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We’ve weathered the storm…now what?

Jul 17th

In this harsh new reality, many leaders are asking themselves – how can we motivate our people now? This issue also includes: focus on your ‘personal brand’; taking care of yourself; and inundated with emails?.

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We’ve weathered the storm…now what?

Almost every organisation has had to make difficult decisions recently. But in this harsh new reality for many private and public sector organisations, many leaders are asking themselves – how can we motivate our people now?

Almost every organisation has had to make difficult decisions over the past twelve months. Businesses have cut back on the essentials until life in some companies feels comparatively Spartan. In many cases, redundancies have left staff feeling bruised and working hard to find new ways to deliver at greater pace and with greater efficiency. In this harsh new reality for many private and public sector organisations, many leaders are asking themselves – how can we motivate our people?

The answer for many clients we work with is a renewed focus on organisational culture. Leaders are taking a look at what has happened to organisational culture in the past twelve months – what rules were unknowingly rewritten while everyone was trying to balance the books? What have those difficult decisions (even if well handled) done to the company narrative or the collective sense of ‘how we do things round here’? And what does this mean for us all the future?

Part of this process involves understanding (and helping others to understand) what has happened already by telling a coherent story. One CEO we work with has taken every opportunity over the past nine months to talk through the journey the company has been on over the past few years – and the very personal impact that has had for him and those close to him. After nine months, his message – that the process has been painful, but it is paying off – is starting to filter through to staff on the shop floor. The sense of panic can be replaced by a greater confidence in the future.

We can take some lessons from the process we went through with Andy Rose and the team from Balfour Beatty (see ‘Eating the Elephant: how do I tackle the really difficult issues?’). The process the team went through to tackle the thorny issue of safety can equally be applied to the challenge of focusing on organisational culture:

  • Shape the vision together: what are we like at the moment and how do we need to be to be successful in the future?
  • Reframe the issue – do we need to change the way we think about our culture to get the most out of our people?
  • Share ownership – involve others to ensure a strong message which binds people together
  • Create a buzz – communicate to unleash the energy of the organisation
  • Support leaders to deliver – give leaders the (new) tools they need
  • Identify your ‘vital signs’. What gets measured gets done – so how will we know if we have succeeded?

Looking to the future, the challenge for many organisations now is to create together a new, collective narrative (what we are here for and how we work together) which has the power to motivate and sustain the best people, now and in the long term.

In the news

Focus on your ‘personal brand’

Those who neglect their ‘personal brand’ at work risk giving inconsistent messages or simply failing to have an impact. Dorie Clark, HBR, has some interesting ideas on how to reinvent your personal brand.

In this month’s HBR, Dorie Clark sets out some ideas for ‘Reinventing your personal brand’. Focusing on individuals looking at a change of direction, the article identifies some key steps, including ‘Defining your Destination’, ‘Leveraging your point of difference’, ‘Developing a narrative’. ‘Reintroducing yourself’ and ‘Proving your worth’.

Even if we aren’t looking to change career direction, we often find we need to reinvent ourselves to take on a new role or tackle a new challenge. This is especially true of leaders who sometimes need to show a new side of themselves to successfully take an organisation into a new era. This is not to say that we want leaders to play games or be inauthentic. But when most people have hundreds of contacts on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, as Dorie Clark says, “the truth is, the vast majority of people aren’t paying much attention to you” – even if you’re the CEO. Those who neglect their ‘personal brand’ at work risk giving inconsistent messages or simply failing to have an impact. This can lead to frustration when a leader’s real motivations and intentions are not being understood.

So how can you control your ‘personal brand’ in a fast-moving environment, when there’s a chance that anything you say might end up on YouTube? First, you need to know what you are good at. Develop your personal insight to identify your USP. Second, make sure you understand your audience. One leader we work with relies upon his PA to give him the cold, hard facts about what people are saying. (Of course, it helps that he has a resilient relationship with his PA!). This ‘insider information’ helps him to understand how people are feeling, what they need and how he comes across. Finally, choose your moments with care – what are the major milestones for you and the organisation and how can you use those to bring your USP to life?

Being clear about what you have to offer, and using a carefully considered strategy to communicate that creatively, helps your ‘brand’ take hold, whatever the business challenge.

Tip of the month

Taking care of yourself

Research suggests that ‘talking out’ your concerns does not always help and that suppressing negative thoughts can be just as bad for you. So how do you take care of yourself after making it through a tough time?

In turbulent economic times – and after a very long winter – how do you keep yourself going? Research suggests that ‘talking out’ your concerns does not always help and that suppressing negative thoughts can be just as bad for you. However, research also shows that ‘expressive writing’ can boost your well-being, reduce health problems and increase your happiness.

  • If you are struggling to come to terms with a negative experience (a professional setback or even redundancy), try spending a few minutes each day writing a short account of it. Constructing a written narrative (which is naturally more coherent than a spoken narrative) helps people make sense of what has happened and move on more quickly.
  • If you’re suffering from more generalised dissatisfaction, try spending a few minutes each week noting down five things for which you are grateful. Research shows that those who express gratitude in this way end up happier, more optimistic, healthier – and even exercise more.
  • Alternatively, spend some time planning your best possible future. Research suggests that although visualising a successful future is unlikely to increase the chance of achieving your goals, it can make you significantly happier. Spend a few moments describing for yourself an ideal future which is realistic, but in which everything has gone as well as it possibly can. In research, this technique was shown to make participants significantly happier.

In summary, something as simple as writing a few notes during the course of the week can make a real difference to your sense of optimism and energy levels. (Research quoted in ‘59 seconds: Think a little, change a lot’ by Richard Wiseman.)

Your questions answered

I am inundated with emails – I get up to 900 a day and I physically can’t get through them all. I need a new approach. Is it reasonable to tell people that I simply won’t read all their emails?

It’s not unusual, as we all whir away on Blackberries and IPhones, to receive hundreds of emails a day. What is extraordinary is the residual expectation that we will – and can – answer all of our emails, roughly within a 24 hour period. Indeed, we feel as though we have committed a social faux pas if we fail to respond within that timeframe. But surely that expectation is outdated. Back in 2004, Stever Robbins pointed out that email has shifted the cost of communication to the recipient. Without even having to find a pen or paper, the sender can ‘ping’ a message (however badly phrased and thought through) to the top of your inbox. Each thought and impulse can (and often does) become instant communication. Given this shift, surely we can’t expect a response to every single email?

Alexandra Robbins in her HBR blog this month suggests declaring a vendetta on mandatory email. She suggests setting up an auto-reply explaining that you will no longer be personally reviewing each message, due to the volume of email you receive. I’m not sure whether this would work – apart from the risk of committing professional suicide (or at least, appearing uncooperative), it increases the likelihood of returning to your desk to find hundreds of voicemail messages on your phone.

An interim solution seems to be to try out this approach with your closest team. Explain the problem of handling the volume of email and ask them to keep emails to a minimum. Explain that any priority issue should be raised with you in person, so that you can commit to dealing with it. And as you work through your emails, consider which are absolutely necessary and request to be removed from any distribution list which does not need your direct involvement.

This article is filed under: employee motivation, , executive coaching, leadership, organisation, organisation design, organisational culture, people, time management

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