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
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?
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?
Challenging times are dragging us down. We see that among our friends at work, and we observe that about ourselves. We feel frustrated, overwhelmed, angry and this feeling lingers and gets stronger. Why is that? This downward spiral is often related to negative self-talk. But, how can we prevent this?
Andy Puddicombe says that you have a choice. Either you choose to succumb to your challenging emotions and make them worse with your own thoughts. Or, you can choose to observe them, to live with the challenges around you and let them go.
What does that mean in your daily life? The idea is to start to feel in balance and get at ease with the many challenges and opportunities in life. Focus on what is real and the things you can influence now. And, accept the things you can't. Then, you can slowly view the positive impact of the challenges and try to turn them into opportunities. Judgement of others and of yourself will peel away and you have the brainspace to focus on the actions to succeed.
As a leader, you can be patience with your team members, recognise when they (and yourself) have a bad day - that's part of life. In addition, define (collectively) meaningful goals that provide the big picture; this allows to turn current challenges into a stepping stones for a successful future. Don't fret when your team members do mistakes; they are part of the learning journey. The same way as they were on yours.
And what is in it for the company? Happy employees are 12% more productive than unhappy ones. And this also stimulates creativity as well - so important for innovation.
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
The first half of 2020 is over - and wow, this was a rollercoaster, right? As a leader, what did you learn? Which new routines did you start? And what is on your list that requires immediate attention?
We have asked manager in Asia and Europe about their top priorities right now. Our findings have been positive and alarming at the same time.
Positive is that leaders care about their people and employees are confident that they are supported. There is a human touch in the leadership in Asia which might be based in the more collectivistic cultures in the region.
On the alarming side, we conclude that companies make limited efforts and plans for a new future and set up their business for success. Are companies putting themselves into hibernation and expecting to wake up and continue in the same way? This might not happen and operations, business models and ways of working require a creative remodeling.
Read here the detailed study: Teams Come First - New Business Models Later
Thank you, Björn Kälin and Emmanuel Montet, for your collaboration and support.
Photo credit: University of Maine
Agility is for many the path for success, and I see many teams trying to run faster, sprinting and simply spinning the wheels faster. In my experience, this is not a sustainable approach; you are burning energy, burning people.
Velocity means that all your efforts are adding value and none is wasted. In this way, we are achieving results faster and with higher quality. To make sure, we know where to add value we need to be close to our customers, get their guidance on where to focus our efforts. This means we need to build relationships and connect frequently with the customers and stakeholders of our products and services.
One excellent way to do this is with prototypes. Why are prototypes so important? They make our ideas, achievements and challenges more tangible. The customers can imagine how the future solution will add value and where we need further tweaking. In addition, it is a fun way to celebrate what we have achieved within the team.
During my observations, I realised one thing that many teams forget. Demonstrating your prototype is a great opportunity to obtain direction and priority from your customers and key stakeholders. Prepare questions that provide this guidance in key areas.
Which achievements have you been proud of? How did you demonstrate them to your customers?
The current times create a lot of disruption and uncertainty. Many try to stick to old recipes and the old normal. Still, we know we are heading into a new normal, we are in the need to find new ways to be effective, profitable and valuable. This part of the journey can be daunting and paralysing. What can we do?
In situation of conflict, confusion, disorientation I always try to review the original objectives. What did we set out to achieve at the beginning? Often this purpose brings us back to the right direction and. Today can be an excellent time to review and reflect on the Collective Dream of our organisation. What was our vision at the start of your endeavour? What are our values? What do we as a team, as individuals stand for?
Why is this important in situations of uncertainty? Isn't it better pushing hard and running forward? Here are my thoughts around this:
This Harvard Business Review article confirmed my thoughts around this topic. We might want to rush and run forward, though we might only run in the wrong direction and waste a lot of energy. Allowing yourself a pause, reflect on your purpose and then accelerate in the right direction will give you confidence to create value for the people around you.
When will you invest in reflecting your collective dream?
At Hive17 Consulting, we are supporting organisations to accelerate operational excellence. This means we aim to cultivate creativity and agility within teams. You might ask yourself, what does agility mean and why is it so important?
Do you feel that your business is facing raising uncertainty and complexity? Are you facing with increased competition and customer requirements? In such situations, successful companies act with speed and they focus on delivering maximum customer value with their current assets. As an organisation, you want to quickly address changing customer needs, regulatory frameworks and pick-up new opportunities. And it is not sustainable to rush, increase pressure and centralise control.
How does leadership look like in an agile organisation?
Basically, we have identified four foundational drivers to cultivate agility as a leader:
Where do you find the biggest barriers to drive agility in your organisation?
Image credit: copyright by Lloyd images, Extreme Sailing Series, Carbon 6ix, Best, Land Rover
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?
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...
For a while now, I am an advocate for empowering teams to reach their northpole autonomously - a human-centric and sustainable formula for success and growth. Recently, I got introduced to the story of the USS Santa Fe, a submarine that was commanded by David Marquet from a desolate state to the best operated submarine. A story of positive leadership.
Captain Marquet took a totally different approach to his role on the vehicle. Instead of being the centre of operation where all the information is gathered and he is making the decision, he delegated decision-making authority to the different units and ensured the relevant information is flowing between all units.
In an interview he mentioned that a first key change was the way he formulated orders. A typical command is direct like "sail the ship to this location at this speed and that depth". He started to express an intend: "I intend to be at this location in order to achieve that". Then the relevant units are required to suggest the right method to achieve this intention. This changed how people got involved and shared their expertise.
Other learnings shared by David Marquet:
How can you apply this in your leadership role?
Learn more about the story:
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.
Our current COVID-19 situation is accelerating at an enormous speed and we can only wish that the peak will be getting closer and all our families and friends stay healthy. At the same time, it is not all gloom - it is an excellent opportunity to take responsibility for our own excellence.
The article here - How Will things Be Different When It's All Over? - is rightly asking the question: what can we as business leaders do now to prepare for the next three phases: Rebound, Recession and Reimagination.
Rebound: are your teams aligned with a collective dream? Do we all run in the same direction? And did we establish effective collaboration routines that create transparency while avoiding micro-management? When I talk to teams struggling with working from home, I often hear that people lack motivation, trust, efficient tools, etc.
Recession: one way to react is to shut down everything - total cost management. For me another question is more forward-looking: how can we maximise value creation with the existing assets. That might mean, we can find new customer groups that have an interest in utilising our assets. And we can take the economic slow-down and review our operations and make the fit for the rebound.
Reimagination: here we can be creative and see new opportunities unfolding. And a human-centric approach will allow us to go deep in understanding our existing customers how their needs have changed. Where are the new value generation opportunities? How did preferences have changed? How can I react fast to deliver on this value? Everyone in the organisation is part of the customer journey; in my experience we all need to work closely together to create an experience for our stakeholders.
Back to the article, it suggest a few inspiring success factors:
Thank you, Daniel Benes, for sharing!
My fellow transformation practitioner, Kamales Lardi, published an article sharing her views on the challenges that occur when executing a digital transformation strategy - Digital Transformation: How to develop strategy under uncertainty. A great list for leaders to understand how we can contribute to successful initiatives. And it made me thought, can we even give it another spin, make leaders bolder?
#1 Create a Confident Leadership Team
#2 Thrive in Uncertainty
#3 Create a Frame for Fast Results
#4 Create a Human-centric Organisation
#5 Implement a Structure that Strengthens Creativity and Agility
Am I the bottleneck to our business success?
How do you translate your vision into action?
Do I appreciate the creativity and insights of all people in our organisation?
You heard it enough: a clear vision, a meaningful purpose, a comprehensive strategy is the foundation for a successful business. And why is this so important? I share here an alternative and simple idea.
Today we often observe that teams and entire organisations are pushed to achieve some financial targets - and they all rush, putting a lot of effort to reach these objectives. Is everyone running in the same direction? Are they joining their efforts to create a larger momentum?
In this context, "collective dreams" might be superior to typical lagging indicators:
Where do you success with your collective dreams?
This week I coincidentally stumbled across this simple explanation of the foundation of agile. A reminder for myself - and for all of us - where does agile come from.
"A set of values and principles that guide the team’s decision making."
For example, the interaction with people is more important the processes and rules; or the collaboration with the customer is more valuable than the contract we negotiated. These will guide a team to make the right thing.
And as a leader? Give your teams a clear direction, remove barriers, motivate intrinsically, stay close with them and join the party as an equal.
What did I miss?
End of last year, we initiated a benchmark survey on how different companies experience their journey to accelerate innovation mindsets. How can we fully exploit our potential to deliver novel products, processes and experiences to our customers. We presented a number of activities and traits and asked two simple questions: are these important for innovation? and are they established in your organisation?
Here are the results of this APAC-focussed survey; they show clear indications on where to put energy and where to start:
Find here the complete survey results: The Current State of Innovation - Report.
Big Thank You to all that have participated in the survey!
In order to be successful in an environment where change and disruption are accelerating, we need to significantly speed up the way we work. Though, success is not achieved with rushing; greater velocity can be achieved with reflection on doing the right thing - slowdown to speedup. Sustainable success is based on creating a frame, empowering people and facilitating intrinsic motivation.
Where do you see these elements in your organisation?
"Live the best life you can. Life is a game whose rules you learn if you leap into it and play it to the hilt. Otherwise, you are caught off balance, continually surprised by the shifting play. Non-players often whine and complain that luck always passes them by. They refuse to see that they can create some of their own luck." - Darwi Odrade
from "Chapterhouse: Dune" by Frank Herbert
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)
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.
"Instead of forcing change, create an environment where change can happen"
Tim is a change practitioner in the area of innovation and excellence. He is working with teams to accelerate innovation, collaboration and agility.