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Management Development

The 3 Secrets of Happiness, Productivity and Innovation

positivity

No doubt you’ve heard it all before: the on-demand economy will exacerbate the trend toward enforced self-reliance that has been gathering pace since the 1970s. Each of us will have to master multiple skills and keep those skills up to date. We will need to take more responsibility for educating themselves, selling ourselves, through personal networking and social media, effectively turning ourselves into personal brands. In a more fluid world everyone will have to learn how to manage ‘corporate individualism’ and ‘You Inc.’
 
But hold on a minute; surely there’s more to us than a piece of self-imagined corporate merchandise? How do we balance the demands of 21st century work with our personality, preferences and passion? Equally, what about the people we lead and manage? What about their aspirations and passions? So the question becomes, how can we make the most of our own and other people’s intrinsic strengths and motivations for the benefit of ourselves, our friends and colleagues, and the organisations to which we may belong (if only fleetingly)?
 
In a seminal article in the Harvard Business Review, Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? (Later developed into a book of the same name), Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, suggested that to be a true leader you should “Be yourself, more, with skill.” I think this advice goes well beyond leaders, I think it applies to us all. So where should we begin? Well I do like a good proverb, so let’s start with an ancient Chinese one, which describes happiness as something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for. In other words, meaningful work, close ties to family and friends, and a reasonable hope of a positive future? Let’s take them in turn.
 
Meaningful Work
 
In ‘Finding your Element’, Ken Robinson describes how making the most of ourselves is about using our particular kind of intelligence in an optimal way. In his view, the only way to prepare for an uncertain future is to make the most of ourselves, on the assumption that this will make us more flexible and adaptable. He believes that each of us should identify and nurture four things:

  • Our Aptitude – our natural facility for doing something
  • Our Passion – what gives us deep delight and pleasure
  • Our Attitude – the drive and grit to succeed
  • Our Opportunity – creating and taking opportunities to find them
  •  
    Identifying them will put us in the ‘zone’, which like the state of ‘flow’ described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (Mee-Hi Cheech-Me-Sent-Hi if you were wondering), is where we lose track of time, we feel we are doing what we are meant to be doing and being who we are meant to be: time feels different, ideas come more quickly, and it fills us with energy.
     
    Close Ties to Family and Friends
     
    Research conducted by Robert Levering, aimed at discovering the essence of a great place to work, concluded that such a place is one in which you trust the people you work for, have pride in what you do, and enjoy the people you are working with. Ken Robinson describes it as ‘finding your tribe’, which can have a transformative effect on both your sense of identity and purpose.
     
    People who are like you offer validation and interaction, they affirm that you are not alone and enable collaborative ventures. They provide inspiration and provocation, allowing you to stand on the shoulders of others and raise the bar on your own level of achievement. Finally, they provide the ‘alchemy of synergy’ by modelling the three features of human intelligence, which are diversity, dynamism and distinction.
     
    Diversity describes the breadth of human intelligence from analytic to creative, from practical to emotional, just like the different members of a team. Dynamism is displayed by its interactivity, neurons in the brain fire and connect just like people, and finding new connections is how breakthroughs occur. And finally each of us, and the teams we form, are distinct, every person’s intelligence is unique, like a fingerprint, the key is to identify where our strengths lie and seek out the strengths of others to plug the gaps?
     
    Reasonable Hope of a Positive Future
     
    In ‘Drive’, Daniel H. Pink describes how there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. Fundamentally, the use of rewards and punishments to control employees is an antiquated way of managing people. To maximise our enjoyment and productivity in 21st century work, he argues that we need to upgrade our thinking on motivation to include autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives; mastery, the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and purpose, the yearning to what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. And it is purpose that provides the essential context for both autonomy and mastery.
     
    According to the research cited by Pink, the most deeply motivated people align their desires to a cause greater and more enduring than themselves. As an emotional catalyst, wealth maximisation lacks the power to fully mobilise human energies, because it still begs the question: to what end. Satisfaction depends upon not merely having goals, but on having the right goals: goals that are greater than one’s own self-interest. The alternative is worker disengagement and the poor productivity, which may be one of the reasons why we currently have such poor productivity in the UK.
     
    Furthermore, neuroscience is now discovering that when people have a sense of purpose, especially a sense of common purpose, their brain chemistry changes. From our perception of pain, to our ability to handle difficult and challenging environments, and even our health and well-being.
     
    For all these reasons, each of us needs to think about how we can create a purpose and an environment that stimulates us and the people we work with. How can we all be ourselves, more, with skill?

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    How to increase the flow of new ideas – and eat a lot of hotdogs!

    Hot DogInnovation is critical in a knowledge economy, leading to new products, new methods and hopefully happy customers and organisational growth. According to PwC’s 2015 study on Global Innovation, U.S. companies spend $145 billion dollars on R&D each year. Yet, despite its importance, innovation is a difficult quality to cultivate both in individuals and in organizations. Here are three ideas to get you on the right track: curiosity, connection and the hot dog thing.

    Curiosity

    We share a number of basic drives and attributes with our primate cousins, but only humans (as far as we are aware) have looked up at the stars, wondered what they are and tried to find out. Curiosity sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom and, with recent concern about robots taking our jobs, it should console us to learn that curiosity also sets us apart from computers. Computers are smart, but none can yet be said to be curious. In addition, recent research suggests that curiosity is also good for your health. People who make a lifelong habit of reading and writing a lot slowed their rate of mental decline by a third compared to those who only do an average amount.

    So how do we encourage curiosity in organisations?

    In the first place give people permission to be curious. The most important thing to do when you want more creativity is to let people know they can. You have to expect some failures and you need to embrace these, so build a culture with no fear of failure. Second, implement a formal structure that allows ‘intrapreneurship’ to take place: 3M allow employees 15% of their working week to devote to personal projects. Finally, provide incentives. Design a career path for your ‘intrapreneurs’ and show how their ideas can boost their responsibilities and rewards within the company.

    Connection

    Future Work Skills 2020, a report compiled by the University of Phoenix Research Institute, argues that in the face of more complex, multifaceted problems ever-greater specialisation will be replaced by the need for individuals with blended skills. The ideal worker of the future will be ‘T-shaped’, with a deep understanding of one field, but able to converse in the language of a broader range of disciplines. This will require a sense of curiosity, a willingness to go on learning, and exposure to varied experiences and people.

    In Frugal Innovation, Navi Radjou & Jaideep Prabhu propose that organisations should make external connections to generate new ideas and ways of doing things. In the first place they should engage more with their customers to identify innovative opportunities and encourage co-creation in the design, building and sale of products. They should also make innovative friends, an eclectic group of partners to challenge senior management thinking and encourage a continuous process of unlearning and relearning.

    Internally, organisations could ask employees for their ideas and encourage them to contribute to the innovation dialogue with customers. A key activity will be to assemble a diverse workforce. Plenty of research shows that diverse teams devise the most innovative ideas. But above all, they must keep boundaries flexible and fluid, people need to be mixed together: rotate staff, create places and programmes where people from different teams collide and collude, use collaborative pay and incentives, and ensure that information flows and is interpreted correctly. This can be helped by those ‘T’ shaped workers, who are able to move between functions and explain what is happening in different departments.

    Challenge

    Finally, the hotdogs. Every 4th of July 40,000 people go to Coney Island in the United States, and more than 1m tune in on ESPN, the sports cable channel, to watch men and women defy human digestive limits in a hot dog eating competition. Prior to 2001 the record was 25 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, but in that year Takeru Kobayashi, a young man from Japan, smashed the record consuming a staggering 53 dogs and buns. Mr Kobayashi’s winning insight was not to eat the hot dog and bun as you or I would, but to break the hot dogs in two and stuff them in his mouth with one hand, while his other hand dunked the bun in water to make it easier to swallow. This, coupled with shaking and gyrating, helped a 112lb man consume nearly 8lb of bread and sausage. The record, by the way, now stands at 70 dogs and buns.

    Apart from making us feel slightly squeamish, it should also remind us to critically examine our assumptions and challenge our fundamental beliefs about a situation. The key here is to ask “Why?” not “What?” And with that in mind, I will leave you with the words of General Stanley McChrystal, who summarized the difficult process of adaptation and innovation the US military went through in the years following the 2003 invasion of Iraq:

    When we first started, the question was, ‘Where is the enemy?’ That was the intelligence question. As we got smarter, we started to ask, ‘Who is the enemy?’ And we thought we were pretty clever. And then we realized that wasn’t the right question, and we asked, ‘What’s the enemy doing or trying to do?’ And it wasn’t until we got further along that we said, ‘Why are they the enemy?’

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    MBTA ‘Management by Talking About…’

    Graphic_02For the first blog of the New Year I’d like to reinvigorate an old idea. MBWA (Management by Walking Around) is rather taken for granted these days, as is often the case when a good idea becomes cliché. So to reinvigorate the importance of talking with your staff, I’d like to introduce MBTA, ‘Management by Talking About…’. Given that time is precious the emphasis here is on purposeful conversation and I want to offer four valuable conversations to have with your staff, rather than just chatting about the weekend football scores or last night’s TV.
     
    When it comes to the importance of purposeful conversation I think Colonel Zinoviev Konstantin Provalov summed it very well. While commanding the Soviet Union’s 383rd ‘Miners’ Rifle Division at the beginning of the Second World War, he believed that:
     
    ‘Authority is gained through the sum of daily conversations. One has to speak to soldiers. A soldier must know his task and understand it. Authority isn’t cheap; it is hard won. Everyone wants to live – including heroes. But knowing that soldiers trust me, I know they will fulfil all my orders and risk their lives.’
     
    Not a household name in Europe and America I admit, but he was awarded “Hero of the Soviet Union” in the early battles of 1941 and the quote has remained with me ever since I first read it, and was brought to mind recently while reading Richard Sennett’s’ excellent book ‘Together’. Sennett writes about ‘earned authority’ as one side of a ‘social triangle’ (the other sides being trust and cooperation), which he identifies as the key ingredient in successful organisations and communities.
     
    Sennett takes authority to be power endowed with legitimacy, with legitimacy defined as voluntary obedience. In war this means that soldiers will follow orders to fight knowing that it may lead to their death. This is an extreme example, and in civil society legitimacy is better framed in terms of laws people obey just because they seem right. In organisations, therefore, the leadership test for legitimacy, and thereby authority, is: will your subordinates obey you even though they might get away with disobeying?
     
    Like Provalov, Sennett argues that how a leader earns that legitimacy usually has more to do with small behaviours and exchanges than with any formal right or entitlement to rule. Earned authority concerns more than formal position or technical competence, it involves open dialogue with subordinates rather than rigid dictation to them. In other words, for authority to be legitimate, people who are asked to obey have to feel like they have a voice, that if they speak up, they will be heard. So how should you encourage them to speak up, what should you talk about? Here are a four suggestions for purposeful conversations.
     

    1. Ask employees for their feedback. Most companies ask customers for feedback about their products and services, but only a handful ask their employees the same questions. This is a missed opportunity. So in addition to asking your customers questions like “Was your problem solved?” and “Are we easy to work with?” ask your employees “Did you solve the problem?” and “Was it easy to access the tools and resources you needed to do it?”

     

    1. Make delegation easier – use conversations to establish trust. Delegating tasks to employees and then trusting them to make decisions for themselves can be difficult. It is easier to delegate to those you trust. You can build that trust by having conversations with your employees, observing them doing their daily jobs, and providing feedback. That way, when it comes time to delegate a task, you’ll better understand your employees’ strengths and weaknesses and know who is ready to take on more responsibility and who needs more experience or coaching.

     

    1. Make People on Your Team Feel Like They Belong. It is well known that fostering a sense of belonging helps reduce stress levels, and consequently improves physical health, emotional well-being, and performance. So build that sense of belonging by soliciting people’s input. Ask their opinion, and follow up with questions so they truly felt heard. Tell stories to show your own vulnerability and share your mistakes and successes. This will also help you connect emotionally.

     

    1. Determine whether a direct report is ready to be a manager? Measure their potential by gauging their interest in managing. Ask them what they believe management entails and what their approach would be in situations you are facing or have faced. Inquire about any experience they’ve had outside of work that could provide useful preparation. Have they been in charge of an athletic team or a group of volunteers? Seek out the opinions of their co-workers, who will have a unique perspective on whether the person is up to the task.

     
    It may also be worth considering how widespread such conversations are in your organisation. How might other leaders do a better job of managing by having purposeful conversations? Why not have a wander around and find out.

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    Effective Meetings

    3I am an introvert. That doesn’t mean I’m shy or afraid of what people might think of me: I’ve spent my career standing up in front of people. It just means that I tend to get my energy from quiet time, when I recharge my batteries, and I like time to think and reflect. You will not necessarily get the best out me by asking for my opinion at the drop of a whiteboard marker. I’m the sort of person who can leave a meeting thinking ‘I wish I’d said that.’

    Meetings are most effective when they harness the unique insights of every member. So, when thinking about how to get the most out of meetings it’s worth considering if you have any introverts in your team. Conversely, it’s good to identify the extraverts too. Those who use talking as a way of focusing their thinking, and may leave a meeting thinking ‘I wish I hadn’t said that.’

    The key is to give everyone the opportunity to speak their mind. In the first place make it clear that you want everyone’s opinion to be heard and they have permission to venture an ill-formed thought, without fear of being marked down or laughed out of the room. But setting clear ground rules is only the first step. You must follow through intentions with action and role model the behaviours you seek.

    To allow introverts to contribute, send out the agenda and key documents a few days in advance. Also consider asking for everyone’s initial thoughts on the issue or issues before the meeting, then circulate them to all attendees. This helps to avoid anchoring and first speaker advantage, the tendency for social conformity to silence our individual beliefs and convictions.

    Choose the running order deliberately. Either pick at random who will speak first or start with junior members first, this will help stop senior people dominating and again prevent anchoring. In the British Army’s Courts Martial System junior ranks always speak first during deliberations on the case in hand.

    This can of course be rather daunting for some junior members of staff and for those of a more introverted nature, but to offset the personal cost of discord or looking foolish, encourage and reward their contributions. Welcome disagreement and good ideas, and make sure they get the credit for them. Chat to those who you think are too shy and explain the value of their input. At the end of the meeting, canvass the views of those who have not spoken. Ask them specifically how they feel about the issues discussed and have they anything they would like to add? After the meeting thank them and encourage them to speak more often.

    Finally, and if you’re really feeling daring, try this for cutting short the digressions and long-winded rambling of the more effusive and extravert. Make clear in the ground rules that anyone is entitled to tap the table with their pen when they feel a colleague is going on a bit, and to keep tapping until they stop!

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    Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders

    imageStakeholder engagement is one of the key aspects of management and inevitably leads to some difficult conversations. The reality of human behaviour means that stakeholders will not always appear to be fully rational and amenable. When this happens it is important to understand why they behave the way they do and, if necessary, persuade them to change their behaviour.

    In the first place, is the root cause of their behaviour because you are at bottom of their priority list or is it deeper-rooted? If it’s the former you need to increase their interest in the project, by explaining what’s in it for them. If time is an issue then you need to make it easier for them to participate in the time available? If it’s something more deep rooted, you need to take a closer look at the emotions and the reasons that drive their behaviour. If it’s self-interest, you need to negotiate a win-win; if they don’t understand or have misunderstood you need to inform and educate; and if they have a low tolerance for change you need to provide support and help them discover that it is better than they feared.

    Relationships are, of course, a two-way thing and in order to change someone else’s behaviour you may need to consider changing your own. In the first place, think like a salesman. Use positive reviews and feedback from other stakeholders, data and knowledge, listening skills and empathy, to gain stakeholder’s confidence. Boost their ego if necessary; asking for advice is very beguiling since it builds trust and opens up a relationship, because you show that you care and that you are humble enough to ask for their opinion.

    Being liked is, perhaps unsurprisingly, key to influence. If someone likes you, you always have that extra edge. So be nice, diplomatic, patient and easy to work with: managing stakeholders effectively is not for those with a short fuse and little patience. Be prepared to listen to their reservations and fix them wherever possible. Always politely acknowledge criticisms and ask for their suggestions for improvement. Leave your negative emotions by the door, put your tongue in neutral and just listen.

    Try not to take things personally. People act difficult for different reasons and this is not necessarily a reflection of your shortcomings. One way to detach yourself is through the use of humour. Learn to use humour wisely to defuse tension. However, if you are upset, or feel like you are losing control, reschedule the meeting for another time. This will give you enough time to calm down, reassess the situation and identify the best way forward. This may also be the time to reflect on your feelings toward them. Do you look up to them, down on them, do you fear them or do you think they are laughable? The attitudes you hold about them will affect your interactions with people, even if you would like them not to.

    Of course, you should not roll over every time a stakeholder takes exception to what you do or say, but if you decide to confront a difficult stakeholder; separate the person from the issue and choose your battles wisely. In some cases, confrontation with a difficult stakeholder can be beneficial and help to iron out issues. In other cases, it’s just not necessary. Instead, save the debate for someone who can actually make a difference to the situation. On balance, when you deal with a stakeholder softly, he or she will eventually become more willing to listen to you. And if all else fails escalate to a higher authority.

    Finally, remain accessible and engage in open and frequent communication with stakeholders. Ensuring ongoing dialogue generates trust and allows for faster identification and resolution of issues as they arise.

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    Social Network Analysis (SNA)

    Why is it that two football teams whose players have similar abilities can perform very differently? Because performance depends not only on the quality of the single players, but on the relationships and interactions between them. In an organisational setting, poor informal relaSocial Network Diagramtionships can make or break change, strangle innovation, and cripple day to day operations.

    The problem is that informal relationships and interactions are often poorly understood and masked by the fiction of a formal structure, which is often represented by a neat, hierarchical wire diagram. The purpose of SNA is to understand how this informal structure operates in conjunction with the formal structure and workflow. This can be done very powerfully using visualisation software to create a 2D picture, but for small teams, with 8-12 members, insights can also be gained using a pen and paper.

    The basic assumptions of SNA are threefold: first, that personal relationships have a big impact on productivity; second, that human network maps (sociograms) help us visualize and understand where an organization is resilient and strong, and where it is vulnerable and weak; and third, that we can analyse these maps to identify flows of information, knowledge and trust, which will help plan organizational improvement. In short, by visualizing and analyzing informal social networks managers can bring out the strengths in their networks, restructure their formal organizations to complement the informal and ‘rewire’ faulty networks to achieve company goals.

    To get a good overall picture of the informal networks in your organization you typically need to visualize three types of relationship networks:

    • Communication networks reveal who talks to whom about work related matters on a regular basis. Mapping communication networks can help identify gaps in information flow, inefficient use of resources and the failure to generate new ideas.
    • Advice networks show the prominent members in an organization on whom others depend to solve problems and provide technical information. These networks show influential players in the day-to-day operations of a company and are useful to examine when a company is considering routine changes.
    • Trust networks show who employees share delicate political information with and who they back in a crisis. Mapping trust networks will uncover the source of political conflicts and failure to achieve strategic objectives. You should examine trust networks when implementing a major change or experiencing a crisis.

    Now, try it with your pen and paper. For each of the three types start with the person you think is most connected, put them in the centre of the page and the other team members around them, then connect the dots. Try to be honest, you may not be at the centre of every universe. If you’re stuck try talking to your subordinates and colleagues and see what they think. After all, those conversations may turn out to be valuable in their own right.

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    Asking Good Questions

    Questions

    Asking good questions starts with a clear understanding of what you want to know. Broadly speaking, do you want the facts or do you want someone’s opinion or judgement? Once you have the objective clearly in mind you need to ask questions that will quickly get you the best information available. In pursuit of that sometimes elusive goal the following tips may help:

    1. Unless you want simple factual answers don’t ask yes or no questions, otherwise known as closed questions. Questions with “would,” “should,” “is,” “are,” and “do you think” all steer the responder toward yes or no answers that close the conversation down. More open questions, beginning with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “how,” or “why” lead people to give more thought to their answers and provide fuller answers.

    2. Ask follow up questions. Opinions and judgements are based upon a set of assumptions, by asking follow up questions you will gain insight into these assumptions that will help you develop your own opinions about things. Ask questions such as, “What makes you say that?” or “Why do you think that?”

    3. Don’t be afraid of silence. People feel the need to fill the holes in a conversation and this may bring out the critical bit of information you seek.

    4. Don’t interrupt. Not only does it suggest that you don’t value what the other person is saying, it can also interrupt their train of thought and direct the conversation the way you want, rather than the way it perhaps should go. Let the person answer in full, even when you think you are not getting the answer you require, then use a subsequent question to direct them back to the topic when there is a natural pause. If you have to interrupt for the sake of time, then be polite. Ask to confirm that you have understood them correctly and then bring them back to the point.

    As Eugene Ionesco observed, “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”

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    It’s All About The Conversation

    There are many websites and self-help books aimed at improving your social skills, turning you from hapless mumbler to magnetic raconteur, this is not one of them. For us, the conversation is not about the superficiality of making a good first impression or introducing yourself at parties. It is quite the opposite. It is about allowing everyone a voice and bringing forth all that has previously been left unsaid, in order to reach a better understanding of a situation, and so act.

    In Issue 1 of the RSA Journal 2014 Peter Senge posed a question to consultants: Is the client more effective when you are gone? He observed that 90% of consulting is expert: someone comes in and tells you what to do (they give you the answer). Whereas, for the other 10% it is about capacity building and growth: helping managers think through things for themselves, recognising their own development needs and building their own and their organisation’s capacities. The former tries to offer a formula for unlocking complexity and giving it form, while the latter accepts and delights in complexity and chaos. It lives in the question and recognizes the need for humility. We are definitely in this latter category. Our role is not to tell, but to ask useful questions that will ignite effective conversation.

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