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Building a Stronger Tomorrow: The Push for a More Inclusive Future

We are over halfway through the year, which means we have had a lot of our key D&I and Awareness days, and also time to reflect on the social movements that took place last summer.

From International Women’s Day to Pride, at PUSH we’ve been thinking about how we can build on the messages and activism of the past year and find ways to implement positive, lasting change. Thanks to Covid-19, the working landscape has been blown wide open, leaving an open chasm and abundant opportunity for remodelling the working world of the future – a world where no one is left behind. 

True inclusivity is about so much more than diversity; it is about a sense of belonging, and ensuring all of your colleagues – no matter their gender, race or sexual orientation – feel that they can be their most authentic selves at work. Nurturing uniqueness and individuality among your staff not only creates a positive impact on mental health and your office culture, but will also promote company growth. 

“research shows that unlocking women’s economic potential in the workplace over the coming years could add a staggering $2.1 trillion in GDP by 2025”

The stats on the potential in truly embracing and fostering inclusivity speak for themselves; in the US, research has found that 40% of GDP growth in the national economy between 1960 and 2010 can be attributed to women and people of colour being better represented in the labour force. And research shows that unlocking women’s economic potential in the workplace over the coming years could add a staggering $2.1 trillion in GDP by 2025. 

So how, as leaders, how do we funnel the essence of this year’s activism into our company culture in a practical and permanent way? The first is to open up the line of conversation with your staff and keep it open. Look critically at your organisation and identify what changes can be made and build these into a long-term actionable plan that you can sustain for years to come. Don’t let your desire for diversity look like a gimmick; your team needs to feel equally represented and supported each and every day. 

Also ensure that you invest in your talent. Upskilling staff will not only lead to increased confidence and an expansion of skillsets across the board, but also a sense that every member of the team is valued. Launched last month, the new PUSH App helps companies realise their potential in this area, helping people to connect and feel a sense of belonging, even if current working models mean they are physically apart. 

And on that subject, restructuring your company with inclusivity in mind will have a lot to do with how you tackle the topic of hybrid working. Many women have experienced burnout as they try to juggle working from home and the subsequent sense of needing to be constantly ‘on’ with the pressures of family life. For this reason the implementation of boundaries in your new working model is really important. Again include staff in these conversations to ensure everyone is comfortable with what is being laid out. 

Talking to staff has to lie at the core of your mission for a more inclusive workplace. The sad fact is that Covid has had a disproportionate impact on BAME communities – people from black and Asian ethnic groups were twice as likely to die from the virus compared to white people – meaning that members of these communities are more likely to be suffering from grief. Research also shows that 74% of LGBTQ+ people say that stress from the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health, compared to 49% of those who are not LGBTQ+. Now, more than ever, it is important that these groups feel listened to and supported. Ensure there are systems in place so people have access to a safe space where they can share their feelings and seek help if they need it.

Inclusivity has to be about working with people, not against them, and if the past year has taught us anything, it is that we are stronger together. 

Boosting Energy Levels in the Post-Pandemic World

Your team’s energy levels have a significant impact on productivity, and after 16 months of lockdowns and remote working, energy levels are at an all-time low.

Now, as summer heat rages on and your people get ready for holidays abroad, schools being closed, and time off work, you may have noticed an even greater lull in their enthusiasm and energy.

The HBR article ‘The Pandemic is Widening the Productivity Gap’ suggests that energy was the hardest-hit productivity indicator during the pandemic, having rippling effects on engagement and employee retention. Maintaining high energy levels is essential for productivity and ensuring you get the best out of your team. You need to read your team’s energy levels, listen to them, and take actionable steps to bring everyone back up to scratch. 

This can have a tremendous impact on their mental health, engagement, resilience, and overall joy about their work. 

Here are 5 ways you can reinvigorate your team and boost energy levels:


1. Encourage rest and recovery

Many have worked non-stop for the last 16 months, rarely taking sick days or even holidays due to remote working. Remind your staff that just because they are working from home, it doesn’t mean that they cannot take time off or be ill. Many are feeling a constant pressure to work, and it has left many of us beyond burnt out. 


2. Be compassionate 

Everyone has had a challenging year, and grief surrounds so many things. Grieving over lost loved ones, lost special memories and occasions, or even just the lives we had before the pandemic. As a leader, you are surely grieving personally as well. Be sure that you are empathetic, compassionate and understanding of how your team feels and provide a safe space for them to express their feelings. It’s vital that everyone feels comfortable saying when they just aren’t coping well. Communication is crucial, and how you communicate as a leader can have a considerable impact on employee energy levels.


3. Reward and encourage employees 

According to The Achiever Workforce Institute and a recent study, 35% of employees said that more significant appreciation of their work would help them feel more supported during COVID-19. This directly impacts engagement and, subsequently, productivity. We know times are tough for many businesses but ensure that you are letting your employees know that they are valued and their contributions matter.


4. Provide resources and opportunities for staff to take care of their physical wellbeing

Your physical wellbeing directly impacts energy levels. So providing resources and time to allow your team to take care of their wellbeing can help prevent burnout and keep them motivated. Giving them space and time in their otherwise hectic lives to restore work-life balance and take care of themselves. Physical wellbeing has a direct impact on mental well-being, and a mentally resilient workforce is essential for productivity, 


5. Invest more in people 

Time is finite, energy is not, having your staff work long, gruelling hours does not benefit your company or your team. On the contrary, it leads to disengaged and burnt-out employees, as they invest considerable quantities of time instead of effectively and efficiently directing that time. By investing in upskilling, training, and supporting your team, you ensure that they are putting in quality time to get tasks done. 

How to help your people navigate the change that’s on the horizon

Based on recent conversations, it sounds like the announcement that lockdown will soon be lifted has had an interesting (if seemingly paradoxical) side-effect.

It’s flared up our anxiety.

I guess subconsciously we’re aware that the end of lockdown brings with it another big shakeup – where the way that we work, communicate and socialise will all change…

AGAIN!

As a leader, you might expect your people to come out of this strange, year-long chapter with nothing but enthusiasm and positivity.

But change affects people in different ways.

For some, it represents new opportunities. For others, it represents uncertainty.

As I see it, there are two ways you can handle this:

  1. Equip yourselves and your people with the right tools to handle this new period of change.
  2. Spend two weeks checking in on unproductive or absent employees who are burnt out from the shock of it all.

If you like the sound of the first path, below are three frameworks that will help you to work with your people so they can thrive through this next phase: helping them to examine their perception of what this change really means, bolstering their self-belief, and giving them the tools to navigate and control any uncertainty they are feeling.

Navigating change with resilience 

Tamar Chansky, author of ‘Freeing Yourself From Anxiety’ says changes at work are amongst the top life stressors that we experience, that’s because typically:

“How we thrive is through routine and predictability. It gives us a sense of control. When there are big changes, we are suddenly thrown into a state of uncertainty.’

But how effectively we feel we can cope with this change and uncertainty depends very much on how we see the world. In fact, psychologist Martin Seligman has identified three character traits known as the Three Ps, which potentially reduce our resilience to change and tough times:

  1. Personalisation: thinking that the problem is yours, instead of considering external factors
  2. Permanence: thinking a bad situation will last forever
  3. Pervasiveness: thinking a bad situation applies across all areas of your life

However, by changing how we see tough times (ie, that the problem isn’t always yours alone, that difficult stuff doesn’t last forever, and that not everything in your life is terrible) you can tap into a deep well of resilience as the uncertain situation passes through you.

Here are 5 ways that you can change your perception of uncertain times, by strengthening your resilience:

  • Recognise that your struggle is valid – don’t blow it up, but don’t minimise it either. Recognise that shit is happening and you need to deal with it.
  • Remember times you were resilient! Don’t forget you’ve already lived through adversity. A key component of resilience is self-efficacy, so reminding yourself that you’ve done this before will help enormously.
  • Consider the three P’s. How can you turn around this negative way of thinking to encourage positives?
  • Be kind to yourself and remember this is a learning experience. When you come out of the other side, you will be stronger and even better equipped for the future than before!
  • If it’s getting really tough, call on your buddies, colleagues, mentors, family etc. Resilient people instinctively call on support if they feel they need it. They’re smart enough to know they can’t do everything alone!

 Developing self-belief and cancelling unwanted noise. 

Those with self-belief and a realistic amount of self-confidence tend to go far. And this is especially true during more challenging times when a good dose of self-belief helps to keep us both buoyant and focused.

The word ‘realistic’ is important – helping your employees to have a balanced view of themselves is key to cultivating their self-belief. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses, helping them to play to the former while working on the latter.

Because as an employer, it can be very frustrating seeing your people obsess about, and nurture their limiting self-beliefs, perpetuating a story about themselves that isn’t true. It’s distracting,  inhibits their growth, whilst hiding their true potential from you, and the world!

So here are 5 tips you can use to develop their self-belief and propel them forward.

  • What do you want? Ask yourself this – if you weren’t lacking in self-belief, who would you like to be and what would you like to do? Write down these goals and if doubts come up about them, push aside the negative noise.
  • Face your fears – scared of something? Then face it down and don’t let it hold you back. You’ll most likely find that it was a phantom fear, and was never worth your time and energy in the first place.
  • Talking to your inner critic. Talk directly to that internal monologue. Why they feel that way about challenging situations, and why they’re controlling you. They’ll never be able to come up with a rational explanation.
  • Set yourself up for success. Tell yourself that you will prevail but if you don’t quite get there immediately, don’t beat yourself up. If at first you don’t succeed…
  • Encourages others to see their value. By doing so you will generate equally positive feelings about yourself. Give it a try and see how effective it can be.

Controlling the controllables and letting the rest go 

As humans, we often try to control everything around us; both situations and people. Frankly, this is a recipe for disaster, depression and a sense of failure because we simply cannot control everything. But we do have a certain superpower, as explained by Paul Mort, supercoach:

‘I can’t change the past but I can change how I see it. The past is a moment and our imaginations fill in the gaps and make up all of the meaning around what happened. But really, it is up to you how long you want to visit dogshit emotions. The thinking that keeps us glued to bullshit is our victim mentality, so put attention on your intentions It’s up to you what you do about it.’

Here are 4 ways that you can reset the control balance:

  • Write down what you can definitely control vs what you think you can control vs what you definitely can’t control. DISCARD what you can’t control – these are no longer important. Of those things you think you can control, decide which are worth pursuing and which aren’t.
  • Look at controlling your responses to people and situations. Do you snap back under pressure? If so, learn to take a breath before you give a measured response to a situation. Even a short amount of thinking time will help you focus on the positives.
  • As author Viktor Frankl said in his famous book about surviving Auschwitz, you are always free to choose your attitude towards something.  Instead of fearing loss of control, focus on changing your mindset around it.
  • Learn to calm your mind through meditation or mindfulness. This will help you focus on more positive outcomes and situation you cannot control

This is just a snapshot of what’s inside PUSH’s new book ‘High Potential Hacks – The Positive Behaviours of The Highest Performing People.’  We’d love for you and your people to benefit from more of its magic, so download your free copy below… it might just change their life!

The Psychological Impact of Uncertainty

The classic cliffhanger. 

Done right, and it’s a very effective plot device. The uncertainty of not knowing ‘what happens next’ is both torturous and tantalising. It guarantees that we’ll tune in for the next episode, so we can find out if Rachel got off the plane, and then move on with our lives.

The reason cliffhangers work is because humans crave certainty, we really don’t like being in the dark for too long. Good or bad, a decisive outcome is always better than just not knowing. 

That’s why the last eight months have been so challenging – we’ve been suspended on a permanent cliffhanger, obsessing over what happens next. Psychologically, that’s bloody hard!

So I loved it when, at our recent What Now? event, clinical psychologist and award winning coach Dr. Hazel Harrison, guided us through the psychological impact of uncertainty, revealing how we can reframe our emotions, and convert them into catalysts for positive growth. 

I was blown away, so based on her awesome advice, I’ve put together a blog post that acts as a toolkit for you and your organisations, enabling you to outwit and overcome the psychological impact of uncertainty, which will be paramount for you and your teams as you move forward.

The Psychological Impact of Uncertainty: The Journey we’ve been on.

Dr. Hazel pointed to Virginia Satir’s model of change to demonstrate how we went from the calm of what we knew pre-Covid to where we are now. Let’s take a quick look at where we’ve been:

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  1. Status Quo –
    Pre-Covid – remember that? When our only pandemic reference point was Kate Winslet in Contagion. The Status Quo phase was familiar, it felt consistent, we had things we could confidently invest our time and energy in.
  2. Resistance
    Suddenly this disruption came into our lives and we probably felt some resistance to that. Negative feelings emerged and we might have even started to blame others
  3. Chaos It had always been a well-held assumption that you could go to a supermarket and buy toilet roll. But not anymore,  suddenly everything was being challenged.  We had to work from home, we couldn’t see our friends or our families, we might have lost a sense of belonging, connection and meaning. Not for everyone, but for many, an increase in uncertainty increased anxiety.
  4. Integration
    Perhaps our anger and frustration shifts, and we start to see how we can integrate all this ‘new normness’ into our lives. In fact, a lot of us have used this as an opportunity to reflect on our old rituals, assessing what their meaning was, and which ones we want to pick up again. Meanwhile, we have (finally) taught our parents to unmute themselves on zoom, lunchtime strolls have fully replaced ‘al desko’ dining, and there’s a hint of predictability again.
  5. New Status Quo 
    The new benefits have a certain glimmer, and we have identified what we want to harness and hold onto. So slowly we move out of that big dip, into a new place, and a new status quo. There’s excitement and possibility.

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But then, last week our Status Quo became a bit wooly again, and it’s been one of the most exhausting and tiring challenges that we have faced. We are continually being asked to reinvent, whilst riding a rollercoaster that we seemingly have no control over.

But as Dr. Hazel said:

[mkd_blockquote text=”“When this began, I thought, “we have to be forgiving, we don’t know how to do this.” But maybe now we can say “we have done this before”…There are going to be peaks and troughs, but we can find consistency with how we move through this. And although we know there will be moments of chaos, there will be many moments of learning.”” title_tag=”h2″ width=””]

As part of that learning, she suggested ways that we can manage this uncertainty, helping us to shift into a place of growth and change. Firstly, by understanding how we can manage stress, and secondly how we can learn to control the controllables.

BEFRIEND YOUR STRESS

Stress – you may have had a tricky relationship with it so far. But I’m going to ask you to kiss and make up with it, to hang out with it. It sounds impossible, but it’s a great catalyst for performance.

Our emotions are a powerful source of information. As humans we have evolved to have this awesome stress response, it floods our system with exciting, energising hormones that we can use to help us to perform well. We are so used to interpreting this response as a signal that something bad is happening that it can put us in an unhelpful state, rather than using it to trigger positive growth!

Acknowledge it!

The first step to transforming your response to stress is to simply “see” it. The acceptance itself works wonders in helping to shift your mindset.

Reframe it!

The way we think about stress really matters, so try and keep a positive attitude about it. A compelling large scale study identified that if we try and re-frame stress as motivating, positive and fueling productive problem-solving for the things we care about, we can use it to our advantage to fuel positive growth.

Weaponise it!

If you feel stress-laden, use that feeling as a motivating tool. It can be a weapon used to compel you into action!

Additionally, for those managing people, teams and organisations, get to know what happens in your team when they’re feeling stressed and anxious.Identify what it is that enables them to work through these times by thinking about these questions:

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  • How do they work through these challenges when they feel stressed?
  • We might be apart, but we’re all all in this together. How can we tap back into this?

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CONTROL THE CONTROLLABLES

Let go of the things that you can’t control, and instead make sense of, and take ownership over, the things that we can control. The chaos aspect is frightening, but even in chaos, there are things that will stay the same!  From your favourite mug, to your lunchtime walk, to a scheduled morning zoom chat whilst we aren’t together.

Move your team away from the “What if?” by asking them “What is?”:
  • What are the things you need to let go of?  
  • What do you have some control over, that you’re going to exercise control over? 

Implementing these techniques should really help your team manage their response to any Q4 cliffhangers, and we’d love to hear how you get on! 

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Download our ‘What Now?’ report from PUSH’s 3rd annual event and receive an invaluable resource packed full of insight and advice from 7 industry experts, spanning topics such as

  • How to learn from each other when we aren’t together 
  • Creating inclusive cultures that enable peak performance

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT

Change is inevitable. Growth is intentional

AS we emerge from the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, dazed by the levels of destruction the virus has wreaked on our health, wellbeing and working practices, the question on many lips is ‘What now?’ A second wave seems inevitable, if it isn’t here already and, having faced the most momentous upheaval in society since the Second World War, we can only wonder at what might be in store for us in the coming months.

The changes to our workplaces brought about by Covid-19 are unprecedented. Many commentators say businesses and employees have, in the space of a few weeks, been catapulted five, ten, even twenty years into the future. With varying degrees of success we have adapted to homeworking, and running our organisations remotely. The daily commute, the lunch hour, the sleepy mid-afternoon team meeting and the trudge homewards all seem relics of a bygone era. Yet less than a year ago this was the norm for millions of us.

[mkd_blockquote text=”Almost 40 per cent of the UK workforce continues to work remotely and among IT and professional workers, this is as high as 75 per cent.” title_tag=”h2″ width=”75″]

It seems that fewer of us are creeping back to those commutes than expected. According to a recent survey by the Office for National Statistics, almost 40 per cent of the UK workforce continues to work remotely and among IT and professional workers, this is as high as 75 per cent. Despite Government pleas to get back on the office-bound bus, few are heeding the call. 

‘COVID-Positives’

Why? Many cite continuing fears over Covid, which is a valid enough reason. Others, however, point to the fact that we have adapted astonishingly quickly to the new norm and, having done so, are reluctant (to say the least) to return to the past. Many firms, particularly those in the tech sector and the City, are embracing the dynamism of rapid change and reporting what we might term ‘Covid-positives’ – less complicated operating models, greater flexibility, the hiring of new talent and staff more than happy to be working remotely.

However, this isn’t necessarily the whole story.

At first, there was a novelty in being allowed to evacuate the office and work from home indefinitely. Now, though, the novelty has definitely worn off and employees working remotely are reporting the relentlessness and sameness of their new working situation affecting their mental health. Even so, they may also be reluctant to return to work full-time, tacitly acknowledging that the world of the workplace has changed, probably for ever.

The economy is suffering badly, yes, and we may well have more Covid-related shocks to come. But as they say, ‘a rising tide floats your boat’ and this autumn appears to have a distinct sense of change in the air; that of a future in which we can all benefit from a more flexible approach to working practices. The trick is how to maintain this positivity around a more decentralised working environment.

Work-Life Brilliance in a Human Enviornment

At PUSH, our core values revolve around effective communication and what we describe as ‘work-life brilliance’ in a human environment. Today, we see an unprecedented opportunity to put these values into practice across many sectors, creating happier, healthier and more productive businesses and individuals. At the heart of such dynamic change is resilience  – the process of reacting well to fast-changing circumstances. We believe that resilience needs to be innate; a holistic, intuitive reaction to every new situation. As we say, resilience is a muscle, not a plan. 

Below are some thinking points that may help streamline companies and their employees towards an exciting, energetic and highly entrepreneurial future:

 

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  • Clarity. What is your business really about? What are your core values now, and how do you see these changing and adapting to a faster, more remote reality? Understand your culture, strip away layers and ask yourself what really matters – to you, your employees and your customers.
  • Leadership. Where does your power lie now you’re working remotely? Can you guide a team of homeworkers into a challenging, dynamic future using all your charisma and skill, but without appearing like ‘Big Brother’? Can you create the bridge between remoteness and human connection? Leaders with high degrees of conscious thought and empathic behaviour will be the winners in this new reality – now is the time to work on these attributes.
  • Small is beautiful. Increasingly, the days when acres of space were occupied by large teams are over. Small, nimble and well-connected teams of flexible people are right on-trend now. What can you do to increase your team’s fleet-footedness and smarter decision-making while ensuring inclusivity and cohesion?
  • Engagement and communication. Are you hearing what your staff are telling you about their new working lives? Make conscious efforts to talk to your team regularly and understand their needs. We’ve all been through huge upheaval – show empathy and support for those struggling to adapt, and encourage those demonstrating flexibility and dynamism. Consider investing in training for new skills, behaviours and beliefs which match the potential for growth.
  • Self-awareness. Ask yourself what you really want from the new work environment and give staff a chance to do likewise. Some may want to come back to the office, others won’t. Some might desire a mixture of remote and office working. This is the time to think creatively about solutions, acknowledging that a return to ‘the old’ won’t work. We are in a brand new and challenging landscape, so work with this opportunity to tailor expectations and offer flexibility.

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[mkd_blockquote text=”You can only create value for your clients if you really understand them” title_tag=”h2″ width=”75″]

Business coach Dom Monkhouse says that an emphasis on customer-centricity and a positive growth mindset are also essential in this new environment.

“If you know your core customer and you’re serving them effectively, you are in a good position to be able to pivot,” he says. “Your customer hasn’t changed but perhaps their thinking has, but if you’re aware of that you can pivot according to changing needs.  I think it’s also important that the CEO has a growth mindset. This is fundamental. You can only create value for your clients if you really understand them, and if you do that you can charge more and therefore run a more profitable business that allows you to be successful.”

Amid the wreckage of Covid-19, the shoots of a new, more dynamic and highly-focused business climate are beginning to show, and those firms nurturing this growth are already seeing success. The tightrope walk across the chasm between old and new is perilous but thrilling. There may be more tightropes ahead but as a highly-successful leader said in the middle of the last truly global crisis: 

This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. (Winston Churchill, 1942)

 

Dom-Monkhouse

F*ck Plan B: An Interview with Dominic Monkhouse

Today we’re talking to Dominic Monkhouse, founder and MD of business coaching firm Monkhouse and Company. Dom has many years’ experience working with a variety of firms, particularly in the tech industry, to help them understand their workplace culture and scale up their businesses to deliver considerable growth curve.

Dom is the author of a new book, ‘F**k Plan B – How to scale your technology business faster and achieve Plan A.’ The book outlines his highly profitable approach to scaling-up, and is a must-read for all tech CEOs who want to achieve consistently high levels of growth year-on-year.

Welcome to the PUSH blog, Dom. First, can hear a little about your background?

Sure. I did a degree in agriculture then joined the Marks and Spencer graduate trainee programme. Later I went into the pharmaceutical industry because I wanted to learn how to sell, and after a stint in IT and CRM development I took over the running of Rackspace. When I joined we had few staff and fewer customers but I took it to 150 people and £30 million turnover. A few more scale-ups followed and in 2014, following the birth of my daughter, I decided to work for myself. At first I called myself a business consultant because I thought the term ‘coaching’ was a bit ‘Kum-Ba-Yah’, if you know what I mean! Then I realised that coaching was what I was doing and I embraced the term. Now I’m most definitely a coach, and clients like me because I’ve sat where they’re now sitting. I’ve been there, and I couldn’t do what I do now if I hadn’t.

What particular skills do you bring to your coaching philosophy?

I like the approach outlined by Verne Harnish to scaling up, which is Strategy, Execution, People and Cash, and if I have pick two that I feel are ‘mine’, it would be Strategy and People. Right the way back to my days at M&S, my success has been around hiring and motivating people, and if you have the right strategy and the right people the execution and the cash will be taken care of. I honestly believe that.

Do you apply the same principles to every firm you work with?

One of my guiding principles is to look for clients whose CEO is humble enough to know that they don’t know everything and are curious enough to want to learn more. That’s my ideal client; the person who will feel consciously incompetent while we’re working through the change period but will be prepared to stick at it and put in the hard work because they are committed to change. This isn’t easy because many people don’t like to feel out of control but if you work at it the rewards will come.

At what stage do firms approach you for help?

It’s usually at the stage when a CEO has a problem and they’ve got to the point where they don’t believe they can solve it without help. They look for answers, and maybe find some of my content online and if that catches them and they see the potential of what I can do, they reach out for solutions to their problems.

What kind of problems are we talking about?

Quite a lot is around company culture. It also could be organisational structure and difficulties with scaling up.

What are the most common roadblocks in the way of achieving growth?

There’s often a roadblock around talent. If, for example, you have a start-up you often end up with a whole team of multi-disciplinary players and as the business grows the guy who had six jobs and could hold them all down is now not good enough at each one of them to be a main player. So that can cause tension. Or as the business was scaling the top salesperson because sales manager or development guy became head of development. So people are moving into management jobs because they are great at their functional skill, but not at management, and that can cause real difficulties. 

Let’s turn to your new book. Tell us more…

This book is about people and culture, and achieving ‘Plan A’ is about getting the right people. Jim Collins says it is about getting the right people on the bus and knowing where that bus is going. I think that’s true; for me, that is Plan A. I really believe that if you have the right people and you know where you’re going, you can sort out everything else along the way. And the best people don’t need a lot of management. That can be a shock for the management team to hear! Often I sit down with an executive team and I say, ‘Think of your best people and describe them in comparison to your average staff.’ And hear the words ‘proactive, self-starting, not needy’ etc. These people aren’t being paid higher salaries than anyone else, yet can be 2x, 5x, 10x more productive. So these are the people we need to look for, because if we have them we can then focus on finding customers and servicing them, rather than micro-managing the team. That’s what’s important, and often it can be a relief for the exec team to hear this.

In the  book you have five core principles for business success…..

Yes. The first is that the customer is king. If we don’t have customers we don’t have a business. Smaller firms have fewer problems with this but when they get big they often lose sight of who core customers are and what they want. It’s surprising how many firms pay lip service to the idea of customer as king and have built systems that their customers find difficult to negotiate. Then somehow, the customer becomes someone seen as hard to deal with or even as a kind of ‘thief’! So having clear definition of this is vital.

The next point is default transparency and honesty. For example, I often to say to firms, ‘Be honest, and share details of every person’s salary’. Some are OK with that, others are horrified and tell me that if they share details, their staff will know that the pay structure is unfair. So solve the unfairness situation! The fact that you know it isn’t fair and you haven’t resolved the problem and you think people haven’t worked out means you’re being disingenuous.  Sort it out.

[mkd_blockquote text=” I hired a guy who ended up being my head of networking – he hadn’t finished a computer science degree, was running a pub and no-one would touch him. ” title_tag=”h2″ width=”75%”]

Thirdly, there should be diversity in recruitment. Every single time I’ve gone out of my way to hire in a more diverse way we have ended up with different ideas and a better business. I think that principle of diversity for the sake of diversity is a good one. Some of the best people I’ve hired would’ve been off the radar of every other recruitment process. I hired a guy who ended up being my head of networking – he hadn’t finished computer science degree, was running a pub and no-one would touch him. I hired him because I loved his passion and energy, and I knew we could sort out the education certification later. And I’ve hired great people from Eastern Europe whose English hasn’t been perfect and no one would hire them for that reason. I hired a person who ended up running our internal IT security and his CV was handwritten on biro on pages torn from a  school notebook. Most people would’ve thrown that in the bin because he hadn’t typed it. I love looking for the talent that other people are knocking off the table. So you need to go the extra mile when you look for innate talent.

The fourth point is to think about small teams. A small team is a bit like a scout patrol; everyone knows what’s going on, what everyone else is doing, and everyone is accountable. When you’re talking about a team of 150 no-one seems to know what’s going on, there are passengers all over the place and we’re in silos. Customers find big teams hard to navigate and hate it when they’re passed from department to department. So you need to concentrate on building small teams to service small groups of customers. Customers and staff love it because there is transparency and accountability. You’re building a business out of blocks of customers and that has been incredibly successful for me. 

Finally, managers should think like business coaches. Often I ask people about the work they’re most proud of. When they’ve considered that, I ask them to put their hands up if they were managed by their boss to do this. And no hands ever go up! People do their best work without managers, therefore managers need to be coaches, knowing what a great day at work looks and feels like. No one has ever been to the Olympics without a coach, and professional sports teams have loads of them. The manager shouldn’t be telling you what to do and checking the homework. They should be there to help the employee doing a good job to do even better. 

Why is having a big idea – what Jim Collins describes as a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) – so important and is it possible to have this without a clearly defined purpose?

Yes and No! Jim Collins researched companies which did well and which didn’t, and what he was struck by was that companies that outperformed the benchmarks he was tracking had this 20/30 year vision of where they might be. They had a concept, they asked themselves, ‘What are we passionate about, what can we be the best in the world at and what do we make money from?’ And the BHAG is, ‘Where could that take us in 20 years’ time?’ So having clarity around these concepts is vital. Either think small, which is fine, or believe you can change the world, have a vision and show your staff where the company is going. If we want to get people on the bus we’ve already mentioned, we have to make sure the destination is attractive. No-one wants to go on holiday to Scunthorpe!

[mkd_blockquote text=”‘What are we passionate about, what can we be the best in the world at and what do we make money from?’ And the BHAG is, ‘Where could that take us in 20 years’ time?’ ” title_tag=”h2″ width=”75%”]

Finally, in the age of the pandemic and what is undoubtedly a challenging period for businesses of all shapes and sizes, are the principles you’ve outlined in your book applicable to the situation businesses are facing now?

Thinking about clients I work with who are thriving, not just surviving, I would say that the common factor is that they are all customer-centric. If you know your core customer and you’re serving them effectively, you are in a good position to be able to pivot. Your customer hasn’t changed but perhaps their thinking has, but if you’re aware of that you can pivot according to changing needs.  I think it’s also important that the CEO has a growth mindset. One of my clients is a digital agency and they furloughed a few people during lockdown, but not most, and they’ve worked hard to reposition the organisation, double down on sales and have had some amazing client successes. One of their clients was 100% offline before lockdown and they’ve got them to 90% online revenue during lockdown. In contrast, one of their competitors furloughed everyone for 16 weeks and is just coming out of hibernation now – so which of those businesses will be in better shape by Christmas? The growth mindset, even in tough times, is fundamental. You can only create value for your clients if you really understand them, and if you do that you can charge more and therefore run a more profitable business that allows you to be successful. People who are fearful are going to try to cut prices to attract customers, which will decimate their profitability and they’ll spiral to disaster.

At PUSH, we take pride in thinking outside the box for our clients and our shared mission to improve the wellbeing of their employees. If you’d like to speak with us about developing an initiative for your team, get in touch – we’d love to work with you.

Sharing our stories at work

Nancy is CEO at Duarte Inc, a 115 person design firm based in Mountain View California that works with some of the world’s biggest companies. And like most teams right now, Duartians – for that’s what they call themselves at Duarte – are working from home. On a chat recently Nancy told me, “You pop in late to a meeting and everyone is telling a story – of what happened that day or the week before. It makes you bond, it makes you strong. If we didn’t have that storytelling culture, I don’t know how we’d be so knit together like we are right now.”

Sharing stories at work is key to building cultures that support loyalty and growth. And a story-sharing culture starts with team members telling something of themselves during video calls like those at Duarte and, of course, in the thousands of other companies around the world now using online tools to get connected.  

It’s the person that matters.

Sceptics might question why it’s important to share personal stories with co-workers – what do they have to do with what goes on in the 9–5 of an organisation? But sharing personal stories is a fast-track to a better understanding of each other, and that reinforces a sense of trust as well as building respect. 

[mkd_blockquote text=”“The more open you can be with your team, the more that you’ll get that back”” title_tag=”h2″ width=”75″]

Sally Croft joined Ericsson during lockdown, so she’s had to get to know her team without having yet met a single one of them in person. Sally implemented her own story-sharing ritual by hosting a virtual ‘fika’ session, a Swedish ritual where teams get together for coffee and cake in order to get to know everybody. In these sessions, chat about business is strictly off-limits. “The more open you can be with your team, the more that you’ll get that back,” Sally told me recently. “Sharing our stories on what really matters has been a great way of onboarding – I’ve got to know my team members more quickly than I may have otherwise.” 

We’re sociable animals after all. Few of us will sit with friends sharing mathematical formulas. We share stories because they have the power to connect us. Scientist Paul J Zak has conducted research which shows that stories generate oxytocin, the chemical associated with empathy. Stories create an emotional engagement between us.

Over the last few months our work lives have undergone a seismic shift. Our personal and professional lives are more meshed together than ever. We all have a window into each other’s homes, glimpsing kitchens, dining rooms, pets, flatmates and children as we join in our company’s video calls. It’s more relevant than ever to start sharing those personal stories so our connections get a deeper insight into who we are. 

There is a thirst for hearing about what’s going on, and also what’s going well. We need stories to garner our shared experiences and connect emotionally with others.

Sharing something about yourself in a work context adds colour to your conversations and connections, brings your roles and responsibilities to life and builds engagement. It makes the world of work more human. When that personal side is absent, we’re missing a huge opportunity to engage on a deep level with others. 

There are no crystal balls to give us clarity about how our organisations will look in 2021. We don’t yet know the shape of the new world of work. But one thing is certain: storytelling is an important vehicle for leaders and their teams. If you’re looking to replicate the success of leaders like Sally and Nancy, cut a slice of their cake and start by establishing some rituals.

Ian Sanders is a storyteller and creative consultant. He has toured his Power of Story keynote to audiences ranging from The European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg to Amway’s European awayday in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. He’s run in-house storytelling sessions for clients including Black Sun plc, Equifax, Tektronix and Thomas Cook Money. For the BBC Ian designed and delivered a popular 18 month series of workshops for journalists from around the world.

PUSH State of The Nation: A View on Leadership

For many people, with each passing day, the future is becoming more and more uncertain. And as the world wide lockdown continues, companies are dealing with unimaginable challenges which could impact their future success (or failure).

The impact of Covid-19 will be felt far and wide, from the senior executives at Fortune 500 companies, new grads just starting their careers, to health care and essential workers – everyone will be affected in some way, big or small.

Now more than ever, leaders need to step up. Not just for themselves and the future of their business, but for their teams and the individuals within them. We know that many leaders are woefully unequipped to deal with even normal work challenges.

[mkd_blockquote text=”77% of organisations felt that they are currently experiencing a gap in leadership skills.” title_tag=”h2″ width=”70″]

In 2019, the Human Resource Professionals Association reported that 63% of millennials felt their leadership skills are not being developed, and 77% of organisations felt that they are currently experiencing a gap in leadership skills. Within our corporate audits we have seen a similar theme, with the majority of managers and leaders we spoke to commenting that they have received little to no training on how to best manage their teams. 

So how can we expect leaders to step up when they don’t have the necessary skills or behaviors in place? It is critical for business leaders to be there for their teams, helping them stay informed, giving them the space to be heard, and keeping them motivated and engaged.

During this time especially, it’s becoming more and more apparent that we need to be upskilling managers and leaders, or it could have much larger implications on the overall business and team motivation. Afterall, their role is not to own their teams, leading with fear and aggression, but to guide their teams in the right direction using trust and clear communication to show them the way. 

Arjen Boin, a Political scientist at Leiden University in the Netherlands and co-author of ‘The Politics of Crisis Management’, has spent many years studying how leaders responded to previous emergencies. He found that one of the most important determinants of followers’ trust, was down to the leader’s messaging around the crisis. 

He writes: “Effective crisis leadership cannot be brought about by simply doing the ‘right thing’ on the ground, Instead, the leaders need to craft a good narrative that helps clarify the problem and unite the population if they are to attain the “permissive consensus” that is essential to be able to make decisions and formulate policies”

Over the past few weeks, Gallup has been running weekly comparative surveys to gauge how people’s feelings and beliefs are changing as Covid-19 runs its course. They found that Organisations are becoming more clear in their internal communications, with 52% for respondents saying their employer has communicated a clear plan of action, up 15% from mid march.  The percentage of full-time employees who strongly agree that their manager is keeping them informed on internal matters has also increased from 47% to 54%.

This shows that many company leaders are realising that if they want to survive they need to improve communication. However many organisations are lagging behind, with roughly half of respondents saying that their company hasn’t communicated a clear plan or kept them informed, so there is still work to be done.

Managers and supervisors need to be setting clear expectations, adjusting goals, helping everyone feel connected, creating accountability, and recognising those who are doing great work. In a time of uncertainty, it is imperative that leaders keep their teams anchored to the company’s purpose and values. This is the time to come back to those values to inspire your employees and show them what the future can still look like.

Gallup’s most recent leadership research found that there are 4 key things individuals need from their leaders – trust, compassion, stability, and hope. Leaders must build trust with their teams and show compassion, focussing on protecting their employees wellbeing and leading with purpose throughout this period and beyond. 

A great example of leadership during a crisis can be found within one of the largest hotel chains in the world. In March, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson sent a video to the entire Marriott team that was genuine, emotional, and honest – demonstrating to his team how much the company cares about their wellbeing and peace of mind. Sorenson shared a clear, concise message that showed the optimism they have for the future, while also informing them on what is being done to face any and all challenges that arise. 

PUSH Leadership Coach Tamson Amara spoke about the struggles leaders are facing, on our regular webinar, Conversations with Cate; 

[mkd_blockquote text=”A skillful leader is able to be honest about their own experience and communicate this to the team.” title_tag=”h2″ width=”70″]

“Even leaders have disappointments, setbacks and frustrations to process.  A skillful leader is able to be honest about their own experience and communicate this to the team. For instance, asking the team to bear with them if they are feeling overwhelmed and need space to assess and respond with clarity and direction.  A concept that supports this process – especially in times of uncertainty – is ‘holding’.  

‘Holding’ focuses teams on what is controllable NOW! It directs focus and effort.  Communicating this position may involve re-purposing. For instance, if the purpose of a sales team is to generate revenue, in times of uncertainty holding could mean switching focus from pushing new campaigns to building up the quality of relationships with clients.  Simple, clear messages to support this process go a long way in settling the team and allowing leaders space to respond with longer term strategy,”

So the question is, how can you support your team better throughout this time? How do you lead with trust, compassion, stability and hope?

John Quelch, the Leonard M. Miller University Chair Professor and Vice Provost for Executive Education and Dean of the Miami Herbert Business School at the University of Miami, shared leadership principles to help managers survive this time. 

  1. Stay Calm – everyone will be looking to you as a leader to project a sense of calm amongst the uncertainty.
  2. Be Confident – you need to project the confidence that you will be able to see this through successfully. 
  3. Communicate – in this ‘fake news’ world, it is imperative that you communicate relentlessly to avoid rumors from developing. However a sense of order is also needed to allow for rapid, clear communication as decisions are made.
  4. Collaborate – you aren’t going to know all the answers, and it’s important to call on all of your resources. Engaging employees in this way will also discourage a rumour mill. 
  5. Create a Community – it is more important than ever to create a friendly and helpful environment where the team feels supported and cared for.
  6. Be Compassionate – in a time of crisis this is vital for leaders, be understanding about how it is affecting your team individually, especially when everyone has their own anxieties and stressors coming up.

Crucially, now is the time to upskill your leaders to help them be more conscious, supportive and human. PUSH’s inaugural e-learning programme does exactly that. It has been designed to help leaders and even more junior team members develop better behaviours. This will get everyone working at their best. We call the programme ‘Becoming Superhuman’ as it considers all of the core skills and behaviours needed as a great leader, both of self and others. 

If this situation has taught us one thing, it’s that success and peak performance go beyond just sheer hard work. Sometimes it’s the softer skills which make the greatest difference to hard measures. So, now is the time to do something different. Now is the time to step up. To be a great and truly conscious leader, and start operating in new and innovative ways so that our businesses and people not only survive but thrive.

Helpful Resources

Up to date Info on Corona

Creating positive interactions as a leader – Leadership series

Take a moment to consider what qualities you notice in yourself when you communicate at your best. Are you: Calm? Concise? Clear? What about a good listener? 

I’m Tamson. I am an Insight Coach, Speaker and Trainer for PUSH, specialising in psychological skills and leadership. In the second of this Leadership Blog Series, I share how a simple coaching techniques used daily can get the best out of your team and your colleagues.

 

Have you read the first Leadership series blog: How to lead with direction and purpose?

 

What are your leadership qualities?

In my work with team leaders, directors and CEOs, I ask them about their leadership qualities. I am always happy to hear of great communication skills, though listening is rarely mentioned. Yet it is the most important skill for successfully interacting with your team and your colleagues.

 

Think about a time that required you to phone a call centre. Remember how the customer service representative read through their script and kept asking you irrelevant questions, forcing their process on you? How frustrated did you feel when they would not listen to your problem or take the time to understand what you needed?

 

In the book, The Chimp Paradox, Professor Steve Peters labels the emotionally reactive part of the mind our ‘inner chimp’, and the executive, thinking part as the ‘human’. That call centre exchange triggered your chimp. We talk about ‘the chimp being on the move’ when we are upset, disappointed or confused. We think emotively, jump to conclusions, and fixate on what we perceive to be the problem. We lose focus, we make mistakes and our interactions with others suffer. Effective leaders work to settle the chimp in others and wake up the more performant human.

 

Truly listening

Our chimps core need is to be heard, acknowledged, and – at best – reassured. In the absence of such a response, it will actively keep the problem alive until someone finally listens. Once it achieves this, it relaxes and allows the ‘human’ back into the driving seat.

 

We can see this process in MRI scans. Chimp behaviour correlates with high blood flow to the emotional core of our brain, the amygdala. Being heard and acknowledged redirects the blood to the prefrontal cortex, associated with higher human functioning. Receiving advice and practical suggestions to a problem while the chimp is actively on the move does not help. Feeling heard is what causes this shift in blood flow. Only then can a different perspective emerge and the problem moved on.

 

You might not feel you have time to truly listen if you are yourself feeling overwhelmed with your own to-do list or problems. It can be tempting to redirect them, shut them down, or avoid them. This is a literal waste of time, as your colleague’s chimp will continue looking for someone who can listen.  Plus, if you are their line manager, you probably are the right person for them to be asking for support.

 

Allowing your colleague 2-3 minutes to exercise whatever is bothering them – actively, and not with half an eye on your laptop – shows them that you are listening. That is all they need for their chimp to feel acknowledged and for their blood to flow back to the prefrontal cortex where you want it.

 

To really nail this process, paraphrase back what your colleague shared, and actively confirm that you have heard them. This will de-escalate even a very stressed chimp. Try:

  • “Can I just check that I have understood the problem…” (and paraphrase)
  • “What I have heard is…” (and paraphrase)

 

Reassure your colleague’s chimp that you empathise, whatever the issue. “That sounds tough/difficult” will melt the chimp right in front of your eyes.

 

This may sound simple. However, only the human properly listens. Chimps do not; they have their fingers in their ears!  So to listen effectively you must also manage your own chimp. First, you need to notice when your own chimp is on the move. Top tip: if you cannot effectively paraphrase, you are likely in your chimp.  

 

Hitting the pause button

Next, hit the pause button! Whatever you were thinking or feeling, do not invest further in it. Do not say anything for a moment. You need to actively redirect yourself back into your own human. You can do this effectively if you deliberately focus on what you are hearing and ‘drop into listening mode’. You can respond out loud again when you can hear yourself paraphrasing your colleague effectively in your own mind. In the meantime, maintain an attentive body language as best you can.

 

A catch is that our chimp can become actively overwhelmed by listening if we perceive that we are just being given more problems (to add to our ongoing to-do list) which our team members ought to be resolving.

 

This is where further coaching skills come in. Differentiating between directing or facilitating your team is a great skill to empower team members to develop confidence and skill in their work. Knowing when and how to switch between the two can be an invaluable skill and will make the difference to a colleague’s chimps being onboard – allowing their human to get on with their best work.

 

PUSH help create leaders who are living, breathing examples of excellence. Who are confident and capable, who listen and value their team members and allow them the opportunity to grow and develop beyond what they thought they were capable of. To find out more, please get in touch.

 

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