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Praise Where Praise is Due

Great Job

Who doesn’t like positive feedback?

 It’s great to feel you have done a job well, beat a target or helped others. Being recognised boosts our confidence, self esteem and drives us to perform well.

 According to a study in Forbes complimenting workers can have a similar impact and incentive as cash rewards. They found ‘scientific proof that a person performs better when they receive a social reward after completing an exercise’. The striatum area of the brain is activated when this happens, the same area of the brain activated when you are given a monetary reward.

 So, when was the last time you gave positive feedback or praised a colleague’s performance?

 The link to performance seems obvious, yet excuses and busy schedules get in the way of this kind of feedback being given regularly or becoming a workplace norm. There is a stigma associated with praising colleagues; maybe it will be seen as a weakness and how often should we really be giving positive feedback?

 According to Business Zone giving positive feedback improves performance, quality of work, accountability, strengthens relationships and ‘prevents destructive information gaps’. Evidence enough of the power of praise.

 How much of an effort would it be to commit to praising one team member a week and making sure that feedback is timely, constructive and genuinely heartfelt? Does sticking our neck out and giving someone the feedback they deserve really dent our ego and make us weaker? Or does it show that we are strong individuals, comfortable with recognising others and respectful and grateful for the hard work others put into their jobs every day? 

These are all rhetorical questions as I think we all know the answer. Let’s give a colleague the gift of praise and make their day – I can assure you it will be appreciated!

 Thank you

I couldn’t find a great quote on feedback; let me know if you find any. I will leave you with my thoughts on giving praise:

 Being able to give praise purely, simply and honestly to others is the greatest gift you can give. Be the person who steps forward and has the strength to give this gift where it is deserved. You will inspire and bring joy and appreciation to those who are giving their best.

A Happier and Healthier You

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I am going to be open and honest – I don’t like New Year’s resolutions!

I do have goals each year, but I don’t get to January 1 and think up resolutions; there’s so much evidence they don’t work.

Forbes posted an article which drew upon the University of Scranton’s research which states that just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions. I have seen many articles listing an under 10% resolutions success rate. So why do so many of us make them?

Healthy Changes

I made a decision last year that in order to be more effective at work I needed to have a greater focus on my wellbeing which meant investing in my health, energy and productivity.

For too long I had been on the treadmill of sugary foods and caffeine hits to get me through the day. Rather than make me more efficient this sent me on a rollercoaster of insulin highs and lows.

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I didn’t start this at the beginning of the year only to give up after 2 weeks – I happened to start mid-year and read up on nutrition, exercise, and mind and body health. I then went about making small changes I could sustain and I am happy to report after about 6 months I have a lifestyle I can maintain and I am feeling so much better for it.

I am sure there are a lot of us out there that feel a career and family mean we have to opt for convenience. This just isn’t true.

What I Have Learnt

  • We are capable of so much more – There’s a great feeling when you are in control. You know what you are putting into your body and, through mental and physical exertion, what your body is capable of.
  • Don’t do ‘low fat’ – We are sold a lot of ‘food myths’ by retailers and manufacturers – ‘low fat’ regularly means high sugar and salt which retain body fat and make us feel bloated and sluggish.
  • Treat yourself to nature – A ‘treat’ should not be something sugary, a ‘treat’ should be a nourishing meal of natural foods that leave you feeling great and with the energy to be productive. Think about how eating that packet of crisps at 3pm really makes you feel.
  • Take a break – So many of us eat while working. It actually aids digestion and makes us more productive to take a break.
  • Brain Fuel – Water and exercise feed the brain. Staying hydrated helps our attention span (and it reduces ageing signs like wrinkles!!), as does stepping outside for fresh air and a little bit of sunshine (increasing our vitamin D levels).

Livestrong’s article ‘How Does Exercise Improve Work Productivity’ explains why exercise is so crucial for work performance,

‘When you exercise, you are also increasing blood flow to the brain, which can help sharpen your awareness and make you more ready to tackle your next big project. Exercise can also give you more energy. Having more energy means you will feel more awake at work. Being on top of your game will assure that you perform your work correctly and to the best of your ability.’

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Being healthy not only gives you a longer life to enjoy, but also improves brain function and makes us better at our jobs.

Give Your Routine a Healthy Overhaul

  • Prepare for your week in advance – I see so many of my colleagues buying pre-made lunches and breakfasts. There is a rainbow of vegetables and fruit out there that come without labels and the term ‘low fat’. A carrot does not need to say low in salt/sugar! I lead a busy life, but make the time for shopping for fresh produce and planning meals in advance. Believe me, you will feel the benefit.
  • Make time for food – I find it hard to eat away from my desk, but I do try to focus more on when and what I am eating; the taste, the smell and how the food makes me feel. So many of us suffer with poor digestion, make the time to chew food and give your stomach a chance to digest. Cooking can also be a family affair, get your spouse and children involved and make meal preparation fun.
  • Get some fresh air and/or move – I always feel more alive and productive after a run. This isn’t for everyone, but it’s important that we all ‘move’ for good health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that exercise can improve mental health, so pick a gym class you enjoy, a walk outside with friends or any activity that makes you feel alive. The key thing is to enjoy the movement and reap its rewards.
  • Ditch the labels – Try buying from the first couple of aisle of the supermarket. I see so many people with trolleys full of branded products, with barcodes and terms like ‘fat free’ or ‘low sugar’. See if you can make a meal with no barcodes, as the nutritionist Amelia Freer says don’t buy products with ‘tricks and promises to seduce you’.

Commit To Sustaining The Change

The key thing is to sustain whatever change you make.

To be a ‘healthier and happier you’ may take only one of these changes, keep these small and manageable.

A working mum or dad? Why prepare not commit to preparing your meals on a Sunday. Always rushing between meetings? Make a lunch that can be easily eaten and is easily digestible.

The most important thing is to look after yourself, no-one is going to do it for you and you will not believe the difference to your work day and home life if you just pay a little more attention to your own health and happiness.

Here’s some links for inspiration:

Madeleine Shaw’s top tips for fighting fatigue

Deliciously Ella’s advice for anyone who feels they can’t cook

Calgary Avansino’s blog – sharing a whole host of wellbeing guru’s secrets

I wish you all the best for 2016!

Strategy: Ignore Culture at Your Peril

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It’s December – not only is it peak Christmas shopping time for some (I am completely unprepared!), it’s also when leaders are formalising their strategic planning for 2016 and beyond.

Organisations are thinking about strategic change; whether this is incremental or a larger scale transformational change.

If your organisation needs to make some difficult choices for the year ahead you should ensure close attention is paid to culture.

‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ – Peter Drucker

We regularly review our corporate, regional and departmental strategies, but how many of us also take this time to review our culture and it’s alignment with strategy?

Perhaps it’s because the perceived ‘emotional’ side of culture seems at odds with the more ‘rational’ side of strategic planning.

Culture impacts the way employees react and behave to any change in strategy, so ignore it at your peril!

What is Culture?

According to Segal-Horn and Faulkner, in their book Understanding Global Strategy, culture includes:

‘knowledge, values, preferences, habits, customs, practices and behaviour’

Which…

‘have the power to shape attitudes and behaviour’ within organisations.

Culture can be created, written down and driven formally by an organisation; the values may be developed collaboratively with employees, communicated by HR or the leadership team and ‘lived’ daily within the workplace.

However, there are also assumptions made by employees and ways of working that have developed over time. How many times do we hear it’s the way we work around here…?!

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Working with Culture to Facilitate Change

Creating a Forcefield analysis is an ideal way to ‘view the forces at work in an organisation that act to prevent or facilitate change’ (Johnson, G et al, Exploring Strategy).

Forcefield Analysis.png

This kind of analysis requires us to ask ourselves tough questions on what can block (resisting forces) or aid (pushing forces) change when creating a strategy.

Culture can be a fundamental catalyst for change and can be used as a vision for what change would look like once the strategy is implemented. However, it can also be a barrier.

A forcefield analysis can shine a light on the potential for resistence to a change in strategy. This in turn can lead to initiatives that are introduced in-line with the new strategy to:

  • Build trust
  • Break down any negative power structures within the organisation
  • Address information concerns and ‘fears’
  • Improve and increase lines of communication between management and employees

Barriers to strategic success must not be ignored and culture is a crucial factor that can make or break new policies.

I think of the aspects of culture like waves in the sea – work against it and you will struggle, take it into account and you can use them to your strategic advantage.

The Mindfulness Revolution

Mindfulness Revolution

The Mindfulness revolution is here!

Even if you don’t practice Mindfulness or haven’t been on a Mindfulness course the chances are you have heard of the term.

It is now being taught in some schools, workplaces are using it to de-stress employees and it’s even being ‘prescribed’ by health authorities to reduce anxiety and relieve symptoms of depression.

For about a year and a half I have practiced mindfulness – it is part of my daily life and I get so much out of it. It is not for everyone – a colleague lately mentioned my interest in things that were a bit different and called it ‘fluffy’. That may be some people’s thoughts, but I have reaped the benefits of using various practices that work for me and discarded others that don’t. That’s the great thing about mindfulness, it is different things to different people and you take the pieces you like and leave the ones you don’t.

I have adapted this article from a post I wrote on the Silver Lining blog site.

What is Mindfulness and what is it not?

It is not daydreaming or thinking about the past or future. It’s definitely not hocus pocus and you don’t have to become a hippy to practice it.

Although scientists need to do more research into the benefits of Mindfulness, it is recognised by some neuroscientists and health providers as a way of reducing anxiety and stress. You can even do a Masters in Mindfulness now!

Mindfulness is about being in the present, being mindful of what you are doing here and now; this includes how your body feels, what emotions are you experiencing and just letting yourself ‘be’.

It can involve meditating as part of the practice of mindfulness, but the meditations are very much about shutting off distractions and focusing solely on ourselves.

Auto-Pilot – If you have ever driven or walked to work and seeming got there in ‘autopilot’, you are well aware of not being present. We can feel like our days slip away from us and we don’t fully enjoy the time we have. We also have stresses and commitments that keep us busy and don’t make time to think about our own health and wellbeing.

Taking time to be in the ‘here and now’ and examine how we are feeling is part of Mindfulness. It’s actually very simple!

The Neuroscience

When looking at the brain, scans have shown that the metabolic activity changes when we meditate. The active parts of the brain (shown in red on a scan) increase during meditation. This shows not only that meditation affects our minds, but it also affects how our brain works.

Dr. Michael Baim from the University of Pennsylvania says in his paper called ‘This Is Your Brain on Mindfulness’:

‘Several neuroscientists have shown that some of the brain regions activated during meditation are actually different in people who meditate regularly, and the most recent evidence suggests that the changes can occur in as little as eight weeks. This finding is at odds with what we think we know about brain structure in adults…’

‘ We used to believe that sometime shortly after twenty-five or thirty years of age the brain was finished with growth and development. From then on, the brain became progressively impaired by age and injury, and it was all downhill from there. But recent meditation research suggests that this glum outcome may not be inevitable.’

Using mindfulness meditation can be compared to going to the gym – the more you work out your muscles (in this case brain muscle) the stronger you get.

Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar, a researcher in the psychiatry department at Massachusetts General Hospital, looked at the brain’s cortex (the outermost surface of the brain). She found that when brain images of two groups were compared, meditators and non-meditators, some cortical areas in the brains of the meditators were significantly thicker than the same areas in non-meditators.

The cortex wastes away with age; but in Lazar’s meditating subjects, these enlarged areas were the same thickness as what was measured in non-meditators twenty years younger.

Areas of the brain that are important within this region of the brain are the prefrontal cortex which manages higher cognitive “executive” functions like planning, decision making, and judgment, and keeps us out of trouble by facilitating socially appropriate behavior. Also, the insula which controls sensation and emotion, and processes social emotions such as empathy and love. It is thought to be essential for the capacity for self-awareness.

Practice

Mindfulness practice, also referred to as Mindfulness meditation, takes time to master. Here’s a few ways you can practice…

  1. Chocolate Meditation

We all eat without thinking. Get a piece of chocolate (I prefer dark chocolate because of its health benefits and greate range of flavours!) and put it on your tongue. Spend a few minutes letting it melt – think about the texture and all the flavours you experience.

  1. Noting – Using Your Breath

I use this regularly; when I feel stressed or need to take the emotion out of a situation. I also used in recently when I had to take 6 flights within a space of 2 weeks – for those who know me well, you know I passionately dislike flying!

If you have ever studied Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) you will understand that thoughts lead to emotions and potentially negative actions. This is a great way to break that cycle.

Breath in slowly and whilst doing so say (in your head) ‘breathing in’. Then, on your slow out-breath say ‘breathing out’. Repeat just focusing on the breath.

This noting will help you avoid distractions and get in tune with your breath. It will give you a great sense of calm.

  1. Happiness – Taking The Time To Be Present

With all the stresses and strains of daily life, we forget about what makes us happy and what we are grateful for. Take 10-15mins to write down what makes you happy and what you are grateful for.

Leadership Advice: Words of Wisdom for My Younger Self

Child in suite

I don’t have regrets and I know what my mum would say if I comment on how lucky I have been at work. The line ‘you create your own luck’ normally rears its head. I won’t tell her, but she’s right! I do wish at times I had more confidence in my ability though and wasn’t so hard on myself.

I have pondered over the last week what I would tell my younger self if I had the chance, but also what I would tell other young or aspiring leaders.

You can influence others without authority

You may not be a manager or have direct responsibility for making a decision, but you can contribute and you should. You thoughts, ideas and input are valuable and may have a huge impact on an individual, department, business unit or even a whole company.

You will have a job as a Project Assistant for a local authority in your Summer holidays whilst studying at university. You will be brought in to do the project team’s filing, but you need to show interest in the ‘bigger picture’, learn the team’s objectives and how you can help them. A number of small projects later and you will find yourself on an away-day working on a transformation strategy with the heads of service. Imagine that! Never think you can’t influence others.

You will get knocked down, but you will get up again

It was Winston Churchill who said ‘Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm’.

Your career won’t all be plain sailing, there will be set backs and challenges. Just remember that everyone needs these challenges and to make small mistakes in order to learn.

You wouldn’t have the length and breadth of knowledge years down the line without a period of learning and we all gain that from ‘doing’ and making errors. It’s a hard fact of life, but don’t beat yourself up over it. You’ll be a stronger person as a result.

Be inquisitive

I was talking to my team this week on the topic of ‘thinking like a child’ and I wanted to tell my younger self to always ask questions. You are a sponge when you are younger and have a creative, out –of-the box thinking that often gets lost as we get older. We have more responsibilities and the stresses and strains of life take over.

So, my advice is to be inquisitive, ask questions and soak up as much information as you can. You have a great opportunity to learn from everyone around you, the good bosses and the bad. Treat it as a gift.

Take all opportunities available to you

When we progress in our careers there’s the tendency to take on too much and to have to learn the art of delegation and sometimes just saying ‘no’.

My advice to the younger me is to take every opportunity that comes your way. Everything is an experience, a learning curve and some will be a marvellous adventure. People will admire your enthusiasm and are more likely to offer you other opportunities in the future.

There’s a lovely quote from Mario Testino, he said ‘my favourite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. I think if you are curious, you create opportunities, and then if you open the doors, you create possibilities’.

The challenge of youth; earn the respect of others and be positive

It’s going to be a bitter pill to swallow; but the reality is that when you are young people will judge and question your ability. The best thing you will ever do it to remain positive and plough your energy into proving your worth and earning the respect of others.

This is not a bad hand you have been dealt, it’s an opportunity to prove your worth and to shine. Every manager you will have will admire your determination and perseverance; it’s up to you to gain their respect.

Be confident about your value

This last piece of advice is not about strolling into your bosses’ office and asking for a pay rise, but it is about giving yourself a pep-talk when things aren’t going so well.

Always be confident in your ability and know your worth. We are all different and that means we are have unique strengths that add value to a workplace – know what your value is and bring it to the table.

Lastly, keep a phrase, quote or mantra in your pocket for the tough times. I will give you a start with the latin phrase ‘Carpe Diem’!

carpe diem

Top Talent: Your Organisation’s Knowledge Capital

Sharing Knowledge

Approaching the topic of Knowledge Management is very daunting. Many may say it is nothing more than managing information; others have created numerous academic journals and books on the subject.

I am going to keep it simple:

Your employees are your assets and they have knowledge. This knowledge can be created or gathered (new knowledge), transferred through systems, culture, organizational learning or knowledge sharing.

Organizational knowledge can be used to create strategies, improve product development and increase the bench-strength of your workforce. This in turn can lead to a competitive advantage.

Each of us has knowledge, our ‘personal capital’ (Ashok Jashapara, 2011).

I think it’s fair to say we are know our own worth and being labeled the same as another employee or manager probably wouldn’t make us feel valued. We may do the same job on paper as others, but we have knowledge that makes us unique.

Personal capital can be split down into 2 areas of knowledge; explicit and tacit:

Explicit – Written down or verbalized information

Tacit – Cannot always be verbalized; it’s our abilities, our skills and our ‘know how’

I want to focus on tacit knowledge, as that’s the kind of knowledge that’s difficult to nurture. This is also crucially important to our organization’s competitive advantage, as when that employee leaves, this kind of knowledge goes with them.

Firstly, that person’s skills are very valuable. As an organisation there must be ways to keep that knowledge within the business. This could be linked to their leadership style, the way they approach problems or even a skill like speaking a language.

Organizations are getting smarter at this and are creating top talent programs. They know this is knowledge capital they cannot afford to lose, especially in this fast paced business world where small knowledge advantages can turn into very big competitive advantages.

Secondly, we may want others to exhibit their skills, but how do we do that when these are largely behaviour based?

We need to have a process in place for the top performers to be shadowed or to teach the others. This method of showing the other person what a good job looks like also shows the learner something that cannot be verbalized – that individual’s skill, their ‘know how’.

Shadowing a top performer has many advantages including:

  • Benefit from innovation – Everyone has a different style, learn from the top talents why they do things the way they do.
  • Help understanding the ‘big picture’ –  These individual’s know how the work they does fits into the wider organizational strategy, they can answer questions like, ‘what benefit does the work we do have on the end customer’ or ‘why do we spend so long on X process and not on Y’.
  • Highlighting pitfalls – We often talk about ‘trial by fire’ or learning through making mistakes. This is all part of learning within a role, but shadowing a top performer will help the learner understand the potential pitfalls and hopefully lessen the risk of something going wrong.
  • Relationships and getting the most from others – Not only will shadowing build a network for the learner, but it will also allow them insights into other people that they would not find out about immediately. Perhaps they will be working with is generally slow at responding to requests and so the top performer always picks up the phone rather than emails. Or, that the person likes extra information provided on certain tasks and that produces a better quality of output and less time spent asking questions that could have been addressed upfront.These may not be written down, but you are hearing about the top performers experience and how they have got the most from the team around them.

It’s so important that any learning isn’t just reading a manual of process steps. It also isn’t enough to put a learner with an average achiever. If you want individuals to gain both the skills that can be verbalized and those that cannot you need to get them to shadow your top performers.

Don’t let that tacit knowledge go to waste – if you don’t use it, someone else will.

What Vampires Can Teach Us About Leadership

Vampire in Office

I was reading the obituary of the late and great Sir Christopher Lee this past week (The Times, Friday 12 June), who had a 70 year career on screen and made more than 300 films. One of his best known roles was Dracula, a role which he played 10 times.

In doing so I was reminded of a Freakonomics podcast called ‘what can vampires teach us about economics’ (October 2014), a light-hearted, yet oddly fascinating look at how we can turn relationships with vampires and the undead into advantages in society.

In memory of the iconic role of Dracula I thought it only my duty to ponder the link between vampires, and the ‘undead’as a whole, and what they can teach us about leadership.

Everyone fears a vampire

You may not be sucking people’s blood in a literal sense, but you may be sucking the life out of your co-workers each day. Treating your colleagues with a lack of respect or using a top-down leadership approach could lower morale and erode trust.

Promote open conversations and build relationships – put those fangs away!

Be a visual leader

Vampires are well known for having no reflection and living ‘in the shadows’.

Make yourself a visual leader, whether via webcam or being in the office regularly. People like to chat face-to-face and you may be working hard, but from my experience a lack of ‘visual presence’ can make others question what you are achieving and distance you from the highs and lows of office life day-to-day.

It’s amazing what you overhear or the conversations you can have when you are in the same room as your colleagues.

Need blood? Let’s chat about it and find a solution

Listen to your team’s needs and wants.

The Freakonomics podcast touched on the subject of the desire for blood – a possible solution is to stop the killing of innocent victims by selling vampires blood. Providing them with the one thing they need; if they don’t get it from you, they will certainly find it elsewhere.

Your team may not want blood, but they do have needs and wants that need satisfying. Understand your team and what each individual values. It may surprise you, not everyone is motivated by money. They may want career progression or a new challenge.

Satisfying you team’s needs will make the team and organisation more successful, it will reduce staff turnover and prevent bad habits from affecting the business (i.e. boredom and therefore shirking from tasks…or attacks to the neck!).

Vampires are the epitome of power dressing

Vampires dress to impress, the chances are they will get a job over the zombies and werewolves of this world. We may not deliberately judge rotting skin and hairy feet, but they are hard to ignore.

Dressing well also boosts your confidence – so shave those feet and grab your suit!

Werewolves work as a team and vampires work solo: try both and the art of delegation

There are times when we are more productive working alone, there are also times when team work or delegating tasks are a better option. I hear so many people say ‘I could get it the job done so much quicker myself, so I didn’t delegate’.

Think about the best use of your time and that this may be a great development opportunity for someone else. You are doing them a favour by providing a new challenge, teaching them a new skill and believing in their abilities. You are also doing yourself a favour by honouring your own time.

The ‘unknown’ causes panic

The fear of things unknown can cause mass hysteria, widespread gossip and for people to draw their own conclusions. Are you creating your own zombie apocalypse by not communicating effectively during times of change, addressing individual’s concerns and being transparent? There needs to be trust and communication is the key.

I am going to end this lighter look at leadership with something Sir Christopher Lee said, ‘I decided to make Dracula more believable and sympathetic’ (The Times, 12 June 2015) –  it sounds like Dracula would make a great leader after all!

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