It is not infrequent that coaching and training is resorted to as a ‘fix’ to a broken or troubled situation. Our view is that like with a good kitchen knife, coaching and training is about continuously taking care of the blade with the appropriate care rituals; sharpen it before, during, and after every use. Our mind, likewise, always on the go, needs continued sharpening before, during and after use.
In times of uncertainty, the need to keep our mind in ship shape condition becomes all the more important, because it is easy to let our mind slip (back) into bad, easy habits of cutting corners, not performing to our best, and worst of all, it can get lost in the myriad of bad / fake / negative news around us. The compound effect is loneliness, underperformance, fatigue, stress and even depression. It becomes imperative, therefore, for leaders to ensure employees (and themselves) continue to give themselves the opportunity to learn, engage and share their state of mind with those who can help.
What is your Value Proposition
With many companies and employees resorting to work-from-home practices, how do we ensure we remain on top of our game? That even while it is not exactly ‘business as usual’, in certain aspects it can still be business as usual and we maintain our value proposition promised to our clients.
In my view, the essence of any business lies in the health of its people, so a business continuity plan that does not have the wellness of our employees at its core will serve as well as a tissue paper in a rainstorm.
Covid-19 has exposed many ‘tissue-paper’ approaches to business continuity and while for many this could mean doom and gloom; it can well be a great opportunity to unlock your team’s potential during an actual lockdown. Unfortunately, and in many respects, it is completely understandable, companies are having to cut back on certain non-essential expenses due to slowing (if not completely wiped out) income.
In the midst of these cutbacks a number of companies are also putting on hold employee training and coaching programmes. This is in no way done to minimise the importance of employee development, but rather boils down to the fear of the unknown; how effective will this be? Will it be worth it? Will staff engage? Do we even have the resources to do so? What if we have to shut down completely, it would have been a waste.
Our view is that if you have people at the heart of your business model, then people should be at the heart of your business continuity strategy. Ensuring that your people are well first and foremost should be the priority of every employer. Should the business go bust, you will always be recognised as an ethical leader who put the interest of their people first, which will go a long way further to rebuild the business after, than the potential saving on the cost of an online mentoring programme.
In Start with Why and the Infinite Game, author Simon Sinek relates to those leaders and companies who have weathered some of the toughest economic, warfare and biological catastrophes as those who could see the long game rather than the short. The short being immediate shareholder returns, while the long being the reason for truly being in business; The Value Proposition.
A strong value proposition, or “WHY” as Sinek puts it, will help ensure motivation amongst employees when working away from their normal environment. A strong WHY will help guide leaders to provide the ongoing support their employees require to feel safe during times of uncertainty. A strong WHY, will help motivate all to connect and contribute to everyone’s achievement with less personal and more collective interest.
How can businesses support their staff to maintain their WHY?
More than ever, regular, open, clear communication is a simple way of ensuring your remote teams are getting the leadership and guidance they need to keep on track. Virtual 1-2-1 meetings with team leaders and their members will help retain trust through the interest shown in their professional performance but also their mental, physical and emotional well-being. Should the need arise, instigate virtual 1-2-1 buddy, peer or mentor programmes where people in either similar positions or more experience or particular expertise can be called upon to support staff during these times.
In addition, Remote Leadership can allow for much greater creativity and innovation in a space that is at times very stringent and limited. Leaders can create Nudges, developed by Nobel prize winning economist Richard Thaler, to help keep the company ethos top of mind, remain alert and stay in tune with what is expected out of us. The Harvard Business Review calls these nudges BEANs; a series of Behaviour Enablers, Artifacts and Nudges that ensure the daily integration of purposely designed and crafted iterations of corporate culture reminders.
At Spotify they introduced a Fail Wall to eliminate fear of failure and reinforce learning from mistakes; at Adobe they introduced a Kickbox to encourage experimentation and simplify innovation. In a time where employees need to feel reassured, Leaders have a great opportunity to plant their own magical BEANs and allow all to contribute to their growth. These can all be recreated digitally with members contributing from their remote stations.
Some other options include:
- Create learning boards which can be populated by staff to share their experiences and induce live-learning.
- Create a Success Board whereby achievements are showcased more visibly, and
- Create leader-boards for team projects that may help build general awareness of what the respective departments are doing.
Ensure strong Social Connections.
Humans are in general social beings and therefore the lack of social contact is perceived by our primitive brain as a threat to our survival. This triggers fear, doubt, sadness, anxiety and a myriad of other thoughts which are all negatively affecting our perception of the world, our performance and our motivations.
The need of social relations is critical for the release of serotonin in our system which is the ‘bonding’ agent which stimulates our feeling of belonging and therefore dissipates that sense of isolation that may be triggered through working from remote locations.
Technology has facilitated the reduction of this isolation and when forced into ‘long-distance relationships’ we need to reinforce our presence online. There is no need for expensive set-ups. Many desk-top and mobile apps (such as Whatsapp, Skype, Zoom, Slack, Asana, Trello, Teams, Etcetera )already provide for video chatting, group video calls and community gatherings.
Virtual group discussions with an expert, coach or mentor can be extremely helpful for a number of reasons, including:
- maintaining knowledge on key industry, management or leadership developments;
- group design thinking, idea generation and problem solving where the power of the group multiplies the effect of the capabilities through shared knowledge;
- ensuring team engagement, bond and camaraderie through the facilitation of open discussion on their personal state of mind, resilience and capacities.
As you may have noticed I have made no reference to Social Media. I am aware that the whole reason behind the creation of Social Media was to connect virtually, and there is enough research that state Social Media can be a fundamental detractor from actually building social connections. In a time of crisis, Social Media plays an important part in an individual’s motivational cycle that needs to be vigilated attentively. Group mentoring is all the more important to quash the ‘fake news’ from spin doctors who make a living out of people’s fears and instead provides a space for controlled, grounded discussion based on reality and trust.
This brings me on to the next point for consideration of our remote working toolkit.
When Carol Dweck published her book on Mindset it revealed the human attitude towards change, failure, success and motivation (among many other things). The terms fixed and growth mindset emanated from her studies on the capability to see opportunity rather than difficulty in challenging circumstances. More so, what advances in neuroscience started to show is that those adopting a more challenge-oriented mindset were able to change their mind’s neural growth by the actions they take, the questions they ask, the conversations they have, the strategies they adopt.
What emanated from these studies is that a link between the mindset and achievement was increasingly evident; In turn this affected the individual motivation to grow intellectually, emotionally, physically. Study amongst children who were told they are intelligent resulted in the development of a fixed mindset … “I know it all”. On the other hand those children who were told that hard work and effort pays off, developed a more growth or learning mindset.
During the Covid-19 uncertainty and any other trying situation, the mindset needs to be one that understands the value of continuity and growth opportunity from the unknown. Lockdown (in a current viral pandemic context) does not need to mean a mental breakdown. The opportunity we all have as individuals, teams and leaders to unlock our mental potential is only curbed by our capability to be creative.
I am the first to relish remote or work-from-home days. I can stick to my pyjamas and dressing gown (unless I have any video-conference calls, virtual coaching or group training sessions to conduct, in which case I may just keep my pj bottoms and slippers on). With limited access to people I can hone-in on skills development and dig into those parts of our services that require dedicated focus and attention to detail. The limited distractions allows me to concentrate and achieve better results with less effort.
We have the opportunity to manage ourselves more effectively irrespective of our environment. For those who prefer starting work later they can do so and it allows for prioritisation based on our own performance enablers; you can decorate as you please and crank up the volume of the record player, TV or Radio without annoying colleagues.
If on the other hand you are more of a creature of habit, then go through the same steps you would if you were going to the office. Get dressed, brush your teeth and prime yourself for another day of awesome service delivery. Think of it as being your own boss on a bit more of a permanent basis. Ensure your service delivery is top notch because you are what your deliver. Your personal brand relies solely on your ambition to ensure you do not flounder on your service promise.
If you are a team member and rely on the collective effort to achieve your results, then BE the supporting colleague, leader or coach you would want your colleagues to be for you. As employees we can ask for a system to be put in place where colleagues check-in on each other remotely on a regular basis, throughout the day, on a weekly basis.
Leaders need to do the same for themselves. It does not need to be lonelier than it can already be at the top and therefore seek the advice and support of:
- Peer-to-Peer CEO groups outside your firm offering virtual ‘boardroom’ advice or
- Take the time to get some 1-2-1 coaching to validate your thought process, strategy, decision-making via video call.
Ultimately the mindset needs to be one of ‘business as usual’ and as such you need to bring to the table all the resources to ensure you keep delivering. Your mindset will allow you to level-up your performance in any situation.
I have to admit that mindfulness was a bit of a misnomer to me until the not so distant past. I never really understood what it meant, how to go about it or what the value was. However, my curiosity (or rather, my growth mindset), got the better of me and I ventured into the realm of mindfulness and took an online course.
Having gone through half of the course I still didn’t feel like I had figured any of the above out and was about to give up. But the stubborn part of my mindset said no so I went on.
40 hours later I can reveal that I get it. I cannot say I am an expert practitioner, but I get it and I can definitely see how being mindful can add considerable value to our lives, especially when in terse situations.
One of the biggest things I learned during this process was that being mindful may start as an individual self-awareness exercise but needs to be coupled with the support of your trusted network.
Working remotely does not mean you are alone. It may mean you are not be able to walk straight into your boss’ office for a chat, but it means you need to be more vocal of the support you require, because others may not be able to see how you are feeling.
We lead very fast paced lives, with expectations for delivery on all fronts filling our mental space to the brim without opportunity to think or process how this is actually affecting us. So, take an active stance to allocate some mindfulness space during the course of every day to carry out a bit of a body check and see how you REALLY are inside; what is your body and mind telling you? It will allow you to think clearer and identify who to reach out to in your network to address some of the things you may be going through.
Online learning platforms offering courses in mindfulness often also offer community discussion groups to support the learning process but also reinforce the social help component of the subject. Some are more expensive than others, but there are a number of relatively well priced programmes online that could provide some well-deserved introspection.
Our remote work journey may be an extended one so remember that we have to ensure our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing at all times.
Going deeper into the various aspects of mindfulness, we need to be self-aware of our state of mind. Listen to what our body, our thoughts and our feelings are telling us and seek to rectify them as soon as possible.
A tip in this regard is to carry out a daily E-IQ health check and consider:
(a) how am I feeling today? Am I sad, demotivated, upset, angry, happy? What is my state of mind?
(b) what is my motivation today? Do I feel I am struggling to understand why I should be doing this task? What do I need to get myself going?
(c) What do I need to do to change the way I am feeling? What can I do to change my state of mind?
(d) Can I understand where this feeling is coming from? Is it dependent on me or on someone else’s behaviour/emotion? What can I do to understand the situation better?
(e) How can I communicate what I am feeling more effectively? How can I share my thoughts on what needs to be done without hurting another person? Who can I go to for help?
Take the time to do some exercise. A healthy body = a healthy mind = a healthy heart. If you need additional motivation, organise a group virtual workout and connect your game consoles, web cams and partake in a 15 minute virtucise routine. You could also use the opportunity – if you are working from home – to get active in the house and take regular mini breaks to get many of those pending things done once and for all. It could also earn you brownie points with those sharing your home.
There are also a number of personal physical trainers offering online live training programmes that can fit within your daily home routines. I would go for Live rather than pre-recorded as it helps with the social connection as they can also connect multiple households living the same situation and provide a considerable amount of additional morale support to all of us living the same experiences.
During these times of uncertainty, priority lies on ensuring the health and safety of our family, colleagues and friends. As responsible leaders, we have a moral duty to take the tough decisions that will safeguard the livelihoods of our people, the integrity of our social fabric and the continuity of our business.
We need to be the catalysts and communicators of positivity in times of, well, not so much positivity. Grasp the opportunity to build the potential in testing your business continuity plans and take the necessary remedial action to make it weatherproof next time round.
We of course need to be mindful that we cannot cater for ALL eventualities. Worrying about the unknown will only create further uncertainty within our teams and limit the agility of our responses to new developments.
Before I wrap-up, an obligatory word of mention and thanks goes to our healthcare services and all those who keep it running diligently, with great passion and commitment. Let us respect all healthcare service workers by being as considerate in our relationships with them as we are with our dearest.
At UP Ltd we are committed to assist anyone who is finding these unprecedented circumstances particularly challenging. As coaches and mentors we are driven by our own value proposition – our WHY – which is to never leave anyone behind, so if you feel are falling behind drop me a note on [email protected] or visit our facebook or LinkedIn pages.
We can offer remote insights and services into how to lead effectively while working remotely and be more effective while working from home.
More than ever we will continue to provide our 1-2-1 coaching and group services via virtual platforms to our clients who wish to, so that we ensure you continue to get the support you and your people need. We are – literally – just a click away!