Online Learning

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Neuroscience for Online Learning

Neuroscience is the study of the brain…

Or more technically the nervous system including the brain and spinal cord – so it’s like learning how people really work.

In 2016 when neuroscience research became more prolific and accessible, we gained insights that could tell us why certain approaches to learning were working and why other things were simply not effective.

Since then, we’ve had a chance to try out plenty of different approaches, and so here we share with you what works and why. There are great insights from psychology and neuroscience that translate across both face-to-face and online learning environments, but in this video we’ll explore specifically how to use the tips in online sessions.

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Make the Most of Communicating Online

Using Technology to keep in touch with others has exploded in recent times, and whilst we’ve come a long way since the simple phone call, it still has some hiccups. We weigh in on some of the most problematic, but easily addressed issues facing the modern technology user.

Psychologist Helen Frewin gives us three quick tips to rapidly improve your online experience when communicating with others – just try not to look up her nose…

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Totem Talks Episode 6: Difficult Conversations

Why do we not like giving feedback? Why do we not face up to those honest, tough or difficult conversations? Whatever we call them, and many businesses have tried their share of variations, feedback and performance conversations are still a challenge for many people.

Here we look at why interventions to date may not have worked and share some top tips that are working well for us and our clients. And then we’ll get to some meaty stuff – preparing for the other person’s response…

One of the things that stops us entering into difficult conversations, feedback or chats about big issues is an anxiety over how the other person may respond. What if they quit? Cry? Argue? Shout? Take it really badly?

And so as a learning designers, facilitators and coaches, Mark Smith & Helen Frewin help you to prepare for those eventualities – and for those you cannot even imagine.

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Totem Talks Episode 5: Online Learning

What are other people doing with virtual learning?

This is a question we are getting asked a lot right now, so we thought we’d share a few experiences and tips that have come up across our clients.

Traditional training companies have sold expensive, residential courses for years and whilst these have been challenged before, it is only in more recent weeks with the impetus provided by Covid-19 that this challenge is likely to stick.

But with a better understanding of how people learn and with the introduction of better technology, Mark Smith & Helen Frewin talk about the stand out changes that are likely to stay.

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Converting to Virtual Programmes

And quickly too!

If you’re used to running webinars for learning sessions and already have a decent e-learning offering, that’s one thing.  But what about converting your two-day leadership programme into a virtual session at short notice, so that you can keep your development programmes running?

That’s the challenge facing a few of our clients, so we thought we’d share our top tips here….

Set Some Ground Rules

We all know etiquette on conference calls and webinars can be poor.  Some people don’t even mute their lines, so you can actually hear them carrying on about their business and typing their emails in the background.  Having everyone put their camera on makes a huge difference here – as we are no longer invisible.  Set out what you want the virtual session to achieve, for example, highlighting that this is not about shifting the highly interactive workshop into a death-by-PowerPoint slide show, but more about working where possible to replicate the workshop experience.

There can be a tendency for silence and passivity in these virtual settings, which completely removes the benefit of this being an experience with peers.  When we think about the consistent positive feedback received on face-to-face workshops, it’s always the benefit of hearing from peers – how they face similar challenges and how they cope.

So when we move to a virtual setting, we don’t want to lose this.  Set the expectation that people will be asked to comment and share with the whole group their personal experiences, challenges and ideas on how to overcome these.

Set up Breakout Rooms

Asking people to share their experiences in front of the whole group is far easier when smaller conversations have taken place first.  This is the benefit of small group discussions and breakouts in your face-to-face workshops.  Replicate this in your virtual sessions by splitting people into small groups and getting them to have a discussion.  Depending on the platform you are using, you may be able to actually run breakout rooms (e.g. on zoom) or you could just ask people to set up skype calls.

Again, ask everyone to have their cameras on for this, so that they are more likely to really listen and engage with the conversation than just carry on with emails etc.

Sift your Content

We have to acknowledge that some of the content we prepared for the face-to-face workshop just will not translate to a virtual setting.  Whether that’s the escape room game you had planned or an activity where delegates would take it in turns to influence a stakeholder, forum-theatre-style as a whole group, you’ll need to remove that content or ideally find alternative ways to hit the learning objectives.  Run through your agenda and work out what can be removed and what can be altered to work better in a virtual setting.

In one example on a recent session, we had a game that highlighted the importance of good communication during delegation.  We instead asked the delegates in breakout calls, to discuss their experiences of delegation and to share when it had not worked well and when everything had gone smoothly.  What made the difference?  What themes did they find in their experiences?  And therefore what practical tips would they suggest for future delegation?  This produced the same learning outcome, as the delegates realised how important the communication had been.

Keep it Short

A two-day face-to-face programme will probably not take two days when run virtually.  Think about how you could break the time down into sub-sections and give people space in between for breaks, time back on the day job, or indeed as they are probably working from home, time to put the washing on and see the kids.  Just balance this flexibility with the ground rules, so that when people are in the session, they are truly present.

It’s interesting to consider which of the changes to our lives caused by Coronavirus might stick.  Might we find that this way of running virtual, interactive workshops is beneficial – certainly for saving travel costs and therefore the planet?  The benefits of face-to-face networking are huge, so perhaps not.  It will be interesting to see what happens out the other side of all this.

 

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Working from Home?

Make the most of Working From Home

With the Government recommending people work from home where possible, and many companies segregating teams for business continuity, there is benefit to considering ways to make the most of working from home.

One of the most surprising findings in research on productivity and people working at their best, is the need for chit chat.  The light-hearted chats around the coffee machine and in the corridor are hugely valuable to our sense of wellbeing, which contributes to our job performance.

We might imagine that this small talk is a distraction from our work and is one thing that attacks our productivity, and certainly if we spend hours discussing our latest Netflix binge-watch, we won’t get much work done!

But how can the feeling that we have had a chance to connect as human beings benefit us?  Perhaps we feel more valued, not just as an employee but as a person.  Perhaps we give our brains a moment to switch off, which has been shown in many different ways to benefit the quality of our focused thinking.  So how can we put this to use?

It would be hard on a conference call with 20 people to spend much time on “how are you finding it at home?  Are you self-isolating?  Are the restaurants still open?”  But we could make time for this 1:1.  What if we were a little less task-focused for the first five minutes of each call?  And for those of us who are people managers, what if we invested time in checking in with our people.

You may not have a solution to the issues around boredom, a feeling of going stir-crazy stuck in the house, or losing it with the whole family being cramped in together.  What you can do is listen, share your stories too of what’s going on, and be a support just by being there. Not surprisingly, a second tip is around organising your time.  It’s worth being honest with yourself about the fact that it can be useful to sort your washing, get that DIY finished and finally look at what’s wrong with the boiler.

And if you have children at home, you have a whole other level of complication.  So what conversations would be useful with your family and your manager?  Would it be helpful to consider doing more work after the children have gone to bed?  Can you agree times with the children (depending on their ages!) where there is quiet time for conference calls?  And then have time that is all about them and play?

Rather than struggling through and getting frustrated, taking the time to consider all you want to do in a day, challenge yourself on what is realistic and discuss this with your family, can make all the difference.

Finally, take a moment to take it all in.  These are unprecedented times.  We are living through something unique.  When was the last time the whole world experienced something at the same time?

Yes there is panic and uncertainty, but there is also the knowledge that this too will pass.  This may open up the opportunity to have conversations with loved ones that have been put off or never even considered.  Particularly if you have loved ones in a high risk category, think about how you can support them and what conversations may be helpful for everyone involved.

What does that have to do with working from home?  It has everything to do with the fact that we are human beings first and employees second, and our anxieties and concerns about our personal lives will leak into anything to do with work.  Give yourself time to acknowledge this and be kind – to you, your colleagues and your family.

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Resilience through Uncertainty

Continuing to assess the impact from COVID-19

The past few weeks have brought new meaning to leading through uncertainty.  In this article we’ll explore the ways different businesses are responding to the current situation, offer some tips from the research on resilience and leave you with the reminder that your mindset is critical for your success and mental health.

If you’re not in a position to make or influence decisions about how the business repsonds during this time, what can you actually do?  Developing your resilience or ‘bouncebackability’ can be critical for staying effective and focused, no matter what life throws at you in the next few weeks and months.

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One of the critical aspects of resilience is self-belief – slightly different to self-confidence, self-belief is the sense that you can cope, you will survive and life goes on.  Why is self-belief important for resilience?  Without self-belief we can feel helpless in the face of difficult and challenging situations that occur.  We can be afraid of the future, worry that things will be impossible to overcome and feel frozen into inaction.

Jelly Bean Diversity

However, if we believe that we have the skills and resources to deal with these situations, we will be willing to tackle the challenge head-on, focus on the outcomes we want and persist towards that outcome even when things get difficult.  So how can people develop self-belief?

Remember where you have coped before

We have all faced challenging situations before and whilst Covid-19 does offer us all unique challenges, it is a good idea to think back to the difficult things in life you have overcome.  When has life been hard and you have managed to survive and maybe even thrive afterwards?  Remembering that we have coped before can boost our confidence that we can cope again – building that belief in our ability.

Set goals and achieve them

A key way to develop self-belief is through ‘mastery’ experiences, ie setting yourself goals and achieving them.  In relation to resilience this means learning you can cope with unexpected situations.  By putting yourself in situations where you have to use your coping resources, you will learn that you are capable of dealing with these situations.

Identify and observe role models

Identify people who are able to cope with challenging and difficult situations easily.  What do they do and what can you learn from them?

Find a supportive coach or mentor

A key element of building self-belief is being encouraged by others and having them acknowledge your achievements.  Identify someone who can support you and mentor you – Skype is free and it’s good to talk.  Reach out to someone and don’t underestimate yourself, it’s possible that others may see you as a role model too.

Challenge your own limiting beliefs

Our belief in our ability to cope is often limited by our beliefs about ourselves and our own capabilities.  It is important to challenge and question these beliefs, as it is often only these beliefs that hold us back. The first step is identifying them: what statements do you tell yourself over and over?  Things like “I could never cope with…,” “I’m not good enough for this job,” “I can’t do this” and “I could never do this job if…” are common limiting beliefs.  We state them in our minds like they are facts.

Make a list of the most common things you tell yourself that fit into this category of sounding like facts, yet are really more beliefs about your ability.

The second step is to challenge these statements.  Are they facts?  For each one, ask yourself whether this is true, false or cannot say.  What evidence do you have that this statement might be false?  When we say things like “I always fail” or “I never do well at…” the fact is that we will have evidence to the contrary.  We will of course sometimes fail, but we sometimes succeed too.  Challenging these limiting beliefs and creating new beliefs for ourselves can be critical to our self-belief.

What if we changed “I always fail” to “Sometimes I do well and I want to do everything I can to make sure this time I do well too.”

Each business is reacting differently to the changes the world is experiencing at the moment and that uncertainty will continue.  Looking at building resilience and self-belief – for yourself and your people, is a critical step towards surviving and thriving today and tomorrow.

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COVID-19. What now?

Overcoming Uncertainty.  How Psychology Can Help.

The only certainty seems to be uncertainty itself.

This website is loaded with freely available materials to help you through times of uncertainty, from mindset to neuroplasticity we’ll be sharing some of the most relevant support via our Thought Leadership updates as the situation unfolds over the next few weeks and months.

As many of our clients are facing difficult conversations with their people we explore these early reactions of uncertainty and unease:

  • How is my company affected by the news?
  • Could budget cuts and fears over economic uncertainty lead to me not having a job?
  • Will the budgets be cut from my key projects leading me back to square one on a lot of hard work?
  • How are things going to change in my job?
  • What does all this really mean for me, my job, my team?

These are just some of the questions swimming around the minds of people and in conversations around the workplace.  Yet as with any time of uncertainty and ambiguity, the fact is that nobody really knows the answers to these questions.  So how do we respond?  How should leaders communicate “I don’t know” or “we’ll have to wait and see”, when that response is unlikely to put people at ease – in fact it might make things worse.

Totem Lollipops

We know from neuroscience research that the brain responds far better to bad news than not knowing.  We would rather know what difficult things lie ahead than be in a time of uncertainty; we simply crave certainty.  This means that messages about seeing how things go, or needing to wait for reports back from certain teams or results, can be really unhelpful.

A better option is to frequently and to the point that it feels like over-communication, clarify what you know, what you don’t know and when you will update people again.  You can reinforce this with reminders on what will stay the same and what will change.  The key reason for this over-communication of simple messages is the threat of an unhelpful series of events, which can build in times of uncertainty:

  • The brain craves certainty and will find it – so if you don’t tell people what is certain, their brains will choose things that seem likely or possibly assume the worst
  • That will start the rumour mill, so if you’re not communicating regularly or clearly enough, the rumours will fill in the gaps for you
  • People assuming the worst and worrying about their job security creates a threat response in the brain, which can lead to a variety of unhelpful behaviours
  • Without clarification on what will stay the same, people may also jump to conclusions about how much will change – possibly creating a further threat response
  • You’re likely to see more defensive behaviour, people wanting to keep their heads down, or worse – people becoming negative and cynical about their work
  • And through all of this, because of the brain’s focus on the threat situation – people will not be doing their best thinking or their best work

Once a week – perhaps as part of the usual company update or results check-in conference calls,  update your people on how things are progressing.  When you think about it, you might notice that we often repeat messages many times, for example clarifying the goals or targets for the month or year.  This is very helpful as the classic saying “what gets measured gets done” also applies to “what gets talked about gets heard.”

Line of isolated jelly bean figures with shadows

When we talk consistently about targets and goals, people have certainty; they know what is expected.  In the same way when we talk about uncertainty or not knowing what will happen in future, the mind is filled with doubt and concern.  You can see it in the media already, where a strong narrative is that nobody really knows what will happen next – causing fear and unrest in our everyday lives and the wider economy.

Here’s a sample communication script from one of our client’s support functions teams, which you could adapt for your specific business, level and situation.

What we know, whilst also emphasising what will stay the same

  • The fast-changing situation with COVID 19 and the government’s response has caused a shock and plenty of concern in the economy. You will have heard in the news that the global economy has taken a big knock, but this is to be expected given the severe circumstances.
  • We know that our partners and suppliers around the globe are facing challenges with their supply chains, so we are working closely with them to plan for alternative approaches to our contracts.
  • As we’ve talked about many times before, our major focus for the next three years is to improve our platforms to enable smoother operations for our customers and our internal reporting, whilst also growing our B2B services. This has not changed, we will continue to invest and grow in these areas.
  • We know that asking more people to work from home is challenging, and that as we head towards the Easter holidays and potential school closures, many of our people will struggle to work from home without disruption and difficulty. We want to support as best we can in this time, so will be running webinars on how to structure the workday in such different circumstances and make the most of time with families. We also have mental health support seminars coming in the next fortnight on coping with the isolation. Whether you are home alone or with family, loneliness can be hard to face, and we want to do everything we can to support our people.

Notice the emphasis is on clarifying what it might be easy to assume is obvious. Saying our results are the same when surely people can see it in the data might seem pointless but we need to keep positive messages front and centre to give our people (and their brains in particular) reassurance and clarity.

For the things we don’t know, we state what we don’t know, clarify what is known within this, what that means to people now, when we might know and when updates will come from the business.

  • We do not know exactly how hard our customer spend will be hit as the lockdown increases, so we will provide daily updates on our trading figures.
  • Because of the uncertainty of how long the lockdown will be in place, we don’t know how many of our Summer and Autumn projects are still relevant, as these may be going live during a time when we have no or very few paying customers. We therefore want to complete our current research phases on all of those projects, then pause until we know more. We will run an update conference call with everyone involved in those projects in early May, by which point we should know more about the medium-term business impacts.
  • Our team’s role on these projects is to support the research and when that is complete, we still have plenty of work to do on the platform improvement projects, so there will be no job role changes or cuts to this team.
  • In the customer-facing teams, we have discussed the option of reducing hours, as it is likely we will see fewer and fewer customers and that we will reduce trading hours. You may have heard about the government’s economic support for businesses, to ease this pressure, so we are speaking with our advisors to find out how we can protect wages and ensure our people are looked after. We will update you on this by the end of the week.
  • We will update you every week on the progress with all of this, clarifying what stays the same and what, if anything, will be changing.

Notice wherever there is a comment about something we don’t know, or something changing, there is a supporting comment on what’s next and dates to clarify things.

The overall message with all of this is to over-communicate.  Clarify what stays the same, talk about what is unknown and how and when you might have answers.

A classic fault with our brains is to assume everyone is thinking in the same way, which causes major issues through times of change and ambiguity.  Business leaders may have had the privilege of new insight, market research or an in-depth study of the political and economic news; whereas the rest of the company may be unsure what’s happening.

By sharing information, the insight used to make decisions and the thinking behind what is going on, business leaders empower their people to think for themselves, engage with the uncertainty and see a way through it.  That’s your people working at their best.

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Engaging Engagement

Concept of people as cogwheels representing communities & teamsEngagement and the Goldilocks principle

We send thanks through cyber space to the twitter user who posted: “Just completed the survey, is that my employee engagement activity done for the year?”

It’s such a great point to raise when for so many people, this is all they see of engagement every year.  But there are also many organisations who go too far the other way.  Do we overload our people with survey after survey, KPI after KPI?  Or not engage with them at all?

It’s easy for us to become disillusioned with the idea and at the mere sound of  ‘employee engagement’.  It’s important to find just the right blend of processes and action to best suit the business.  Not too much, but not too little.  The Goldilocks zone.

So how can we respond to that?  What choice do we have when, for example engagement surveys have become a process ignored by many?

Totem Lollipops

We may question the point in continuing them – but the conversations behind the survey must live on.  The action we take in response to the survey must continue.  It is these things that lead to employee engagement, not the survey itself.

The most powerful thing we can do is take action.  It’s action that makes the difference, not the processes, things we say, promises we make or strategies we sign up to.

So forget when the survey’s due for now, ignore the processes just for the moment, and choose to ask some big questions.  Ask yourself and then your team:

  • What’s important to you?
  • What can we do together to ensure you get more of that from your work?
  • What can I do to support you in achieving your best performance?

We may well get more out of these three questions than pages and pages of survey results.

The evidence of the links between highly engaged employees and high performance is increasing and gaining credibility, to the point where most large corporates are now desperate seeking to engage their employees.

As the old saying goes, if you can’t define it, you can’t measure it.  So it is critical for each business to understand what engagement looks like, then measure it.  Once we know what the engagement levels are, where there are fluctuations and what employees are asking for to raise those levels, we can take action.

And just the right amount of action…

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