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"As we move towards the start of the New Year, no one can guarantee how the economy and employment trends will recover after the COVID-19 pandemic has finally run its course. Leaders of organisations are unsure how to adapt to change, and people dislike uncertainty in their personal lives. In times of unprecedented change, consider the positive impact on our lives if we could develop a degree of resiliency that can be installed around at the personal and organisational levels. This is desirable compared to the current state of fear about dealing with the unpredictable changes that we will have to confront. Many people do not know how to develop the personal and organisational resilience to master an uncertain future.
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Just when we thought we were getting over COVID and taking steps to get back to business as usual, we have a new strain of the virus threatening the population and the organisations that comprise our economy.
In the old days, any threat of uncertainty to continuing business was met with a harsh budget-slashing process impacting people development. Your mantra was that you have to save money, which means you cannot afford to invest in people. Never mind the alternative mantra of 'you cannot afford not to do so' because no one is listening, no matter how often or how loud you say it.
Mid-COVID business impact
Now, forget post-COVID scenarios and consider Mid-COVID realities. As we move towards the festive season, it is tough for many organisations to create a viable business and prepare people for the challenges of 2022.
So, how tough will it be to equip organisations with the right people, attitude, and skills to shape things for 2022? It is going to be a challenge, and we need to develop a new business for all L&D activities. That starts with business planning and risk assessments.
It does not matter what type of business or organisation you run or manage. This is true for not for profits, charities, large state public-sector bureaucracies, the commercial sector and social enterprises.
What is the bottom line of investing in our people?
The thesis is to be careful where you invest your scarce energies and resources. Above all, ensure that investment generates a positive ROI (return on investment) for your organisation.
In tough times, organisations slash training budgets, and so-called essential L&D activities are delayed, postponed or dropped. It does not have be the case if those organising and delivering L&D prove their value.
Invest your energies with positive returns
Ask yourself, why would anyone commit people and resources to 'activities' that do not meaningfully make business achievement easier?
Does it not make more sense to focus on those things that add tangible value. Our understanding is that every L&D activity should be appraised quickly by asking, 'does this enable business results to be achieved quicker, easier and more efficiently?'
If the answer is vague and unsubstantiated, then discontinue activity in that area. In a competitive world, we should prove a robust causal link between 'L&D delivered' and 'business improvement'. Any activity that fails to fulfil this equation is a 'nice to have' rather than an 'essential' activity.
Gone are the days when the average organisation could experiment by committing unlimited resources to non-tangible development processes, hoping that these would positively impact morale and productivity. Now, most businesses are appraising their L&D activities along simple 'value-added'.
We coach managers to add credibility to their HRD activities by challenging them to assess what they should do 'more of' and 'less of…'.
I have just read a passage that is deeply troubling. I have just read Rebecca Heist's "Instinct – Rewire the Brain". According to Rebecca, when it comes to gender, we are still wrestling with the importance of appearance for women, and status for men as indicators of worth.
The aggregated data from millions of people across the world conducting Google searches demonstrate that the likely words to follow "is my son . . ." are "genius" or "gifted." In contrast, the similar search "is my daughter . . ." was most commonly finished with the words "ugly" or "overweight."
I had no idea that these trends were set in common stereotypes that shape the attitudes and behaviour that cause friction, miscommunication and rigid thinking in organisations. We have a long way to go in creating the right culture of mutual respect.
Tip of the Iceberg
Let's open this up to look at a more comprehensive view of organisational culture.
It makes me wonder how well organisations read the typical stereotypes that drive decision making. A good 90% of decisions at many levels in organisations, are operated by unconscious bias, whether that be gender, race, religion, age or any other form of discrimination.
The only way to redeem the situation is to undertake a cultural analysis of the business, examine the dominant values (conscious or unconscious), and structure policy and practice around that.
This means transforming thinking and moving away from a Fixed to a Growth mindset culture.
Fixed Mindset Culture
The dominant culture is command and control, mechanistic, and core values focused on bureaucratic relationships. Speed of change is slow and ponderous, and change happens because of the people you know and where they fit in the order of things, rather than rationality and what they know and the experience they have.
Views on change and innovation are risk-averse, and career dynamics focus on progression through a functional hierarchy. Management style is based on authority, rather than knowledge and the ability to work across boundaries.
The Growth Mindset Culture
The Growth mindset is organic, expansive, consultative and participative. It is results-driven and driven through teamwork. Dominant values focus on working across silos rather than in them. Initiative and enterprise are rewarded above status. Speed to drive implementation of change is valued, as is taking thoughtful risks, and the management style is long-term transformational rather than the short-term transactional style.
In which would you like to work or do you work?
Source: Heiss, Rebecca. Instinct: Rewire Your Brain with Science-Backed Solutions to Increase Productivity and Achieve Success (p. 37)
Every business has some degree of Leadership, a Culture and a Purpose. It does not mean it has the right intensity of Leadership, Culture and Purpose. Still, many organisations are often led by ambiguous Leadership, demonstrating an undefined, uncaring culture that has evolved by accident or by default. Often, managers are more interested in transacting day-to-day business than transforming their existing business to be an outstanding one.
And consider, just for a second if you had a magic wand to create what you truly wish for, we have no doubt your own business would be led by an inspiring, challenging, committed, enthusiastic senior leadership team forming a robust customer-centric culture and delivering superior performance in its purpose and identity. So, if that is our mabition where does it start?
The Essential Triad
To develop the triad of Leadership, Culture and Purpose requires a curious and challenging mindset determined to do things better. COVID has slowed down the pace of change, and many organisations need to counter the decline of their business with a fresh viewpoint.
Take A Good Look in The Mirror
What's it like to transact business with your organisation? As a customer or user, is it a fun and stimulating experience that delivers added value or a bureaucratic nightmare that leaves you with the lingering doubt that this could be so much better if someone cared?
It all starts by reflecting on current performance and the most prevalent behaviours at the top two levels. Organisations go into decline like a fish rots, from the head down. Don't expect outstanding leadership behaviours at the bottom if they are not visible and modelled as desirable behaviour at the top.
No matter in the sector in which we work, massive change is taking place. Is your organisation ready for the changes, and how keen are you to implement them on a scale of 1-10?
Undertake a Diagnostic of your Business in the Marketplace
Review how resilient your organisation is to master that change and be prepared to take action to make it happen.
What to do about Leadership?
It drives everything – without it, you don't get any change at all or not the type you need to take you to the next level. Commit to a review and ask yourself how well the interplay between Leadership, Culture and Purpose is playing out for you.
Assess your strengths and limitations and act on building and investing in Leadership (because Leadership drives everything), and ensure you develop a Leadership culture to share the broader and deeper purpose and align your staff with your customers.
If you want to find out more about our diagnostics, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is an exercise I undertake with senior management teams when we start working on culture change. I make every attempt for them to forget the coffee cup and coaster slogans which are supposed to convince staff that the Leadership values which drive the business are accurate. I attempt to stop the PR and marketing people rushing to the local print shop to have multiple copies of tee-shirts overprinted with the most recent version of corporate Leadership values and behaviour.
I do not want to see 'In Innovation we Trust', 'Customers are King' and 'Quality in Everything we do' emblazoned across the chest or neatly arranged in a small quadrant of the corporate polo shirt, sweater or hoodie
Taking a good look in the mirror
If senior managers want to change their organization, they ask people to change how they behave and act. It makes sense for those managers to lead by example. I ask managers, especially those comprising the SMT, to consider their behaviour and think about how they consciously behave. I ask them to be open and assess their strengths and limitations. Ostensibly, I want them to take a long critical view in a mirror and consider the consequences of their behaviour when they are their best self and when they slip. Their behaviour may be perceived as less than desirable.
What's it like to receive your behaviour on a bad day?
I do ask SMT members to think about what it is like to receive their behaviour. Not just on a good day when they are behaving impeccably but also on a bad day when things are not going right, when they may be time-pressured, grumpy, and not in their best moods.
The perceived 'You' and the real 'You'
Often, we are unconscious of how our behaviour is received and how others interpret it. We may be slightly annoyed by a decision that did not go our way and appear less than patient, overly argumentative, short-tempered, and frankly unpleasant.
Everybody is a boss watcher
If you are in a position of authority, people will watch and listen to you most of the time – even when you are unaware of it. Your actions and behaviour help form opinions and indicate how best others can deal with your known or favoured actions and behaviours. They learn how to respond to you to put themselves in the best psychological position possible.
Honest or dishonest responses
I know of many instances when staff have been requested to complete an honest 360-degree assessment of their bosses' behaviour. You would not be surprised how many complete the form with a politically astute and defensive, rather than an honest, response.
The front-page test
So, finally, I asked managers to assess the front-page test. That is, how you would feel if your actions were on the front page of a popular newspaper? Would it make you proud, or would you have a difficult moment? As the cartoon implies, would you squirm or be proud of things you said and did?
It is one of many tests that senior Leaders have to pay attention to when committing their organization to culture change. If handled well, it could model the way for behaviour change across the whole organization.
Some final questions
Thank you to Sketchplanations
"No one can guarantee how the economy, customer retention and employment trends will recover after the COVID-19 pandemic has finally run its course. A state of fear exists and creates almost a collective phobic emotional state with staff, customers, clients and stakeholders. Philip Atkinson highlights the strategies and tactics you can apply to put yourself in the best possible shape organisationally."
Expanding Thinking – Who is the Customer
Depending on the sector and type of organisation in which you work, your 'customer' could be the client, patient, the end-user, a 'real' paying customer, a member of a network or society, a citizen, a resident, pressure groups, a student or pupil, or regulatory or statutory groups. There can be a problem for those operating outside the commercial world simply because some dislike the idea that they are selling their services or memberships to their users, members or associates. For those who don't quite get the concept of applying research in customer relations to their organisation, they should think of those who use their services as stakeholders.
The term Stakeholders encompasses customers, clients, citizens, users, donors, recipients, suppliers, regularity bodies, and we should validate their role because we cannot exist without their support. These are the variety of people or organisations we influence or receive something of value from us, including internal customers. It may be valuable to develop strategies that can be instantly applied equally to all customers by your vision, mission and market segment.
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Recently I have found that people going through significant organisational change have been displaying lots of passive-aggressive behaviour. Initially, their behaviours appeared to be some symptoms of resistance to change, but on exploration, many were not aware that their behaviour would fall under the passive-aggressive spectrum.
What is Passive-Aggressive Behaviour?
It is fundamentality a disconnect between what we say and what we do.
Symptoms of passive-aggressive behaviour include:
Passive Aggressive Behaviour & Mental Health
We have all been through a difficult time with the pandemic, and we still have to shape the Post-Covid world of work. Change is here and coming faster all the time. Passive-aggressive behaviour can feature various mental health conditions; it is more a symptom of stress and anxiety than a distinct mental illness.
Take passive-aggressive behaviour seriously. It will harm your relationships with work colleagues, customers, and stakeholders if you fail to intervene and create difficulties in people carrying out their work roles.
Suppose passive-aggressive behaviour is becoming a dominant part of your work culture. In that case, you need to undertake a serious review of what tangible steps can be taken to resolve difficulties and build a strong and positive culture.
As most organisations are now rethinking how they do business, this might be a good time for a bit of self-reflection. Most organisations are going through pretty radical changes now, and it might be a good idea to take a good look in the mirror in terms of self-improvement.
Our capability is heavily influenced by the abilities, motivations and viewpoints of people we work with closely. Those with whom you spend the most time and whom you value and gravitate towards will significantly influence your worldview.
Your Ambitions and Achivements is a by-product as the average of these 5-6 people
You may not know this, but who you choose and how you spend your time with your five to six closest associates will significantly impact your outlook, mood, enthusiasm for change, and the positivity of your relationships. In other words, you are the average of the 5-6 people you most clearly identify and work with closely.
You can see how your views and attitudes can change depending on those you choose to work with. You will see this when you change employer or change the reporting structure and have a new boss or direct reports. If you change your social activities, you may come across very different people and a circle of people who unconsciously influence what you do and think.
Select your associates carefully
It is essential to spend quality time with the people supporting you and helping each other. You will be aware that it is best to surround yourself with people who will support you and your success. This could be your family at home, your close circle of friends, or your work team.
What should your 'Dream Team' look like?
Your support team are the people who have your best interests at heart are there for you when you need them. They also need you. They should challenge you when required rather than let your standards slip. It is best to be grateful when they have ‘that talk’, and they may well stop you from behaving in ways that are not in your long term best interests. A good circle will prevent you from ‘making excuses’ and discourage you from taking outrageous risks or procrastinating when something needs to be done.
Radiators and Drains
There are two types of people – those who radiate warmth and positivity and those who drain others’ energy and cannot see the bright side of things, no matter how often you reframe them. Distance yourself from ‘drains’ and surround yourself with ‘radiators’.
Pay attention to the people trying to hold you back - question their attitude and the assumptions they are making. Ask them why they are harmful.
It would be best to view the people you associate with as a positive return on investment (ROI). Survey the groups and the five or six people you are with most of the time. Are you fully open with them, and are they with you? Is there mutual trust?
Are they willing to stick with you in challenging times?
If you were to design a fantasy team to support you, who would you choose? What are their essential traits and behaviours?
Better still, find a coach or mentor to help you assess your current circle of influence and the close relationships you have formed. Having an expert to support you to take a good look at yourself can pay dividends.
I don't know about you, but after spending a lifetime in business education, standing up and presenting to others has never been a problem. However, the current COVID crisis has raised some issues in my mind about 'presenting' to others, especially using Zoom. So how best to use Zoom or Teams to energise, enthuse, focus and influence your audience?
1:1 or 1:2 Easy
Just talking to one or two others is okay, apart from the silences when people don't know whether to respond or the awkward moments when we overtalk each other, realise it and then go unnaturally silent for several seconds. It does not add to the natural flow of conversations. Even on a Friday night, on a family catch up with a G&T in hand, the silences and over-talking can become a little irritating.
Lack of Speedy Feedback
Presenting to 15-20 people in a webinar or an informal training or coaching session can differ. I rely on the relaxed feedback audience to adjust my tone, topics, debate and natural flow. The tech does not allow me to do that fast enough to what I consider normal. We are about to highlight how to engage how best to do just that.
The simple thing is; usually, you get instant feedback whether you are talking one-to-one in small or large groups. You scan your audience, and you pick up non-verbal cues to which you can respond. The technology we use does not allow us to take a quick scan to view the audience reaction. It is not immediate enough for me, so consequently, I don't get the feedback as fast as I would typically expect.
We no longer have the luxury of adapting to audience reaction and are not always sure if we are on target and getting our message delivered. That's a challenge that I will have to deal with soon, as I have a big presentation coming up. I have selfishly missed the face to face presentations for the simple reason that they provide the adrenalin and energy that keeps me on my toes.
Design for Audience needs, not Presenters preferences
So, I thought it might be a good idea to put some of my ideas for getting the most from our tech media sessions and rely on a client's advice, Ian Millar, VP of Manufacturing Strategy at CNH. We often presented together over many years in Plants and Conferences in the UK, Europe, Canada and the USA to multi-cultural audiences. We worked hard on preparation because the needs of the audiences differed widely. We agreed one's presentation should not be the first rehearsal, especially when we presented to company engineering conferences when selling our approach and methodology.
We needed to identify audience needs first, and then a structure outlined below to portray our enthusiasm and energy in our team delivery style. However, we first considered the possible objections the audience could have to our message and did as best we could an audience review of dominant attitudes for and against, and how to counter any challenges or disagreements and how best to inoculate against them before designing the presentation in detail.
We worked on the premise that 'less is more' and for each presentation, we always ensured the following:
Presentation Design & Flow
a. State what the SUBJECT is precisely
b. Define the NEED is that you are trying to fulfil
c. Describe your IDEA as simply as possible
d. Define the BENEFITS of your idea for all constituencies
e. Provide evidence to back your case in the FOLLOWING CATEGORIES
g. Explore your next STEPS specifically.
Retracing these steps has undoubtedly helped me focus on my Zoom calls and highlighted and eliminated a barrier to immediate audience feedback. We still have to convey our words in the message, add tonality and add our body language to boost the message's intensity. I can still bring more energy when taking any Zoom or phone calls standing up, supported by a newly purchased standing desk.
I would be interested to know what others have done to add energy and enthusiasm to their phone and Zoom or Teams calls.
Philip Atkinson is a strategic advisor, trainer, mentor and author of books and articles on organizational change and leadership