Archive for October, 2013

HOW TO ASK QUESTIONS THAT UNCOVER YOUR COMPANY’S VALUES

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Defining your company’s vision is no easy task. How can you possibly condense what you do in your 60-hour weeks with your entire team and the grand vision behind it into a short and sweet sentence? You could probably write a 10-page article on what you’re up to, but one sentence? That’s a Challenge!

To begin the inquiry:

 IDENTIFY YOUR COMPANY’S VALUES

It’s word-cloud time. Step up to the whiteboard, and brainstorm the value principles that matter most to your team. These are guiding principles that describe your product goals, development philosophy and work ethic.

These are the factors that your team members hold close to their hearts. They are moral and intellectual forces that help your organisation make decisions and choose direction.

As start-up leaders, we can’t assume that all of our personal values will become a part of the entire organisation. You need to listen more than talk to understand the values that your entire organisation embraces most. One of your chief roles as a founder or CEO is to prioritise and communicate what matters most to your group.

As start-up coach Dave Kashen puts it, “Select start-up values that enable team members to flourish and the company to win in the marketplace.”

The clearer you can communicate your vision, the more your team will understand it, work into it, live and breathe it for the organisation.

 TAKE A LOOK INSIDE

The first place where you should start looking for organisational values is with yourself. On both personal and professional levels, what do you care about most?

The answers to that question are far from straightforward. It’s just like interviewing yourself. Use example questions like these:

  • Does meeting a project deadline take priority over delivering exceptional work?
  • Is a 10-hour company workday more important to you than happy team members?
  • In what cases will you say ‘no’ to a customer or turn down a prospect?
  • In what situations is it okay to sacrifice family time for work? 
  • What is one high standard you wouldn’t sacrifice for anything?

 Your goal here is to raise awareness about topics that matter to you (and problems that need to be solved). These answers will steer the good habits and behaviours of the people who will actualise your vision.

Once you’ve gone through this process of introspection, take it a step further.

Encourage your team members to identify their own sets of questions in addition to the ones that you’ve established. Throughout the course of their roles and time, they will inevitably confront situations and decisions that will be unique to them. Create a number of diverse situations, both positive and negative that the organisation as a whole may one day encounter.

This dialogue will establish strong common ground. Find intersecting points and address your blind spots to create a full, 360-degree view.

Think of your job as a researcher, the CEO of your organisation. You can also identify organisational values by looking at how people work within your company and by identifying the actions the organisation has taken over in the last few years.

WHEN HAVE YOU FELT MOST ALIVE?

Your logical brain is only part of the equation. Pay attention to how you and your team members feel as well. Human beings are complex; we’re as motivated by our emotions as we are with our intellects. You can’t ignore either.

So put your EQ to work and figure out what makes you tick. Look at both positive and negative aspects of what you’re feeling.

Consider these questions:

  • When have you felt most alive?
  • What situations invoke the most intense emotions you’ve felt, both positively and negatively?
  • What stories inspire you?

 Answer these questions individually then as a group. It’s important to maintain both an individual and group-level view.

Sometimes, it takes a series of questions to help you drill down to the answers that matter most. These answers will highlight the values you’ll need to develop within your company in order for you to reach your greatest potential on both an individual and organisational level.

DAVID HASSELL

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The Most Valuable Lesson That Changed My Life

A great article by James Caan. A reminder to us all the learning journey is experienced through failure and success. There is so much to learn in the presence of failure, unfortunately the self judgments, negative criticisms, fears and personal shame prevents us from growing from these great lessons.

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For some reason in the UK we find it hard to deal with failure. Even the thought comes with a stigma and in general people are reluctant to discuss the subject. In some other countries, failure is not seen as something to be embarrassed or ashamed of. It’s just accepted as a part of everyday life and something you can learn from.

If you want to be truly successful in life then one of the first things to do is understand and accept the concept of failure.

A key characteristic of entrepreneurs is that they are ready and willing to take risks. Of course the best ones minimise the risk and make it a calculated one. But when you do this, you must be open to the fact that things could potentially go wrong along the way.

If you become afraid of failure then it will make you too afraid to take these risks, which in itself can be a fatal business flaw as it hinders progress and development. As many people say, if you don’t buy a ticket, you’ll never win the lottery.

The majority of business people do not strike gold every time. I have experienced plenty of failures along the way. The real secret of success is not to become disheartened by failure. I have found that the most confident and successful people in business are the ones who have learnt to take failure in their stride.

Rather than being embarrassed or ashamed because you have tried to do something and failed, you should look at what you did and examine why it didn’t work. When I invested in the failing sandwich chain Benjys, I went against all my business principles and completed the deal in less than a week. Despite having very little knowledge of the sector, I thought I could turn it around, especially as it still had a recognisable brand. Six months later I had to hold my hands up and admit it was a lost cause. They say you should never catch a falling knife but that’s exactly what happened with Benjys.

The key lesson I took from that was to stick to my belief in proper due diligence and analysing every deal thoroughly. It also reinforced my attitude that if you are going to fail, do it quickly. Once you realise that things aren’t going to get any better, it is best to get out while you can, rather than continuing just to try and save face.

I am also a firm believer that success is a journey rather than a destination. We should always be looking at how we do things so they can be even better next time. This also applies if you have been successful – rather than resting on your laurels, keep analysing and look for any areas of improvement.

In other words, you can learn as much from your successes as you can from your failures. When it comes to business, fear and complacency are both equally harmful approaches to take.

James Caan

Unfair Bosses to Blame for Workplace Depression

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It’s not pressing deadlines and mounting responsibilities that cause depression at work — unfair bosses are to blame for low employee morale, according to a study.

Danish researchers got 4500 public employees, including nurses, teachers and admin workers, to fill out questionnaires and be interviewed about their mental health and workplace experiences, to determine whether the employees felt their bosses listened to their needs and treated them equally.

They also measured the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the participants’ saliva.

The results showed that employees who felt they were treated fairly had better moods, while those who felt their boss was unjust were more likely to be depressed.

“We may have a tendency to associate depression and stress with work pressure and workload; however, our study shows that the workload actually has no effect on workplace depression,” said researcher Dr Matias Brodsgaard Grynderup, a psychologist at Aarhus University.

“This suggests that the risk of workplace depression cannot be minimised by changing the workload. Other factors are involved and it is these factors that we should focus on in the future.”

Grynderup said a lot of people mistakenly associate work pressure with depression.

“When high levels of work pressure and depression appear to be linked in people’s consciousness, it is not because a heavy workload increases the risk of depression — that’s not what we found in our study,” he said.

“Instead, depression can make work assignments appear insurmountable, even though the depression was not caused by the workload.”

Carol Barnes, a consultant psychiatrist at the Black Dog Institute, “Most people can cope with stressful situations and heavy workloads if they feel they are supported. If your effort is rewarded through recognition, that can get you through a high burden of work,” she said.

“Imbalance comes when people don’t recognise good work done. If there is a constant drive for quality and things are never good enough, that can threaten an employee’s resilience.”

She suggested that people who feel they are frequently treated poorly by their boss should take action. “It depends on whether it is a one-off or a recurrent pattern,” she said.

“A lot of people will take the attitude that they will ignore it and it will go away or they will leave and go somewhere else. But you can’t keep doing that when you come up against people who are difficult.”

They key is communicating in a calm and reasonable way with their boss.

“Ask for some time to catch up with them in a private conversation. If they are very busy or distant, try to put it in writing in an email,” she said.

“If that is failing and there is someone else above that person, such as a human resources manager or your boss’s supervisors, that may be where you need to go.”

The findings were published in three articles in the scientific journals Occupational and Environmental Medicine,Psychoneuroendocrinology and The Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health.

Kimberly Gillan

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There is Nothing Permanent Except Change

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Change is not a single event. It is an ongoing, evolutionary process, one change triggers another, often in unexpected places. The inter-relationship of components leads to an endless cycle of reassessment and renewal.

Change is not managed, rather the organisation is managed through change.  Management must fully understand how change works in order to lead their organisations successfully into the future. The introduction and management of change are two of the most critical elements of leadership for the future.

While change, whether planned or unplanned, is inevitable and often beneficial, we need to be aware of the effect on individuals and take steps to help make the process as painless as possible.

Leaders must fully understand the change process to move their organisations successfully, through the turmoil of today’s economic environment, into the future. Many corporations faced with a lack of, or diminishing resources, find that this exerts increasing pressure on their leadership to proactively respond to planned and unplanned changes. A primary determinate of the future success of an organisation is the leadership’s ability to assimilate change, then formulate and articulate a clear vision, accompanied by implementation of succinct strategic goals and objectives.

Two of the most critical elements of leadership are the introduction and management of change. Many leaders have little or no training in the change process. Most organisations rise or fall based on how well they manage the introduction of change and the control of uninvited changes in their environment.

Responsiveness to change is as important to organisations as it is to people. There are two kinds of organisations in today’s world: those that are changing and those that are going out of business. The business and government graveyard is filled with the corpses of organisations that failed to respond to inevitable changes.

Similarly, there are also two kinds of people: those who are changing and those who are setting themselves up to be victims of change. The key difference here is between people being change managers or change resisters.

Lacking in training or knowledge, the great majority of leaders come to rely on instinct and experience, rather than a full understanding of the change process. Some out of fear of change resist the inevitable transformation of their organisation. This tends to put the organisation at risk when facing unanticipated as well as planned change.

The successful change manager is one who is committed to being a perpetual learner. Myths, realities, and historical cultures need to be acknowledged and managed toward a new set of priorities and values. Leaders who are change managers address and reduce the fear of change that naturally exists in the work group. They build trust and confidence rather than attempting to manipulate the work group.

Specific Keys in Managing Change:

1. Managing change is not all about “soft” skills. It is about developing specific management competencies around effective change leadership. These management competencies are essential in today’s workplace.

2. Change management is necessary to manage business risks during change, including avoiding the loss of valued employees, minimising productivity slides, avoiding negative impacts on customers and enabling the change to be implemented on schedule and on budget.

3. Managing change benefits employees by keeping them involved and informed throughout the change process. This enables employees to make informed choices about how they will transition through the change rather than react based on fear.

4. Change management provides the tools to proactively manage resistance to change and to deal decisively with resistance to change that is persistent and threatening to the organisation. Without these tools, changes can become mired in workplace politics and ultimately fail.

Change is the norm. Employees view their career and role in the company in new ways. In response, management competencies must adapt and businesses must work to develop change management and change leadership competencies from the CEO down to the front-line manager.

Life is change. Growth is optional. 

I am enough!

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Make the mind an ally instead of an enemy.  Everyday suffering is largely mental.

We obsess and worry. We are haunted by old hurts and anticipate new ones with anxiety. For many people, the same four questions keep cropping up to exacerbate these feelings:

  • “What’s wrong with me?
  • “What’s going to happen?
  • “How will I ever get out of this?
  • “Where will the money come from?

Making these thoughts go away is extremely difficult. They are persistent and never seem to resolve themselves. The solutions we try to find don’t work either. We ignore the nagging questions—a form of denial—or we reassure ourselves that there is nothing actually wrong, which, ironically, only stokes the worry and doubt. Another tactic? We try to offset our anxiety by proving our worth through the pursuit of money, power and accomplishment. This can result in riches and success, but it doesn’t put end to the fear or the idea that the future holds something dreadful and unknown.

It’s necessary to try a new way, one that allows our mind be our friend and not our enemy. To do that, we have to move from the level of the problem to the level of the solution. The first step is to take an honest look at what the four questions are doing to you and where they come from.

“What’s wrong with me?”

This thought arises from personal insecurity, self-doubt, and judgment against yourself. When people wrestle with self-doubt, they generally get stuck saying opposite things to themselves: “There’s nothing wrong with me” one day and “I’m a mess. Everything is wrong with me” the next, as circumstances swing from good to bad. Neither extreme is true, but that’s not the point. The false answer becomes a ritual, a fixed response that gets nowhere. Other ritualistic thoughts would include “I keep doing this to myself,” “I’m stupid,” “I’m all alone,” “I never get a break” and so on.

The problem is that you’re trying to answer a question that is self-defeating to begin with. Instead, you must look at why the question arose and solve that problem—which is insecurity. You are giving away your power. Security comes from being cantered in the self.

 “What’s going to happen?”

Stop questioning the future. This concerns dread about the future. It’s about lack of trust. In life, you will never know what is going to happen. Any attempt at a response is futile, since this, too, is a self-defeating question. Instead, you need to live in the present. Realize that the future is not only unknown to you—it is unknowable to anyone no matter how much you worry. Therefore, you are worrying about a phantom; fear is piling on hypothetical possibilities and worst-case scenarios.

They vanish only when you place your attention on the here and now.

 “How will I ever get out of this?”

This question comes from a feeling of being trapped. To end that feeling, you must make space for creativity. It is self-defeating to block your creative juices with an obsessive repetition of doubt. Solutions don’t come from panic. They come when you reframe the situation you are trapped in. Instead of seeing it as a prison, see it as a chance to prove that you are capable of meeting reality head-on. By clearing away the fear, you open a channel for new solutions to appear.

“Where will the money come from?”

On the surface, this is about finances. But beneath that, this question comes from the feeling that your life can be taken away from you. You think that money protects you from total loss of control and if there isn’t enough of it, unseen forces will overwhelm you.

Rather than tackling the money issue, it’s time to create a safe place inside you. The first step is to see that money isn’t going to make you safe (unless, of course, you lack the basic necessities of food and shelter). A prudent amount of money is undeniably a safeguard, but a sense of lack is psychological.

You will feel safe inside not when you have enough money, but when you can say “I am enough.”

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Deepak Chopra

Avoid Thinking Traps

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As we all know, emotions often get in our way of thinking clearly. They can push us toward thinking in ways that may trap us into a bad situation or by making a bad situation worse. We often learn and are influenced by ways of thinking from different sources including people in our lives such as family, teachers, friends. We may adopt certain ways of thinking through the people we look up to by believing this is the right way to think. Understanding where these thinking patterns come from may help us to recognise and challenge them.

1. All or nothing thinking  

This involves viewing events as either black or white.  For example, if a situation is less than perfect, you consider it a total failure.

2. Over-generalisation

This is a tendency to view a single temporary event as a general or permanent state of affairs. We often use the words “never or always” when that simply is not an accurate description of what has occurred.  

3. Jump to conclusions

We jump to making a judgment about a person or a situation with little or no evidence

4. Exaggeration or magnification

This is the proverbial “making the mountain out of the molehill.”

5. Minimisation

We may discount or minimise either the positive or the negative elements of a situation. We may minimise our accomplishments or we may discount the potential risk that a situation may present.

6. Emotional reasoning

We assume the way we feel is the way things really are. We do not look at the situation objectively or take in to account that others may see it differently.  

7. Confirmation bias

We may accept only data and information that support our current beliefs. We reject or find fault with any information that does not support our current beliefs.

Ron Breazeale

Great Leaders Create the Spirit of Consensus

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There is no escaping the fact that as people we are all psychologically conditioned to be liked by our fellow human beings. It is a basic human instinct to seek approval through our actions – whether we do that consciously or subconsciously.

That means that when business leaders go into a difficult or testing situation, the immediate reaction is to take a course of action that will keep the majority happy and satisfied.

However, as a decision maker there are always going to be occasions when a particular course of action is going to leave some feeling unhappy, even though it is the right path to take.

The recent downturn was a good example of how making those tough and difficult decisions at an early stage can lead to less pain in the long-term.

Job losses and redundancies in the UK at the height of the recession were actually at a lower level than most experts and commentators had predicted.

The reason for this was that many big firms took a flexible approach in terms of keeping wage settlements to a minimum and in some cases asked their employees to work reduced hours.

Not everyone was happy to see their incomes cut but in the long term it helped to mitigate the number of redundancies, and the flexible approach meant the economy is now stronger and in a much better position to recover.

But as well as having the strength to take the difficult decisions, part of being a good leader is about the ability to make those who work for you understand and accept why you have opted for a particular course of action. Motivation and morale are key components of any successful business, and nothing damages them more than a leader who doesn’t take their staff into consideration.

One of the most important ways of creating consensus is simply through good communication. As a boss it is not enough just to make decisions and then expect people to follow you without question. The key is to explain the reasoning behind the decision and the thinking behind the business strategy. Don’t assume that people who aren’t at senior level are unable to grasp what is going on. Everybody in the organisation should be highly valued and they all deserve to know the thinking behind big decisions, which could impact them.

Take the time to engage with your employees so you can nail down exactly how they will be affected by any decisions. Many companies pay lip service to the idea of listening to their staff, but not all of them actively take the time to gauge their opinions.

It is also vital to win the trust and support of your team. This is something which gets easier the more you communicate and the more you get results. If you can prove that in the end your approach will yield benefits then it is going to be much easier to win the backing of your staff.

Coercion will only ever work as short-term approach but the truly great leaders are the ones who create that spirit of consensus through their words, actions and decisions.

James Caan