Here in the UK we are are entering the season of parties, over-eating and drinking. Or perhaps that’s just me! But what we probably all really need as we enter these dark winter months is to refresh ourselves both mentally and physically. But this won’t happen by itself – it will take planning, otherwise we will find that we end up more rather than less exhausted by the time we return to work at the end of this seasonal break.
Something that has become clear to me in the latter part of this year is how many of my clients are exhausted by the psychological intensity of working in this technological age, where there is no real boundary between work and leisure. People go on holiday, or home for the weekend but the emails keep coming in and the mind therefore never rests. The impact of this is fatigue, resulting in physical tiredness and also in a sluggish -or overactive – mind. Sometimes this leads to outbursts of anger, sometimes to insomnia and sometimes to illness. It isn’t an effective way of living or working.
A study way back in 1908 showed that reducing the working day from 9 to 8 hours actually increased output. Henry Ford reached the same conclusion, as did Proctor & Gamble in 1980. If professionals sitting at computers were monitored by Health and Safety they would no doubt be advised that the human mind cannot function at peak performance for long periods of time without loss of higher-intellectual processing. All work and no play doesn’t just make Jack a dull boy, it also makes him a pretty stupid one who is more likely to make mistakes than someone who has sharpened their thinking with a rest. A tired worker tends to perform like an unskilled worker – and that isn’t good for business.
Fatigue specifically impacts the processing of visual information and numbers. This has relevance to many people looking at screens doing their annual budgets and tax returns! Long hours accompanied by continuing work at home, or entertaining clients, can lead to sleep deprivation, which a Professor at Harvard Medical School has argued is ‘dangerous’. The energy needed to discriminate, solve problems, and make good critical judgements is switched to the challenge of staying awake. It doesn’t make sense for the organisation or the individual.
So, how will you make sure that you do find real downtime over this seasonal break? Personally I have found that over the 20 years of running Positiveworks I solve all my best problems when I am away from my desk, looking out to sea or walking in nature. Turning off my mobile and email frees my mind to think more creatively, grasp broader concepts and tap into intuition. When I am tired I can’t access the solutions or ideas I need to take my thinking to the next level. So give yourself permission to switch off when you can because neither you nor your business benefit from you being exhausted. Set yourself times where you release thought of the workload and allow your mind to wander peacefully, your body to relax. Have fun – I have no doubt that you KNOW this stuff but the question is how will you make sure you actually DO it??! All good wishes and Happy Christmas from me and all at Positiveworks.
I’d just like you to stop and think a moment… if you are a woman do you feel you always respond as your husband, partner, colleague, brother or son might respond to a situation? If you are a man do you think and respond like a woman? Or are you aware of some differences of perspective?
We may talk in a spectrum of stereotypical thinking, which may now be outdated. However, when one asks young or old professionals what their grandmothers told them you often find that those stereotypical beliefs and messages live on in today’s behaviour. Equally most people in relationships, whether work or personal, do often comment that they respond differently to their colleagues of the opposite gender. Not always, but often.
What does this mean? It is an asset not a problem. We are more likely to solve the world’s challenges with an equal distribution of male-female experience and creativity than with only 50% of the population making decisions, as is now generally the case. Surely all governments, organisations and teams (whether family team or business team) can benefit from the diversity of approach and response that is gained from mixed viewpoints. See also http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/comment/comment/women-in-boardrooms-make-for-better-businesses-7543254.html. A woman has a different experience of life because she has a physically different body and also because of how others respond to her, just as does a man. This results in diverse perspectives, ideas and solutions to problems. The brain and emotional responses are also stimulated and shaped by differing hormones. Testosterone causes different behaviours to oestrogen.
So let’s take action to move towards a world where men and women share power at the top of business and at the top of government. Surely this has the potential to result in a more balanced view to shape the crucial decisions taken on our behalf.
Let’s not let the endless doom and gloom get to us. The media and the government seem to love battering us with miserable stories but they weren’t exactly brilliant at predicting the current crisis or protecting us from it were they? So maybe they are all missing something that’s just around the corner that could actually go right – who knows?! After all, just after the last recession we got the internet and digital boom … so do get creative and get us out of this one… :>)
Our parents and grandparents lived through far worse, with world wars and a far less generous social system than we have today to support us. They lived with years of uncertainty that was not just economic but life-threatening. Talk to them about it, or to your elderly neighbour – you often find that the ‘old dear’ down the road has actually driven tanks and parachuted out of planes… far braver than battling the bugs on the District Line every morning.
But of course misery and negativity depletes our immune system so it is hardly surprising that we have a record number of flu and cold bugs going around. So focus on the positive and at least you are more likely to stay healthy and live longer as there is now a good body of evidence to show that optimism and happiness increase health, longevity and wellbeing. (And if you’re worrying about how on earth you’ll afford to live longer then optimism also increases your chances of success in sales and career and it can be learned – through Positiveworks of course! www.positiveworks.com )
The human mind tends to fret about things that may never happen. So enjoy what is going right. And if today you have some money in the bank, a job perhaps, a roof over your head, a pet, a friend, someone you love, or someone who knows and understands you then rejoice. A quick scan of world events shows us that the problems we face in the UK may be difficult but nothing like as bad as in some other parts of the world.
Also can we please have a revival of common sense: it has been under-rated recently and it has a lot going for it. Many regulations assume we have none of our own – that we have to be warned that we could cut ourselves if we aren’t careful how we use scissors to unwrap our Christmas presents. Surely we know that this is the case, that life can be risky – that grass is slippery when wet. Don’t we?
So listen to your heart. Intuition has been proven by recent research to be spot on in helping us make decisions. But you knew that didn’t you – you didn’t need a University research project to tell you. If something feels right, do it; if something doesn’t feel right then don’t. Intuition usually speaks to you through your body – if you feel tense with someone it is for a reason; if you feel light and happy with another person then there is a message in it. You don’t need books to tell you this: you just need to tune back into your self. (But of course do buy my latest book Cognitive-Behavioural Coaching for Dummies http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470713798.html )
The Credit Crunch has raised discussion about excess and ‘affluenza’. Certainly a rebalancing of what is realistic and sustainable is required at all levels. But there is little point in waging a war on wealth-creation in itself. There is no intrinsic goodness in poverty: in fact poverty divides and wrecks individuals and communities. Several people are now admitting that they ‘always knew’ that what they were doing in lending money to people who couldn’t afford it was wrong but they did it anyway in order to follow a target, gain a perk. Similarly others took on debt that they knew they couldn’t afford. So follow your own moral compass of what is right or wrong but honest toil is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. If we make money we are able to employ others, avoid living off the State, be philanthropic and give to charities. I found this quite an interesting article on this subject:
New perspectives are what is called for, not a return to what was. Einstein commented that we can’t solve a problem from the same place in which we created it. When it comes to your own life get creative and look at situations anew. Spend 30 minutes identifying as many ways as possible of finding a solution. The HBDI Herrmann thinking profile works brilliantly to stretch your brain and ensure you integrate creativity and realism, see http://www.positiveworks.com/products/thinkingpref.htm
You can change things: every voice matters. Even if it is just to develop a positive energy around you at home or at work. But if you care about something, write a letter to a paper or your MP or to Boris, write a blog, comment on a website, join a lobby group, volunteer for a charity, smile at someone on the tube, do any small thing that expresses what you feel strongly about. You may not be able to change the world, or your whole organisation, or the government, or the country but you can make a difference to those immediately close to you and surely that is worth doing.
Finally, fun doesn’t have to cost much. We can enjoy family, friends, good health, kitchen suppers, books, reading, listening to music, making love, dancing, going to an art gallery, playing with the paint pot your aunt bought for the kids, walking in the park, all at minimal cost. So let’s act to make this year a really good one and prove those doom and gloom merchants thoroughly wrong!
Happy 2009! Helen
The majority of problems raised in coaching and training sessions relate to people issues: difficulties between back and front office; a truculent member of staff; misunderstandings in communication. Despite the fact that companies will frequently say that their people are their greatest asset the reality is that many managers consider people issues to be too ‘woolly’ to spend time on. They often don’t feel that they add value to the ‘real task of doing business’.
Certainly it is difficult, as a busy manager, to find time. Also difficult to fit people into spreadsheets, manage or measure, that may be true: the human being is a unique and complex organism. But woolly and not worth spending time thinking about: no.
The myth seems to be that it is the ‘hard skills’ alone that make business work. Hard skills perform an essential function, certainly, and yet how and whether that happens is all down to the management of human minds and emotions. Think about your own experience for a moment and see if any of this rings a bell. Has the smooth flowing of your business or work ever been impacted by an individual who is:
· Fearful for their job security and just sticks by the letter of their job rather than taking initiative or innovating
· A jealous or territorial empire-builder who doesn’t want to share a piece of information because they want to take the credit themselves, thereby scuppering their colleagues’ efforts
· Someone who embellishes the figures or sells more than required to a customer in order to meet their targets and gain their bonus, only to be exposed , at a later date, for misleading others
· Unable to say that they don’t know how to perform the function that they have been asked to perform so gets it wrong rather than look stupid and ask their boss or colleague for a solution or guidance
· Fearful of conflict so avoids raising an issue with a colleague, boss or customer thus perpetuating the problem longer than it needs, sometimes to a point where the issue has escalated beyond redemption
The major problems in the business world actually tend to come down to emotions and relationships –
· People negotiating major deals and unable to find a way for the egos involved to be sufficiently pacified to be able to do the deal.
· Companies restructuring and trying to bring different cultures of people and work approach together without appreciating how long it takes for individuals to shake off one identity and set of working habits and integrate with another.
· Back office and front office issues that lead to misunderstanding, conflict, delay and complexity
· The project or programme manager who is so task-focused that they forget to share crucial information with their team, leading to the delay of the project.
· The manager who has their head so full of target-pressures that they forget to stop to acknowledge good performance, without realizing that demotivation leads to low productivity, resentment, and to the loss of talented staff.
One can plan effective strategies to manage these eventualities in advance. These everyday people situations are exactly what it is worth taking focused time to consider, not just waiting to address them when things go wrong. If not addressed, they cost time, money and mental and emotional energy that could be better utilized elsewhere. However, it is not necessarily a comfort zone for some managers, who may prefer to focus on tasks rather than thinking about behaviours and emotions. This is where coaching and training can provide a short sharp solution. Through Personality Profiling (follow the link for a short comparison between HBDI, DiSC, MBTI) it is possible to identify how different individual and departmental approaches are impacting communication between and within teams. The HBDI Herrmann Thinking Preference Profile http://www.positiveworks.com/products/thinkingpref.htm is the fastest and most practical tool I know to help people gain insight and strategies to bridge diverse communication styles. Our new training programme Bridging the Gap Between Departments (follow the link for an overview agenda) applies the Herrmann profile within a Mediation process to enable individuals and teams to recognise and acknowledge common goals and find a way to align their efforts to the benefit of all. This isn’t ‘soft’ stuff: it is often the hardest stuff of all! And when managers are courageous enough to tackle these issues in a direct and honest manner the results are generally of great value to morale and productivity. For more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
“Disgraced” Aitken to head prison reform research run the headlines in the media and surely in this one sentence is precisely the reason why prisoners or those who commit misdemeanours find it so difficult to be rebilitated successfully into our society. For Profumo it took a lifetime; forever “disgraced” and unforgiven however many good works are carried out after the event.
If we continue to judge and label people for the crime or weakness they committed many years earlier, for which they have paid their rightful penance, what hope is there for them to move on and reinvent themselves as someone who can behave well and be a useful part of society? This is precisely the prejudice prisoners face and the reason why prison is so seldom a successful means of rehabilitation. Prejudice drives society’s perceptions of offenders and this in turn drives their own perceptions of themselves resulting in insufficient confidence or esteem to hack it in the world outside prison. I hold no torch for Aitken but certainly believe that he should be judged for who he is today, not who he was 8 or more years ago, and for prison reform is it not better to seek the opinion of someone who has ‘inside’ knowledge?
The problem of other people’s stuck perceptions is just as relevant to anyone going through personal change. Colleagues, family and friends frequently wish to label you and see you as who you were rather than who you are today, let alone who you are seeking to become in future. This is why so many change programmes fail: habitual perceptions, habitual behaviours, however constructive or unconstructive, are what others have become used to and so it is often easier to hold a person into old patterns and block their progress rather than face the discomfort of change. Very often it is those nearest and dearest to you who hold you back as they are threatened by what you might become and how it will affect them personally. But equally it can be people who have never met you or know of you rather than know you who refuse to open their eyes to the fact that people can and do learn and change as they go through life.
How difficult it seems to be for humans to truly and wholeheartedly support another person’s transformation. Yet it is often when people make mistakes that they learn their hardest but most useful lessons in life and often experience a kind of epiphany. We only need to look at the lives of saints and great people to see that frequently the early part of their story was a difficult one. Look back at your own life and consider whether you have not learnt some wisdom over the last ten years? Would you wish to be labelled for some misdemeanour you committed years ago?
Whether a prisoner or not people need the support of others in order to successfully change behaviour. They also need to learn skills both cognitive and behavioural in order to become the person they want to be: it is unlikely to happen without. Why don’t we open up our eyes to see the potential of what someone could become rather than seeing them as some kind of outdated and faded image of a person they once were? Until we do this we shall continue to have the problems we have in our society with both juveniles and adults reoffending because people respond to how we treat them. There is plenty of research to demonstrate that when someone is treated as successful they become successful. It is for this reason that a coach can support individual and organisational change through constant reinforcement of the new and constructive behaviours that lead to future success. See www.http://www.positiveworks.com/coaching/executive.htm
I had breakfast with a client this week. He was telling me that his organisation is now measuring staff performance every quarter and this necessitated fitting aspects of an employee’s behaviour into boxes on the appraisal template. Predictably he felt that this was undermining the complexity of human beings as even if someone does not achieve a particular target number in one box he or she may be adding immeasurably to the organisation in some other way – eg relationships with colleagues, clients, staff morale, administration, etc. I find the increasing focus over the last ten years on targets and measurement is demotivating for many people. It is also extremely time-consuming and many managers, whose main skill may well be in a technical expertise rather than in people-related activities, frequently procrastinate in carrying out appraisals. This can culminate in the further demotivation of their direct reports, who perceive the procrastination as an indication that the manager does not take their personal development seriously.
Yet governments, management consultants and HR departments continue to insist on treating people like machines that can produce x number of widgets in an 8 hour day. In my view this undermines the richness of what it is to be human. It also does not take into account how humans can think laterally and creatively so as to ‘tick the boxes’ but not achieve real progress – take as an example an NHS hospital who met the target of not having patients waiting in corridors by giving the corridor a Ward name! Another example was that patients should not be allowed to wait on stretchers for a long period – so the wheels were taken off the stretcher and it was called a bed. There are countless other examples of the futility of targets in education, the police force and in organisations as a whole. They can limit thinking and over-ride practical common-sense by rewarding the wrong things. An example of this was a police force who arrested not only the muggers but also victims of ‘have-a-go’ events in order to gain more points through achieving a greater number of (measurable) arrests in order to meet their targets.
I am not saying that targets should be completely discarded, only that they should be seen within a broader context so that other less tangible factors can be taken into account in measuring a person’s performance. Even John Nash who invented Game Theory eventually came to see that measurable targets cannot be applied to all aspects of life - so why do we continue to do so? People cannot be reduced to numbers: we are much more than that.