What Are Business Made Of? – Conversation and Cash

Cash is the lifeblood but conversation is the heartbeat. Without the heart the blood does not flow.

My research and field of expertise for the past decade is optimal human cognitive performance specifically in relation to trust, psychological safety and intrinsic motivation. In essence I look through the lens of neuropsychology to support leaders and teams, with practical research based tools, to get the best from their brains for cognitive advantage, and to nurture their wellbeing. But the irony of my work is that investment needed to learn and embed new ways of working to boost energy, performance, wellbeing and engagement – all of which deliver huge returns, is often superseded by the threat of other major business challenges. Right now organisations across the world are making hugely difficult decisions to ensure that they remain commercially viable. This inevitably means cuts. Cuts to logistics, operations, real estate and of course people. There are changes that have to be made for near-term survival. But, whilst these cuts are necessary, the only thing any business has, or in fact by definition made up of, is conversation and cash. Cash is the life blood but the conversation is the heart. Without the heart the blood doesn’t flow.

Organisations are a matrix of relationships. How functional the connections are across the matrix, how the conversation travels through the system, is a measure of the sustainability of the business. You may have the best product but, if you don’t have the best conditions for your people to thrive then you will struggle to operate at your best. So faced with the question, often posed as a statement, ‘how can I/I can’t invest in development/wellbeing/leadership right now when we have so many other issues on which we need to focus/direct resources’, my answer is that understand the commercial reality but, without your people you have no business. For every £1 you invest in wellbeing the return is £5. You can’t afford not to foster the conditions in which we thrive. In which we are enabled to access our inherent capacity for creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.

We are at a unique time in our history. We are in a colliding context. So much was already significantly impacting how we live and work only to have been amplified by the global pandemic. We have set both feet firmly in the 4th industrial era. Technological change is at an unprecedented speed of growth and will fundamentally change the face of roles and skills needed in the workplace. There are huge demographic and attitudinal shifts, and how we interact, partner and manage the relationship with talent going forward will be vastly different. As part of this context, we need to consider and accept that there is no return to the pre-Covid world. What was has gone. There are elements that we should take from the way we were working, but now is a chance to reshape our working world. If we are going to remain vigilant we need remember that the pre-pandemic working environment was on a trajectory that was unhealthy and counter-productive. The UK disengagement level stood at 85%. 67% of which were not your worst performers, but those that come in each day and go through the motions. Work is ‘alright’ but, there is an indifference and energy is limited to just what needs to get done. The result is lost productivity estimated at £73 billion, and globally at $7 trillion. Workplace stress is now listed as the fifth leading cause of death, due to aspects such as long working hours, uncontrollable workloads and work/life conflict. This is not a picture to which we should want to return.

A longer day does not mean more progress or better work. In fact study after study shows that we go faster if we learn how to take our foot off the pedal. Instead of asking what hours we need and measuring that, we should flip the question and be asking what resource is needed for our people to produce their best? And, we need to give leaders the confidence to know how to lead with trust and to let go of performance measures of availability or presenteeism that are simply false and empty premises and only serve to inject threat.

To reshape, to become conscious architects of the experience we need our people to have, we need to be asking ourselves the right questions – How can our workplace serve us? How can we best resource our people?

The pandemic is one season in our lives; it will end. It will be remembered as an extraordinarily difficult time. For leaders this moment is an opportunity. The steps we take next need to be deliberate and conscious. The challenges and psychological risks ahead need careful planning, but…we have a choice. We have a proverbial blank piece of paper on which we can rewrite how we work. How we can imagine and bring to life a workplace that nurtures the conditions for human performance. To be able to create cultures of trust and true inclusion with wellbeing at the core. I firmly believe that the organisations that build their workplaces in support of human performance will have a significant advantage in this new era of work, specifically cognitive advantage.

www.theseven.org.uk

Keep Your Head While All About You Are Losing Theirs

emojji heads and different emotions

The title paraphrased of course from Rudyard Kipling, but particularly pertinent today as we face perhaps the biggest threat to our global society and economy since World War II. But, how do you keep your head. This is no dummy run, the threat is real and has happened. Our government is doing what it can to keep us safe (assuming we all comply); the norm of life has stopped with a violent shudder, businesses and individuals face significant financial loss and ensuing hardship, and our media is infecting our minds 24/7 with how dangerous the situation is.

Our brain is exquisitely designed to keep us alive, to survive so we can continue to compete in the gene game beyond our time on this planet. We arrive on this earth in an unfinished state reliant on caregivers to aid our survival. This incompleteness serves a vital role in ensuring that, as we gain experiences, we can learn and adapt to the world around us. As we learn what is dangerous and what is safe in our environment, we create files from our experiences. These files are called upon to interpret and predict sensory information about events so we can react swiftly and appropriately to any given, recognisable situation. Anatomy deep within our mid-brain continually scans our world, using our files, to analyse the data from our senses. If the matched files suggest a threat then a split second neurochemical process is fired up, arming our bodies to defend or escape. If the situation is deemed to be supporting our survival then a different neurochemical process is triggered designed to get us to move further toward the safety zone. The emotions we feel in the former are often described as negative – anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness and so on. These aversive signals however, have a vital role. They don’t feel good for a reason – to drive us away from the perceived danger. In the latter, we experience the good stuff. Joy, excitement, contentment, all designed to reward us, to motivate us to keep doing what we are doing. This entire process happens without our conscious awareness. What our conscious selves do know however, is the story that is sent up from the files telling us that our behaviour is reasonable, correct and justifiable.

But…with the exception of the very few, we have never experienced such a situation as we are facing with Covid19/Coronavirus. There is no file to interpret how to act, feel, think or behave. Our emotional brain’s operating system is on overdrive trying to work out what to tell our rational brains and how to direct our physiology so it can respond appropriately.  The myriad of expected behaviours, normal in perceived scarcity such as hoarding and stockpiling, and panic from crisis are all happening, but we are also seeing denial and a sense of numbness. I for one am finding it hard to compute the enormity of what we are witnessing, to make sense of it all, to know what to do for the best. To accept that the world as we knew it has gone and a new one will be emerging. And yet, it all looks the same outside the window. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced what we now label as the change curve back in 1969. the stages of loss as she described from her research on bereavement are, Denial; Anger; Depression; Bargaining and Acceptance. We will all find ourselves at different stages of the curve as we travel through this unknown territory. While we learn to understand the true impact. September 2020, only a few months away, might as well be 2040 for all we know right now.

Emotional intelligence at its core is the deeper capacity to be able to catch those stories sent to us by our mid-brain, to check their validity and to choose both our attitude and response to situations that maybe different to the one initially being called for by our files – which in this case are mainly empty. As our awareness grows the stronger the neural connections between our brain’s rational and emotional survival centres grow. These connections boost the communication channels between these two areas so we can improve decision making and resilience. But, we have to learn how to tune in and hear the stories first. The tool to help do so takes us through the path to ‘Catch’ then ‘Check’ then choose to ‘Change’ our response. With practice this can help us to move forward more deliberately and consciously. To help us see through the overwhelm of worry, news and data. To be able pay attention to that which is in our control, the actions that will support our loved ones and our community, and to see the positives in the sea of negative.

Catch it – Check it – Change it

‘Catch it’ first acknowledges the emotion and listens to our inner voice. To tune into the story of our emotional mind. To remember that the words we hear about a situation are signals, information to keep us safe, but the interpretation may not always be correct or helpful. The very act of observing these thoughts, and after all that is all they are at this stage, can help to relieve some of the emotional sensations and help you to start to review the story. And this leads us to ‘Check it’. As you hold that story, hear those thoughts (and writing them down strengthens the emotional awareness) you can start to assess their validity. Are the thoughts critical, judgemental? Are they the same things you would be saying to a friend facing the same situation? Is each of the thoughts absolutely true, irrefutable fact? Are they false, fiction from your mid-brain desperately trying to convince you to move away from the perceived threat? Or are they assumption, that actually you simply don’t know. As you assess each thought you can regulate the emotional impact and reappraise the situation. And here is the last part. You can now ‘Change it’. Choose to act upon the story, or choose another course of action. Is there another possible version of events, another interpretation? What if you looked again and replayed another script?

To share with you, as my business, as I knew it, disappeared in a blink of an eye while the world turned upside down, thoughts catastrophised and wound their way round and round my mind. As I caught these thoughts it allowed me to start to check them out and look for different versions and opportunities. Gratitude for my time with my family, the ability to spend focused time on my next book, the ability and time to share tools with others to help them through, to be able to volunteer with the NHS to support the staff risking their lives to save ours – and so on. The events remain the same but my interpretation has shifted to an outlook where I can focus on what is in my influence. Where you can put yourself back in the driving seat the the greater your sense a agency will be to weather this storm for the things that matter most to you.

When we change what we see, what we see changes.  

Our worst enemy can reside between our ears and worry can make us suffer twice. Whilst there is a stark reality about what we are all facing, taking time to hear our stories, thank them for doing their job and then creating a gap before we react allows us to bolster our wellbeing and affords us wider choice to help us through a hugely challenging time for everyone.

 

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About the Author

susanne colour photo sue

Susanne Jacobs MBA, Chartered FCIPD, FCMI

Susanne Jacobs is an organisational behaviour and performance specialist, focusing on trust, psychological safety and intrinsic motivation. Her work is based on nearly thirty years of leadership experience and over a decade of research into the neurobiology of human performance and what truly motivates people to think and act differently. Susanne delivers knowledge and practical tools that are easy to grasp and apply so an organisation can achieve cultural change and strengthen human leadership capability.

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Coffee and a slice of motivation

happy coffee

I love having a bit of time before I start my day with any client, to gather my thoughts, run through my material and to simply be. This time is normally found over a flat white near the client’s offices in one of the many coffee shop chains. More often than not these places are a constant stream of individuals rushing from one place to another, no time to stop or talk as they grab the flat white, or skinny decaf latte as their no-space, high speed, very busy behaviour spreads to everyone around them. In our frenetic city there are many roles that can sit in the ranks of the invisible, but there is one coffee shop in London’s Great Portland street that no matter how little the staff receive in return, every member of the team greets you with a real smile and upbeat words to enquire how you are as they take your order. Their genuine sense of engagement reflects for me a team happy to be at work and their positivity is contagious. Whilst their work, not noticed by many, must be exhausting, requiring them to manage the flow of orders with efficiency consistent with the speed and pace of their busy customers, their smiles remain.

So, this week, as I ordered my coffee, at 7.20am, I remarked to the man behind the counter about how happy he and his team always seemed, thanking him for passing this on to me each time I enter. He smiled and said that it was a good place to work. When I asked him what made it good he simply said “they listen to us and we can pretty much run things for ourselves”. I asked him if he ever felt fed up with the one-sided interaction. His response was “No, not really. My job is to make my customers day feel better and to give them back a bit of time”.

The man behind the coffee counter, in one sentence, had described at least three of the drivers of intrinsic motivation. I’m not sure who the ‘they’ are in his answers. I assume it’s his bosses. Funny how we place a faceless description of ‘they’ when we talk about an organisations leadership. But never the less, he perceived that when he spoke he was heard and afforded the autonomy to carry out his role. Without a sense of voice and choice we are powerless to influence, which in turn impacts our sense of significance, negatively affecting our motivation. And, in this specific encounter, he described a sense of purpose and meaning. A link to how his work gives back more than just coffee. A sense of purpose, as with voice and autonomy, are key elements to a culture of trust which in turn triggers intrinsic motivation. The result is a happy team and happy customers – not exactly rocket science, but it is neuroscience.

It is possible to create organisational cultures of trust that builds a workplace environment in tune with our neurological wiring, promoting wellbeing, performance and engagement. The tools to do so are practical and not difficult to implement.  So perhaps there’s more to learn from the coffee we order than we think.

DON’T LET YOUR WORST ENEMY RESIDE BETWEEN YOUR EARS

tired brain

Our brain is exquisitely designed to keep us alive, to survive so we can continue to compete in the gene game beyond our time on this planet. We arrive on this earth in an unfinished state reliant on caregivers to aid our survival. This incompleteness serves a vital role in ensuring that, as we gain experiences, we can learn and adapt to the world around us. As we learn what is dangerous and what is safe in our environment, we create files from our experiences. These files are called upon to interpret and predict sensory information about events so we can react swiftly and appropriately to any given, recognisable situation. The trouble is, whilst this is, and remains, a great survival mechanism, our files are not always correct and can provide unhelpful explanations of what we are, or about to experience.

Our neural filing and adaptation doesn’t stop, it continues to serve us, building new files and changing old ones as we learn and alter our context. As we move schools, countries, jobs, homes, our perception of the world around us, and the meaning we derive from events is created by our files. This process of filing and retrieval is ancient. It uses neurological systems set up for a physically and socially very different world from the one most of us live in now. And, whilst it remains key to our survival the files, and how they create our perception, are not always helpful to us today. Most of the threats we face in our modern worlds don’t tend to be physical but instead psychological and psycho-social. The looming deadline, the restructure, the promotion, being excluded, not being heard, the betrayal of a friend. Rationally, we could argue that, whilst these may not pleasant, none of these represents a threat to life. But, our brains respond to these interpreted threats with the same neural system is uses when we are faced with physical danger.

Anatomy deep within our mid-brain continually scans our world, using our files, to analyse the data from our senses. If the matched files suggest a threat then a split second neurochemical process is fired up, arming our bodies to defend or escape. If the situation is deemed to be supporting our survival then a different neurochemical process is triggered designed to get us to move further toward the safety zone. The emotions we feel in the former are often described as negative – anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness and so on. These aversive signals however, have a vital role. They don’t feel good for a reason – to drive us away from the perceived danger. In the latter, we experience the good stuff. Joy, excitement, contentment, all designed to reward us, to motivate us to keep doing what we are doing. This entire process happens without our conscious awareness. What our conscious selves do know however, is the story that is sent up from the files telling us that our behaviour is reasonable, correct and justifiable. Emotional intelligence at its core is the deeper capacity to be able to catch these stories, to check their validity and to choose both our attitude and response to situations that maybe different to the one initially being called for by our files. As our awareness grows the stronger the neural connections between our brain’s rational and emotional survival centres grow. These connections boost the communication channels between these two areas so we can improve decision making and resilience.

We can use our neural adaptation, known as neuroplasticity (from the Greek to mould and sculpt) to change our files and so shift our interpretation of events and the stories we tell ourselves. But, we have to hear the stories first. The tool to help do so takes us through the path to ‘Catch’ then ‘Check’ then ‘Change’ what we hear. It is simple but it takes effort through practice to embed.

Catch it – Check it – Change it

‘Catch it’ first acknowledges the emotion and listens to our inner voice. To tune into the story of our mind. To remember that the words we hear about a situation are signals, information to keep us safe, but the interpretation may not always be correct or helpful. The very act of observing these thoughts, and after all that is all they are at this stage, can help to relieve some of the emotional sensations and help you to start to review the story. And this leads us to ‘Check it’. As you hold that story, hear those thoughts (and writing them down strengthens the emotional awareness) you can start to assess their validity. Are the thoughts critical, judgemental? Are they the same things you would be saying to a friend facing the same situation? Is each of the thoughts absolutely true, irrefutable fact? Are they false, fiction from your mid-brain desperately trying to convince you to move away from the perceived threat? Or are they assumption, that actually you simply don’t know. As you assess each thought you can regulate the emotional impact and reappraise the situation. And here is the last part. You can now ‘Change it’. Choose to act upon, or choose another course of action. Is there another possible version of events, another interpretation? What if you looked again and replayed another script? One that was kind,

Our worst enemy can reside between our ears. We can often be so much more critical to ourselves than we ever would to a friend or a valued colleague. We can beat ourselves up, stop ourselves going forward and avoid opportunities simply because our brains have pulled out a file that perceives a risk. Taking time to hear our stories, thank them for doing their job and then creating a gap before we react allows us to bolster our wellbeing and afford us choice.

So the next time you have a presentation, an exam, a pitch, an appraisal – whatever it is, if you notice some negative emotions, CATCH the story, CHECK it out and CHANGE the script if it needs it so you can CHOOSE your response.

Treat yourself in the same way as you would a valued friend.

How to Establish Psychological Safety at Work – The true Motivation Formula

belong

I have been asked by several clients recently about psychological safety and it’s relationship to the workplace. It is my area of specialism and has been my main body of work and research now for over a decade. The short answer is that psychological safety is when our brain’s trust. Trust is the key to motivation and is the foundation of our performance, quality of our relationships and the bedrock to our decision making. The challenge is not that we look to build trust in the workplace, the issue is that organisations don’t know how. We have not given our leaders and teams the knowledge and tools to establish psychological safety. As we face an engagement and motivation crisis in the UK and across the globe, we need to be sharing the ‘how’ as widely as possible. So here is the trust checklist – the true motivation formula.

We use trust every day to make our way through the world; whether it’s walking down the street, driving on the motorway, or simply crossing the road. It is the basis of true inclusion. We place our trust in others who, more often than not, we will never actually meet. The neuropeptide oxytocin is released in direct correlation to the level of trust we perceive in others and our surroundings.  Oxytocin calms the fear centres of your brain and boosts serotonin release, the feel-good neurochemical. It is literally rewarding to trust and be trusted.

Distrust on the other hand, plays out in offices all over the world through defence behaviours such as gossiping, micro-management, and battles for maintaining individual power. The damage is to our emotional engagement, creativity and ultimately our performance and wellbeing. Distrust leads to distress, which hinders the production of oxytocin. Relationships start to falter slowing down every interaction as suspicion creeps in.

Our brain’s primary function is to keep us out of harm’s way by ensuring that we are always motivated to go towards safety and away from threat – a simple premise controlled by the most complex system in our known universe. Trust is perceived safety, both physically and psychologically. When we move towards safety we are neurochemically rewarded – intrinsically motivating us to do more of what keeps us alive and flourishing by flooding our physiology with health protecting hormones delivering feel good sensations. So what if we could create workplaces that support and leverage this natural biological reward mechanism? And, if so, what are the factors that our brain equates as psychologically safe so the brain can trust?

The answer is the DRIVERS© – a trust check-list drawn from various fields of science including evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, psychology and anthropology. The DRIVERS© establish and embed trust sparking intrinsic motivation and reward. Each of the DRIVERS© is fundamental for trust and, how if each are supported in the workplace, intrinsic motivation, engagement, inclusion improved wellbeing, and sustainable performance are the results.

The DRIVERS©

 

D Direction A clear sense of purpose and meaning in what I do and within my life.
R Relative position My sense of significance, identity, and position within my group. That my contribution is understood and valued by others therein.
I Inclusion My perception of belonging to a group that I value.
V Voice and Choice My sense that my voice will be heard and that I have choice, autonomy and control over the decisions that affect my life.
E Equity My perception of being treated fairly and of fairness and equity within my group.
R Reliability My sense of certainty and security in my surroundings, others, and my life
S Stretch My opportunities for growth, learning and achievement through effort.

 

Each of the DRIVERS© has an evolutionary and survival benefit and my research shows their correlation to trust. When the brain perceives each of the DRIVERS© to be supported we not only feel safe but we also get that all important feel good chemical reward, the seat of intrinsic motivation and inclusion.

We have the knowledge and the practical tools to translate and apply the science. There’s no excuse to sharing these and building capability to establish psychologically safe workplaces today.

Why a positive outlook improves performance

happy coffee

Now I doubt many would argue that happiness and positivity are anything other than good things, but whilst the associated feelings are great to have when they arrive, what do they really have to do with rational business decisions, strategic success and economic return?

Psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman studied the concept of luck and the effect of optimism. One of his most famous experiments involves setting up an interview in a local café. It involves two individuals – one who considers him/herself lucky, and another who considers him/herself very unlucky. He told these two volunteers that, as part of his studies with them, he would interview them in a coffee shop, and arranged individual times to meet them there. In reality, the coffee shop itself was the experiment. Wiseman placed a five pound note on the step leading up to the coffee shop, and arranged to have the shop filled with customers, leaving only a space at one table, where he placed a wealthy businessman. First, the “unlucky” person approached the coffee shop. He was so focused on the interview, and so apprehensive about his performance, that he missed seeing the money as he stepped into the cafe. He then sat next to the businessman and, without saying a word, waited nervously for the interview. Soon Wiseman arrived, and asked him,

“So, how was your morning”.

“Oh fine, nothing special” he replied. “Same as usual…”

The “lucky” individual later approached the shop. This time she spots the money and puts it in her pocket. She enters the café, orders a (free) coffee, sits down next to the businessman, begins a conversation, and exchanges business cards. Wiseman arrives and asks this person the same question.

“I had a great morning”, she answered. “I found a five pound note on the step and met a promising new business acquaintance. Lucky as usual!” [1]

Research has shown us that only 25% of job success is predicted by IQ. 75% our our success relates to our levels of optimism, our social support and the ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat. When we are in a positive frame of mind our brains are fully on line. In this state we are around 31% more productive, than when it is in a negative, neutral or stressed state, and 37% better at sales. Our brains get very good at what we practice and that includes how we think, what we say to ourselves about any given situation and the beliefs we hold about ourselves. If we have set up a way of thinking about ourselves and the world in a negative way we ingrain the neural circuity for the negative and tend to then see all events, past, present and future that way. The glass half-full lens. This outlook activates the brain’s threat process which, among other roles, is designed to narrow our focus and reduce our capacity for clear and rational thought. A positive perspective on the other hand, that knows and pulls on our strengths has the effect of broadening our field of view, increases our capacity for clear thought and innovation, raises our performance levels and enhances our well-being.

If we take all of this and translate it to business we can see how we can either shut off opportunity or, set up pathways to see them. After all, you can’t act on that which you don’t notice. The great news is we can change our brain’s wiring and strengthen neural circuitry for the positive and self-compassion. That’s not to say it’s about blind optimism where the world is seen through a proverbial rosy tint, but realistic optimism – the acceptance that things do go wrong and challenges occur but, those with a positive lens recover quicker and move more speedily to focus on the solution, pulling on their strengths to cope and recognising opportunities when they arise to move forward – a significant advantage in the workplace where challenge and change is part of the normal day.

[1] R Wiseman, The Luck Factor, 2004

Do you want some time back and more energy?

tired brain

I work with many clients to provide tools and knowledge on how to optimise performance in a world of ambiguity and change. One of the asks I often get is, how do I work quicker and better in the face of ever increasing demands and workload? Most of us will say that often work takes up more time than we’d like but, how well we manage our workload will be dependent on how effectively we manage our energy, not our time.

The biology of attention stamina and sustained cognition gives us a clear insight into how to keep on top and keep going – but, our workplace environment, both the physical and culture, is so often structured to act contrary to the natural ebb and flow of our energy. Time to recharge for many employees is not only counter-intuitive when work pressures are mounting, but also often counter-cultural. Even when given the science behind the need for renewal breaks, the argument will still come that it is at least very difficult, or at worst, impossible to take time out – ‘it just doesn’t work that way here – you can’t just stop’

The science says differently and in fact shows that only with time to refuel, are we able to sustain our thinking and learning capacity. The rational thinking area of our brain, responsible for among other things our executive decision making, is part of the new brain – the neocortex. Relative to the rest of our brain is immature in its evolution. It gets tired quicker as we use its energy stores working through documents, facing complex decisions, writing a report or learning a new concept. We’ve all experienced that time when we have read the same line on a page twice, or suddenly realise, as we try to pull our attention back, that we have drifted off to other thoughts about what’s for dinner and the like. These are signals that we have depleted the energy tank for thinking. The cognitive fuel tank is running on low to empty. The good news is we can often renew this energy pretty quickly by taking our focus away from task and allowing our mind to wander for perhaps as little as 5 minutes. This enables your mind to enter the default attention network, sometimes referred to as wakeful rest. It is in this state that we consolidate learning, think of the past, the future, others and it is here where real creativity happens. How you do this is up to you.  Just looking out of the window mindfully, will do it, or you can go for a short walk to stretch and refresh. Whatever works for you, as long as it is not focusing on a specific task. When you are back with your work, notice your level of focus and concentration, your speed of thinking. And, as an added bonus those few minutes down-time, when your brain is allowed to rest, it will be able to make connections between the challenges you are facing, questions you are exploring, and your experience stored deep in your memory. The default network is where sudden insights and answers alight as if from nowhere. After all, how often to you have your best ideas sat at your desk, nose deep in paperwork?

If we push on through this natural renewal phase, perhaps grabbing a sugary snack or coffee, we will only see diminishing returns on our cognitive capacity. We cannot trick our biology or bypass its wiring. Cognitive fatigue is not only physiologically expensive it represents organisational risk – all those people carrying out their work, making decisions on empty! Increased errors, reduced capacity to innovate, longer to do tasks and risks to health are the result. No athlete or musician would ever dream of having a schedule without time for renewal, so why do we expect ourselves and our employees to be able to?

The Motivation Crisis

woman head in hands stress work

We have a crisis. The productivity level of British business is tumbling and employee engagement is plummeting. Work is breaking our morale and stress levels are rising. The way we are working is not working. We are deploying outdated reward methodology that, instead of motivating, more often than not, injects risk and threat into our health and our economy.

A recent study from Stanford University which looked at work place stress and its link to mental and physical health, placed work as the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S[1] , and the UK won’t be far behind, if not already there too. We are losing over 12 million days every day due to work-place stress. A figure that represents not only individual suffering, but a huge loss to our economy. But, even more importantly, presenteeism, coming into work when ill and/or demotivated, costs businesses in the region of 6 times more than absenteeism. When you are off work, you are off work, but in this present-in-body-not-in-mind state, employees not only reduce their performance efficiency, but their ability to empathise and innovate is severely hampered and mistakes increase as their cognitive capacity declines. Without intervention, we become chronically stressed which is associated with many forms of illness, but the health impact may not manifest itself today. Several of these diseases take time to incubate. It’s not just about the effect of the stress now, it’s what it is storing up for our future health that’s the real problem.

We are not intentionally, at least I hope, setting up working environments to cause harm. We have rationally created processes, buildings, performance systems and reward packages to help not hinder. But we have got it wrong. These practices and systems are more suitable for automatons than humans. Managers are left to stumble their way through motivation techniques that at best have a short-lived positive impact, and at worst leave us cold and demotivated, with the managers more stressed than they were when they started.

We have to change and the great news is we know how to. We know how to trigger intrinsic motivation through leveraging our natural reward systems. Not only does this improve performance but it enhances our relationships, our energy and our health. The science maybe complex but the solution is practical, easy to grasp and, although there is a bit of effort involved, doesn’t take long to implement.

By using the DRIVERS© of trust we can create workplaces for humans instead of humans for work.

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I regularly speak and deliver workshops, providing proven, practical tools and techniques to deliver true motivation. If you would like to know more please don’t hesitate to drop me a line. 

Susanne

www.theseven.org.uk

Susanne@theseven.org.uk

[1] Workplace stressors and health outcomes: health policy for the workplace. J Goh, J Pfeffer and S.A. Zenios. Behavioural Science and Policy. 1(1) pp. 43-52

The neuroscience of delivering feedback that actually works!

First published in People Management May 2017

feedback

One of the questions I am regularly asked – often with a sense of desperation – is how to give feedback. It is an age-old challenge, laid at the feet of managers, who carry out the task with varying degrees of success. How do you feel when someone says: ‘Can I give you some feedback?’ How many times have you had a performance conversation where 95 per cent of it has been focused on what’s gone well, but it’s the 5 per cent of ‘development opportunity’ that remains with you?

There are many models out there that describe how to give feedback, but what most fail to take into account is how the brain reacts and how we really learn. Mistakes are part of life. If we didn’t make mistakes we would never learn or adapt. That’s not to say that we don’t need to mitigate the risk of potential mistakes – of course we do – but we also need to understand how to provide developmental input that really works.

Feedback that triggers our neurological reward circuitry, which increases our capacity for learning and engagement, is possible. It is my research in this field that has led me to build, and now teach, a brain-friendly model for feedback, which I’d like to share with you. It is a simple checklist using an acronym that we all know, which aims to ensure conversations lead to development not demotivation – and it’s as simple as AEIOU.

A – And

If I said to you: ‘That presentation was great…’ – what word are you expecting to hear next? ‘But’ or ‘however’? Now what happens to the words that preceded the ‘but’? Our brains hone in on the threat, which in this case is the criticism that is anticipated to follow, negating the positives. So instead of ‘but’ or ‘however’, use ‘and’. This will feel awkward at first but it works. ‘That presentation was great, and to make it even stronger you could…’

E – Effort

We are rewarded neurologically far more for the effort we put in than the end result. Behavioural economist Dan Ariely refers to it as the ‘Ikea effect’. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t celebrate the success – of course we should – but we should notice the effort and hard work that got the individual and/or team to that end result.

I – Intention

People come to work to do a good job. So first think what their intention was before an error occurred. Was it to cause harm, to damage or to destroy? There is an impact that needs to be addressed, but first understand the intention.

O – Opportunity

In every genuine error, there is an opportunity to learn. The aviation industry has embedded this into how it operates with systems set up to encourage pilots to log their errors so improvements and learning can happen continuously.

U – You

How are you feeling? What are you thinking? What is your mood? What messages are you transmitting that will either help or hinder the conversation? Is this the right time to talk?

Positive development and growth of those in your team happens when our brains can engage and that happens only when we feel safe to do so. Applying AEIOU is a tool to help do this.

Development is not an annual event held only in the appraisal meeting – it needs to happen every day and in the moment if it is to make the best connections for learning.

The legacy of incivility

school photo

In my daughter’s school is a large poster reminding the children every day about the values and behaviour expected of them. It reads:

  • Always think of others and be kind
  • Look after each other
  • Understand and accept differences
  • Respect success
  • Be honest
  • Take responsibility for your own actions
  • Believe in yourself

I have worked in several schools recently supporting teachers to enhance their resilience and I have seen similar list of words placed in full view for both students and teachers. The words are not simply used for effect they are truly embedded and lived everyday by the pupils and teachers alike and as a parent I see their positive impact. It got me thinking of our workplaces and the varied list of values also pinned strategically for employees to ignore, and how we can learn a lot from what schools are doing.

The DRIVERS of trust and motivation (see table below) are all impacted by how we interact with each other. We damage another’s relative position when we are uncivil, gossip or micro-manage. We often exclude many individuals when decisions are needed relying instead on our superior leadership expertise. We deliver targets and budgets that over-stretch and overburden, and we try to control the physical presence of our teams through flexible working rules. These, often unintended, behaviours all serve to undermine and damage trust leading to demotivation, distress and reduced performance. The impact is significant both to our wellbeing and to the bottom line. And this is by no means and exhaustive list.

Let’s look at incivility as an example. Christine Porath and Christine Pearson’s work[1] has shown that the number one reason people say they are uncivil to others at work is because they are themselves overwhelmed and under stress. This sets up a vicious cycle as the incivility spreads, flowing from the top down. Their research has shown that across organisations over two-thirds of people say that they withhold effort after they experience incivility and 80% loose work time worrying about the uncivil interaction. Think about the last time someone was sarcastic, rude or dismissive towards you. Even if what they said or did was small the impact may have stayed with you for hours, even days as you go over the incident again and again. As Maya Angelou said I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’

But, it’s not just experiencing incivility directly, the impact on performance extends to those witnessing it. Again Porath and Pearson’s research shows that witnesses to rudeness were over 50% less effective on word problems and 28% less creative on brain storming problems. They even created these effects in experiments by simply priming individuals before tasks with impolite trigger words such as, impolitely, bother, interrupt etc. After being primed participants who received these trigger words reduced their selective attentional capacity by up to five times when compared to participants who had not received the trigger words. Those primed participants also reduced their ability to process information, make decisions and problem solve. Think about this in relation to concentration and focus at work. What if this effect happened with a nurse administering drugs to a patient because she had been subjected to incivility from the doctor five minutes before? No joke – in a study of 4,500 doctors and nurses, 71% of them tied uncivil behaviour to medical errors that they knew of!  As Porath tells us ‘Incivility robs cognitive resources, hijacking performance and creativity. Even if you want to perform at your best, you can’t’.

So who do you want to be at work? How should and can you and your colleagues take responsibility for how you interact with each other every day? Every interaction has a legacy and we can each be accountable for our words and actions so they support the DRIVERS of trust not undermine them.

The DRIVERS of trust and intrinsic motivation

D Direction A clear sense of purpose and meaning.
R Relative position My sense of significance, identity, and position within my group. That my contribution is understood and valued by others.
I Inclusion My perception of belonging.
V Voice and Choice My sense that I my view will be heard and that I have choice, autonomy and control over my decisions that affect my life.
E Equity My perception being treated fairly and of fairness and equity within my group.
R Reliability My sense of certainty and security in my surroundings, others and my life

S

Stretch My opportunities for growth, learning and achievement through effort.
Copyright © Susanne Jacobs 2016.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted without the express consent of the author.

[1] The Price of Incivility, C Porath and C Pearson, Harv Bus Rev. 2013 Jan-Feb;91(1-2):114-21, 146, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23390745 accessed 5.12.17