Scary vs dangerous – returning to the workplace

As organisations are starting to get people back into the workplace, or at least having these kind of conversations on the agenda, we have been keen to hear what some of our clients have been saying about this. At a recent round table discussion online, it’s clear that people are feeling a wide range of emotions about returning to their place of work. It is also clear that there are things that leaders can do to help ease the transition, and the concerns.

It is probably worth starting with a cautionary note about the language we use when talking about this topic. As our client ‘S’ pointed out when the question of ‘going back to work’ was raised “It’s something that we’ve been pulled up on because people get slightly agitated with it. When we say people are ‘going back to work’, people have been working and believe me, people get really, really annoyed with you when you say that they’ve got to go back to work.” So, a simple reminder when talking about this is to refer to ‘back to the office’ – this might help you start off on the right footing!

We recognise that what is about to happen for many people is a second, significant change in the way they work. In March, and almost overnight, there was a move for people to work from home, which presented a great number of challenges. What we’re seeing now is a reversal of that change to start to bring people back in to their ‘old’ working environment, although this time on a staggered basis for many organisations. As we start to ask people to break their ‘new routines’ and start to think about re-engaging with some older ways of working – creating ‘the new normal’ we keep hearing about – it’s worth noting that some people will be nervous about this, seeing this as ‘scary’, and in some instances even asking whether it is ‘dangerous’, but we’ll look more at this a little later!

So, what kind of things might be going through people’s minds as they consider the return to the workplace? What we’re hearing is that there will be wide range of thoughts, which probably comes as no great surprise. As leaders though, what approach should we take?

Many organisations have recognised that people will be curious about returning to the workplace: how different will it look, what will be the same and what will be different? The messaging to get everyone to switch to working from home back in March may have unintentionally created feelings that offices (as well as many other public spaces) are not safe. That feeling is going to linger for a while. People may be going back to an office that they have visited many times, but it is not really the same place anymore, with social distancing creating new rules and expectations on how we act within the space. This all creates a feeling of a familiar place being unfamiliar and people feeling unsure of how it will work or even if it is a safe space anymore. This is the challenge that, as leaders, we need to overcome.

And there are a number of ways our clients have already been dealing with this. ‘J’s organisation has been using technology to help them “We’ve consciously kept a communication line open to all of our teams to let them know exactly what’s going on every single step of the way. And we’ve done that by making videos to send to them – we’ve brought in some animation software so we can create some short snappy animations that talk through what’s happening, what’s changing. When it comes to moving back into the office, we’ve had a company do a virtual 4D scan of the entire building. This shows all the sanitizer stations and the one way signs, and they can walk around the office virtually through all of the areas and all the floors so they know what’s where and how it’s going to look when they come in. So they understand where their desk is, the way they have to go, where all their resources are. If you look at one of the kitchenettes, it will come up with a sign to say “only one person allowed in at a time”. So we’ve made them try and feel comfortable with the fact that we’ve done everything we possibly can, plus more. And that’s gone down really well in easing some of the anxiety that people have got.” 4D scans could be a great approach, but to counter this one client also mentioned that their approach was more basic, having stickers on desks that simply highlighted which ones could be sat at and which ones couldn’t – and this was proving to be equally useful.

Another common feature of returning to the workplace is staggering how to bring people back. Again ‘J’ commented “We’re going to be slowly bringing back teams, those are at the least risk will come back first. We’ll make sure they’re comfortable in the office and they’re up and running before we bring the next back and so on. We’ve already made that announcement to them, but also said that we’ve got no date in mind. This is what we’re doing to make it as comfortable for everybody, which seems to have gone down well.”

This may be working so well for companies that, right now, not everyone wants to come back to the workplace. As ‘H’ put it “We’ve probably got about 20% who can’t wait to get back, who were missing the social aspects. We probably then have another 20% who perhaps have health concerns or relatives who have health concerns and are very nervous about going back. And then probably a whole group in the middle where it’s quite a mixed bag.”

Similarly ‘S’ mentioned “We’ve done a ‘back to the office/ site’ guide, which explains everything we’ve done, about our one way system, about using the canteen and about having respect for others. We have a little bit at the beginning of the guide that says people are dealing with this differently, so consider having that mindfulness and appreciation for how people are. And when people are coming back, we’re getting their managers to give them an induction for coming back to the office so that they don’t just slip into their normal pace.”

So, it seems that having some type of re-onboarding process will be helpful in allowing people to process their emotions and feelings and start to think about getting back into some sort of routine.

As leaders, this is really important, as it bridges the rational elements of ‘let’s make arrangements, put a plan in place, communicate’ with the emotional elements of ‘feeling unsure, being insecure, feeling tentative and wanting re-assurance’.

This is why the ‘scary and/or dangerous’ concept was mentioned earlier.
Scary/Dangerous is based on two scales and allows us to use one of our favourite ‘explainer’ tools – the four-box grid!

We feel that our reactions to situations that we feel are dangerous are hardwired into us and are a protective measure – if we do something that is dangerous it could, ultimately, cost us everything. However, dangerous is rational calculation, one that we often get wrong, as there are so many cognitive biases that get in the way. On top of that you have the hardwired reaction, whether we see something as scary or not, which is an emotional response. Our emotional responses happen almost instantly, and rarely use the facts of the situation. When you start to consider these two side by side, we have four scenarios.

Let’s take something that we know is dangerous – for instance standing on a cliff edge, leaning over. We probably know that this is dangerous (admittedly with degrees of risk) but, sitting where you are right now reading this, does this feel scary to you? For most of us, it won’t. However, if we were there, at the cliff edge for most of us it definitely would be scary. Where things are dangerous and scary too, you would really have to ask yourself why would you do that? These things we place in the ‘Crazy Zone’!

Where something is dangerous, but we don’t perceive it as scary – and there may be some people reading this who are happy standing on the cliff edge – you still wouldn’t do this in a blasé way, would you, you’d still be careful. These things go in the ‘Caution Zone’. If you’re going to do them, take care!
Sat at home, reading this, being asked to think about being in a cliff edge is clearly not dangerous (you’re not really there) and for most isn’t scary, so you’re really comfortable with this analogy – hence these things go in your ‘Comfort Zone’.

The final box is where we know it isn’t dangerous, but we still have an emotional reaction telling us it is scary – here we are nervous but can be helped to move forward – this is the Change Zone, and our role as leaders in the current situation, and in helping people return to their place of work, is to help our people ‘come back’.

Linking this to COVID19 and how people may well be feeling is worth drawing out.

Why are things dangerous right now? We have a situation that has (as I write this) taken the lives of around 46,000 people in the UK, and over 667,000 worldwide. This clearly falls into the dangerous category. Yet, there are clear steps that we can take to reduce the risks and make things safer, even if we cannot get to zero risk. We do lots of things with some level of risk, from sports to driving; the difference is that we have normalised those risks and are not constantly reminded of them as we are with COVID19.

Why are people feeling scared right now? There’s the obvious link to the dangers presented by COVID19, but also most people have been secure in their own bubbles, most have stayed safe and kept themselves and their loved ones safe. The talk about leaving bubbles and returning to the workplace is a clear change from this. There are now a range of factors people can’t control – will work colleagues have exercised the same amount of care and followed the rules, or will they have been cavalier in their attitudes? What about getting to work, will they need to be on public transport with a number of strangers? The list could go on.

It is this feeling of scary that is holding people back, and the practical plans that make things safer may have very little impact on the emotional responses of a lot of people. Think about the 20-60-20 split mentioned by ‘H’, 20% don’t perceive this as scary, 20% think this is very scary, but 60% are not sure and are looking for leaders who can help them work this out. Our aim as leaders, therefore, is to help our people to see that we have done everything we can to remove as many of the dangers as possible, and it seems our clients, amongst many others, have some practical approaches to doing this. We also need to help people with their emotions, recognising that we all view ‘scary’ differently and will need different types of reassurance.

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.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Have we accidentally created two tribes?

Teams have been broken, split between furloughed and working, home-based or office-based.  Teams that were once aligned against a common purpose are now divided.  What does this mean for managing teams going forward?  How can leaders bring teams back together?

Rich, Rob, Ricky and Paul (and Paul’s dog) discuss the implications and unintentional side effects of some of the difficult yet necessary decisions that have had to be made.   How do we get back to one team and one vision?

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

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

Why are some teams more engaged in what they do?

Some teams just get it, they immerse themselves in the work or activities of the team to deliver amazing results. What is it that they have, that other teams don’t?
In this podcast, Paul proposes that this is down to a connection to the higher purpose, and along with Graham they explore what that means.

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.

What is psychological safety and why is it important?

Psychological Saftey has become popular in business thinking, but what is it and is it just another fad, or something that adds real value to teams and businesses?
Ricky asks Paul to explain it and they dig into why psychological safety has such a big impact on performance.

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.

Social learning and the 70:20:10 model

Social learning is about the way we learn, while the 70:20:10 model concerns where we get our learning from. Both are linked and relevant, we think, to the work that we do at Thinking Focus, so we thought we’d take a closer look at them.

The social learning theory first formulated by Albert Bandura in 1977 shows that we learn best by imitating the behaviour and actions of others. It’s all about people learning from each other; picking up new skills, ideas, opinions and experiences from those around them.

This applies equally to learning in the workplace. Think about it: where do you feel you have learnt most of what you know? During formal education? Or from your own experience and the insights of your colleagues?

Social learning in the workplace is about interacting with others through good communication, knowledge sharing, discussion, collaboration, and being transparent about what you’re doing and why. Colleagues can help each other, either explicitly or tacitly, to understand ideas, experiences, systems, methods and processes. Yet most of us come into work with the rules set that tells us to do exactly the opposite, work it out on your own, don’t share, don’t copy other people’s work. These are the learning rules that schools operate by.

Most L&D professionals are familiar with the 70:20:10 model proposed by Charles Jennings. In fact, it has become a standard part of discussion regarding learning and development processes in the workplace. The model evolved from a report in the 1980s which analysed a survey of 200 senior managers. It found that they reported that 70% of what they knew had been learnt on the job or through experience, 20% had come from social interaction with other people, and just 10% had been learnt through formal education.

Although there’s been some criticism of the 70:20:10 model, some of which we agree with, we nevertheless think it’s useful in showing the rough proportions of experience, social interaction and education needed for learning. It does broadly tell us is that, to meaningfully and effectively learn new things, your experience and the input and experience of people around you is the most important thing. Social learning does tend to fit into 90 per cent of this model.

It’s all a great starting point for reflecting on how individuals within your workforce learn and what the best ways therefore might be for their personal development. It can be used as the basis for a wider L&D strategy that can have far reaching effects on the culture and mindset of the organisation as a whole.

At Thinking Focus, we recognise that we essentially offer the 10 per cent ‘formalised learning’ part of the Jennings model, but we do so as the basis for encouraging people to behave in the 20 per cent of the Jennings model by interacting with people, and to share the 70 per cent, their experience and knowledge.

In our coaching sessions and training workshops, and through our learning resources such as the Strategy Wall and our management development board game What Would You Do?, we are encouraging behaviours that enhance social learning. We create environments where the group learn from other and teach each other, generating conversations and giving people the tools to go and do the 20 per cent in real life. We are highlighting the untapped knowledge and experience that people could access from their colleagues.

We encourage meaningful face-to-face discussion and debate. We offer formalised learning elements and use them to highlight, encourage and create social learning by developing skills and behaviours that cause peer-based learning and self-reflection.

How does coaching help when leading sales teams?

Coaching can help generally in the workplace, and not just when leading sales teams. From a management point of view, it’s a great skill or ability to have, regardless of the team you are leading.

Here, Richard and Graham look at how knowing the way to coach properly can be invaluable in helping develop your people, including sales teams.

The first thing to know about coaching is that many people misunderstand what it is. Mention the word and their first thought is possibly about a sports coach, shouting at their team from the sidelines, imploring them to do better. Or they see it in a negative context, imagining a formalised session with their manager in which coaching is a remedial tool to improve their failing performance.

Although coaching can sometimes be about improving poor performance, equally it can be about helping someone who’s good to get even better. It assumes that the person has some understanding of their role, as well as a certain level of skill and experience. Coaching should unlock the potential of the individual.

Coaching helps give structure, focus and clarity to people who know they want or have to do better. It helps them to move forward by using the knowledge and skills they already have. This can be done by asking questions that cause a deeper level of thinking. If a member of your sales team tells you “I want to get better at sales”, narrow it down for them by asking “What aspect of sales do you want to get better at?”. If, for instance they reply “Lead generation”, ask “What aspect of lead generation?”

Once the questioning has helped someone find their focus, a good coach will then help them open up their thinking by asking more questions: “So now you know what you want to do, let’s think of ways you could do it.” Get creative and try not to tell them exactly what to do. It’s sometimes tempting for managers to say “When I did your job, what I did was…” or “If you look at so-and-so, what they’re doing really well is this…”. Instead, explore options and draw on what the individual knows or is good at.

A good coach encourages people to think for themselves, rather than telling them what to do, which will limit their thinking.

The next essential part of coaching is to ensure that the person is going to take ownership of what’s been discussed. How are you going to make sure they will put things into action, that they have bought into it? Check their motivation and confidence. Ask when they are going to start? What’s the first action? What specific things are they going to do?

Finally, always offer follow-ups: “What can I do? How can I be of help to you?” And remember, coaching doesn’t have to be formal. It can be as simple as a five-minute chat after a meeting, or in the canteen over coffee. If someone starts a conversation with you and you’ve asked them some questions which have helped with their thinking and their actions going forward, then you’ve coached them.

How can you talk yourself into the sale?

Assumptions, beliefs and past experiences are going to shape how we think about the sales process and the customer. Added to that, we also have to deal with pressure from targets and our managers.This will all condition how you behave during the sales process.

In our latest podcast, Ricky and Rob first discuss the reasons why we typically talk ourselves OUT of the sale, before looking at ways of talking ourselves INTO it.

Reasons we might use to talk ourselves out of the sale include making assumptions that our competitors are better than we are or that the customer doesn’t want what we are selling. We’ll second-guess how the customer’s going to react and what they’re going to say. We’ll ask ourselves: Why do they want what I’m selling, and why do they want it from me? Am I good enough? Is my product or service good enough?

So, how can you turn that around and to talk yourself INTO a sale?

Firstly, focus on all the great things you do, the great experiences you’ve had in the past, and the wins. Play over the narrative that was in your mind when you did well in that call, sales meeting or sales follow-up.

Get other people involved, if possible. Reflect on a sales meeting with a colleague or sales manager, look at the successful elements that you can draw upon and learn from. For the less successful parts, think what you might do differently next time.

Be self-aware. You will only improve if you can reflect and learn from what you do. Nurture a growth mindset in yourself. Ask: What can I learn from this?

Finally, during that next sale, don’t get caught up in the moment and in the pressure of having to make the sale, or the need to deliver targets or win a new customer. We might wonder if our product or service is good enough, or worry that we don’t understand the product fully. As sales people, we’ll focus our attention on the product’s weaknesses, which we may have to defend, but spend hardly any time on why the product is great. We need to think from the customer’s perspective, not our own, and see the world the other way round – after all, they are buying it for what it can do, and not what it can’t.

What you actually want is to get the right outcome for the customer rather than selling for selling’s sake. Just focus on building a great relationship, understanding your customer and what they need, and then positioning your product for them.

We got a Bronze at the Learning Awards!

Thinking Focus directors Ricky and Rob had a fantastic evening at the Learning Awards 2019, and were over the moon to pick up a Bronze award in the Start-Up Learning Provider of the Year category!

We are so proud to have been recognised alongside some of the very best L&D practitioners in the UK. Ed Monk, the CEO of the Learning Performance Institute, which runs the awards, said they’d received over 800 entries in total – so just to get to the shortlist means we were in the top 10 per cent!

Well done to all the finalists, and we would particularly like to congratulate VirtualSpeech, who won our category, and LearnBox, who scooped the Silver award.

Learning Awards
Before the ceremony

Ricky said: “To have been nominated in such a competitive category is great recognition for what we have achieved in such a short space of time. We have a solid platform on which to build and grow our business in the future, so look out for new products and development soon.

“In less than three years, we have won 50 new clients, worked on assignments in 13 countries and across 28 sectors, and worked with well over 2,000 people. We’ve grown our team, produced a book and created a new L&D resource, the gamified learning product for managers called What Would You Do?, and a step-by-step process blueprint for developing team, department or organisational strategy – known as the ‘Strategy Wall’.”

Learning Awards
We invited two of our valued clients to enjoy the ceremony with us

The Learning Awards recognises and celebrates outstanding examples of high standards, best practice, innovation and excellence in the corporate L&D sphere. The glittering awards ceremony on February 7th took place at the prestigious Dorchester Hotel in London’s Park Lane and was attended by around 400 guests representing organisations from across the world.

Host for the evening, BBC star Claudia Winkleman, introduced the Start-Up category by saying: “This award is for organisations under three years old who have already made a significant impact on the sector. So you truly are amazing to be in this group.”

Ricky said: “Being shortlisted for this award has given us a great start to a year in which we’ll be developing our business further and rolling out What Would You Do? and the Strategy Wall. All of which ultimately leads to what, for us, is the biggest buzz of all: seeing the impact of our work and hearing our clients report fantastic results.”

He added: “Thank you to all those who have helped, inspired and supported us: We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Learning Awards trophy

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.”