How New Managers Prevent Email Overwhelm

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When the excitement of a promotion wears off, newly elevated managers sometimes struggle. Often, they blame their new responsibilities, but this limited view dooms them to failure. Instead, success comes from expanding specific skills which were once suitable but are now inadequate.

Email is a case in point. All of a sudden, as a newly promoted manager, you need to stay late or work on weekends just to keep up with a mountain of discussion threads. When you don’t stay on top of them all, your competence and readiness are quietly questioned.

Given the fact that email takes up 20% of the average manager’s day, the sad truth is that you weren’t trained to analyse your email practices with a view to making improvements. Today, the prevailing notion is that you can learn just as fast as Millennials. They change apps faster than they change their clothing.

However, even these twenty-somethings struggle when they experience a boom in email volume. Like everyone else, they blame their circumstances, a grave mistake.

It leads companies to launch projects to cut the number of messages people are receiving. Unfortunately, this rarely makes a difference as two recent, counter-intuitive studies explain: overwhelm isn’t caused by the number of messages we receive.

The first research, by Mary Czerwinski and her team at Microsoft show that the more time you spend checking messages, the less productive and more stressed you feel. Some firms have noticed this effect, leading them to curtail email in favour of other channels such as Instant Messaging or Whatsapp.

The second study shows why these efforts are in vain.

A paper by Victoria Bellotti and her XEROX research colleagues shows that it’s not the volume of email that makes us anxious and ineffective, but the number of unresolved tasks that are buried in these messages.  For example, if you routinely receive 1000 messages per day and a high percentage are newsletters or spam which require no action on your part, your peace of mind isn’t affected. On the other hand, if you receive five high-impact emails per day which spur 30 new tasks, you are more likely to feel pressured.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Zeigarnik Effect: the mental weight of these incomplete tasks. You can’t complete them all at once – that would be impossible to do as a newly promoted manager. Instead, you must manage them effectively, thereby relieving your subconscious mind of its role as Reminder-in-Chief, disrupting sleep, conversations, and quiet moments of prayer or meditation.

How do you take care of these unwanted disruptions, keep your peace of mind and avoid overwhelm in your new position?

  1. Handle email as an all-out sprint

In this paradigm, you must think of email differently. Instead of fitting it in between meetings or other activities at your leisure, do the opposite. Schedule two or three times each day to get through your Inbox as fast as possible in standalone, focused efforts. These sprints need total concentration. Execute them ruthlessly, punting protracted responses until later – you are in “emptying mode”, not “execution mode”.

This is also no space for distractions. Cut them all out and ignore the smartphone. Treat this time slot as the single most important recurring activity you perform each day that should only be interrupted if there’s a bonafide emergency.

  1. Get your own training

Unfortunately, few Human Resource departments are bastions of high tech efficiency. Most have little to do with employee productivity in its modern sense and therefore don’t offer new managers the kind of training required to manage email overwhelm.

On your own, cobble together the fresh skills you need, using a combination of resources such my past columns.

  1. Manage other people’s deliverables as your own

Complicated email threads involving several people, plus weeks of going back and forth, reveal that you are totally dependent on others to do their part. Unfortunately, some of them can’t be trusted.

While most new managers continue to store email in their Inbox, highlighting important ones for later, you shouldn’t. Eventually, you will be buried by unresolved tasks which require a follow-up, but get lost in these threads.

Instead, you must strip out these tasks and manage them elsewhere. This usually means picking up a task management software and learning the self-taught behaviours required to make them work.

The good news is that if you follow these prescriptions, your subconscious mind may reward you. Its endless pinging should stop and overwhelm will disappear.

But be vigilant: your next promotion may cause you to revisit all your methods just to maintain your peace of mind. Consider it to be the price of success in the modern workplace.

 

 

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How to Prevent Biased Interviews

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What’s wrong with holding interviews? Plenty, it turns out. Most companies rely on a series of informal chats with several prospects that ends with a hiring decision. However, there’s strong evidence that this approach needs to be retired in favour of better techniques proven by scientific research.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell.

Interviews are filled with biases. In North America, studies have shown that during the average unstructured interview, the person hired is more likely to be tall, slim, good looking and speak in a deep voice. According to psychologists like Dr. Ron Friedman:

– Tall people tend to be evaluated as having better leadership skills. Decades of research show a relationship between height and salary at every age.

– Hiring professionals shown a picture of a heavy-set woman are more likely to describe her as lazy than other women by 21%.

– Good-looking people are thought to be more competent, intelligent and qualified.

– People with deeper voices are thought to have greater strength, integrity, and trustworthiness.

Here in Jamaica, it’s likely that skin colour, perceived class, and speech patterns are also invisible determinants. It probably helps to have browner skin, Upper St. Andrew pedigree and all the H’s properly pronounced.

Apparently, this judgement takes place in the first ten seconds of a conversation. The interviewer instantly decides what kind of person he/she is dealing with and slightly alters the questions accordingly. This isn’t random but an unconscious, powerful effort to confirm some initial, unwitting bias.

A few disagree, arguing that they are entirely fair and non-judgemental: their gut instincts and intuition are impeccable. They even share anecdotes which prove their superiority. This article is not for them. It’s for the rest of us who suspect that hidden tendencies are always embedded in interviews, requiring us to find provably better techniques.

If You Are the Interviewer

Here is a simple improvement to make: ask each person the same set of questions.

Another quick one is to phrase queries in specific terms that relate to actual events versus general what-if’s. For example, discard questions like “Share what you would do if you came across a difficult customer”. Instead, use the simpler “Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult customer.” Unfortunately, research shows that 81% of people lie during interviews in their attempts to appear impressive. This technique is a great separator of future fantasy from factual, past-based reality.

However, the best approach is to treat the entire affair as an audition. In other words, find ways for interviewees to demonstrate their abilities in real time. It’s the ideal way to compare actual performance in critical skills with other prospects.

For example, musicians trying to join an orchestra or band should play a given piece on their instrument. Draftees in NFL and NBA try-outs (known as “Combines”) actually perform physical drills on the field.

In the corporate world, Google and other tech companies ask prospects to write code. McKinsey & Co. famously poses an unstructured problem for the prospect to reveal their best methods. Some companies require individuals to work alongside a team for a day. Other firms prompt them for solutions to case studies relevant to actual projects.

If you find yourself unable to craft such interviews, try using audio and videotape recordings. Ask each prospect to perform a typical task. Then, review the recording as a team to undertake an impartial comparison.

Unfortunately, most companies don’t bother. The creative challenge is too much, so they use no more than a nebulous test: “If mi spirit tek to dem or not.”

If You Are the Interviewee

On the other side of the table, you can turn the conversation into more of an audition.

Start by being prepared to show them your intentions. With whatever information you have, walk in with a mid-term plan of action to address the key issues.

As you share your plan, and its underlying assumptions, ask the interviewers to correct your data and add new facts. Use clarifying questions to uncover the true meaning, then adjust your plan in the moment based on this new input. Doing so reveals the flexible approach you take to solving difficult problems using scarce data. It’s as if they are looking over the shoulder of a composer masterfully creating a new melody.

In this way, you transform the conversation from a pre-prejudiced chat into a real-time, problem-solving session.  Plus, you learn something about your new manager’s level of expertise, engagement and EQ.

As you may imagine, in such a scenario, both sides win. The biased, old-style interview is replaced by an experience which produces fresh information everyone needs.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

When Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals Produce Poor Performance

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If you lead an organization you may have asked yourself: what is the effect of setting big goals? Most leaders know that such objectives can be empowering in some circumstances but produce the opposite result in others. If so, some recent research might help the next time you sit down with a subordinate to set performance targets.

The management bestseller “Built to Last” by James Collins and Jerry Porras coined a phrase that is now used widely: BHAG, a “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.”

Most Jamaican executives have heard the term in the past and try to use stretch goals to awaken their organization from stale, static patterns. Once enlivened, breakthroughs become possible.

As a result, managers who have accepted the idea, encourage employees to commit to difficult goals.

Some push hard, using the force of their personality to get direct reports to acquiesce. Sales managers, for example, try to inspire their people to leave their comfort zones to accomplish big revenue targets, sometimes refusing to take “No” for an answer. Their occasional success leads them to repeat the tactic as often as they can, especially with fresh recruits.

However, new studies show that there are actually two different kinds of goals which should be set. Gary Latham from the University of Toronto has studied the question for the past three decades, concluding that it’s easy to set goals which end up doing more harm than good. Here are the strategies he recommends to avoid this problem.

Strategy 1 – Create targets which are not too hard, but not too easy
Scientists call it the Goldilocks Effect. The most effective goals need to be challenging enough to get someone’s attention, but not so difficult that they believe it’s impossible and therefore give up. Leaders must calibrate targets carefully.
For example, in the 1930’s, Manley and Bustamante didn’t immediately strive for the objective of complete independence. While they probably saw it as the ultimate objective, they took their time. The Jamaican people were shepherded through a long struggle which started with earning the right to form trade unions. It continued through the formation of political parties and the fight for Universal Adult Suffrage which eventually led to self-rule.
In retrospect, their strategy of taking one step at a time was probably best. It’s a lesson for all managers who want employees to produce extraordinary results, and it happens to be supported by empirical research. Don’t ask for “too much, too soon” or its opposite: “too little, too late”.

Strategy 2 – Distinguish outcomes from learning
In Latham’s work, he further distinguishes between “outcome targets” and “learning goals”. The former relate to end-results, such as a salesperson’s total sales per month. They are easy to understand and define because in the end, measurable accomplishment counts the most in any business.
However, managers are not usually aware of his major finding: outcome targets are only suitable for employees who have mastered their jobs.
By contrast, most employees are still developing critical abilities. His research recommends a different approach for this cohort: the use of “learning goals.” These are defined as targets which are linked to the acquisition of new knowledge or skills. They focus employees on “discovering, mastering, or implementing effective strategies, processes, or procedures necessary to perform a task.”
For example, new salespeople barely understand their product, the market, or required sales tactics. They should concentrate on setting learning goals related to mastering the fundamentals of their specific craft.
Latham’s work shows that managers who fail to make the distinction court failure, producing frustration and anxiety. In the worst case, people end up blaming themselves, then quitting, experiencing a drop in self-esteem. They have no idea that their manager should have explored an alternative.

Strategy 3 – Shifting Expectations
The above finding indicates a level of nuance most organizations don’t realize. Instead, those who employ salespeople often kick off the year with over-the-top “Rah Rah” sessions. They are entertaining but do little more than produce hype.
What’s a better choice if you are a manager? Skip the use of such blunt, short-term instruments, and train yourself to understand the two different kinds of targets. With this skill, you can set learning goals, look for the early warning signs of employee maturity, then shift your approach to targeting outcomes at just the right moment.
If you commit yourself to developing these surgical skills, you won’t get stuck on the one-size-fits-all thinking which permeates companies and demotivates employees. Instead, it may be the key to moving each of your direct reports to higher levels of performance.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

Why employees need the power to say no

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This week, I created a video summary of the column.

 

 

 

Should an employee be granted the right to turn down a manager’s request to focus on a given task, thereby dropping everything else? And is it better to have a reporting relationship based on obedience or its opposite: independent choice? While there are no easy answers, the times are changing and so must leaders in your company.

 

Fortunately, managers who believe that their job is to do all the thinking while employees solely follow instructions are becoming rare. Yet, when the pressure is on, many managers become bossy. In the heat of the moment they give orders, and expect them to be followed without question. Resorting to anger they issue threats, stirring up fear in the hearts of others.

The worst rely on this tactic exclusively. Better managers initially start off being nice then turn into monsters later, arguing that people take advantage of the softer approach and therefore deserve this treatment.

They point to their personal experience as proof, which science supports. However, studies also show that this dominating technique has severe limits. While it gets action started, should it be a manager’s preferred tactic?

 

New research demonstrates otherwise.

 

A recent study led by Rom Schrift at the University of Pennsylvania shows that experimental subjects persisted longer in a task when they had the option to say “No.” It revealed that when they were granted a degree of autonomy, they performed better than others who weren’t given the same choice.

If you are a manager, it’s not hard to see why. In general, intrinsic motivation is a far better tool than its counterpart. In other words, you must give employees the option of saying “No” if you want them to perform at their best, especially if the task at hand involves more than a quick, physical action.

Let’s consider the extreme: what about the person at the bottom of your pyramid who is a simple laborer? I invite you to question your assumptions around this example from three angles.

  1. Should simple workers be in your firm at all?

A contractor once shared with me that his industry is the only one in which a convict can leave prison today, and tomorrow be hired to take orders on an active construction site. The consequence? Poor quality work, indiscipline, random departures and theft.

While this tactic guarantees a low wage bill, it simultaneously creates greater problems.

Unfortunately, this mindset of hiring “mere” workers pervades companies of all kinds.

Try a different one: even the simplest role expands in complexity when the person who performs it has some autonomy to produce superior results. Therefore, all potential hires have the capacity to make up their own minds, becoming better contributors over time.

Armed with this mindset, abolish the notion of a “simple” laborer.

  1. Should employees be calendar-trained?

Too many managers try to be omnipotent, believing that they can keep track of every employee’s calendar. In other words, they don’t trust staff to prioritize their work without being directed.

The solution isn’t to make an effort to become omniscient. Instead, managers need to train their workers to use better time management skills so that their calendar actually reflects the work they are doing from one hour to the next.

In habitual practice, the opposite is true. Most smartphone calendars are only used to track people’s appointments. All other tasks are left to memory – a sign of weak skills.

By contrast, employees with superior abilities are always looking at real-life trade-offs between activities. To make these difficult decisions, they realize they must use their calendar as a point of coordination. As such, their “No” is a reflection of a tough call, rather than a whim.

  1. Should managers be retrained?

As a manager, it’s tempting to jump in, give orders and negate your employee’s choices. Instead, when the impulse hits, restrain yourself. Have a conversation that looks more like an inquiry into priorities, than a demand for immediate obedience.

Why is this important?

Here in the Caribbean, our workers are sensitive: highly reactive to small slights which they take personally. The sad reality is that it only takes a single, harsh interaction to demote a newly hired eager-beaver. In the quint of an eye, they join the ranks of other sullen victims who only go through the motions. This coping mechanism got us through slavery, and the fact that it won’t change soon means that managers must un-learn the habit of routinely negating an employee’s “No.”

These three recommendations have a magical benefit: they grant employees the opportunity to say “No” in a way that keeps them motivated and productive. Take this power away and you risk miring your company in mediocrity.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

 

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Connecting Strategy, Performance, and Daily Activity

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How do you ensure employees are balancing their time between routine activities and long-term, strategic projects? Managers and their HR Partners have been tackling this problem for decades but continue to fail to separate the two different energies essential to sustain high performance. Here’s why.

Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was a cult hit, but his follow-up book, “Lila” offered important, practical ideas for every organization. He outlined two kinds of value in everyday life: Dynamic and Static Quality.

Dynamic Quality is the energy needed to make change happen. He defines it as a disruptive force which upsets the status quo, drives improvements and makes a difference. Its opposing “yang” is Static Quality, the energy needed to keep things the same. This is the source of maintenance chores; the continuous reliability which allows daily life to function.

Most people prefer one or the other, but in Pirsig’s brilliance, he brought the two together. Instead of seeing them as enemies, he imagined they exist in a symbiotic, alternating partnership.

He explains that each kind of quality has its season. There are dynamic moments when change must be driven versus its static counterpart where gains have to be consolidated. The key is to ratchet between the two at the right tempo, without getting stuck in either “harem-scarem” chaos or brain-dead stasis.

How does this idea apply to your organization?

Each year, when your firm conducts its annual strategic planning retreat, it’s allowing dynamic quality to run unbridled and free. Representing a dramatic departure from the routine of daily activity, it deserves its vaulted place in the calendar.

However, static quality probably reigns supreme on every other day. Immediately after the event, the status quo re-asserts itself, adding friction. Innovation degrades into wishful thinking. Customers remain upset, processes are never fixed, and profit margins don’t improve. The retreat is ultimately judged as an expensive waste. Some companies stop having them altogether.

In the 1990’s, to answer this problem, Drs. Kaplan and Norton invented the Balanced Scorecard. Along with the Strategy Map, these tools were intended to connect long-term plans with daily activity. After two decades, we now realize much more is needed.

The duo never imagined the mistake most companies make in implementing their ideas. In direct contravention of Pirsig’s call for clear separation, they implement performance management systems which throw dynamic and static quality into a single lump. As a result, staff is unable to answer: “What do I need to do to keep things the same, versus change, and how do I achieve a balance of time and effort between the two?”

The result? Staleness. Boredom. Failed improvement initiatives. Here are three tactics which will begin to break them out of their predicament.

  1. Bravely Separate Dynamic and Static Quality

In my firm’s planning retreats with executives and board members, we find ourselves working hard to keep the two energies apart. “The effort to envision a shiny future must be informed by the status quo but not limited by it,” is our mantra as participants reach for Dynamic Quality.

The very purpose of a retreat is to consider a brand new vision: a courageous act for most teams.

To wit, I have been in retreats where attendees risked their jobs to birth a breakthrough future. In one case, executives were collectively and ultimately successful; but they paid the price before their vision came to fruition when some were summarily fired. Needless to say, this is an extreme example, but Dynamic Quality always requires courage.

  1. Create Organizational Strategy and Business-as-Usual (BAU) Metrics

To strike a balance between the two energies, companies need to measure two kinds of activities after the retreat. The first set applies to the annual strategy and tracks its implementation. The second, BAU metrics, are ones required to maintain company functions and change little from year to year.

At the highest level, the CEO and employees must keep track of both. However, boards should demand to see the former, while saving any interest in the latter for the exceptional circumstance.

  1. Deploy Blended Performance Management

In most companies, the individual employee has no clue which parts of their job are strategic versus BAU in nature. Therefore, they have no idea where to focus. In its place, provide each person the means to define separate targets in both areas. Also, appreciate the fact that while some employees will only be doing BAU activity, everyone must be able to explain the difference between the two.

These practical steps help staff-members step out of muddy waters where Dynamic/Static quality, Strategy/BAU metrics are confused. Their clarity increases the odds that your futuristic plans succeed, while simultaneously ensuring the continuity of previous, hard-earned gains.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

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How Leaders Can Train Employees to Enjoy Their Jobs

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How Leaders Can Train Employees to Enjoy Their Jobs

What intervention would make a difference with employees who aren’t motivated? One novel approach is to teach them how to fall in love with their work.

The recent U.S. television series “Dirty Jobs” fascinated millions. Each week, it highlighted a group of employees who specialize in filthy or dangerous jobs. For example, an episode featured Mexican workers who scuba dive into the capital’s underground sewers, just to keep them flowing.

You should be forgiven for believing that they must despise their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth and it’s not because they are grandly paid. For the most part, they simply love what they are doing. Unlike the two-thirds of employees in the average company who are disengaged, they are highly motivated.

So are most Jamaican executives. They enjoy unusual levels of daily mastery, purpose, and autonomy, a key factor in their high motivation and frequent promotions.

However, there’s often a skill they fail to develop: they aren’t equipped to help others attain this mindset. In their single-minded pursuit of personal excellence, they don’t pay much attention to those who were outperformed and therefore left behind.

Unfortunately, newly minted executives must turn around and find a way to motivate these “losers”. Untrained for this particular task, they often flounder. Instead, they complain about the bad culture – the same one they helped create.

Perhaps that makes them hypocrites, but this realization doesn’t assist them to figure out what to do. Logically, they realize that folks have real bills to handle, kids to feed and school fees to pay. But they don’t know how to motivate someone who just wants to work as little as possible to maintain a minimum flow of cash to their bank accounts.

This dilemma keeps leaders up at night. They (and their companies) can lose everything if they are unable to find a way to engage staff. While many approaches exist, here’s one that’s unusual: teach employees how to enjoy their work, just like their executives. Try these three steps.

Tactic #1 – Don’t Try to Merely “Give People What They Want”

According to “Why Workers Won’t Work, The Case Study of Jamaica,” multiple studies reveal the crude assumption born in new managers upon their promotion: people are greedy mercenaries who only respond to money. As I have pointed out in prior columns, this conclusion is demonstrably incorrect.

Even in jobs like teaching which are long overdue a raise in pay, employees know that giving everyone

all the cash rewards they want won’t work. Therefore, the first tactic is to bypass simplistic polls, intuitions or old wives’ tales which only reinforce this old explanation. They only sustain an “us vs. them” dynamic.

Instead, look deeper, beyond demeaning questions and pat answers.

Tactic #2 – Don’t Leave People Stuck With Just the Work They Like

Some managers believe the answer is to bend over backward to provide employees with the work they prefer. In other words, ask (or psychometric test) them to find the stuff they like, then devise ways to give it to them.

Once again, research shows this to be a mistaken approach. It produces a blend of unhappy workers in the long term, and a company lacking the skills it needs to thrive.

Tactic #3 – Teach People How to Find Inherent Meaning in Any Job

When employees have a supportive boss, they can learn how to enrich all aspects of their work by doing the following:

1) linking to a higher purpose. Look around: there are people who risk their lives daily for a big enough, non-monetary reason. By contrast, are your team members playing it safe, refusing to exceed their comfort zones? Is doing the right thing seen as all-important versus going along with the status quo?

  1. ii) finding an opportunity to challenge themselves. While competition appears to spur innovation, it really is a trigger or excuse for someone to push themselves beyond their normal limits. Is your environment sufficiently gamified to do the same? Or is work merely a nasty, week-day tax they pay in order to find growth, fun, and joy on weekends?

iii) experiencing newfound levels of independence. People who act as if they are in charge of their destiny love the feeling of ownership. By contrast, do your managers systematically treat staff like idiots who must be told what to think and when?

If you guess that this also has something to do with a manager’s skill at coaching, you’re right. But instead of leaving this competence to chance, train managers to help employees craft their best, most fulfilling work. In small steps, you’ll create an environment which bridges the gap between executive and employee motivation.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

 

 

 

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No such thing as ‘basic’ time management

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“Basic” Time Management Training? No such thing!

As a manager, you may advise a subordinate: “You need a basic time management program.” While this advice is probably well-intended, it turns out to be flawed. Today, a more nuanced picture has emerged.

Your intent might be pure. Many employees who once appeared to be capable and reliable have fallen into rough times. Even though they remain motivated, they look harried, are behind in their email and keep missing deadlines. Their reputation has taken a hit so you want to help.

But they still have to complete the new project you assigned them, in addition to their other responsibilities. None of it can be delegated—it’s all important.

Yet, their sense of overwhelm remains real. Maybe, you think, “They don’t understand the basics of time management.”

While this line of thinking sounds logical, it happens to be incorrect. Here are the reasons why.

  1. They are adults, not kids

In the world of adult learning, there’s a known fact: teaching adults differs from teaching children. Why? In most cases, it’s because the adult already possesses some capacity, prior practice, plus a motivation to solve everyday problems.

In this context, teaching Jamaicans Latin isn’t the same as teaching us patois. We all chafe and resist when someone tries to force us to learn something we think we already know.

With respect to time management, my local research shows that you and your employees are similar to other experienced adults around the world.

To illustrate: you were taught the concept of time at age eight or nine. Shortly after, you taught yourself how to create “time demands” – your own internal, individual commitments to complete actions in the future. You stored each one in memory to prevent it from being lost or forgotten.

Over time, you evolved, having learned the superior nature of paper or digital storage over brain cells. But regardless of your efficacy, you became a functioning adult with many successful time management habits. After all, they are responsible for positive results at school, work, and family.

However, you suspect that your subordinates have not kept up with the volume of their work and suffer from some weak habits or tools… the question is, “Which ones?” Only nuanced (not basic) training can help them uncover and close these gaps.

  1.      They need personal diagnostic skills

Instead of being instructed to engage in specific behaviours (the stuff of basic programmes) adults need to learn how to analyse and improve the habit patterns they are currently using: the same ones they have been honing since their teenage years.

In the second edition of my book, Perfect Time Based Productivity, I condensed the actions required to guide this transformation into four steps, known as ETaPS.

The first step is to E*valuate your current skills. Unlike other trivial behaviours, this takes more than completing a two-minute quiz from a magazine.

Unfortunately, empirical data from local classes reveals that the combination of habits, practices, and apps you employ today are complex. For example, everyone in your office may rely on Outlook, but there’s a unique way they use the program. Over time, you each developed routines which are idiosyncratic. Understanding them enough to make changes takes some study.

Therefore, a sound self-diagnosis starts with a deeper than average knowledge. With it, you can compare yourself against a typical Jamaican, or the very best in the world. This can be a sobering exercise, but the knowledge is priceless and produces a lifetime of steady changes. How fast should you expect to see real improvements?

  1. Instant, magical change won’t happen

A “basic” training which ignores the lingering effect of old behaviours sets learners up for failure. They go to work the next day thinking that everything will change right away.

This is impossible. It took a decade of practice to develop your current skills which don’t change overnight. To help, I recommend the remaining steps of the ETaPS formula.

–          Ta*rget new levels of accomplishment for each skill.

–          P*lan a timeline of changes to reach these new levels in months or years, taking baby steps.

–          S*upport each change so that single behaviours turn into habits. Draw on other people, reminders, and progress tracking to maintain momentum.

The idea is to break a complex, long-term transformation into small, manageable actions.

If you are a manager, help your subordinates see where a personalized plan of improvement provides a way to accomplish their goals. Then, show them how better time management could improve every part of their life:  relationships with significant others, children’s performance at school, work-life balance, health and engagement in their community and family.

Instead of trying to shoehorn them into one-size-fits-all “basic” training, give them the nuanced understanding they need to make consistent, fool-proof changes.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

 

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Toxic Culture Resistance

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Leading in a toxic culture? Transform it by absorbing, not resisting

How do you escape a corporate culture you hate to work in each day? Should it be attacked head-on, or is another more subtle approach needed?

Perhaps you know the feeling of being trapped in a toxic work environment. The stress you experience each weekday is real. It can’t be escaped by positive thinking, thoughts, and prayers or any of the other techniques that work on lesser problems. Plus, simplistic advice like “Just quit, nuh?” isn’t helpful in a weak economy where everyone you know is scrambling to hold on to a job.

Unfortunately, we are taught from early on to conquer evil by launching strong resistance. After all, this approach worked to end slavery, get the vote and achieve independence. It also works in wars.

Fighting hard to win seems to be the best way to change your company’s culture. It appears to be a far better strategy than merely surrendering making it the tactic most corporate leaders use.

Unfortunately, it has faults which only makes things worse. Here are three examples.

Denial

An executive sits at her desk looking at the exit statistics. The best performers are consistently leaving for other companies, siphoning away the second-bests within a few months. Before long, only third-bests will remain—a recipe for disaster.

The head of human resources tries to convince her there’s a huge internal problem. But she refuses to accept it. Her people are being stolen by those with deeper pockets, an injustice. She angrily denies that the culture of her company is driving people away.

In her mind, she is the big victim.

Scolding

A CEO scrolls through the survey results. The staff has spoken: employee satisfaction and engagement scores have dipped even further. Obviously, the prior year’s interventions didn’t work, in spite of his hard work and extra effort. In fact, they actually made things worse.

“They shouldn’t feel this way.”

His response is all-too-human. As a species, we have a remarkable ability to argue with reality even when it’s staring us in the face. The response is instinctive – a way to protect ourselves from bad news.

It’s also beside the point. Given his goal of changing a toxic culture, the new scores provide valuable data which tell a nuanced story. Instead of being discarded, they need to be the basis for new plans going forward, as the leadership team “wheels and comes again.”

However, whenever he repeats the refrain in every executive meeting, real discussion stops. Lots of words are spoken, but his comment inserts a dangerous fiction at the moment the team should be grappling with hard truths.

As a result, they make no progress.

Selfish Disengagement

A Managing Director is stunned by the ungrateful nature of his staff members. His official Coffee Chats, an opportunity to meet with small groups of employees, has not turned out the way he wanted.

“Is this all you people do each day… just b***h and moan?” he finally lashes out, frustrated. All future open conversations are cancelled.

In his mind, they only became a bottomless pit of complaints. Instead of presenting a useful balance of positive and negative experiences, they dwelt on the bad stuff.

In response, he withdraws, turning into himself: an act of self-preservation in which he can lick his wounds in private. He limits his meetings to people he knows are happy, eschewing group gatherings. After all, no-one seems to care that he is also a human being who has real feelings.

The First Step

The behaviors displayed in the above examples are commonplace among leaders.

In each case, they experience unwanted internal feelings, triggered by other people’s unhappy expressions. To cope, they attack the source in the hope it will go away.

This tactic sometimes works in life, on simple problems. However, it fails to transform complex corporate cultures. In the high stakes positions they inhabit, the only answer is to learn how to fully accept, absorb and “be with” the stuff most people resist. In other words, instead of turning unwanted internal feelings into the enemy, they must mature to a place when they can be embraced.

While this is much easier to write or say than to practice, top executives need to evolve to the point where they can step aside from their own instinctive reactions. It’s the first, unavoidable step towards transforming themselves, demonstrating the radical kind of inside-out change that people need to see.

 

As such, this message isn’t only for top executives. It’s for any employee caught in a toxic company they can’t stand, but can’t immediately leave. Acceptance rather than resistance is the most powerful first step.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180225/francis-wade-toxic-workplace-resistance

Boosting your temporal IQ

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We may laugh along with our leaders about our personal productivity and constant overwhelm, but those who have worked in developed countries know that top organisations take time seriously.

It’s no coincidence. Corporate success relies on individuals who execute brilliantly, never run late, and don’t forget to do their tasks.

But here in Jamaica, we are perplexed. We want the crime-free growth opportunities that occur in a strong economy built on high-performing companies. Yet, when pressured, we continually excuse the fact that we are individually slack. For example, almost no one complained when every meeting of the 2017 Jamaican Parliament started late.

Instead, tardiness is met with a joke. The brave few who insist on timeliness are sidelined as ‘anal’, as boards, teams and cabinets tolerate behaviours that keep us mediocre. When this vibe is amplified across society, contributing to mayhem and murder, we scratch our heads: ‘What’s wrong with THOSE people?’

Nothing.

They are simply echoing the low standards we all indulge in, even when we know we’d have to give them up if we ever migrated to a developed country.

 

IMAGINE – A JAMAICAN?

 

A few years ago at a conference in the United States, I listened in agony as the top organiser explained why they needed to check my credentials twice before inviting me to speak. “We just had to ask,” she shared, “Is he for real? Who would imagine that someone in Jamaica knows something about time management?”

Unfortunately, we have collectively earned this suspicion. Our economy hasn’t grown since the 1960s – a case study for stagnation, resistant even to above-average outside investment. In terms of our macro-productivity, we fight to stay a step above last place among countries in the hemisphere.

But the conference organiser was no economist. She was talking about the lack of micro-productivity visitors see upon landing ‘Jamaica time’. It’s why they took two different taxis from their hotel to the airport, ‘just in case’.

We can rescue our reputation with a focus on a locally defined temporal intelligence quotient, or TemQ. It would help us understand the extremes – the Bolt-like performance seen in the world’s best companies versus our sloppy, everyday mediocrity. It could also provide us with universal targets to aim for, whether we happen to be an individual workman, CEO or Supreme Court judge.

For example, our prime minister could declare an ‘Arrive on Time Week’. Such a challenge would push us to discover and practice industrial engineering techniques needed everywhere in our economy to meet Vision 2030 and the productivity problems it describes.

Until then, how can your company use TemQ right away? Here are three suggestions.

 

STEP 1 – ESTABLISH TIME USAGE OUTCOMES

 

Professionals with high TemQs set clear intentions for each hour of the day. A high percentage of their plans are effective, which means they use mobile, digital planning tools, create a daily schedule which includes travel and recovery times, insert buffer periods for interruptions and other unexpected events, and track their time usage to effect improvements.

By contrast, individuals with low TemQ are hapless creatures of random impulses and miscues. They are often seen as a very busy but produce little of value as they bounce from one fascinating, shiny object to another.

 

STEP 2 – HIGHLIGHT ERRORS IN TASK EXECUTION

 

As a professional climbs the corporate ladder and adds more to-dos, their productivity is challenged in new ways. Each increase brings them closer to a recurrence of old symptoms they thought they had overcome, such as forgetting important commitments, seeing tasks too long or missing due dates.

The person with low TemQ won’t even notice these mild issues until they turn into crises. However, their counterparts remain eternally vigilant and see these early signs of trouble.

 

STEP 3 – DEVELOP

 

 

META-SKILLS

 

High TemQ individuals don’t panic when such unwanted symptoms pop up. Instead, they realise that they need an upgrade and go about diagnosing their habits, practices and apps in a systematic way. In other words, they demonstrate the meta-skills needed to build added capacity – the only approach which keeps up with a continuously increasing workload.

Unfortunately, low TemQ professionals get stuck and never improve, slipping into a mindset that partly explains our stagnant productivity. After all, if we aren’t actively expanding our individual TemQ, why should our companies thrive and our economy grow?

Ecuadoreans had a similar challenge, estimating that lateness costs them 4.3 per cent of GDP. In response, they launched a national tardiness campaign.

The good news is that, unlike our IQ, we can all easily begin to improve our TemQ with practical improvements. There’s no reason for us to continue joking about a matter which has sharp life-or-death consequences.

It’s time to invest, on a personal level, in the productive Jamaica we want to become.

– Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of ‘Perfect Time-Based Productivity’. To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: columns@fwconsulting.com.

How to Escape the Zeigarnik Effect

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Have you ever found yourself unable to fall asleep during a trying time at work? Or distracted in the middle of a conversation or meeting by thoughts about other stuff you still need to do?

If so, you may be a victim of the Zeigarnik Effect. Its exotic name comes from the Russian researcher who discovered it in the 1920’s while observing the behavior of waiters in a restaurant. Their ability to recall pending orders, but not the ones they had just delivered, caught her attention.

The disparity relates to the effect which bears her last name. It’s the nagging feeling you get once you mentally create a “time demand”: an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future. Your subconscious, which stores each one for later retrieval, does more than sit back and wait for you to act. Instead, it begins to ping your conscious mind with a stream of reminders.

If this were to take place on rare occasions, it would be a cute phenomenon. However, if you are someone who is ambitious, you may find the reminders increasing until you start to experience a sense of overwhelm. After all, her research states that the way to get rid of the Zeigarnik Effect is to complete the task. For busy people, it’s impossible – they create hundreds. Like everyone else, they can only finish one at a time.

So, is there an escape? Fortunately, there is, according to recent research conducted at Baylor University.

Dr. Michael Scullin and his team compared two bedtime behaviors in laboratory experiments. Before falling asleep, one group of subjects wrote their to-do list for the next few days. The other recorded the tasks they accomplished during that

day. The result? This small change in technique helped the first group fall asleep faster by over 9 minutes. Why did this happen?

To understand the underlying reason, we must visit the University of Florida. Drs. Roy Baumeister and Ed Masicapmo added to Zeigarnik’s research, showing that the effect disappears when a person has a trusted system in place to manage time demands. This makes intuitive sense. There’s no need for your subconscious mind to interfere if it believes that all your tasks are being properly managed.

How does this apply to falling asleep faster? Well, offloading your tasks to a written to-do list is one way to assure your subconscious that you are on top of all your commitments. In other words, it trusts a piece of paper more than your ability to remember. Satisfied, it leaves you alone, allowing you to doze off.

But what if you possess a high IQ, genius-level memory? Can’t that be used? The answer is short but elegant – “Sure… if you happen to be a kid.” While I doubt that any readers of this column are under 12 years old, we should understand why they are an exception. The fact is, they only have a few time demands to recall. Plus, they have teachers, parents, friends, and siblings reminding them what to do.

It’s only later, when they get older, that problems occur. But they aren’t caused by age which is not a factor until their retirement years. Instead, long before then, the challenge is to find a method to cope with the relentless swell in time demands our generation faces.

What else can be used beside paper? Digital devices also work. In addition, some people offload their tasks to other folks, like their children. “Remind me to pick up your cake tomorrow, Junior.”

But the only approach which succeeds in the long term isn’t a single technique or tool but a mindset of continuous improvement, plus specific knowledge of how humans use such tools. Start by getting committed to implementing ongoing upgrades. Then, understand that your choices need to follow a pattern.

While researching the latest edition of my book I found that improvements happen in serial fashion, but they all start with an attempt to use mental reminders. When that technique fails, we graduate to better skills one step at a time, following this sequence.

Level 1 – Memory

Level 2 – Paper Lists of Tasks

Level 3 – Simple Digital Apps

Level 4 – Complex Task Management Apps

Level 5 – Digital Calendars of all Tasks

Level 6 – Administrative Assistants / Autoscheduling Programs

As you look over this list, identify your current level. With this knowledge, you can prepare yourself for the next upgrade – the one that will help you stay abreast of your dreams and aspirations.

However, be aware: the Zeigarnik Effect shows up at any level. It’s a fantastic warning mechanism which lets you know when a change is overdue. Unlike your friends, colleagues and even your conscious mind, it can’t be fooled. It will do its job, preventing you from falling asleep quickly until you wake up to its incessant, nagging call for greater personal productivity.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180128/francis-wade-how-escape-zeigarnik-effect