going on in their lives. Don’t be afraid to talk to other people about things that aren’t specifically about work – relationship building and maintenance is critical right now.

Set up a helpful remote work routine

Feeling more connected is not all to do with the office. Remember to keep connected to the rest of the world. Don’t get caught up in being or feeling isolated.

The workday should have room for enjoyment. Whether that means creating a light-hearted connection channel with friends online or simply giving a friend or family member a phone call when you complete a difficult task, don’t hesitate to take breaks and reward yourself for putting in the time and doing good work. Having fun is also part of the productive rhythm of a workday.

Stand up and walk around whilst on the phone. Remember to stop and have a meal – physically set the time aside. Build in time for exercise and fresh air.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

Tracking performance from home

Think about how you track your team’s performance in the office: if everyone’s hard at work at their desks from nine to five, and you can see (almost feel) that everything’s getting done, then that’s a success, right?

If you’ve already started working from home in the last couple of weeks, I’m sure it’s become clear that keeping track of your team like that is impossible when working remotely. The issue is that most managers are unconsciously accustomed to tracking their teams’ inputs. That is, so long as they can see time and effort being put into the job, meetings are happening and people are staying behind to finish up things, then they’re not too concerned with what comes out the other end.  

That might feel a little shocking, but ask yourself, when was the last time you really checked that the work you and your team were doing was really the greatest contribution you could make?

In the world of remote working, most of the methods you had of tracking inputs have gone. As a manager, you’re isolated from your staff and can’t tell if they’re really at their desks during regular office hours, or if they’re off having a nap, or catching up on Netflix.

Here’s what you need to realise: that doesn’t matter!

It’s time to reassess your measures of success, so you focus on the quality of what is being achieved (the outputs), not the way the work is done (the inputs). That way you won’t find yourself doubting your team unnecessarily. Either the work is being done, or it isn’t. There are some roles that still require specific tasks in a certain order. However these days most things can be achieved in a multitude of different ways, and your way, even if it is the best for you, may not be the best for everyone else (especially now that most of are working in unfamiliar ways and places)

Instead of hounding your employees several times a day to make sure everyone’s at their computer, take stock of the work that’s being produced. Is everything being completed on schedule, and to the same quality as you’d expect in the office (or near enough, as people need time to adapt to remote working)? Are your clients or key stakeholders happy with how everything is being handled? Are they getting what they need, when they need it?

If yes, then your team is still working well, despite being at home. They don’t always need to be at their desks at the same times as they would in the office, because we all adapt to remote work in different ways, best suited to our own personal situations. What matters is that their performance hasn’t dipped. The more control they feel about how they can organise their time, and make it work with the other pressures in their life, the more focused, engaged and resilient they will be.

When you find yourself saying no to these questions, that’s when you go back and look at the inputs. Make sure that there is a clear understanding of what is expected, and that they have the belief that this is still possible now that their working conditions have changed.  You may need to spend some time rebuilding clarity and belief, as the current situation and changes in how we work can easily create wobbles.  I

It is worth remembering though, that in the short term at least, it is likely that the change to remote working might be the only factor causing the dip, which can only be resolved through support (probably a mix of psychological, managerial and technological!) and allowing employees the time to adjust.

The key to tracking performance remotely is to redefine what ‘success’ means to you and your team. Previously, unconsciously, you might have related it to inputs and how long your people spend on tasks. Be wary of this, as it can lead to (very ineffectual) presenteeism, where the only focus for your team is putting enough face time in with you to appear busy.

Define success in terms of output-driven KPIs, that connect the work your team do with your team’s purpose. The purpose of a team or business unit is not measured in numbers of meetings,  reports delivered on time, or how many calls made; these are just inputs designed to help you hit your goal. 

By defining measures around what you want to achieve and not how you think it needs to be done, you can allow the team to find their own way. So, no matter when, where, or how your team chooses to work, you can be confident that they’ll perform as well outside the office as in it.

How do I know my team aren’t watching Netflix?

If you’re a manager whose team just started working remotely recently, at one point or another you’re bound to wonder to yourself: “My team could all just be bingeing Netflix right now, and I’d have no idea!”.  This is natural: people understand the world through small triggers and tiny interactions, which disappear when you’re not together.

Of course, it’s going to feel strange at first to not be able to see your team putting in the work you expect from them. But, this is exactly why being able to trust your team, and be trusted by your team, is so key when managing remotely.

Unconsciously, a lot of managers are used to managing inputs: that is, they assess their team’s performance on how much time and effort they see is being put into producing the outputs (the results of the work). However, this style of management encourages forms of presenteeism, which really exhausts your staff without any added results to show for it.

What people should be managing (at all times really, but in particular when you’re not in position to measure the input), are the outputs. Put simply, if your team is still performing at the levels they were back in the office, then you can rest easy!  In fact, pat yourself on the back; us mere mortals will be slowing down a bit as we get used to this new way of working.

Reaching the stage where you are comfortable will take time and effort. This is where you need to rebuild trust with the team, accepting that they’re putting in the requisite work to reach the desired outcome, and ensuring that they know you’ll support them in achieving this.

The disappearance of interpersonal interactions with the team can leave managers feeling as if something is wrong. If it starts to feel like this, however, before you jump to any conclusions look for evidence to back up that feeling, or else you’ll be chasing up employees for nothing, and risking the trust that you have in the team relationships.

How do you get this evidence? By being communicative with your team. Have regular group meetings.  One way is to use the techniques developed by agile software developers, where at each regular review meeting each team member is asked to talk about

  1. What they’ve completed since the last meeting,
  2. What they’re going to do next,
  3. What help they might need in achieving that.

When you and your team are open like this, you can start to build an idea of what to expect from everyone and identify who’s struggling to adjust to remote working and needs some help.

Make sure to balance out the information you build up here with empathy – everyone’s going to adjust differently to working from home and the difference in individual workers’ openness can affect how much you trust them to work. Be conscious that some employees are going to stay out of your way, while others might over-communicate, which will imbalance how you perceive the work they’re putting in. This is a great time to check that perception against their outputs, to see if in fact, they are both producing equally great outputs.

Building trust while managing workers remotely, then, is a matter of building regular, structured communication, while remaining aware that different people work differently. If you can appreciate what’s coming out, instead of being hung up over what you know is going in, your team will be able to operate as efficiently as if they were still in office.

How do we create permission?

Managers are often frustrated by the lack of initiative taken by the people in their teams, while the team members are frustrated by the perception that they are not allowed to get on with what needs to be done.

Rob and Ricky explore how this common misunderstanding happens and look at how managers can create the sense of permission that their team members need to move forward.

This podcast is part of a short series on productivity, where we are exploring how you can Sell More, Save More and Do More, both personally and for your team.

Do They Trust Us?

Over the last 15 years I have worked with many senior leadership teams that are grappling with necessary organisational changes. These are often to take advantage of market or political trends, consumer demands, or to gain first mover advantage. Having said that, in one case a number of years ago, it was because the senior team had been given the feedback that the vast majority of people in the business were unhappy.

It was around this time that I became interested in the subject of trust.

It seemed to me that the leadership team mentioned above just wasn’t trusted anymore. Nobody believed what they said. Since then, I’ve seen it time and time again. A leadership team that thinks if they make the right noises for a while, people will get on board.

A lack of trust in all walks of life makes things very hard. Do you like being around people you don’t trust? Of course not. It brings a heightened sense of anxiety and caution to everything we do. If you are in this situation on a daily basis or in your personal relationships, it makes life unbearable.

My work over the last few years has led me to talk to teams about the need for them to rebuild trust or ensure they are trusted before embarking on changes, big or small, in their organisations. As ever around the subject of change, some people get it but many don’t. Many assume that just putting a good plan in place and some positional authority behind what they are saying means that people will just come on the journey with them.

So, as I explored the topic further, I began to develop something I call the ‘Trust Index’. Although rudimental, it was based on hours of talking to people in organisations. This simple research helped me identify three key factors that are needed to build trust:  

Competence, honesty and reliability.

I would then ask people in the organisation three simple questions based on these factors.

1. On a scale of 1-10 do you think the senior team are competent as leaders?

2. On a scale of 1-10 do you think they are honest with you?

3. On a scale of 1-10 do they do what they say they will do?

I’d then take all the responses and convert the answer to each of the questions into an overall percentage. As I said, very rudimental! However, it did give me a really good guide about how much people trusted their managers and team leaders.

I then went back to senior teams that were being given a score of 50% or less by their people, and suggested that they should think twice before making any changes of significance in their organisations, and instead wait until they had won back the trust of their people.

Recently, I came across something along the same lines as my research, although rather less basic! While on a long train journey, I was flicking through Ted Talks on my laptop when I saw one by Frances Frei, a professor of technology and operations management at the Harvard Business School.

She had been working at Uber following their recent problems, and had noticed three things that were broken in terms of trust within their culture.

Her talk is funny, informative and a great watch. She puts things so much better than I had been able to with my simple research. She talks about the following three things being needed to gain, maintain and rebuild trust:

Authenticity, logic and empathy.

Firstly, I was really pleased to see that my own limited research had given results that were similar to those Frances was talking about. However, as only one of us is a Harvard professor, I am more than happy to take and work on her three factors!

We’ve created this diagram below based on what Frances says in her Ted Talk:

So, why not ask yourself the following three questions, either in relation to the people you lead or the people who are leading in your company.

1. Authenticity – Are they seeing the real you?

2. Logic – Does it (whatever it is you are proposing) or do you make sense?

3. Empathy – Do people see that you care about them? If any of these three are missing, the whole thing goes very wobbly and certainly means you don’t have the basis on which to launch a programme of change.

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 to motivate your employees and increase performance

by Graham Field

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

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

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

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

B:
C:
D:

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

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

  1. Gallup Q12

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Ohio University Research

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

  • Curiosity

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

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

  • Independence

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

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

  • Honour (morality)

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

  • Power

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

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

  • Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Raising expectations

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

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

  • Celebration and praise

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

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

  • Have a genuine interest

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

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

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

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

The importance of trust in organisations and developing trusting leadership

by Graham Field

When we ask organisations about the challenges they face, one recurring theme is trust – how organisations gain, and can easily lose, the trust of their people, and from a leadership perspective, the importance of developing trust.

Trust has been seen as important as far back as Aristotle, who noted that trust (or ethos as he called it) was built upon three perceived factors: intelligence, character and goodwill. These factors were also commented on in a dissertation by Dr Duane Tway (A Construct of Trust – 1993) who similarly suggested that trust was a construct of three parts: the capacity for trusting, the perception of competence and the perception of intentions.

What makes trust important in running a 21st century business?

If you, like many of the HR community we collaborate with, have wondered whether trust is alive and well in your organisation, first of all take a step back and consider how important a role trust should be playing.

As an example, let’s look at the current UK climate of trust with regards our own country’s’ leaders – the politicians.

Like leaders anywhere, this group of people should be role models for ‘the way we do things around here’, but in the back of many people’s minds there has always been a question of how much these leaders are there for their people, or how much they are in it for themselves. ‘Catching them in’ and spotting when they are fulfilling their leadership potential often goes unnoticed, but ‘catching them out’ is quickly picked up, reported and commented on. And in one fell swoop trust gets damaged, role models are lost and leadership is no longer respected.

How many times does this happen in organisations?

If trust is so easy to damage, what makes it important for us in running modern businesses? We believe, as have many others before us, that trust is the bedrock for any organisation structure. It’s part of what makes your business what it is and forms the basis for organisational culture.

As such, trust is important for:

  • Building high performing teams – trust needs to exist for true co-operation and developing great teamwork amongst team members
  • Developing strong relationships – the kind where we can depend on our people doing things reliably and in a timely fashion
  • Effective communication – people need to believe what they hear and read within organisations; the absence of trust generally means communication could be seen as little more than ‘propaganda’
  • Creativity and risk taking – people need to believe that they have the freedom to be creative and take risk in order to seize opportunities
  • Embedding change and managing change effectively – in a trusting environment people will believe that change is ‘for the best’ and will support it accordingly

How can we build trust?

We can still use Aristotle’s three factors as a guide:

  1. Intelligence: In today’s organisations we can translate intelligence for knowledge and skills – how skilled are your supervisors, managers and leaders? And possibly more importantly, how is their skill perceived by their people? This aspect of trust is the easiest to develop, and for us is part of strengthening your teams. What might a skills audit of your leaders highlight as development needs, which could be impacting on how people trust them?
  2. Character: Reliability and honesty are key components here.  Recruitment interviews, references and ongoing performance reviews ascertain the character of the people leading our organisations, but the true test of reliability and honesty will come from an ‘all staff’ approach. When was the last time you fully reviewed your leaders adopting a 360 degree approach – and if you haven’t so far, what could be the benefits of doing this?
  3. Goodwill: The intentions of leaders, as perceived by their people. Unfortunately there’s no easy approach for this – goodwill develops over time, but if intelligence and character are supportive of trust, goodwill will follow. How do leaders develop, and maintain, goodwill in your organisation?

More recently, the arena of trust seems to have been dominated by Stephen M R Covey and his book, The Speed of Trust. A valuable addition to any library, this book clearly highlights ‘five waves of trust’ and thirteen ‘trust behaviours’.

What can we learn from ‘The Speed of Trust’?

Many of the above ideas are echoed in Covey’s work. He emphasises the importance of trust as an aspect of leadership (even going so far as to say inspiring trust is the ‘number one job of any leader’) and suggests that trust is part competence and part character.

Building on this is the suggestion that trust affects the speed of activity and cost within an organisation: where trust is prevalent speed goes up and cost goes down (and vice versa) and that when trust is built between individuals, it builds across a team/department/organisation.

Within all of this, there are ‘five waves’ of trust:

  1. Self-trust – with the underlying principle of credibility. This can be developed through personal integrity, intent, capabilities and results.
  2. Relationship-trust – with thirteen underlying behaviours covering how we speak honestly, demonstrate respect, create transparency, right any wrongs, show loyalty, deliver results, continuously improve, confront reality, clarify expectations, practise accountability, listen before speaking, keep to our commitments and extend trust to others who have earned it and are still earning it.
  3. Organisational-trust – that is aligned trust inside your organisation, This is part of your company culture and Covey believes it is established through systems and structures which support the culture you want to have.
  4. Market-trust – trust generated by reputation. We all know the importance of our external reputation and how this affects our overall performance, but the implication here is that the way we treat external contacts, whether customers or suppliers, is vital.
  5. Societal-trust – trust generated by contribution, often referred to as corporate social responsibility. Rather than a box-ticking exercise of having a charity of the year or doing a day’s work in a community garden, this is about making a genuine positive contribution to your community in the long term.

What loses trust – and how do we restore it?

Trust, once built, can be lost. Common causes of lost trust are:

  • Internally – miscommunication, withholding information, acting against agreed values, mis-handling change, being self-serving and ‘looking after number one’.
  • Externally – poor service, not doing what you say you will do, squeezing suppliers in times when record profits are being made and damaging local communities and/or the environment.

However, even lost trust can be regained if we act quickly to restore that which we have lost, exceed expectations in correcting our mistakes, be honest about why things have gone wrong and not only repair the damage now, but ensure it will never happen again and accept full responsibility.

Finally remember that trust is a relationship built over a period of time, as author Marsha Sinetar said: “Trust is not a matter of technique, but of character; we are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exterior or our expertly crafted communications.”