Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It)

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Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It)

by Jennifer Porter

When people find out I’m an executive coach, they often ask who my toughest clients are. Inexperienced leaders? Senior leaders who think they know everything? Leaders who bully and belittle others? Leaders who shirk responsibility?

The answer is none of the above. The hardest leaders to coach are those who won’t reflect — particularly leaders who won’t reflect on themselves.

At its simplest, reflection is about careful thought. But the kind of reflection that is really valuable to leaders is more nuanced than that. The most useful reflection involves the conscious consideration and analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning. Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions. For leaders, this “meaning making” is crucial to their ongoing growth and development.

Research by Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano, and Bradley Staats in call centers demonstrated that employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect. A study of UK commuters found a similar result when those who were prompted to use their commute to think about and plan for their day were happier, more productive, and less burned out than people who didn’t.

So, if reflection is so helpful, why don’t many leaders do it?  Leaders often:

• Don’t understand the process.  Many leaders don’t know how to reflect. One executive I work with, Ken, shared recently that he had yet again not met his commitment to spend an hour on Sunday mornings reflecting. To help him get over this barrier, I suggested he take the next 30 minutes of our two-hour session and just quietly reflect and then we’d debrief it. After five minutes of silence, he said, “I guess I don’t really know what you want me to do. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been doing it.”

• Don’t like the process. Reflection requires leaders to do a number of things they typically don’t like to do: slow down, adopt a mindset of not knowing and curiosity, tolerate messiness and inefficiency, and take personal responsibility. The process can lead to valuable insights and even breakthroughs — and it can also lead to feelings of discomfort, vulnerability, defensiveness, and irritation.

• Don’t like the results. When a leader takes time to reflect, she typically sees ways she was effective as well as things she could have done better. Most leaders quickly dismiss the noted strengths and dislike the noted weaknesses. Some become so defensive in the process that they don’t learn anything, so the results are not helpful.

• Have a bias towards action. Like soccer goalies, many leaders have a bias toward action. A study of professional soccer goalies defending penalty kicks found that goalies who stay in the center of the goal, instead of lunging left or right, have a 33% chance of stopping the goal, and yet these goalies only stay in the center 6% of the time. The goalies just feel better when they “do something.”  The same is true of many leaders. Reflection can feel like staying in the center of the goal and missing the action.

• Can’t see a good ROI.  From early roles, leaders are taught to invest where they can generate a positive ROI — results that indicate the contribution of time, talent or money paid off.  Sometimes it’s hard to see an immediate ROI on reflection — particularly when compared with other uses of a leader’s time.

If you have found yourself making these same excuses, you can become more reflective by practicing a few simple steps.

• Identify some important questions. But don’t answer them yet. Here are some possibilities:

◦ What are you avoiding?

◦ How are you helping your colleagues achieve their goals?

◦ How are you not helping or even hindering their progress?

◦ How might you be contributing to your least enjoyable relationship at work?

◦ How could you have been more effective in a recent meeting?

• Select a reflection process that matches your preferences.  Many people reflect through writing in a journal.  If that sounds terrible but talking with a colleague sounds better, consider that.  As long as you’re reflecting and not just chatting about the latest sporting event or complaining about a colleague, your approach is up to you.  You can sit, walk, bike, or stand, alone or with a partner, writing, talking, or thinking.

• Schedule time.  Most leaders are driven by their calendars. So, schedule your reflection time and then commit to keep it. And if you find yourself trying to skip it or avoid it, reflect on that!

• Start small.  If an hour of reflection seems like too much, try 10 minutes.  Teresa Amabile and her colleagues found that the most significant driver of positive emotions and motivation at work was making progress on the tasks at hand. Set yourself up to make progress, even if it feels small.

• Do it. Go back to your list of questions and explore them. Be still. Think. Consider multiple perspectives. Look at the opposite of what you initially believe. Brainstorm. You don’t have to like or agree with all of your thoughts — just think and to examine your thinking.

• Ask for help. For most leaders, a lack of desire, time, experience, or skill can get in the way of reflection.  Consider working with a colleague, therapist, or coach to help you make the time, listen carefully, be a thought partner, and hold you accountable.

Despite the challenges to reflection, the impact is clear. As Peter Drucker said: “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will come even more effective action.”

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Invest In Yourself

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Invest In Yourself

I was running a workshop last week and when we were summarising our experiences at the end, one of the quieter participants summed up the reason it's such a privilege to do what we do at Agents of Change.

A smile started to appear at the corner of his mouth as he told us that he felt a newfound confidence in it being ok to be him - to trust his instincts and not to feel pressured to try to be like everyone else. 

It reminded me of the eecummings quote, "It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are."

It does take courage, and it takes time, and sometimes, provocation...and it's a job that's never done – no wonder many of us opt to bury our heads in the sand! 

Invest in yourself

It's courage and time that's well rewarded, however, if we choose to invest it. Life is easier when we're in our flow. Finding comfort in the skin we're in; finding joy in what we have to offer – that's the pay off for our investment. 

But taking time out from our hyper-speed lives can seem like a challenge – unless we make it a habit.

At Agents of Change we help people to create sustainable habits that enable them to build confidence in who they are today, and provide the tenacity to evolve into whoever they'll become tomorrow.

Challenge

Try to take a moment each day this week to celebrate what's great about you - and watch the difference it makes to your confidence. 

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Are you an Agent of Change?

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Are you an Agent of Change?

Given that our name is Agents of Change we often get asked what it takes to be one. 

Agents of Change show themselves in many ways: some are loud, shouty and obvious and others are quiet and stealth like. Regardless of their style, change is always the result. 

So how do unleash the Agent of Change in you?

    Vision
    Agents of Change are very clear about the future they see and articulate it in a way that brings it alive for others. Martin Luther King didn’t say ‘I have a strategy’, he said ‘I have a Dream’ and then went on to describe, using visual language, what that world would look like. In doing so, that vision of the future took life in the minds of others.

    Purpose
    In 'Man's search for Meaning' Viktor Frankl describes the rapid decline of fellow inmates in the Nazi Concentration Camps when they lost their reason for living. If you are absolute clear WHY you are doing something, that purpose is a source of energy and motivation; it will enable you to dig deep when you need to.

    Tenacity
    Change is hard and frequently takes much longer than we expect. Tenacity is like focus and commitment amplified, giving you the resolve to keep going when others might be flagging. Of course in order to maintain your energy, you need to know what fuels and restores it.

    Passion
    How frequently do we hear contestants on Master Chef or Bake Off tell us that it's their passion for food that drives them. Emotion is hugely important in driving our behaviour, so Agents of Change fall in love with the change they are seeking. And their passion is infectious, inspiring others to join their cause.

    Connections
    Agents of Change are well connected. They invest in relationships before they 'need' them, forming strong bonds with people. And that means they can be assured that help is always at hand.

    Influence
    The ability to articulate a strong, well conceived case for change is a core skill of an Agent of Change. You have to be able to see all sides of the idea and adapt your communication to the differing needs of those around you to convince them, hearts and minds, to join you.

    No one of these skills on its own is enough. Tenacity without Influence, for example, can just be over bearing! It's the balance of these attributes that creates an Agent of Change.

    So if you were to score yourself out of 10 (0 = low, 10 = high), how do you measure up?

    And what could you do to up your scores by one or two in each category?

    We'll be exploring these ideas and more in our Summer Breakfast of Change, come and join us to unleash the Agent of Change in you.

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    Building an Intrepreneurial Culture

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    Building an Intrepreneurial Culture

    We spend a lot of our time talking to organisations eager to know how they can better engage their employees and reduce attrition. Attrition has always been expensive for companies, but in many industries the cost of losing good workers is rising, owing to competitive labour markets and the increasingly collaborative nature of jobs. 

    Exit interviews show that one of the most common reasons people choose to leave is because they don't feel their voices or ideas are being heard, so the first question we ask is always about culture - what is happening currently to ensure people feel like a valued part of the organisation? 

    Innovate to Engage

    Innovative ideas are the lifeblood of progressive organisations, but many don't provide sufficient forums or budget for them to be explored or exploited. Enabling ideas to be heard and talent to shine will not only engage and retain your people, but ensure that your organisation stays one step ahead. 

    Lose your entrepreneurs and you not only cut off the source of innovation, you're left with a torpid, uninspiring culture - which in turn prompts others to edge towards the door. 

    An intrapreneurial culture invites and activates ideas from employees, ideas that capture the best of the start-up, entrepreneurial mentality, but that can be brought to life internally, to provide a valuable source of new products, processes or approaches.

    One of Google's most famous management philosophies is called "20% time." Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin highlighted the idea in their 2004 IPO letter:

    "We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google," they wrote. "This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner."  

    Huge 20% products include the development Google News, Gmail, and even AdSense. 

    So the potential is huge, but what can you do to invoke and support this spirit?

    1. Regularly encourage idea sharing at team level. Implement great ideas that fall within your remit and support people in creating viable business cases for those that don't.
    2. At organisational level, recognise who your intrepreneurs are and consider them for new positions. Some firms, such as Credit Suisse, ensure Internal recruiters cold-call the employees to alert them to openings inside the company. In 2014 the program reduced attrition by 1% and moved 300 employees, many of whom might otherwise have left, into new positions. Credit Suisse estimates that it saved $75 million to $100 million in rehiring and training costs.
    3. Encourage the board to set up an innovation fund, to provide funding for projects that wouldn't pass regular governance procedures. Ideas that might not have an immediate business case, or a clear return on investment but that come under the "I think this could work but we need to experiment and we need some money to be able to do that..." banner. 

    Whether you're able to instigate intrapreneurialism at a team or organisational level, you'll ensure teams that endure and stand out. 

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    Divide or Multiply

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    Divide or Multiply

    We loved hosting our quarterly Breakfast of Change last week.

    For those of you who weren't able to join us, it was a deep-seamed exploration into the power of vulnerability and the benefits of leading by heart. Our Breakfasts are generally fertile breeding grounds for ideas, and this one cut to the core of the human experience - we laughed, we cried and we parted feeling galvanised and uplifted - all before 10:45!

    The choice of whether to divide (exclude, judge, differentiate) or to multiply (bring together, include, cross-pollinate) is one we face every day, in a multitude of different ways. Whilst instinctively we might appreciate the value of multiplication, it's often easier for us to do the opposite - to exclude people, to handle stuff on our own, or with the ones who 'get it' most readily.

    At the breakfast we shared this beautiful short film which went viral recently, an ad for a broadcaster in Denmark. Take a look at it if you haven't already seen it - take a look again if you have! 

    What this film does so elegantly is to expose us to our own prejudices, pre-judgements that assume an entire identity (and point of difference) from what we perceive at surface level. 

    I have always believed that there is more that unites us than that which divides us - we simply have to take the effort to dig beneath the surface - to ask questions to expand our understanding of other people; their experiences and perspectives.

    Much of my adult life, and our work at AOC, has been invested in helping people to see the wholeness and uniqueness of each of us as human beings, resisting simplistic generalisations or superficial judgements. This film writes the rulebook on how we can do this. 

    What can we do? 

    This week's Catalyst asks: how can we do more multiplication, less division. How can we include people more, or give people greater opportunity to reveal who they are? What advantages will this bring?

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    Love at work

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    Love at work

    I remember watching Simon Sinek’s TED talk on leaders who create safety a few years ago, in which he asks what it would take to be able to talk about love and leadership in the same sentence. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here.

    The answer, it turned out, was being willing to bring the subject up. 

    More and more people are waking up to the need for greater connection, humanity, love in the way we work with each other.

    A good proportion of our clients are large, male dominated, engineering/ops-focused businesses; these are not fluffy, cuddly, talk-in-intangibles kind of places. And yet many are willing to explore how to bring more love into the way they lead their people, the way they connect to customers, the way they work across departments, as they see the impact it has not just on productivity, but on how happy they feel.

    So if you're ready here are some a few ideas for how you can up the level of love in your work life:

    Love yourself

    ‘Would you treat another person in the way you treat yourself?’ We are often our own harshest critic, applying pressures and standards to ourselves that we would never expect of others. Accept yourself, perfect as you are right now, fabulous and fallible. We are all a work in progress so love where you are at in this moment.

    Extend love to others

    When you’re in a meeting, in a coffee queue conversation, a conference call, really be there. Turn up fully and listen intently to what others have to say. Giving people attention is extending them love. You'll be amazed at the results!

    Love what you do

    Reconnect with your purpose. Why did you decide to work where you do. What drew you to dedicate a chunk of your life to this cause, to apply your skills to their vision? Reinvigorate your reason for being.

    We are going to explore Leading by Heart at our next Breakfast of Change, why not come and join us?

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    Recognition: The Single Biggest Driver of Success

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    Recognition: The Single Biggest Driver of Success

    Someone asked me recently what I thought was the single biggest driver of organisational success.  

    It took only a fraction of a second to respond. Recognition. From the moment we arrive on this planet until the moment we leave it, our need for recognition governs and defines our human experience. 

    And great organisations get this – how we recognise and reward our people has long been the cornerstone of effective management and successful organisations.

    But as organisations become ever leaner, meaner machines this week we explore how each of us can invoke the power of recognition.

    The Push and The Pull

    The battles for talent and competitive edge are only going to intensify. Recognition is the not-so-secret ingredient for not only how to hire and retain the right people but also to enable them to perform at their best for the long haul.  

    But as technology continues to transform what we do, as organisational structures adapt and transform how we do it, the ways in which we recognise, engage and reward people has to keep pace.

    Forward-thinking organisations are activating recognition on on three levels:

    Organisational
    Smart companies are leveraging technology to harness the energy and experiences of their people. Building lines of communication up, down and across the organisation can have a huge impact on how engaged and recognised people feel, and on the health of the bottom line. 

    Team
    Whatever happens organisationally, local trumps global – our relationship with the people we work with is what defines our daily experiences. If you're the leader of a team your influence is huge, so take time out to look at what you could be doing more to really connect with people and recognise individual efforts. 

    Personal
    Firstly we need to recognise ourselves and the impact we have on others. Wherever we work in an organisation, it's how we behave in our encounters with each other that defines our culture. So we have a responsibility to ourselves to and to each other. Even the simple decision to smile at people more, or to say thank you more often can have transformative effects. 

    There are a million ways to recognise people and their efforts, so this week we challenge you to think of five new approaches – and try them out. Let us know how you get on.

    Why bother?

    A recent whitepaper commissioned by Fortune 100 Best Company to Work For investigates the root cause of great employee performance and how managers can tailor their workplaces to promote it. The paper gathers its conclusions from an open-ended survey where respondents were asked the question, "What is the most important thing that your manager or company currently does that would cause you to produce great work?"

    The data is clear - way above a promotion, or training, at 37% recognition is by far the biggest driver of employee experience, the biggest driver of performance.

    So if we want to get the best from our working lives let's all consider how we can help to make authentic and meaningful recognition a more significant part of our management philosophy - individually, as a team and as an organisation.

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    Equality and the yin and yang of gender

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    Equality and the yin and yang of gender

    In any of the work we do with teams of people, regardless of gender, it is diversity that is paramount; how do we catalyse the individual uniqueness within the team to enable greater collective success?

    This is important when it comes to the gender discussion too. As men and women how do we harness both our masculine and feminine, the yin and the yang, to enable greater success? 

    Rethinking Gender at Work

    When women started entering the workforce in significant numbers it forced many organisations to examine gender. Through the decades the desire for equality has translated into a drive towards sameness - same numbers, same ways of doing things, same ways of thinking, same ways of leading, same measures of success.

    Having grown up in a world structured by patriarchal systems, we are programmed to judge success in masculine terms - power, money, competition. What if we changed the criteria? Surely that would really create a shift in true gender equality?

    What would it take?

    We have to start from a place of valuing the contribution of the feminine. Success through fulfilment of purpose, greater connection and collaboration, sustainability of impact.

    At AOC we're dedicated to being part of this conversation.

    International Women’s Day

    This Wednesday we're starting with women. We are creating a regular event to help every woman regardless of role to own the value of our different contributions.

    The sessions will help build the strength to stand out rather than blend in. 

    Guys - it's your turn next! 

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    Are you on the Empowerment superhighway?

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    Are you on the Empowerment superhighway?

    Empowerment has long been part of the conversation in organisations, but talk isn't enough – the need for the real deal, genuine empowerment, has never been greater.

    As more leadership teams wake up to end of the old world hierarchy of command and control, many are finding they lack sufficient skills to empower the more dynamic, agile workplaces of the future – which is often we're we come in. 

    But where should this empowerment come from? Is empowerment something to be given by others, or to be taken for ourselves?

    This week The Catalyst explores how we can both empower ourselves and empower others.   

    I Empower

    I can hang on, hoping and waiting to feel empowered by my boss or my organisation, or I can take charge of the one thing that is always in my power, me.

    Here are a few things we can do to empower ourselves whatever our situation:

    1. Mind Control
      Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right. Whatever you think you make real for yourself so be mindful of falling into negative thought loops. Think about a situation you are feeling disempowered in at the moment and ask yourself, ‘what do I need to be thinking that would make it easier for me to be empowered?’ and ‘what’s a baby step I can take to make that thought more real for myself’ and then think it and do it.
    2. Get Connected 
      Who are the key influences around you and what is the quality of your relationship? Galvanising the trust and support of others is crucial so invest in the relationships around you and not only at the point you need them. Having regular time carved out in your diary to connect more broadly across the organisation always pays long term.
    3. Focus  
      Control what you can control, influence what’s in others' control and let go of whatever is beyond your control. There is a lot of personal and organisational energy wasted in trying to control things that aren’t within our realm of control. Be really clear with yourself and focus on your own business.

    We Empower

    If you're a leader of a group of people there are many things you can do to help them feel and therefore behave in an empowered way. Ultimately it’s about diminishing fear in your culture.

    Here are a few ideas:

    1. Set the where and the why but leave the what and the how to your people
      Organisations need to be certain of where they are heading and why they are going there in order to provide a clear direction of travel and galvanise energy purposefully. Beyond that, rely on the talents of your people to determine what needs to be done and how to do it to move their bit of the business towards that goal 
    2. Provide clarity and rigour in roles and responsibilities
      It’s not enough to have job descriptions, people need to know exactly what they are responsible for and be held accountable for it. Often we find that the lure of being involved in tangible operational activity draws leadership down a level and into things that are not their remit. This is where rigour is needed.
    3. Create a learning culture
      How leaders respond when things don’t work out has a huge impact on how empowered their people are likely to feel. If you want to encourage a growth mindset and an environment where people are willing to stretch themselves and take a risk provide resilience training, coaching and mentoring to help them work through problems and disappointments.

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    The Two Faces of Engagement

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    The Two Faces of Engagement

    Organisations face the risk of losing up to 55% of key talent because they're not fully engaged with their jobs, their managers or the organisation itself. This comes at an enormous cost in terms of knowledge loss, recruitment, on boarding - not to mention team morale and productivity.

    One major ad agency in London recently lost several popular senior figures and attrition went through the roof as key talent panicked and jumped ship. Clients soon followed suit, and the agency is now scrambling to pick up the pieces. The risks are real and significant, whatever the size of your business.

    So how do we ensure we engage and retain our talent? 

    We now understand that there are two core components that influence whether people stay or go: current engagement and future engagement.

    Current engagement is determined by a combination of past experiences with an employer, and an individual’s current experiences in their role and work environment.

    Future engagement is determined by an employee’s expectations about their job, career prospects and their employer, or what’s known as “engagement capital.”

    7 ways to engage and retain key talent

    Engagement levels, both for now and the future, will depend on an individual’s rational and emotional commitment. They are going to be as interested in their alignment with the organisation’s mission and goals as they are with their personal challenges and goals.

    So to drive engagement and retain talent, here are a few things every manager can do. 

    1. Show them some love: make sure they know they’re important to you, and how much you appreciate their work.
    2. Sit down with them regularly: listen and respond to their needs and concerns.
    3. Strive to be the best people manager you can be: working on your own skills as a leader enables you to lead by example and inspire your team. 70% of disengagement is because of poor management.
    4. Provide clear structure, role definition and career pathways.
    5. Give them a challenge: provide opportunities within their current role to stretch themselves.
    6. Support their growth with development opportunities: think about the 70:20:10 approach to how we learn.
    7. Be their organisational champion and let them shine. 

    It's easy to others for how our teams feel, but these simple tips are within our direct control and will make a huge difference to the long-term stability and effectiveness of our teams.

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    Random Acts of Kindness

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    Random Acts of Kindness

    In a week in which romantic love is celebrated across the globe it also happens to be Random Acts of Kindness week. The RAK Foundation believe in the power of kindness to change the way people see or experience the world – and we couldn't agree more.  From the 12-18 February we are invited to demonstrate love in its wider context – the love for our fellow man.

    Kindness as enabler

    Kindness might be less headline-grabbing than romantic love but it comes from the same heart-led place, and it is arguably as or more important for humanity.

    There are over 7 billion of us on the planet, and in our self(ie)-obsessed world it's easy to forget the power of simple connections. A study in 2015 revealed Britain to be the loneliness capital of Europe with people less likely to know their neighbours or have strong friendships than anywhere else in the continent.

    Rebuilding connections

    Random Acts of Kindness week gives us the opportunity to reach out, to rebuild connections with each other.  And unlike its card-bearing, flower-waving sibling kindness doesn't come with a price tag attached.  

    To recognise somebody, to pay them a complement, to offer a hand of support, a smile, an opportunity to laugh, to learn – kindness comes in many guises; it needn't be flashy and it shouldn't need a fanfare; kindness is quiet, it's simple, it's real. 

    'Love makes the world go round' might be an overused and inaccurate cliché but it certainly helps us feel stronger and more connected as we spin through space and time. 

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    Do you work in a post-truth organisation?

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    Do you work in a post-truth organisation?

    In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” its international word of the year. In a new world order where politicians openly propagate “alternative facts” when the truth doesn’t fit their desired narrative, it’s hardly surprising that people are becoming more cynical and disengaged than ever.

    But politicians aren’t the only ones at fault - organisations can fall into the post-truth trap at times too. 

    The post-truth organisation

    Unwilling or unable to involve people in an authentic corporate narrative, organisations often push out propaganda that reflects a distorted version of reality. Statistics lost in spin often reveal a corporate “truth” that fails to recognise the reality that employees are experiencing day-to-day.

    The result? Instead of feeling involved, people check-out because their experiences feel unrecognised, invalidated.

    Personal experience will trump statistics every time. In the post-truth crisis statistics are widely discredited. People respond to qualitative evidence, to stories, to photographs, to experiences that they can witness with their own eyes, feel with their own hearts. 

    So what can be done?

    So what can we do as leaders of teams and organisations to involve people in the creation of narratives in which they feel like an active participant, rather than an ill-fitting statistic?

    We need to be encouraging story sharing at every level of an organisation, and we need to pay attention to what people are saying. Not only does it drive engagement, it’s also a rich source of management information that can effectively inform future strategy – the people at the coalface understand better than anyone the impact of decisions made at board level, and they’ll help you identify and overcome the bottlenecks and blockers to productivity.

    So let's get people talking, sharing their stories and see the effect that feeling heard and empowered has on them – and on the bottom line. 

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    Wanna be starting something?

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    Wanna be starting something?

    2016 was an outrageous year. A frenzy of change was whipped up in both the UK and the US, and by tapping into insecurities it scrabbled to seize control with clenched fists and fighting talk. 

    And now we see the sorry results of that change: the ultimate symbol of the fragile ego expressing its fear through a language of hate and disconnection.

    Thankfully there is another way, as reflected by the millions who took to the streets across the globe after Trump’s inauguration, as revealed by the men and women currently making their voices heard in airports and city centres across the US. 

    Hate and fear and disconnection can’t be the winners here. We have the potential for so much more. So we have to reach deeper, each of us within ourselves, to unleash our love.

    According to the Dalai Lama 'the world will be saved by Western women'. Here's the opportunity to start. After its debut for a major FTSE 100 organisation last year, we're proud to announce the launch of our brand new women's network.

    SpeakEasy - Inspiring Women At Work

    To our sisters – come and join us for breakfast on March 8th, International Women’s Day, to explore how as women we can create a different way of being in the world; starting with ourselves, inspiring those around us and transforming the world from within.

    To our brothers – thanks for forwarding the details of this new women's network to anybody you think might value it.  

    Further details and registration for the network are here: 

    If the session isn't for you perhaps you know someone who'll benefit? Please share this message via any of the links below.

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    Authenticity and Resilience

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    Authenticity and Resilience

    We recently hosted our quarterly Breakfast of Change, where we explored the relationship between resilience and performance.

    One thing that emerged from our discussions was how people felt the need to put on a 'game face' at work and it left us wondering, when there has been such a move towards greater authenticity at work, why do we still feel we have to hide so much?

    Our role as leaders

    It was specifically when the attention turned to what is expected – or what we expect of ourselves – in our roles as leaders, that people feel they have to disguise what they're really experiencing and put on their game face. 

    The debate ultimately comes down to whether we perceive strength and vulnerability as mutually exclusive of one another. We think they are complementary.

    By and large we still operate in a world where being in control, being certain is deemed the criteria of success. So we have all learnt to collectively keep up the charade; even though no one has it all figured out or knows for certain what is round the corner, we pretend as if we do. This makes it very difficult to show vulnerabilities like doubt, insecurity or exhaustion. 

    Don't get us wrong, sometimes the game face is needed. Sometimes it’s the kindest thing we can do for ourselves in the moment, but when it becomes hardened into a habit then we are game facing ourselves – and it's down that road that burn-out lies.


    What can we do?

    So how do we move this forward? How do we become more accepting of the messy stuff in life and more truthful in expressing it without unnerving the people we lead?

    Building personal resilience has many levers – anything from regular physical activity to taking time to reflect. To dig a little deeper though, it's about how we treat ourselves; how we marshal the pressures we put ourselves under, how much what other people think about us affects us, and whether we permit ourselves time to relax. 

    The first step is always about self-awareness. So as a first step, think about the situations you find yourself in today, ask yourself on a scale of 1-10 (10 being high and 1 being low) how real are you able to be? And what would be one thing you can do next time to shift that score one mark higher?

    Open Workshop

    We’re going to be diving deeper into this subject in our upcoming open programme Personal Leadership: Resilience and Performance and we'd love you to join us. Click through to find out more. If the session isn't for you perhaps you know someone who'll benefit? Please feel free to share this message via any of the links below.

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    Stop Setting Goals You Don't Care About

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    Stop Setting Goals You Don't Care About

    At the start of 2016, I asked myself one question: “How can I make achieving my professional growth goals effortless?” I found the answer was elegantly simple — by focusing on alignment goals.

    Many people fail on their professional development goals for the year because they take on a lot of goals — goals that they feel they “should” do but ultimately don’t energise them. For example, maybe they tell themselves that they need to read a pile of books in order to learn more, keep up with their colleagues, or just stay up-to-date with their industry. But if sitting down to read feels more like a chore, it’s unlikely they’ll make any progress — and they may feel badly for not achieving their goal when the year comes to a close. While the goal itself felt like it was something that fit the needs of their professional role, it didn’t match the individual’s preferences or ambitions.

    If you want to succeed with your professional growth goals, choose one or two key areas of focus that align with what really matters to you.

    For example, this year, I decided to make writing a book proposal for a new book my primary professional development goal. I knew this was the right direction because I felt a lasting surge of energy behind the idea. It had been on my mind since September 2015, and I couldn’t wait to get started at the beginning of 2016.

    Nothing about writing the proposal felt like a “should.” It felt like a “must.” I was excited to move ahead and willing to cut back in other areas of my business to make room for this to happen. This congruence between my internal desires and my external goal made moving ahead relatively effortless.

    To begin thinking of your own professional development goals, start by asking yourself three questions:

    • If I could accomplish just one major professional development goal in 2017, what would it be?
    • When I think about working on this goal, do I get excited about the process as well as the outcome?
    • Is my motivation to pursue this goal intrinsic, something coming from within because it is personally interesting and important, or is it extrinsic, something that I feel would please other people?

    These three questions will help you identify what really motivates you internally. Also, I’d recommend keeping the number of goals you choose as narrow as possible, so you can give them your full attention.

    Selecting what you want to work on, though, can often feel easier than actually moving toward those goals, especially when you’re faced with other work commitments. In order to reach these objectives, you need to ensure you’ve aligned your time with them as well.

    I’ve always been a huge fan of time blocking as a way to reserve time for important items. But in the past, time for professional development goals was usually slotted in around other work responsibilities, like coaching calls with my time management clients. Even when I was writing my first two books, I would block out at most half days to get the writing done. Doing so gave me focused time to concentrate, but it also meant that I ended up working longer hours when I was working on special projects.

    This year, though, I decided that I wanted to align my time more firmly with my priorities. That meant blocking out an entire day once a week (I chose Wednesdays) to focus on my book proposal and, once that was sold, my book writing. But rather than simply marking it down, I took it a step further: I put up an out-of-office for each Tuesday and Wednesday to let people know I was out for book writing on Wednesday, and would respond to Tuesday and Wednesday e-mails on Thursday.

    At first, this felt uncomfortable, and I worried about getting everything done. But after making this a lifestyle since the beginning of the year, I realised that it was not only possible, but it felt amazing! I overcame my limiting belief that when I worked on big projects I had to work longer hours.

    Once you decide on your professional development goal or goals for the year, I encourage you to take a similar approach to aligning your time with your goals to make the results effortless. Most people can’t block out an entire day every week, but almost everyone can start to reserve more time for their professional development goals than they do now. It may take some time for your colleagues to adjust to the fact that you are not always available. But typically, you can make a consistent investment to your own growth.

    To do so, decide on which days and times you can commit to moving ahead on your goal. You may have the opportunity to do something like I did, where you block out an entire day (maybe to take a training class), or you may need to set aside smaller chunks of time. For example, some of my time coaching clients will set aside two to three hours on a Wednesday morning, come into the office early a couple of days a week, or pick a weeknight or a weekend morning where they can spend an hour of time moving ahead on their goal. Try one strategy and see how it works. If it seems to suit you and your colleagues, stick with it. If not, adjust the days or times until you get something that fits.

    If you plan on working on professional development during the day, you may need to discuss with your boss what’s appropriate before making these changes. I also recommend shutting your door, going to a conference room, or working from home. The physical boundary is a great help to avoid the time getting derailed by drive-by meetings.

    The exact amount of time you can spend will vary depending on your other responsibilities. But it is important that you’re consistently setting aside the time for your professional development goals. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but in time it will get more natural. This will create alignment between what you say is important to you and where you invest your time.

    When you have professional development goals that align with what’s important to you and you align your time with those goals, you’ll find the results can feel effortless in 2017.

    This is a guest article by Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money

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    Resilience: The Art of Getting Back Up

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    Resilience: The Art of Getting Back Up

    Back in 1997, Chumbawamba taught us the mantra "I get knocked down, but I get up again", but even 20 years later that's often easier said than done.  All kinds of hurdles, knock-backs and surprises can leave us feeling exhausted and uncertain of our next turn, unless we have the personal resources - the resilience - to keep going.

    The turn of a new year tends to be an opportune time to reset and to take a fresh approach to achieving our goals, but many of us find that even with the best of intentions our resolutions are dead in the water before spring has sprung.

    Why does this happen? I believe it's often because the first time we don't quite reach that height, or achieve that goal instead of seeing simply that we failed on this occasion, we see ourselves as a failure and therefore subconsciously believe we are incapable of ever succeeding. We lack the resilience to see that while we may have failed on the first attempt, we are not a failure.  It's a choice. We can either choose to give up / beat ourselves up / rail against the injustice of the world (delete as appropriate) or we can choose to get back up and redouble our efforts.

    Very few people succeed first time - remember that as an inventor, Edison made over 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before successfully inventing the light bulb. Resilience is the skill to keep on keeping on, and its what makes the difference between the highly successful and the also-rans. 

    The good thing is that resilience can be learned: it's a matter of mindset, and of how we see ourselves. In her excellent book Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck explores many examples of successful sporting stars who through diligence, curiosity and a growth mindset succeed in the face of often overwhelming negativity, physical limitations and other barriers. 

    Resilience and Performance is the focus of our first Breakfast of Change for 2017. A few tickets are still available here - come and join us to ensure that you can stay focused, motivated and invigorated for all of the year - and years - ahead.  

    You're never gonna keep me down.

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    Bringing Meetings to Life

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    Bringing Meetings to Life

    Many of us dread meetings at work. Too often they’re dull: they follow predictable patterns, and people struggle to stay engaged.

    After regular meetings, the gossip by the water cooler afterwards is usually more interesting – and honest – than the meeting itself.

    The best part of many conferences is the coffee break, when suddenly the whole audience comes to life and conversations and ideas start sparking.

    What if we could bring all that energy into our meetings instead of squeezing it out?

    Meetings for human beings

    We are social creatures, fundamentally wired for socialising, playing and creating together.  To release that energy into our meetings, we need to disrupt some conventions.

    • We need to have fewer presentations and more conversations.

    • We need to free people to move around, rather than remaining pinned to their chairs.

    • We need to give participants autonomy: instead of telling them what to do, we create choices for them about how to participate and collaborate.

    • We need to create a more level playing field in meetings, a space in which everyone feels able to contribute, so we don’t just get stuck listening to the usual suspects.

    How to have better meetings

    Agent of Change Johnnie Moore has spent the last 20 years  helping organisations around the world have meetings that command attention and generate fun and excitement. There’s no big secret to what he does, it comes down to just two things: using creative processes that allow people to really participate, and showing up as a facilitator that people feel able to trust.

    He's going to share all this experience in a two-day workshop in Cambridge in January. The workshop will explore how to:

    • Get more out of every meeting - for you, attendees and the organisation.

    • Learn new techniques for creating engagement

    • Build your presence and performance as a facilitator

    Not training-as-usual

    Johnnie says: "I don't believe in facilitation-as-usual and this won't be training-as-usual. There will be no powerpoint, little use of a flip chart and certainly no 'turn-to-page-94-of-the-manual'.

    There will be movement, surprise, emotion, engagement and fun. We learn our most powerful lessons from experience, not from lectures. The greatest value in workshops comes from sharing experiences, rather than taking notes from the 'sage on the stage'."

    There will be two threads over the two days: techniques and performance.

    Techniques

    Johnnie will share a simple model of networks to show how you can shift the way you think about your meetings, and move away from hierarchy towards more creative, peer-to-peer engagement.

    He'll share methods he's learnt and created over the years to bring that model to life, including:

    • Cafe processes for connecting and conversation

    • Open Space - a brilliant participatory process - and the pitfalls to avoid when hosting it

    • Full circle and other methods to speed up feedback and avoid the agony of “creeping death” reporting from breakouts

    • Bringing scenarios to life in three dimensions

    • Line ups - a simple but brilliant way to add movement and surprise to finding out more about what people think and feel about topics and each other

    • Playful approaches to serious topics, situations and people

    Performance

    When you facilitate a meeting you are on stage, and people are watching. The pressure to perform is high. If you can stay present and spontaneous, the chances are you will set the tone for the whole event, bringing it to life. If you can’t do this, even the best processes in the world won’t save you.

    Over the course of two days you'll explore using a range of activities and challenges to enable you become more aware of your performance and to become a more engaging version of yourself.

    You’ll explore:

    • Presence: how it’s not about showing off or making yourself the centre of attention.

    • Avoiding ‘teaching trance’ and ‘plenary vortex’ - the factors that most easily kill the atmosphere in meetings

    • Getting braver and more creative managing difficult conversations and people

    • Embracing surprise: some of the best things I've done when facilitating have been spontaneous, often in response to mistakes and curve-balls. The ability to respond well is a muscle we can build with practice.

    Who should attend?

    Anyone responsible for organising and leading meetings - whether that’s internally, with stakeholders or clients, or for consultation, feedback or generating ideas. Anyone who is frustrated by boring, uneventful, and time-wasting meetings.

    Details

    Creative Facilitation: Bringing Meetings To Life

    January 9th and 10th 2017, King’s College Cambridge

    Book now for Early Bird discount until 31 October

    Full booking details




     

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    The Recipe for Engagement

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    The Recipe for Engagement

    It’s now a well-established fact that organisations that master the culture/engagement dynamic reap the benefits - higher profits, faster growth, greater productivity, lower attrition…but what’s the recipe for success?

    Companies that get it right give employees something to engage with - we highlighted a few of them in a tweet last week. 

    The budget US airline, Southwest Airlines, for example, won't give customers much more than a pack of peanuts with their flight, but they can fly cross-country for as little as $49, and the company's customer service is legendary.

    Southwest succeeds through a culture of mutual respect, where a high percentage of employees ‘own’ their jobs. It's right there on the company's careers webpage: ‘Not just a career, but a cause.’ Leadership urges a well-managed work/life balance in which employees "value the opportunity to work hard, be creative, and have fun on the job."

    So, how can you create a cause in the same way, whatever your business?

    A recipe for success

    Most people live their lives according to "What's in it for me?”. So if you want to be a productive leader, consider this: What is in it for your employees? When they’re engaged, they’ll reward you with a bigger share of their discretionary time and effort — and their collective productivity will skyrocket.

    While many ingredients go into any individual engagement recipe, all have three components in common: Motivation, appreciation, and communication. 

    Motivation

    Give people reasons to engage that go beyond appeals to company loyalty. In addition to inspiring them with fulfilling work and your own example, try building their sense of pride in what they do. What’s their purpose? Why does it matter? What kind of incentive are people given to go above and beyond? At John Lewis, for example, hardworking partners get a share of the profits.

    Appreciation

    Financial rewards might work well, up to a point, but so too does public acknowledgement: pats on the back, public call outs. Regular one-to-ones, where great work is highlighted, not just what went wrong, are also highly effective. Try doing something unexpected - rewarding a great piece of work with a dinner for two at a nice restaurant, for example, or another personal touch. Just make it consistent: When anyone trips the switch for recognition or reward, make sure they get it.

    Communication

    Long-term successful businesses communicate well. It’s the lifeblood of the organisation, the thing that keeps people on board through tough times, and stops the rumour mill from disengaging people. Keep your communications clear, consistent, and to the point. Share organisational goals and objectives, erring on the side of over-communication. Show everyone why and how their contributions matter.

    Of course, every business is different, and Agents of Change work with many sizes and sectors to help them to succeed. Get in touch to discuss how we can help you.

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    Leading with Integrity

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    Leading with Integrity

    It's no secret that I'm a Liverpool fan, and never more so since the arrival of new manager Jürgen Klopp a year ago. I'd like to bottle what he does and sell it to some of the leaders we work with - he gives a masterclass in leadership, every day:

    Chief exec Ian Ayre says (in the Guardian, Friday 7th October), “Jürgen wants to understand why or what you do in every situation. He’ll either adapt to it or say he doesn’t feel that works. He is very open and honest and it is very difficult to get in trouble if you’re open and honest. It sounds really simple, and it is.

    I’d love to say he’s changed things by sprinkling magic dust but it really is very simple – good communication, good collaboration, good energy and good spirit. He’s an easy character to deal with. There’s no agenda and no ego – that’s not what the guy is about. You can say he’s one of the biggest managerial names in world football but it doesn’t play out that way and he doesn’t act that way. Externally there seems to be a general feeling among people of: ‘What are you hiding?’ But what you see is what you get. It is normal dealing with him. Whether you’re a steward in the tunnel at Anfield or the CEO, he’s the same with everyone.”

    Our role at Agents of Change is to help people move beyond being controlled by ego and personal agendas, to truly connect with everyone they impact. From that point, as Jürgen is proving, there's no limit to potential, personally and organisationally.

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    Heroes:                            John Lewis

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    Heroes: John Lewis

    Many business leaders and organisations aspire to authenticity, transparency and openness, but struggle when it comes to implementation.  John Lewis and its leadership have long embodied all of these attributes - and outperform most of the competition. 

    John Lewis has a unique culture, which engages partners and customers alike. Its focus on building this unique culture and distinctive brand has led to sustainable success. All 76,500 permanent staff are partners who own the business and its five elected board directors are supported by a council of 80 partners who discuss strategy and objectives and make key recommendations. This combination of shared leadership and authentic values is central to John Lewis’ success.

    As many organisations struggle to increase levels of employee engagement, many John Lewis partners openly say how proud they are to work for the organisation they jointly own. The high level of trust within the business extends beyond it to its hugely loyal customer base. John Lewis leaders and all partners connect to the organisation's values, which in turn helps them connect to each other and to customers.

    John Lewis is famous for its guiding principles. The partnership's ultimate purpose is 'the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business' - a principle at the very heart of employee engagement. Partners share the responsibilities of ownership as well as the rewards. The John Lewis principles underpin its authentic, open and honest leadership.

    What lessons can other businesses learn from this beacon of light on the British High Street?

     

     

     

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