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Restructure

Getting Ready to Restructure Your Business? 6 Steps You Must Follow

To be successful, your business will have to evolve continually. As it grows, you’re likely to have to reorganise at various points on your journey. Sometimes you might want to make changes to take advantage of new opportunities. At other times, you may need to adapt your business model to respond to challenges.

In our experience, a company that has grown to employ 20 – 25 employees and beyond can anticipate having to restructure every 12 to 18 months on average.

As businesses adjust to trading in the current climate, many will likely need to look at how they are structured. This might involve reviewing and redefining the roles of some employees, and without suitable alternative positions available within a new set up, it might mean having to make some redundancies.

Understandably for employees, an organisational restructure can be an unsettling time, which means it’s important to manage it well. The consequences of not doing so can include added disruption to business, a damaged reputation – and where redundancies are involved, time and expense in defending employment tribunal claims.

In planning any restructure likely to result in changes to job roles or redundancies, it’s essential for an employer to consult with their employees before they make any final decisions.

Here at Organic P&O Solutions, we help business owners and management teams make the (sometimes tough) decisions required to change the shape of their organisations – and to do so in a way that is compliant and fair for all parties.

When a restructure goes wrong, it’s often because the business involved has not fulfilled its obligation to consult with affected staff, or because somewhere in the process, it has failed to follow the correct procedures.

If you’re planning a restructure in your organisation, having the support of a professional HR advisor is highly recommended. Because every restructure is different and has its own unique dynamics, there’s much more to consider than the linear process. This said, there are some fundamental points to keep in mind when you’re preparing to implement a change like this:

1. Review all your business options

Based on the information you have available, and what you are reasonably able to anticipate, you will need to consider all the business options open to you.

If for example, your business has experienced a significant drop in revenue, you’ll need to review – and where possible, reduce overheads in the short term. Looking further ahead and using data extracted from your management accounts, you’ll need to calculate how long your business will be able to trade on the reduced income – and consider what options are open to you longer term should the situation persist.

2. Review staffing against your business options

When you have listed your business options, you will be in a position to review your staffing structure in relation to each potential scenario. It’s important to show you’ve considered your options in this order.

You’ll need to consider each option against the key criteria, making sure you’re being fair and reasonable at each juncture – being extremely mindful at this point to set aside the personal situations or personalities of individual employees.

3. Recognise your obligation to consult with staff

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that restructuring your organisation is purely a business decision, and you don’t need to consult with your employees.

If you’re planning a restructure that’s going to require staff to have to change roles or result in redundancies, you’re statutorily bound to engage in a meaningful consultation process with those staff who will be affected.

Crucially, this doesn’t mean sharing a restructuring plan that’s set in stone and just expecting staff to adopt it.  All too often, we hear of business owners who work on a restructuring plan in isolation, before presenting it to their workforce as a fait acompli: an action more likely to lead to conflict and arbitration than collaboration.

Ideally, it’s best to communicate with staff openly and honestly from the outset. This way, there will be complete transparency before the consultation process begins. You’ll have to allow time for affected employees to respond with alternative solutions, and no definitive decisions can be made until the consultation process has been completed.

4. Pause recruitment activity

If you’re planning any redundancies as part of your restructure, you’ll need to consider whether those employees affected might be offered any other suitable alternative employment within your organisation. To this end, you should pause any recruitment activity during the process.

5. Advise affected staff

When you have identified your preferred restructure route, your next step must be to notify any employees who will potentially be affected, formally advising them that you intend to enter a consultation process.

6. Consult with affected staff

Having taken the appropriate steps up to this point, you’re now ready to consult with affected employees. You will be able to share your proposed restructure plan together with your reasons and rationale for putting it forward.

At the same time, you’ll need to make it clear that no decisions have yet been taken, and you are open to any alternative solutions those affected might want to propose.

You must leave space for plans to evolve and change, and time for other parties to put forward alternative solutions and have them fully considered – so that by the time a final decision is reached, all options have been explored.

I often liken the process of going into a restructure to kicking a rugby ball into the air. In the same way you can’t know which way the ball will bounce on landing, it’s virtually impossible to predict how a restructure proposal will be received when you’re dealing with people and emotions.

Employers will frequently go in one of two directions. They’ll either procrastinate and go around in circles as they attempt to get inside their employees’ heads – trying to anticipate and address questions they can’t possibly know. Or they’ll simply impose their preferred restructure option without consultation, believing they’ve explored all avenues and no other solution is available.

The first of these routes wastes time and energy and is ultimately ineffective as the clarity of any original objective is lost. The second is clearly unlawful.

Going back to my rugby ball analogy, a restructure can have a clearly defined process, but it won’t be linear, and along the way, it will bob and weave. To ensure it runs smoothly and results in a successful outcome, the support of an HR professional who can help you manage the human aspects involved with implementing change – as well as guiding you in respect of compliance, is essential.

Focusing exclusively on compliance when making decisions is not necessarily the best way forward. In some situations, taking human considerations into account might cost you a little more time and/or money – but save you a lot in terms of how your business is perceived by others. This may be a particularly important consideration for owners of small and mid-size companies who have a high profile in their local community.

Can We Help Your Business Restructure?

Do you need to change the shape of your business? Organic P&O Solutions can advise and support you through every step of the process.  We’ll help you balance compliance with fairness so that your team transitions smoothly and painlessly, and we’ll make sure that when your restructure is complete, the reputation of your business – and your conscience – remain fully intact!

Call us today to arrange an initial conversation. Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date.

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Natalie Homeworking

5 Essential Tips for Creating an Effective Homeworking Team

None of us has ever had to confront personal or work challenges quite like those we’re experiencing right now. Enforced social distancing has required virtually all of us to find new ways of working. But the disruption to normal life has – for some organisations at least – highlighted an opportunity that could lead to a permanent shift in the way they work.

Although re-evaluating and re-inventing work processes has presented enormous issues for many businesses, some service-based companies have been reminded that they don’t necessarily need employees based in one central location.

Homeworking can deliver a range of benefits. There are obvious financial advantages arising from running a business with a reduced physical workspace – or even none at all.  Some global tech companies had already adopted remote models: understanding that productivity is positively impacted when employees no longer have to commute or travel to meetings, and morale and mental wellbeing levels improve as staff have more quality time available for families, loved ones and personal pursuits.

For many businesses now, the realisation that they can operate effectively with staff working from home – and that the homeworking model offers significant advantages, makes it likely they will look to continue working this way – in whole or in part – post-lockdown.

It’s hard to find many positives during this crisis, but perhaps this might be one of them. Could this be the nudge you need to migrate some or all of your team to homeworking?

Are you ready to fully embrace homeworking in your business?

If you’ve previously had reservations about having your team work from home, perhaps the enforced circumstances of the lockdown have made you think again? Or maybe you have already introduced homeworking into your business, and while you don’t need convincing of its benefits, you want to make it work even better for you? You could have made the initial transition without establishing a working from home policy, trusting people to adapt and get on with things.  This may have worked at the outset, but perhaps you now have team members who are presenting challenges or not working as effectively as they should?

Our business model here at Organic P&O Solutions has always been based around a homeworking team, and we know from experience that the key to success is flexibility. Here are 5 essential tips for creating an effective homeworking team:

Be aware that everyone in your team has unique personal & family needs

Outside of work, team members will have very different family and home lives. They might have shared or sole responsibility for looking after young children or be carers for elderly or sick relatives. Support networks will vary for each of them, and they’ll have to balance work with personal responsibilities.

To get the best out of your team, you’ll need to identify the needs of individual employees, then help them to find and implement solutions that accommodate their circumstances. At Organic P&O Solutions, we’ve done this very successfully with our own team, including Natalie, one of our home-based consultants.

Natalie’s husband, Nick, has a full-time job in the RAF, and they share responsibility for looking after their two young daughters. From the outset, Natalie was very clear about what she needed to be able to carry out her full-time role effectively – while still continuing to share parenting duties and be there for her girls.

Some employers might dismiss out of hand the idea that a mum of two young children and a working partner could find the time (or energy!) to undertake a full-time job. But we knew Natalie was perfect for the role, and by taking the time to understand how she prefers to work, we’ve been able to meet her needs, so we all benefit.

“I told Tash I needed to be able to function as a single parent so that if Nick is relocated, nothing changes for the girls. Tash completely understood this, and as long as I make my commitments to clients and meet my goals each week, she’s happy for me to decide what I do, how and when”.

 “While the lockdown is on and Nick and I are both at home, I’m typically working between 6 am until midday, then doing a couple more hours in the evening. It works well as I’m more productive in the mornings anyway. Nick looks after the girls and helps them with schoolwork. We reverse roles in the afternoon, and I get to do the messy, creative stuff with them while Nick works. Then, when the house is quiet again in the evening, I go back to work.” (Natalie).

All of us in the Organic P&O Solutions team have very different family circumstances, but by having open and honest discussions and testing solutions, we’ve reached outcomes that work for everyone and found ways round our collective and unique challenges.

Family-friendly employment policies are an essential aspect of retaining loyal, engaged, productive teams – for more information, read our blog, 5 ways to make sure you’re a truly family-friendly employer.

Learn to trust your team

For an employer used to sharing the same physical workspace with their team, adjusting to the concept of remote managing can be challenging. As with any relationship – personal or professional, trust is vital.

In our view, team members must be given the latitude to deliver their contributions in their preferred way: working the hours best suited to their situation and temperament – within an agreed timeframe of course. But with that trust, comes the responsibility to own their results, adapt and self-motivate so they deliver. No excuses.

It’s human nature to worry about what you can’t see. But does it really matter if an employee working at home takes five minutes to check their social media during ‘work time’ or get some exercise? We think not. Especially if it means they’re going to get their job done more effectively and be more focused because they’ve taken a short break in a way that works for them.

We’ve had clients question how an employee could possibly work from home if they have to look after their children all day. How could they ever be trusted to be productive, and not put childcare responsibilities first? Our response is always the same. We’ve never let them down or missed a deadline due to our children and when we’re not out delivering for clients, we’re working from home. We’re all parents with differing levels of support, so if we can do it, maybe it’s time for them to think again about what’s being asked of them?

Recognise everyone works differently 

If you’re managing homeworking employees, consider the wide range of personality types within a team. Some people enjoy working on their own and will naturally thrive in a homeworking environment, while others may require a higher degree of support and nurturing.

In an office-based team, employees are generally required to work within a structured, 9-5 day. While this rhythm suits some, it can constrain others who may prefer more elasticity in their routine. Many people are more alert, creative and productive and do their best work outside of these hours.  I know I am and I always have been.

I spent many years working in the retail sector and remember the difficulty I had making the transition to a ‘regular’ working day. I’d become used to working irregular hours with early morning starts, late-night finishes, and week-end working. Making the switch was hard and I found conforming to a regular office day far more tiring than working longer, uncertain hours. Needless to say, I’m far happier working the way I do today! So, our advice is don’t make assumptions about what works for people. We all have different energisers.  Help people find theirs and you’ll see results soar.

Adjust how you monitor individual performance

Monitoring the performance of remote working staff is very different from monitoring performance in an office-based team. When you’re working alongside your employees, you can observe performance first-hand and discuss work in progress, picking up potential issues as they arise.

Technology options abound to make people more accessible but you can’t be there all the time if your team is home-based.  To know what employees have been doing, how they’ve got on and what they’ve achieved, the nature of the conversations you have will need thought, a little planning and some organisation.

So, focus on results – and not necessarily on the process or the hours taken to achieve the outcome. Allow employees some flexibility and freedom to complete work in their own way to an agreed schedule – and be prepared to adjust until you find and keep what works.

Ensure you communicate regularly

With team members working from disparate locations and potentially working different hours, finding time to schedule regular team meetings and one to one catch-ups is vital.

At Organic P&O Solutions, as well as being essential for running shared projects, these meetings help us understand how each of us is managing our work-life balance and can inform our planning.

“We get together for a half-hour team video call at least once a week, discussing what’s going on in each of our areas and sharing ideas. It’s not uncommon for us to start with our children present at first. It gives us a window on what’s going on in each of our personal lives and helps us work better together. I’ll also have a weekly one to one call with Tash to talk about what I’m working on and to plan ahead. This is my opportunity to raise any work-life challenges, and if necessary, discuss any adjustments to the way I need to work.” (Natalie).

 Can We Help Make Homeworking Work for You?

The business advantages of moving to a homeworking model can be significant, but to be effective, it will require careful planning, sensitivity and consultation with employees.

If you’ve implemented home-based team working into your organisation but have encountered issues, or if you’ve considered introducing it but have held back until now because you can’t see how to overcome particular challenges, we can help.  We can work with you to understand your obligations, challenges and opportunities and recommend a strategy that will address your situation and deliver your objectives.

Call us today to arrange an initial conversation.

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disruption

5 insights that create order through disruption and chaos

Uncertainty. Upheaval. Disruption. Life as you know it is changing and it’s not letting up.  What’s your response to it?  Foggy head? Clear head? Ok with going with the flow or do you resent changing your clearly defined plans? As an HR specialist who helps people navigate times of change, I’ve observed (and displayed!) many behaviours that support navigating through change successfully (and not!).

This blog captures practices that build resilience and infrastructure to support leaders navigate the changes that significantly impact people and organisations.

Deploy consistent habits

Put first things, first.  We are conditioned, many of us, for the ‘end’ point.  Passing the exam, getting the promotion, hitting our sales or revenue targets, getting married, losing weight etc etc. It’s great to have a goal and have a plan.  It’s not possible to deliver the plan in a linear order, illustrated beautifully by one of my favourite quotes “No plan survives contact with the enemy”.

I fell afoul of this personally, only recently. I was running up a hill, that was in the plan. I couldn’t run up the hill because I couldn’t breathe. Feeling like I should be able to do it by now (I’ve done it before, it’s the right stage of the plan) meant I tensed and told myself to ‘just get up the hill!’ I had enlisted the help of a running

coach who gave me some sage advice. “Don’t look at the top of the hill, look just forward of where you are, maintain your optimum posture for breathing and moving and keep going with small steps. Believe in your legs, your mind will quit before your legs will.” She was right, of course. As a coach, I knew this, and I’ve been known to give the advice before, but I was at a point of personal difficulty because I was in my ‘get on with it’ mindset. The answer wasn’t in the grit or the capability (it wasn’t a very big hill and I was determined!). It was all in the technique. It was a great metaphor for life and business showing what happens when we focus on the end point and get frustrated that we’re not where we want to be. Identify and practice the consistent habits and processes and we can keep sight of the end point and focus on the here and now moves to get there. In this example, once I focused on technique, my determination had something tangible to deliver, my heart-rate settled and I ran up the hill with less effort than my starting point.

Prioritise often

Prioritising is a skill that delivers plans and takes practice to make sure, ironically, that we prioritise using it. So, blend vision with pragmatism. It’s important to identify possible outcomes and what if’s in times of change however it’s also important not to overanalyse. Keep your focus on thinking about the likelihood of something affecting your plans and weigh it up with gauging the potential impact, then prioritise the things that will make the biggest difference. Once the plan is executed, keep visiting the ‘what-if’s’ and adjust them. Take time to identify what now, then what next, repeat and/or adjust and you’ll create space for movement in the right way without losing time or direction.

In high VUCA (volatile, uncertain, changing, adaptive) situations, the next right move might not be in the well thought through plan, it’s more likely to be found in the evolution of a situation and so prioritising frequently becomes the tool for adapting once a plan is in ‘play’.  It’s especially important when we’re in uncertainty, as it allows you to adapt as information and resources unfold.

Embrace, manage and don’t judge, your emotions

When something rocks our world, whether we think it should, or whether we think it shouldn’t, it has.  Our attachment to something isn’t logical, it’s emotional. We don’t judge our nerves when they tell us something is hot or cold, so when our emotions tell us we feel happy or sad, we need to drop the notion that our feelings are good or bad. Instead, understanding that emotions are the psychological equivalent of our nerve system mean we can access them as data. Uncomfortable data sometimes, yes, but data, nonetheless. So, take the time to find out how you’re feeling about the changes you’re facing, and notice and you’ll be in a better position to move identify what you need and move into a productive space, quicker. For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or helpless, accept it. It makes sense when there’s a lack of information and the implications are serious. It doesn’t need to be dramatic, but it isn’t helpful to ignore it.  It will affect the way you function whether you want it to or not, at some point. So, face into it, look it in the eye and process it. Simple ways to do this are moving to another room, going for a walk, making a drink, listening to some music, exercising, talking to someone you trust.  Allow the same for others and you’ll find collective solutions and build trust so, encourage your team to identify and use their emotions, then enjoy the benefits of a more resilient, rounded, solution focused team.

Live through the unknown

Some people have a higher need for certainty and control than others. High change and high uncertainty situations reveal this. Neuroscience explains that we get an addictive hit of dopamine when we deal with something quickly. This feel good hormone keeps us wanting to complete and conquer over and over.  The short-term hit gets in the way of our ‘better judgement’ though and robs us of the longer-term satisfaction of achieving something worthwhile, because the longer-term piece can’t be done in one hit or in this mode of working.  So, next time you find yourself living off dopamine hits, check you’re working in urgent mode because that’s what really is needed. Then move out of it as soon as you can, allow your adrenaline levels to settle so you’ll restore the ability to see and move towards the longer-term gain.

Preparation and practice for times of high stress also work well here. We don’t see athletes at starting lines using things to distract themselves for their nerves, musicians turn up at concerts at the last minute or emergency services arrive in a harried rushed state. They turn up for their event or situation focused on what’s before them in the knowledge they were prepared to cope with what they couldn’t predict because they have rehearsed the habits they’d need for the things they could predict. They rehearse crucial technical pieces.  I’m a rugby fan. Johnny Wilkinson’s 2003 drop goal is my personal reminder of the benefits of practicing for times of pressure – what’s yours?

So, prepare and practice the small things, so you can employ them in habit form when you need them urgently and develop your ability to hold your nerve through the waiting period so you can be ready and able to act at the right time, in the right way. You’ll feel better, more often, longer term.  You’ll also be easier to work with!

Replace your agenda with empathy

Changing and uncertain times feel chaotic because they involve people who are communicating in different ways, with different perspectives, about an evolving situation. As humans, we experience a loss of control when we wait for decisions from others and we experience a sense of control when the decision is ours.

I see it play out with employers and employees often.  ‘Why is she being so difficult?’ they say.  ‘Why is he being so insensitive?” they ask.  There are differences in agendas and to truly understand what’s going on, agendas need to be replaced with a genuine desire to understand the other person’s view.  I have lost count of the number of times I’ve facilitated a discussion where people agreed, but just couldn’t see it at first because they described their experience and views so differently.

This is where judgements really surface too. The minute we start deciding whether someone is right or wrong, it’s because we are comparing it to our own frame of reference.  If it matches, they’re right. If it doesn’t, they’re wrong. It’s human, it’s understandable but it’s not helpful. So, move towards understanding what someone disagrees with by removing your own listening lense, and then share your perspective responsively e.g. in relation to their view, not in an oppositional reply and you’ll find ways towards solutions.  Sometimes you’ll need to adapt more than others and not everyone will respond well. Once you’ve genuinely dropped your agenda, persevere. It’s less likely to feel like a compromise, and more likely to feel like a good way forward.

In summary

Navigating disruption is exhausting for many because of the constant need to switch between being future focused and working with constantly developing information. It takes concentration and energy.  Clarity, planning, adaptability, high emotional intelligence and strong communication skills are pivotal to navigating change successfully.

We work with teams in small and large businesses to support them in their organisational change needs. Whether that’s supporting senior people with their ideas and plans or leading HR teams to a new level of service to their businesses.

If you would like to see how we might help you navigate a period of significant change, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today.

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5 ways to confident hiring decisions

You know you’ve worked in a great team when you pick up the phone after a few years to a former colleague and when you start reminiscing about working together, the conversation covers three things. What you’re proud of achieving together, how you got through the tough times and how much you enjoyed working and learning together. Yet, when I reflect on conversations I have with employers, job applicants, freelancers etc about what they look for during a hiring / engagement process, these three things aren’t a ready focus point.

In my experience, great hiring strategies involve a combination of deliberate and accidental matching criteria. The most successful processes have a greater degree of the former (criteria and process) so the latter (surprises) can emerge. The best ones focus on what the team needs to deliver next and what they need both technically and behaviourally to do it. Here are some of the ways we help our clients build their teams making sure they use their own unique blend of foresight and hindsight, to make confident hiring decisions.

Values value values
We know that employers need to hire technical skills and experience. We also know that when appointments go sour, the cause is often behaviour. The behaviour is a problem but not the main issue. Quite often, it’s a clash of personal values. This is often a surprise and that’s because values are innate. And, because they’re innate, they’re usually not discussed openly. Get clear about personal and team values and you’ll have a description for your culture and a tool you can use time after time, no matter what the role is. You’ll also have criteria to help manage individual and team performance.

A note of caution here, don’t rule people out just because they don’t directly agree with you or your team’s ‘norms’. Values transcend diversity. More importantly, difference is essential for rounded performance. Do think about how you’ll manage differences though and don’t take it so far that you find yourself on the wrong side of discrimination. Sometimes the path to collaboration, whilst worthwhile, isn’t smooth!

Business phase and role life span
Have a ‘people’ plan. Something that shows how roles relate to each other and what they will deliver for the business. Identify what you’re happy to invest in and what you expect someone to turn up with.

In your plan, get clear about the phase your business is in. What’s the lifespan of the vacancy? Will it stay in its current form or evolve over time? How much? How quickly? Resourcing is an ongoing activity. Over time, things change. Help people manage careers not job roles and you’ll gain loyalty and commitment that salaries and benefits can’t buy.

Keep in touch
When you meet a candidate you just ‘really liked’ but they didn’t get the job, think about what they would have been right for and keep in touch. Maybe they need a more settled, stable company phase or conversely, there won’t be enough pace, change and challenge in this assignment. If they’re not right for you, they may be right for someone you know and better still, they may be right for your team in the future. There are so many ways to keep in touch, choose what works for you. Perhaps you’ll call them periodically or connect with them on LinkedIn. If it won’t upset their current employer, and you’d like to help them secure a new role, perhaps give them a ‘Kudos’ post. In short, when you meet top talent, keep in touch and nurture it.

Attract the right candidates
Decide on a route to market that will attract and help you identify good candidates, just like you would for attracting customers. Where are the people that would love to find you? What is it that’s unique or different about you as an employer? Spend time building your employer brand as well as your customer brand and you’re more likely to have a quality pool to choose from. For example, where might you find people with the right qualities you’re looking for. Things like empathy, initiative, team player. I have a client who will always interview a candidate who volunteers regularly. They may not get the job every time, but he knows that if they’re a volunteer, they have qualities and values that resonate with what he looks for in his team. The technical training can be learned.

Do more than interview

Good interview skills are essential for giving candidates the best chance of showing you they can deliver. A practical way of looking for an all-round view (technical, experiential, behavioural) is to include a practical exercise in the selection process. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy assessment centre style event, although that may be an option for you. It could be something simple. For example, when I recruit for HR professionals at all levels, I provide scenarios that are unique to the business and role. Part of the exercise will be a form of written correspondence. I need to know the people coming on board can work with more than standard templates. (Tailored, well written correspondence is an absolute must in all HR correspondence, for me).

There are multiple benefits to this, I find out how the ‘fit’ works for the role and business culture, over and above the discussion at interview. I discover congruence so I can assess whether the candidate really can deliver the things they impressed me with during the interview. I receive evidence of things like use of language, tone of voice, empathy, judgment, influence and so on, all critical to the HR role. The blend however may reveal that one candidate is stronger for the assignment than another.

The bonus though, is when a nervous interviewee gets to show me, through the exercise, how they really work and what they’re capable of. Interview nerves don’t go away until they’ve been overcome. Getting through a selection process supports confidence. It’s not always a happy ending, but I can’t put a price on how rewarding it is when it works out.

Where to next?
One of our values is continuous improvement. We make sure we apply our learning from our strongest successes and any of our glorious failures, for future decisions. When it comes to people and organisations, we’ve got plenty we’d love to share and even more passion to continue to explore. Every assignment is unique, every client has evolving needs and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Perhaps you’re a business owner, director or senior manager who could use some fresh ideas or an opportunity to learn from your experiences so far. We’d love to find out how we might help you take your hiring process to the next level. If you’d like to find out more, please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

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5 reasons performance feedback fails and what to do about it

Giving and receiving feedback is heartland territory for performance conversations. Both delivery and receipt require a combination of skill and character, making it a strong topic for Leadership and Management training programmes everywhere.  It’s essential for continuous performance improvement and without it, effective change won’t gather pace. Yet it’s often delivered and/or received badly; exacerbating poor communication practices and ineffective working relationships.  Here are our top contributors that we believe hamper effective feedback and our ideas for how to solve them.

  1. Feedback is delivered as a one-way conversation

I’ve seen it often. The perception is delivered in a ‘let me tell you what I saw, experienced, felt’ style and standard rules like be clear, be factual, give examples, be assertive are followed. Agreed, these are all important, however, this approach doesn’t allow for a mutual understanding and resolution to be reached.  Feedback is a response to something that we want changed or repeated, and this means co-operation is required. For co-operation, there must be two-way involvement.  If you have a skilled recipient, the conversation may hold promise because they may be able to receive the information in a way that is useful, regardless of the delivery.  However, without managing the conversation, it’s more likely problems will surface.  Above all else, check first if it’s a good time for them to receive this information and whether you are the most effective messenger.

A message delivered articulately and empathetically is as important as the accuracy of the content, so tailor your message delivery to match the context, environment and circumstances of the recipient. Things like ‘Is this a pattern they have noticed for themselves?’  work well.  Inviting someone to self-assess before giving your view means you are less likely to encounter resistance. Another example could be when you’ve observed something that’s out of character. In this case, ask what was different that day or in that meeting etc. before sharing your observations. The response you receive may negate the need to give your view altogether.

  1. You prepare for the conversation without preparing yourself

Particularly when there’s a tough message involved, feelings of uncertainty, anxiousness, nervousness about the potential response combined with fear of negative consequences, can undermine your approach regardless of your intentions.  To control the discomfort, it’s human nature to want to avoid it (flight) or push through it (fight). This usually happens when someone is attached to being ‘right’.  To bolster your view, you may seek agreement from someone you trust. Then share the information according to when you’re ready. The feeling of ‘There, said it. Phew! Now it’s up to them. Right?’ may resonate here.  If so, have a think about how many times you have reached a satisfactory result following just one conversation. It’s unlikely to have a high yield, if at all.

When I have something I feel strongly about, I let it ‘sit’ for a while. Then I discuss it with someone I trust to challenge my views.  The stronger the reaction, the longer I let it sit and the more I seek challenge. Examining your motives and judgments is important because these determine your beliefs.  And those beliefs? They’ll inform how you feel.  If the conversation is going to lead somewhere good, it’ll be because you kept your opinions, judgments and emotions in check. Not absent, they count, but not in the driving seat. I believer if you feel ‘right’, that makes the other person wrong.  That’s a black and white position with no room for exploration.  With no room for taking in the other person’s experience / perspective then it’s a one-way conversation. The result is more likely to be an uncomfortable transaction, without a sustainable resolution.  So, seek alternative views, talk to someone who may share the other person’s perspective as well as your own and who can challenge your thinking. It won’t change what has happened, but it could shape a stronger outcome.

  1. The delivery is formulaic and fails to inspire an appetite to change

We use a variety of communication models in our work and advocate many different feedback models however, we urge our clients not to rely on them. Instead, consider these as criteria for preparation. Like a set piece in sport or a recipe for a meal, formulas support how something is put together.  So use formulae for infrastructure then employ empathy and responsiveness. Avoid over-scripting and over-managing as this will undermine conveyed sincerity.  Instead, join forces to explore relevant issues and find solutions to secure your best chance of co-operation and commitment to change.

If you really want to inspire change, be proactive with your feedback by finding ways to give forward feedback.  For example, when we work with delegates who are taking part in an exercise in our longer-term programmes, we will draw their attention to a skill they’ve shown in a previous session. For example, “I know you’re not sure how to approach this right now, but I know you can do this because you achieved {[X] result in the [Y] module. Use your [mention special skill] here and you’ll be on your way to really seeing some traction on this”.  Express what you’re looking to see more of and what difference it could make to the results of the company, team, project etc and motivation will soar.  It will also build a habit and mindset that will spread like ripples throughout the team. Not only for the individuals receiving it but for those witnessing the culture you’re fostering. 

  1. A commitment is expected immediately

I remember a time I received some feedback. It was important I heard it and understood it. It stung a bit!  I accepted it and said I’d go away and think about it.  The person who gave me the feedback was upset that I didn’t have a more committed response. I felt I needed time to work out how best to deal with it.  We found our way through it, but I’ll never forget the feeling of being on the receiving end of feedback that was completely valid, yet outside of my awareness.  Why is this important? Feedback is often a no-brainer to the person giving the information, so the impact it has can often be under-estimated.   Remember, it’s only obvious when you know.  And if they know, it’s not feedback!  In which case, I would challenge you to think about the purpose of the conversation you really need to have here.

On the flipside, you may receive an emotional or highly charged response.  In this case, give it some time and distance. Then return, don’t avoid it.  During the gap think about your timing, delivery, what might help reduce the emotional charge when it’s revisited? Go back to your trusted source(s) for some perspective.  I’m not suggesting you accept unhelpful behaviour; I am suggesting you consider the emotional make-up of the receiver and what their motives might have been for their original actions.  In short, re-visit the qualification points and then adjust from there.  And if you got it wrong, apologise and treat it as feedback for yourself.  Boundaries and ownership are key to achieving personal change, so encourage it by being a role model for it by adjusting your approach if you need to.

  1. Agreed actions sit only with the recipient

Feedback is particularly effective when we know what we want to be different.  I hear people express what they did or didn’t appreciate yet fall short on the required change.  Just as the feedback may have been a surprise to the recipient, the actions required to make a change may feel equally like an enigma.  A strong leader will be clear about what good looks like and will understand how to support without reducing ownership on the individual.  So, it’s a good idea to think about how you will make sure you manage the change and progress that you’re asking for. What are the review timescales? What is reasonable to expect and when? What do the incremental changes look like? For example, if it’s greater accuracy, what’s the reduction in mistakes you’re looking to see? If it’s a more positive contribution in meetings, what does that look like? Then think about what support you need to provide. What will you do to actively encourage commitment to the change? What will need repetition and what will need enough space to allow progress from you?  If you’re thinking about how you can support the process, you’ll handle the conversation and subsequent follow up better, and you’ll be in a better place to use it in an exploratory, solution focused way from the start.

At Organic P&O Solutions we’ve worked with individuals and teams, high performers and underperformers, in high output departments and in personally charged employment disputes. We always talk about constructive dialogue being key and we’ve witnessed it deliver improved performance when done well.  It has also supported companies to manage the destructive effects of toxic relationships and move into a more productive way of working.  If you’d like to find out more about how we might help you build a stronger performance amongst your team, we’d love to hear from you.

 

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HR Professionals

4 Things Leaders Don’t Need to Hear from HR Professionals

Strong business leaders know how to make the most of their HR resource, are more likely to train their line management teams well to implement people processes and focus on what will motivate and engage their people. Sometimes, employment regulations can seem overly arduous, even to the most amenable leaders. At these times I have often heard HR professionals, often well intentioned, sound unhelpful. Their conscientious attention to the rules risks missing the mark in getting a good result for the business. Based on what I’ve heard and learned over my career, as an HR professional, facilitator, coach and business owner, I’ve shared the top four things, that if avoided, can change the way HR professionals can support business leaders through employment disputes, more effectively.

  • It’s the law!

There are statutory regulations, it’s true. The implications of not following the ACAS code or the business policies outlined to employees could land a company in an Employment Tribunal. However, if the employer has never experienced the downside of a poor decision in this way, this is not a helpful message.

Our approach is always ‘yes you can’ followed by silence. It gives our clients the opportunity to ‘sit’ with their current thinking and then explore the potential consequences with us. We know our knowledge and experience isn’t important just yet. Once we’ve explored the potential implications and along the way, shared some information and experience that is directly relevant, we find business owners and leaders start to find alternatives, naturally, and we build from there. Appealing to the strength in their ability to make decisions and being clear, without being dramatic, about potential outcomes, makes it easier to weigh up alternatives all round.

  • You need to follow the process

Following a rigid process can be tricky for some. Personality types vary and so do ability levels and appetites for it. I find, quite often, it’s not identifying and explaining the steps in the process that present the difficulty. Rather, it’s the ability to navigate the conversation once it’s underway. Over time, HR professionals build up a catalogue of knowledge and experience that line managers may not, because they don’t specialise in it. This is particularly true for difficult issues. So, we tend to focus on supporting the words, language, sequencing and styles that are important to the people both managing, and on the receiving end of a process. Focusing the leaders on listening and clarity also gives them the time to notice and respond well, which makes it easier for them to take the right steps, at the right time.

  • You’ll end up in an Employment Tribunal

I’ve met many HR professionals who believe that going to Employment Tribunal means the business has failed. In some cases, this may be true. Not always though. For example, I’ve supported businesses through employment tribunal proceedings when they’ve had good conscience that they had done everything they could. And they’ve had successful outcomes. At Organic P&O Solutions, our focus is to come out of any difficult situation with learning. Sometimes this on its own can be the very boost a business leader needs to take their people strategy to a new level.

As an aside, I also advise HR teams to manage complex cases as if they were going to end up in tribunal. It helps on a few levels. The first, the case documents are ready when needed, should it need go to an employment solicitor. The last thing you need to be doing when that time-sensitive tribunal notification hits is waste time collating information. You’ll need to focus all your efforts on a quality response. Second, it keeps focus at every stage, on consistency of decisions and exercising due diligence. I often help businesses think about how a tribunal panel might weigh up their decision. It helps with perspective. Third, because it has been managed so closely, the likelihood of ending up in Tribunal is reduced.

  • If you do it for one, you’ll have to do it for everyone

Consistency and fairness are important. They are also barriers to responding to individual needs and being able to respond well, on an individual level, is at the heart of good leadership. So, striking the chord to achieve what’s ‘fair and reasonable’ (required in our employment regulations) versus ‘what’s really needed here?’ (addressing human needs) is of pivotal importance. HR professionals have a duty to support business owners run their businesses well, which means policies need to be applied in the way that suits the business and its customers. The direct conduit between those two is how employees are treated. So, we advise against blanket approaches and overly standard correspondence. The human element doesn’t automatically show up as favouritism and it could be the one thing that really turns a dispute into a workable solution.

We really enjoy working with businesses to facilitate the dialogue that leads to quality people practices. The themes are often similar, yet the solutions can differ considerably. So, if you could use a discussion about what kind of HR support you might need for your team, we’d love to see how we can help. Get in touch with us today.

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kindness

4 Steps to Kindness That Will Deliver Stronger People Performance

The health and wellness sector continues to grow. There are retreats, self-help books and tools, gratitude practices, mindfulness techniques, and so many methods and products that promise a healthier happier life, I can’t begin to count them all. Yet at the same time, suicide rates are at an all-time high, domestic violence and abuse continues to be a growing problem and our young people are reporting the highest rates of anxiety and depression of any generation so far. Something needs to change. As employers we are in a strong position to create a change, but like any behaviour shift, it must start with ourselves. But how?

If our businesses thrive on sustained, productive, effective performance and the ingredients to achieving that are in the vein of clarity, connection, results, learning, what is the missing piece? For me, the answer is always in the dialogue and the ingredient is kindness. This is where nurture lives. Without nurture, we might survive, but we won’t thrive. In a working context, it translates into unexplored and untapped potential. Without kindness in play, organisations miss out on more than productivity. They lose discretionary effort. The compounding effect of the loss of creativity, innovation and progress eats away at the opportunity to achieve organisational goals and the legacy they aspire to create.

So, what’s so tricky? There’s a causal pathway to a kind and compassionate dialogue. That’s what makes it easy to say and not so easy to demonstrate. To get to kindness we need to feel it. To feel it, we need compassion and empathy. If either of those is missing, we won’t be authentic. With a high focus on technology and results, it’s the perceived ‘soft’ skills that take a back seat when it comes to training. But the business case is becoming more and more evident in so many under-skilled managers being unable to make compassionate decisions that are clearly communicated. The question is, will we take time to invest in developing it? If so, where do we start?

The dictionary definition of kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate”. Here’s our take on what kindness is and how to develop it:

Kinship

Are you good to be around? To others? What about to yourself? When something goes well do you congratulate or criticise? When you talk about people, do you bring them down or pull them up? Look at the impact, not the intention. If you’re not sure, spend some time simply observing reactions for a month. Listening is a superpower. Make a diary of your observations, then review and see what trends / patterns emerge. When you’re speaking, notice the adjectives and phrases that you use frequently. Is it a helpful dialogue or is it harsh? Does it propel people forward or does it halt them in their tracks? Notice patterns in others and you’ll have data that no spreadsheet can provide. And there’s no better kinship that really hearing and seeing what’s important to someone.

If you’re not getting what you need, do you find ways to connect with others or hope someone else will notice? Assertive behaviour is important here. It’s about making sure everyone’s heard (enough) and considered (enough) before moving forward. Equally, what do you say to yourself, about yourself? If you’re a good friend to yourself, accepting of who you are and what you bring, you’ll be a more accepting, grateful colleague, friend, spouse, parent and so on.

Inspiration

Do you know who and/or what inspires you? Do you allow yourself to be inspired or do you surge forward every day with a list to achieve or perhaps you have a high need for external validation? In the workplace, do you help people find inspiration for themselves? Build a daily habit with as much importance as following your daily hygiene routine for getting absorbed in what inspires you. It could be as simple as watching the sunrise or listening to your favourite music. It doesn’t have to be attending a conference of motivational speakers, but if that’s what works, do that too!

Also, never underestimate how inspirational you might be to someone else. Do what you need to do, and the ripple effect could be significant for others.

Nurture

Do you allow time to restore your energy when it’s used? Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? What do you purposefully do to keep your stress levels under control? Do you notice what’s helpful, useful, and act on it before a low or a breaking point? If you’re a manager, how do you encourage this for your people? How do you praise so you can reap the benefits of that great performance again in the future?

An important part of nurture is self-care. The basics in working life are so often missing. Poor nutrition choices, low activity levels, overuse of devices. If we don’t prioritise for ourselves, we can’t be fully available, sustainably, to the people / causes that matter to us. As an employer, it’s in everyone’s best interests to make it a part of our regular conversations with our employees and give support for healthy choices, and recognition for strong contribution. Often a simple thank you goes a miss. Ignore nurture and we’ll see it in low productivity, higher and more frequent disputes, increasing absence levels and more. So, it makes sense to proactively focus on the basics. And not just for today’s workforce. We’re on the receiving end of a multiplier effect, if we embrace a change now, we can create a positive multiplier for future generations. That’s the true sense of nurture for me. Imagine a generation whose internal dialogue is healthy, resilient and kind.

Dedication is a practice that breeds passion. I have often witnessed rigidity in methods and mindsets which simply stifle people and results. That’s not dedication. The highest performing teams have plenty of humour and discipline in good measure. A kind approach for individuals and teams is one that is firmly held, gently delivered, whatever the topic. Knowing what and when to invest in team resources is key to making sure they can deliver. Dedicate your leadership development to relationship building and communication skills and growth and sustainability will be a benefit, not a focus. Without dedication in human kindness, managers will quickly fall into the micromanagement trap, overly focused on tasks and will continue to be frustrated and reactive making them less likely to adopt a kind response when it’s most needed. For example, when a crisis hits, kind managers have higher emotional intelligence to gain commitment from their teams to pull through.

I must add that being dedicated doesn’t mean ‘peak productivity’ all the time and ‘perfect’ results always. I remember learning how professional athletes train at 80% so they can give 100% on race day. A kind approach i.e. if it’s inspiring, nurturing and based on kinship, will have realistic, stretching targets. And it can be measured easily with forgiveness. If you or someone else makes a mistake, do you allow the learning to emerge, the time for regrets to dissolve? Is your language helpful to yourself as well as others? For more on this see our next blog about the skills of learning through feedback! But I digress.

Whilst the increase in wellbeing programmes and workplace benefits will continue to be essential for today’s employers, I wonder, what’s the real take-up of these schemes? Are they accessed by the people who really need them? Are employers really driving the activity that will reap long term benefit? And even so, is the training investment in line managers enough to help them develop the core skills they really need to be productive business champions?

Organic P&O Solutions works with Thames Valley businesses to help people change the way they think and behave so organisations become more effective. We love creating teams who love working together through HR strategies and training programmes. If you’d like a confidential discussion about creating productive champions for your business, we’d love to hear from you.

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High Performing Teams

The 4 Phase Journey to High Performing Teams Every Leader Needs To Know

In this blog we look at one of our favourite models for understanding the phases that teams go through to achieve high performance. We believe it’s a rite of passage that will happen naturally but if managed well can really shift teams from new to high performing faster. We cover how to handle conflict in teams here. But this blog is about the phases that leaders must facilitate to build high performing teams. You’ll note the word facilitate. It’s a journey for all team members. The Tuckman model, also known as the Tuckman Stages of Group Development is widely known, yet often underutilised. Here’s our take on it:

Forming: The start of something new. A group working together towards a new common goal or with a new team member creates a new dynamic. Everyone is polite. ‘You go first, no you, really….’ A level of uncertainty about who does what, when and with whom emerges. It could be a new venture or a re-structured team, or even a new phase. It’s where the team or partnership first join, or first need to achieve something together and the theory’s clear but the implementation has yet to take shape. The leader must establish purpose, clarity and facilitate new relationships. There’s more to this than simply getting the tasks agreed and the project started.

Storming: Decisions are being made. Some popular, some not so. Team members establish themselves in their new roles and start to get in each other’s way as they attempt to deliver their goals. Opinions are forming and starting to be expressed. Interpretations are made about actions. Difficult questions begin to surface. Reality shows up the unforeseen parts of the plan. There’s no need for drama, but there is a need to discuss the conflicts arising or bubbling under the surface. Emotions are higher now as people are more invested in achieving their goals so this is the stage where the power struggles start that turn into team dysfunction (if the leader allows it). Is the leader strong enough to draw out the differences in styles, operating models and personalities, confront it and take constructive steps to find a way forward? If yes, great! The journey continues. If not, this is where the team stays until it is openly discussed, otherwise either the project fails or nothing changes until someone leaves.

Norming: As the team begin to bond, trust builds. They have disagreed before and survived it. In fact, they now have an enhanced understanding of each other, a greater appreciation of their contribution to the team as individuals and of their fellow team members and they start to use this to build on. Collaboration becomes evident, respect is present, including in disagreement. Opposing views are given credence, assessed for usefulness and roles and responsibilities are accepted. Decisions become easier and implementation smoother. They’re on their way to high performance. Complacency by any team member at this phase must be noticed and averted or addressed if the journey is to continue successfully.

Performing: Now the team are working together well. They have a shared vision, they understand their purpose and values. They don’t agree on everything and it’s ok. They’ve learned to manage conflict. The leader has little to do now to manage differences as the individuals can do that for themselves, with each other. They deliver, time and time again. At this stage, the team is mature, highly adaptive, creative and has formed strong relationships thanks to their shared journey.

The team are performing not because they averted conflict, changes of plan and uncertainty, but because they embraced it and found a way through it. Now when there is a change, transitions from forming through to high performing can happen faster with fewer bumps along the way. Important issues are faced and dealt with. The intellectual and emotional capital of that team, wherever those team members go next, goes with them. If these people stay in the organisation, the effect on the teams they go to is multiplied as they become stronger at working with different people in different ways.

There is a fifth stage that Tuckman identified. Mourning. This is where a key team member, not necessarily the leader, but it will apply here too, leaves the team. Before they are able to re-form, there is period of natural affect as the team go through experiencing the loss of this significant character. Here, the natural change process is important to acknowledge, but that’s another topic we can cover another time!

The Leadership Role

Ultimately, how the leader in a team facilitates the journey from forming to high performing is instrumental in their success. If the leader can detach enough to manage the conflict issues and engage enough with their people to guide the team through each phase fully and be aware enough to notice and adjust as they need to about their own impact during the journey, they can reach the ‘performing’ stage and become a productive and effective team much quicker. And while this cycle might be repeated when someone new joins the team or someone leaves, a good leader will be able to navigate their team through each phase and make them stronger for it.

If you could use some support to find out what works for your team, we’d love to hear from you. For a no obligation discussion, get in touch, and we can arrange an initial discussion to start exploring which blend of traditional and bespoke models might work for you.

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Family Friendly

5 Ways To Make Sure You’re A Truly Family Friendly Employer

During the school holidays I have been fortunate enough to enjoy a great blend of time with my son, time working with clients, time working on the business and some time to use as I chose, for myself. All in varying proportions. My son equally had time with his father, time with his friends, time with his grandparents and time for himself to explore pursuits of his own. It took planning, co-ordination and some juggling. It all worked out well. But there have been times when it wasn’t so seamless and there are likely to be times when I’ll need to think differently again about how I plan for and accomplish meeting differing needs. It got me thinking about the options available for juggling work and family life for employers and employees.

I Googled the definitions of ‘family friendly working’ and was directed to research from Working Families and DirectGov.UK. In the 2019 Modern Families Index they quote that there are 6.2 million couple households with dependent children in the UK and 1.7 lone-parent families. Employment rates for mothers was a staggering 74%, which has only increased 5.1% over the last 5 years. And, employment rates for both women and men with dependent children were higher than for those without. So that’s 13 million working parents (employed and self-employed). For more information about how those statistics play out in other areas I’d urge you to take a look at the report. It’s an interesting read.

From this research, I learned parents working in SME’s were slightly more likely than those in larger organisations, to work flexibly. I found myself asking again, whether the statutory requirements truly facilitate and create family friendly working practices that reflect the real underlying needs of employer/employee responsibilities? The advice I found at DirectGov.UK seems largely to reflect changing working patterns, childcare and supporting ideas for time off. It seems primarily targeted at supporting women into work and motivated by reducing the Gender Pay gap. All good stuff. But it doesn’t go far enough for me. So, here are some thoughts and ideas for striking a ‘give and take’ balance that create a stronger platform for harmonising work and home in our ever-changing, seemingly overly busy lives.

1.      Set clear expectations and boundaries.

There are balances to be struck. As an HR consultant I see employers start off very generously and then perhaps one employee took a little too much for granted or let the team down due to some bad planning, resulting in the removal of generosity for all. With clear boundaries and a direct, constructive dialogue, you can limit the impact on the business and other team members, when things don’t go according plan, without being punitive.

2.      Support employees to plan for what they need

From my own experience I can remember missing a sports day early on in my son’s school career. It wasn’t a big deal at the time, but I learned very quickly that my back-up plan, needed a back-up plan! I learned from it and I schedule commitments differently now. So, help people to plan what they need in their personal lives, for themselves, as well as their work schedule or shift patterns, and you’ll be giving them prioritisation and planning skills they can also apply in your business. You’ll also gain some very loyal employees.

3.      Observe the statutory obligations as a minimum standard

If you Google’ family friendly’ you’ll find around 2, 620 000 000 results and they’re mainly products and services to entice people into something leisurely with their families. Restaurants, theme parks, holiday resorts, experiences, I could go on! Yet when we think family friendly at work, we don’t think about how to enhance their work experience, we think about how to limit disruption. I wonder why employees might think we’re no fun?!

So, when you’re building your Family Friendly suite, don’t focus on limits, think about needs of the customer and the needs of the employees who serve those customers. People who feel valued and appreciated, working in ways that support them, will create valued and appreciated customers. Those customers create a stronger business which means a more certain employment future and that cycle continues. It’s a no brainer then, to help the people who are serving your customers feel like they are encouraged to enjoy their personal lives, as those are the people you’ll retain, content to give their best to your customers.

4.      Include well-being in your Family Friendly thinking

Caring for an elderly relative, supporting a sick spouse, becoming a new parent, adjusting to new school arrangements, researching Universities, responding to special care needs, going through divorce, among many other needs, all evoke emotional stress over and above practical, logistical demands. This eats personal energy, not just time. So, when you’re thinking Family Friendly, think about supporting transitions, think family life as a whole, and therefore what support you can help signpost people to, dependent on their circumstances, that also encourages self-care. A change in work patterns/flexible working may well help, but it may not be enough on its own.

5.      Train your line managers to be open-minded and supportive

So many times, I have witnessed an escalation that could have been prevented with some education for, and empathy from, the first line manager. Think about this example. A young ambitious, keen, productive, supervisor welcoming a maternity returner back to work. They worked well together before she went off on maternity leave. Her needs and perspectives are likely to be different now versus then. Alternatively, the grieving widow who returns to work and just isn’t quite themselves anymore, perhaps they’ve been a little late a few times or they’ve struggled to focus recently and made some mistakes. A little guidance, some simple processes, empathy and awareness training that creates perspective sharing, can ensure all strong performers, stay productive team members in the long run.

We know there are some fabulous employers out there who are really innovative and caring and as a result, create great workplaces. Some of them are our much-loved clients that we support with ideas based on their business requirements and people needs.

We’d love to hear about your experiences of creating workplaces that deliver great results by balancing employee and employer needs and if you could use some ideas, we’d love to see how we can help. Contact us to find out more here or to arrange a no-obligation, free initial consultation.

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Teams

4 Ingredients For Creating Teams Who Will Love Working Together

A team is only as successful as the cohesion it has between its members. Enough cohesion and the team will stick together through the toughest of times. Too little and it will fragment when things don’t go according to plan. But what does a cohesive team look like? What are the ingredients for building cohesion in teams and what do leaders need to focus on to make sure the team members want to deliver mission after mission? Here’s our take on it:

1.Vision with dialogue

Leaders, teams and vision are talked about often. Experience has shown me that leaders with vision are important, but clear communication about the vision that bring it to life for the team, by the team, are the only way that vision can become a reality. The dialogue about the vision needs to have three things: clarity, connection and constant dialogue. And I don’t mean chant it daily, although do that if it works for you! What I mean is relate everyday activity to it, all the time. Strong leaders do this without using the word ‘vision’. If you can’t connect activity to the long term, then question why it’s being done at all and don’t expect your team to be able to connect it for themselves. And when something is happening that will detract from the vision, be clear about what it is and what’s needed and if you need to, re-think the vision itself. Whatever you do, don’t leave it open to unchecked interpretation.

2. Ownership with enquiry

We work on the principle that we’re all adults at work. It means we each ‘own’ our contribution in terms of what we bring and how we bring it to the team. If there is ownership, the leader’s role is a smoother one. Conversely, a lack of ownership, even in just one team member, can divert the whole team’s focus as they become distracted in the unhelpful behaviour. Strong leaders have clear strategies for creating ownership, maintaining it and role modelling it. But what does ownership really look like? For me, it’s when things don’t go according to plan that ownership (or a lack of it) shows up most. Let’s look at an example. Person A mishandles a discussion in a meeting. They’re defensive when challenged about an idea they’ve been working on. If ownership is an intrinsic part of the team’s culture, they feel safe enough to say something like “I was off kilter today and I didn’t handle that meeting/conversation well. I’m sorry. Let me digest where we are and look at how we can move forward from here?”. The other half of the ownership balance is in the response. If ownership is present, there are few (if any) side conversations, no biting sarcasm and no gossip. The leader won’t dismiss the apology or give responses like ‘not to worry about it’. Other team members may enquire, privately with Person A along the lines of “are you ok, what was that about? What happened?” and offer support. They’ll accept and build upon the apology that has been offered. It’s uncomfortable, it happened, now what? Person A retains the responsibility to handle how they behave when they feel ‘off kilter’ in the future and work out what solutions will work for their personality and circumstances. Support has been offered for them to make use of if they feel they need it. It’s dealt with, honestly and transparently, with next steps agreed to learn from it and move past it. But what creates and sustains ownership?

3. Courage with care

I’ve seen courage confused with confidence, positive talk and/or risk taking. All these are important too in the right measure, but for me, courage is essential in team work and it’s about strength of character, empathy and personal investment to the team vision and purpose. It’s easy to celebrate a good result or go the extra mile in a silo, but it takes courage to speak up or provide an opposing view when something isn’t working and/or hold a difficult silence against a popular view. It’s also about having the courage to hold each other to account when something hasn’t been delivered rather than move into martyr/rescue mode. Then, once the point has been made and heard, let go. So, courage, in this definition, is about finding a way to call out the ‘elephant’ in the room, constructively, without playing a blame game, to the person or people that can make a decision. And then it’s deciding to move on. Here, the leader’s role is to encourage people to do right, not be right, if the team is to really break new ground.

4. Recognition with thought

Early in my career, recognition was put to me as the 4th basic human need after food, shelter and safety. But just as people have different preferences for what they eat, where they live and what makes them feel safe and secure. Recognition too, is personal. So simply saying ‘thanks, good job!’ or having a ‘when you do this, we’ll give you that’ approach won’t work if you’re expecting people to bring their full personal investment, courage and commitment to achieving the team goals.

So, what is the answer? As is often the case with people, the answer is in the dialogue. It’s a question, or series of questions and there’s no catch all answer. The most effective recognition givers tend to gain the best team results and they do this through enquiry, observation and thoughtfulness about the individuals, as well as the collective. And then there’s also the issue of timing. Recognise achievement when there’s something to celebrate. And don’t just focus on the task, focus on what you want someone to do more of. Look for it, find it and recognise it in a way that’s meaningful for the individual. Encourage line managers to do the same and you’ll see team engagement flourish.

And while we’re talking about encouragement, don’t confuse it with support. Everyone, no matter how high their experience and competence levels, can be boosted with some well-timed, on point, encouragement from the right source, to do a great job. They might not need any support. They will always benefit from feeling appreciated. And that’s a huge recognition tool that adds nothing to the overheads in your P&L. Where support is needed, identify it and provide it. Where it isn’t, get out of the way with genuine gestures of faith that they’ll deliver. This shows trust. And there’s no bigger human validation mechanism than feeling trusted and appreciated.

We love working with leaders and their teams so they can identify their culture, build on their working relationships and connect with their goals. If you’d like to discuss how we might help, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us today for a no obligation consultation.

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