Covid blues – Ooops, you procrastinated!

I am hoping that about a week ago I had you all motivated and ready to roll on conquering your fears and the dangers you had identified from my earlier posts. There is nothing like that feeling is there? When you are feeling motivated to do something. That you are going to take control of a situation. That the sheer strength of your will is going to carry you to success. And then it doesn’t, and procrastination sets in…..

Along with procrastination we also fall into a judgement-infused guilt fugue which further breaks down our self-esteem, motivation and general ability to even try and move forward. Now I have already said my bit around these emotions in my blog “Managing the COVID Blues – Looking at Emotions” so I will say no more. But I am sending you a virtual (and suitably social distanced) hug and again reminding you as I did in the first blog in this series, “Covid-19 – Why we Feel so Bad” that we are under extraordinary pressure right now in a world that is fairly unsure of itself. So it is time to exercise some self-care again.

This week I want to look at one way that you can increase your self-care by being aware of your gifts and what you bring to the world.

What makes difficult tasks even more challenging is when we don’t have the skills to complete them. Logical, right? Then why is it that when things get difficult we try and take on more, and do more without evaluating whether we are the best person for the job? Why would someone want to build a wood cabinet, having no tools or skills to do so, when they can have one built for them? Now, if the person had an interest in learning, that would be a different kettle of fish, but they are unlikely to take on such a huge task under pressure.

This is where gifts come into the way we plan to address issues or achieve goals in our lives. So often during coaching, where clients are assisted in setting and achieving goals, there is the need to stop and ask ourselves whether the action steps are practical and viable in this person’s life? For example when someone who has a spontaneous nature and enjoys arts, creativity and constant interactions with others want to become an accountant in a small business then we have to ask whether this is feasible? I am not saying it is not possible but it simply does not seem to align with the person’s strengths, and therefore is not setting them up for success.

As a bit of background, research has shown that when we work within our strengths, we enjoy the tasks more, find it easier to learn about what needs doing, can be energized by the tasks – instead of drained, remain happier and more productive because of it. You can see therefore why we would be concerned about the example above.

This is why it is important to ask, as we set out dealing with COVID-stressors, what strengths we have that can be used to achieve our goals. According to the CliftonStrengths profiling tool, from Gallup, there are four major domains that strengths fall into and while it is possible to have a strong preference for one of the domains, it is also possible to tend to more than one of them. These domains are:

  • Executing Domain – “How do you make things happen?”
    These strengths may help you turn ideas into reality.
  • Influencing Domain – “How do you influence others?” 
    These strengths may help you take charge, speak up and make sure others are heard.
  • Relationship Building Domain – “How do you build and nurture strong relationships?”  
    These strengths may help you hold a team together.
  • Strategic Thinking Domain –  “How do you absorb, think about and analyze information and situations?” 
    These strengths may help you make better decisions and create better outcomes.

When planning your goals you can do the following to find ways in which your strengths can be used to make achieving your goals easier. Reflect on the following:

  1. Which of these four domains do you enjoy being in the most. Think of previous successes and see if there are any clues in there. Be honest, it does not help choosing a domain in which you have no strengths, you are setting yourself up for failure.
  2. Take one or two of your biggest goals, as defined previously if you were following this blog series, and see which goals, and subsequent actions, align to these strengths.
  3. For the same goals see where you have actions that do not align to your strengths. Notice how those are the areas you managed to procrastinate on?
  4. In order to set yourself up for success, see whether you can apply some of your strengths, in different ways to make the actions you didn’t take align more with your strengths.
  5. “Call a friend” as they say in the game shows. You may have a domain that you do not have any strengths in and that is when you find support and ask for assistance from someone who does enjoy those tasks. Remember, in my previous post I pointed out that asking for help is one of the least used tactics at this time. Much to everybody’s detriment.

As a Strengths coach I realize that the list below is an extremely simplified approach to strengths work but at the same time, I do hope that it takes you one step in the right direction so that you can use the best of you to succeed in these challenging times.

Managing the COVID Blues – Don’t think outside the box

I am hoping that the blogs I have posted over the past few weeks have helped you gain a better understanding of the impact of the COVID lockdown on you, your emotions and the way you may be viewing the challenges you are facing. The old maxim states that if you fail to plan you plan to fail and so I think it is time to use all the reflection from the past few weeks and turn them into an action plan.

In order to do this, it is time to start solving problems. However, before we get there I want to talk about innovation and creativity. As is the case with the concept of leadership people often identify as lacking in innovation and lacking on creativity. I believe that it is part of our schooling system which not only assigned labels as “analytical” or “creative” but also made value judgements about it, such as that analytical is the same as clever and creative is not.  We need to get into a growth mindset about these labels we have. What does creative and innovative really mean? Is a maths genius solving a difficult equation any less creative than an artist creating a masterpiece? Is a musician creating a harmony any less analytical than an engineer ensuring that enough components of specific types are built into a piece of machinery? It is time to accept that we can all be innovative and creative, just in our own way, with our own talents.

Albert Einstein is credited with saying that our problems cannot be solved with the thinking that created them. So in order to solve the problems we are having at this incredibly difficult time, we need to think differently. The term thinking outside the box is not relevant anymore, we need to throw away the box and think as if it never existed. Now more than ever it is important to be innovative and not fear trying new things. It is also a good idea to bounce ideas off of others, and even have them brainstorm with you to harness their unique creativity and ability to innovate.

Understanding this it is time to put together an action plan for a way forward that works for you. Before we get there though I want to provide you with the tool, the table below, for discerning which one of your potential solutions will be the most appropriate to go forward on. For each problem (called the problem statement below) use your creativity to find three solutions (preferably very divergent from each other) to solve the problem. Then complete the columns below. By doing this for each problem you should be able to find the best approach available to you at this point.

Problem statement:  
Potential Solution OptionsWhat do I need to get this done?Who do I need to get this done?By when do I need to get this done?How long will it take to get this done?What are the long term implications to this option?
Solution A       
Solution B       
Solution C       

When looking specifically at the “Who do I need to get this done?” column there are a few important aspects to take into consideration.

·       It is very seductive, especially when facing challenges, to try and do everything by oneself. It is important to note though that no one has the time, talents or energy to do everything themselves. This is even more so in this time where we are facing so many challenges we and motivation is at an all-time low.

·       For some individuals interaction with others is a major motivator and therefore having someone helping actually energizes and motivates them. Again, as we face some stringent lockdown measures that are causing isolation this may be an even bigger factor than would normally be the case.

·       During a crisis, especially when resources are limited, it is often the case that saving money becomes a key factor, however, we do not calculate what it costs to do things ourselves. As an example, amongst my coaching clients, the tendency has been for highly experienced and technically specialised individuals to take on their own admin work in order to save money. The irony is that it takes them longer to do than it would an experienced PA and removes some of their focus off of their core business. If I ask them to calculate the costs it is amazing to see how much of their billable time gets sucked into admin. While I use the example of admin, mentors, coaches, outsourced financial management, outsourced HR and the likes are all places where experts can help us so we can focus on getting our own work done.

·       Also, remember what I said about having someone to bounce ideas off of, or who can brainstorm with you?

My hope is that in applying this thinking to each of the major dangers facing you, which are real and imminent, that you will be able to find a way forward that will help you keep focussed through the overwhelm. Good luck! I hope that by my next blog you will be progressing in your solutions.

COVID-19 – Why we Feel so Bad

Over the past couple of weeks I have experienced the same scenario over and over again with a variety of people. People reach out feeling overwhelmed, concerned, afraid, confused and helpless. The person just isn’t sure why they feel that way. The cause is society’s need to compel everyone to stay positive even in these times.

Even more serious are those individuals who, during these discussions report feeling guilty because they cannot cope with the effects of lockdown on their personal and work lives. Again there is so little self-care in this, it is sad that we live in a world where we are David facing Goliath and it is expected that we will take this in our stride without a hitch.

Then there is the prevalence of Covid boredom. People are tired of masks and sanitizers and a lack of good company and good coffee. They are not really bored, in fact they may be feeling the pressure more than ever, but as with positivity and guilt this is a form of denial and denial is often one of the first phases of grieving. And yes, we are grieving, but we either don’t know it, or we don’t want to show it.

The link between grief and the COVID crisis

Before I get into theory let’s take a look at grief. It is a construct that we so often fob off because what we are going through is “not that bad” especially when “no one has died”. Grief however is prevalent wherever there is a sense of loss. So being retrenched, losing a home, getting divorced (or ending a long standing relationship), big changes in physical or mental abilities, and the like all can bring on grief. Let’s take a look at what exactly what we are grieving right now.

As always I want to dust off Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For those of you who don’t know Maslow’s theory, here is the CliffsNotes version. Maslow identified five stages of human motivation, and they need to filled in a linear progression, from the bottom of the diagram to the top, to best meet human needs.

The first two levels, at the bottom, are inward looking and refer to physiological needs and safety needs. At level 3 and 4 Maslow holds that humans have a need to belong and to be appreciated for their contribution. At level 5 humans start to self-actualize and their contributions become more significant as they focus on fulfilling their potential.

If we take a look at the impact of the Covid-19 and the lockdown on the average family we see the following:

  • Physiological needs
    People losing their jobs, their, homes and their ability to sustain the most basic of needs.
  • Safety needs
    Security is being lost as people are losing jobs, being forced to take unpaid leave, having salaries reduced. Along with this is the constant fear of themselves or a loved one getting ill and having the resources to care for them, get them hospitalised when healthcare resources are scarce.
  • Love and Belonging
    The most benign threat here is our inability to spend time with loved ones, which is in itself causing mental health issues. At worst the threat ranges from a loved one having to die in isolation to not being able to honour cultural and religious practices for fear of infection. Humans are social beings and without serotonin and oxytocin we are at risk of developing mental health concerns due to a lack of input from others.
  • Esteem
    There is no part of this facet of motivation that is not challenged. For those that are infected are stigmatised and ostracized from their communities.  For their families there is the guilt of not “doing enough”, even when freedom was sacrificed for the hope of avoiding infection. 
  • Self-actualization
    With so much uncertainty it is challenging to focus on self-improvement and further eats into self-confidence.

In short, what most of humanity is experiencing is an attack on every level of human need and in many cases multiple people in the same group, household or family are under attack at a variety of levels at the same time. This is why there is so much tension within relationships right now, and due to social distancing and isolation we have no escape physically from these tensions.

So has this article contributed to the fear-mongering and the sense of helplessness? I certainly hope not. I hope that I have shown you why you feel the way you do right now. That the way you feel is not due to your own shortcomings, and that there is a very real external threat that is putting unreasonable pressure on you. I hope this awareness helps you feel less helpless, guilty and inadequate. In my next post I will look at ways to deal with the emotions in a constructive way and use them to build solutions, albeit it short term

Managing the COVID-19 blues

Last week I wrote about the loss and the grief that we suffer because of the COVID-19 lockdown and how easy it is to feel overwhelmed by all of these emotions while we underestimate exactly the impact this is having on us. The point of the article was to bring home that we underestimate the reach of the lockdown because we don’t understand all the areas of our lives that it impacts and because of the obsession with staying positive.

A friend of mine who was diagnosed with more than one life threatening medical condition in a short space of time taught me a lot about how to grieve when you not grieving the loss of a physical life but of a future and are combating a loss of “who I am” or “who I was”. One day he showed me a cartoon strip of Charlie Brown and Snoopy sitting on a dock and Charlie Brown says to Snoopy “Someday we will all die, Snoopy!”. Snoopy very wisely responds “True but on all the other days we will not”. This example explains how to carry on when things look dark, when we feel that there is an imminent danger. It is in remembering that there is a gap between imminent and current.

Where does this focus on the negative come from? As humans we have a built-in bias towards negativity, this is largely because of a part of our limbic brain called the amygdala, which helps protect us by finding and focusing on danger so we can take the necessary action. Imagine a caveman walking through a jungle and not seeing a snake hanging from a tree he will walk under – this could be a potentially fatal mistake. The caveman’s amygdala acts like a sensor that is constantly scanning the environment for any small sign of danger so that an appropriate response can be formulated. Back to our own amygdalas and, unfortunately, when we have so much danger around us as we have now and it all seems imminent, they flood us with information. So much, in fact that instead of being able to isolate and plan around this danger we are overwhelmed and our flight, fight or freeze response calls on us to freeze because there is not place to run for safety and there is no ideal way of fighting this because the danger is too pervasive.

The answer however is not to ignore our feelings, which are trying to signal all the danger around us. We should identify what we working with – what is the danger and where is it coming from. Once we know this then we can start taking care of ourselves moving through the perceived dangers and start making plans.

A useful tool is to start by triaging the dangers, using the following guide.

Step 1:

Set up a table containing a few rows. Plot all the areas of your life that are important to you. To make this exercise easier you can use the basic outline of a life wheel which may include areas such as work, personal development, money, home, health, friends, community, spirituality, recreation and so on.

Areas  
Work  
Personal Development  
Money  
Home  

Step 2:

Write down all the perceived threats in each of these areas.

AreasThreatsTiming
WorkI feel overloaded at work because we are working shifts to enforce social distancing. 
Personal DevelopmentWhat happens if I lose my job, can I be relevant in a remote working environment? 
MoneyWe may need to take pay cuts for the business to survive. I don’t know if I can financially cope. 
HomeI am stressed because I need to take care of my family and I don’t feel emotionally up to it. 

Step 3:

If you can it is also a good idea to write down if you have a concept of the time when this might happen.

AreasThreatsTiming
WorkI feel overloaded at work because we are working shifts to enforce social distancing.Current as this is happening now.
Personal DevelopmentWhat happens if I lose my job, can I be relevant in a remote working environment?This may or may not happen but it is a concern.
MoneyWe may need to take pay cuts for the business to survive. I don’t know if I can financially cope.This seems to be imminent, but I don’t know when and the details of the pay cuts. How much and for how long.  
HomeI am stressed because I need to take care of my family and I don’t feel emotionally up to it.Current, this is impacting myself and my family now.

Step 4:

Next categorize each entry as follows: red (disastrous), yellow (threatening) and green (concern).

AreasThreatsTiming
WorkI feel overloaded at work because we are working shifts to enforce social distancing.Current as this is happening now.
Personal DevelopmentWhat happens if I lose my job, can I be relevant in a remote working environment?This may or may not happen but it is a concern.
MoneyWe may need to take pay cuts for the business to survive. I don’t know if I can financially cope.This seems to be imminent, but I don’t know when and the details of the pay cuts. How much and for how long.  
HomeI am stressed because I need to take care of my family and I don’t feel emotionally up to it.Current, this is impacting myself and my family now.

Step 5:

This mapping gives us the ability to plan and prioritise to turn from catastrophe into a series of events that can be managed when we have enough psychological and mental space to deal with them one thing at a time. To return to the example above it is clear that the areas to focus on would be the feeling of overwhelm at the office and the inability to cope emotionally at home. These are topics which are the domain of the helping professions, such as coaches, doctors, counsellors, therapists, etc. A good way forward would be to speak to one of them to help formulate strategies on a way forward.

I hope you find this a useful tool which you can apply to yourself, your family, your team, your community initiatives, and so on. I was amazed at the volume of feedback, comments and messages I received from people on social media who where thanking me for the previous article. Some expressed that it helped them identify feelings and emotions that they had not really understood and that they were judging themselves for. I write about a variety of topics normally related to business but as there has been such a big response to this article I would like to hear from you if you like to see more information on a variety of tips, tools and ways of this sort. Please respond to any of my articles on linked in social media or connect with me via my website and let me know if you would find this useful. I would love to be of service where I can.

Working from Home, securing your professional brand

Last year I was asked to speak on Employee Wellness, with specific reference to mental health. As part of my address I told the attendees that they had (supposedly) each won a sports car. I asked them how they would take care of this new vehicle and they enthusiastically called out points such as getting insurance, always keeping it in the garage, not allowing anyone else to drive it, taking it for regular hand washes and valets, maintaining the car with OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts and so on. Once we had completed the list, proving that the car was seen as highly prized possession, I asked the audience what they did to take care of their own mental health, shifting the focus to the importance of mental health, which certainly is more important than ownership of a car, albeit a lovely one. Needless to say, the dialogue did not flow as much. The important thing I wanted the audience to connect with is the gap between owning precious possessions, and what is considered precious in general.

Fast forward to last week where I wrote about the importance of having a professional brand and how this has tended to slip with Work from Home during the lockdown. Are we again neglecting a something that is precious? While a premium is placed on expertise in the marketplace with employees and students alike spending thousands on education and personal development it is counter-productive when our professional brand breaks down our hard-won credibility. The question for me centers around how to maintain our professional brands during such a challenging time.

In many of the larger corporates so much time and money is invested in maintaining and establishing the credibility of a brand that the brand itself becomes valuable, just think of Amazon, Apple, Google, ad so on. These brands are valuable in and of themselves and therefore businesses are very protective about the brand and sensitive to the role of the employee as a brand ambassador, especially now with the prevalence of video conferencing. Current realities however cannot be denied and there is a balance to be struck between a professional brand and Work from Home during lockdown. For example, while you may have been wearing a hard hat and PPE on site as a Construction Project Manager, it would be inappropriate to wear those on a video call when everyone knows you are sitting at your dining room table. There is therefore room to adjust and be a bit more flexible, but that should not slip put professionalism at risk.

Following are some of the aspects that businesses raise as concerns around how they are represented by remote team members that can help you hone your professional brand for Work from Home:

While it is tempting to relax standards during the lockdown, it is important to remember that resilience during a crisis is often a good foundation and an indicator for businesses on who can be trusted with their brand. Given the list above, how would you rate your current professional brand. Is there an aspect to this that the article has missed? Do you have different thoughts on this? Let us know.

Working from Home, why your professional brand is so important

With the rapid transition from co-located work to remote work during lockdown it has become the norm that certain standards have slipped. This is only reasonable, and I applaud businesses who have shown empathy with team members working from home under the difficult conditions brought on by lockdown. There is no way anyone could function at 100 percent capacity while working from home with little to no support services like schools, day-care, laundries, helpers, car washes – the list is endless.

Not only is there the loss of these services but also the sudden transition to using collaboration technologies for the first time. I have attended many meetings where meeting hosts were uncertain how to use the programs. Of course, this is entirely acceptable as we all went through a learning phase. However, I am reminded of the Stephen Covey’s principle of starting with the end in mind. And this is where a professional brand is so important.

What is a professional brand?

Although we know better than to judge a book by its cover, studies show that individuals will make up their minds about each other in 7 seconds. This influences their ability to trust and therefore connect with each other. Even the most egoless individuals want to be known for something, even if it is only their humility. This is called positioning in branding parlance. This means that when Person A sees Person B, or an image of them, Person A will get a particular impression which positions Person B in his/her perceptions. Therefore, it is important to understand what your professional brand is. If you worked from an office before you would already have an idea of how that brand merges with your own personal brand. Professional brands can also sometimes be influenced by the standards or expectations of an industry and we need to be aware of how that affects our personal brand. Consider how it would look if an investment manager came to work in board shorts and flip flops.

Why is a brand important when working from home?

All transactions in life are based on trust and that is why companies invest enormous sums of money into establishing a brand based on experience, expertise, competencies, and/or achievements. This is why a huge inhibitor for companies around introducing working from home is the lowering of brand standards. This could be from multiple perspectives as team members, especially those who have contact with clients, vendors and other stakeholders are representatives of the organization.

In essence, the business is asking whether the team member working from home is an appropriate extension of their brand investment. Does the team member show their individual experience, expertise, competencies, actions and achievements related to their industry through their professional brand? Do they engender trust with the business’s clients?

As you can see, especially in the current scenario where working from home seems to be the norm for the future, your ability to create trust and build relationships virtually depends on your professional brand. In the next post we are going to take a look at some of the factors that come into play when expressing your personal brand.

Replacing Normal with a Next Normal

As lockdown has started lifting here in South Africa, I have heard people talking about going back to normal. On one hand it is wonderful to see how people anticipate increased social interaction, especially with friends and family – which has been severely impacted by the lockdown regulations. However, hearing this is sad as so many people have found inner strength, a realignment of values and a better understanding of what they cherish in life during such a difficult time. It would be a loss if these learnings were to be folded away and deposited with yoga pants and sweatshirts in the cupboard – discarded for the return to normal.

 One of the unexpected places we see this growth is in business. So many businesses have done so much to secure the health and safety of their employees. Reports in the media have shown how employees felt valued and cared-for as their employers take all the measures necessary to protect them from the COVID virus. The purchasing of PPE safety gear, the routine of having it washed at the end of each day and knowing that the next morning it is ready to continue protecting them has been received as a caring gesture. That along with other safety protocols such as regular disinfecting of workplaces and health and safety protocols posted to walls seem fairly mundane. However, employees are accepting that as caring behavior even if employers have no option but to comply. One cashier in a local store told me that she is proud that her PPE bears her name. Not only does she know that every morning she gets her own gear back, but that each piece (mask and face shield) is for her personal protection. Without these measures the employees would be without jobs, money and whatever limited security there is to be had at this point. Again, it would be a huge loss to ignore the learnings, and gains made during the crisis which has created social cohesion in the most unexpected of ways.

What if these learnings could be leveraged to move forward and instead of going back to normal, a place to shape a next normal? A next normal is not simply going back to a new normal where the old and new are haphazardly tossed together in a pot. A next normal asks that we consciously shape a normal that takes the best of all worlds and uses it to forge an even better path.

 The following three steps explain how to shape the next normal. You can do this exercise on your own, with your family or with a team or entire business. The process stays the same and there are no wrong answers.

 1.    Reflect

The normal expectation would be that everything about lockdown was detrimental. I would like to suggest though that it is easy to find times of love, purpose, meaning, connectedness, maybe even success and rebirth. Make a list of these.

For example, a younger team member may have learned that they are capable of independent working than they thought.

 2.    Review

Work through the list carefully considering what each item means and what was positive about it. The idea here is to get a concrete understanding of what improved or worked and why it worked and how that can be measured?

In our example our team member above may find that given clear and unambiguous goals with specific timelines it is possible to self-manage smaller elements of projects. It may also be important that the team member has the necessary project management tools to increase transparency on task progress.

3.    Reinvent

Consolidate the items above and see how these learnings can be applied in the next normal. What do we need to achieve as a family, business, personally, etc? Which of the learnings above can be used to improve on our processes and results from the past? Design the new process around these.

To end off with our example it may be a good idea to incorporate these learnings into remote work practices so that more employees can work from home during the lockdown. However, the process can further be adjusted so that once lockdown is lifted the remote working policy can become a flexible work policy where team members can work from home one or two days a week. This is a low risk, low cost way to provide a benefit to employees. Thereby an emergency measure is converted to a win-win situation in the businesses next normal. 

 I would like to hear any learnings you would like to share and am happy to answer any questions on the process. I can be found at innocente@performforward.com, or follow me on FaceBook @innocenteburgerspeaker or on LinkedIn.

Dear Manager, this is not remote work, this is work-from-home

In a matter of days I have had numerous discussions with concerned business owners about remote work and how it has been forced on their businesses by the measures taken against COVID-19. They have been finding the shift from local to remote work challenging and have seen a dip in performance which few can afford given the economic realities of the day.

COVID-19 has forced many companies to implement remote working practices, but this presents two major problems. The first is that not all businesses have been set up to support remote work. The other is that what we see is not remote work, but rather work-from-home” under very stressful circumstances.

This is what a properly considered and executed remote work looks like in an organization:

  1. Remote work should be appropriate to the vision of the organization.
  2. Remote work should reflect the organizational culture.
  3. Implementing remote work should be well-planned from a systems and process perspective.
  4. Employees should be supported in creating a remote work location.
  5. Employees should be given time to adapt to working remotely.

From this list, it is clear to see that converting a workforce from local to remote work is a complicated process. In order to help employees adjust to remote work, the systems and processes need to be in place so that when they start using these the transition is a smooth one. When this is done properly the individual employee performance should not be impacted negatively by the transition.

This is what we are seeing:

  1. Employees do not have the same technological resources at home.
  2. Employees may not have had time to set up an ideal workspace.
  3. Employees may be sharing space with family members during isolation.
  4. Employees may be enduring the isolation alone and feeling disconnected
  5. Employees will react differently to the separation from fellow team members.
  6. Employees may be supporting an ill family member during this stage.
  7. Employees may be feeling poorly themselves.
  8. Employees may be feeling vulnerable during the crisis phase of the virus’ spread.
  9. Employees may be grieving the loss of a loved one to the virus.

In a regular remote work environment, where there is no COVID-19, most of what we are currently experiencing falls away. At worst the team members may go through sickness or loss but at random times and the entire team is not subject to the constant threat. Therefore as we have not had time to set up remote work in business, and the employees are in a state of distress we should not judge the efficiency of remote work for our organizations right now. Deal with work-from-home for what it is and slowly start looking at the list above to make minor adjustments to gradually shift your business from chaotic work-from-home to productive remote work.

If you would like assistance in setting up, or managing, your remote team look at our online training or reach out to us on +27 (0) 82 550 8867.

The Importance of Real Human Connection for Optimal Productivity

The recent shift to remote working by organizations trying to protect employees from the Corona Virus has increased the use of digital communications. The question remains how do we keep engagement high and relationships real in distributed teams.

What is the Impact of Employee Engagement?

When researching Employee Engagement, one finds masses of statistics showing its impact on business. Some of the general findings show that engaged individuals deliver the following:
1. Improved customer service – this drives sales and profits.

  1. Increased quality – this creates satisfied customers who are also more open to price increases, this increases profits.
  2. Improved safety records – This makes for happier employees, as they don’t suffer injury due to negligence. It also means that employees have more time and energy to building the rest of the business. Decreased safety incidents also save the company money from a risk perspective.
  3. Better collaboration and teamwork as employee retention is higher and therefore teams have time to build deep and trusting relationships.

What is Employee Engagement Really?

The site CustomInsight defines employee engagement as “the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work.” Therefore engaged individuals feel:
a. free to be openly passionate about their jobs,
b. that they belong within the team, project, and organization, and;
c. that they want to “go the extra mile” to ensure the success of the company, team, and project. (Note here that although they too want to succeed, their primary goal is the success of the team because they know the team will honor the employee’s role in the success.)

For this to happen they must feel that they belong and that they are respected. That makes sense but let’s look at why those particular factors are so important.

How Does this Relate to Levels of Motivation?

In the 1940s Abraham Maslow studied human motivation and proposed his  Hierarchy of Needs. In this system, we find Belonging, Esteem and Self-Actualization in the hierarchy. When individuals have achieved a sense of Belonging in the team (Level 3) and the team has shown appreciation for their contribution (Level 4) their Esteem needs are met. Only when those two levels have been achieved can someone start to Self-actualize (Level 5). At the Self-actualization level, we see people achieving greatness because they are functioning to their full potential.

What is Considered a Real Connection?

The important point here is that the only way for someone to feel accepted, appreciated and supported is for them to be their authentic self without fearing discrimination. This is the basis of real human connection. This is when we really “get” someone, not just know them and how many family members they have. Instead, we connect with their challenges, their passions, and their concerns. Therefore, for people to really perform optimally, and be most productive, they need an environment where they can be appreciated for their real selves and be as strongly connected to others. It takes real empathy and caring to get a relationship to this level.

The rapid switch we are seeing to digital channels should not be undertaken without acknowledgment that we need to keep things real. That teams will bond around their attachments, not their commitments, and therefore we have to keep the real contact alive.

If you would like assistance creating the human connection with your remote team look at our online training or reach out to us on +27 (0) 82 550 8867.

 

Setting Strategies for 2020

Intrinsic to this time of the year is the need to reflect on the year that has passed. A review of the “what was”, “what could have been” and the “oops, that should not have been” events.

The next logical step is to start planning for the year ahead. That makes this my favorite time of the year as strategy sets my heart on fire. The idea of planning for new, innovative, world-changing, purpose-fulfilling activities is just up my alley.

Unfortunately, that is where I see things go wrong as, whether we are setting life strategy or business strategy, there are a few mistakes I think we often make in an attempt to be rational and logical about where we want to be in the future.

Now make no mistake, I believe in the power of strategies and goals, and their ability to help us focus on what we want to get out of life in general. However, the following mistakes limit us in our ability to leverage our goals properly.

1. Basing strategies on what was achieved in the past

Henry Ford is quoted as saying “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” With that thinking, cars would never have been invented. In the same way, limiting the future by tying it down to the achievements of the past is counterintuitive.

Tip: Instead of basing strategies on what has been achieved, base them on big hairy audacious goals, as mentioned by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies”. Then challenge yourself and your employees to get it done. It is likely to have a great team-building effect.

2. Aiming too low

A well-known idiom is that if you aim for the moon, and you miss, you will land amongst the stars. Often in business risk-aversion sets in and the passion that drove the entrepreneur fades. The problem here is that if you aim low and you miss your target you will have gained nothing. However, if you listen to the idiom the advantage of aiming too high is that even if you fail you will still have exceeded expectations. That translates to a win, even if you fail.

Tip: Set a target and then add on another 10-15 percent, whether in targets, increased metrics or productivity, whatever works in your environment. If you reach your initial target, celebrate – you did well. If you exceed that and reach the stretch-target celebrate even more knowing that, either way, you have gained.

3. Lack of personal contribution

One of my favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela who said: “Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?” Other than avoiding disappointing others, such as investors and spouses, I believe that sometimes we set “easy strategies” to reduce stress on ourselves. In the process though we rid ourselves not only of a potential sense of achievement but we also run the risk of not making a personal contribution and developing ourselves which is shown to decrease feelings of personal worth.

Tip: Ask yourself what would bring fulfillment in your life and set your strategies and goals for 2020 so that you may end the year feeling you have grown as a person and that you are fulfilled, purposeful and happy. 

I hope that 2020 is a very successful year for each reader and that you “shoot the lights out” as they say.

Please feel free to reach out and let me know if you have other pointers on how to optimize strategy for 2020. I can be found at innocente@performforward.com, or follow me on LinkedIn.

 

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