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Archive for the '2008 Articles' Category

It’s all change in the world of work…

March 08  

Work in the 21st Century is turning out to be very different to what we experienced in the late 20th century. The only thing that is constant in most organisations is change. This change ranges from altering organisational structures to introducing new and tighter admin processes for claiming expenses. Change has always been with us but the challenges and complexities organisations face today, are of a different order of magnitude.Employees are facing increasing pressures in trying to be both effective at work and maintain a quality home life. Modern business demands high quality performance, short response times, long working hours and heavy workloads. At home, people face money pressures, family demands, education concerns, high lifestyle expectations, and limited time with loved ones.Recently we have witnessed a series of financial and economic shocks that have reverberated across the world. Since the 1970’s we entered a new age. This age is often referred to as the information age. This is the age in which technology begun to play an increasingly important role in our lives. The information age has ushered in a new set of issues. New technologies – especially computers and telecommunications have become both a blessing and a curse. In one sense the speed with which we can now communicate with a colleague represents a momentous benefit to the workplace. It also represents a platform for tension and stress as results are expected faster and whereabouts can be constantly tracked. Technology advancements have also created increased competition for jobs. Change has been constant throughout life, but the new element that the information age has brought is the remorseless, unrelenting, increasing pace of change. If you are thinking that one day it will slow down and go back to how it was before I have news for you. It won’t! It will continue to accelerate. Work is wearing many people down. It’s intense and the line between home and work is blurring. The concept of work-life balance is, for many, just that – a concept. Work is of course such an important part of our lives, and not simply because of the money. Work gives life meaning, purpose and contributes to our sense of worth1. We are programmed to want to work. I recall listening to the story of a wealthy businessman from Wales. He had built up a large meat business and the opportunity came along for him to sell it. After selling the business and becoming incredibly wealthy, he attempted to spend some time at home doing nothing. It didn’t take him long to realise that he couldn’t survive without working. His wife also couldn’t get used to the idea of him being at home.The corollary to this story is that because of the value we place on work the imperative should be to squeeze as much satisfaction from our time at work as possible. So what are some of the things we can do to cope with change and still enjoy our work?

  1. Accept that change is here to stay. Leaving one organisation for another might only bring a short term reprieve if you are trying to escape change. Change is happening everywhere.
  2. Find out more about the organisation you work for. Speak to senior management. Read organisational information. Ask questions about the future plans for the Company. It will help you prepare for any eventual changes.
  3. Increase your knowledge of what is happening at other organisations. This will give you a better understanding of the issues affecting your sector and help you to spot trends. You can also use your new knowledge to suggest new ideas for your organisation.
  4. Think about the things you are good at. Is your job allowing you to exhibit your skills regularly? If not find a way to work in a role that matches your skill set.
  5. Build better relationships with your colleagues. Working life is always better when there is a nucleus of colleagues with which you get on with. This will mean that you find it easier to get things done when you have to rely on others for help.
  6. Work on your personal development. Focusing on and addressing areas of self improvement often builds confidence. It can also make us less concerned when change comes because we may feel better prepared to cope with it.   

Accepting the inevitability of change will mean that we are less likely to be caught off guard when it comes along. Embracing some or all of the tips above may also mean that we can begin to welcome change as an opportunity.Clive LewisManaging Director

Difficult Conversations

Feb 08
Are you dreading that tricky conversation ?  Have you been trying to convince yourself that it will resolve itself eventually and maybe you could make it worse by tackling it ? 

If so, you are not alone !  Difficult conversations are part of life and most of us struggle with them.  Despite this, less than 1 in 10 organisations are training managers to handle difficult conversations, according to a recent survey.  However the impact of avoiding these conversations or handling them badly is devastating: 36% of respondents felt that inaction in this key area undermines confidence in management, and 42% believe it erodes the morale of their best people.

So what can you do to improve your chances of tackling a difficult conversation successfully ?

Be curious
Hold the intent to learn, be curious and explore.  The tighter you hold to a specific result, the less likely you will be to achieve your overall goal. 
For example, consider what happens when you think: “I will make them stop doing that”.  The inference is: “Firstly they are wrong.  Secondly I will point out to them that they are wrong.  Thirdly when they realise how wrong they are they will immediately want to stop.  They will wonder why they have been doing it all this time and be really grateful to me.  I am right”.  

Ok, I exaggerate for amusement.  But no matter how you phrase it, if your unspoken intent is that they are wrong and you are right, it will leak out in your words, tone and body language and the other person will automatically become defensive.  They will want to prove they are not wrong and be tempted to counter attack.

Tell the third story 
You both believe your stories are the single truth and in order to make progress one person has to shift.  Preferably them.  You both become more entrenched in your position.  However there is another way to get movement.  When you make the other person wrong, you also make assumptions about them, their intentions and thinking.  Instead, tell their story in a way which allows them to recognise it as true, like a neutral bystander might.  This means convey what you know to be true, with no inferences or assumptions. 

For example, “I find the impact of you doing this unacceptable (true).  I don’t know if you are aware of the impact your behaviour has on me (true).  I want to share this with you (true) and find out about your thoughts (if it’s not true initially, you can develop this through an intention of curiosity). I want to see if we can jointly find an option which will meet both our needs (true). 

This is the key to taking the sting out of the conversation.  The inference here is “I don’t own the whole truth to this situation.  I have a story, they have a story.  There is clearly a difference in how we are interpreting what’s happening.  Both our stories have some truth from where we stand. Let’s work together to find a way forward which I may not even have envisaged”.

How you begin the conversation is important; you may want to use this sentence to frame it.  “I’d really like to talk to you about something which is bothering me.  My sense is that you and I are seeing the situation differently.  I’d like to share how I’m seeing it and learn more about how you’re seeing it”.  This puts the difference on the table clearly yet safely.  It’s also essential the other person feels heard and acknowledged, otherwise no solution will be forthcoming.  It may sound trite, but saying “it sounds like you find that very frustrating”, or “I can see that makes complete sense now given what you’ve told me”, or even “I understand how that must be annoying” can allow the other person to relax and encourage them to focus on collaborative problem solving. There is no magic solution for handling those tricky conversations but try going equipped with a curious intention, telling the third story and framing it by making the difference explicit and acknowledging them.  Even thinking it through in this way allows you to shift your position before the conversation happens.  You may surprise yourself! 
Julia Cusack Head of Coaching & Learning

“You may delay, but time will not” – Benjamin Frankin

Feb 08
As a coach and facilitator, when I ask people for one word which describes how they manage time, there are knowing smiles and guffaws of laughter.  Time, it seems, is the universal currency which we all think we don’t spend as wisely as we might.
I often hear people describing their time management skills as if they are innate and immutable qualities: “that’s just me, I’m rubbish with deadlines” or “I have to be in plenty of time, that’s who I am”.  Sometimes there are genuine personality preferences which have an impact, for example those differences illustrated by the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  

It’s in my genes
The MBTI describes two distinct types: one with a preference for Perceiving (or ‘Ps’ as they are commonly described for short), and the other with a preference for Judging.  For ‘Ps’ time just happens, it flows, and managing it doesn’t feel right at all.  Whereas ‘Js’ like to control and organise, indeed the very phrase ‘time management’ sounds like something a ‘J’ could have coined. The starting point for ‘Js’ is that free time is what’s left over after planned activities, while for ‘Ps’, the premise is that all time is free apart from what’s planned. 

These differences can be seen in clashes in the workplace, schools, not to mention homes all over the country.   ‘Ps’ often feel their approach is wrong “You always leave it until the last minute”.  Some of the rules advocated in standard time management courses are heavily ‘J’ flavoured: “Finish one task before starting another”.  However, this is not about what’s right and wrong, but more about managing yourself in a way which suits your strengths and doesn’t put others out.  In other words personality difference doesn’t give you an excuse to not develop your skills. 

But I procrastinate…
… Procrastination is often used in connection with time management, but it’s little more than a disempowering label.  Research shows it affects most of us; people of all types put off doing, and particularly starting, tasks.  The behaviour is actually a symptom which may have a number of root causes.  Some of the main reasons are:
Over-stimulation – too many ideas and possibilities�
Perfectionism or avoiding tasks which stimulate feelings of incompetence�
Task doesn’t ‘grab’ you

So they key is to notice what you are telling yourself when you are not starting or doing the task.  Consider these:

“Hmmm, not sure where to start, what am I doing ? Oh yes, project X. Maybe I’ll do it like this, or project Z is linked, hang on, here’s an idea…”
“I can’t do it, it might not be good enough, so I can’t even start it”
“I really must do that job.  But I’d really rather be doing the other one due next week.  Wish I didn’t have to do it, oh well”.
You get the idea.  Often these messages are out of our awareness, scripts that we have been running around our heads for many years.  But even catching these comments can really help overcome the blockage.  Identify what you say to yourself and see if one of these strategies helps get you started.

Make use of checklists
Make a checklist which breaks down the component parts of a task.  Once you have jotted down the items involved, you have a visual image of your workload.  This means, firstly, the job looks more manageable – small single step tasks you can face, and secondly, you will spot any gaps (e.g. before I do that I need to establish who’s available).  Thirdly, and most importantly, you won’t have to keep mentally revising what stage you’ve reached and what’s next.  This can be liberating indeed and great for sustaining momentum. 

Set a time limit 
Very few jobs need to be done perfectly at first go (brain surgeons can ignore this advice!)  It can feel daunting to try and find a level that is ‘good enough’ in completing a task, rather than perfect.  A simple, yet effective, way of doing this is to time yourself and do just 15 or 20 minutes – it can be revitalizing knowing you have to stop when the alarm goes, rather than struggling to get it all done.  It’s surprising then how often people then find the energy to continue with the task.

Reward yourself
A much underused yet powerful technique is to give yourself an incentive.  If it sounds far too simple, try it.  Choose something really enjoyable to do on completion of the task – not too far ahead or it won’t be sufficiently enticing.

Good luck, as they say: ‘no time like the present!’

Julia Cusack Head of Coaching & Learning

“It’s making us sick” says Clive Lewis

Saturday 26th January 2008

We’re gripped by health issues, but we don’t often associate health with conflict at work. The fact is, lower stress, less fatigue and a better work-life balance all help us take care of ourselves.

Employees face huge pressure trying to be effective at work and maintain a quality home life. Business demands high quality performance, short response times and heavy workloads. At home, there are money pressures, family demands, education concerns and limited time with loved ones.

As a result, workplace relationships become strained. It is commonly known that poor relationships at work have a knock-on effect. For example, organisations are likely to see an increase in sickness absence and stress when there is friction or poorly-managed change at work.

Recently I was asked by an organisation to help resolve a dispute between two individuals. As a result of the fallout, one of the parties was experiencing a deteriorating skin condition. Her skin was flaking. 

When I saw her about two weeks after the problem was resolved there was an amazing improvement. She (and her doctor) linked the skin condition to the conflict situation with her colleague.

Sickness absence costs UK businesses in excess of £13bn per year, according to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Work related stress accounts for over a third of all new incidents of ill health. 12 million days are lost each year to stress, depression and anxiety. Some of these will be unauthorised absence in connection with strained relationships in the workplace. Why is this?

Check out the typical responses to conflict below. A passive way of avoiding personal contact might mean phoning in sick. This might not be the right thing to do but you might persuade yourself that it buys some reprieve from having to deal with a difficult situation. 

It makes sense therefore, for an organisation to keep positive and productive workplace relationships at the top of its agenda. 

I regularly mediate disputes at County Courts across the country. I recall mediating an employment case between a GP and a Primary Care Trust a few years ago. I was struck by some of the notes I received about the case. To give an idea of how profound the health effects of conflict can be, here is an extract:

‘Furthermore, my client has incurred legal expenses, accountants fees, costs for employing lawyers, time spent meeting with lawyers, time spent researching, writing letters, photocopying documents, sleepless nights, precious time lost, stress worry, psychosomatic symptoms such as headache, migraine, depression, suicidal thoughts, weight loss due to loss of appetite, strained relationship with family, sleep depravation, loss of earnings, total waste of precious time and energy. The defendant has also been unable to open her mail box without trepidation since receiving a letter from X’. 

The intensity of these words hit me. During our discussions, the GP had to make frequent trips to the lavatory – one of the effects of the dispute. That it was a GP suffering made it somehow more poignant, though of course conflict impacts us all, irrespective of our occupation or seniority.

In your pursuit of better well-being, you would do well to think about how your relationships at work can contribute towards better health. Here are a few questions to help you think about how to maintain good relationships at work.

  • How can you best respond rather than react to a situation?
  • Generally, how important is this issue on a scale of 1-10 (10 being life and death)?
  • Are there any learning points for you from previous interactions with your colleagues?
  • Will this issue be important in a year?
  • What can you do to turn the issue into something positive?
  • Pursue solutions to these questions, and you are much more likely to not only have better relationships at work, but have better health too!

Clive is founder and Managing Director of Globis
You can also view this article on-line at Opportunities Magazine’smakingussick%2CsaysCliveLewis&page=article.display& 

Appraisals – the most dreaded task in your calendar?

By: Julia Cusack Head of Coaching & Learning, Globis

Date: January 2008

The thought of performance appraisals elicits a variety of reactions: from a fluttering in the stomach and a dry mouth, through procrastination to outright avoidance.  Indeed a recent survey indicated that 35% of managers would rather do a bungee jump for the first time than tell their team they are not performing.

However there are some straightforward steps you can take to improve the likelihood of a pleasant and productive appraisal.  The New Year is a good time to start preparing, and by the time the reviews come around you will be feeling calm, prepared and confident.  The three steps are:

1.         Focus on your intention

Visualise beforehand how you would like the appraisal to go.  It’s not just a coincidence that successful sportsmen and women imagine in detail how their race will be run – and won.  They mentally construct a picture of success.  David Hemery tells a compelling story of how he suddenly realised, after coming 2nd in the 1972 Olympics 400m hurdles, that, without realising, he had actually been preparing mentally to lose rather than win; he had rehearsed perfectly, but for the wrong result.  A host of research and literature shows that the more detailed you are defining your intent, the more likely you are to realise it.  That’s all very well, you might think, but I just know so-and-so will throw a wobbly.  As Billy Connolly said on Parkinson’s final show “I think if you actually believe something, there’s a great chance it might happen. I know if you set your sights low that’ll definitely happen”. 

Ask yourself “what is my intention for this appraisal? What would be an ideal outcome of the session?”  Having the aim of “fixing” the appraisee, getting them to own up to or understand poor performance, will result in a defensive response.  A good productive performance review is about engaging in genuine two-way dialogue about mutual behaviours and intentions.  Approaching the appraisal with curiosity is something many managers ignore as they are so focused on the “I must deliver this message” approach.  However, if you hold your intention lightly, with an authentic sense of inquiry, you will automatically be far more effective at questioning and listening – core skills for an appraisal.  Not only that, the spin-off is that you will obey the golden rule of “Don’t do all the talking”.

2.         Involve the appraisee

Many managers prepare for an appraisal by reading the previous year’s review documentation, trawling through their file of collated evidence and correlating this with the performance criteria, identifying the individual’s strong and weaker areas.  Some reflect on pertinent questions such as:

  • what factors have affected performance – both within and outside the individual’s control ? 
  • what actions could be taken by both parties to develop or improve performance ?  
  • what objectives might be agreed for the next review period ?  

Most however do not pay enough attention to ensuring the performer is equally prepared.  How often have you specifically asked your appraisee to think in advance about those same questions and others such as:

  • What do you enjoy about the job and how might you want to develop the role ? 
  • What are the aspects of your work where improvement is required and how might this be achieved ? 
  • What level of support and guidance do you require from your manager ? 

In the review itself, let the individual begin with their thoughts on their performance and they will typically take more responsibility for the appraisal and be more committed to the output.  You will also gain a clear idea of their opinion and avoid the mistake of making assumptions about how well they think they have performed.

3.         Reduce surprises

Waiting until the annual or bi-annual review to tell direct reports about their performance is a definite no-no.  There should be no surprises: we all know this so it’s surprising that we still have surprises!  Generation Y performers in particular need constant feedback and affirmation.  To them, no news is not good news, unlike the baby boomers; if they didn’t hear from their boss it meant everything was fine, but that is no longer true.  Take the surprise out by giving frequent affirmative and remedial feedback between appraisals.

Try these three steps, see how they make a difference.  Happy New Appraisals!

This article is also published in the Opportunities Magazine

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