Setting Annual Goals? How To and Why It’s Important.

Annual Goal Setting? How To and Why It’s Important

Executives and managers are talking about annual objectives for next year. I’m working with a leadership team on their kick-off for the year – aligning behind the strategy, goal setting, and identifying tactics to achieve those goals. I’ll also be working with my business partner on our goals for next year – both as individuals and as business partners. We’ve been defining our vision and annual objectives together for years now.

This exercise is appropriate for work or life goals, for organizations or individuals.

Why Is Goal Setting Important?

You might be wondering what all the fuss is about in terms of annual objective setting. Why should you bother? Here are a few reasons why having goals and objectives is important:

• Gives us something to measure performance and success against,

• Creates accountability within ourselves and externally if necessary,

• Helps organize time and resources in a consistent direction,

• Focuses all involved towards a specific area,

• Provides motivation and a sense of achievement,

• Triggers new behaviours,

• Grows confidence as we progress towards them, not just when we achieve them,

• Promotes positive mental health.

Year End Review

If you didn’t read my previous blog about conducting a year end review, do that step first by clicking here, Annual Goals? Step #1 is Conducting a Year End Review. It’s hard to decide where you are heading if you don’t know where you are currently!

How to Set Annual Goals

These initial questions are different than your typical business projection exercise or creating a list of ‘to-dos’ (there are less creative questions/more direct at the end 😉). The idea is to envision success and then work backwards to identify what needs to be done to achieve it. This is how most organizations do their vision to goals process. Be specific about your goals – think about how you will measure your achievement of them as well as what they are.

• Imagine it is January 2023 (yes, one year further in the future). Reflect back on the past year, what would make you proud to have accomplished? Think of all aspects of work and life. This focuses on the DOING of the year, what you do and what you accomplish.

• From that vantage point of January 2023, looking back on an incredibly fulfilling and successful year. Feeling that pride and satisfaction, write a letter telling the story of how you made it happen. Write it as though your accomplishments were in the past, avoiding statements like “I will” or ‘I intend”. Get as specific as possible including your insights, ‘ahas’ (learnings), and milestones. Who did you become? How do you feel? Make it as exciting and vivid as possible. This focuses on how you are BEING during the year, how you feel and engage, how you want to BE to achieve what you want to achieve.

• What work goals do you want to accomplish? What are your boss’ goals and hence which cascade down to your area of responsibility?

• What are your financial goals for the year? How much do you want to make? What effort is required to do that? What investment or retirement or spending priorities do you have for the year?

• What relationships at work and personally do you want to create or foster?

• How do you want to feel physically, emotionally, spiritually?

• What aspects of your health are important to continue or improve?

• What personal qualities do you want to lean into more?

• What are you willing to give up to achieve your goals? Rarely do people look at ‘subtraction’ when they consider a change and it’s often a necessity. In today’s life you’re already busy with lots to do so don’t think about just adding more on. Think about how you can simplify. And what you give up might need to be a belief or mindset?

My goals for next year will be defined specifically on 7th January when I do our annual goal setting/’way of being’ exercise with my business partner. Some on my list to be fleshed out will be:

• Getting my award-winning book out to more people as the stories about how it’s helped people are so satisfying for me, win-win (number and ways of doing that tbd in January),

• Delivering our EQ Leadership Training to more companies (specific # tbd with my partner),

• Having even more fun and laughter in my life,

• Continuing my walking challenges, with one being more of a long-distance, multiple days walk in the countryside,

• Keeping up my French language lessons to hit 800 consecutive day learning streak.

If time and money were no object, what would your goals be for 2022?

What support would help you to achieve it, or some initial part of it?

What small step could you take towards that goal?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how to help set yourself up for greater success and satisfaction next year.

 

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Show, Don’t Tell - top skill you learned at 5 years old!

Show, Don’t Tell. The top presentation skill you learned in nursery school but have probably forgotten. How to use it effectively now.

Want to ensure people understand what you’re communicating?

Worried about presenting especially virtually?

Want to know what you learned in nursery/kindergarten that would help your presentation skills?

How to Improve Presentation Skills

Whether virtual or face-to-face presentations, the secret is exactly what every 5-year-old learns in kindergarten or nursery school. Remember Show and Tell? You show something – an object – and tell people about it. I brought my older brother into class once as my ‘object’ and told my teacher and classmates about him. Others brought pets, souvenirs from holidays, a favourite toy.
We showed something and talked about it. The children were engaged, asked questions, fun and enjoyment ensued often. We’ve lost this as adults, especially in a business or organizational context.

How often do you go online or into a boardroom and someone shows you a 20-page PowerPoint presentation full of words, graphs, charts, data? I went to one recently on empathy and it started with the definition of empathy – a great start honestly – except the presenter talked from the moment the slide appeared to the time they clicked to the next. What do I focus on? Reading the text? Listening to the speech? Overload!

Words are words whether they are on paper or verbal. Humans can’t process simultaneous auditory (verbal/spoken) and visual presentation. I’ll repeat that – sharing both written and spoken information at the same time overloads the listener, it’s too much info to take in at the same time. Many people think that if they show the words and say them, it positively reinforces the message.

It’s the opposite.

The Rationale for Good Presentations Skills

Research shows the seeing visual text and listening to audio text at the same time – words on a screen while the presenter is talking – “increases the cognitive load, rather than lessening it.” (Citing the Kalyuga Study, one research example).

Talking and showing text at the same time is called the Redundancy Effect. It overburdens the brain’s working memory by having to focus on two things rather than just one so has a negative impact on understanding.

It’s suggested by researchers including John Sweller and Kimberly Leslie that it would be better for people to close their eyes to the visual stimuli and just focus on listening to the audio in terms of learning or comprehension. Imagine though closing your eyes in a meeting or presentation, people would accuse you of sleeping or failing to pay attention.

They contend that it would be easier for students to learn the differences between herbivores and carnivores by closing their eyes and only listening to the teacher. But students who close their eyes during a lecture are likely to called out for “failing to pay attention.”

Tips for Effective Online Communication

There are many simple tips to effective online communication or virtual presentation skills:

• Use a relevant picture or visual rather than text if you’re going to speak over it, a picture helps people visualize your message, so it complements your words.

• Limit the amount of information on each slide. It’s not about the number of slides in your presentation, it’s about the amount of information on each slide.

• Use a variety of tools to keep people engaged not just PowerPoint. Use polls, music, the chat, breakout rooms, storytelling, and ask questions to involve others.

• Encourage people to stand up or move around, not just sit glued to the screen.

• Tell people to manage their volume especially if you speak loudly. The audience can forget they control the volume of the speaker and can complain after the fact.

• Be energetic and animated as you want to convey passion through the size of a screen.

• Fluctuate your volume, tone and pace of speaking as that helps people stay engaged, monotony can be dull.

• A leader’s presentation should tell a story with an opening, the detail and a conclusion.

Leadership Lessons for Good Presentations

As a presenter the onus is on you to communicate well, it’s not on the audience or recipients to create the understanding.

• Learn what you do well in terms of presenting and where you can improve. Leadership requires reflection and growth mindset to innovate and improve. This holds true for your presentation and communication too.

• Leaders provide vision and context for information – ensure you communicate the bigger purpose or strategic link for your material.

• Ask a thought-provoking question that has the audience reflect, potentially with regards to action you want them to take based on the presentation topic or about the impact of the presentation on their responsibilities.

What impact do your presentations or general communication have on the audience?

What could you do differently to ensure your message is understood?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how to help yourself improve your communication to motivate and influence others better.

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Why we feel zoom/video call fatigue & how to prevent it

Zoom Fatigue? What causes it and how to prevent it

Find you’re tired after a long day of video conferencing?

Noticing some dread at the prospect of jumping on another Teams meeting?

Zoom fatigue is a ‘thing’. We get tired of being on Zoom throughout a day. It’s not just from Zoom though, it’s from any video conferencing platform. Stanford University has conducted research¹ that concludes video conferencing is in fact wearing you out. Many office-based jobs have remote interactions that involve spending hours per day, even if not back-to-back, on video calls with others which will tire you out. The reasons in the research were from a psychological perspective, it’s about brain processing.

The researcher was quick to point out that this wasn’t meant to malign video conferencing, rather to educate and provide solutions so here goes:

Why does Zoom Fatigue Us?

1. Looking and Being Looked at.
We are looking at people almost continuously. People are looking at us almost continuously. Most people fear public speaking, often because of being scrutinized by others. It results in anxiety and fear. Yet video conferencing has turned us all into public speakers, even the audience members are “on show” or being looked at, potentially even when they are saying nothing. This means there can be an underlying sense of anxiety about being watched.

2. Disproportionate Head Sizes
That sounds weird I know. And if you are video conferencing with only one other person there’s a high likelihood their head appears on screen larger than in real life. Also, we usually only experience people that ‘close up’ if we know them intimately. It’s a closer sense of personal space then we would have with colleagues and strangers. Proximity often implies a force – either intimacy like romance or conflict with someone “in your face.” Our brain subconsciously processes this disparity and force versus what is ‘normal.’

3. Seeing Ourselves
It is not natural to stare at yourself in a mirror for long periods of time. That’s effectively what happens in many of the video conferencing platforms; our image is part of the view. It is tiring for our brains to continually process our own image. Other research does show that we are more judgmental or critical of ourselves when we see our image.

4. Restricted Mobility
Video conferencing restricts our physical movement as there is usually a fixed field of view for the camera. This is restrictive by definition. In-person meetings and audio calls allow more movement than video. Some emerging research is starting to show that cognition is better when we move.

5. Takes More Effort to Convey Messages
When we talk in-person it’s natural for our brain to subconsciously process body language and non-verbal cues and to project those non-verbal cues too. On video, we must consciously think about conveying those cues and transmit them. For example, in-person if we agree our head often nods in agreement without us having to think about it. On video, to ensure that agreement is conveyed through this medium we consciously decide to nod our head, maybe do a thumbs-up gesture towards the camera, maybe click on the ‘reaction button’ to say thumbs-up digitally and then we often want to check that our agreement was seen or received. That’s a lot of conscious thought. This brain processing is extra energy we do not have to expend in person, no wonder we are tired.

Top 10 Tips to Minimize or Prevent Zoom Fatigue:

1. Use audio only when appropriate. Just because we can video doesn’t mean we have to.

2. Do audio calls standing up, moving around or walking outdoors if possible occasionally.

3. Turn off your “self-view” if that’s an option on your video conferencing platform so you don’t see yourself. Or put a ‘post-it note’ over your image on the screen as another means of not looking at yourself.

4. Minimize full-screen views when videoing with only 1-2 people.

5. Take a break from screens in general. When you get off a series of video meetings to have a break, refrain from picking up your phone to check messages or scroll social media.

6. Move more, both on video calls and in general. Distance yourself from the camera so you can stand up and move around more.

7. When in long video meetings ensure there are proper breaks built into the agenda.

8. Periodically in long video meetings, when appropriate, turn off your camera for even a minute or two to be audio only to ease the burden on your brain processing. It’s analogous to putting your car in idle for a moment.

9. Look away from the screen for a few minutes, literally turn away, beyond just switching the camera off, to minimize the amount of visual stimulation you are taking in.

10. Set ground rules with your team or those you interact with about when to use video and when not to in order to increase everyone’s energy and performance.

Do you want to be more energized and productive at work?

Do you want your team to feel and perform better?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could improve your effectiveness as a leader in times of remote working and video conferencing.

¹https://news.stanford.edu/2021/02/23/four-causes-zoom-fatigue-solutions/

 

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How HR Leaders (Anyone) can Build Trust in the Workplace

How HR Leaders, any Leader actually, can Build Trust in the Workplace

Trust has always been important in the workplace – among individuals, departments, functions and hierarchy. It’s now more important than ever as uncertainty is rampant in many aspects of both work and life. HR can both role model and lead the creation of a high trust culture. Anyone can impact trust – positively and negatively – through simple (maybe not all easy) daily behaviours.

What is Trust

According to Collins dictionary, trust is your belief that others are honest and sincere and will not deliberately do anything to harm you. This definition encapsulates both trust and psychological safety described by Forbes. They describe trust as you are offering others the benefit of the doubt when you are being vulnerable. Whereas they say psychological safety is you believing others are extending the benefit of the doubt to you when you’re taking a risk.

A simple example of trust in the workplace is people doing what they say they are going to do. A colleague commits to doing a specific task for a project by a specific time and then does it.
A more nuanced example of trust is being able to disagree with a senior leader about a decision even in a group setting without the risk to your career or being ridiculed.

Benefits of Trust in the Workplace

There are obvious and less obvious benefits of high trust which apply in any relationship, not just those in the workplace. These benefits focus on the workplace:

  • Having different and dissenting opinions openly shared leads to better decision making.
  • Pointing out unconscious bias comments, patterns and decisions e.g. challenging potentially racist or sexist comments in a discussion, resulting in equality, diversity and inclusivity.
  • Transferring your efforts or resources to another groups’ project to serve the organization’s greater goals.
  • Improving mental wellbeing as emotions and stress are shared so better retention, fewer grievances, less absenteeism.
  • Feeling safe so energy can go towards doing the work rather than manipulating the political environment.
  • Taking risks and speaking out leads to more creativity, new ideas and better solutions.

How to Demonstrate Trust in the Workplace

These ideas apply to HR leaders, leaders across the organization and most people interacting with others in general.

    1. Listen – really listen to people. As Stephen Covey said decades ago, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”¹ Many people listen to respond thereby they often stop actively listening as they start to formulate their response. In my coach training listening was one of the first things we were taught. How to listen at many levels – to what the other person says, and doesn’t say, to their body language and energy, to your own intuition about their feelings. Don’t listen for listening sake, listen to learn, adapt and understand.
    2. Get curious – pause your own thoughts and potentially your defence mechanisms to understand someone else’s perspective. Ask questions to understand. A specific action for HR is to learn intimately about the business. This will help you position HR policies to support the business needs and to step truly into their shoes when you consider your initiatives and language. Encourage others to be curious too.
    3. Interrogate your own mindset – what are your feelings about risk, fear of failure, fear of looking stupid and making a mistake. Adopt a more supportive mindset for yourself, changing your internal dialogue to “if I make a mistake I’ll at least know and will learn from it.” Ask your team to become more self-aware too.
    4. Show you trust – take a risk and show vulnerability. Risk making a mistake or getting it wrong. Acknowledge when you don’t know something. Give your time, support or resources to “competing” initiatives. Be generous to others verbally, publicly and even use the words “I trust you” when warranted. Give others the benefit of the doubt.
    5. Act with integrity – do what you say you are going to do. If circumstances change communicate quickly and gain alignment to the impact of those changes. In the hardest HR situations act with the upmost integrity and with compassion. Examples are not tolerating gossip, or blame, any negativity in fact by calling it out respectfully in the moment. Not laughing at others or dismissing their ideas.
    6. Ask for feedback – and then listen and take it on board. This will show people you are engaged, care about the impact you have. This is also a great measure of how much trust there is in you or the organization. People will give helpful, constructive feedback when they trust you. Feedback might be vague or overly complimentary when they don’t feel safe to share.
    7. Encourage healthy conflict – disagreement and conflict are not bad especially when done respectfully and with the purpose of getting to the best solution, not just to ‘win.’ Practice asking questions that challenge someone’s idea in a way that shows respect. Think about debate rather than win/lose or judging right/wrong. Healthy debate leads to more thorough investigation and understanding.
    8. Own your mistakes – admit if you make a mistake or get something wrong. You can then talk about the learnings from those situations. This shows humility, builds trust and makes it safe for others to admit their mistakes. This means things don’t get hidden and continual improvement becomes possible.

What would be possible by increasing the trust in your team? The trust between people across different teams and functions?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could improve your effectiveness as a leader by building more trust.

Endnotes:
¹ https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits/habit-5.html

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The Emergence of Spring. Change is Coming. How to Adapt?

With the Emergence of Spring, Change is Coming. How to Adapt?

I’ve been interviewing HR leaders for an upcoming talk I am giving to HR professionals about soft skills in the workplace. Many are saying the same thing – office employees have been working longer hours since working from home, some stating employees are working 1.5-2 hours more PER DAY!

As the UK restrictions are easing, facilities are opening. My gym and singing lessons could be face-to-face soon; how will I fit “commuting” to these facilities into an already busy day? How will office workers fit travel time for their activities, shopping and socializing into their back-to-back schedules?

Just as going into lockdowns and adjusting the pandemic necessitated change, so too will emerging from it.

The 4 Reactions to Change – SARA

There are often four stages to change, news or disruption that we navigate at different speeds depending on the situation and our experiences. The acronym is SARA:

Shock and disorientation – we’re knocked off guard.
Anger and other emotions– we don’t want the change, this disrupts our ‘normal.’
Rationalization – we start to process the change (sometimes if we’re in denial we might rationalize away the issue and hence be avoidant). We start seeing the future and not just what we’ve lost.
Accept – we accept the change and determine how best to move forward.

Coping with Change

Here are some ways to cope with the change at work that are coming as restrictions ease (at least here in the UK):

1. Breathe – breathing triggers your parasympathetic nervous system which allows us to “rest and digest” responses to change. In contrast, our sympathetic nervous system leads to “flight, fright, freeze” reactions in the face of stress. This is about being present in the moment, not regretting the past or anticipating the worst in the future.

2. Talk about it – talk to people about the change and how you feel. Share your hopes and fears with those close to you.

3. Find the joy or positives – what are the positives of the change? What would need to shift in you to enjoy the change? Imagine looking in someone’s eyes rather than trying to connect through a video screen. Review all the changes you’ve had in your life and feel the enjoyment because life is just a series of changes.

4. Focus on your goal – what goals do you have for yourself, your work and your life? Focus on moving towards those goals. This will limit the amount factors to consider or be bombarded by. Look at a bigger picture of your life and see how to build that within this change event.

5. Recognize what’s not changing – building on the previous point, there are many aspects in any situation that remain the same. Identify the things that are not changing both externally and internally. Within yourself, your skills, strengths, values and abilities remain the same despite the circumstances. Lean into those things that aren’t changing for perspective and resources.

Adapting to Change

1. Self-compassion – have compassion for yourself through times of change. Compassion means accepting yourself and your feelings. Change can be hard, especially when it is thrust upon us. We are often harder on ourselves than we would be on another person, expecting us to behave perfectly despite the challenges. Imagine “what would my best friend say to me right now?” and heed that advice.

2. Empathy – have empathy for others. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and feel what they feel. You might not have gone through the same experience but chances are you can still feel the feeling from one of your own experiences. Empathy creates relatability and makes people feel like they’ve been seen and heard.

3. Make a plan – with the easing of restrictions and the anticipation of this “new normal” what’s a phased-approach that would work for you? Prioritize what needs to happen first, or what you want to happen. Identify ways you’ve gotten through change previously and add those to your plan.

4. Self-care – change is stressful. Ensure that you have balance in your life to counteract the stress. The usual about healthy eating, sleeping, exercise, supportive friends, etc are needed all the time and especially in times of stress.

5. Reframe the change – I hear people say I don’t like change. I then ask if they have children to which they often answer yes. Well, if you don’t like change, don’t have kids. People don’t like change that is thrust on them, for which they don’t have control. People accept change that they initiate. What’s the opportunity that the change presents? What can you control?

What would help you emerge from lockdown and restrictions leading the life you want and being the leader you want to be?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could improve your effectiveness as a leader by building more trust.

 

Balancing Strategic Focus vs Operational Execution

Balancing Strategic Focus vs Operational Execution

This topic of strategy vs operations has always been a discussion point with my Executive coaching clients. It’s comes up even more now with the uncertainty of the pandemic and ever-changing guidelines. For example, working with people in retail has meant that one day the stores are open and the next day the stores are mandated to close, with differing requirements by region. Having to respond to these types of operational changes is mandatory, time consuming and draining. How does a leader prioritize time, energy and headspace for strategic initiatives with this constant operational firefighting, let alone get others on-board?

Strategic vs Operational Thinking

Never has a company asked me to support their leader on being MORE operational. It’s not their operational thinking and focus that needs to be developed, especially if they’ve just been promoted to a more senior role. It’s usually about helping the leader develop their strategic thinking.

Operational thinking is required too. Strategic thinking is of no value if it doesn’t get implemented operationally. Ensuring operations are well-thought through and running smoothly is important to success. If operational thinking isn’t happening during the execution there won’t be any operations or business to worry about in the future.

A successful business needs both sound strategic thinking to chart its course while having optimal operational thinking to deliver the day to day requirements.

What is Strategic Thinking?

It’s the intentional thought process a leader does to figure out how to achieve long-term success for the organization, team, initiative or project (depending on the leader’s scope). It’s about focusing on the future and working back how to lay the foundation for success. It involves lots of critical thinking skills like analysis, conceptualizing, identifying patterns and options, synthesize making choices and engaging. It’s about creating connections or links between different ideas, sources of information and opportunities for greater synergy or success.

Big A vs Little a Agendas

The concept of Big A and little a agenda is from my coach training and I teach my clients about it too.

When I work with clients we define their leadership development goals for the coaching. The ‘Big A Agenda’ is this bigger, overarching goal. At each session, the client brings situations and topics from their work life for which they want coaching. These daily topics are the ‘little a agenda’. In the coaching we create links between the little a agenda to the Big A Agenda so that each coaching session progresses them towards their leadership development goal. It’s the notion that every step you take is one more step in your legacy.

This concept gives you an opportunity to link operational topics or issues back to strategic priorities and opportunities while working with people on the execution. It’s a great chance for you as the leader to re-affirm the link between the daily operations and the businesses strategic goals (as there should be a link).

Tips to Balance Strategy vs Execution

There are no hard and fast rules on this, as it depends on the business and its current situation. Here are some ideas:

Remember this is a big part of your job. If you’re not doing this type of thinking for your business, area or function than who is? Every leader has some level of responsibility for strategic thinking. This means delegating and empowering others to do what they need to do so you have some time for this priority.

Set aside thinking time in your schedule before other people fill it up with operational topics. Put time in your calendar for your priorities before other people take your time for their priorities. Book it off. Call it something that doesn’t sound dispensable to others if they can see your calendar. Make it a “meeting” rather than solo time as solo time is easier to relinquish. Time is reported as the #1 barrier to strategic thinking.

Change your location. Take yourself out of your usual environment to trigger your brain that this is different than daily business. Also, it will minimize interruptions and distractions. Go for a walk. Sit in another room. Be in nature. Watch traffic in an intersection of traffic. Sit in your car (in the driveway even).

Stimulate thinking through a different lens. Strategic thinking is about the future. How can you put yourself into a different perspective than today’s position to think differently? A client and I once went to a museum together (when we could) and walked around assessing what we were seeing through the lens of his business. What would this museum piece tell me about my business? How could an exhibit inform my business’ future and/or success? What can I learn from this museum theme?

Talk to people who are outside your regular circle. My last 2 articles have been on bias – the Fundamental Attribution Error and Confirmation Bias. To minimize bias, it’s helpful to have an outside perspective, a person very different from yourself to highlight blind spots of which you’re not aware. Also, read information and data from different sources to broaden your input and perspectives.

Listen with an open mind and question, question, question again. Listen to what is being said while suspending your own judgment and assumptions. Listen to what is said and not said. Question what you hear, what is underneath what is being said. Be deep in your discussions, curious, not superficial, not taking what is said on face value.

In summary, prioritize your time to do what only you can do which is the strategic thinking for your area of responsibility. Delegate and empower others to execute so you can deliver on your responsibility. As you deal with operational issues, how could you do it strategically when possible thereby getting the best of both worlds?

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in further developing your leadership to balance the strategic vs operational. What would make you more effective?

 

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A Rife Unconscious Bias for Leaders to Perform Better

Another Unconscious Bias for Leaders to Unearth

This is my second article about cognitive bias – the collection of faulty ways of thinking that might be hardwired into the human brain according to American Professor, Ben Yagoda. He says science suggests we’re hardwired to delude ourselves. Some say it is possible to re-wire biases. This time I’m highlighting confirmation bias. Many people are more open to the notion that they could have confirmation bias than the Fundamental Attribution Error I wrote about previously, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bias

Many of us understand the idea of bias as it relates to media. A common example is the news media being biased in their reporting in favour or one political party or the other. Bias applies to individuals too. It’s a way of thinking about the world or interpreting things going on around us which has typical patterns or is systemic to us as individuals. Our experience of the world is subjective; we experience things in our own way. And we behave from our own perspectives hence why knowing a potential bias is helpful to determine if it’s has negative consequences and therefore needs to be reviewed.

What is Confirmation Bias?

Confirmation bias is the tendency to see, seek out, interpret and favour information that supports our existing ideas, beliefs and values. We gather evidence to support our thoughts and beliefs (both the conscious and subconscious ones).

For example, if you decide to buy a blue Mini, you will start seeing blue Minis everywhere. It’s not because more blue Minis have been unleashed on the roads, it’s just that you now have a heightened awareness of and predisposition to them. In many cases you are looking to confirm the decision you made to buy a blue Mini.

The Risk of Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias has us see and seek information and data that corroborates our ideas and hypotheses. By definition, it has us discount or ignore anything that appears contradictory or different to what we believe or think.

This is what social media algorithms do – they see what we searched for and give us more of the same. If you’re searching for the best plant-based recipes this might be all right. If you are trying to understand who to vote for in the next election your initial thoughts will just be confirmed.

A Trump supporter will hear his speech and get confirmation of his positives while a Trump detractor will hear the same speech and get confirmation of the negative opinion – all from the same words.

Confirmation Bias Leadership Implications

Confirmation bias appears in every aspect of life, including work, as it is a form of judgement (good or bad), our brain assesses things to make sense of it. To name just a few leaders should be particularly aware of are:

Judging People’s Performance – if you think a team member is good at their job you will see more things that confirm this belief. If they make a mistake, you are quicker to dismiss it as an exception. Conversely, if you think someone is lazy, you will repeatedly find evidence to confirm they are lazy.

Making decisions – many people have an intuitive response when faced with a decision. What confirmation bias tells us is that they then gather as much evidence as possible to justify proceeding with that decision. This also means we can say the decision is based on sound rationale and not emotion.

Hiring or promoting situations – Imagine the leader of another department is someone you don’t like, they have different ideas than you, behave differently, and have a different disposition. And their results are consistently strong, maybe even above expectations. Confirmation bias would need to be put aside to give them the recognition or respect they deserved.

Unconscious Bias – 6 Steps to Tackle It

A bias is only unconscious if you don’t know you have it. Therefore, the first step in any development area is to start to become aware of it.

1. Become self-aware about your own biases and notice how you confirm that, often unconsciously. These biases could be towards yourself, others or concepts/ ideas. I worked with a coaching client this morning who sometimes feels “not good enough” and therefore tries to “prove” he is. When he receives emails from his boss, he reads it through the lens of “not good enough” so perceives criticism where none is intended.

2. Foster diversity of people, ideas, perspectives and input. Talk openly about confirmation bias. Some experts say it’s the most pervasive and damaging bias. Involve people of diverse backgrounds in developing solutions and making decisions. Diversity includes race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, education, age, experience, etc. Let a project or decision be viewed by someone outside of the project (or department or organization) for an ‘external’ view.

3. Create a system of open communication. We find it easier to see the shortcomings in other peoples’ thinking than in our own and vice versa. Create a culture and compassionate communication that allows flaws and gaps to be pointed out in each other’s ideas and solutions. This requires courage and bravery especially for junior people to point out bias in a senior leader.

4. Reward behaviour that highlights omissions, differences and gaps. People rarely want to speak up with a dissenting view for fear of being punished (hence whistle-blower laws). To mitigate that fear the act of sharing contrary data and opinion needs to be rewarded. The first time someone says something contradictory how do you (or others) respond? Learn to acknowledge and praise them so others follow suit.

5. Systematize your company’s decision-making process to include contradictory data. By doing this you make the standard process more bias-proof. For example, at P&G we were trained to do one-page recommendations that included strategic rationale, financial benefit and research or data of probable success. It could easily have included a fourth element of risk or contrary data. By adapting current systems to include highlighting potential bias is easier than creating a new and separate system to address the bias.

6. Conduct “autopsies” in advance of key decisions or projects. Gary Klein, a cognitive psychologist, suggests ‘post-mortems’ in advance. Imagine a project has failed very badly and analyse what led to that failure. This can become part of the procedure or checklist for key decisions. This forces the contrary view and encourages the contrary evidence to be considered. It’s easier to collect evidence in support of our theories (we can never fully prove a theory until it’s implemented), so take time and try to disprove them to be more certain.

Awareness and understanding are the keys to better ideas, interactions and hence results. You can’t eliminate all biases and you can be aware and mitigate them to have the impact you want to have. This is especially important for these emotional-charged times in which we are working and living.

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in further developing your leadership. What would make you more effective and fulfilled at work and/or life?

 

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2021 Create more of what you want/less of what you don’t.

Vision for 2021: Create Your Future. More of What You Want.

With 2020 behind us, thankfully, and the lengthening of daylight each day, my positivity says things can only get better. Now is the time to think and dream about 2021. What would you like to intentionally create for yourself this year? By thinking about what you want to create in your life this year and how you want to BE as you do those things, it just might be the hope you need to get through these darker months.

Now there are people out there that say they don’t want to plan; they want to accept what comes along spontaneously. If they plan they think they’ll take the fun out of life or miss what comes along. Why not have both? Think what you want in your life and be open to the serendipity that comes along.

Just like a company has a vision and strategic plan, or at least successful companies, you as an individual would do well to have a vision and strategic plan for your life. This isn’t about making New Year’s resolutions, those don’t work. This is simply about thinking about what you want and being intentional about having more of that in your life.

 

Lessons Learned

In last month’s article I suggested reflecting on 2020 which you can reread here. The self-reflection was to capture the successes, achievements and celebrations and release the failures, disappointments and regrets. From those reflections of the past year, what are the lessons you’ve learned?

What matters to you?

What do you want more of in your life? Less of?

If you could have a do-over of something within your control this past year, what would you do differently?

Think baby steps, what are some qualities you’d want more in your daily life (humour, fun, depth, lightness, purpose, consciousness)?

 

Create Your Future

With everything you’ve learned from 2020 now create a captivating vision for 2021. Think about the following questions. As you think about 2021 also think about how you want to feel. What would excite you about the year? It’s not just what you want to achieve, it’s also about how you want to feel.

What do you want in the year ahead? Think of all aspects of your life – family, work, personal, financial, health, fun, spiritual, relationships, etc.

What are you tolerating that you’d like to change in the next year?

What would you add more regularly to your life for more enjoyment, fun or fulfilment?

What is something you’d do this year if you didn’t care what people thought of it/you?

If this year was a chapter in the book of your life, what would this next chapter be called/what would its title be?

Things I’ve been thinking of for this year are: more joy, laughter, singing, delivering a new leadership program with a colleague, gratitude and lightness.

 

Capturing Your Vision – Vision Board or Something Else?

Now that you’ve thought of the various aspects you’d like in 2021, you have an idea of the overall them (from your chapter title) and some qualities or characteristics you’d like to experience more it’s time to pull them all together.

There are a few options for how to do this however, first why do this? Because we know that by engaging the creative part of your brain there’s more chance of following through than just relying on willpower. Images and visuals

1. Make a vision board – this is the most popular suggestion although this doesn’t appeal to everyone. Find images (from the internet, canva, pintrest, magazines) of the things you’ve just identified and put them together (on a poster, on-line). It’s essentially a collage, so you have a visual reminder of your aspirations for the year.

2. Write a list – so you can refer to it periodically through the year to plan your intentions into your schedule.

3. Pick some music that represents your theme and qualities – play it often.

4. Draw yourself a picture – this is what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years. I draw images and words for the coming year and at the end a central image usually emerges that I then photograph as my phone wallpaper.

There’s no right or wrong way to capture your visioning, do what appeals to you most or create your own idea and let me know what that is. Once captured plan

2021 will pass (if you’re lucky; the alternative is not pleasant) like every other year. To have an idea of how you want it to be better or different than 2020 requires visioning and then action. Take the time to dream, it doesn’t have to be long or all at one time. Then live the vision through reminders, action and inspiration. And enjoy whatever else comes along the way!

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for some guided visioning time – and some practical tips for how to achieve that vision. What would make you more effective and fulfilled at work and personally?

: Conflict –Resolve it, if not Avoid it, at Work or Home.

Conflict –Resolve it, if not Avoid it, at Work or Home

Conflict exists at work, in the home and in the world at large as we know. How you deal with it will impact your effectiveness as a manager or leaders, your success in work and life and your happiness and well-being as a person. Many coaching clients dislike conflict. A new client had lower effectiveness scores on her 3600 report for “measuring progress of her team’s projects, ensuring accountability, giving direct feedback and addressing difficult situations.” The qualitative comments echoed a desire for “direct feedback, clarity of her position even if different than others, and tackle difficult situations early.”

Conflict Meaning

Conflict is essentially a disagreement between two or more people. This seems simplistic and often conflict is a serious disagreement or argument, often occurring over time. Conflict can arise from poor behaviours (bullying, discrimination, harassment, poor performance), misunderstandings (office etiquette, language, politics), differences (in opinion, personality, human, work ethic, ideas) or miscellaneous other things (ego, laziness, jealousy, assumptions).

There are two kinds of conflict. One is real conflict where you know there is tension, disagreement and differences with another. The second is what I call imaginary or ‘anticipative’ – this is where you assume or perceive or fear there might be conflict based on thoughts and feelings you are having, before even raising it with the other person. This article will give some tips for both real and anticipated conflict.

Of note, language is important. It influences us (when we think it) and others (when we say it) immensely. Notice the difference in how you feel and the impact of ‘we are in conflict’ vs ‘we disagree’ vs ‘we have a misunderstanding.’ Reserve ‘conflict’ for things that are truly that scale.

HOW TO AVOID CONFLICT AT WORK OR HOME

The way to avoid conflict is to deal with any frustrations or issues early. The expression “nip it in the bud” is apt, deal with poor performance or behaviour as soon as you sense it. If you notice you’re annoyed or frustrated take time to figure out what the issue is and develop a plan for addressing it (either within yourself or with the other person).

Design Your Alliance. At the start of a coaching relationship I talk to my client about how we want to work together (download template here). We review goals and roles to agree expectations, we talk about what brings out the best in each other, we identify the qualities each of us are bringing to this working relationship. We even talk about “what if something’s not working? How do we want to raise it/deal with it?” By talking about all this overtly it sets a foundation and gives permission to talk about any deviations from this plan. You can do this with your boss, co-worker, employee or friend at any time.

Listen and Ask. Listen to others both what they are saying and not saying. Listen for any resentment or frustration with you or others to identify it early. And ask open questions (best questions start with WHAT) to find out what people are really thinking and feeling, what motivates them, what the reasons are for what they do, and what’s going on for them. Active listening and curious inquiry to understand can prevent tensions as people feel seen and heard and issues can be aired and addressed early.

Share Assumptions and their Impact. We create assumptions about people, ideas, situations all the time (it’s how our brain works). Often our assumptions about others are wrong as we are interpreting things through our perspective. When we act on those wrong assumptions it can lead to misunderstandings between you or negative feelings for you. When you view someone in a ‘not-so-nice-light’ ask yourself what am I assuming about them? What impact does that assumption have on you emotionally and intellectually? What underlying belief might exist for you? Doing this reflective exercise might reveal some emotional blind spots you have about yourself. For example, Joe isn’t doing his fair share of the work on a project. You assume he’s lazy and coasting on everyone else’s effort. That makes you feel resentful and wanting to exclude him. The underlying belief might be that you feel others might think you’re not pulling your weight and you don’t feel good enough.

Learn how to have ‘Difficult’ Conversations. Many coaching clients say they hate having difficult conversations and therefore avoid them. First, note the language. If you label it a difficult conversation it probably will be so define what the intention of the conversation truly is: “developmental, aligning expectations, giving feedback, clearing assumptions, working better together.” Secondly, learn models and tips for giving ‘negative’ feedback (one model can be found here), aligning expectations having performance management discussions. Lastly, make sure you are giving positive feedback and celebrating success of others regularly (5 positives to every 1 negative is the proven ratio¹), so they know you value their contributions and hence aren’t just hearing negative things from you.

HOW TO RESOLVE CONFLICT

It’s a tall order to provide a process or tips to resolve conflict in a short article as resolution depends on the situation, number of people involved, the severity and duration of the conflict, legalities etc.

Name it. Acknowledge that the conflict is present. Name the elephant in the room to yourself and those involved. This doesn’t have to be a grand announcement. The words could be as simple as “I sense some friction or lack of alignment between us that I’d like to clear up.” Ask about their thoughts and feelings. They might be reluctant so share yours. Say what you’d like to happen such as “I’d like us to work through this to be happier and more successful colleagues.”

Put the Issue Between You Both. Literally. If the conflict is about a specific topic or situation then write it down on a piece of paper, sit side by side (less confrontational) and put that paper on the table in front of you. This puts the issue more objectively outside of yourselves and the relationship and becomes the focus of resolution rather than blame. This can be done virtually by signing into the video conference on a second device and putting the paper/topic as that devices ‘participant so the two of you look at it in a third view.

Strive for the ‘3rd solution’ – not your solution or their solution, rather a better, new solution. I don’t mean compromise. Dig beneath the surface to identify the underlying needs or motivations of each party. Encourage each of you to find alignment rather than agreement. What can you align on? It might be as basic as agreeing there is a problem between you, or what the worst-case scenario is or what process you both wish to follow to find resolution. Brainstorm options or solutions together that would satisfy each of your needs.

Have Someone Facilitate. Ask a neutral third party to help. This could be a leader, HR partner, a professional. Someone looking for a resolution between the two rather than a judge of who’s right and who’s wrong. I had an emotive engagement with a colleague years ago involving misunderstandings and assumptions. A coach colleague of ours facilitated the discussion between us to get to understanding of each other’s points of view and essentially both accepting responsibility for the situation and clear the air to move forward.

This is the Start not the End. This first conversation should be viewed as just that, the first in a series. Check in with each other. How’s it going? You could each rate the effectiveness of the solution or process on a scale of 1 to 10. What would it take to increase the rating (if it’s not a 10)? You might need smaller more frequent conversations because of the emotional nature of the conflict. Recognize it’s a journey rather than a quick fix.

Research shows that organizations with diverse people, ideas and solutions are more innovative and successful when well managed. Diversity means differences by definition. It’s not avoiding the differences that are key, it’s managing them for optimal engagement and results.

What conflict resolution skills would you benefit using?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could resolve, if not avoid, conflicts

 

Endnote: ¹ Dr John Gottman 2002

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: Giving Feedback - Afraid they will take it Personally?

Giving Feedback – Afraid the Recipient will take it Personally?

Are you reluctant giving feedback? If so, you are like many leaders and managers. Two clients said this last week: “I don’t want them to take it personally.” What came out after some coaching was that: (1) they didn’t want to hurt the person; and (2) they were afraid of how the person might react.

These are genuine concerns when giving feedback, especially when thinking of how to give constructive feedback. You want someone to accept the feedback, be empowered by it and not defensive, to take it on board and make changes. Hence why you should read this article to know how to give feedback well. The worst thing you can do is avoid giving feedback out of the fear of not knowing how.

How to Give Constructive Feedback

Most fears about giving feedback are about giving constructive or developmental feedback. In other words, telling someone what they need to improve (formerly called giving negative feedback). Few people worry about giving positive feedback; telling someone what they do well. Honestly though, a lot of leaders give too little positive or confidence-building feedback.

⇒Learn a model for giving feedback – like the COIN model, detailed explanation and template here. This template works for positive or constructive feedback. It stands for Context, Observation, Impact and Next Step. This level of detail for both types of feedback makes it meaningful as it’s specific to the individual and not just general fluff (like well done, good work). Also, use the word YOU when giving feedback to highlight it’s about that person; it makes it more personal.

Describe How to Give Feedback Constructively

Like a good photograph you want your subject to appear in their best light, to look good. And you as the photographer want to have your work well-regarded. Same for giving any type of feedback, you want the subject or recipient to look good and for you to be perceived well or credible.

⇒Give feedback at the outer 3 levels of this bullseye below – focusing on behaviour. Be specific about the behaviour (good or bad) that you want to comment on – what specifically did the person do or say. Environmental comments are about where or when someone did something that impacted their effectiveness (positive or negative). Capability is about how they did something and often can be helped with training.

This bullseye mitigates the likelihood that someone will take the feedback “personally” as it focuses on environment, behaviour and capability rather than identity and values. This is about a team member’s effectiveness of doing the job. If you give feedback about someone’s identity that is personal. It’s why parenting experts advise to tell a child “that behaviour was bad” rather than “you are bad or bad boy.”

Where to Give Feedback

© Anne Taylor 2020

Of note, this bullseye can be used for giving and receiving feedback. If you receive feedback that’s towards the middle of the bullseye ask, “what did I say or do that made you feel that way?” Or, depending on who’s giving you the feedback at an identity level, be confident in who you are and your value potentially choosing to ignore the feedback.

How to Give Feedback – The Positive Kind

Research shows that financially successful companies give positive feedback 4-6 times for every 1 piece of ‘negative’ feedback. Few people are near this ratio consistently, at work or at home. Typical reasons for not doing it are: why should I congratulate them for doing their job?, they’ll expect a raise or promotion, no one praises me, it will go to their heads, they know their doing well and I’m British, we don’t do that.

⇒Use the COIN model and target giving feedback about behaviours you want to reinforce (positive) and behaviours you want changed (developmental). Catch people doing things well more often than when they make mistakes or when things could be improved. Practice seeing and saying what people are doing well.

Giving confidence building feedback will increase employee engagement, have them use those skills more often by making them top of mind and make employees feel more valued in their contribution. These are big benefits for just telling people what they did well.

What’s Stopping You from Giving Feedback

The biggest barrier or roadblock to giving feedback is often our own insecurity or self-doubt. We worry about offending or hurting someone which is a noble cause. The risk of not giving feedback is that you don’t help people grow by being clear on their strengths and improving their developmental areas. By not giving feedback you are not being truthful and trusting in the relationship with your employee whereas you want them to be truthful and trustworthy.

⇒ Start by reflecting on what stops you. Be honest with yourself. If you don’t really look at all the ways you are stopping yourself, you won’t grow.

Whatever your reasons are for not giving more feedback, I challenge you to figure out how to get over it. It will immensely improve your effectiveness and performance by improving your team and you’ll make them feel better about their work at the same time. My book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, has a whole chapter on feedback, loaded with examples, tips and tricks because it’s that important.

How could your people and results improve with you being better at feedback?

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here to learn how to motivate others through feedback.

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