Back when I was working in Europe, I had my tradition to be in the office over Christmas. Undistracted and focussed working time - that is what I was seeking. And I experienced in these weeks that I was able to complete a lot more work in the 5-6 hours at my desk. And here I am reading the scientific evidence of that:
“Research indicates that five hours is about the maximum that most of us can concentrate hard on something,” says Alex Pang, founder of Silicon Valley consultancy Strategy and Rest.
Some companies have tried to reduce their working time down to 5 or 6 hours a day and saw productivity improvements. And the employees enjoyed the additional free time. A perfect balance. And yes, when we focus on work and remove distractions, we able to find a flow that allows us to get more done in less time. My experience is confirming this; when I am blocking 2 hours for a specific task, I am able to create a lot more results than if I am forced to split that into several 30 minutes slots.
Though, it is not all sunshine with the 5-hour workday idea. The increase in productivity will not lead to additional output overall. The new productivity level will not translate into an 8-hour workday. Some managers might wish so. Companies also observed that the stress levels increased. Employees felt pressured to squeeze everything they have done in eight hours before in their new five hour period. This is not always easy and creates tension.
And, in the long run companies observed that connections between the employees and relationships started to deteriorate. There is no time for a joint coffee or lunch break. That's how I felt in my empty office during the Christmas break: great to get things done; though, now I need to discuss my ideas with my peers and get inspired by them.
This leads to another element that is essential for lasting success in a complex ecosystem: randomness. We need time to ponder and tinker; these watercooler conversations often spark new ideas. Idle time is one key ingredient to creativity. That is how we are solving problems.
One final question: do we need to tell people how long and when they are working? I prefer to give people freedom and autonomy to choose their time for work. Instead, let's focus on the achievements which we aspire in our group:
It is great to know that our productive time is limited to five hours a day. Let's use this fact to reduce the pressure from people. Let them choose their preferred ideal working time. And let's start to focus on what really matters.
How will you use these ideas in your team?
Source: The perfect number of hours to work every day? Five, WIRED, June 2021
After about 12 months of working from home, we finally open up more to go back to work in the office. In fact, I observe more and more managers and companies demanding their employees to come back. They want their teams to be more accessible, easy to reach.
This reminded me of studies from the late naughts around the financial crisis that highlighted that one of the biggest cause of stress at work are distractions - a instant message popping up, the e-mail notifications, and the boss asking important questions. All the while you were trying to focus on designing a new solution for your customer (here a summary). Not much has changed since then. Distractions are preventing us from being productive and deliver high quality work.
This study from ETHZ in Switzerland confirms this in a 2020 study: Workplace interruptions lead to physical stress. The people that got interrupted tested with twice as much cortisol than the other group. It is time to rethink how we are productive in our job.
A few weeks back, a friend of mine, Sebastian, shared with me his future office ideas. Their new office will be very simple and serve two functions. A social space for people to connect informally, share a cup of coffee and ideas, and host small functions after work for networking. A collaborative area will be dedicated to working together on projects, host client workshops, and connect people to brainstorm and be creative. "I can't image my people to be back in the office to send e-mails or write reports", he said.
This approach resonates with me a lot: different activities in our job require different environments. Sometimes we want to collaborate and meet people; sometimes, we want to focus and be free of interruptions. One is best when we physically meet in an office; the other can easily be done at home (or another quiet place). And who is best to make the decision where to work? As leaders, let's give people the choice where and when to work.
How does this resonate to you? What does it take to give your employees control over where and when they work? Are they mature enough to decide when it is best to work in the office?
Yesterday, I talked with a friend about the fact that we tripled the amount of meetings since we enjoyed more freedom of working at home - compared to 2019 where we already complained about too many meetings. The main point we contemplated is that now, we even need to schedule a random chat with our friends. Something went wrong.
Let's face it; most meetings are inefficient and lack purpose and results. Yes, it is great to connect with our peers; at the same time it creates a lot of stress and pressure. When is the last time you had five meetings back-to-back? I guess your answer is 'yesterday'. How can we get out of this vicious cycle?
Since a while I am sharing these simple principles for effective meetings. At the core is the shift away from one-way communication meetings. Who is a culprit to conduct information briefing sessions? Yes, we fall into this trap. Here my core principles for all participant to create a good and fruitful conversation during your meetings:
The other day, I came across this article by Steven Rogelberg: What the Science Says about Meeting Agendas May Surprise You. Here what I take out of it to enhance the above principles:
And let's not forget one thing: let's enjoy these meetings, let's laugh and smile, let's focus on the connection between people. And that might also mean to schedule less meetings.
Which point do you want to try out in your next meeting?
Over the last decade, I could collect many examples where teams and entire organisations tried to accomplish too many things at the same time - with the result that they are advancing very slowly. I observed this in manufacturing environments, corporate functions, product development teams, etc. And I am sure, many of you agree to this. And still, there are so many important topics; how to choose?
Last year, a team approached me to support them to improve their productivity. They organised themselves in a very typical manner: each team member got a topic assigned and worked on it individually. During my observations I discovered two main obstacles. First, the team members felt that they were not in a good position to help each other. Second, the team was not able to accelerate urgent topics fast. That's why we tried a new approach.
How often do you observe similar situations in your organisation?
In this team, we tried to follow the principle: let's minimise the topics we are working on in parallel. We started with selecting one focus topic per cycle - a two weeks period in their case. At the beginning we had a deep dive into the topic to get everyone familiar with the topic. Then, they discussed what are the tasks to bring this topic forward and continued to work together on these activities. With this sequential approach, the team didn't have to select important topics to reduce the number of projects on their plate. There is always the next cycle, where the next important focus topic will be progressed. This gave the team the confidence to spend very little time on the other topics.
During the reflection after the first cycle, the team expressed how they enjoyed to work closer together; this was a great team bonding. In addition, they were able to significantly accelerate the delivery for the focus topic. At the same time, the team struggled with a steep learning curve during the deep dive and shared that they had to find a new balance between working in a group and focus on individual tasks. We agreed that both points will become much easier over the course of the next cycles. Overall, they all agreed the benefits outweigh these drawbacks. The team highly appreciated the switch to a more parallel approach of delivery.
Where do you see areas to implement this way of working?
Over the years in sparring with leaders on operational excellence, the question of how to structure the organisation is coming up regularly. And as so often, the unsatisfactory answer pops up: "It depends...". Are we creating a global structure that supports the different teams? Are we focusing on a region and integrate all functions in one structure? Shall we go down the path of a matrix organisation? All options seem to have major drawbacks.
While the answer is not simple, I like to think along a few principles that guide the design of the organisation. All of us are engaged in two categories of work. One is focusing on daily operations and is directly impacting the value creation within the company. The other is more strategic thinking and reflects on the way we operate and improves and innovates the operation. So, how does that impact organisational design? Let's look at some examples.
In one global manufacturing organisation, the environment, health & safety (EHS) team was looking the best way to serve the different organisational units. On the one hand, the company is divided into different business units and regions. On the other hand, the EHS team is organised in different functions like product safety, process safety, etc. Are we creating global, functional teams that are serving the regional operations, e.g. packaging, manufacturing, import facilitation, etc.? As a result, the specific, local nuances are often neglected and the functions within the region are not well aligned. Shall we design the organisation along the regions? Then, a result is that within a function, the global alignment receives less attention.
In a service organisation, a technical delivery department was looking how to organise themselves more effectively. The company is organised according to business units (customer segments) and regions. Plus the delivery team has different subject matters like data warehouse, software platforms, user journeys, etc. Currently, the company is organised according to the subject matters. And, as a result the collaboration between these units is very poor and the speed of delivery is limited. Shall we change the organisation to a business unit and regional structure? How can we ensure alignment within the subject matter units?
Let's go back to the principles above of daily operations and strategic thinking. All of us are engaged in contributing to the value creation within our company as part of our daily work. At the same time, we also reflecting on our way of working and preparing the organisation of the future success. In my eyes, we should focus first on value creation. And the organisational structure should reflect this by creating departments and teams along the value chain. In the EHS team, this means that we are establishing regional, cross-functional teams that focus on the value creation of the customers. And for the service organisation, we establish teams along the business units and regions - incorporating the different subject matters.
Ok, great! And how can we align the different subject matter experts globally? In my experience, formal global communities of practice allows to bring these experts together and share experiences and define new standards - building the platform for future success. This is much better than engaging in complicated matrix organisations with double reporting lines.
In which area do you want to try out this organisational design?
Neuroscience tells us that we are more creative and productive when we are working in a positive emotional state. As a leaders, this means we are responsible to create an environment which excites people to work in - establish a feeling of enjoyment and pride. Psychological Safety plays a big part in creating this environment. This is not a hygiene topic; rather it will allow people to deliver more value.
Two interesting articles are referenced in an article from 'CNBC Make It': Google determines psychological safety as the most important quality for success; Gallup reports that increased psychological safety leads to 12% increase in productivity. This is a worthwhile endeavour. And what does it take?
Which routines do you establish as a leader to create an appreciative working environment?
Source: ‘Psychological safety’ at work improves productivity–here are 4 ways to get it, according to a Harvard expert
This week I was engaged in a few discussions about how some teams feel that they are constantly under pressure. They feel they don't have breathing space and realise that this is not a situation that is tolerable and sustainable. Often, such circumstances result in burn-outs, attrition of talent and reduced performance. How can we then thrive when we are put under pressure?
Let me first divert into neuroscience. Studies have shown that when we are in a negative emotional state, our creativity and our capability to solve problems is shut down. In order to be effective as a knowledge worker, we want to be in a positive emotional state. Here are three ideas how to achieve this.
While you are experimenting with this lighter approach to absorb the pressure from outside, keep a good focus on your social connections - within your team, with the teams around you and with the stakeholders you are creating value for. Make your journey fun.
What is your approach to growing under pressure?
Photo credit: Ainhoa Sanchez, Volvo Ocean Race
Quarter four is around the corner and yes, this is the last quarter of the year - time is flying in 2020! For many, this means reviewing their objectives and defining the new key results; closing all the major deliverables for the year...
Focusing purely on the deliverables though, might not lead to lasting success. This focus on the 'what' is not addressing the effectiveness of reaching the results. In a previous post - a single focus on performance might impede performance - I highlighted that we also need to look at 'experience' and 'learning'. What does that mean for our key results?
Here my suggested sections for expanded Objectives & Key Results:
Interesting... and what does that mean for our key results? How can we make them concrete and measurable? Let me list examples from a recent project.
Stakeholder Engagement (learning)
What are your examples? How do you accelerate your teams' effectiveness in reaching their deliverables?
While coaching teams to become more agile, I am observing teams that are rushing after their action log. Things don't go according to plan and friction starts. That is normal. And, what is the impact on the morale and the quality of the collaboration? This churn can't go on forever, that is for sure.
This is why teams regularly meet, sit back and reflect on their daily work. Some call it after action review, some call it retrospective. Different teams use different structures to conduct this meeting. The tools are not the most important. As an observer, you can identify how well the is collaborating; how the dynamics work; uncover friction. These are the important parts during the reflection sessions; looking at the bigger picture.
Typically, the team members share things that went well and then the group has lengthy discussions about what went wrong and what we should do differently. In this article, I don't want to write a guide on these reflection sessions. Though, I want to highlight one single thing.
The end goal of your reflection session is that the team feels confident and energised to go back to their daily work.
Often that is forgotten or neglected.
What is your routine to boost energy?
In general, I am a forward looking person and striving to excite people about the future. Even these times are full of positive experiences and opportunities. And sometimes, it is great to explore the past - historians play an important role in our daily life. This article is looking at studies from previous crises and shares interesting conclusions - What you can learn from history about innovating during a crisis.
The companies that invested in innovation during the crisis displayed 14% more growth in the following decade than the companies that did not. What did these companies do differently? They collaborated with other businesses, explored new market opportunities, leveraged technology in new ways, and were competing on value instead of price.
At the same time, in a crisis companies need to be cautious with spending. The research shows that investing into innovation is not the only driver for success. Companies need to find a balance between investing in innovation and reducing your cost structure. Though, firing staff is not the preferred way to control your costs - this will only backfire in the near future.
Here are cost management strategies that have been proven successful in previous crises:
While these defensive measure are in place, follow your customers and invest where you can create value. Allow your staff to experiment with new ways to interact with customers and learn as much as they can. It is very important to build a solid foundation that pushes you into the pole position when the economy is picking up again.
Where do you find inspiration in this list of measures? How will you start to balance innovation and cost control?
Do you still think that meeting face-to-face is the only effective way to collaborate? Many people went through different experiences. First, they struggled to work remotely overcoming technical and social barriers. Then came the realisation that remote working actually works; it is possible to achieve a lot (and even more) even when we are not able to meet. And a third phase has arrived where we want to enrich virtual collaboration with physical interaction. What is you preferred mix of the two worlds?
I do love to read WIRED UK, uncovering the latest trend in tech and innovation. This recent 'work smarter' article expressed this observation: Coronavirus could finally fix some of our most toxic work habits.
In the past, many managers believed that they need to call a meeting to discuss everything, and most deliverables can only be created during these face-to-face interactions. This is great for the people that love to speak up and then hope that others are picking up what they said. How can you be sure that you have you captured all ideas from everybody?
“If you give people time to react to your question they can take the time and their contributions can often be more thoughtful,” says Prithwiraj Choudhury, Harvard Business School.
Work is not meant to be tied to a desk. Now, we have the opportunity to change our view what is the essence of working in the office. This can be the place to meet colleagues, to facilitate the random knowledge exchange at the "water cooler". Sometimes it is great to conduct a workshop face-to-face - the dynamic is different and maybe more relaxed. At the same time, we learned to appreciate to work by ourselves, which allows us to focus on tasks and go deeper with our thoughts.
The flexibility to choose the work location based on a variety of criteria will be one of the new norms we can build upon.
How will you benefit from this?
Image credit: Giacomo Gambineri
While guiding teams towards more agility, I often hear that people are overwhelmed with a mountain of tasks. One reason might be that people misunderstand agility with rushing. Can you really achieve 10 times more by trying to do the same things you did yesterday a little faster? The answer might be to try to do less, especially less of the things that don't bring you and your team further towards your goals.
There is one concept that in my experience helps a lot - and it is old. It goes under the name of 2nd Quadrant, Priority Matrix, Eisenhower Matrix... A simple 2x2 grid where you place your tasks: important and urgent, or not. In theory, the solution is easy. Everything that is not important, don't do it; simply drop it (non-urgent) or delegate it (urgent). The crux with the important activities is that we often start with the urgent tasks. By then end of the day, end of the week, we realise that that important and non-urgent things are still not done. All concepts highlight the same thing: increase your focus on the second quadrant (important, non-urgent tasks).
Yes, understood, and how can I achieve this? People approached me and said, this is really hard - even when they know the who-to. The solution is that you start with your weekly planning (best on Friday) and block time for the 2nd quadrant tasks. It is so simple, and so hard. Here is my tip: go to your calendar and create an appointment on Wednesday 9am that is repeating weekly - mark the entry as busy. In the appointment, list 3-5 items that you really want to get done. Based on my experience, the trick here is that you start your work in the morning with that important, non-urgent task; before any other distractions come up. For sure, any other day of the week works; though if you schedule these tasks for the afternoon, I promise that you will have many excuses and a lack of energy to get started.
With this, you are starting a new routine that is giving you space and satisfaction to complete your strategic tasks. You will be better prepared when urgent things are coming up. And you might end up with more blocked time in your calendar. If you want to see how this looks like, watch this funny video: Nextel: Dance Party.
How do you carve out more time for your big rocks?
Photo credit: balisurfexpress.com
Today is June 2020. Are you looking at the 18-months plan you have created in January 2019? Most probably, nothing on it would make sense in today's world. They have reflected a very different reality. And the complexity and uncertainty we are acting in, makes planning difficult.
What is the alternative? In my work to improve operational excellence, I am guiding teams to create specific and clear key results that will be achieved in the upcoming 3 months. This is a time horizon we can foresee with more certainty. And how do we make sure the teams are going in the right direction? This is where we need a northstar, a collective dream, that gives us a guidance for direction and priorities.
No plan at all? This feels very uncomfortable... Sure, we need something that is bridging the northstar and the key results; these are the objectives. They give us the context for the key results. And, in order to provide clear guidance, I suggest teams to imagine how the end results might look like and how the path can look like. This imagination of the results and the path is providing excitement and clarity.
If we don't have a plan, how do we measure success? In the past, project teams celebrated that they finished their project on time and on budget - and delivered outdated requirements? Instead, I suggest teams to measure success based on these three dimensions: a) value to customers, b) discipline of routines that create an excellent working environment, c) the pace the team members are learning.
How would you think this vision-to-action approach will contribute to accelerated success?
This sounds weird, right? If we fully focus on performance, our performance will go down? How is that possible? And what can we do to improve performance in a sustainable way?
A while back I learned about this formula that your performance is equal to your potential minus your interferences. While I wanted to learn more about this a stumbled across this article written by Tim Gallwey about the Inner Game and its impact on capability building. One passage brilliantly explains the above paradox:
"For example, my need to finish an article by the requested deadline obscures the reasons I chose to write the article in the first place, and dampens the natural enjoyment of expressing my thoughts and convictions. The person caught up in performance momentum neglects learning, growth, and the inherent quality of the work experience."
Let's look what we are doing at work. At first, yes, we are producing products and services; a key aim is to produce outcome of our work. At the same time, we are also engaged in two other things. We are building teams, cultivate relationships, providing a safe environment for our people - this is what Tim Gallwey calls 'experience'. In addition, we need to grow in our skills and as personalities during our career - this is what Tim Gallwey calls 'learning'. As a summary and taking the example of sales, we need to provide a trusted environment with our customers and we need to engage with them to learn what they need. Only then, we might be able to sell our products to the customers.
This week, I was coaching a team to develop their objectives and key results and based on the discussions we had, the team then added two objectives related to cultivating better relationships and engaging in more learning. They are very engaged now with their objectives.
What does that mean as a leader? Do I stop pushing for results? The way I see it, a leader's responsibility is to provide a safe and challenging environment. This will create a condition in which people can grow their capabilities, become more creative, take more ownership, enjoy more and become better team players.
In my work, quite often I see myself as the person that is providing the space to reflect. Which is important to become more excellent.
The Inner Game of Work: Building Capability in the Workplace.
We are all getting used to our remote working situations and the virtual meetings. We know that we need to connect frequently, use video for a richer conversation, use collaborative tools for discussions and brainstorming. Why does it feel that it is not effective?
From friends I hear different issues. Some get overloaded with topics and discussions, loose track what is the objective of the call. Some are trying to initiate a good conversation and are confronted with silence. Some feel they need to rush through many things because we are inefficient. All these situations cause stress, confusion and additional uncertainty.
From my knowledge management experience, I think we can try to achieve less in one call at the time; focus on one topic. As we have frequent calls we will still be able to cover many things. Here some tips for effective virtual meetings:
What did work on your side? Share your experiences...
The year 2020 has started in a weird way. And the current virus situation many companies start to struggle. In this context, I see many leaders react in the same way: push for targets!
Here an example. The productivity team has a target to achieve 4 million savings in production costs. Initially a tough objective. Now, imagine production slumps down 20%. We have reached our target. Do we celebrate? Did we really get more excellent? How will our productivity results look like if production is increased by 20%?
Instead of focusing on lagging indicators and financial targets, I advocate to look at how do we operate. How do our structures support collaboration in cross-functional teams? How well are we aligned and promote transparency? Can I talk about my mistakes? Who is listening to my ideas?
Companies that want to achieve sustainable success, need to look more at how we are doing business, focus more on values and principles. Look at the financial indicators once in a while to see if we are on the right track. And, set targets to operate in an effective way - especially for yourself as a leader.
For the last about 150 years, we have become very good at becoming efficient. We have automated farming, manufacturing, and are full steam ahead in automating services.
In this process, we focused on making individuals and small units hyper-efficient. We looked at organisations as a system and producing in large scale based on rigid processes; using people as robots in these systems.
Today, the world is changing rapidly, predictions become less accurate and the systems don't operate in a stable environment anymore. In this context, how do we know that we are optimising the right processes and systems? Are we wasting efforts on the wrong things?
In order to be fast and successful in this uncertain environment, I suggest to focus back on the effectiveness of the overall organisation. Cultivating our relationships with peers, suppliers, customers. And, creating structures and routines which allow us to learn fast, reflect and focus on the right things.
Where do you want to reduce waste today?
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.
What is the difference between Efficient and Effective?
This is a very illustrative video that shows how difficult it is to shoot for short-term efficiency. In my eyes, effectiveness means I am creating a platform that enables to deliver excellent results in a sustainable way - again and again.
How do you create this platform of excellence?
> agree on a purpose, an ambition, common results
> provide autonomy on how to reach these results
> engage in frequent conversations and enable a smooth journey
> join them in their quest, support as a participant
How do you see this happening in your work?
FranklinCovey: the Win-win Agreement
Today, in our production facilities in Thailand we started to discuss how we can execute ideas to improve productivity in a different way: achieve results in a faster way while keeping the big picture in mind.
The excellent outcome of today's workshop was the definition of Focus Topics. We took the solution ideas we created during a Design Thinking workshop in August and modularised them into smaller chunks that can be implemented as minimal viable products. The teams have now selected the first Focus Topic which will be implemented in the next three months. The graphic below vitally supported the understanding of this concept - visualisation is such an important aspect in discovery.
The objective of this approach is not only to create tangible results fast; we also aiming to cultivate agility and a new mindset. Looking forward to see the results soon.
First we created a good understanding of the needs and insights, which helped to explore a wide range of ideas. Then the teams crafted prototypes and presented their pitches.
All these activities will greatly impact manufacturing excellence; and we can already see the positive impact we made on the people; triggering mindset shifts and better work relationships:
"We were able to bring issues on the table with a smile and positive energy; this was never possible before."
And that's when I find myself working in a coworking space in Taipei city. What is my experience? Yes, tech today is enabling this... More important, I feel a surge of new energy and focus on my work tasks. The change in scene helps to keep distractions low (that's a surprise) and discipline on the defined tasks high.
In the context of people excellence this is an example to let people choose where and when to work - autonomy is a great driver for motivation. For sure the purpose and objectives need to be clear. We learn every day...
Oh, and yes, it helps to pay a bit of money to get a professional workplace - for me, it doesn't work well in a coffee place.
It is Friday and in today's "Quick Share" I am pondering about how close change management and knowledge management are.
A long time ago I was very deep into Knowledge Management; and one key topic was making communities (of practice) successful.
When you are doing this, you realise that you need a lot of change management expertise; that is why I evolved into a change management professional.
Today, I am driving innovation, new mindsets, nudging new cultures - guess how - with communities. This is a very interesting reflection.
Why communities? Because they bring people closer, build relationships, facilitate to have common grounds, etc.
Where do you bring people together to work together outside of their daily job?
Today's 'Quick Share' is about Objectives & Key Results (OKRs). Many heard about them, many use them - totally independent of region or industry. So, I am not going to explain how this works...
Here are three reasons, why I advocate them:
1 - pushing people to think about what they want to achieve in three months makes these results pretty concrete; plus, it creates more dynamic (or agility?)
2 - leaders get the opportunity to provide autonomy to a team and let them define their own goals together; under the leaders guidance
3 - in the end, the success is not done with defining the OKRs; they success comes in the weeks and months achieving results; this happens via frequent conversations; conversations about prioritisation, actions, collaboration
What do you learn from implementing OKRs?
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
Tim is a change practitioner in the area of innovation and excellence. He is working with teams to accelerate innovation, collaboration and agility.