Thursday, November 28, 2013

Increasing Engagement to Deliver Big Goals

How many of your goals – especially your corporate goals - are exciting for you and the people who must deliver them? Have you even asked yourself the question?

For most of us the emotions that a goal engenders, such as excitement, are simply not considered or discussed. But research shows that it’s the emotional reaction to a goal that ultimately dictates motivation and engagement in the people tasked to deliver it.

Shane Lopez, a leading psychologist on hope, resilience and motivation says in his latest book “Making Hope Happen”:  “The truth is our rational strategic thinking about goals is spurred on by our emotions. As a result we invest the most resources and make the most gains on goals we are excited about”.  This may seem blindingly obvious, but in my experience it is not often considered!

Let’s take a real life example from someone I was coaching recently. Her team was handed down a very challenging corporate goal. They were tasked with generating double digit growth in a mature and declining market in which they already held high market share. This was in support of a plan for uninterrupted dividend pay-outs throughout the company’s entire existence of over 100 years. She said it was like being asked to climb Mount Everest without oxygen - impossible to achieve. Put yourself in her shoes and imagine how you would have felt in the same situation. A typical response could be fear and de-motivation, leading to risk aversion, closing the mind to innovation and a tendency towards a blame culture.

Could the leaders that set that corporate goal have done it differently? I would say yes. They could have followed this 5 step approach to create engagement and a positive emotional response:
  1. Acknowledge the size of the challenge – acknowledge that a fear of failure, anxiety and of feeling overwhelmed would not be a surprising response.
  2. Remind people of other seemingly huge goals they have achieved in the past and draw out the strengths they used to do that.
  3. Let people talk about it – explore and critique, offer different perspectives and test the assumptions. This starts engagement.
  4. Turn around the “story” to make it more meaningful and exciting for the delivery teams e.g. acknowledge it is a huge task but “think about how special it would be to be part of the team that achieves it”
  5. Start asking what might be possible, what could happen, and what might be needed to create possibilities, pathways and buy-in, even if they do not fully deliver all of the goal now.
Using this process should increase the positive emotion associated with the goal, getting more engagement and commitment from the teams tasked with its delivery.

A key learning from recent research is that leaders need to anticipate, create and manage the right emotional response in themselves and others in order to deliver big goals.  In most corporate cultures leaders try to rationalise and almost “de-emotionalise” business goals. Whilst it’s true that this generates rational, concrete goals that appear logical, what emotions are they creating – fear or excitement?

Positive emotions like excitement create the will to engage fully, to innovate, problem-solve imaginatively and to go the extra mile. So when goal setting add an important question to your process “What’s the exciting challenge here?”

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Jump off the Hamster wheel

These days, time seems to be the most precious of our resources. It is used as a universal excuse “If only I had more time, I would write a book”, “I would get better grades if I had more time”, “I have no time for exercise”. We have all heard these, and most likely use these time-based excuses ourselves, without even noticing it!

In coaching, I am increasingly finding my clients so focussed on being productive – and being seen to be productive – that work has become almost an obsession. People become trapped in a “too-busy” cycle, combining activities such as a lunch break with catching up on emails or going to the restroom as an opportunity to mentally draft a report, or a traffic jam being the ideal place to chair a conference call.  Super-efficient to some, for most this lifestyle isn’t sustainable and can result in overwork, overwhelm, stress and ultimately illness. It is like the hamster continually turning the wheel in its cage round and round.

Breaking out can be hard, not least as we continually seek to affirm our actions so having no spare time is likely to be part of our “current normal” - part of our day to day routine. There are many things that we can do, but all require conscious awareness and choice to disrupt the current routine and create a different space for yourself. Here are my top tips to reclaim your time:
  • Find your show-stoppers – make a list of 3 or 4 things that are most important to you and commit to checking in on them every day.
  • Find your timewasters – even if you think you enjoy these activities, take a typical work and weekend day and chunk it down to how you live those precious 24 hours. Did Facebook, Coronation Street or Twitter make the show-stopper list? If not, drop them for two weeks and see what time you created – and assess how painful the “detox” from these timewasters was.
  • Diarise – it sounds so obvious, but unless you have a formal “appointment” for an important activity, the power of being sucked back into your “current normal” is such that you won’t get started on it.
  • Consolidate – why do something 4 times a week when you could consolidate it into once? It is like batch processing in a factory – do your email in one chunk a day, not continuously: go to the supermarket once a week, not every other day.
  • Keep your daily task list to the three most important things you must achieve in the day. It doesn’t mean you won’t get more done, rather it will help you to achieve the most important things as well as not feel overloaded.
  • Do your “Big Rocks” first – The author Steven Covey uses this powerful metaphor to explain that our lives are full of grains of sand, gravel, trickles of water, and rocks. If we liken our day to a bucket, if we don’t fit in the big rocks first, then by the time we have finished with the sand, gravel and water, there will be no more room in the bucket.
  • Learn to say no – remember that every time you say yes to something, in a full day, it logically means you must be saying no to something else. Work out what you can say no to immediately, say goodbye and scrap those activities from your life.
  • Change your routine – how often do we examine our “current normal” and appraise it for its effectiveness? Now is your chance. Ask yourself, is there a better way of doing things? Make a new routine that is more balanced, more optimal, more filled with activities you love.
We all have the same amount of time, and it’s finite and in great demand. But some of us have made the time for doing the things we love doing, and others have allowed the constant demands and pressures and responsibilities of life to dictate their days. So reclaim your time and create the life you want. When you run out of time to think, you then start operating on automatic pilot – and what is the joy in that? Jump off that hamster wheel right now!

Balancing the real, virtual and home office

Since 2001 in the USA there has been a 100% increase in the amount of people working from home. There are significant advantages for both the employer and employees. Companies are spending less on real estate and, according to recent research from Stanford university, working from home can deliver a 13% increase in productivity. For the workers there is the advantage of flexible working, less commute time and potentially a better work/life balance.

Alongside this, there are some important downsides and disadvantages. Remote working can breed social isolation. Not being in an office diminishes social interaction and relationship building between colleagues and in teams. People can also end up identifying less with the organisation they work for and, significantly, they can earn less respect. A recent MIT survey indicates you are 9% more likely to be considered dependable and responsible if you put in “face time” and show up at the office. 

Technology and management advice is continually developing in an attempt to address these disadvantages. Cloud computing, video conferencing, remote meeting software and so on are already in wide use. There are newer technologies too. Sococo provides an office layout on screen, where workers with little face icons can walk about the virtual office and pop into different people’s offices and meeting rooms. People can even meet by a virtual coffee machine for a chat. The company Anybot is going further. They can provide you with what is called a telepresence avatar – it’s a mini robot with wheels, a face and a screen that you can see through, hear through, speak through and drive about a real office remotely from your PC at home. You can park your robot in a real meeting for example. The only problem is they haven’t yet overcome the “Dalek syndrome” – the robot can’t go up or down stairs!

On the management advice side there are numerous recommendations ranging from increasing personal contact with remote workers, promoting networking amongst remote workers, ensuring managers are accessible, developing trust and ensuring people feel respected and so on. There’s also plenty of advice for the qualities needed for a good tele-worker – self discipline and independence being paramount.

Remote workers themselves, together with new virtual office businesses, are also taking initiatives to reduce social isolation. Many cities now have boutique style co-working clubs, where home workers can work independently or together. The style is different to a typical business centre – its more coffee bar style combined with work spaces.

But can all these initiatives overcome the disadvantages of remote working? Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, seems to not think so. She recently and famously issued a memo requiring all home workers to now work from offices. She is of the clear belief that innovation, decision making, turning a company around   all require real people working in real time in real offices.

She may have a point. Despite all the technologies there has been an increase in home workers across the board at least putting in some real office time.

Whatever the future holds companies and individuals need to find an effective balance. Companies need to balance the cost benefit of home working with the need to create a real and collaborative company spirit and culture. Individuals need to balance the advantages of home working with the need for social interaction and real life engagement with management and colleagues that can help them feel an integral and valued part of the organisation they work for.