A few weeks back, I shared some views how you can let go of control. Why would you want to do that? Because the people at the front know how to create value to our customers; and they need to be able act fast without barriers - control from the top. Have a look at the previous post: Letting Go of Control - Made Easy?
Once you let yourself guide by others, how do you get up along the U?
That's a valid question I received after sharing the last post. Here are some thoughts around the right side of the U. Before we climb up, let me share more about the left side and the valley. With the steps on the left side, you can imagine that you are going down a hill. In the moment you think that you let yourself be guided by others, you realise that hill turns into a cliff and you need to climb further down. And most probably it feels like you are walking in a fog; there is no view of the other side of the valley. It feels like going through a tunnel or crossing the sea. I like this analogy because in problem solving you often want to immerse yourself in the current situation like an anthropologist and thoughts around possible solutions should be far away - early solution ideas might only lead you into a wrong direction.
Only when you really let go and you are in that opaque place, the magic can happen. Ok, not real magic, though it might feel like this. When we are drifting (not consciously seeking anything) then suddenly things will get clear, the new journey will appear right there. This might sound very esoteric but it is not. People who practice design thinking might be able to share similar experiences when they get inspired by empathising with the people they are creating value for.
Long prologue... So now, how does that journey up the hill look like?
Reflecting on the entire journey along the (theory) U, I think the right side might be more familiar. The big part of letting go of control happens on the left. Letting go of judgment, ego and power are essential for this new leadership. It starts with difficulties on the path down (left), and it continuous inspired on the path up (right). It does feel like a freedom once we don't need to control anymore.
How did you apply these steps into your leadership role?
Yesterday we had a day off; and as so often I was heading into the forest. And every time I am amazed on the impact the dense green has on my mind and body. After an hour surrounded by trees, birds and monkeys, my body and my mind feels refreshed and energised.
This week, I came across this article - The fight for quiet in a world full of noise pollution - introducing a group of people on a quest to raise the awareness of noise pollution and certifying quiet parks. When is the last time you have been in a place that is void of human noise? The group is mentioning a series of positive impacts when enjoying time in quiet places: mental power, overall health, creativity, stress relief - to name a few.
It is weekend - let's go out and listen to the sound of nature!
Photo credit: Shawn Parkin, Wired UK
Here is a conviction of mine, I have been sharing before. In an environment that is complex and continuously changing (who is denying now that we are in this kind of world?), we need to understand how we can create value and we need to act fast.
Who knows best how we can create value? The people at the front. The sales people that talk to the customers, the people that are running through the process steps, the people that are delivering the packages to the doorstep.
How can we act faster? If we allow the people at the front make the decision that will make their work smoother, easier and then creating more value.
As a logic consequence, we leader should let go of control and handover decision making power to the people that are best equipped to control their (part of the) boat. And still, I can observe many leaders struggling with this. Struggling to let go.
One aspect: what else is my purpose of my role? This is answered very easily: provide direction, remove bottlenecks, allocate resources, and create a work environment that is motivating. This is already a lot of work when done properly. So, let's free up some time and give the controls to others.
How to let go? Are there any easy steps? Last week I was introduced to some of the backgrounds of Theory U - a concept that gives new insights how we can tap into collective capacities. When looking at the left side of the U, there are some clear steps that lead to letting go. Here they are in my own words:
Minimise judgement - judging actions as good or bad prevents us from seeing behind the actions and blocks the understanding of the Why people have done a certain activity. When we open our minds, we start to be curious and can see with fresh eyes.
Bring ourselves on the same level - if we think we are better than others, this will block the learning process (the same if you think you are worse than others). Stop critique and cynicism and come down from our high horses. Then we will be able to open our hearts and sense the environment around us.
Let us guide from others - as long as we still want to steer the ship by ourselves, we will not discover the potential in our peers. Let go of our fears and open our will, and totally new possibilities will be unleashed.
What holds you back from letting go? How did you feel when you actually achieved it?
About two years ago, I stumbled across #slowdowntospeedup and this tag line represented a few things that I stand for. Today, this slogan is more relevant than ever. I observe people around me burning out, many peers feel huge pressure to deliver, and many organisations stopped their strategic planning cycles. Just yesterday, a person shared with me that they wished to find 3 hours in their calendar to focus on some work. Does that sound familiar?
This WIRED article - How Slack ruined work - illustrates how the always-on culture is destroying the flow in our work. The various messaging tools we are using, combined with the a high expectation to immediately respond, has created a constant source of distraction. This leads to stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed. It is time to stop - to slow down.
Why do I think slowing down will speed us up? Here three thoughts:
Ok, great - I want to slow down. How can I start? First of all, this is a journey and will take a while. A journey during which we will learn a lot. Keeping this in mind, I suggest create a weekly block in your calendar of 2-3 hours. This big rock is for yourself - for activities outside of your daily work. Enjoy this time off.
What else can you do to slow down and balance your life?
When is the last time that you have been frustrated that you have not reached your objectives? This might be a personal fitness objective, an ambitious result for your sport or a project deliverable at work. In my practice, I observe that most people are setting goals that seem to be unachievable. Which can lead to frustration and in the best case, lack of celebration. Is this in itself a bad thing?
Setting high ambitions are a great thing. They can induce passion and purpose we want to strive for. This collective dream brings the members of a team together, they create alignment and meaning. There is no doubt, ambitions and objectives are essential. And this collective dream makes us start the journey. Though, they are not good to sustain our motivation.
A true, deep motivation requires that we are disconnecting enjoyment from the actual achievement of the goal. This means, we appreciate the journey that leads towards our ambition. As a swimmer, I have the ambition to reach a certain result in an open water competition. Though, I enjoy the preparation and training that leads to achieving this result; this keeps me motivated. Similarly at work, while we set a specific goal to bring our operations to excellence, we appreciate what we are learning along the way. The goal is almost an excuse to create a journey of excellence.
In order to build this motivation, I suggest to keep reminding yourself about the feeling that is created by the activities (and micro-achievements) that lead towards your big picture goal. Make the journey worthwhile and valuable in itself. Then you might never lose momentum to reach your collective dream!
This year has brought many changes and we all had to innovate with great speed. One of these areas is the way we are working. After month in this frency, I hear more and more people mentioning that they are simply too busy; too many meetings, changing priorities, new organisational structures, people leaving companies... This is stressful and I see people around me burning out. What are we doing wrong?
Inspired by this Entrepreneur article - 4 Ways to be More Productive, not just Busy - I put together a set of simple principles on how to create more value and not simply working more hours. And if you only want one line it goes like this:
1) Know Your Priorities - with external input and based on a good conversation in the team create your own priority list and keep evolving it. Reduce distractions and stop following other people's priorities.
2) Big Rocks First - based on your(!) priorities first plan your second quadrant activities - these are the important and non-urgent items - in your daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly calendar. Only then add the urgent stuff.
3) Experiment - avoid perfectionism when you deliver and frequently interact with the people you are are creating value for. Switch to try-to-learn experimentation. This means try things out, build prototypes to test your assumptions and then validate them - it is a learning journey.
4) Reflect & Energise - take regular breaks by simply looking out of the window and pause - wind down for 5-10 minutes every hour or so. This will make your creativity flow and new ideas will pop up.
How are you switching from sprinting to creating lasting success? I am sure that Iolanda Meehan, Veldhoen Company, can provide more excellent advise on this.
Already 15 years back, we heard that the number 1 reason for being stressed are distractions. That's when we sticked red post-it notes on the screen to indicate: "Don't distract me". We are also often heard that when we are distracted from a piece of work, it might take 23 minutes to be back in our 'flow'. Why is this important to keep our distractions at bay? They create stress, kill our productivity, limit our creativity, influence the way we concentrate on conversations, losing focus on what is important... The list might go on and on.
In a recent interview, Andy Puddicombe mentions we are spending 50% of our time distracted. This is a lot of time! And instead of trying to blame externalities for these distractions, he suggests to look inward. Recognising and labelling these distractions is a great start to reduce them. And as we are training our muscles and our stamina with sports, we can train our mind with regular exercises. After almost 100 hours of meditation, I see results. This routine is part of keeping my body, mind, heart and soul fit and strong.
As a result of being mindful, you will look at distractions in a different way; allowing yourself on focusing on small steps. Not getting lost in too many parallel activities and thoughts about things that are not relevant today. This might happen in the context of a conversation with a peer or in the context of a large scale project. Creating a space to reflect and focus on what is creating value.
Source: Headspace Co-Founder Andy Puddicombe Says We Spend Half Our Lives Distracted. Here's His Simple Solution.
This June was the first time I came across this word - Antifragility. Grant Rawlinson mentioned it as a strategy he applied during his adventures. Recently, more people started to mention it and I got curious. The story is simple. When we are fragile, we break under pressure. We start to be resilient; that means we don't break under pressure - we are surviving. The idea of antifragility is that we are growing and becoming stronger under pressure. Nassim Taleb defines it as:
"Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty."
How can we become thriving under pressure? Buster Benson summarised ten principles based on Taleb's book. Here are my thoughts around it:
In order to create lasting success, we might want to build a collaborative foundation and have a clear direction where we want to go. Then, we can combine this with curiosity to experiment and with a common understanding who are we creating value for. This might be a formula that avoids the trap of short-term thinking and shortcuts that ruptures our strength over time.
Source: 10 Principles to Live an Antifragile Life
Uncertainty has been discussed for some time and in 2020, we experienced it in a new dimension. I used to ask leaders to show me their 18-months plan from 18 months ago. Now, I think it is clear that past plans don't hold a lot of guidance anymore. How can we still lead our teams and create confidence and success?
Anita Sands shared in this article the seven habits for highly effective leaders in times of uncertainty. A great real life experience sharing what works for some of the best leaders. These seven points allowed me to reflect on four pillars of my Wheel for Agility - I haven't been so far off.
1. Balance Realism And Optimism - People in general prefer bad news over uncertainty. Not knowing what comes is very stressful. At the same time, even the worst situation holds opportunities. As a leader it is important to strike a balance between the two. Get the people out of a downward spiral.
2. Communicate Often And Authentically - Proactive communication goes hand in hand with the first habit. Vulnerability shows that we are human and that creates better connections. If we don't have an answer for the future, we still have the values we are proud of. Let's continue to live by them.
3. Focus On Purpose And Culture - Many successful leaders have evoked passion in their employees and their customer base. Why am I giving a lot of my life's energy for this company? A leaders provides a meaningful answer to this question. I like to call this creating a collective dream.
4. Nourish Yourself - As a leader we are giving a lot of energy to the people around us. Do you have enough energy yourselves that you can give away? This means we need to continuously fuel our body, mind, heart and soul. Be generous to yourself!
5. Evaluate Competitive Positioning - Many organisations fell in a fight/flight/faint/freeze mode due to the huge negativity created in the past months. As a leader it is important to create a positive environment that allows creativity and the discovery of new solutions that bounce us forward. This also requires a deep understanding of the needs & challenges of our customers.
6. Get And Stay Curious - New solutions only come from experimentation - let's try things out and evolve from what we learn. As a leader we need to be curious ourselves, and we need to empower our teams to be curious and experiment. Further, curiosity is correlated to resilience; it enables a range of cognitive, emotional and social capabilities that allow us to cope with duress. Let's walk around with a beginner's mind.
7. Pause And Celebrate Successes - Simply rushing forward might make us blind to understand if we are on the right path. Regularly pausing and reflecting on what we have achieved and learnt; this gives us the space to focus on the right opportunities. Celebrating even the smallest success, will bring some of the positivity back. This gives us a glimpse of the blue sky above the clouds.
How do you inspire your teams?
Until not so long time ago, success was defined by following a plan through, or you designing a product that is flawless, or you following the process to the dot. Management schools and project management standards have contributed to this push of perfectionism. The base for this are assumptions that markets are stable, customer needs won't change and operations are easy to map into processes. With the current crisis, and even before that, we experienced that we can't rely on these assumptions? The world is changing faster, the future looks uncertain and ecosystems are complex.
Why do we as leaders feel it is hard to move away from perfectionism?
"In the midst of great uncertainty, leaders across all industries are adjusting strategies and supply chains, rewriting the rules of operating, and sometimes making things up as they go. This kind of leadership demands mental agility. However, there is a challenge: our minds are not naturally built for agility." This Harvard Business Review article shares insights on how we can address our mental barriers to agility.
The first challenge are the distractions. Every day hundreds of messages are asking for our attention. And, we tend to get involved in too many activities; too many priorities are demanding our input. It takes courage and new habits to remove these distractions and focus on the things that matter; the old 'signal versus noise' situation. We can achieve more agility when we focus on small steps, intermediate achievements, instead of keeping a constant focus only at the top of the mountain.
The second challenge is about our ego. I had success with this in the past; my opinion is correct; I already have invested a lot. All this is fixing our mind and prohibits fast adjustments. Instead, as leaders we need to look at the collective wisdom, listen to all the people that are close to the market. Authentic leadership allows to be closer to reality and removes the self from the equation. And as a result, we and our team members can be more self-confident.
The third challenge is empathy. In a crisis we are expected to recognise and resonate with the emotions of the people involved. This is a very important step to overcome the difficulties and come out stronger than before. At the same time, we might reach a paralysis and are not able to make decisions that might hurt some people; then empathy might slow down our agility. As a leader we can find a balance with constructive compassion. This means we are respecting the emotions of people, we treat them as humans. Keep looking for the value these people are bringing, in the larger context of things.
Is your mind ready to conquer the opportunities of the next crisis?
Illustration by Keith Negley
This week I attended a webinar organised by BI Worldwide, Grant Rawlinson sharing how he has attempted to cross from Singapore to New Zealand on human power: rowing and cycling. The key lesson he learned during this journey? Resilience is being able to weather the storm. Though, sometimes we need to be able to grow stronger when we are under pressure - Grant calls this "Anti-fragility". Here are my key take-aways.
1) In a storm, don't make strategic decisions! Keep going; there will be sunshine soon again.
2) When you hit a major roadblock, go back to your original objective; the purpose why you started the journey.
3) Select your partners based on motivation and mindset; skills are not a good indicator for successful teamwork.
4) Only spend so much energy in a day that you can regain in that day; with this sustaining effort you can go on forever.
This explorer's mindset is true when you want to achieve a major adventure like the crossing Grant is attempting. And this also applies when we as an individual and as a business are facing a crisis like the current situation. It might very well be an opportunity to grow stronger.
Thank you Omar and David.
Photo Credit: Alistair Harding
In my experience when facilitating teams to accelerate their operational excellence, I like to talk about two things. And, they seem to be a contradiction.
"Sustainable change is effortless!" This is similar when you are fixing a screw and at the start it is hard; a simple correct alignment will do the trick and the job is much easier. Many transformation are getting launched with too large climbs and with methods that simply doesn't fit to the style of the people. Too much efforts during a change journey might often be a waste.
"If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough. (Mario Andretti)" This means that a great challenge creates a lot of excitement and motivation. When we are too comfy, then we are not trying hard enough. Pushing our own limits is actually fun.
How does these two thoughts match? They are helping us to create a balance. Too much push - especially from outside - will drain our energy and is frustrating. Too little effort will make us slow down and kill the momentum. The balance in between will allow us to run at the edge effortlessly and for an infinite amount of time. This is essential to successful transformations.
Where do you find this balance?
In the current period, most companies are struggling - either their income is plummeting (e.g. airlines), their efficiency and productivity drops (due to unusual work conditions), and some are totally overwhelmed with a new level of demand (e.g. online grocery shops). When I hear the people in my network, we agree that old recipes won't work to overcome these challenges.
Many people are afraid in these times of uncertainty - nobody is able to say where we will be in 3 months time. This fear provokes negative feelings and rush reactions. Some leaders resort to old habits, like pushing people to reach financial targets at all costs, like adding more control over their employees, like neglecting what the company and team stand for. These reactions might work for today, though they will create frustration and might very well jeopardise a quick recovery in the near future. And we are all guilty reacting with a quick fix, right?
We at Hive17 Consulting suggest a different approach - an approach that requires a little bit of reflection at the start. This will allows the leaders to guide their teams, their companies to a fast and sustainable success - Slowdown to Speedup. In our approach we suggest three ingredients: positivity, creativity and agility.
Positivity - Neurosciences tells us that in moments of change we are preferably in a positive emotional state; then our neurotransmitters can establish new connections and better adapt to change. As a leader, this means we should feel healthy and content ourselves and maintain a positive outlook for the future. With this foundation, we can guide our teams through this uncertain times and give them a meaningful direction, a collective dream. In my experience, empathy and a good understanding of the people around us help us to convey these messages successfully and engage all of us with authenticity. Let's put some enjoyment back in our work.
Creativity - Old recipes won't work. This means we need new solutions to new challenges. How can we use the uncertainty to our advantage and strive? At first, we suggest to to formulate the "problems" as opportunities; for example, instead of cutting costs, let's say that we want to maximise the value creation with the asset we have. Many people say that creativity is innate - we all have it in us. As leaders we can facilitate creativity by removing restrictions and encourage bold, crazy ideas.
Agility - Once we have these crazy, positive solutions, we need speed to execute them. Though, agility is not only velocity; it also means flexibility and importantly a learning attitude. The collective dream gives us the long-term direction. And, this will be the input to make decisions while we execute smaller parts of the big solution. During the implementation we might have many assumptions what will work best; let's get started and test them out - step-by-step. As a leader it is important to maintain a safe environment to experiment, fail and encourage learning. Speed is the natural result.
Some of you might say, this takes too much time - I need to react now. Based on my past experience, the actions above might take a couple of days and the first positive results can be seen in 2-4 weeks. On top of that, the teams will achieve magic; rewarding efforts, empowerment and a clear long-term vision will bring the best out of your teams - now and in future.
On a daily basis, we are pushing our teams for speed and cost. Do we get better, sustainable results? Neuroscience tells us we might be wrong in doing so.
Without going too deep into neuroscience, establishing new mindsets is literally about rewiring our brains. Neurotransmitters from new paths in our mind; this is creating new learning and helps us to transform. Two conditions support this rewiring.
Our brain will only be able to rewire when we are in a positive emotional state; we are open to new thoughts and discoveries. In addition, the new neural paths will be build over time based on repeating the new patterns. One simple and effective way to start is to visualise the positive outcome and repeat towards achieving it.
Instead of creating pressure, engage with our people and discuss with them how success looks like and what actions we think will lead us to this success. And let's have fun along the way.
Source: The Neuroscience of Habits, by Brigitte Najjar (Udemy)
We at Hive17 Consulting are devoted to creating an environment for people to work with passion, engagement and fun via positive leadership and intrinsic motivation. We believe that it takes more than perfect processes, systems, organizational charts and value statements to make your company successful. Our people need to understand, shape and believe in the change journey. And for us, it is clear that this foundation will unleash people’s full potential.
"Instead of forcing change, create an environment where change can happen"
How can you stay positive every day? For me it is about getting energy from within:
* know and live your values
* be mindful
* stay fit.
Starting a sunny Friday after an early morning gym session...
How do you stay positive?
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend and we shared our recent stories, pondered about being great leaders, argued about how to coach people.
And in the middle of the conversation we agreed what it means to be successful (not that this is the holy grail):
Be Yourself Every Day!
Sounds simple and it is so difficult. Who I am? What are my values? What distracts me to follow my values? How do I feel today? Oh, I will try tomorrow...
Give it a try now: for the next hour, be yourself...
How does it feel?
IMD Alumni invited us to a speech by Diana Wu David sharing her experiences and thoughts about how we can make ourselves Future Proof! Globalisation, Automation, Longevity all creating the need to look differently at the 'world of work'.
The future will bring lifelong learning, demands flexibility and soft skills, and requires us to be enabled by technology.
How can we get there? And her thoughts really resonate with my experiences and believes:
These behaviours and routines will lead to creating a more satisfying life for us as leaders and family members.
The still open question is: how do we convert our top leaders to stop looking at the past (lagging indicators) and start embracing the future. Any thoughts from your side?
It is 'Quick Share' time and let's look at People Excellence. I spoke about this topic last week and I received a great amount of confirmation for this.
For the last 150 years we keep automating - farming, then manufacturing and now services. This created a mindset that we can control people. In recent years, neuroscience showed people work better when we give them more freedom; with less control we achieve more.
I think we need to focus more on the humans around us:
1. Engage in conversations and get out from behind the screens
2. Let's care about the things we are doing
3. Create a drive in people with purpose, autonomy and mastery
Today's 'Quick Share' is about how do I get a productive day? So here is what I do:
1 - the evening before, I set my 2-3 tasks for the next day
2 - when I arrive at the office, I focus on task 1 first (no e-mails)
3- then after the first (mindful) break, I am going through my e-mails
Here is the article that inspired me; in essence:
> get rid of distraction
> follow your own priorities (and not others')
10 daily tasks that will help you become successful over time
Tim is a change practitioner in the area of innovation and excellence. He is working with teams to accelerate innovation, collaboration and agility.