Archives for 2019

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Using Transactional Analysis in L&D

Bringing Transactional Analysis alive…

When you’re designing learning content that covers difficult conversations, being more effective, self-awareness, influencing, people management…. In fact, for almost anything to do with people, Transactional Analysis (TA) could be a helpful concept to introduce.

In this article we explore a bit of the background and how you can bring the concept to life to help your learners.

Analysing interactions (or transactions) between people, spotting where things are going wrong and looking at what we can do better: that’s what TA is.  And so, whenever we are looking at personal effectiveness and working with others, there is an opportunity to look at this wisdom from the 1950s.

Eric Berne developed the idea of our three states: Parent, Adult and Child, releasing his first book on the subject in 1961.  As you’ll see below, the Parent and Child states are further broken down into two sub-sections.

We can all think of times when we have been keen to care for someone, maybe fixing something for them: this is our Nurturing Parent way of being.

We have been strict, telling people what to do or telling them off: this is Critical Parent.  We have been rebellious, disagreeing with someone or on the flipside, working overly hard to please them: that’s our Adaptive Child.  Finally we have acted like a child enjoying themselves, having fun, doing a wheelie on a bike or squealing over coloured pens and new stationery: say hello to your Free Child.

When we have our best conversations, we can usually see that we have been rational, logical and spoken to someone like they were our equal: that’s the Adult.

How is this useful?    

Think back over the times when you have demonstrated each of the states and you’ll spot that the impact you had on the other person or situation overall was generally more positive when you stayed in the Adult state.

Recognising the times when we tend to fall into Parent or Child states can help us spot the unhelpful behaviour and choose to move back to Adult.  You could try this exercise for yourself and with your delegates….

Draw out the following chart and fill out the boxes for you personally.  Everyone’s answers will be different, so do this just for you.  We’ve filled in examples from our own experiences and stories we’ve heard on workshops, to give you some ideas….

Transactional Analysis Table
Responsive websites really don’t like tables – so we’ve created this picture for you to use!

Now you have considered all of this, you can prepare to both notice your behaviour changes and beware of situations that cause you to move out of Adult state.  Bringing awareness to these shifts in behaviour means you can have more control over them, rather than unconsciously acting on auto-pilot.

So next time you are running a workshop that looks at people and relationships, you could consider adding in a bit of work on Transactional Analysis: helping people notice their changes in behaviour and choose more effective, Adult-Adult conversations.

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Relatability & Learning

What does relatability have to do with anything?

On a recent workshop, a few delegates pointed out the importance of relatability when it comes to good L&D facilitation.  Why does this matter and what can you do about it?

As a learning facilitator, you are expected to do much more than just share ideas, models and tips.  There is the facilitation of delegates’ thinking, helping them engage with ideas and consider how to use the specific tools in their work.  Then there is the sharing of examples, stories or case studies that bring this to life.

As context is critical to learning application, these stories need to be relatable to the delegates.  Can they imagine that story as their own?  Can each person think about how they would react in that situation and how the tools on offer might help?

And how can you develop these stories and examples if you have not personally dealt with contexts the delegates can relate to?

Here are our top tips for making your content relatable;

Consider the audience, who are they? What challenges do they face and what situations will they find relevant?

Gather stories from other people who have something in common with this audience. You could even speak 1:1 to a few delegates in advance, to pick up scenarios and language that is relevant.

Think over your life experiences. When have you been in a situation that these people might be able to relate to?  When have you experienced something similar to their daily challenges?  Remember that personal lives often give rich treasure here too: relationship challenges, parenting, buying a home, changing jobs.

If you are lacking personal experience that might feel relevant to your audience, think about other stories you have heard. When have you heard other people talk about this group’s kind of challenges?  What stories could you share from this bank, saying, “I’ve heard other people say that when they….”

Sense-check your ideas with someone. If there are a couple of delegates you can speak to in advance, or someone who knows the audience well, check what they think will land well.

And finally, use your audience! On the day, ask them to share stories, as once you have been vulnerable and opened up the idea of being honest, others will do the same – then you can refer to their stories too.

The challenge here is that relatability is not a static list of things to do, but fluid and dynamic.  It requires you to observe the context in which you’re delivering your learning, and to adapt your style dependent on the needs of your audience.  Whilst the content you are trying to teach is obviously critical, being aware of how you relate that content to your audience’s context, can mean new opportunities to improve your approach to learning facilitation.


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HR Business Partners

Are your Business Partners having the right conversations?

There has been a sharp rise in requests for Business Partner development work this year, as companies of all shapes and sizes recognise the need for support functions like HR, Finance and IT to be having more strategic conversations with the business.

You might think that after the many years of the Business Partner job title being banded around, professionals in those roles would all be settled and confident with the idea.  Yet we’re finding quite the opposite, as more and more businesses come to us for support to develop their people.

The challenge seems to boil down to clarity and confidence, with frequent comments including:

“I’m not sure I know what is expected of me with this new title?”

“I’m being asked to say no to the business, when I used to say yes.  How do I do that?”

“I keep being told I need to have more strategic conversations, but I’m not really sure what that means.  And how would I start doing that when I usually just respond to requests?”

We wrote about the Challenger Business Partner some time ago, highlighting the research on what can make the best influencers in any role.  Those skills are still highly relevant today, to external and internal consultants and partners alike.  Due to the volume of work we have been doing focused on developing in-house Business Partners, we have developed our own framework of what seems to set apart those best in the role.

Those Partners who are well-respected, earn a seat at the table and facilitate strategic plans with the business that achieve top and bottom-line outcomes.

We have built this framework from a range of sources and our practical experience of both being business partners and delivering business partner development across industries for the past 15 years.  You’ll spot reference to Dixon & Adamson’s Challenger Sale and Maister et al’s Trusted Advisor, as these are critical starting points to understanding the ways successful people build relationships and influence others.

What can you do with this information?

If your team is needing to demonstrate more of the skills and behaviours shown in this framework, then start a conversation.  We have found one of the most impactful exercises with this, is simply to ask people what good would look like for each of the boxes.  “If you felt confident in your role, what would you be doing?”  “If you were effective in influencing and teaching, what would be happening?  What would you be doing?  What would others say about you?”

In doing this, you are in effect creating your own Business Partner Competency Framework, which you can then use as a benchmark for goals, feedback and development.  Many of our programmes have started with this exercise, then gone onto build the skills and confidence needed in each area.

Why not start the same conversation with your team?

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Defining the “I” in IQ

How did we arrive at this (possible) quirk of statistical certainty?

The brain – the most complex organ in the human body, contains over one hundred billion nerve cells, produces our every thought, deed, memory and feeling.  It interprets the chaotic world around us and gives us our sense of “self”.  It’s a remarkable biological achievement.

So isn’t it a little strange that we take the most complex biological structure known to human kind, and believe we can determine its functioning capacity down to a single, numerical IQ score?

IQ testing has been around for well over a century.  In 1904 English psychologist Charles Spearman noticed that children who did well in one subject at school, were also likely to do well in other subjects too.  From this simple observation, Spearman went on to thoroughly research and propose his theory of “general intelligence” (or g factor) which sounds far more exciting than it is.  G factor is the statistical measure of the variance of testing performance between individuals… (told you!)

This g factor represented the birth of intelligence testing as we know it today, and whilst testing for IQ has certainly evolved over time, it’s worth challenging what we really know about IQ and the idea that we can measure it.

Of relevance to the HR profession, particularly in a global context, is the observation that the definition of intelligence is culturally specific, not universal.  In the West where most tests have been developed, speed of thought has long been seen as an indicator of intelligence, which is why many tests often come with a time limit.

But in the East , taking your time to consider and reflect upon a question before committing to an answer is seen as more important.  Should wisdom be rushed?  The old Chinese proverb “the wise are never in a hurry” suggests not.

Charles Spearman famously acknowledged that “Every man, woman, and child is a genius at something. It remains (for us) to discover at what”.  We wholeheartedly support this view, that understanding an individual and their potential is a critical component of our work in the HR profession.

From this understanding we can begin to offer intelligent advice about career paths, management decisions, hiring choices and promotions.  So maybe the idea of g factor and testing it should stay back in 1904 whilst we work hard to understand an individual’s area of strengths, and help them maximise their potential.

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Challenger Business Partners

boxing-gloves-400x265The Challenger HR Business Partner

We recently reviewed the Challenger research from CEB, and explored how it might complement or replace the Trusted Advisor model for great sales teams (click here for the article).  How does that apply to the HR function?

For years companies have taken the same approach to HR Business Partner development as their sales team’s development: Become trusted advisors; ask good questions; build relationships and give good advice.

Is this now obsolete?  Do we require something different from our HR teams?

Much like our article on the application of this to sales, our take on it is that the bar hasn’t moved, but perhaps our understanding of the bar could do with shifting.

Asking good questions and giving useful advice seems to have been translated into asking nice questions, saying yes and delivering what the business asks for in many cases.  Was that the best thing for the business?  Was it the best outcome for all involved?  Possibly not.

Totem Lollipops

So how do we re-educate our HR functions to better understand their roles alongside the business and find the confidence, skills and most appropriate mind-set to be effective?

Here are some of the classic challenges we have faced when working with client HR, talent and L&D teams, with suggestions on how these can be overcome.  In summary, the challenges we hear most often are:

  • I want to help
  • I can’t say no
  • I don’t know what to say
  • I’m not a business person
  • I’m not given the seat at the table

In his fantastic book, To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink highlights that “1 in 9 people work in sales.  So do the other 8.”  His point is that we all have an aspect of selling or influencing to our roles now – so selling skills are not reserved for those 1 in 9 who have sales in their job titles.  What can we learn from the world of sales, to respond to each of these classic HR challenges?

I want to help & I can’t say no

One common theme that runs through all of the individuals in HR that we speak to is the desire to help others.  To make a difference is the most common reply we hear to the question, “why do you do it?”  So it’s no surprise that HR professionals get stuck in the ‘be nice and help’ cycle.

Quite closely linked to wanting to help is the want to be liked and please people.  Whilst this is not universal with HR professionals, it is a trend and many people find it difficult to say no.

With both of these challenges, the response is the same – “what is the purpose of your role?”  Asking HR professionals to consider the value-add of their role, the difference they want to make and could make in the business, what they want to achieve and what motivates them to do it – all this refocuses the mind.

The idea of a Challenger is not to say no or stop helping – that wouldn’t be great for a sales person either – but the idea is to bring something better to the table than the client may be asking for or thinking of.  If the business asks for a headcount report, is that the best value I can add?  If the business tells me there’s a recruiting need and I have to find three good candidates by next week – is that the best outcome for all involved?

Focusing on the purpose of the HR function, our specific roles and the value we can add, will help us explore different ideas with our business client group.  Rather than waiting for the next request for a report, set of candidates, appraisal training, disciplinary or fire-fighting support, maybe I go to my partner in the business and talk to them about talent.

Maybe I explain the challenges every business out there is facing with finding great talent and keeping hold of it.  Maybe I share some data on where we are bleeding talent in our business and my ideas on how we plug that leak.  Maybe I highlight that if we don’t do something about that, we’ll be struggling to do more with fewer people, no sense of where new people will come from and no time to find and train those people up.

Rather than focusing on saying yes or no – let’s help our HR colleagues focus on the value they can add and bring to the table.  This is the Challenger approach – bringing insight, teaching the business and challenging the business to do something different.

Jelly Bean Diversity

I don’t know what to say

All of that great stuff requires knowing what to say.  What if I don’t know where we’re leaking talent?  Or what if I’m an employment law expert, HR generalist or L&D specialist – what confidence and knowledge will I have to talk about talent, the outside market and the challenges our business is facing?

In the sales world, this is the job of the sales leader: Providing insight and market awareness, and working with the team to build a range of offers or stories to tell the client.  And so it can be the case with HR, that this market insight and challenge can be initiated by the HR leader.

What are the challenges our market is facing?  What’s happening in this business?  What’s our talent strategy for addressing that?  How will our HR team engage their business partners to tell that story, raise concern and gain agreement to do something about it?

The HR leader, like the sales leader, becomes the facilitator of those brainstorming sessions, to come up with the great content that will challenge the business and demonstrate the value-add of the function.

I’m not a business person

Then learn how to talk the talk.  It is not a requirement of HR professionals to know everyone else’s jobs inside out, or be able to do them, but we need to speak the language.  And if we can’t, we need to learn.  Often on development programmes with HR Business Partners, we’ll bring in operators and commercial directors to explain what’s really going on in the business.

But of course outside of that environment, it’s great for HR to be sitting alongside the business, learning the language and seeing the reality of the challenges.  This is an immediate credibility booster in the business – when HR are seen to be taking the time to understand the commercial realities of a wide variety of jobs and situations.

I’m not given a seat at the table

Then you need to earn it – see all the previous points!  It is only by understanding the business and bringing fresh insight, challenge and ideas, that we earn that seat at the table.

What does this all mean for HR teams and HR leaders?

  • Review your spend on skills development

What skills are being developed?  Are you teaching people to develop warm, safe relationships that may not give you the best outcomes?  Has the message of building relationships been misinterpreted to mean that people should just say yes to all requests, be helpful and do as they’re asked?  In addition to the skills development on asking questions and advising effectively, build skills in understanding the business, building market awareness, teaching, tailoring and taking control of the conversation.

  • Build your market knowledge and value-add insight

Whatever your role, how could you offer more insights to your internal customers?  What do you know about the market, industry or typical challenges people face, that you can share with your stakeholders to demonstrate your value-add?  What resources do you have available to you that could be used in growing this insight and sharing it with others?  As a team, how could you work together to build your knowledge and understanding, then translate that into hard-hitting insights that make the business sit up and listen?

The Challenger research may have first been designed for sales, but it has far-reaching implications for any role that influences – which is arguably every role.  HR teams now have a great opportunity to change the perception of the function within the business, connecting with the organisation’s priorities and challenging leaders to pay attention to the value-add possible.

If after all this you want to understand more about what the Trusted Advisor and Challenger research suggests, then look back at our exploration of that applied to sales.

It’s just as applicable to internal sales, or influencing.  And if you’re still hungry for more,  contact us for help in building the HR skills you need from your team.

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Finding Your Inner Emoji

emojipeopleWhat will be the impact of this curious language?  🙂 

The fastest growing language of modern times is not English or Mandarin – it is the language of emoji. The emoji, taken from the Japanese word for e-character, has only been around for a few short years, but is increasingly adopted as a universal method of communication.

The reasons behind its popularity are not surprising. Emojis represent concepts and emotions much more simply than words and take far less time for the brain to decode.

Pictures transcend language barriers and allow us to communicate quickly about things that are important to us. In a modern society characterized by increasingly short attention spans, the emoji can be an answer to the question of how to do or say more with less.

Indeed, the rise of the emoji actually takes us back full-circle to our anthropological origins, where our ancestors made survival decisions based on instant visual stimuli.  So what might this mean for a learning environment? 😕

The fact that using visual images helps learners to process information more quickly and/or easily is nothing new. Whilst words are technically also images, reading is a translation process and so takes much longer for the brain to process than a well-chosen image.  In fact, according to research by 3M we can process visuals 60,000 times faster than text.

However, the emoji reminds us how powerful very simple images can be in putting an important message across quickly and to a mass audience. We see with our brains, via pattern recognition, which is why we tend to be able see very familiar patterns such as faces in everyday objects.  So, the image that we are projecting does not have to be very precise, it just needs to trigger a pattern recognition in the brain.

The challenge for most learning providers is that as a younger workforce moves into the marketplace, we’ll need to communicate with them in a way that we’re not used to.  How many workshops have you designed using emojis?  😯

Whilst the effectiveness of the emoji in personal, informal communication is relatively well understood, its application as a tool for business is less so, but help is at hand.  Many large brands have begun experimenting with emojis as a marketing tool, as emojis can help brands humanise themselves by adding an emotional layer to their communications.

For example, Domino’s have created a service that allows a customer to order a pizza by texting a pizza emoji.  The World Wide Fund for Nature also used the panda face emoji to raise awareness about endangered species, and this was designed to encourage those who regularly use emojis of pandas to donate to its conservation efforts.

The key challenge will be how to translate the work being done with emojis in a marketing context, to work being done in an L&D context.  It’s quite clear that emojis offer the L&D world a way to increase engagement and trigger deeper emotions and conversations, but only if they are highly relevant to your message and your target audience.  😎

As the world’s understanding of Visual Literacy grows, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the rise of this new form of language.  As the age of our workforce changes and the young people of today bring fresh forms of communication into the workplace, it would be wise for us to be already able to speak their language.

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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

A fictional but compelling story built on trust.

Much like Patrick Lencioni’s other great books, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team uses a fictional leadership tale, this time exploring the fascinating, complex world of teams.

As CEO of a technology company, Kathryn faces a leadership crisis: uniting a team in such disarray that it threatens to bring down the entire company.

As you read through this story of two halves, you can see how easily any one of the five dysfunctions can have a dramatic effect on team work.

Lencioni’s suggested 5 dysfunctions of a team are:

Absence of Trust
Fear of Conflict
Lack of Commitment
Avoidance of Accountability
Inattention to Results

Knowing the five dysfunctions is only half the battle, and half the book. In the second half of the book, Lencioni expands on each dysfunction and offers a course of action to address each one.

Some of these actions will seem difficult to enact in the work place, but when has leading a successful team been easy – and should it be? The most important first step is to build trust and the key is to help others trust you by being the first to be vulnerable.

Why not take the first step today and be honest with your team about something you find difficult, something you need their help with or a mistake you have made. This will help your team feel more trusting of you, which means they are more likely to open up too.

If you are looking for a better understanding of teamwork, check out The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable.

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Under Pressure

eggShould we put candidates under extra pressure at interview? 

Is that a good way of assessing how well they deal with pressure in the job?  Is this also an assessment of their leadership potential?

This is a question we get asked a fair amount, because it is often a requirement of the job for people to cope well under pressure.  Our response, as usual, is a few more questions.

  • In what context is the person in their role likely to be under pressure?
  • What might the experience be like?
  • How can you simulate that particular kind of pressure in the assessment process?
  • What does a good response to that assessment look like?

These questions are critical because they can unearth different assumptions from each of the people involved in the assessment process.  In one example we heard that one assessor thought the candidates needed to remain calm and smiling whilst being fired quick and difficult questions, whereas the ultimate decision-maker was looking for someone who would take charge of the situation and ask the interviewer to ask one question at a time.

This highlights how we can come into a process all wanting different things – and of course the outcome can be a fair few arguments in the wash-up session because one person thought the candidate responded well under pressure and another person thought they did terribly.

Totem Gummi Bears

Let’s explore each of the questions in a bit more depth:

In what context is the person in their role likely to be under pressure?  What might the experience be like?

There is a difference between responding well to a tight deadline and dealing with a really difficult customer.  How we cope under pressure is not consistent across different types of pressure.  Have you ever met someone who works well against a deadline, yet cannot speak confidently to an angry person?

Or have you come across someone who falls apart when there are too many things to get done, yet they seem very happy and open discussing that with their manager or team?  These are examples of the fact that we each respond differently to each kind of pressure.  So we need to understand the kind of pressure a candidate might be under in the actual job, in order to assess the right kind of behaviour at interview.

How can you simulate that particular kind of pressure in the assessment process?

Once you know exactly what behaviour you are looking for, you are better able to design an assessment or interview process that measures this.  If it’s deadline pressure for example that you need people to cope with, then you could ask the interview question, “when have you dealt with a tight deadline?” or you could set up an assessment exercise where the time is tight and see how they cope.

Alternatively if you were more interested in how candidates cope with difficult customers or high pressure client meetings, you might have an exercise that replicates this context or ask, “when have you been in a high pressure client meeting?”

Totem Lollipops

What does a good response to that assessment look like?

With any of the examples above, it is critical for there to be agreement on what a good response looks like.  This is how you can be sure that five different assessors are all using the same criteria to make their recommendations.

Ideally make some notes on what a great response, a good response and a not-so-good response might look like, so that there can be consistent rating of behaviour, rather than a subjective evaluation of “I don’t think they handled it well.”

The point with all of this is that we each have different ideas of what we’re looking for, so we need to get all that out in the open if we are going to be able to trust others’ evaluations and comments.

If you would like support with your interviewers or hiring managers, helping them ask great questions and interview effectively, do get in touch.  We’d love to see how we can help.

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Dropping the Performance Ratings

ratingsWhy the world is falling out of love with the Annual Performance Review and its ratings.

Ahh.  The Annual Performance Review.  We’ve all had one and all left one feeling vaguely worse about ourselves and probably demotivated as a result.  It’s also quite likely you’ve been on the other side of the table too – having had similar feelings.  In many ways, Annual Performance Reviews make sense.

In business we crave the ability to quantify everything, from our sales targets to the number of toner cartridges we use.  Why shouldn’t our people be the same?  The ability to rank our employees in a given context and to assign performance-related perks (or not) has been the bread and butter of the average HR department for decades.  Where would General Electric and Jack Welch be without them?

So why are a growing number of high profile, global organisations including Amazon, Microsoft, Accenture and even General Electric themselves, moving away from the fixed rating, yearly performance review?

To begin with, the world doesn’t work to yearly cycles anymore, it may well do for senior managers, investors and your finance department – but for those of us on the frontline we have daily, weekly and monthly goals to achieve – things we quite often receive instant feedback on.  We inherently know (or at least we should do!) what our performance has been over any short time period, so why wrap it up once a year and look backwards?

Totem Lollipops

When Deloitte analysed their performance processes, they found employees and managers spent around two million hours a year on performance reviews (take the average hourly wage at Deloitte and times it by 2 Million – that’s a big number).  Do we know we’re getting good value out of this time?

Initially designed to help managers coach people to better performance, most appraisal meetings fall into a rut of ‘what you did well over the past 12 months and what you didn’t do well’.  In today’s corporate environment, assessing, addressing and rewarding performance once a year is simply too slow – both for the business and for the employee.

Which leads us to the second part of the answer: millennials.  David Rock and Beth Jones, writing for the Harvard Business Review about their research on this move to abolish ratings, comment that:

“Millennials in particular crave learning and career growth.  Of the 30 companies we studied, one preliminary finding that jumped out was that after a company removed ratings, managers talked to their teams significantly more often about performance – three or four times a year instead of only once.”

A growing number of your workforce will have grown up with the ability to give and receive feedback instantly, frequently and whilst mobile.

Jelly Bean Diversity

The nature of that feedback has changed too – the problem with many appraisal meetings is that much of the time is spent talking about the ratings themselves, not the underlying performance.  Millennials are far more comfortable asking the question why.  They don’t simply want a star or a thumbs up on their rating form, they want to see constructive feedback.

If a manager is unable to give them this guidance and coaching – in real time remember – then the manager is no better than a troll on YouTube.

It’s also the case that the familiar incentives don’t always encourage the best employees anymore, so we’re required to offer more tailored feedback and customized work arrangements for our top performers.  Companies that are removing ratings are seeing the conversations with their employees move from justification of past performance to conversations about growth, development and by extension – engagement.

All of us as managers need to stop getting stuck in processes and reviewing what is in this day and age, the ancient history of work performance 12 months ago.  We need to instead focus on instant, specific feedback so that everyone knows when they’re on the right path – and how to make positive change when they’re not.

Totem Gummi Bears

But does it work?  The CEB and the NLI have been researching companies who have made the move already and there are mixed results. CEB claims that most experiences are negative after the removal of ratings, whereas the NLI describes very positive outcomes. 

In the conversations we are having with clients taking the option to say goodbye to the rating system, there is a constant theme of concern over the organisation’s readiness.  Are managers aware of what they will be doing instead of discussing ratings?  Are they ready for that?  If this means more frequent and specific feedback, do managers have the skills and confidence to do that well?

The NLI have found that the most successful transitions have been where the business has lead strong change management communication on why this is happening, what it means for everyone involved and how people will be supported through it.  These businesses have also focused on increasing the frequency of performance conversations and moving the discussion from looking at the past to looking at the future.

It’s not a big stretch to see how the neuroscience literature supports this – as any change brings uncertainty unless there is an increase in strong communication focused on the why question.

In our next article we explore how you can do this well too…

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