Retail

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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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Feedback Styles Quiz

A quick and fun look at our feedback styles

Following on from our article on great feedback let’s have a little bit of fun with this.

We’ve had a few laughs followed by seriously helpful reflections at previous workshops, exploring some of the classic pitfalls we can fall into when giving feedback.  You can join in too by having a go at this quiz.

feedback-quiz

Again the point here is that we might not intend to do these things, but when it comes to uncomfortable conversation, we can slip into bad habits.

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Six Thinking Hats

hatsIf we’re trying to make a decision, how do we stop the most critical person being the one who gets all the airspace?

Have we really considered all the angles when we make decisions?

What questions should I ask in a meeting?

These are questions we get asked a lot by business leaders, HR professionals and anyone who is questioning the value of the time we all spend in meetings.  Based on the concept of Six Thinking Hats, our experience and our focus on keeping it simple, we have developed an approach that works for making decisions, reviewing an idea and a wide range of other contexts.

This is an overview of how it works and how you can do it yourself.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Edward de Bono revolutionised the way we consider decision making and thinking overall.  He highlighted that since the Greek philosophers we have celebrated critical thinkers.  It is the most critical person in a meeting who gets the most airspace.  And what is the outcome of too much critical thinking? A lack of action.

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De Bono highlighted the importance of more balance in our thinking, challenging us to yes be critical, as well as positive, creative, data driven, emotionally open and structured.

So how does this work in practice?

For meetings to be effective we need to be thinking in the same direction.  How often do we waste hours in meetings playing the tennis of,

“I agree with Richard, but I’m not convinced that will work here.”

“Well I disagree with that, we’ve got early data telling us it does work.”

“Yes but that was only in the area of…” and so on.

This is thinking in opposing directions which is unproductive.  De Bono showed us a simple way to all think in the same direction, which takes disciplined facilitation and works extremely well.

The six hats represent six types of thinking – and we can all put on every single hat.  Some people take this to the letter, have people wearing coloured hats and stick to the structure very strictly.  We like keeping it simple, so we tend to simply ask the questions that we find helpful under each hat – and if someone goes off topic, we remind them we’re only looking at this angle at the moment.

Totem Lollipops

We’ve listed some of the questions we find most helpful here under each of the topics or hats for decision making and considering a challenge:

Positive

  • What is good about this idea?
  • What are the benefits of this approach?
  • What could be a potential benefit of this?
  • What are the positive features?

Critical

What is not so good about this?

  • What are the risks?
  • What could go wrong?
  • What experience tells us this might not work?

Creative

  • What could we do to make this better?
  • What new ideas could grow out of what we have already discussed?
  • What else could we do to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks?
  • How could we overcome barriers to doing this or things that have stopped it from working before?

Data-driven

  • What information do we already have to help us make a decision?
  • What further information do we need to make a decision about this?
  • What data will we want to monitor our success?
  • What other data might be interesting to look at?  What might that tell us?

Intuitive

  • We’ve talked rationally about this, now let’s just acknowledge that we’ll each have an emotional or intuitive reaction to the idea as well. How do you feel about it / what does your gut tell you?
  • What are you excited about?
  • What are your fears?
  • How might this affect you personally ?

The final topic or hat is the process or structure of facilitation itself.  You might use this in your own preparation time, thinking about how to best structure the meeting, or it may be that you use the concept of structure to end the meeting with questions like:

  • What have we agreed?
  • What will happen next?
  • Who will do that?
  • When will we review that?

You can find out more in Edward De Bono’s frankly amazing book, click the picture and be whisked away!

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Executive Coaching

toptem-coachingFar from a nice chat, coaching can be extremely valuable to business.

But how do we measure this? How can you know you are getting value for money?  Quite simply, the value is in the time and space to think, facilitated to ensure clear progress is made. We rarely take time to step back, stop and think. We face a challenge, we find a solution and we run with it.

It’s no wonder with this pattern of working that we often end up realising months have gone by and we have not thought about overall performance, strategic direction, personal goals etc.

By taking that time to think with a facilitator, we become more effective, find ways around our fears and areas where we might lack confidence. It’s a difficult one to quantify – but think of a manager suddenly having the confidence to manage a poor performing team. Imagine you, at your best, performing with greater efficiency and focus. It’s all extremely valuable.

Jelly Bean Diversity

How can we measure the value of coaching?

As with any activity where it is difficult to quantify impact or benefit, the key is in the original objectives. It is only when we know what impact we are aiming for that we can measure whether any activity has been successful. It is for this reason that coaching objectives need to be aligned to business needs.

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Consider exactly what you want to see happen and how you would know if it had happened.

Let’s take an example of a senior executive who is performing well in many areas, but struggling to build relationships with key players and influence change. This scenario is a perfect opportunity for coaching. Training in this instance would provide knowledge about what the executive should do, but coaching will more rapidly get to the heart of existing barriers and how to move past these.

To measure whether coaching has been effective in this scenario, we could define some clear objectives. For example, “by the end of a six month coaching programme, this executive will have:

  • Built positive relationships with departments X and Y, demonstrated by a 10% increase in the number of projects they are working on together
  • Influenced change in at least two areas where they were previously frustrated with a lack of progress
  • Created an action plan to move the department toward their vision over the next 3 months”

Maximising your coaching session

So as long as you set clear objectives and measure the business benefit of these throughout your coaching programme, you can be clear on the ROI of the coach.

To maximise the value you gain:

  • Define your objectives, being really clear about what would be different if the coaching was effective
  • Start with an open mind, then give your coach prompts on what is working well for you
  • Keep evaluating what you are gaining from the time and money invested
  • Calculate the financial impact of the changes you have made since meeting with coach – whether that is time saved, more productive meetings etc, you should be able to estimate an amount
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How to Encourage Learning

Bicycle-Training-Wheels 400x265Exploring Activities that Encourage Learning

We’ve been having a lot of fun exploring the in’s and out’s of Learning Organisations recently, you can find a couple of additional resources by following me or following me.

We’ve talked a lot about the benefits of a learning organisation and some of the key characteristics or behaviours you may want to encourage in your employees to develop a learning culture.  But what else can we do?  Is there a tick list for successfully embedding learning into your culture?

Well not quite, but there are a few key components to a continuous learning culture.  So let’s explore a few of the methods.  First off we have the traditional methods for individual learning including classroom training; online learning; mentoring; and participation in conferences, workshops, and seminars that can support you.

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Let’s begin with individual learning, which is the ability of individuals in your organisation to pursue self development. It requires individuals to take personal responsibility for their own learning and development through a process of assessment, reflection, and action – ideally supported by that individual’s line manager.  Individual learning helps the employee and the organisation continually update skills and remain competitive in the market place.

You might want to consider individual development plans, special projects or specifically created learning groups to support individuals in the acquisition or translation of new skills.

Another way to support individuals with their learning is through online learning or in modern vernacular Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  To find out more on MOOCs you can click me.  In summary MOOCs are a great way of using modern technology to deliver consistent, coordinated and measurable learning directly into the needs of your employees.

Mentoring is a great way to hold learners to account, and to ensure that the new skills an individual is acquiring are actually relevant to the broader business goals.  Quite often a mentor holds a higher position and is usually outside the employee’s chain of supervision.  Mentoring has the side benefit of fostering the talent in your business who show high potential for management or leadership responsibilities.

That’s the usual list of things a firm might do to encourage individual learning, so let’s now look at what a business can do to encourage a learning environment – using organisational learning.

Totem Gummi Bears

Organisational learning occurs when the entire organisation addresses and solves problems, builds repositories of lessons learned, and creates core competencies that represent the collective learning of employees, past and present.

Organisational learning not only contributes to resolving organisational issues, but it also promotes individual development of knowledge and skills.  It’s a win win!  So let’s start with action learning.

Action learning is a great process for bringing together a group of people with varied levels of skills and experience to analyse and address an actual work problem.  It’s important that the group continues to meet as actions are implemented, learning from the implementation and making mid-course corrections. It’s a powerful tool for addressing problems and issues that are complex and not easily resolved.

Cross-functional teams are the natural evolution of action learning groups and are composed of people with varied levels of skills and experience, brought together to accomplish a task. These teams may use action learning as a process to solve problems, but the key here is that cross-functional team members come from different areas of the business and so pool a much broader range of skills and experiences.

Finally, parallel learning structures.  These structures refer to groups who represent various levels and functions working to open new channels of communication outside but parallel to the normal hierarchical structure.

Parallel learning structures promote innovation and change in large organisations while retaining the advantage of bureaucratic design.  They take individuals from each level within an organisation, upskill them in a specific way and send them back into their original level of the organisation – often as change agents or ‘champions’ of a particular innovation or business agenda.

For the eagle eyed among you, what key theme links the steps that an organisation can take to foster a learning culture?

It’s the removal of traditional hierarchical barriers to communication and cooperation – even if temporary, between all employees across your organisation that will drive a culture of continuous learning and growth.  And whilst nothing beats doing this face-to-face, the wide range of social platforms now available for business mean that people can connect, share and learn across the globe.

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Cultures of Continuous Learning

stepping-stonesContinuous Learning is Continuous Improvement

At a personal level, continuous learning is about constantly expanding your skills through focused and specifically chosen learning activities. We touch on the advantages that continuous learning can bring at a leadership level here.

But what about at an organisational level?

We briefly explored what a Learning Organisation is in a recent article, but lets dig a little deeper and walk you through some of the steps that you can actually take to develop a culture within your business that embraces learning.

learning-journey

 

 

 

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