Working Through The Changing Seasons in 2020 – It’s Not All Bad

Autumn has arrived and, with the clocks having just gone back over the weekend, the nights are drawing in again.

Fewer daylight hours coupled with Zoom fatigue and our different working environments and practices – it’s certainly shaping up to be a Winter unlike any other.  Have any of us really thought about how we’re going to navigate our way through our working days?  Or, with such uncertainty around, are we just taking it a day at a time?

After the lovely summer that we’ve had in the UK, some of us might feel that we’re not going to be phased by a period of longer nights and colder weather but changing seasons can affect us in different ways.  None of us know exactly how we’re going to feel in a couple of months’ time.

It’s a fact that longer nights and fewer daylight hours mean less exposure to sunlight and fewer opportunities for our bodies to make that much needed Vitamin D.  The resulting low mood and energy levels could certainly contribute to an increase in feelings of isolation and fatigue – something for us all to be aware of, in ourselves and our colleagues.

However, whilst it would be easy to focus on the obvious negatives of working through this coming Winter, at least some of the ways it affects us could depend upon our own attitudes and ways of dealing with it.

Look for the positives

There are some definite plus points to working remotely – no scraping ice off the car in the morning, no stressful commute in the cold and dark, a chance to get cosy in front of the fire straight after work.

For those travelling into work, the opportunity to connect with colleagues in person and perhaps even to socialise, obviously at a safe distance.

Can we adapt our working environments to maximise opportunities for sunlight exposure and feelings of wellbeing?  Move the desk nearer to a window?  Add some greenery in the form of indoor plants?  Perhaps even have a complete change of scene and work from a different place now and again, if that’s an option?

Seizing any opportunity to get out and stretch the legs during the day has obvious physical and mental health benefits – whatever the weather.  And anyone who’s transitioned to a working environment outside a busy city centre, or with a more flexible working pattern, might now feel more inclined to take advantage of a leisurely lunchtime walk.

Learning to enjoy and remind ourselves of some of the positives of our changed working environments at this time of year could help us all to develop a mindset that allows us to stay on top of our physical and mental wellbeing in the months ahead.

Let’s look out for each other and keep trying to find the good in whatever form our working lives now take.

Are You Playing Your Trump Card?

For a long time, politics has been fertile ground for those studying communication. From the braying masses of Parliament to the art of the ground-breaking public address, the pickings are both rich and varied. History is littered with politicians, leaders, and public figures who have found themselves judged on their ability to communicate, both publically and within the confines of their own circles.  

But where do we find ourselves in 2020?  

With the invention of each new means of communication, the ability to deliver the perfect message on the perfect medium became more and more prevalent. More traditional media such as the printed press, television, and radio suddenly found themselves jostling amongst the likes of Facebook, podcasts, vlogs, and even TikTok for dominance. A politician in the 21st Century needs to be able to conduct themselves impeccably on a dizzying array of platforms. The skill is to communicate your message as successfully in a 90-minute televised debate as you can in a few short words on a tiny screen in someone’s palm. 

Leadership – 280 characters at a time 

The US election campaign has reliably delivered some perfect examples of this recently. Let’s turn, first of all, to Twitter; the incumbent President’s favoured means of communicating with his public. For all of his erratic, occasionally incoherent ramblings, Donald Trump is exceptionally good at this type of communication. To the extent that CNN’s political analyst Kirsten Powers has suggested that ‘without Twitter, there would be no Donald Trump presidency’. In Twitter, Trump has found a medium to harness his love of the soundbite – short, direct, often informal nuggets of information that he can put out into the world as quickly as they enter his head. 

So great is his impact, that were politics simply a race whereby the candidate with the biggest online following is declared the winner, the President would be sure of a resounding victory next month. However, much to his detractors’ glee, the reality is of course far more complex.  

The danger of always playing to your strengths 

Let’s consider his performance at the recent ‘town hall’ televised events. Traditionally far less combative than the head-to-head debates, the town halls are the chance for the candidates to face their public head-on, with questions coming from both the voters and the event moderator. It’s in scenarios such as these that Trump is far less at ease, far more exposed, and this shows in the way he handles his communication. His performance, both verbally and through his body language, is often defensive and confrontational. He’s prone to interruptions and projecting his apparent faults onto others, whoever they may be. 

So what’s the takeaway from all this?  

More often than not, the key to communication is consistency. It’s about being sure of your message and conveying it to your audience with a confident and coherent delivery. Equally, it’s about choosing the medium that will have the greatest impact in any given scenario. Be prepared to be flexible – as we’ve seen, Trump’s reliance on Twitter as his dominant method of communication is sometimes to his own detriment. The optimum method may be neither the easiest nor the most convenient.  

In the end, there’s no substitution for clear, assured communication, whether you’re chairing a team meeting or chatting with clients.  

Or attempting re-election to the highest office in Western politics.  

 

Further information:

Effective Communication Skills

Either the Strategy is Wrong or the Communication is Wrong

The biggest error that senior managers and leaders make is around the communication of what they’d like to be done or about what they’re doing. (Telling people once is not communication). Senior management meetings are full of directors, heads and stakeholders asking;

‘Why is our strategy not working’?

‘Why don’t the staff follow the policies and procedures’?

‘Why do our managers keep making poor day-to-day decisions’?

 

Of course, it could be that your leadership skills are poor so your strategy, policies or people are weak. But it’s more often the case that senior managers aren’t investing the time and effort to communicate it; to make the messages reverberate around the organisation; to ensure that the culture is shaped to deliver the direction set by the senior management team.

If your managers and your staff don’t hear you talk about it – always – they’re not going to believe it’s important to start doing.

If your staff don’t recognise that you’re living it – always – they’re not going to believe it’s important to keep doing.

 

Sir Terry Leahy, the CEO of Tesco during it’s phenomenal growth period of the late nineties and noughties, wrote in his book that consistently going round the business talking about Tesco’s values was the most important and valuable work he ever did.

(Worth noting from someone who has been voted Britain’s Business Leader of the Year, the Fortune European Businessman of the Year, Management Today’s most-admired Business Leader, the Guardian’s Most Influential Non-Elected Person of the Year and has been knighted for his services to retail business, don’t you think)?

 

If it’s not connecting and you’re a senior leader, it’s either your ideas or your communication. Invest your time appropriately.

 

Further information:

Strategic Thinking and Decision Making

Effective Communication Skills

Move over Covid, Brexit’s back in town

If only life and the business world we are operating in were that simple, but of course it’s not. Covid is here and real and will impact on our strategic thinking and decision making for some time to come. But if it’s the only thing we, and more importantly our senior leaders are thinking about, we are certain to be missing both threats and opportunities going forward.

We are increasingly living in a VUCA world where the challenges we face are riddled with Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity and Ambiguity. So, what on earth should we do?

Well here’s the point!

As modern-day business leaders, we can’t possibly have all the answers because the answers don’t exist.  We have no idea what the world will look like in 6 months, a year or 5 years’ time. We don’t know when, how, or if the current Covid crisis will be a thing of the past and we still don’t know what the final post-Brexit world will look like.

So, are we going to allow these VUCA problems to paralyse us with fear?

Are we going to stop making decisions because we’re not sure what to do?

At Impellus, we are having these conversations on a daily basis but not just the senior leadership team, all of us. Because the senior leadership team doesn’t have all the answers and can’t make decisions in isolation.

Our operating environment has changed beyond all recognition since March and we are unsure what our delivery of training looks like going into next year, so we attempt to look at the long-term big picture, ask questions, challenge each other and look at possibilities and contingencies.

Should we just do training online?

When will our venues be ready for face-to-face training again?

How can we ensure they are safe?

What cancellation terms should we negotiate?

How do we ensure our customers are served and kept happy?

The amount of times we’ve said, “we don’t know” is immeasurable but we always try to follow it up with, “so let’s try this and see how it goes”.

The challenges we are all facing, regardless of our purpose as businesses and service providers are bigger than we have seen for generations.

Our senior leaders must keep looking at the problems, attempting to predict the future, asking the right questions, and involving their wider teams in finding solutions simply because they can’t possibly have all the answers.

If we utilise the collective wisdom and knowledge of the wider team, we may just survive and thrive.

The great news is that in such times, the prizes for being the most effective strategic leaders are always the greatest.

Why The Office Has a Future (and it’s not just because we all need to interact)

We’ve had the technology to work remotely for years.

Jobs which can be done from home are prolific – from professional services to design. From delivering training across continents from a front room, to building sophisticated marketing platforms in pyjamas.

Commuting has long since been becoming more expensive (and too often, no less painful).

 

Then Covid.

Then remote working was enforced and we tried it and many were convinced it was the future. We never need to commute again! What can’t we do via Zoom?!

Surely the office (as we knew it, at least) is dead. Its function being slimmed down to pure necessity, to support labour-intensive functions such as workshops, or to hold meetings.

 

Unlikely.

Some office staff say they miss the interaction of colleagues and long to return to the interactivity of the office. And some employers will understand that ‘office life’ will be a key hygiene factor for employing and retaining a certain kind of employee.

But it doesn’t explain why there’s likely to be a larger-than-required shift back to the office. Why the pain of rent, leases and space efficiency will almost certainly be re-embraced beyond reasonable requirement. Why employers will enforce the 9-5 for people who don’t need to be there 9-5.

 

And a large part of that reason – whether they realise it or not – will be their managers’ dreadful management skills.

 

Fundamentally many managers struggle to lead and manage remotely. Engagement, trust and productivity dwindle in an office when the management team is weak. When working remotely this happens even more quickly – and both ways round.

If managers don’t have the right management and leadership skills for a team working in front of them, don’t expect their staff to ever provide results from home. And it’s not their fault.

 

Many senior leadership teams will make the error of reverting to the office 9-5 when investing in better leadership and management skills could save them a fortune in square feet.

 

Keeping Teams Engaged in Times of Change

Team members fully engaged in what they’re doing are loyal to the organisation they work for and committed to getting the job done. They have a common purpose and work towards the same goal. But if just one of them disengages, it can affect the whole team dynamic and spread negativity throughout. So how do leaders stop that happening and make sure the whole team remains connected and, consequently, productive?

Importance of communication

Without regular and clear communication, a team can become confused and disconnected from each other. This might be particularly evident at the moment with the increase in the number of home-workers and team members not all being together in the same place as they might have been before the pandemic.

Out of sight, out of mind?  Assuming someone’s ok just because they don’t say otherwise could prove to be the first step on the road to a fractured team.  In any circumstance, maintaining connections and being available is important for helping team members to avoid feelings of isolation.

Letting go

It can be hard sometimes for leaders to let go of the reins but it can pay dividends for a team’s level of engagement.  Leaders don’t need to have all the answers and allowing a team to take ownership of an issue themselves gives them an opportunity to share their ideas with each other and become a bigger part of the solution.

Everyone needs opportunities – to succeed and sometimes even to fail – to help feel involved and for a sense of purpose to grow.  Fostering a team culture of trust and autonomy might therefore be the way forward.

Knowing the individuals

How well do you really know the people in your team?  Do you play to their individual strengths – and take account of their weaknesses?

No leader needs to be too involved in their team members’ personal lives but being sensitive to their circumstances and what’s going on in their lives can help with untangling any issues within the team dynamic.  When team members feel that they belong and that someone’s looking out for them, they’re often motivated to work harder.

Of course, all teams are different and what works well for one may not work for another.  But it’s worth remembering that when a team is engaged, they’re more than just committed to the task at hand, they’re also invested in the mission and values of the organisation as well.

 

Further information:

Developing Winning Teams

The Importance of Being Valuable

In a job market that seems more competitive now than ever, what are the skills and attributes that employers are looking for, beyond education and experience?

According to research for ‘HR Grapevine’, employers have recently reported a real drive on ‘soft skills’ such as the ability to communicate effectively, successfully work with other people, as well as the ability to work flexibly in an ever-changing environment. Let’s take a look at some of these skills and consider how you might fine-tune them to fully display your talents as a leader.

Communication – is your favourite method holding you back?

As we say on our Effective Communication Skills course, communication is rarely a problem, but nearly always the problem. It’s the source of a huge array of common workplace issues, and is something that must be dealt with if an individual, team or organisation are to succeed.

Consider how you communicate most often. Are you someone who resorts to e-mails to deal with any issue? Or perhaps your default method of communication is a short text or instant message? Maybe you’re someone who finds comfort in long, in-depth phone conversations? Whilst each and every method of communication has its merits, if you’re spending an hour on the phone to re-order ink cartridges, or responding to a carefully written letter from a client with a short message over LinkedIn, you’re unlikely to be communicating as effectively as you might be.

Flexibility in your approach will help you to get the most out of your communication.

Adapt to prosper

It’s always been said that the key to thriving is your ability to adapt. Perhaps that’s truer now than it’s ever been, for both organisations and the people they employ. In the past six months many of us have had to adapt to working from home, often for the first time. Many will have seen their hours and job roles changed as their organisations assessed their resources and ensured they were making the best use of them. Some will have found themselves taking on responsibilities that were alien to them just weeks before.

Be sure that those who adapted best to the onslaught of changes, and who continue to do so, will be those that go on to thrive into the future.

The power of positivity

For many of us, retaining a positive mental attitude will have been one of the biggest challenges of recent months, particularly in the world of work. News of fresh job losses seem to appear almost every day, and figures from the employment market seem to corroborate the gloomy outlook; CV-Library have declared that there are 106% more applicants for each job now than there was just a year ago.

However, whether you’re someone seeking out a fresh role, an internal promotion, or are just hoping to flourish where you are now, staying positive, determined, and resilient is something that rarely goes unnoticed in the workplace. Be confident and enthusiastic about the value you can bring to an organisation and it will almost certainly show in your work.

There’s a huge range of traits and abilities such as these that employers value. Carefully honing them over time will benefit not just you, but also those you work with.

Embracing the opportunity to ‘Sharpen the Saw’ at Impellus

How Impellus has successfully used its own strategic business modelling to reinvent itself in the recent time of uncertainty. By David Ross, Lead Trainer at Impellus and Business Strategy Trainer

At Impellus, we’ve previously delivered our courses face-to-face and maintained that this was the best way to experience learning that will make a real difference to the habits and working practices of our delegates back in their organisations. We ran up to 9 open management training courses per week at venues across the UK.

While we’re still great believers in the enhanced benefits of this personal touch, as we all know, the world has changed and our last face-to-face course was delivered on Friday 13th March – an omen perhaps, we thought at the time.

Of course, in March none of us knew how the impacts of Covid would affect us nor for how long.  We, like many organisations, had a period of “it’ll be fine, we’ll be back before you know it”.

However, it soon became apparent that the operating environment we had become used to actually no longer existed and thoughts quickly turned to survival followed by furlough for many of our team.

Using Business Modelling to Determine Your Position and Set Strategic Leadership Direction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a model that we use in our Organisational Leadership Skills course entitled The Lifecycle of a Business and we certainly found ourselves on the downslope of decline. Overnight. Not a blip. A fundamental market change and thus something we had to address in that capacity.

That’s where tough and sometimes uncomfortable decisions need to be made which brings me to the title of this Blog.

“Every day provides a new opportunity for renewal – a new opportunity to recharge yourself instead of hitting the wall. All it takes is the desire, knowledge, and skill”

Stephen Covey – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989 (Habit 7 – Sharpen the Saw)

 

We have a positive and proactive leadership approach and value set at Impellus so once the reality of our new world had sunk in, we were determined to hit the rebirth up slope and re-invent our way of working.

Online delivery of management training courses presented the answer, but how to create them when our previous thoughts were about the engagement of face-to-face training which we wanted to keep as part of a mix?

Since March, as a delivery team, we’ve adapted all our Leadership and Management courses for online delivery so we can keep the training engaging, purposeful and enjoyable. We’re now running them successfully; we’ve developed striking new workbooks for many of our courses which can be shipped to delegates in advance much more easily and with higher user-value. Feedback from delegates suggests that almost all are finding them just as engaging as face-to-face courses.

We’ve redeveloped presentations which work better online, not just made the training room slides fit; developed video-based online ILM management qualification products. The list goes on and continues to grow. Every department has had similar successes because of the way in which we read the situation and took strategic management decisions based on our current and future trading environments.

The results have led us to beating pre-existing financial targets for the year to date and being able to provide more relevant management, leadership and business development training for our clients.

An added bonus of our rebirth is that our skills and expertise as individuals have grown beyond all recognition. We’re now carrying out projects and tasks that would’ve been outsourced before March due to lack of time and skill.

Rebirth is the beginning of the next stage, not the end of the story. We know we’ll have to keep re-inventing as we go forward. The great thing is that everyone in the company has discovered what we’re capable of and what they contribute, so we go forward with a massive boost to morale.

How have you considered your long-term strategy? Are you embracing the opportunity to sharpen the saw?

Live Online Training – Be Prepared For The Unexpected

If you’re going to take part in a live online training course, it’s a good idea to try to minimise distractions in advance and let others know that you won’t be available. But there are always going to be some things you couldn’t have planned for, especially in this new era of regular homeworking. We’ve probably all seen some of the ‘work from home fails’ uploaded to the internet recently….and who could forget the children interrupting this BBC news interview back in 2017?

 

 

We’ve encountered a few of our own examples in our online leadership and management training courses over the last few weeks. Whether it’s a neighbour drilling next door, barking dogs or cats who want to get in on the act by sharing the screen, these little quirks seem to have become a normal part of our working lives and we’ve all become very tolerant of them – in a way that we might not have done just a couple of years ago.

Take one of our delegates recently who had a challenge not dissimilar to the above clip when his young son entered the room asking for some bread to be sliced for him. Although he was politely asked to wait and was briefly satisfied with a reply of “soon”, no-one minded the interruption and it definitely raised a few smiles.

It happens to us all

Even our trainers haven’t been immune to the odd amusing glitch. One, who shall remain nameless, spent the first couple of moments of an online training course outlining the schedule for the day and wondering why he was getting little reaction from the delegates. Unfortunately his audio wasn’t turned on.

Incidents with regard to clothing, or lack of, also seem to be quite common, particularly in the current hot weather. Although it’s not something that we’ve personally witnessed (yet) and our delegates have no doubt been thankful that their peers have always remembered to replace any items of clothing they might have removed during the breaks in order to cool down.

Positive outcomes

Our own experiences and those of many others do now seem to indicate that there’s very widespread acceptance of the vagaries of undertaking live online training from home. But far from devaluing the experience, it can result in more positive interaction and help everyone to relax, which can only be a good thing for online learning.

7 Financially Big Reasons Why Management Training Follows Redundancies

Images of newly-redundant bankers leaving their offices with their desks emptied into boxes were common around the time of the financial crash in 2008. As the banks that had employed them needed to make quick and brutal cuts to their workforce many people found themselves redundant.

It wasn’t just the banks of course; it happened across swathes of the job market. And now, due to completely different forces, mass redundancies are happening at organisations again. Large and small. Across many sectors.

What happened outside the media’s glare back in 2008, however, was that these banks instantly invested in management training. All of them. As did many other organisations at the time. As are many other organisations again now.

As redundancies are made, so management training almost always follows and for sound financial reason. Here’s why:

1, Dealing with Shock and Controlling a Drop in Morale

Redundancies aren’t nice for those being made redundant. But what about those who are left? The instant shock can be followed by many other feelings; sadness, instability, guilt, anger, loss of motivation, depression.

All of which impact morale instantly. When morale is on your side as an employer, your managers and your teams provide you with great work. When morale is against you and your managers, your productivity dives, your engagement dies, your new ideas dry up and your ability to keep talent reduces.

Halting a slide in morale requires great leadership. And it requires it from managers who suddenly have a lot of other things to deal with. Are your managers capable of (re)building morale?

2, Reducing Fear Amongst Those Who are Still There

Redundancies have a habit of not being one-off events. So often people who are left at the employer fear that they’ll be next. When the leadership invests in management training – or indeed any training – it shows a commitment. So the training has two big financial impacts; the enhancement of the skills needed now and the rewards those bring, and the calming effect that permeates because of the investment in training.

3, Different Working Practices and Change Management

Things are going to be different now. Roles are going to change. Processes are going to have to improve if there are fewer people and some functions, potentially some operations, will have to be stopped altogether to concentrate on what’s important or most profitable. Key decisions at every level.

The requirement on management and leadership skill here is enormous. So is the cost of getting it wrong.

Change management skills are essential as are other management and leadership fundamentals such as delegation, time management, coaching and mentoring, engagement, team strengths analyses, strategic thinking, and cultural change management. All are going to be needed. These are skills that not all managers have – to the financial cost of the employer in such circumstances.

4, Cultural Opportunities

‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’, as the saying has it. There are always opportunities, especially in the way you can reshape.

‘We now have to……., if we are to…….’, has more resonance now than ever before. Changing how you want things to be now comes with the handy spectre of a grave other-world scenario looming behind you. Well trained managers use it.

Managers and leaders who understand the huge value of this will take advantage of it. Managers who don’t will concentrate purely on the crisis and will spend all their time bailing water. The impact of good leadership skill here is extraordinary.

5, Opportunities for Younger Talent to Step Up

It’s time to invest in those who’re ready for the next step up and here’s why:

  • Retaining this organisational knowledge has huge short-term benefit
  • They’re needed right now
  • It provides strong evidence that you’re serious about the development of your people and your organisation
  • They’re possibly keener and more open to learn as well as less likely to be set in their ways
  • They’re probably cheaper in the short to medium term than the older guard who have gone
  • They’re likely to become invested in your organisation

6, So Strategy Can Actually Happen

If the strategy is set at the highest levels of organisational leadership within an employer, then it is the managers’ duty to ensure that it is translated into actions.

Untrained managers are not themselves good leaders. They hide in busy-ness and find reason to blame inefficiencies on external factors. Asking these managers to interpret a strategic direction, a set of core values, or define what good looks like for their team is futile.

Training these managers is not only essential to the continuation of outputs, but it is the only way to effect the change required to ensure that strategy actually happens.

‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’, as the legend has it. If your managers understand neither at any level you’re guaranteed to be overpaying, underperforming and going nowhere as an organisation.

7, Stabilising Early for Future Growth

At some point the storm will be over. That much is guaranteed. What it looks like afterwards is not.

For businesses, growth is nearly always at the heart of the plans and for all of the reasons above this cannot happen unless the strategy, the culture and the productivity are in place and align.

If you have well-trained and competent managers they’ll help you to get to the point where you can concentrate on growth again. Skilled managers weather storms and bring people with them.

For the senior leadership team this also means an ability to get back to spending time on financial growth rather than disaster management sooner rather than later.

Further information:

Management and Leadership Training

Developing Winning Teams

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