Do Your Managers Have The Skills …

…To Ensure That Your Workforce Have The Skills?

I was recently asked to give a presentation on the following topic;

“Appraisals – still necessary or no longer needed, and if the latter how do you replace the role they traditionally play?”

An appraisal form is acting like a coaster.
Do we really need an annual appraisal?

It’s a question that has been around for a while, indeed I first wrote about this on LinkedIn in 2015.

My current thoughts, and therefore the basis of my presentation, are as follows:

Forgive me, but this is the wrong question.

An organisation needs a workforce that is competent and confident enough to do a good job, executed well.  The question is how does an organisation achieve this? And to answer that, there are a number of other questions to ask.

 

 

What are the right questions?

  1. What does great management look like in this organisation?
  2. How competent and confident are the current managers, at all levels, at delivering great management?
  3. What would let the “boss” know that they are?
  4. How do the employees know what a good job looks like and how do we measure how effective they are at delivering it?

It seems to me that:

  • staff need to know what is expected of them and to what standard
  • they need regular feedback and opportunities to discuss what is impacting on their role
  • this regular feedback and discussion needs to be of good quality, good enough that both parties value it
  • and this starts at the top – what objectives do the senior team have for leading, developing and motivating their team? And how good are they at doing that?

For instance, how good are your managers at nurturing creativity in their teams? You can read more about my views on that here . See also what the World Economic Forum saw as the skills demand over the next few years on page 12 or their The Future of Jobs Report 2018.

Does an annual appraisal deliver this?

On its own? No; appraisal as an annual event in isolation will not deliver this but continuous, quality, two-way discussion will, as long as managers have the skills.

And it may well feed into an annual process of reflection.

So the question is, do your managers have the skills?

Sailing and Organisation

I sail. It’s not a dangerous sport as long as you take the right precautions – a certain amount of knowledge and skill, proper planning, understanding the environment and its impact, having the right tools and equipment to hand, not making assumptions, having procedures in place. If all of that is in-hand then sailing is absolutely brilliant fun. Sailing a boat is not so very different from running a business – whether it’s a single-hander or a multi-million pound enterprise.

Sailing a boat and anchoring at Osborne Bay at Sunset
Osborne Bay at Sunset

Sailing is one of those activities where teamwork makes the difference. It’s essential to stay safe, and if you are racing or wanting to get to a certain place by a certain time, it is crucial. Organisations could learn a lot from great sailing teams.

  1. Hire the best people – the best people are not necessarily the ones with all the certificates, but may well be the ones with all the right attitudes. You can teach someone to sail – you can’t teach someone to not be a fool.
  2.  Work together – spend time together honing your relationship, communication processes, understanding strengths and weaknesses. A new team doesn’t win straight off – unless they are incredibly lucky or if the opposition is non-existent.
  3.  Be clear about what is expected – give people clear parameters within which to work, give them the skills and tools to do a good job, give and receive feedback on how it’s going.
  4.  Get out of the way! – four hands trying to tie one rope doesn’t work.
  5.  Listen – if you are at the helm and someone else is at the sharp end telling you that there is an obstacle ahead, then listen, whether they are the Head of Finance or the galley steward.
  6.  Build up your people –a team that has “failed” will feel deflated and exhausted by the process. Remind them that getting from A to B is an achievement, even if you came last. And every situation teaches; you will learn more from coming last than the team who came first, as long as you are minded to.
  7.  Celebrate the things that matter – sitting on deck with a glass of something refreshing, watching the sun go down is one of the most fabulous feelings. Doing it with your team is just the best.

If you need help with any of the above then give me a call – from the foredeck or over the phone. See About Me for contact details.

Post first published on LinkedIn 15th Jan 2020.

What Stops You (or your staff) Being A Superhero – apart from a lack of cape?

I wrote an article for The Littlehampton Times recently.  This is an extended version of that article.

Our values, beliefs, assumptions, prejudices, emotions and thinking are all interlinked.

They are formed through our experiences and have a huge impact on our behaviour. And this can be problematic. When we are anxious, our behaviour can become very unhelpful. If we are facing a phobia then our behaviour can become extreme. But our behaviour can also be affected by much more subtle and benign (to some) situations. Just when we want to react positively, we find ourselves struggling.

Typical examples of when this happens include:

  • speaking in public, talking to strangers
  • managing tricky situations
  • talking to someone who is usually aggressive
  • saying “no”
  • doing something exciting
  • being decisive

– basically any situation where we perceive a risk, even if the risk is minimal.

We want to be calm, professional, persuasive and competent. Instead we cringe, avoid things, get distressed and feel super stuck, rather than superhero. Sound familiar?

So what’s going on?

Your limbic system, that’s what.

This is the part of your brain that is trying to keep you safe. It reacts to situations it sees as threatening or risky or just unexpected. But it is very simplistic and responds as if you’re about to die. Adrenalin flows through your body to help you fight an attacker or run away from a wild animal; useful in a dangerous tribal landscape. Not so useful when the perceived danger is a shop keeper, or your friend, or an audience, or your boss!

When the adrenalin is flowing we feel stressed, we sweat, our stomachs churn; we may even shake.  Blood is switched from our normal thinking systems (our pre-frontal cortex) and from our digestive system and is sent to our muscles. We prepare to run or fight – we need to do a pooh or be sick (to lighten our load) and our muscles twitch if they aren’t used, which is why we shake. It’s all really unhelpful. We want to do something positive but our bodies are trying to stop it.

What’s the solution?

  • Understand what’s happening. The limbic system is an old bit of our brains from an evolutionary perspective and is really dumb! It’s either happy or it’s really scared – no in-between. It’s like having a small child inside you shouting “we’re going to die!” But of course we aren’t. Knowing this can really help.
  • Learn to calm your limbic system. Notice what fires it off and then really think about what is going on – what is the truth about the situation. Is your anxiety warranted? If not, tell your limbic system that all is well. And then choose to ignore the symptoms. They may not go away but they will calm down.
  • Understand that the way to feel OK about a situation is to face it over and over. The first time someone drives a car they feel petrified. Only by repeating the experience and practice does someone get to the stage where driving is no big deal – fun even.

Practice makes perfect – or at least it makes things possible.

  • Practice a range of techniques to control your response, choosing how to behave rather than reacting from fear, e.g.:
    1. Visualise being excellent before an event that is worrying you, so that your limbic system knows what to expect – you being terrific and having fun.
    2. When we are feeling anxious we can lose control of our breathing; it can become shallow and rapid. Get control back by breathing OUT, hard and slowly. Then force a normal breathing pattern – shorter in breaths and longer out breaths. Practice this when you are feeling calm.
    3. Listen to your thinking – is your inner superhero or your limbic system speaking? Telling yourself that you are scared just makes things worse. Instead, talk to yourself about the reality of the situation. For instance, tell yourself that you are in control, notice that there are people around who are looking out for you, remember that what you are about to do is exciting. Research has shown that just saying “I’m excited” is enough to change your perspective and feelings.
    4. Notice and accept what’s really happening – you aren’t about to fight a sabre-tooth tiger. You may still feel anxiety but you have the strength within you to feel anxious but to choose to go ahead anyway. Because you are in charge – not your limbic system.

Your anxiety is not who you are. YOU are who you are; fabulous, shining, clever, creative, wonderful and loved.

Your limbic system is a pretty dumb thing in comparison – show it who’s boss.

No cape is required.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Your Anxiety is Not You – you are you.

All of us have certain things that trigger anxiety – these differ for each person because our life experience is different and therefore we have differing beliefs and perspectives. For some a trigger might be public speaking and for others it is dealing with someone who is a bit “difficult.” (We could have a long debate about what difficult means, but I’ll save that for another blog.)

We feel our anxiety because a specific part of our brain sees these things as threatening. Unfortunately this bit of our hard wiring reacts as if we are facing death. Therefore, our bodies get ready to run away (from a sabre-tooth tiger) or stand up and fight (with the axe wielding member of an enemy tribe.) It’s a primitive response that is not so helpful if what you are trying to do is speak to your boss! Phobias, like fear of heights, spiders, snakes, the dark etc, are extreme versions of this anxiety.

Understanding what’s going on is part of the battle. I took a friend sailing  a while back and was able to help him see a new perspective on his anxiety. I’ve written about it here. We have learned to be anxious about certain things. And we can unlearn it.

What Skills Are You Investing In?

According to the World Economic Forum, analytical, creative thinking and complex problem solving, are key skills for now and over the next few years.

 

 

The pace of change, particularly around working lives, requires a workforce that can remain flexible, think creatively and make effective choices. Understating how the brain might actually get in the way of these skills and having a kitbag of strategies to boost thinking power, may be more important than experience. Knowing how we have done things in the past will not be as useful as coming up with ideas on how to do things differently.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

 

 

Join me on the 25th January, 2019, to explore the kind of strategies that will open up options and creative problem solving.

Impasse to Insight – creative problem solving for business.

 

We Were Born Creative – what happened?

Photo of the Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

We were born creative. We were born clever. We were born awesome.

Everything we learn for the first years of our lives we teach ourselves: through experimentation, through putting two and two together and seeing the results, through wondering “what if?”  During this time we teach ourselves a language; some people teach themselves more than one.

We then get told to sit still, be quiet, colour in between the lines. Most of us, for whatever reason, start to develop beliefs about ourselves that are unhelpful; beliefs that are contrary to this reality.

“You aren’t creative, you’re not that bright, you’re not as good as…”

I heard twenty years ago about some research that was done with engineers at a car manufacturer. They were trying to establish what made the creative ones that bit more creative.  The answer was this – the creative ones believed that they were creative. That’s it, the only difference that they found.

I don’t know whether this story is true (and if anyone could find me the research I would be very grateful) but I have been exploring this ever since. I was someone who believed that I wasn’t creative. And yet:

  • I could dance from the moment I could walk
  • I was musical
  • I was good at creative writing
  • genetically speaking I should have been creative since both of my parents were

And yet!

It has taken some time for me to say “yes, I’m creative.” What a waste!

So what is stopping you? What beliefs have been holding you still, when you could have been dancing, drawing, singing, writing, learning?

You were born awesome – you still are; let it shine.

For The Future

I spoke at Chichester College’s Professional Student Graduation ceremony last night. Students from Marketing, Accountancy, Human Resources and Learning & Development received their certificates and then contemplated their futures. As the guest speaker, this is the heart of the advice I gave them.

1 – Say Yes If You Can

When life offers you an opportunity, grab it with both hands even if it isn’t part of your plan and not what you were expecting. This is particularly important if someone else is saying “I think you would be great at this.” Doing a wide variety of things opens your horizons and makes you more effective.

Opportunities don’t always work out well but they are never wasted. We learn from the bad times as well as the good times. Say yes and make it yours.

2 – When You Say No, Let It Go

If you have to say no to an opportunity don’t waste your time wondering what would have happened differently – you will never know.  Sometimes we come across two paths and have to choose which one to go down. Whether you choose the path “less travelled by [1]” or the massive motorway, travelled by a million people before you, let the other path go.

3 – Stay A Student Forever

You will learn things today that in a few years you will discover are not true. You must keep looking, studying, learning, challenging, testing yourself and what you know. Never give up being a student; it hasn’t finished, it has only just begun.

 

You can’t see the road ahead, only what is now and what has gone before. You can scream with excitement or you can scream with fear. Your choice – choose excitement.

 

[1] Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Why Is Miscarriage So Upsetting?

Next week is Baby Loss Awareness Week.  Miscarriage and stillbirth, even in these enlightened times, are still taboo subjects.  But not being able to talk about it, just makes a very painful experience even worse. Here is a blog, that I posted as a guest blog last year, that might answer some questions and give a different perspective for those going through it – and for those seeking to support.

The Darkness and Dawn of Miscarriage.

Darkness

Miscarriage is not the happiest of subject matters but a topic that affects so many people – about one in four pregnancies. I have written this in the hope of answering two questions:

  1. Why is it quite so upsetting?
  2. How do I support someone going through this?

I worked in a hospital at the time of my miscarriages. The obstetrician was fantastically supportive and kind, but many of my colleagues said the most appalling things to me; not from malice but from misjudgement. It was really confusing. It was hard enough to get my head around the fact that I had been a mother who had never held or kissed her child. To be subjected to pseudo-medical guesswork was just more than I could bear. After the first miscarriage I went into a form of shock. I was back at work on the Monday, apparently fine. By the Friday I was in pieces and I didn’t really understand why. Now I do understand why but it took a while to work it out.

For those going though miscarriage one of the hardest things to deal with is other people’s reactions. The problem, I believe, is created by a difference of perspective. For friends and family the miscarriage is a medical event – the pregnancy has stopped – but for the hopeful parents, what is lost is not the pregnancy but the baby in their arms. And it is this baby, fully imagined, fully cherished, that is lost. I have many friends who have also had this experience. Loved ones wanting to support but unsure of what to say, and because of their perspective getting it horribly wrong; the very people who should be pouring love and support, just end up pouring more darkness.

 

So How Do You Be Their Dawn? – for the mothers and their partners.

  1. Understand that you are helping someone who is grieving (as well as dealing with chaotic hormones and probably having undergone a fairly grim, clinical procedure.)
  2. Don’t assume that when someone says “I’m fine” that they are. Don’t assume that the “I’m fine” from yesterday is still true today or even in a month’s time.
  3. Don’t keep going on about it. Don’t get frustrated when they do.
  4. Do NOT say:

    “it was for the best” (it wasn’t – it really, really wasn’t the best)

    “at least you have your other child” (they are not consolation prizes)

    “well at least you know that you can get pregnant” (this was not a dress rehearsal; this was the real thing.)

  5. If you notice anyone saying the above, have a word.
  6. DO say:

    “I’m so sorry.”

    “How can I help?”

    “This is really sad news.”

    “I’m sorry that I don’t know what to say.”

  7. Hug them. Remember to hug the partner; they’re grieving too.
  8. Help. If you can, turn up and do the washing up, hoovering, making tea for visitors. They’ll be mortified that you did their washing up etc. but will also be relieved that it’s done. You have to play this one really carefully so have empathy dials up to max.
  9. Turn up with food; my friend Sarah turned up with a casserole and jacket potatoes already cooked and still hot – I just needed to put them on the plate. I sobbed.
  10. If you are their manager, treat them as you would after any bereavement. Take particular care to remember point 1 and 2.

I had a very spiritual experience a while ago that helped me deal with my own miscarriages. I share that here in the hope that it brings some peace, clarity and hope.

One final point; if this is you then you are not alone. The miscarriage association have a fabulous website. Speak to your friends and family; there will be people close by who have been through exactly what you are going through. Lean on them. Say yes to help. Be difficult. Rage. Love. Grieve.

Breaking Out

Here is the third entry into the VERY occasional series, responding to the Artwork of My Friends – the first being here and the second here.

I asked my friend Doug Shaw to select a piece of his work for me to write about. Here is my response.

Painting by Doug Shaw

Breaking Out       by Janet Webb

Warm, familiar, not loud, not bright,
This comforting place is my delight.
This shell keeps me secure, held and still,
Away from the cliff edge, safe from ill will.

These bars protect me from unknown harm,
Enclosing with nothing to cause alarm.
They stop me from doing what’s foolish, what’s rash,
Protecting me from what’s harsh, what’s brash.

But painfully bound to a familiar game,
Repeating, repeating, repeating the same,
The solid walls smother and stifle the din
And I shrink and contract; my outlook looks in.

So I break from this jail that’s safe but a bore,
Cut the rope that tethers and learn to soar.
Looking over the edge I see a different view
And risking the fall, I learn something new.

I’ll leave the comfort of what I know
And explore what is hidden in order to grow.
To climb like a vine and snatch at the sky.
And if I fall? Well, for a moment I’ll fly.

 

Content or Delivery; which is better?

About a year ago I was running a session for some Learning and Development professionals on the Neuroscience of Learning.

I was contacted before the event by one of the potential delegates and asked this question:

“Will there be some actual content or will it be all of us just sharing what we know?”

The person in question was unwell and the thought of turning up to an event, expecting to learn something new and instead being given post-it notes and coloured pens was more than they could cope with. We had an interesting discussion.

I have noticed more and more of exactly what they were talking about – a move towards L&D people being less about the content and more about the delivery. But is this a good move? I have a concern about lazy being dressed as facilitation and that the delivery becomes so important that good content is not included at all.

Last month I facilitated a similar group of L&D professionals looking at some techniques for learning that were definitely not chalk and talk. At one point, dotted around the room, were flipcharts with provocative statements on. People were invited to look at them and discuss the statements with whoever was there, for as long as they wanted to, before moving on. I tweeted one of the statements and Twitter responded.  This was the statement.

 

 

Replies ranged from “Never!” to “Agreed.”

There were a lot of responses around good facilitation taking dry content and making it great and that bad delivery can suck the life out of a learning event. Conversely, that great delivery can mask poor design. There were thoughts on how good questions can deliver amazing results. There were some feeding analogies. The word context came up. “Context is the missing word. The dance between content, delivery & exploration depends on context.” from Chris Nichols @chrisnicholsT2i

There was also some talk about the importance of participation; that you can’t make someone learn.

 

All true.  So what’s the problem?

 

I was reminded a while ago about a time when a group of us were running a residential and we ran out of activities. So we divided the delegates into two teams, asked them to design an exercise for the other team, then swapped the activities and sat back. Of course we facilitated the reflective session afterwards; we didn’t just walk away altogether, but I felt at the time, and still do years later, that this was utterly lazy. Yes they got something from it. Yes we helped them process the learning. But honestly, did we do the best for them? Could that time have been used better?

I adore action learning sets but it has to be done right, for people who want and need it, when they want and need it. I remember once being on a course as a new manager where the facilitator gave us the opportunity to spend an afternoon together, with total freedom to manage our own learning, exploring whatever came up. I think the term T-group was used. So we all went back to work! We had left busy work places to come and get help with our busy work places. We didn’t see the benefit of chewing the fat with other, equally busy colleagues. This was probably a sign of our immaturity as learners but it was also a sign of a Trainer (they weren’t called L&D professionals then) experimenting on us with an idea and doing it very badly. They were a bit cross with us for not engaging. We were furious for being given so little when we needed so much.

I love great facilitation. I think it’s an important, potentially life changing skill. I did a course 20 years ago at Surrey University about the dynamics of group work and facilitation that was possibly one of the best things I have ever done. However, I think there is also a place for designing great content. I think there is a place for lectures and teaching and instructional training.

If I’m going for surgery I want my surgeons to have attended some recent lectures on the latest techniques and breakthroughs. I also want them to have discussed this between themselves and thought about how they can use these things effectively. I want them to do the full 100%.

When I learned to drive I wanted the instructor to say

“That peddle in the middle is the break”

not

“OK, how do you feel about this? If this car was a stone you are carrying, what colour would it smell like?”

Great facilitation should not over-ride the need for great content, when that great content is what is needed. Chewing the fat can be amazing – give them something worth chewing.