Are you curious?

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Change change change change and change again. This is what business looks and feels like now. Sometimes it feels hard to gain a grasp of. I find there is one way to lessen the sense of dread piling up. 

Be curious.

Being curious helps us to learn. Learning helps you to understand. And understanding helps you to actually contribute to the business. Seems simple enough?

So why do we give ourselves reason not to be curious? ‘I don’t have time’, ‘That isn’t relevant’, ‘I have no interest’. Why do we protect ourselves from the new? And I do mean protect. When you discover that new band that sound like music has never been played before or the first time you set down for holiday and you can feel the possibilities. We like new things so why don’t we like to be curious? There are many reasons but for me personally, it’s a fear of failure. I like new things only when I know they can’t go wrong. What’s yours?

If we don’t like to be curious then we won’t survive in constant change. You may know someone with a “zest for life”. I just see them as comfortably curious. So how can you increase what I like to call your curio-capacity?

1. Know yourself. You have to understand what you enjoy about curiosity but also what stops you from enjoying it. When you understand your barriers then you can overcome them.

2. Challenge your curiosity. Find activities which will force your curiosity. My favourite is driving on a road you don’t know without a map or destination. Go discover. It might be in another country on holiday, or it might be ten minutes from home. Either can be liberating.

3. Enjoy the satisfaction. Accomplishment can be it’s own greatest reward. Revel in learning something new. Self-reinforcement will perpetuate and grow your curio-capacity.

4. Grow your curiosity socially. Take every conversation as a chance to learn something new about the person you are talking to. Be genuinely interested. If you like sports, talk to someone about music. As a leader challenge other peoples curiosity. It can foster satisfaction, engagement and loyalty from your team.

Being curious can help when things change and let us keep contributing. If you are unsure, your kids will show you how it’s done. 

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Management: Your problem, is that a problem, is a problem

ImageYou are managing a busy team and everything seems to be going well. Then you get a member of staff coming to you to complain about something. That staff member is an issue, right?

Wrong

Just because they are complaining doesn’t mean they are a burden. And don’t think that the problem they have raised is solely extra work for you. I’ve worked for so many managers that don’t like to hear about problems. In fact they have just thought of them as an inconvenience, or worse, threatening their practices personally. 

If someone has highlighted a genuine problem then that staff member should be praised for identifying an issue, certainly not chastised for rocking the boat. If they have perceived a problem which does not exist then talk them through it. Don’t palm them off and complain about them after. And don’t see them as a dysfunctional member of the team. 

The big issue here is about intent. If you see all advances as a threat then the outcome will always be the same. You will be defensive, aggressive or worst, passive-aggressive. You have trained yourself not to let slip those unprofessional feelings and comments but if you still think like that underneath, your subconscious will show through in your behaviours. Even worse when everything could be a threat you can overcompensate and keep people distant to avoid any issues. You can’t connect, delegate, motivate, engage etc with anyone who is distant. Trust here is key.

It can take time to trust your staff to behave positively for the organisation. But if you don’t start the ball rolling as a manager your staff certainly aren’t going to help. And they will help. You’ve just got to let them do it their way.

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Organisational Dating – Recruitment

The blogging world is full of helpful ideas to improve your cv, obtain the interview you want and ultimately land that new role. There is also a huge ocean of posts about tips for recruiters looking to land passive candidates, social media strategy and how to be better connected.

Every single one of these posts in invaluable for the recruitment process, offering passionate insight from people who live and breath recruitment.

Now I don’t have a huge amount of experience in recruitment and most of the best tips have already been offered. But I think something which is often overlooked is the mindset you have when looking for a job. A lot of posts focus on practical tips but you need to have a think about how you approach the process mentally. For me, looking for a job is like dating.

Organisational dating.

Now I’m not talking about jumping straight into the first date. Let’s start with your CV or résumé. This for me is like a lonely hearts ad in the newspaper. There are hundreds all in one space all saying the same key phrases. Would like to meet, good sense of humour etc etc. Now people might be looking for a particular type of person here but you might lure someone in by standing out slightly. Standing out a lot might come across as the crazy cat person and no one will be interested. As a candidate you have to think about who you want to attract and market yourself appropriately.

Secondly is your covering letter. This for me is like an Internet dating video profile. It can be quite similar to your lonely hearts ad but gets to show off a little more of your personality. Again, stifling people with too much will just put them off.

Next we have your LinkedIn or social recruitment profile. You are at a mixer or singles bar where everyone is out for the same thing. Everyone sees Mr Big and fights for his attention. This is the chance to show off the most about you. Everyone likes someone interesting and accomplished to talk to but you’ve got to get involved. No one will talk to the wallflower. Find a conversation you want to join and confidently introduce yourself. If you’ve got the goods people will respond. And introductions by a common connection will always provide more fruit.

So we finally get down to a first date or interview. First thing to remember is that everyone has a different ‘date-span’ before they want to go steady. Some may have 3 interviews for an admin assistant and some may only have one for CEO. Everyone likes a different date scenario as well. Some like a formal dining experience and some want brunch at that little cozy bistro down the street. If it’s not your scene maybe there will be issues further down the line. This should also be an exchange of information not just one way. You are interviewing the organisation as much as they are interviewing you.

As much as finding love has evolved and there are many different acceptable avenues to do it, recruitment has only got their for those that are brave. Be creative with how you connect with people and the amount of opportunities will start to rise. Remember that although jobs are few right now it will be much more satisfying to find ‘the one’ than be a serial dater, and disappointed. You’ve got to find the right fit for you as much as you’ve got to fit for them.

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Engaging reward and building loyalty

Following on a couple of posts about recognition I would like to bring up reward. Every company does it differently. Everyone wants something different. Nobody gets it 100% right.

We get it. Reward is flawed. But if you want that expensive reward to really stay with an employee I think there is only 4 rewards that can boost loyalty.

Money, progression, development and flexibility

Now there are studies out there that say non-monetary rewards mean more to employees, that they love a box of chocolates or a meal for 2 at that restaurant close to the office. That’s nice but is that really gonna keep someone long term in their role? I know a few people who would be happy as a doorman if their wage kept them comfortable or even better, increasing. Now remember that loyalty is key here and a large increase in pay or cash bonus will keep staff comfortable elsewhere in their life. I guess it’s got be big enough to make a difference. Why do so many people work in banking? It can’t be for the difference they make. Maybe it’s the bonus.

Second reward is progression. You may think that someone progressing in their career is a given if they have the skill and experience. In my opinion, organisations miss a trick by forgetting to tell their staff that they have been promoted as they mean a lot and their contribution is appreciated. Employees will feel good either way, letting them know they are valued will last a bit longer.

And I put my Gen Y hat on for the next reward, development. Gen Y crave development and stimulation in any career. Another missed trick is to say you have earned this. Employers churn out names for training courses to tick a box and fill a quota. I know training is expensive, relate that to how much they mean. It could be anything outside the mandatory training for their role. Some job swapping through to assistance for a postgrad in their field. The key is if someone delivers in their role, keep them stimulated. They have already proven they can do that, find a way to challenge them. And a challenge means they can’t be bored. One word of caution on that one, it only works really well with Gen Y.

Last up we have flexibility. This is very much a personal thing with everyone describing flexibility in a different way. But by being flexible you can meet their ideas of flexible. As long as they have earned it.

Much like Pavlov’s dog, any of these reward bells should only ring after performance. Only difficulty in that is that employees are cleverer than pavlov’s dog (in some cases). You’re not going to get them to perform if the bell stops ringing, so keep it consistent.

I may be well off the mark with reward and people would say that they need more choice. Well I would say reward is a bit like people’s fashion choices. Sometimes you really don’t know what will be best for you. As long as you let the experts do there job, everyone is happy and stays happy.

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leaning in or screaming in? impression management

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I will write a disclaimer to this post, I am an introvert. This is written from an introvert’s view.

I am not a fan of bravado and find it unnecessary. In my younger days I mistook bravado for shyness and covering up being comfortable with yourself. I originally studied music as a composer. My undergrad was spent squirrelling away in a room with the product of my work being very public and the only thing that was judged. I decided music should become a hobby and started in full time work. 

This was a shock to the system.

I maintained the mentality, and still do to a degree, that people’s work should speak for itself. However, in the world of work a manager with a team of 30 staff doesn’t have time to notice what is going on beyond a productivity report. They can’t discover the cogs that make the process happen. So here comes impression management to save the day. What I originally thought of as ‘brown-nosing’ was to become my greatest ally. Self-promotion of exploits and successes allowed me to be noticed. I had swallowed my pride and seen the benefit.

The only difficulty came when looking for a more senior role. I had provided what I saw as an above average contribution but my appraisals and lack of sponsor for a new role would say otherwise. I had slipped out the vision of my leaders. 

Now impression management, for me at least, is a bit of a double edged sword. While it helps individuals be noticed for their work, it also takes away the responsibility of management to stay focused on their team. A voice of performance can be reassuring to you doing a good job as a manager. So when there is benefits to both sides of this relationship, it reinforces the behaviour. And when others see the benefits of this behaviour they want to be involved. 

Very soon you can have a culture of impression management where managers rely on staff to self-promote their success to deem that a good job has been done. Now this naturally fits for extroverts. The introverts, get left behind. And as a manager you soon only see what you think is providing performance and not what actually does.

Now as a self-confessed introvert this is a challenge that we all must overcome to progress in any career. The main difficulty is when you have staff who rely on this skill without ability in their role. And managers toast success of the wrong people. Just because they say they were involved. 

Now both high performance and impression management and necessary to progress. If you work in a competitive work environment there won’t be anyone leaning out. Everyone will be leaning in hungrily to go further. With a strong self-promotion culture, people need to shout to be noticed. And when everyone is shouting, no one is heard. 

Any employee needs to build these skills but managers should be wary of continual self-promotion of staff. If they have everything relayed to them is it a realistic picture of what is going on? Maybe those delegation skills look more like abdication skills right now. Either way to be a great manager or leader look for the cogs not the result to sustain performance.

 

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Man Up! HR sits on the sideline of strategy

So loads of HR workers complain about a lack of strategy involved in their role. How HR never have a voice and are not present at the top table. How the value that could be added by HR is ignored.

I totally agree with all these statements but I disagree with how HR are trying to change things. The same way they have always tried to change things! Einstein said that Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Right now HR looks a bit insane.

We talk about making a difference through people. Engagement, development, talent. Bla bla bla. Right now it’s just words. The problem of strategy for HR is not in what we are saying but in the fact that we are saying it and not doing it. Now I don’t mean that within HR we are not developing and engaging HR staff. You can count on HR staff getting some of the best in the right situation. I’m talking about our impact with the rest of the team. HR likes to sit on the sidelines and dictate the rules. HR is a tennis umpire, not a player. This sideline culture is so engrained into HR it’s even in the job titles. HR advisor, HR business partner, coordinator etc. Why are we not HR champions? Why are we not people drivers? At best we are a doubles player in the tennis match. At worst we are a spectator.

With the devolvement of some HR responsibilities to line managers, HR think it’s time for them to focus on strategy but to the people that matter, HR just looks lazy. Why didn’t those HR workers stop and say “Great, with this devolvement I can get into the team and prove all these things really do add value”?

HR needs to prove that people strategy can work by their own hands, otherwise HR is just another doubter to the current situation. Business is built on contributions. HR is built on best practice, best-fit or theory. Maybe it’s time HR practice was treated as a leadership skill rather than a role.

 

Negative staff – friend or foe?

As a manager or leader it is your job to coordinate employees and processes to gain maximum performance. You construct a plan to change things that you think need improved. You even spend some time putting together a communication strategy to appease staff of the downsides. You roll out the presentation and everyone sits quietly. You think to yourself you have done an amazing job. Just to clarify, you ask a few trusted employees for their opinion. Everything comes back glowing and further boosts your confidence. Things change and performance improves. You have done your job well, right?

Right?

Further down the line you find staff turnover has increased and satisfaction survey responses are lower. It couldn’t be the changes you made as everyone was happy with those. The staff must be having personal issues or there is something else causing the issue. You bring in an under performer for an improvement plan and they let you know that the changes you made have caused their morale to fall and the job intensity to increase. So why didn’t anyone say?

Were they afraid to? Is it easier to just keep quiet? 

Many friends and previous managers I have worked with don’t like to be questioned about their decisions or workings. In one role I held previously, the employee in question was told they would be ostracised from the team for being a troublemaker and going against management. This member of staff was quoted as being a negative influence on the rest of the team and that it should stop.

Whether it is positive or negative this person has influence. More than perhaps you initially would like. But what if that influence was positive? What if that person agreed with your ideas and was your evangelist among the team? What bigger impact would that person allow for? How much more successful would your change be?

Resistance to change is not a bad thing if you don’t let it become an obstacle. You think this person is being insubordinate and questioning you personally, they see it as questioning an idea. So here are my tips for embracing insubordination.

1. Take your ego out of the equation. This project may be your baby but when you take things personally, particularly criticism, you hold to your ideas stronger and creativity is stifled. Remember this is an organisational goal, not a personal one.

2. Enjoy the challenge. Yes someone is saying your ideas are flawed but celebrate the opportunity to push yourself and your ideas further. Don’t get put out. This is not an attack.

3. Welcome opinions good and bad. Actively seek them out. You may initially see a complaining employee but try to look at this as an employee who thinks it can be better and wants to do so. Employees don’t always say it right so help them to communicate right the next time.

4. Find out why it’s bad. You may have one view of a situation but that’s not the whole picture. The staff can open up a whole other view.

5. Be afraid of those who don’t communicate. They aren’t engaged and don’t want to participate in changes. Even those who complain want to be involved.

6. Delegate the challenge. If you have staff who don’t think an initiative is good enough then let them make it better. If they are directly affected then they have better insight into what is wrong. You don’t have to sweat over it all yourself. Keep on top of their development and initiative though, as you are still accountable.

 

Taking a more open view to challenging staff can spark creativity, innovation and diversity. And remember be afraid of the silence. No one likes a quiet business.

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Food and recognition

So I posted previously about active and passive recognition and it sparked up a conversation between me and a fellow student. We got chatting about personal active recognition, where a manger can go out their way to recognise your work going above and beyond what’s necessary. So I was asked the question “wouldn’t you get sick of constant recognition? wouldn’t it lose it’s value?”

So it got me thinking. If there was a great manager who kept on top of everything you did and congratulated every little aspect of your role, would it get annoying?

I guess there is no hard and fast answer to this one but I do feel that recognition is a bit like food. If you gave someone a buffet meal for 20 people would it keep them fed for 20 days? 

Definitely not! They wouldn’t be able to eat and digest all that food at once and then they would go hungry by the next day. 

On this note I really enjoy food so it got me thinking about how much food relates to recognition and have come up with some thoughts….

1. Make sure recognition is digestible and regular. Grand gestures at team meetings are sometimes too much and won’t mean as much as a weekly catch up and feedback on performance. You don’t want hungry employees

2. Recognition is like a soufflé. It’s really only good as soon as it is cooked. Soon after it’s loses it’s impact and deflates all together.

3. Recognition can be like dough. You can put the recipe together, spelling out what was good or bad, but it will take time to prove and be ready for cooking.

4. Recognition is like meringue. Overdo it and you lose the integrity. It takes practice to find out when to stop and move on.

5. Recognition is like seasoning. Only needed to bring something out. Sometimes it’s bold and punchy, like chilli and ginger, or it can be more subtle. It has to compliment the situation.

6. Recognition is like wine. Celebrating the end result but also knowing how the grapes improve through the process makes a better wine.

If you have anymore examples post them in the comments below

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Organisational R&R – Reward and Recognition

So we all enjoy a bit of R&R, rest and relaxation. It reenergises us and gives us time to think about where we are at in life. Some do it by lying on a beach, some enjoy a great meal and some go skydiving. However you do it, it’s something to look forward to.

Now an organisation is never going to have time to sit back and take in the view otherwise it’s not producing. And we all know what happens then……

So how do we reenergise our employees? With some reward and recognition, the other R&R.

Now you are probably sitting there saying we have a great reward structure, better than our competitors. We have employee of the month, peer recognition and we celebrate our top performers at our quarterly meetings. We are good at this.

But we also have lower engagement than we would like. Our staff just aren’t on board and putting them on watch before we get rid of them. So I ask is your reward and recognition culture working?

We have reward buffets which allow employees to pick a reward that is most engaging to them. We ask staff to celebrate their colleagues to build team working. We give them a great christmas bonus. Well if your staff still aren’t satisfied then they need to man up as their isn’t much else you can afford to do.

For me, reward and recognition can be defined on two continuums: active or passive, personal and organisational

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Ok so this may seem like a generalisation but bear with me. Now on the personal/organisational continuum the reward or recognition can either come from the organisation, through policies and initiatives, or personal, through your line-manager or someone else more senior and possibly from peers if the culture is right. Passive reward and recognition is determined by the controlling party, the management or organisational policy recognises good performance. Active recognition is determined by the actions of the employee, if they out perform, the manager or organisation then seek to recognise it. 

Now active and passive recognition may both seem like part of the same process. So to break down this even more let’s take a look at each quadrant.

Passive organisational R&R – made up of reward structures, compensation and benefits, hierarchical promotion. Most practiced way for organisations to control the performance of their employees. Your employee gets rewarded for the long slog. If they miss one bit however, they miss out on all of it. Not the most engaging and not for everyone.

Active organisational R&R – during the current financial climate this is the most expensive and least likely to happen. Employee makes a substantial contribution and the organisation makes a promotion happen for them, creates a role, goes outside the regular benefits plan. If you’ve ever watched undercover boss, this is what happens there.

Both of these practices are great safety nets and standards to lure employees in. Day to day however, they don’t have much impact which is where the personal comes in.

Passive personal – now as a manager you already do this but maybe don’t realise it. This usually happens over time, your employee gains trust by performance, you listen to them and they are the first one in your mind when a new role comes up. This one falls prey to self-promotion from staff and impression management. Know it when you see it.

Active personal – This comes down to “catch them doing something right”. Managers tend to see whats stopping the numbers coming in. Some better managers look at what is stopping a team performing. The best managers look at what the team is doing right and letting them know about it. Reinforce the positive behaviours. This one is free but can have the most power day to day. If this is reward it could be a token gift for great performance. A surprise bottle of wine or box of chocolates or use of the company’s box at the game. The important thing here is being led by your teams performance. Don’t tell them when they have done well, realise when they have contributed to success. This might be in ways you hadn’t realised before. Ask yourself what does going the extra mile entail? The more you can help them see it. The more they will want to do it.

So when you are looking at how to increase performance through reward and recognition, remember to use all the tools available to you. Then you can engage all of your staff and not just the ones who work for their christmas bonus.

 

 

 

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employee empowerment and sex (that won’t get you into trouble at work)

Unless you’ve never worked or started your own business empire at 13 you have probably worked for a manager, or even worse, a boss.

Now I don’t want to display managers, or bosses, in a bad light here. But we have all worked for someone who we thought wasn’t very effective at their role. In fact I would guess most of us have worked for someone we saw as destructive in their role. So I ask myself why do we have so many bad managers out there? I think managers and staff can be summed up like sexual relationships.

A full blown monogamous “bunny-boiler” relationship or no strings attached fun.

So shoot me down for being simple but I categorise managers by how they interact with me and how much. It’s very self centred. On one hand you have the bunny-boiler who micro manages every detail of your work. It’s very claustrophobic and intense with a high stress level. And for the record this is no reflection of my relationship. You get no chance to be an individual, you are part of the couple and when things go wrong you get the blame, but you also have the opposite. The elusive manager who leaves you to it. They give you a project and are never seen again. This feels like being dropped in the middle of the atlantic ocean and being told “swim to america”. You see with this approach, it’s great that you are empowering your staff but when they are told to swim to america they might set off for the coast of Africa, or worse, the antarctic. And then when they don’t reach America both of you are pretty bummed out. This might seem like an alien concept when you think of your boss but with the bigger focus on delegation and empowerment of staff to engage, some managers who are inexperienced with delegating, may fall in to either of these categories.

But then there is another option. Friends with benefits.

Now i’m not advocating any of these sexual relationships as the best option. Everyone will have their preference. I’m not here to comment on personal lives. But in management terms this is someone who is there when you need them. They give you that project, you are lost at first but you talk it through with them and you are off on your own again. If we are back swimming, they have just put a swimming lane in for you. You get to America and you are both happy with the results and they can set your next destination.

As a manager it can be hard to let go at first of responsibility to your staff but it can also be equally as difficult, if not greater, to keep an eye on something once you’ve let it go. Add to that that the staff member may not be completely equipped for the project and you see it as a development opportunity, that need to keep up to date on it, is even greater. To adapt a spiderman quote, with great empowerment, comes great responsibility. It’s like climbing plants, the higher they grow from their original position, the more supports they need in place.

So when you are thinking about how much responsibility to give your staff, just think of spiderman, sex and swimming.

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