End in sight

February 21, 2018

On the radio this morning we heard the news that another cold snap is incoming for next week and we let out a collective weary groan.

pexels-photo-309384.jpegMy daughter especially is really looking forward to warmer weather and the thought of yet more freezing temperatures after the months of Winter we’ve already had, lowered her mood.

The thing that struck me though as we talked over our bowls of Cornflakes, own-brand Rice Crispies and Gluten-Free Granola was that this was likely to be the last dip before things are well and truly on the up weather-wise.

The mornings are getting lighter, so are the evenings, and we’ve had some warmer days already giving a glimpse of what’s to come. In this context, it was much easier to raise the spirits of the family because they had tangible evidence of things going the way they wanted.

The long, warm days spent in shorts and t-shirts, eating ice-cream after school and water-fights with friends in the street may be some way off yet, but it feels like we’re getting there and that makes enduring the present reality much easier.

The same is true in our work, in our DIY projects, anything really. We function better when we have some tangible indications of progress towards our goals. To do this, we need clear goals of course AND we need to have established definite ways to measure progress towards them. We need regular ‘small victories’ and to get our heads up long enough to notice that the nights are getting lighter and it wasn’t quite so bitter on the platform this morning!

How about taking some time today to pause and notice what tangible progress you’ve made already this year? Share that with your team if you can. Emit a collective sigh of satisfaction….and get back to it… hopefully with a renewed sense of resolve because the end is a little more in sight that you realised.

P.S. I’ve just realised this is one reason I often have the SatNav on even when I know where I’m going – I like to see the progress as the miles are covered and the destination draws closer. Counting down the miles is strangely satisfying!

 


Catch both rabbits!

February 5, 2018

If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.

So says the ancient proverb… and there’s lot of wisdom in this. If you try to go in two directions at the same time, you’ll end up reaching neither.

Wouldn’t it be lovely then to only chase one rabbit? It would be heavenly to focus on just one thing but for most of us that seems like an unrealistic dream because we have so many different things running concurrently and we mustn’t drop the ball on any of them.

So what practical wisdom can we take from the age-old ‘Two Rabbits’ conundrum? Here’s just one thing that you may find helpful.

Manage transition between projects.

Think back to school. Maths lessons followed English followed History. Each lesson (at least the good ones) had a well-structured start and finish so you left in good shape to do whatever homework may be required and arrive back for the next lesson ready to continue. You were (again, in the good lessons!) able to give full focus to that one lesson for that one hour before moving on to the next.

Many challenges arise as we hop between projects and tasks holding many different things in our minds, not able to fully focus on any of them. Let’s take meetings as an example. People arrive at the meeting unprepared because they were doing something else, often unrelated, right up to the last moment they left to join the meeting, Then they leave the meeting and go straight to the next thing without processing what just happened. Instead they should be reviewing what just took place, scheduling any actions required on their part and swiftly following up with any further communication needed. When this doesn’t happen, next meeting we find agreed actions haven’t been done, or are part-done, little thought has been given to the implications of what was discussed last time and much inefficiency ensues!

Whether it’s a meeting with others or simply your own management of the various rabbits / balls / plates (pick your favourite metaphor!), it can really help to work on slowing down and focusing on good transitions. Doing this well can seriously boost your productivity and also reduce stress as things feel less hectic and out-of-control.

Give it a try and have a great week!


Systemise feedback (where possible)

October 24, 2017

The personal feedback I shared in the last blog came as a result of a structured feedback exercise.

Just recently I was involved in facilitating a two-day graduate programme for a large employer. One of the most valued parts of that training was a structured (set up!) peer feedback exercise.

Giving and receiving feedback in an adhoc way as things happen is a vital skill, especially for managers. There is no reason though that building in feedback to the normal work cycle shouldn’t be done. When it’s systematic and structured it’s often easier for people to receive. Like the graduates’ exercise, they were expecting it; it was part of the programme; therefore it wasn’t personal – or at least it didn’t feel like personal attack!

If you structure feedback to come at the end of every project perhaps, or as part of a fortnightly line-manager/team member one-to-one, it’s much easier to prepare well both to give and receive with an open, constructive attitude.

Finding a good process for feedback is also extremely helpful. My favourite at the moment is the commonly-used ‘WWW / EBI’ format.

What went well. Even better if.

I’d love to hear it you have any others that you find work well.


Roll with the punches (more on feedback)

October 13, 2017

“Nick is opinionated.”

This kind of feedback is never easy to take. The offending statement came in written form about 15 years ago as part of one of those management team exercises. Again, most of what was shared with all of us was extremely positive but can I remember any of it? Hardly. The difficult stuff? Never forgotten.

Most of us have the tendency to focus on the negative aspects of ourselves and that’s not good. Building confidence based on the positive feedback we receive is really important. Discovering our strengths and developing them is a central aspect to successfully making our unique contribution to the world.

So what about the tough stuff?

That “Nick is opinionated” comment has been more useful to me than I can ever have believed possible. As I reflected on it at the time, and many times since, I began to realise that I did tend to state my opinions pretty strongly. I came to realise that this worked OK in some situations where the other would counter just as strongly and we’d enjoy a lively discussion.

But for others, that was overwhelming; it seemed dominating, arrogant even. So I learned to temper. To speak but make sure I also listened and be persuaded by others where appropriate. I became familiar with a weakness (or a strength gone too far), and over time learned to improve how I communicate and how I work with others. Still learning… but the feedback has been so valuable.

At the time I was not grateful for it. Now I can’t even remember who it came from but I am so pleased it did come.

This is why feedback is a gift. Be open. Dwell on the positives. Ponder and learn and change when you receive feedback that’s not so comfortable but when you reflect on it, there’s a ring of truth to it.

More to come on this subject…


The Gift of Feedback

October 11, 2017

I hate this title. I hate feedback.

That at least is my instinctive reaction when I receive feedback that isn’t simply ‘Nick is amazing’, or something wonderfully positive like that!

I run a lot of training courses so I am given feedback almost every day. Thankfully, most of it is very good and for that I am extremely grateful.

But then, out of nowhere (it seems!), comes something not-so-great…and it lands a withering blow to the stomach as the words, whether written or delivered verbally, find their target.

Another human being has the gall to have the opinion, much worse even, to share that opinion, that Nick Howes is not perfect. There are things about how Nick does his job that they find annoying, boring, confusing…whatever it may be.

The thing is, it’s this kind of feedback that makes us. We need it and we need it badly. The positive feedback builds our confidence and that’s crucial, but to become better, to really excel, we need those ‘would be better if….’ comments.

They are indeed a gift to us and we can learn to treasure them (even if we still hate them)!

I’ll write some more on this. Hope this has got you thinking for now.

 


Is it possible to over-encourage?

September 5, 2017

A very brief article today based on this question: “Is it possible to over-encourage people?”

Yes, you need to have the confidence to confront poor behaviour and manager under-performance through clear communication and constructive conversations. Let’s take that as ‘sorted’.

Without that accountability it’s certainly possible to create a culture that is falsely positive, where poor attitudes and slack work habits go unchallenged.

But, assuming that’s in place because you have well-trained managers (if you don’t, give me a call and let’s get them well-trained!), is it possible to over-encourage or is it the case that the more praise, encouragement and generally positive inputs to the work environment, the better?

What do you reckon?  And what will you stop doing, start doing and continue doing as a result?

I’m genuinely really interested to hear your thoughts.


DIY Deadline Day

August 31, 2017

It’s Transfer Deadline Day in the football world, with the transfer window bolted shut at 11pm tonight. Any business that clubs don’t get done by that cast-iron cut-off point doesn’t happen….at least until the window opens again on 1st January.

Many I know, and I humbly confess to being one of them, will be refreshing the deadline day news apps on phones quite a few times between now and 11pm.

Watch

Whether you’re a fellow ‘refresher’ or have no interest at all, you can’t escape the fact that the deadline creates activity and lots gets done. The transfer window has been open all summer but it’s today that many of the deals get completed. It’s do or die, now or never, time to go and make it happen!

There’s something incredible about the deadline that generates action. We humans can’t seem to resist it’s power. Whether it’s ‘last day of early bird booking rate’, tax return submission day, job application cut-off, the big tender due date or the last day at work before holidays, the time when time is running out is so often when we are at our most productive.

Somehow our lack of self-discipline, poor self-motivation and well-honed procrastination skills all get put aside as the shadow of the pending deadline looms large!

My aim here is not to look at why this is, but rather to think about how we can use this naturally occurring phenomenon to our huge advantage.

What happens when we don’t have a big, externally-dictated deadline looming?

Here are three ways to harness some of the power of the deadline every single day:

1) Set a deadline for when you are going to finish working today

Make your plans, write your lists, set about your daily work but with a definite end-time which is 100% inflexible. I guarantee you’ll work more efficiently knowing that you can’t just keep going ‘for as long as it takes’.

2) Set the clock on a piece of work

When you have a large project or specific task that needs your focussed attention and you don’t know how long it will take, it can be really hard to get going with any sense of urgency. This is especially true if it’s one of those long-term projects that will generally improve the world but lacks any definite ‘we need it by then’ dates. Here’s where it can be really helpful to set yourself set blocks of time to make as much progress as possible. Choose a realistic period, an hour often works, to get your head down and concentrate only on that task. Set a timer and keep it visible in front of you and keep going until it beeps. Then schedule your next block of time to pick it up again.

3) Create an arbitrary deadline and make it public

Sometimes we will be more motivated by the potential for public shame than just the satisfaction of our own achievement! Where this is the case, set a date for a project, a launch, an event…anything really…and tell people. ‘Going public’ might be telling your family, your team, the whole office, your clients, all your social media followers or even the Stock Exchange. But do it and see the difference it makes!

The unavoidable truth is that deadlines work like a dream and, as is the case for many ‘refreshers’ today, can even make things a little bit more exciting!