Thursday, July 30, 2015

Tip Thursday - Body Language

When speaking, avoid pointing your finger directly at people.  Research shows clearly that this is one
of the most negative gestures there is, made worse only by shaking your finger at someone.  Instead, try gesturing with a full, open, upward facing palm or... use the 'Clinton' thumb gesture instead.  Even Obama picked this one up!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Productivity Lessons from your Kids

We are typically so focused on teaching our children what they need to know to be successful that we fail to recognise just how much they have to teach us. When it comes to productivity there is much we can learn from them. As children we are far more productive in learning new information and skills than we are as adults. Stepping back and stepping out of our 'Adult' mindset can help us to relearn a couple of key skills that we may have left behind in our childhood that just might serve us well as adults.

Get the Sleep you Need

Kids sleep.  A lot.  When they are awake they give whatever they are doing everything they've got, which means they sleep when they need it.  Without enough sleep they are unfocused and irritable. What parent among us has not experienced that! However, without enough sleep we are the same. But, we lie to ourselves ab out it, saying we're fine, that we don't need any more sleep to operate. Research shows us though that a lack of sleep can impair our abilities as much as too much alcohol can. Without enough sleep we lose focus, our memory suffers and our attitude shifts to negative. To be more productive you need to make getting the sleep you need a priority.

Trial and Error

Kids learn by doing. They keep on trying something until they get it. They are even willing to take a few risks along the way, make a few mistakes, take a few bumps and bruises in order to improve and achieve their goal.  Just watch a young child learning to walk, letting go of the coffee table as they step toward the couch.  The pride when they make it and the determination to try again when they miss.

Trying something again and again helps them to perfect the skill.  This is how we learned to walk, to eat, to talk, to ride a bike...  It still works for us today, we just have to hold our pride in check and allow ourselves a few missteps along the way!

Keep the Routines

If you've raised a child you know how essential it is to build some solid routines into their day. These routines are their safe-zones, leaving them able to deal with the other changing elements in their day. The structure gives them the security they need to explore fully all of the 'new' experiences they are faced with.

We are much the same.  Without some solid routines, and the habits they build, life is likely to feels constantly changing and perpetually overwhelming.  We want to focus our mental and physical energies into dealing with the 'new' issues we face, in building 'new' skills, not in constantly solving old ones.  Strong routines manage the 'old' so we have what is needed to take on the 'new'.

Focus on 1 Thing

Kids are remarkable in their focus and concentration.  It may not be for tremendously long duration, but when they are engaged in something they tend to give it all that they've got. They are living fully in that moment, attending fully to it.

We, on the other hand, divide our energies amongst multiple tasks, trying to attend to too many things at once. this tends to decrease our effectiveness and productivity, not increase it.  The better able we are to focus on one task at a time, the faster we will actually get it done.

Know When to Stop

Kids can go, go, go... and then they collapse.  They are interested in an activity... until they are not. And the distinction is clear. They know when they are done, when they have had enough, when they have lost interest and need a change or a break.

We, however, have learned not to listen to the inner voice recommending a break or change in activity, choosing instead to push on through.  However, our productivity markedly decreases when we do. When we feel our attention waning we do far better to take a small break or to switch tasks, each of which allows our brains to focus on something different. Switching it up helps refresh our brains, to keep our focus and attention up, which is a huge boost in our productivity.

If you've ever wished that you could be a kid again... here's your chance to introduce a few childlike qualities into your day, helping you to be more productive.  The bonus is, of course, that getting your work done faster allows you a lot more time to go out and play.  Recess anyone?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tip Thursday - Success

Research has shown us that happy people not only tend to live happier lives, but they also live longer, have more fulfilling relationships, make better decisions, have stronger immune systems, appear more attractive to others, cope better with setbacks AND tend to make more money.  Research also demonstrates that you can choose your mindset.  With all of the benefits - why not choose to be happy? Be thankful, see the glass half full, seek our and focus on the joy in life.  Not only will you have a more positive outlook and healthier for it, but it's likely also a key to Success!

Monday, July 20, 2015

5 Tips for Growing Your Leaders

It is not unusual for organizations to promote someone simply because they were 'all we had'. The thinking tends to be that either we promote from within for the company knowledge or we hire from outside to get the leadership skills we need. Promoting someone simply because they 'know' the company is based on the overriding belief  that the employee's knowledge of the company and industry are more valuable than is their inherent leadership capabilities. Unfortunately, time typically proves them wrong.

However, the choice need not come down to an either/or proposition. It means investing today for the skills you will need tomorrow. Yes, you run the risk of someone taking their skills elsewhere. Yes, it means that you may invest in developing people that never make it to those final senior roles, but they will be infinitely more productive and successful along the way, significantly more so than if you had simply 'waited' for brilliance to shine through later.

If you adhere to the belief, as I do, that leaders are made, not born, then your corporate Leadership Development strategy should support this belief.  It should also reflect the fact that leaders become great by developing and honing their skills over time, not over night due to promotion.  An organization's overall performance and success hinges on one critical element - leadership.  Any investment in developing the leadership skills and potential of your human resources is one that will provide an ongoing return.

The following are my top 5 Tips to keep in mind when it comes to growing your in-house Leaders, not just of tomorrow, but of all the tomorrows that follow.

Tip 1 - Start from the Start

Begin developing employees from their first day on the job.  You want Leadership to become a mindset, the skills to be ingrained.  Additionally, you want individuals to develop the confidence in their skills that only comes through time and practice.  The sooner in their careers that your employees begin thinking and behaving as leaders the more productive and profitable will the organization be.

Tip 2 - Train in What they Need

Not every one needs to learn the same thing.  Bringing everyone up to speed quickly means that you will waste time and energies in offering blanket one-size-fits-all crash-course training that is not going to hit the mark for everyone. Developing people over time allows you to customize the training they receive, working around their natural skills and abilities and truly building their proficiency.

Tip 3 -Promotions should not be Rewards

Promote the capability you need.  Don't use promotions simply as rewards for great performance. What makes them great at their current role may not be what is needed to be great in the step above. Don't fall prey to the 'Peter Principle' - allowing people to rise to their highest level of incompetence. Understand where people can make the best, most positive contribution, and allow them to perform there... don't promote past it.

Tip 4 - 'Next' is not a Good Leadership Strategy

Just because someone is Next-in-line to assume a more senior role does not make them the right choice.  Do not promote mediocrity.  If they are uninspired and uninspiring in their current role, don't expect more from them in an advanced role.  Mediocrity is a habit that you simply don't want to promote.

Tip 5 - Offer Life Experiences

Challenging, real life experiences are rich sources of learning and growth. Providing development opportunities, even on a small scale, allows people to stretch and strengthen their leadership muscles. These same challenges help provide breadth as well, allowing people to expand their repertoire of skills.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tip Thursday - Productivity

Parkinson's Law states that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion.  To increase your productivity try shortening the time frame you give yourself to complete a task.  Just as you tend to accumulate 'stuff' to fill whatever size house you own, you expand your activities to fill the time you have to complete a task.  Giving yourself less time to complete tasks increases your focus and productivity during that time, freeing up time for something else.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Common Knowledge Effect on Teams

A great deal of work today is accomplished within and by groups. Often a diversity of experience and knowledge is sought for problem-solving teams, with the intent of capitalizing on the diverse base of expertise represented by the team's members.  We certainly know that group outcomes can benefit from diverse perspectives and expertise, however it is well documented that groups typically fail to capitalize fully on the intellectual assets of its members.

One of the primary problems faced by most teams is what is referred to as the Common Knowledge Effect.  This effect, which has been heavily researched, shows that information that is known by all team members, prior to their discussion, has a more powerful influence on decisions than information that is not previously known by all.

It turns out that relevant information known to (shared by) only a few of the group members is either not introduced to the group at all, or is overlooked when it is shared.  Instead, groups tend to mention and discuss information that is common to and known by all the group members.  Typically, this is because...

  • Shared information is socially validating for the members; they know that the information will be accepted by the group.
  • Most group member's preferences are supported by shared information. Given that they are more inclined to offer information that supports their preferences, they speak about shared information more.
  • People are resistant to changing their initial choices or existing judgments.
  • We tend to mistake shared information for critical information, over-weighting its value and importance.
The impact of the common knowledge effect is to therefore eliminate the advantages sought by creating a team of diverse perspectives.  Instead, the group comes together and bases their decisions on information that they all possessed and understood prior.  Any single member would have likely forged as good a decision on their own, as did the group working together.  

For a team to truly be a success they must learn to harness the strengths of all of its members, finding ways to capitalize on the unique knowledge and experiences of each.  This requires the group to recognise the potential impact of the Common Knowledge Effect and to find ways to circumvent it from limiting their insights and options.  

To avoid making false assumptions by basing the decision primarily on shared information, teams should consider...
  • Ensuring that all team members get airtime within which to share their expertise
  • Ensuring that all information is heard and respected; no information is to be discounted
  • If you have members that are reluctant to share their thoughts vocally, consider having all members share relevant information in writing, or conduct a written brainstorming session at the onset of the meeting, prior to discussing the issue.
  • Establishing a clear understanding of the strengths of each team member, placing value upon such diversity.
  • Emphasizing open inquiry, questioning fully all information brought to the table.
As with most things, understanding that the Common Knowledge Effect is a possibility is the first step to overcoming its biases and influence.  However, you need also be vigilant in guarding against its effects, working to ensure that the expertise of all team members contributes to the decisions and success of the team.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tip Thursday - Communication

Clean the 'filler' words out of your speech to sound more knowledgeable and professional. Those Ums, Uhs, Likes and You Knows will make you sound nervous and uncomfortable.  An additional one to watch for is the use of the word 'So' at the beginning of sentences.  Using a filler word once or twice in a meeting are not an issue, however the greater the frequency the greater the issue.  Repetitive use can damage your credibility.  The first step in eliminating them from your speech is using audiotape to learn to hear the fillers.  You can't change 'em if you can't hear 'em. Making eye contact with your audience is also helpful.  Most people's fillers occur when they are not looking at their audience.  Greater eye contact should translate out to fewer fillers.  Additionally, spend time on pre-planning your transitions from one topic to another.  This is usually a hotspot for the appearance of fillers.  A little pre-planning can go a long way to helping you reduce the fillers that might creep in as you struggle to shift your focus.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Plugging your Loopholes to Success

Just as lawyers may look for contractual loopholes to get a client out of a particular deal, relationship or action so too do we create loopholes in our lives to get out of taking action.
When it comes to creating positive habits for ourselves we know far more about what we 'should' be doing to obtain our desired result than we often care to admit.  Therefore, it isn't typically a lack of knowledge that prevents us from moving forward, but often poor execution.  One barrier we all face in maintaining our positive habits is our seeming effortless ability to find and create loopholes to our success.

Loopholes are small points of justification that serve to excuse us from having to maintain a particular habit in a particular situation.  They are the 'reasons' we give ourselves to justify doing something other than what we said we would or know we should.  In essence, the loopholes we use let us off the hook.  We use these loopholes to create an exception to our desired status quo, thereby allowing us to engage in a behaviour counter to our desired positive habits.

How often have you caught yourself saying or using any of the following?

I've been so good that I deserve this.   This is a form of Moral justification, the 'cheat' behaviour serving as a reward for engaging in the positive behaviours you are attempting to solidify as habit. However, each time that we engage this loophole we are setting up the 'cheat' behaviour as the most desirable option.  Not engaging in it is then seen as deprivation and we begin to track how long we have gone without and begin building in those cheats and justifying them by how long we've been good.

I'm going to be starting tomorrow, so it's okay to do this today.  We have this fixation on creating 'starting' points that are future based, telling ourselves that the timing is better if we start tomorrow, or Monday, or the first of the year, or after the holidays.  Not only do we then delay beginning the desired actions but we serve to 'give permission' to over-indulge today because 'tomorrow' we will be course correcting.  It is not unusual for the loophole of 'tomorrow' to lead to far more excesses today than we would have allowed had we never invoked the loophole at all.

This doesn't count.  This loophole sees us creating certain loophole exceptions, times in which we are automatically excused from engaging in our positive behaviours.  This may be specific days (it's my birthday, I can do whatever I want), vacations, celebrations or even moments of illness.  Similarly we will create various 'rules' around when things don't seemingly count such as; I only ate the broken pieces of cookies and everyone knows those don't count, the glass wasn't full so it doesn't count, I'm under a lot of stress, I'm pregnant.  Each of these 'doesn't count' moments serves to undermine positive habit formation.

It would upset them if I didn't.  In this loophole we are justifying our behaviour out of a consideration for others.  In essence, we are being generous, kind and considerate.  It's a small price to pay for making others feel good... isn't it?  We then eat that piece of cake so as not to distress the baker, we don't exercise because we are too busy doing things for other people, we stock the house with junk food because we're buying it for others. We use others as the excuse for not doing what we said we were committed to doing.

I can't do this if I do that.  This is a false choice loophole, where we set one behaviour up against another, creating the implication that engaging in the first is what is preventing us from doing the second.  However, we tend to state them as absolutes, as a clear either/or decision despite the fact that they typically are not.  Usually the behaviours are not mutually exclusive at all.  "I can clean the breakfast dishes OR I can get to work on time."  "I can play with the kids OR I can workout." Creating a limited choice situation with behaviours leads you to believe that there were no other options, that you were restricted to engaging in one or the other behaviour only, whereas typically all that's needed is to replace the OR with the word AND.  "I can play with the kids AND I can workout."  "I can do the breakfast dishes AND I can get to work on time."  The wording is the only element that is holding you back from engaging in the positive habit.

Did you identify with any of the above?  Can you hear yourself falling back on using one or two of the loopholes described? Often all that is needed to break a loophole is to identify its existence.  Once we actually identify and pay attention to them they no longer sound as logical as they once did and we are able to see them simply as 'Excuses'.  We can have Reasons why we don't engage in our desired behaviours or we can have the Results we want.  Plug those loopholes to get your desired results.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Tip Thursday - Body Language

When it comes to gestures, not all are universal. It is important then to understand the cultural and geographical implications of the gesture you intend to use. For instance, in England a 'V' symbol, with the palm facing your audience means Victory while the same gesture, but with the palm facing the speaking instead, means... up yours! Two very different messages with just a subtle shift that could make the world of difference in the message you are trying to convey! Know your message and know your audience.