Can I measure that?

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The other day I was in a well-known DIY store (although it could have been in any one of the big retailers).  I couldn’t find the light bulbs I was looking for so I went to the front to ask for help.  There was a lady standing near the entrance, someone in a ‘greeter’ type of role – perfect!  And she was very helpful, took me to the desk to check stock levels and then took me to where it was in store.

As we walked away from the light bulb aisle she told me –

“I’m so glad you asked me for help.  I’m so bored because my manager’s told me I need to stand at the front all day, I’m not allowed to move from that spot, and I need to tell every customer that we’ve got X% off kitchens and bathrooms.  Half the people don’t even care!  I’m doing a job that a poster could do!!

My normal job is to be a proper greeter, helping people like you, getting to know what customers are after, having a chat about their day.  It’s so much more interesting.  If I’m honest, I think my manager’s trying to get rid of me, but I’m not that bothered.  He can if he wants to.”

What can I say.  That short conversation just summarised all that is wrong, all that has gone bad in a world of measures.  You can just imagine it –

The input – Regional Manager challenges their team to hit the sales targets of kitchens & bathrooms, ideally to sell the most in the country so they can be heralded ‘the best’ regional team!

The result – Store Managers find any way possible to sell, sell, sell!  Doesn’t matter how – just sell.  Blunt instrument to crack this particular nut – try and flog kitchens & bathrooms to anybody and everybody no matter what they actually came in for.  No relationships built, in fact many customers potentially put off by the hard sell, customers who may well go elsewhere next time they need something diy-related.

Not only that, you’ve got a manager taking a colleague away from a role she loves, just ‘telling’ her WHAT she has to do – not WHY, so she doesn’t believe in it.  And a manager who may have performance issues with this colleague but who hasn’t faced into them in a way that treats her with dignity, as a human being, to give her the chance to improve.

And do you know what, if he’d talked to her about why selling kitchens & bathrooms was important, and if he’d let her do that alongside her normal job of helping people, she might just be getting better results, and she’d be a lot happier too!

I’m not saying we shouldn’t measure sales, or any other ‘hard metric’ for that matter.  It would feel a tiny bit crazy to not know how much a retailer is selling, given that’s kinda what their business depends on!  But I really think there’s a big request of HR pros here to step forward and help their organisations to figure out a way to measure the ‘how’, so that the way people get their results is just as important as the results themselves.

What are the measures of success in your organisation?

Do they encourage people to achieve results in the best way?

How do you know?

[Thanks to http://freedomlightbulb.blogspot.co.uk/2011_11_01_archive.html for the picture]

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The art of the possible

On Friday 24th January a bunch of us got together with Doug Shaw in Milton Keynes to get creative in an Art for Work’s Sake session.

We all came with different creative backgrounds – some hadn’t been artists for years, some were starting to reconnect with their artistic heritage, and others were active artists.  And we all came with different expectations of the session – to give it a try, to build on previous experience, to see what it could mean for work.

I’ve purposefully used the word artist in that last paragraph because one of the things we spent time exploring was the fact that we are all artists – we are all capable of creating something – even if it is a mass of brown, as my 4 year old daughter likes to do by mixing all the colours she can lay her hands on.  She’s delighted with what she creates and that delights me!

That’s how we all start out in life – enthusiastic artists, all believing in our ability to create art in whatever form that takes.  As we get older, that belief starts to disappear and only the ones who school / parents think are ‘good’ at art will continue to believe that for themselves.

We’re encouraged to focus our efforts in education on the things that we’re best at – not such a bonkers idea.  But why does it have to be all or nothing? What’s wrong with weaving disciplines together? As we know from the success of crowd sourcing solutions, bringing a variety of people together creates more than if all those individuals tried to get to a solution locked in a room on their own.  So why leave art locked in a room all alone?

The challenge is that art is often locked, all alone, in a room in our heads for a reason.  A room marked ‘don’t do this, you risk humiliation!’.  Similar to Carl Fitzsimon’s post (http://thehrdirector.com/blog/what-colour-is-your-black-belt-and-the-art-of-humbleness-in-leadership/) about trying out karate (incidentally, another subject which weaves beautifully into the world of work and leadership) art is often an emotive subject, one which our limbic brain shouts at us not to do because of some horrendous experience of being ridiculed for our art as a child.  Well, you can’t blame your brain, it’s only doing its primitively inherited job to protect you from danger.

So what’s the danger? What’s the worst that can happen?

The answer to that depends on where you are?  Who you’re with.

If you’re in an environment of command and control, where you’re led by people who rule through fear, and who laugh at others to make themselves feel big and important then that’s probably not the best place to start giving art at work a go!  As found in the army (http://www.iedp.com/Blog/Toxic_Leadership_A_US_Army_Perspective), an intense microcosm of real life, where this kind of leadership behaviour exists you find an extreme reduction in moral, productivity and innovation, and even suicide, because the neocortex has shut down from the stress and gone into protection mode.

So, first of all, do you feel safe? Do you trust those you’re with?  Do you feel like you can try something and you won’t be laughed at? Do you feel you can give something a go and it doesn’t have to be perfect because it doesn’t matter, you’ll still have learnt something along the way?

If all that’s true, and you’re in that safe, trusting place where it doesn’t matter, well, what’s the point?  What’s the point of art in our lives whether that’s at home or at work?

Two words – Divergent Thinking

George Land and Beth Jarman have a book called Breakpoint and Beyond (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Breakpoint-Beyond-Mastering-Future-Today/dp/0962660523).  Their research involved the study of 1600 kindergarten children and their ability to think divergently – this is the ability to generate creative ideas by exploring many possibilities.  What they found –

Age three to five – 98% of children displayed ‘creative genius’ levels of divergent thinking

Age eight to ten – 32% scored at this creative genius level

Age 15 – only 10% were at creative genius level

They then tested 200,000 adults over the age of 25 and found that only 2% were creative geniuses.

So I guess we’re pretty good at churning children through an education system that teaches them convergent thinking, and the ability to adopt fixed mental models.  And therefore creating a world where so much creative, problem solving, possibility thinking is lost!

But it’s not all doom and gloom!  Because art is one of those activities that can promote divergent thinking!  And so you can create a workplace, or home life, where possibilities are the norm, and where people query and problem-solve to get to better solutions all the time.

But, be ready, because it’s not necessarily the easy route.  We discovered in the session with Doug, and put so beautifully by Clare Haynes, “bring creative is hard work”.  Our brains are lazy and like the path of least resistance because it conserves energy.  This means following the path in your brain that is a well-worn groove of doing the same thing you’ve always done.  Trouble is, doing what you’ve always done gets you what you’ve always got, and we know that this isn’t going to be a solution to competitive advantage as we hurtle at high speed into the future.

So, if you ever get the chance, I highly recommend exploring your inner artist and thinking about how you could bring that experience to your workplace in a way that works for your organisation and your people – creating visions, coaching, building trust in teams………start drawing and you’ll no doubt discover many other possibilities!

[If you want to see a bit of what we got up to on the day, go to #artforworkssake]

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Some other musings on engagement…….and little niggles

After Christmas I was in store helping remerchandise some stock ready for summer – yes, it will soon be here!  We help in stores as much as we can, but especially at Christmas and into the New Year when there’s a teeny weeny tiny bit of an increase in workload!

While I was there I couldn’t help spotting things that could be improved or changed to make life better for our colleagues and customers –
– a warehouse sticker had stuck onto a product which ripped the label as it came off
– one shelf was smaller than the rest so the plastic strips that hold the product dividers didn’t fit
– the packaging of one self-tan brand was so similar on all it’s products that it was really hard to tell them apart (shimmer self tan, matt self tan, mouse, gel, light, medium, dark…!)

I was really keen to do something about these, talk to the right people back in the office who could have some influence over making these things better.

But the store colleague I was working with didn’t seem bothered.  Not in a negative ‘whatever’ sort of way, just in an unphased ‘oh yeah, that stuff happens’ sort of way.

And it got me thinking about levels of engagement, levels of control over our work, and niggles.

This lady I was working with was very experienced, had worked in the same store for the last 20 years, and really knew her stuff.  She really truly cared about providing a great service to her customers, knowing many of them well enough to have a meaningful chat.  She also really truly cared about getting the stock looking its best, making sure the shelves were thoroughly cleaned before new stock went on, and had made sure we had all the kit we needed to do our job.  And yet, she didn’t care enough to do anything or tell anybody about these things that weren’t quite right – these niggles.

Is that OK?

There was research undertaken last year about the positive effects on performance of people feeling they have high levels of control at work (as well as high levels of emotional support and low levels of job strain) http://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/items/smd/117125.html

I wondered whether this lady felt she had high levels of control over her work.

If she could be given an even greater feeling of control, would she be even more engaged and want to do something about the niggles?

But then I thought about my own experiences……

When my husband and I were in our first house, doing lots of big diy stuff.  The house was a tip, dust everywhere, tools everywhere, holes in the floorboards…I could go on!  At first it bothered me.  I definitely had no control over it!  But then I just shut it out, switched off from it so I couldn’t ‘see’ it.  It was either that or send myself completely crazy!  I went into self-preservation mode over cleanliness!  But that didn’t mean I cared any less about reaching our goal of a lovely house with no artex and no woodchip!  I just learnt to focus on that end vision and ignore the niggles along the way.

And at work, everything isn’t perfect in the office – is work perfect for anybody?  I’d love to hear about it if you work in an absolutely perfect place!  So of course there are niggles that, if I allowed them, could get irritating, and could absorb all my time and energy.  But that’s not how I feel because, rather than focus on the niggles all day, every day, I focus on the purpose for my work, the possibilities for things to be better, the opportunities that can be created.

So what really interested me was when I looked up the definition for ‘niggle’ –
1. To be preoccupied with trifles or petty details.
2. To find fault constantly and trivially; carp

Well, there’s some feedback for me about how I was being in store!! Never been called a carp before!

But seriously, not a great place to be if everyone at work is focusing on niggles all the time.  Even worse if they’re focussing on niggles in a ‘isn’t this rubbish, someone [else] should sort it out!’ kind of way. What potential could be unleashed around the world by having everyone focused on the positive, the possible, the purpose.

And therefore do these niggles matter at all?  I’d definitely argue that fundamentally broken hygiene factors are another situation entirely.  But if it’s just little things, those things can usually be worked around, and they’re things that could be improved but which often aren’t the most effective use of time or effort to make the biggest difference to the success of an organisaiton.  We all have restricted resources these days, operating in a tough economy and we must be challenging of ourselves about how we spend our time and money.  What activity will make the biggest difference?  Therefore fixing a small niggle that isn’t fundamentally breaking or stopping anything is unlikely to be a big priority.

And to keep those niggles out of focus…….step forward Ms/Mr Line Manager.  This is where they are the crucial voice of the purpose. We all have our off-days when we’ve got out of bed the wrong side, and those niggles can become a bigger deal than they need to. That’s when you need a fantastic line manager who’s there to listen (https://helenamery.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/did-you-hear-the-one-about/) and then be the person who’s there to consistently talk about the greater good we’re aiming for (https://helenamery.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/some-other-musings-on-engagement-and-comms/).  The ‘why’ and the ‘how’.  Rather than allowing us to get bogged down in the weeds of the ‘what’.

So what about where you work?
How much time is spent on niggles?
How much time is spent looking up and forwards to focus time, energy and money on the stuff that will really make a difference?

Some other musings on engagement……and comms

Following on from Gemma Reucroft’s Musings on Engagement No.2 http://hrgemblog.com/2014/01/14/musings-on-engagement-no-2-connections/comment-page-1/#comment-406

I believe there are a number of layers to engagement –

There’s engagement with the purpose of your organisation because you believe what it’s on this earth to achieve (beyond profit)

There’s engagement with the team you’re part of because you’re all connected in delivering something smaller that contributes to that overall purpose

There’s engagement with your line manager because they value you as an individual and have beliefs similar to your’s that you can make your own, so that you go that extra mile without even thinking about it.

[Incidentally, I believe a person’s connection at any of those levels of engagement can be broken by relatively small acts which they deem ‘wrong’, and can lead to resignations. But by far the most powerful connection, and therefore the most likely reason for people to leave, is a break in the connection with their line manager – and therefore this being the most critical engagement route to be maintained. We all know, of course, that people leave their boss, not the organisation.]

But, underpinning all of this, I strongly believe that comms plays a key role. With a significant caveat – if it’s approached in the same ‘Why, How, What’ Golden Circle way.

What’s being seen increasingly in work is the need to talk to people through internal communications about the ‘why’ if the business wants stuff to get done. Some of this might be Gen X starting to be more prevalent in the workforce, but part of it is also about people wanting to have a strong reason why in a world where there are a million conflicting priorities – the things they believe in most will get done. And actually a strong reason why is a critical determining factor of success if you speak to Andy Gilbert of GoMADThinking.

In addition, consistency of messaging in comms, continuously reinforcing the beliefs of the organisation, will maintain those connections to the overall purpose, and therefore continue engagement of employees with why they’re there. I don’t think it’s brainwashing…..!

Did you hear the one about……

This will come as a surprise but during the festive season we had a day where we ate lots of food at someone’s house!!  How off the wall are we!!

Anyway, as you’d expect, the prerequisite ‘lots of food’ had been bought and prepared by the host and, although we chipped in with some final bits of cooking / stirring / opening packets(!), the host had far and away done the lion’s share of the work.

When we’d all eaten more than we ever should have done, us helpers thanked the host for such a lovely meal…..

And this is where it all went wrong for me…….

The immediate response was ‘No, not at all. Thank you all for your help.’

It might seem innocuous, but it made me feel un-heard, as though my thanks weren’t valued.  And almost as though it was a competition to see who could be the most effusive with their thanks.  I know that wasn’t their intention – but of course the impact felt is so often not the impact intended.

It’s rattled round my head for the last week or so, and has had me thinking about all those meetings that happen in work with line managers.  You know the ones –

1. Line manager gives own example ‘nearly’ similar to what the colleague’s just described, because they think it’ll show they understand – colleague feels un-heard.

2. Line manager has a regular catch-up meeting with one of their team where the colleague doesn’t quite get to the end of what they want to say because it’s sparked this ‘great’ idea for the line manager’s and they’ve started running with it – colleague feels un-heard.

3. Colleague talks about something they’re proud of and line manager joins with a ‘That reminds me of when I…..’ – colleague feels un-heard.

4. Line manager congratulates colleague on a great piece of work and colleague says ‘No, no, I didn’t really do anything. Bob did all the difficult bits’ – line manager feels un-heard.

When I googled ‘really hearing someone’, I found lots of content about hearing impaired people and the challenges they have communicating with ‘hearing people’.

It made me feel incredibly sad that, although so many of us are so lucky to have two fully functioning ears, we’re still really so incapable of making best use of them.

And it also made me think about the power of coaching – of being a quiet coach – someone who allows a person to talk and to think and to really, truly be heard – not just by their coach but by themselves too.

Listening is an incredible physical ability.

Hearing is an incredible and powerful skill.

I’m pretty sure we all could do more and better.

And if you think you’re already great, just raise it back into your consciousness for a while, notice if that voice in your head is chattering away about what you’re going to say next, or about what else you need to be doing at this precise moment.  And ask yourself if what you’re going to say next is for your benefit or for their’s?

 

I believe in people being the key to success and that success is unlocked by great bosses.  I’m an Executive Coach for SME leaders to help create success for you, for your team, for your business.

If you believe in this stuff too, get in touch for a chat and let’s see what we could do together – 07718 316 616 or helen.amery@wildfigsolutions.co.uk
or take a look at my website to find out more.