Does your past serve your future?

If you’ve not come across the work of Nic Askew before, prepare to fall in love. Nic created SoulBiographies and he works with people from all walks of life, helping them to share their life stories with utter authenticity and humanity coupled with style and sensitivity.

He sent me this one recently. Get a cup of tea, find yourself a quiet 10 mins, put it on full screen and enjoy uninterrupted (and if you are prone to tears like me, have a tissue handy!)

A Glimpse of Reality

A Glimpse of Reality

This piece got me thinking about all sorts of things; how important it is to give voice to our story, share it with others so that we can make sense of our experience; how we can let our past dictate our future, or not; how magical leaps of faith can be, and about our willingness to be certain about ourselves when all around us seems uncertain.

Through the work we do with leaders, in groups and one-to-one, we get to bear witness to the full range of stories that we carry around inside us and the power they have.

I imagine most of us have experienced self doubt, have felt the constraint of past experience on what we feel is possible for the future, or have felt unable to share what we really think or feel - for fear of… (feel free to insert your own version here but some of mine have included looking foolish, not being good/smart/likeable enough, being too much for people).

There can be no rights or wrongs in the stories we carry, but both consciously and unconsciously they have the power to dictate how we behave. 

Our ability to recognise the story, give voice to it, understand it and make a choice about it is vital. It’s the process that takes us into either limitation or fulfilment.

The Practice of Unhurried Leadership

We’ve created a workshop to make space for this process of noticing and being conscious of our habits and choices. With so much pace in our lives, many of our clients are desperate for an antidote and The Practice of Unhurried Leadership is just that.

Facilitated by me and our fellow Agent of Change Johnnie Moore, the workshop responds directly to the individual needs of the small group of participants. We’ll slow things down to allow time to pay attention to ourselves and our stories, and the impact they’re having, and work together to create stories that serve us and enable behaviours that means we bring our very best to how we lead (ourselves, other people or a business).

If you’ve had your fill of traditional leadership development, this human centred voyage of exploration might just be for you.

Building Commitment in the Face of Resistance

To help humans commit to change, we need to recognise the core human needs that make us tick and drive all our behaviour - certainty, variety, significance, love and connection, growth and contribution. These elements make up the internal balancing act that signifies how happy and centred we feel at any given time. When change hits one or more of these elements will be impacted, and this creates an emotional reaction.

To successfully navigate change we need to recognise the human emotions at the core and work with them. 

Our Wheel of Change identifies the 4 fundamental stages to enable a shift from resistance to change to commitment to it. 

  • Explore

  • Engage

  • Equip

  • Embed

By working through each phase, recognising the human need at each stage, we can help people to move forwards and start to embrace change.

The Wheel of Change.png

Explore

  • Understand the reasons for the change, and what it looks like - making it meaningful and real for people

  • Create a narrative tracking from the past to the present to the future. How does this fit into the overall trajectory?

  • Why is it significant for me? Help people understand what the change means for start by sharing why it’s significant for you

Engage

Neurological pathways get built by working through things not being told them, so people need to feel engaged in the process of change so that people feel ownership. It’s tempting to control and look good and have all the answers but that’s an illusion and slows you down. You need to get people involved. Present the issues and boundaries and work together to make the plan - Think of an issue you are having with the change you are working on at the moment or one that you anticipate. Write the issue down as cleanly as you can, what is the question you can work with your team to resolve? 

To maintain engagement - Comms, comms, comms. Keep communication lines open and varied. Communicate even if there is no new news, people start to make things up if you don’t! And make sure it’s real communication, not just a broadcast. People need to vocalise what’s going on for them in order to make sense of it, and move forwards.

Equip

We tend to blame others for being resistant to change but can we honestly say we have done all we can to understand why, and mitigate their reasons for resistance? Do they have the skills or the mindset they need? What will help them to move forwards?

Use Gap Analysis to understand what skills you need for the the process of change and for the future and plan ahead for how the gaps might be addressed. Create an open feedback forum where people feel safe to communicate their experience

Embed

Enable change to embed by being of service to your people. Help them to develop new neurological pathways through coaching. Take the insight that comes from the feedback forums and putting action to them, clearing blocks to maintain the momentum of change and ensure that it sticks. 

Establish a network of peers to identify and address themes, and ensure solutions are shared.

To dive deeper into how to engage and motivate ourselves and others through change why not come along to our Humans v Change Breakfast of Change on April 30th. Click the link to access a 50% friends discount.

What's your burning platform?

We’ve all heard that ‘change is the only constant’, but one reason change is so unrelenting is that we’re not very good at it.

All too often organisations forget about the human aspect of change and people fail to get behind change initiatives. It’s why 70% of organisational change fails, according to McKinsey. As leaders and managers, it therefore falls to us to ensure that our teams and organisations are prepared to navigate change.

But igniting action in others is easier said than done: People’s focus is likely to be their day-to-day priorities, as opposed to thinking about what’s around the corner.

If we want to successfully bring about change it’s critical we wake a sense of urgency in our people and help them to move from understanding to action.

The need for urgency

Creating a sense of urgency means alerting people across our organisations and teams that change must occur. It’s about sparking that initial motivation to get our change plan going.

Crucially though, urgency is not about generating panic and anxiety in our organisations. Rather, it’s about establishing a common goal and creating a spirited and engaged environment in which team members collaborate to embed new ways of working.

How to ignite and sustain change

There are a number of steps we can take to create a sense of urgency needed to bring our changed plan into fruition. Here are a few of them:

  1. Spell out the consequences of inertia: While change and adaptability is vital for long-term survival, most people are hardwired to resist. And if they are unaware of the threats, embedding a meaningful transformation is all the more difficult. It’s vital we outline the impending risks to our people if we are to wake up their sense of urgency.

  2. Map out the road ahead: Disruption to the norm is never easy to handle, but it can be deeply uncomfortable for some. If are to avoid denial and avoidance that the fear of the unknown will provoke we need to map out the road ahead. Providing a roadmap of manageable steps can help people break down a formidable problem and move forwards.

  3. Encourage and support, don't nag: Checking-in can easily become a dreaded experience for people when change is challenging. Keep update sessions light and energised, and be sure to listen and respond to what’s going on for people.

Knowing how to successfully navigate change is a key skill for leaders and managers in the 21st century. With this in mind, our next Breakfast of Change, Human’s v Change, is designed to explore the drivers of effective change.

Come and join us to explore how to turn resistance into commitment.


Choice and Change

“When we are no longer able to change the situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Viktor Frankl

Frankl's challenge is one that we face every day, but it isn't always easy to do.

Our brains are hardwired to resist change. We naturally prefer the comfort blanket of the familiar as opposed to the strange, scratchy, brave new world. At Agents of Change our mission is to work with the grain of human nature to help people to face the challenge of change head on.

By understanding how the brain handles change we can address core human needs to turn resistance into commitment, for ourselves and for others. 

We need to recognise that for each of us, change is a choice. How much we embrace that choice depends on the resources we have to support us.

At Agents of Change we focus on ensuring 4 key elements are in place to ensure people are able to choose change easily. 

  • Purpose  We need to know where we're going, and crucially, why. To paraphrase Nietzsche, "Given enough why, people will do any amount of what." What's the narrative for change? Why should that matter to me?

  • Inclusion – We don't resist change, we resist change being done to us - we need to be involved in the process. Change challenges our sense of security on a very human level; it is after all about stepping out of our comfort zones to enter a brave new world of the unknown.

  • Mindset – Helping people build a mindset that is adaptable and open to change is fundamental to creating a culture where change is welcomed. 

  • Practice – Sustainable change only comes through the formation of habit. By ensuring there is ample opportunity, encouragement and support to practice and integrate, ideas become action become culture.

Our next Breakfast of Change will explore how to successfully navigate the human side of change. Come and join us. 

Do you have a learning zone?

Few organisations would openly say they don’t value their employees’ learning and development, yet many fail to deliver when it comes to cultivating an environment that nurtures learning.

At what cost? Organisations that lack a strong culture of learning are likely to have lower engagement, reduced productivity and higher overheads. And this is only likely to get worse as the pace of change means more and more employees become ill-equipped for the increasingly digital workplace.

In contrast, according to Research by Bersin, companies who effectively nurture their workforce’s desire to learn are at least 30% more likely to be market leaders in their industries.

So, how can we as leaders do a better job in creating a positive learning culture?

Start with a learning zone

Workplaces can be frenetic environments. Each day employees walk into a performance zone, the cultural environment where they’re expected to deliver results. There’s often little room for play, exploration or experimentation here, the stakes are too high.

High-performing teams recognise the need to balance the performance zone with a learning zone.

When we talk about a learning zone we’re not talking about tatty, unloved training rooms. What we mean is the wider organisational culture and how the opportunity to reflect on our performance and enhance or adapt our skills is woven into the everyday — so that it becomes a natural part of business as usual. Creating a regular learning zone is crucial because it satisfies people’s desire for curiosity and development. Employees will be able to think about their daily tasks more creatively – and their contribution to the organisation –  and provide new solutions for old problems, driving performance and results.

We have an event coming up on April 3-4 that enables you to create your own learning zone. The Practice of Unhurried Leadership is a two-day residential workshop that provides space and provocation for you to tackle a challenge that is holding you back. It will be a unique, collaborative experience that will help you to step back in order to move forwards.  

You can find out more by joining the free webinar on March 6th at 9.30 GMT. Sign up here.

Winning the battle for attention

The world is awash in an unprecedented volume of data and our brains haven’t evolved to be able to process it all. If our communication is adding to that noise, it won’t be long before people zone out.

So, how can we balance our leadership needs – to keep people informed, involved and engaged  – without risking what we need to say falling on deaf ears?

Enter bite-sized communication.

Just as breaking down learning into smaller chunks and adopting nudge theory has transformed our ability to learn, ‘a little, often’ works when it comes to comms too.

A little, often

It’s been proven that most of us can retain only a relatively small amount of information at any given time. Marketers also tell us that we need to be exposed to a message approximately 7 times before we will change our behaviour.

Keeping things short and regular means more people are likely to engage with the content. In fact, bite-size comms can increase information transfer by over 25% and result in far greater understanding, application and retention.

Top tips

Here are some key things to keep in mind for successfully delivering comms in a compelling, bite-sized format:

  • Make it tasty
    Comms need to be interactive and engaging. What will grab their attention? Too many facts and figures are likely to lose people in an instant. Adding value is about more than just delivering essential information, but also considering how that information is relayed.

  • Keep it real
    We can smell spin a mile off, so be honest and open in how you communicate. Share personal stories and perspectives. People buy people!

  • Make it easy
    People shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get to content – they should be able to access it where and when they want to, whether that’s the humble message board, whatsapp or slack.

  • Mix it up
    While shorter content is great, it doesn’t mean it’s a cure for all our communication needs. There are times when quick-fire approach won’t cut it, and investing time face-to-face to explore issues and concerns will be necessary.

If improving your communications prowess is important to you or anyone you know, we're running a complimentary webinar on Tuesday 12th February at 8pm. Come join us, or share this invitation with your team. 

Final tickets are available here.

The value of human-to-human connection

In a world where screen time is rapidly replacing you-me time, the need for transparent human-to-human connections has never been greater. But expressing our honest feelings is not always easy.

We’ve probably all experienced times when we don’t feel comfortable speaking up, sharing what’s really going on for us. For one reason or another, we find ourselves stifling our voice and letting those around us lead the conversation.

Speak out or get boxed in

Whether we like it or not, how we use (or fail to use) our voice determines how others experience us – our colleagues and leaders interpret our personality and 'fit' through what we say, or don’t say.

So if our voice is the lens through which the value we bring to an organisation is judged, when we don’t use it, when we stay silent instead of contributing, people will interpret this in any number of negative ways: maybe we simply don’t care; maybe our priorities lie elsewhere; maybe we don’t have the courage to stand up for our convictions.

What we’re not doing is leading by example. Or at least by a very good example. By inhibiting our own voice we're subliminally telling others that they should follow suit, unwittingly creating a culture where people talk about others people, but not to them. 

Use it or lose it

But getting our voice heard is not just about how others perceive us. Suppressing our voice and playing small, whether out of fear of being shot down or rocking the boat, will only serve to make us invisible, knocking our confidence and self-worth.

What’s the impact? Instead of living a purposeful life — instead of being agents of change — we become victims, at the mercy of others.

So how can you ensure your voice is ready and waiting when it's needed?

#MeToo

In October 2017, actor Alyssa Milano posted on social media: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Within days, millions of ordinary people — as well as celebrities and public figures — were empowered to speak out. And from that act of speaking out a movement was born, one that has now spawned to become a rallying cry against sexual harassment.

It pulled focus onto the behaviour of some of the world’s most powerful men, from Hollywood to politics, and with it changing society and our conversations around sexual harassment for good.

So if we think about our voice, there is no better demonstration of the power of speaking out and speaking up than #MeToo.

Of the many important lessons the #MeToo movement has taught us, one is the authority of our voice when we let it be heard. Whether we are seeking justice, or even simply thinking about our place within our organisations, we should never underestimate it.

And more often than not, when we open up and express our thoughts we realise that instead of being an island, others share our views, opinions, and experiences.

Breakfast of Change

Our next Breakfast of Change, this Thursday, is all about exploring how to uncover our voice, build confidence, and effect change. Come join us to explore how...

Final tickets are available here.

Are you maximising the potential of your people?

Many organisations roll out the cliché that 'our people are our greatest asset', but how many of them really maximise the potential of those assets? 

In today’s business world, success depends on harnessing human potential. With research showing that highly engaged employees typically generate 43% more revenue it’s little wonder that improving engagement is a top priority for organisations.

A vital lever for achieving this, and one that is often under utilised, is by tapping into the power of employee voice. 

As employees, we need to feel recognised, like our voices are heard, and that they can make a difference. To do that we need to feel safe, so we need cultures founded on trust and transparency. But too often that trust is missing, so we keep mum, afraid to put our heads over the parapet for fear of encountering a ricocheting bullet. 

The power of employee voice

Successful organisations know how important it is to tap into the voice of their employees, contributing to innovation, productivity and output improvements, so they ensure there are effective mechanisms to communicate up, down and across – and ensure people feel safe to use them.

Those that don't create cultures of trust and openness not only invite employees to disengage, they waste valuable resources seeking competitive advantage elsewhere while ignoring the reservoir of untapped ideas at their feet. 

Harnessing employee voice

What that means for us, as leaders of organisations and teams, is that we have a responsibility to cultivate a culture of cross-communication, where employees feel like they can share their thoughts, ideas and worries, and know that they are heard.

To do that we need to lead by example, of course, ensuring we offer our voice whenever and wherever it's needed, and create the forum for others to do the same. And we need to encourage colleagues to find and use their voices at work. For some of us, speaking up is easier than others.

Discover more

On January 17th we’re running a breakfast workshop focused on helping people to find their voice and put it to work. Come and join us, or forward this to a colleague. It’ll give you a taste of what we do to support organisations such as Clear Channel, ITV and Coca-Cola, and you’ll leave with ideas and inspiration to create change in your corner of the world.

Put people first

In our rapidly evolving cultures, where emergent technologies are constantly shifting the needle, there are very few anchors that remain the same for very long. And with so many variables we can’t control, it’s essential we double down on those things we can.

By putting people first, by really listening, we can gain a competitive advantage that will differentiate us from the crowd, and enable us to better engage and retain employees, become more productive, and ultimately boost the bottom line.

Reserve your spot for the Breakfast of Change here.

Speak Up, Speak Out

It's doubtful many of us wake up saying “I hope my voice goes unheard today” but still we can find ourselves lost for words at times, kicking ourselves for staying silent when we should have spoken up. 

At one time or another we’ve all found ourselves stifling our own opinions, whether that’s because we lack confidence or because we’ve shared our thoughts before and been shot down by louder voices. But what's the cost?

Why should I speak up?

Hanging back and observing as everyone else speaks and shares ideas will make us feel like we have nothing useful to contribute, ebbing away at our self-confidence.

Instead of playing an active role in defining our own work life, we end up at the mercy of other people’s decisions, making us feel like a victim.

Whether we’re negotiating a raise, in a meeting with senior management, or simply sharing our ideas with the team, making our voice heard is one of the most critical parts of project confidence.

No matter what our role is, at some point in time we need to speak up, especially if we want to get ahead in our careers - it’s the single biggest thing that will get us noticed by senior management.

It will also do wonders for our motivation and productivity. There is a direct line between how much I feel my voice matters and how happy and engaged I feel – when we share our thoughts and ideas it’s that much easier to see how our contribution impacts the collective team effort.

Overcoming the challenge

But it’s not always easy. Sometimes life in the shadows feels more appealing than living out loud. Sometimes we prefer to play small for fear of rocking the boat. And that’s fine, if our goal to make ourselves invisible. But to occupy the space that the universe intended for us, we have a responsibility to speak up.

At our next Breakfast of Change we’ll be exploring how to uncover your voice, build your confidence and use it to affect change. So if you want to allow your ideas to be heard and your talent to shine, make sure you join us – tickets are available here.

The Advantage of Uncertainty

Have you ever felt trapped in a meeting that's going nowhere, each party doggedly holding on to their own opinion? It's something we experience in many of the teams we work with. It can be exhausting and frustrating…and if it's not addressed it will hold organisations back. 

One of the reasons it is so hard to disagree productively is because we become so attached to our ideas. We start to believe that we own them and so by extension, they own us.

The way that we reach people is by finding common ground. It's by separating ideas from identity and being genuinely open to persuasion. To do that, we have to listen, and we have to open ourselves, really open ourselves up to the possibility that we might be wrong. What Julia Dhar describes as “the humility of uncertainty.”

Psychologist M Scott Peck said “True listening means setting aside of oneself” - which means setting aside your opinion. We need to assume that we have something to learn, rather than assume that we have the answer. Steven Covey puts it this way: “Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand, we listen with the intent to reply.”

If we can learn to truly listen, the suspicions that we hold about people who espouse beliefs that we don’t share start to evaporate. Because we can imagine ourselves stepping into those shoes. And as we're stepping into those, we're embracing the humility of uncertainty. The possibility of being wrong. 

It's that humility that makes us better decision-makers, and enables conversations, teams and organisations to move forwards.

This article is adapted from a TED video by Julia Dhar. Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

A Search for Meaning

Work takes up a lot of our time — it’s little surprise then that more and more of us are on a quest to find work with a purpose, a job that fulfils us.

For employers, this means that salaries no longer reign supreme. In fact, studies have shown time and again that it’s meaningful work, not salary, which is the core driver of employee engagement, across virtually every major industry and global region.

In his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, Daniel Pink explains the source of this need to find fulfilment comes from a profound human need to direct our lives, do something valuable in the world, learn, and create new things.

But, what makes a job meaningful?

What counts as meaningful work will vary from person to person, but whether we’re CEOs, team leaders, or admin assistants there’s purpose to be found in every job.

At its core meaningful work is all about how we relate to the work we do. It’s about how worthwhile we think those hours we spend at work are, the sense of accomplishment we get from collaborating with others, and the opportunity we get to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

This sense of meaningfulness radiates into how we feel about our organisation and our teams — it gives us the drive to go that extra mile because the company’s success becomes deeply allied to our own. 

Give me something to believe in

As leaders, we have a pivotal role to play in enabling and bring about the feeling of meaningfulness in our employees and their work. So, what can we do to give our people a sense of fulfilment in what they’re doing?

A good starting point is to make sure we regularly help people to connect the contributions they are making to the collective goals and purposes of the team or business. By regularly reminding our employees that their work is meaningful and necessary to the team and our company we create a sense of relevance and significance.

Let’s face it, most of us lead frantic lives and it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, leading us to question at times ‘what’s this all for?’

By helping our people understand the impact of their job — the difference they make — we can drive engagement and performance, connecting the dots between the why and what they do every day.

A Fresh Approach to Training

In 2015 alone, $356 billion was spent by businesses on training. But how much of that had the desired business impact? Studies have shown that only 10% of training is actually effective - not a great ROI by anyone’s reckoning.

This isn’t all that surprising. We’ve all been on training courses, eager to develop our skills, and we've come away feeling energized and ready to try out our newly acquired skills or techniques. But then we hit a stumbling block. Old habits die hard, and the flow of the river we swim in is difficult to change. After a couple of days or weeks our memory of the experience fades, our enthusiasm for change fizzles out and we end up back where we started.

Why is this so? 

The problem with many courses is they are designed for delivery at scale – they tend to be sheep dip, one-size-fits-all. So rather than allowing us to tackle the specific challenges we want to focus on, they skirt over a range of issues, providing a model here, an activity there, without ever really getting to the core of the challenges we face.

Too often they’re also one-hit wonders - a half-day workshop, for example, with no time to consider how to integrate changes into our day-to-day lives – not great for habit-formation, the very thing they meant to help with.

The Practice

That’s why we’ve decided to do something a little different. We’re developing a new workshop, called The Practice. If you work with people, we think this is finally the course that will allow you to go deeper into your own professional practice.

Instead of having a structured model of training, our workshop will focus on leaning into your individual difficulty, in whatever form that comes. It’s an organic and personal experience tailored to meet your specific needs and circumstances. 

We’ll create the programme live during the workshop, and so while we tackle problems together, it’s the things that matter to most to you that we will work on. We believe this is the new paradigm of professional training — a bespoke programme tailored to fit your needs and challenges.

The Details

It will take place from 21-22 November 2018 at Kings College, Cambridge. You can find out more here, or register your interest here and we'll be in touch to discuss your needs.

The two sides to trust

In our last posts we’ve discussed how vital transparency and trust are to an organisation’s success. In the lead up to our next Breakfast of Changeevent this Thursday, this week we focus on the third, equally important ‘T’, without which the other two are impossible to achieve — truth.

As leaders, the value we place on truth determines the culture of our organisations, permeating into how safe employees feel, how willing they are to be open and engage their true selves in a shared mission, and how successful our teams and organisations become.

Nowhere to hide

Paradoxically, in a supposed ‘post-truth’ era, amid a sea of spin and ‘fake’ news, being transparent has never been more important. We live in a time of ubiquitous connectivity, where social media and global activism - Wikileaks and whistleblowers - increasingly make hiding the truth, sweeping issues under the carpet, no longer a possibility. Just ask Volkswagen, or Patisserie Valerie.

The impact of not being truthful, in terms of both reputation and the bottom line, is enormous.

Most of us are willing to tolerate mistakes or accept when things go wrong - we recognise that we’re only human. But when leaders fail to engage in honest communication, when a disconnect emerges between word and action, this becomes a question of integrity — and the foundation of trust is shattered.

The two sides to truth

We need to consider both sides of the truth equation: truth is not just about what we tell others, it’s also about what others feel they can tell us.

Volkswagen is a great case in point. Former CEO Martin Winterkorn was a demanding boss who abhorred failure. Executives described his management style as authoritarian and aimed at fostering a climate of fear. This prevented them from speaking the truth, and when its technology failed to meet required emissions standards, rather than fix the issue, they covered it up.

If we want to really evolve and grow, we must be willing to hear truth from our people. And the best way to do that? Lead by example.

But it’s often easier said than done - businesses and leaders far and wide continue to struggle to develop a culture of truth, for all kinds of reasons.

The final few tickets are still available for the breakfast on Thursday, where we will be exploring what holds us back, and how to build our reputation while being true to ourselves, our teams and our organisations.

The foundation of success

A common thread runs through every successful relationship, team and organisation across the globe. If cultivated that thread will drive performance, productivity and success. If it’s neglected it will inhibit, fracture and fragment.

That thread is trust.
 
Trust is the glue in every relationship, and the significance of trust in business cannot be ignored. It’s fundamental to how we build relationships, break down barriers, cultivate collaboration, strengthen teams and drive engagement in the never-ending process of change.
 
When we build an organisation founded on trust, people are willing to step forward and offer their best. They come together around a shared purpose, take risks that foster innovation, and communicate openly and honestly. When trust is missing, employees jockey for position, play it safe, talk about – and not to – one another.

No wonder then that 45% of employees cite a lack of trust in leadership as the biggest issue impacting their work performance.
 
So how do we build trust?
 
Transparency – being open and honest – is the foundation of trust, but it’s not always the first path we choose – sometimes it’s easier to avoid the situation, fearing a negative reaction, or we prevaricate, believing we need to ‘play the game’.

So we cover-up our feelings, we fail to speak our truth – and in so doing we compromise trust. People are more astute than we think – they get the sense that we’re not being fully open with them, and as soon as this thought takes hold they start to withdraw and disengage. Instead of nurturing confidence we erode it, taking with it their commitment to work and the organisation.

We’d love you to join us for our next Breakfast of Change event where we will be exploring how we can build long-lasting trust through increased transparency.

A lesson in leadership from Muhammed Ali

In 1975 the late, great Muhammad Ali delivered the shortest poem in the English language – “Me, We”.

What can we take from this? One interpretation of Ali’s poem is that we as individuals are nothing without our connection to others.

As leaders, this couplet offers us an important lesson. For decades people have written about leadership, and although they’ve talked about it using different words and lexicons, in the end, the simple truth is that they’re all, more or less, saying the same thing.

Just as Ali’s powerful words convey, leadership is about people. It is about how we relate to others – the quality and texture of relationships we cultivate.  

According to research by Gallup, businesses that connected with customers on an emotional level out-performed their competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth. And it’s not just for customers that emotional connection is vital.

We live in an age of individual empowerment, where careers are flexible and loyalties fluid. Organisational success, whether measured in terms of productivity or commercial growth, is increasingly determined by a business’s ability to realise the full potential of the individuals within it.

As leaders and managers, we can tap into that potential only when we can build authentic human connections with our people. When we do, we nurture a feeling of community and unity among our teams and within our businesses.

Often in life, it’s easy to become focused on tasks instead of people. If left unchecked, this “results first, team second” mentality can lead to low morale and even lower performances. However, by leading from the ground up and serving your team you create a group of high-performing individuals - the concept Ken Blanchard refers to as Servant Leadership.

If we fail to build emotional bridges with our employees, if we fail to trust and empower them, they will disconnect - from their jobs, from us, and from the business. They won’t have the motivation to go the extra mile, and no motivation to stay when other opportunities come knocking.

But when employees feel a high degree of connection with their managers and leaders they will more engaged, more productive in their work and much less likely to leave.

Simple steps to forge meaningful connections 

  1. Put our people first. This sounds easy enough, but until we put making people important our attention will inevitably be won over by the endless emails, phone calls and tasks we have piled up. Without proactively engaging, without the intention to make employees feel valuable, we can’t expect engagement and loyalty.

  2. Refine our ability to engage with others. As leaders it’s easy to get carried away with the endless tasks – the nitty gritty of leading. It is equally vital, perhaps even more so, that we reach out to others, engage them in conversation. By definition, our work as leaders is done through others. And while it is easy to lose sight of this and focus on the outputs, the tasks that need to be completed, it the quality of our connections with our teams that will make doing these tasks easier.

  3. Listen. Listening to others makes them feel like they matter. Phone calls, emails, or five-minutes by the coffee pot, wherever it may be, take time to listen to understand people’s concerns, needs or opinions. And really listen.

Today, the traditional top-down leadership style of the past is no longer enough. Leadership is defined as much by as our ability to inspire and connect with the people we lead.

Or in Ali’s succinct words 'Me. We.'

Why transparency is the cornerstone of organisational success

In our social media age people are increasingly used to sharing their lives openly with the world. Transparency has become currency of connection. 
 
This currency is not limited to our personal interactions, however. Across industries, to trust an organisation consumers increasingly expect and demand transparency. And the same is true inside our organisations. Employees expect the same transparency as consumers. 
 
As leaders we are constantly on the lookout for breakthroughs to take our organisations and our teams to the next level. In the current highly-competitive climate, reviewing how we operate internally and consciously driving employee engagement can offer the kind of breakthrough that will enable us stay ahead of the curve. 

Transparency is critical to that breakthrough, playing a vital role inside our company walls.
 
Here’s why it’s so vital
 

Transparency is like the glue that holds a business together, through its inevitable peaks and troughs. It is crucial for fostering an effective culture of communication, honesty, teamwork and trust between colleagues. Without it, employees are less likely to voice their opinion and more likely to feel disconnected from the organization.

In fact, 35% of employees say they’d leave their company of they didn’t trust their manager. This makes sense too. Without transparency, employees don’t feel in the loop, making it hard to fully embrace their professional roles and see where they fit within the larger context of the organization.
 
This is why trust is such a key ingredient for employee engagement. If open communication gives workers a roadmap of the company’s aims, ambitions and strategies, trust gives them a roadmap of where they fit into this picture. Transparency is the key that unlocks this map. Without it we can’t foster this trust and unlock the extra effort employees will put in when they have a high level of engagement.
 
When an organisation has a high level of transparency, employees feel free to express themselves, leading to innovation and fresh ideas, which further invests them in business outcomes.
 
So instead of just a 9-5, employees at an organisation with a well-developed culture of transparency view their place of work as a relationship-based environment. This nurtures a feeling of belonging, where everyone understands their roles and how they can contribute towards the goals and success of the business.
 
But if we, as leaders, don’t develop that culture of openness and trust, it becomes that much harder to nurture a feeling of connectivity and generate alignment among employees. Hindering not only our work environment but the success of our organizations too!
 
But here’s the challenge
 
Transparency isn’t something you do, it’s a culture, one which needs purposeful and fastidious cultivation. Being transparent isn’t something that just happens when the time is right, but rather something we engage in consistently. Too often transparency is spelled out as an organisational value, but it doesn’t live and breathe in the corridors of power. As soon as a key decision is made which isn’t communicated, you no longer have a culture of transparency. 
 
But in the day-to-day grind of business, sustaining transparency is easier said than done. Join us for our next Breakfast of Change event to explore how to build (and rebuild) trust through transparency.

Something to believe in?

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Imagine we could all wake up every morning saying to ourselves, “I’m excited about going to work today, I understand the value I offer and how it supports the rest of my organisation”. This is the crux of employee engagement - understanding our role in an organisation and feeling able to contribute towards the goals.  

According to the Harvard Business Review, 71% of employees rank employee engagement as very important to achieving overall organisational success. If this is the impact engagement can have on performance, then we should be doing more to keep employees focused.  

Give Me Something to Believe In  

One of the biggest parts of employee engagement is communicating the why  - helping people to understand the purpose of the organisation, and giving them a chance to get involved and make a meaningful difference.   

Some organisations truly understand the importance of placing why at the forefront. Take for instance IKEA whose mission is to “create a better everyday life for many people”. In everything from their marketing to their product range to the family focused culture, the resonance of creating a better everyday life for many flows.

Their mission is so tangible that it has led to the concept of the IKEA effect; the cognitive bias that means we place disproportionately high value on products that we have partially made. IKEA understand from their consumers to their employees that establishing a strong mission, communicating it clearly in word and deed and providing space for the contribution of others makes for a very strong business model.

What part do I play?

This makes us think - how can we do the same for our organisations? Well, we can revisit (or perhaps visit!) our organisation’s purpose, and ask ourselves what parts resonate with us? What does it mean to me as an individual, to us as a team? How might we adjust the language so that it contains the sentiment of the original and becomes something we can live everyday? What adjustments might we make about how we do things to live with stronger purpose?

It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and then we’re left wondering ‘what’s this all for?’. Helping people to connect the dots between the why and what they do every day is vital to creating an engaging culture.

Britain's Heatwave: How Productive Are You?

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The recent heatwave has been the longest we’ve had for five years. As we’ve experienced such scorching temperatures, how does the heat impact our productivity and wellbeing? An article from Personnel Today dives into the matter.  

Be cool

Working in a much cooler surrounding will help you to keep away from the extreme heat and focus your energy on where it matters rather than allowing it to get to you, which ultimately affects your productivity.   

In order to overcome the heat and optimise your brain fitness, carry out the following activities to keep cool:

  • Ensure blinds are on the windows and there is good ventilation: reducing the amount of light that floods the office and ensuring there is good airflow will minimise your experience of the heat.   

  • Drink plenty of water: I know it sounds obvious but keeping well hydrated throughout the day gives you the energy to perform at your best.  

  • Take regular breaks: optimise your brain performance by making sure your mind is revitalised and focused on the right stuff.

  • Exercise in the early mornings as opposed to late afternoons: helping to build up more energy that will be utilised during the day.  

These simple steps help to counteract the effect of heat. Keeping cool will help to re-energise your mind and ensure you’re as productive as you can be, even as the temperatures soar.

What's the Value of Coaching?

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We lead frenetic lives, with many of us not taking the time to reflect on how or why we’re doing what we do. We spend our entire lives living inside our own heads and this can sometimes lead to self-imposed limitations.

Coaching provides the opportunity to take a step back and reflect, building greater self-awareness, and from there, the ability to shift our thinking, to adapt our behaviours.

We’ve been working with a coachee recently who was being incredibly hard on herself, beating herself up for every perceived imperfection. From that position of judgement it was very hard for her to create movement - so our goal was to help her to develop a kinder mindset to enable her to tackle her challenges more proactively.

At Agents of Change one of our mantras is to lead with curiosity over judgement. One benefit of this is increased kindness - to ourselves and to others.

Coaching has helped her to become more curious and less self-deprecating. By adopting a more pragmatic approach, taking a moment to reflect at the end of each day, she now jots down what’s gone well and what hasn’t. This physical list has helped her to become more aware of the stuff that’s going well, and observe, rather than judge what’s not gone so well. This helps to create a greater sense of balance and control - and the opportunity to recalibrate her approach each day - what can she do differently tomorrow to generate more successes?

What can coaching do for you?        

  • Coaching provides the opportunity to deepen our understanding of our motivations and habits, and explore ways to create new ones.

  • Coaching helps us to achieve our goals by breaking them down into manageable chunks and proactively working towards them.

  • Our engagement with our roles, our teams and our families can be transformed through coaching - allowing us to contribute more effectively, to feel happier and more fulfilled in ourselves.

We have a wide range of coaches and coaching packages available, get in touch if we can help you.

The Power of Storytelling

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In his fascinating Ted talk, David Phillips explains the science behind the feelings we evoke when we communicate with others.

He talks about how positive hormones and neurotransmitters can be released by a good story. These include dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins, which Phillips refers to as the “angel’s cocktail.”

When dopamine is released into our blood, it leads to greater focus, motivation, and improved memory. The effects of oxytocin make us more generous, trusting, and ready to bond. It makes us feel relaxed and more human as we bond to the storyteller. Finally, there are endorphins which we create by making people laugh. Endorphins make us feel more creative, relaxed, and focused.

There is, however, an opposite effect that Phillips calls the “devil’s cocktail.” This is when there are higher levels of cortisol and adrenaline produced in response to a scary or stressful situation. This cocktail makes people intolerant, irritable, uncreative and critical.

In our work lives, we can influence people better when we are working with positive emotion, so it’s useful to use storytelling to create the right response in people.

What are you doing to feed the angel’s cocktail, and to mitigate the devil’s?