Performance

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Energy Injection

How to inject energy into your events…

Recently we were asked what tools we could use when facilitating a behavioural and cultural change event, in order to inject energy and help creativity.

It’s funny how when you get asked these questions the mind often goes blank: the tools that are second-nature to us have become so ingrained in our work that we don’t really think about them anymore.

Yet when we started sharing these tools with the client and discussing as colleagues the different tools we used, we all benefited and all picked up new ideas too!

So here is that insight shared with you too: ideas for injecting energy into a group, breaking people out of ‘stuck’ thinking and getting more creative….

Visualisation – this is about painting the picture of what it would feel and look like to have something change. We ask the question, “if some miracle happened overnight and you came to work tomorrow and this had already changed, what would be the first sign to you that things were different? What would you see / hear / feel? What else?”

What will it not be? With our naturally critical brains, we often find it easier to say what we do not want than to talk about what we do want.

Even in a personal example of preparing for a difficult conversation or presentation, we might think to ourselves, “I don’t want to come across like a nasty person,” or “I don’t want them to think I’m not an expert.” Getting people to say out loud what they do not want can be a great starting point for then switching things around and asking, “if that’s what you want to avoid, what would you want instead?” or “what would help you avoid that outcome you do not want?”

Improvisation – to break people out of logical and analytical problem-solving mode and move them into a more creative space, improvisation is a great tool. Using the “yes, and” game means taking something simple like, “what could we do for our next team social?” and asking people to apply “yes, and…” to every idea.

Someone might start with, “we could have it at the pub,” and the next person could say, “yes, and we could invite Beyonce to sing there,” on to, “yes, and we could have a space for people who don’t like loud music to sit and relax,” followed by, “yes, and we could put the pub on a space rocket and fly to the moon…”

Once we’ve played with that, we can then apply the same concept to ideas raised for the specific issue at hand, encouraging more building on ideas than critiquing.

List 50 ideas – when we are asked to come up with 5 ideas, we often get stuck at 3.

When we are asked to come up with 50 ideas, we might get stuck at 20 or 30, so this is a simple tool to get people thinking fast and throwing out as many ideas as possible. In an attempt to get more ideas out, people come up with more and more crazy ideas, which may not be practical at all, but they might spark inspiration for something that is practical.

Getting a high volume of ideas out without judgement can lead to us spotting the potential in a whacky idea and seeing how that might work.

Switch seats – just getting people up and moving often provides a different perspective, so give yourself permission to make people that little bit uncomfortable and move them around. You could also add in a specific perspective for this by say having an empty chair in the room that is the “customer’s chair” – or key stakeholder, shareholder etc.

Ask someone to sit in that chair and share their perspective, as this can drastically change the direction of the conversation.

Get outside – if it’s feasible in your venue and given the weather, ask people to discuss the idea / issue in pairs on a walk outside. The fresh air, exercise and different perspective will often raise very different ideas that can be brought back into the room and shared for consideration.

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Understanding Conflict

totem-donutIf you stole some of my doughnut, we’d have a problem…

From time to time we all experience a little disharmony and discord with others.

Managing at these times can be taxing, but with some techniques and practical tools for handling conflict, it is possible to be equipped to confidently deal with these difficult situations and find a positive outcome.

Now we’re not suggesting that we can cover everything about conflict in a single article, but we can certainly cover the basics in terms of where conflict comes from.

Research suggests that managers spend around 25% of their time managing and handling conflict in their teams. Conflict isn’t always necessarily a negative thing – it can often mean that people are passionate about their work and it can encourage creative thinking. Conflict, can however mean that teams become ‘stuck’ when an impasse is reached so finding ways to resolve conflict is important.

Totem Gummi Bears

When conflict occurs in the workplace, it can reduce morale, lower productivity, increase absenteeism and cause confrontations. Reynolds and Kalish (2002) found that managers spent at least 25% of their time resolving conflicts.  This obviously has an effect on the productivity of both managers and employees.

But conflict in work is not always so destructive. It can lead to new ideas and an increased interest in dealing with problems as it facilitates bringing to the fore issues, providing opportunities for people to develop their communication and interpersonal skills.

Stulberg (1997) identified a pattern common to all controversies. He termed them the Five Ps of Conflict Management:

Perceptions: Our negative perceptions of conflict impact our approach in resolving conflict as we strive to eliminate the source of these negative feelings.

Problems: Anyone can be involved in a conflict, and the amount of time, money, and equipment needed for resolution will vary according to its complexity.

Processes: There are different ways to go about resolving disputes: Suppress the conflict, give in, fight, litigate, mediate, etc.

Principles: We determine the priorities of all resolution processes on the basis of an analysis of our fundamental values regarding efficiency, participation, fairness, compliance, etc.

Practices: Power, self-interest, and unique situations are all factors relating to why people resolve disputes the way they do.

A good understanding of these causes is a great first step towards recognising conflict and actually turing it to your advantage.  Conflict is healthy and advantageous when it’s aim is to improve the outcomes for the team.  It’s certainly healthy when it’s respectful and not personal – which is easier said than done!

Healthy conflict requires openness and an ability to entertain others’ ideas. Team members need to set aside ego and avoid becoming defensive in order for conflict to be healthy.

Jelly Bean Diversity

The benefits of creating a team atmosphere that embraces healthy conflict are numerous and profound. These five benefits are just the tip of the ice berg:

  • Healthy conflict leads to better decisions.
  • Healthy conflict is a sign of trust and security.
  • Healthy conflict invites diverse points of view.
  • Healthy conflict surfaces potential issues.
  • Healthy conflict builds commitment.

One book we highly recommend to learn more about conflict is Conflict Communication (ConCom): A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication by Rory Miller.

He explains that our reactions to conflict are subconscious, scripted, and for the good of the group.  And that we have three brains:

  • Lizard brain (survival)
  • Monkey brain (emotion / social status)
  • Human brain (reason)

With each “brain” having a different priority and having evolved to deal with different kinds of conflict. They work using different scripts and have a very clear seniority system.

Although the course that generated this book was originally developed for police and corrections officers, it has now also been taught in hospitals and factories and in a total of eight countries.

What’s great is that these conflict-resolution principles should be applicable to most situations and relationships, including with spouses and coworkers as well as strangers. As Miller concludes in the afterword,

“almost everything in this book is stuff you live with every day. … But now you see it.”

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Defining Leadership Potential

totem-prismA new kid on the potential block

We’ve written a fair amount on defining potential over the years and this remains a critical challenge for businesses.  How do we spot our future leaders and help them get to the position we need them to be in as soon as possible?  Now there is a new answer to this question.

Whilst our work in this area to date has focused on our own research and experience on defining and developing potential, combined with the most popular models of YSC’s Judgement, Drive and Influence and Korn Ferry’s Learning Agility (you can read more on these here), the most recent development is Korn Ferry’s Assessment of Leadership Potential.

Based on the most recent comprehensive research on what has led to leaders being successful, Korn Ferry have a model and product that can guide us all on defining and measuring potential.

Korn Ferry defines potential as “the capacity and interest to develop the qualities required for effective performance in significantly more challenging leadership roles.”

Their research to understand what indicates this potential brought up four distinct categories: the “who you are” drivers and traits and the “what you do” experiences and competencies.  For measuring potential, the focus is on those “who you are” characteristics as these indicate things about you that are more innate rather than learned behaviours or past experiences.

Jelly Bean Diversity

This has all resulted in a new product on the market, the The Korn Ferry Assessment of Leadership Potential (KFALP), which measures the following:

Drivers – the drive and desire to take on the challenges associated with being a leader.

Experience – the experiences that have shaped and prepared a candidate to be successful in higher-level positions.

Awareness – the ability to identify personal strengths and weaknesses and how they affect others.

Learning Agility – the ability and willingness to learn from experience and apply that learning to perform successfully under new and first-time conditions.

Leadership Traits – specific traits that help leaders to excel: focus, persistence, tolerance for ambiguity, assertiveness and optimism.

Capacity – the cognitive abilities necessary for logic, reasoning and to solve complex problems

Derailment Risks – The ability to manage and avoid the classic derailers of unpredictability in a leader’s behaviour, micro-managing and being closed to others’ perspectives

And of course just like the YSC Judgement, Drive and Influence (JDI) model, this opens up opportunities for businesses to benefit from the research whilst creating their own versions of these models.  Many clients we work with have previously created their own model of potential by combing the YSC JDI and older Korn Ferry model of learning agility.

Now it appears Korn Ferry have produced the ultimate – a model that combines those two ideas and adds some new, rather useful concepts.

Totem Lollipops

Looking at the detailed indicators under each of the seven areas, it appears that YSC’s Judgement is shown here in the KFALP under capacity, Drive under the drivers section and Influence appears to be spread out across the drivers sub-section of power (an individual’s interest in influencing others) and in the experience section (where critical experiences include negotiations and external relations).

That is all to say that this new Korn Ferry model gives us all a more recently developed and comprehensive definition of potential which envelops the models most widely used in business today – JDI and learning agility.

It’s the joy of being independent that we have the chance to go into businesses and help them develop models and frameworks for defining, assessing and developing potential, that best suit the company objectives and culture.  There’s no doubt that this latest research will be of great value to all talent functions looking to benchmark leadership potential.

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Feedback.  The Constant Challenge.

How to get managers to have honest conversations, give feedback and coach their people?

How many L&D teams have spent many years trying to get line managers to give regular, high quality feedback to their people?

Every business we meet is facing this issue of encouraging people to have honest, quality conversations, so what can be done about it? Here we share the common pitfalls of the feedback skills workshops we have seen over the years and how change can be achieved….

Addressing the Fear

One challenge in many workshops is that the focus is on skills alone, rather than exploring the attitudes and beliefs people have. The trainer shows people how to give feedback without acknowledging that there may be a serial people pleaser in the room, two people afraid of being seen as too bossy and four people who hate receiving constructive feedback, so certainly don’t want to give feedback to others.

We need to understand what the specific barriers to giving good feedback are for each person, in order to help people overcome these obstacles.

Avoiding the Monologue

Many of the feedback models used in workshops encourage people to prepare in advance what they want to say. This is incredibly useful, particularly to help the manager stop over-thinking it, and just plan out what they want to say. The drawback to this approach is that it makes it all about what the manager wants to say, which can have the undesired effect of the manager simply giving a one-way speech.

We need to show managers how to make the conversation two-way, why this is so critical to success and how to overcome any more mental obstacles this may raise. It is fair to say that the defensive reaction to feedback causes many people to stop listening, how should you overcome this?

Focusing on a Useful Outcome

When we ask managers what they want to get out of honest conversations they often say things like, “I want him to know that what he did was wrong,” or “I want her to take the feedback on board.” For the conversation to be more useful, we need to go in with the end in mind – “I want him to provide better customer service,” or “I want her to be more organised and deliver projects on time.”

Starting with this end in mind can help keep us focused, so that if we end up caught in a conversation going nowhere, we can remind ourselves where we wanted to get to and re-focus.

Paying People to Think

Why is it that as managers we work on coming up with all the solutions? We pay our people to think so let’s get them doing the thinking. It is a challenge to teach managers to be concise in their feedback and then ask questions, which is why in some of our workshops we work on concise communication first.

Talking around the houses will not help the manager or the poor person on the receiving end of the ramble, so we make improvements here before focusing on questions that can be asked to facilitate the employee’s thinking.

Developing Habits

Finally a downside to many feedback or coaching workshops we see is that delegates naturally zone in on one or two specific challenges they are facing. This means that they sometimes end up walking away with a few ideas on how to challenge this person on poor time management and what to say to that person about their sloppy report writing.

We need to help managers take the higher level tools, attitudes and behaviours away so that they develop more long-term habits and lessons for healthy conversations.

Addressing each of these issues directly in workshops is having a very positive impact. Maybe there is power in simply acknowledging that training in the past has not been as helpful as it could have been, or maybe it is the exploration and overcoming of fears and unhelpful beliefs that makes the difference.

Whatever it is, we’ll keep monitoring the long-term behavioural change that follows from this approach and keep you posted on anything else we learn!

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HR & Return on Investment

Can we really measure the impact that HR has on the bottom line?

This is a question we’re asked over and over again.  How can we demonstrate to you and your stakeholders that what we do has an impact on your bottom line?

Join us as we take the plunge into the exciting world of infographics, beginning with this on customer service.  There is an intrinsic connection between the work we do and improving customer service – and that could be both internal or external customer.

Happy People = Happy Customers = Happy Profits
One mantra in our industry is that “Happy People = Happy Customers = Happy Profits!”  Don’t take our word for it either, we’ve got some heavy hitters in our industry backing this up with research.  Follow the logos for more information:

And if you have selected, developed and engaged the right staff (our bit), you’ll take better care of your customers and generate more sales as a result (your bit).

Over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring in detail each point of research that demonstrates the Return on Investment metrics that make what we all do so worth while.  We’d encourage you to share this far and wide, we find that that the “ROI” conversation is the sticking point for so many HR projects, not just for our work as consultants to you, but your work as business partners to your organisation.

For your free copy of the 9 metrics, just click the image below.

 

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Productivity Ninja

Zen-like calm meets stealth and camouflage

It’s fair to say that in our digital, on-demand age the weakest link in the chain is likely to be the human being in the middle of it all.  And there’s a subtle clue here in the wording: we’re human beings, not human doings.

The Productivity Ninja offers us a way to recapture that essence of being in an increasingly crowded workplace of overflowing inboxes, to-do lists and endless, pointless meetings.

Using a fascinating combination of mindfulness, zen-like calm and stealth & camouflage the Productivity Ninja aims to get your inbox down to zero, make the most of your attention (rather than your time) and teach you to work smarter, not harder.

The author Graham Allcott’s loftiest aim being to teach you how to love your work again by making the bold statement that “time management is dead.”  Attention management is the key to understanding productivity, and that means acknowledging that you have periods of low attention when you don’t have the mental focus to tackle the day job.

Allcott explains that there are 9 characterises of a Productivity Ninja and we’ll touch on a few of our favourites here:

Zen-like calm

If you want to remain focused and not be stressed by all the things you’re not doing, you’ll need to create a ‘Second Brain.”  Basically, it’s a system built around lists, checklists or productivity apps where you can store your ideas.

It’s there to share the load of a busy mind, helping you to think more clearly because you’re not getting distracted by all the other things you need to do.

Ruthlessness

Saying no.  Not something many of us are entirely comfortable with but if we first acknowledge that saying yes to everything is the beginning of our never-ending to-do list, we’ll soon feel a lot more comfortable with the word no.

Thinking like a ninja means being ruthless with your attention and focus.  And as other commentators have pointed out over the years, it’s helpful to consider what is most important to say yes to so that you feel more comfortable about choosing to say no to other things.

Weapon-savvy

This is about using the right tools for the job.  Which tools save you time and don’t provide distractions?

The challenge we face with productivity software (in particular) is that it encourages networking and social sharing.  How often does that turn into a few hours fiddling with dashboards or instant messaging colleagues?  So we need to manage our use of such tools so that they help our focus rather than hinder it.

Stealth and camouflage

The introvert’s personal favourite and something the extrovert would be encouraged to consider now and again.  Get out of the chaos occasionally.

“One of the worst things you can do is always make yourself available,” writes Graham Allcott.

Research suggests that a 2-minute interruption to your thought process can take at least 30 minutes to undo.  Are there times when working alone and away from others, technology and the phone could be useful?  How could you build these into your day?

Making mistakes

It’s ok to make mistakes!  Perfectionism is a long way from perfect as we explored here.

Perfection is one of those wonderful ideas that we might aspire to, but it can often lead to drastically negative behaviour.  Perfectionism continually points to our failures, no matter how small, and it undermines our achievements.

Are you at your most productive when you are undermining yourself?

If you can combine that last point in particular with the other characteristics of a Productivity Ninja, we wholly support Graham Allcott’s view:

“You’ll feel more present in your work, more engaged, calmer and more at ease with the world around you.”

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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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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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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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