03 Oct

Balance and leadership

 “…being successful means having a balance of success stories across the many areas of your life. You can’t be considered truly successful in your business life if your home life is in shambles.” –  Zig Ziglar

When coaching new and experienced managers, we have noticed a trend towards ‘burn-out’ and ‘over-load’ being discussed as serious issues in the workplace. Many people being coached are  feeling ‘overloaded’, with some also expressing concern for their direct reports. It is concerning to hear these managers talk about the long hours they work, the weekends lost to emails and reports and the subsequent strain experienced by their families.

Sadly, there is no easy answer to this problem. Businesses are being pushed to reduce costs and raise productivity, and the resulting restructures, budget cuts and redundancies means that people often find themselves with more work and less resources. To cope, employees are working longer, and often experiencing feelings of resentment, frustration and even anger for doing so. Many find that they strive to do a good job, yet are left thinking that they are never quite doing anything well, rather doing lots of things poorly. For the high achievers, this can be a major issue!

So if there is no easy answer, where do we start?

We must remind businesses and employees of the benefits of balance. In his book ‘The four principles of values-based leadership”,  Harry Kraemer  talks about the importance of balance from several perspectives. One such perspective is ‘life balance’ and “…the importance of diverse activities and experiences that keep you fresh, engaged and motivated.” Remember, if we focus only on work, our brains are not stretched or refreshed. How can we expect to be innovative, productive and positive if our brains are not working properly? How can we expect to solve problems and overcome challenges if we are feeling burnt-out? How can we as managers engage positively to motivate our teams if we are feeling resentful of the work piling up?

As leaders, we must be disciplined to get the balance right. It’s no good for us to tell our people to prioritise or leave work on time if we are not practicing what we preach. We must lead by example. It will take self-awareness, discipline and courage, yet what is the alternative? Some people seem to think that if they complain about the workload long enough or if they talk about the hours they work loud enough, that someone will make it all OK. This will never happen and we so often see managers spiraling on this until they spin  out of control – they might yell at their staff, quit their job, or worse still suffer mental exhaustion and breakdown.

When we talk about balance, it’s not just about leaving work on time or turning off the laptop over the weekend. It’s about replacing these behaviours with balanced behaviours; it’s about exploring  opportunities and experiences outside of the workplace. This might include reconnecting with something you enjoyed when you were younger, experiencing a loved activity with your family, or even stepping outside of your comfort zone with a new course or hobby.

If you do regain some balance, there is no doubt you will start to see benefits – feeling refreshed, focusing better at work, maintaining and growing positive relationships – the list goes on. [An aside: To be honest, when many feel overloaded at work, it is commonly exacerbated by procrastination – such as talking about how busy they are, spending hours writing to do lists (don’t get us wrong, to do lists are critical, yet they can be overdone!) or worrying about what there is to do. This post is not about time management, yet learning about some time management disciplines will help many to get the balance back.)

We all know the saying “Life is short.” well, it is. Imagine yourself at 80 – go on, visualise it! Can you see the wrinkles, the grey hair…? Now imagine yourself looking back at your life. Think not just about work, think about your LIFE. Will you be happy at 80 if you can say “Yep, I worked myself raggard and had no time for anything else…”?

  • What do you want to be most proud of?
  • What do you want to have experienced?
  • What do you want to be able to reflect on at 80?

Now, once you’ve thought those things through with your 80-year old self, consider the following:

  • What are 3 – 5 things you can do to take back control now and get a better life balance?
  • How will you hold yourself accountable when you neglect or forget the above actions?
  • Who can help you achieve these actions?
  • When are you going to start?

When you are determining actions, consider those that you can apply at work and even more importantly at home. At work you might need to reprioritise your work, talk to your boss about deadlines or aim to finish on time 3 days of the week. On the personal side, you might want to commit to learning a new language, play football once a week, take up meditation or join a book club. Whatever the actions are that work for you – the key is to be disciplined, monitor your commitment and reassess in a month or so. Once you are able to gain better balance, consider how you might help your team members do the same. But until you start with yourself and lead by example, you and your team will be left spinning on the ‘work harder and longer’ merry-go-round.

Here’s to a balanced life!

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

01 Nov

Coaching and problem solving

“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.” – Theodore Rubin

Many managers complain about the fact they have to endlessly solve problems for their team members. Unfortunately they are often doing themselves or their team members a disservice by continuing to do so.

Often employees seek guidance or reassurance from their managers when making decisions or solving issues. Where it may become a problem in itself is when the individual expects the manager to provide all answers, or when the manager prefers to control all issues. 

Whether it is the employee or manager relying on the problem solving hierarchy, it can create a stressful backlog of issues, stifle employee growth and empowerment and even waste time. In the worst instances, it may impact customer service or profit margins.

An effective way to improve employee problem solving is through coaching. Rather than giving them the solution, a manager encourages individuals to understand the issue and come up with possible solutions. Over time, the employee will develop their skills and confidence and the manager will reclaim time and trust in delegation.

So how to break the manager-driven problem solving?

  • Start with the next problem that ‘walks’ through your door!  Ask the employee about the issue and what options they think there are to solve it.
  • Discuss with individuals or the team that you would like to build their involvement in issues and would like to see them come to you with possible solutions, not just the problem.
  • Provide problem solving training to outline the importance of these skills in developing a high performing team.

In order for your team members to evolve their problem solving, it will be useful to have consistent steps in coaching conversations. Below is an example simple format, although many companies have their own problem solving model.

  • Define the problem and possible causes – to ensure that the individual has a good understanding of the issue in the first place, ask them to briefly explain the problem and its impact as they see it. Then encourage them to outline the contributing factors or direct causes. This step will help you determine the level to which you need to be involved and most importantly will ensure the employee understands the issue before jumping straight to a solution.
  • Brainstorm options to solving the problem – ask their opinion as to what might resolve the issue, encouraging all options without too many initial restrictions. Some people will hesitate, but persevere and offer prompts if you think it will help e.g. “If budget was no obstacle, what would you do?”; “If you were the customer, what would you want to see happen?”
  • Prioritise the options – seek the employee’s thoughts on which option would best solve the issue, with reality checks as required. e.g. “Bearing in mind that we have 24 hours to solve this, which do you think is the best option?”; “If we can’t get additional budget, what option looks the most favourable?”
  • Develop an action plan – ask what the next steps should be for the prioritised option; including any analysis, further discussion or approval that may be required. Be sure to add any expectations or suggestions you may have and reinforce that you are available to discuss further if needed.

Over time, your employees will need less prompting and will take more initiative, coming to you with issues, solutions and action plans, or even solving problems and telling you what the outcome was!

Then you will find more time can be spent solving your own business issues, planning strategies, developing employees and servicing customers.

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

20 Sep

Team creativity

“The organizations of the future will increasingly depend on the creativity of their members to survive.” Warren Bennis

In day-to-day work with our set objectives, regulations and limited budgets, it’s often hard to see the value of investing in some creative thinking. However, in a more competitive world with an increased focus on productivity, setting aside time to do some creative group thinking might just be worth the investment.

Who knows, you might discover greater efficiencies, fabulous new work practices or even a new product! At the very least, encouraging team creativity  will enhance collaboration and problem solving in your work group.

Creative or innovative thinking often begins with an attempt to solve problems. In the late 1990s Apple solved the problem of a bulky portable CD player by creating the iPod. Toyota solved process issues by creating a production system that is held as a model of business innovation. Google solved the problem of accessing the myriad of information on the internet by building a unique search engine.

Of course, most of us don’t work at Apple or Google and couldn’t imagine creating an innovative device like the iPod or an internet breakthrough. But creativity  is not always about inventing something that will become a worldwide phenomenon.

An innovative approach to an everyday workplace problem can still have an immense impact – how about finding a new way to market a product and renew its appeal? What about an approach to customer service that improves company loyalty? Or developing a faster way to process orders?

Some ways to create an innovative and problem solving environment with your team:

  • Encourage and coach team members to come up with options for solving their own day-to-day problems – “What do you think our options are here?”; “What else can we do to improve this?”
  • In team meetings, recognise those who have come up with a new way to solve a problem, market a product or help out customers (or other problem solving, creative ideas).
  • Champion the team to build on ideas – sometimes the first idea may not be the best, but it is a starting point. “How can we build on this?” “Where else could this idea take us?”
  • Have regular team meetings to focus on big issues, strategies or projects. Facilitate the day with some basic ground rules e.g. “No limits!”- try not to limit ideas by thinking about company policy, the way things are normally done or even industry regulation. (The point is ideas generation and the necessary ‘filters’ can be applied later).
  • Bring in an external facilitator to run an ideas generation day – be it how to focus on customers, how to improve efficiency, how to market products – an experienced facilitator will help draw out the ideas.
  • Provide a creative environment – welcome appropriate fun and laughter in the workplace; have stress balls, coloured pens, note pads in team meetings (many of us think best while doing something with our hands); bring along music for team meetings; take the team off site – whatever it is, do something unusual to encourage thinking differently.
  • Invite someone from another department or company to project meetings – fresh ideas and insights are often initiated from another perspective.

Whatever you do to create an environment that welcomes thinking ‘outside the square’, you will find that over time the small effort it takes will be repaid with a more focussed, involved and collaborative team.

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!