How CEOs Should Manage Their Time in the Hybrid Workplace

After 18 months of leading organizations remotely, chief executives must learn to combine the best parts of what they’ve learned about virtual leadership with the most effective parts of managing face-to-face. The author, who studies how CEOs spend their time, suggests that leaders limit the negative consequences of video meetings, rethink assumptions about the reasons to travel, and protect their alone/personal time even more than before the pandemic.

CEOs are among the millions of professionals who’ve seen their long-established work rhythms disrupted during this ongoing global pandemic. During this period, corporate leaders have learned to use new communication tools, limit travel, and lead remotely.

Now, as they look ahead to reopening offices, some CEOs are already talking publicly about how they plan to work post-pandemic. For instance, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase is most outspoken about returning to a full-time, in-office routine. David Calhoun of Boeing has said he’ll be far less willing to travel for internal meetings with other Boeing employees, which he’d frequently done pre-pandemic.

Leaders should be wary of such categorical pronouncements. Instead, they should reflect on and experiment around how to intelligently combine the best parts of what they’ve learned during the pandemic with the best aspects of the face-to-face management style they utilized before 2020. What they need, in short, is a new approach to time management — one suitable for a hybrid world.

In 2018, my colleague Michael Porter and I wrote an article in Harvard Business Review called “How CEOs Manage Time.” We based it on an ongoing study, which began in 2006, in which we asked chief executives to log their schedules, minute by minute, 24 hours per day, for three months.

Based on data we had gathered from 27 CEOs at the time, we found the average CEO works 62.5 hours per week, sleeps 6.9 hours per night, exercises 45 minutes per day, allocates 61% of time for face-to-face meetings, and spends just 3% of time interacting with customers.

We also offered some recommendations for how CEOs can use their time more effectively, based on our conversations with CEOs after we shared their data. Among our suggestions were that CEOs spend less time running the business, reserve more “alone time” for reflection, block unscheduled time for spontaneous interactions, reduce the average length of meetings, spend more one-on-one time with directors and customers and less with investors, and resist the constant lure of email.

Those recommendations made sense at the time. However, as leaders think about reorienting their routines for a hybrid workplace, let me offer some new recommendations based on more recent conversations with CEOs and my decades of reflection on this role.

When thinking through these issues, keep in mind that the job of the CEO is multi-faceted and involves myriad functions, for which there is never enough time. Despite the time pressure, efficiency shouldn’t be the top consideration. For example, a fundamental duality of all leadership work involves accomplishing tasks and building relationships. This is especially true for CEOs, who rely almost entirely on others to get their job done. CEOs must therefore spend a significant amount of their time building high-quality trusting relationships. In a world of hybrid work, CEOs would be wise to remember that although they can readily do tasks remotely, building relationships work better with at least some face-to-face interaction.

CEOs Have Always Been Hybrid Workers

Some CEOs have emphasized the importance of having everyone in the office most of the time; these benefits include easier collaboration and more opportunities to train and mentor young employees. Other leaders, like Tim Cook of Apple, have proposed having every employee in the office only on certain days of the week. But the view that employees should spend most of their time in the office may overlook the fact that CEOs previously spent as much time working outside headquarters as inside.

In our 2018 study, we found CEO spent just 47% of working hours at the main office — with the rest in off-site meetings, traveling for business, or working remotely. And although CEOs held 61% of their meetings face to face, they were communicating electronically — by video conference, email, and telephone — more than one-third of the time.

In recent months, I’ve been advocating that companies devise a strategic hybrid system that first considers precisely how each employee contributes to its strategy and then analyzes whether WFH or an office setting would better support it. (In my view, trying to bring every employee into the office on a one-size-fits-all schedule is a terrible idea.) So as CEOs guide their organizations in thinking about the right proportion of in-office and remote time for each team and function, it’s worth recalling how much of their own time previously was away from the office.

At the same time, CEOs should recognize that time spent in the office carries symbolic value beyond its functional value. As we wrote in 2018: “How a CEO spends face-to-face time is viewed as a signal of what or who is important; people watch this more carefully than most CEOs recognize.” Even in organizations where many people opt to stay in WFH mode much of the time after Covid, CEOs will likely need to be in the office more than colleagues at other levels of the organization.

Limiting the Negative Consequences of Video Meetings

We have been fortunate that our technology infrastructure had developed sufficiently to make videoconferencing widely accessible before Covid hit. (Could you imagine millions of us trying to work remotely back in the dial-up era?) As a result, video meetings are highly efficient in many ways: I now routinely engage in 30-minute video meetings that used to take an hour when held face-to-face. At the same time, we’ve all grown aware of the many downsides of over-reliance on video meetings. Among them: “Zoom fatigue” and the blurring of work-life boundaries as the commute that signaled the end of the workday disappeared.

For CEOs, over-reliance on video meetings poses three unique risks.

“Popping in” to non-essential meetings. Compared with in-person meetings, video meetings make it easy for CEOs to log in or “stop by.” Although having the CEO show up in additional meetings may boost morale or demonstrate engagement, it can quickly become a problem. Effective CEOs delegate much of the work of managing business operations to deputies, and even before the pandemic, we observed too many CEOs spending too much time in operational reviews. CEOs who find video meetings efficient may exacerbate this problem by being tempted to attend too many of them. This behavior could continue (or grow worse) in a hybrid work environment.

Over-inviting subordinates to group meetings. Video meetings also make it easy to invite or add additional people. Even though asking more people feels more inclusive, it, too, can be a mistake. Smaller groups allow for candor and participation. That’s why, in our 2018 study, CEOs spent 63% of their meeting time with groups of five or fewer people. When meetings get too large, people stay muted and multitask. Engagement falls.

Over-relying on video for one-on-ones. In our 2018 study, CEOs spent 42% of their meeting time in one-on-one meetings, mostly with direct reports — people they know well. The conventional wisdom is that it’s easier to conduct video meetings with people you already know than to initiate a relationship or meet someone new on video.

But even if doing a “check-in” with a subordinate via video feels comfortable, it’s vital to conduct these meetings in person periodically. High-quality relationships involve aligning mutual expectations (each person knows what they expect of each other), increasing mutual understanding (each knows the other’s strengths, weaknesses, leadership styles), and developing mutual trust (each has confidence in the other’s motives and intentions). Such relationship-building benefits from the give-and-take and full co-presence that face-to-face interactions enable better than electronic interactions.

Rethink Assumptions about the Reasons to Travel

As more people have become vaccinated and the perceived risks of air travel have fallen, there’s been widespread debate about whether people will ever be as quick to hop on an airplane for a business meeting or industry conference as they were pre-2020. This New York Times article nicely summarizes survey results and viewpoints on this issue.

Although I agree with those who expect business travel never again to reach its pre-Covid peak, I worry about CEOs who take aim at internal meetings as the trips to avoid. Face-to-face meetings are helpful when building relationships because of the respect leaders shows by going out of their way to get to the other party’s locale. For similar reasons, we have long advised CEOs to visit subordinates in their offices instead of having every meeting in the higher-ranking person’s location.

The most common mistake we observed among the CEOs in our previous study was to underinvest in face-to-face time with their customers; I fear they will now risk underinvesting in face-to-face contact with their own employees, particularly teams far from headquarters. If they do, they risk becoming overly task-focused when dealing with people inside the company and forgetting that being in a relationship with their employees is just as important. I’d urge CEOs to periodically get on a plane to meet with internal teams, too.

One technique to be intentional about this is to set a target ratio for video and in-person meetings with different constituencies. For instance, CEOs who want to visit longstanding customers might aim for an 80/20 mix — 80% by video, 20% in person. When interacting with employees whom they meet only infrequently, such as those who work away from headquarters, perhaps 50/50 makes more sense. After 18 months of meeting primarily by video, boards might also aim for 50/50. Regardless of the numbers, the point is to choose a target intentionally, assess how well it’s working, and recalibrate if necessary.

Treat Alone Time and Personal Time Even More Protectively

Even before the pandemic, most CEOs had trouble maintaining boundaries between work time and personal time. For instance, in our study, CEOs worked on 79% of weekend days (3.9 hours per day, on average) and 70% of vacation days (2.4 hours per day, on average). Moreover, during working hours, CEOs’ calendars tend to be over-booked. On average, 75% of the leader’s time was allocated in advance, leaving limited time for spontaneous interactions or simply time to think.

The post-pandemic reset should be an opportunity for leaders to carve out more time for reflection, reading, and thinking — but there’s a risk that many will go in the other direction. Now that they can participate in video meetings from home, CEOs will require even more discipline to avoid doing this too often — especially those running global companies, who could conceivably join an overseas meeting at any hour of the day or night.

Likewise, there will be immediate savings in commuting costs for CEOs whose companies choose to limit the days employees go to the office. (In our study, the average CEO spent about seven hours per week commuting). Since this is “found time,” leaders may say yes to more meetings, quickly squandering it. Instead, they should consider reinvesting this in additional alone time.

They will also need discipline when it comes to outside requests. Our original article advised leaders to avoid spending too much time in non-essential activities such as leading civic groups or industry associations. (Our research found these can become time-management quagmires.) As meetings of these groups shifted to video, some CEOs’ resolve to limit these obligations may have weakened: It’s easier to say no to a speaking invitation when it requires cross-country travel than when it requires a quick video appearance. When in-person events once again become the norm, CEOs should go back to being more discriminating about what non-essential invitations they accept.

After CEOs complete logging their time for our study, we typically spend a couple of hours debriefing them. In that meeting, which CEO Tom Gentile of Sprint Aerosystems reflected on in our 2018 article, we look at how an individual CEO’s time choices compare with the average leader’s and then identify ways to make smarter time management decisions. Every leader who participated in our study found this reflection exercise illuminating — from uncovering blind spots in their use of time to discovering a handful of areas where they would like to make changes.

As CEOs return to a new hybrid workplace as the pandemic eases, they should reflect upon the best ways to incorporate the new rhythms and tools they’ve learned during the pandemic. They should beware the lure of returning to their pre-pandemic work habits or getting overly attached to things that appeared to work well during the pandemic but may be ineffective in the long run. Much as organizations need to be strategic in the hybrid work patterns they embrace, leaders need to be strategic about how they use their time in this new workplace.

By Nitin Nohria is the former dean of Harvard Business School.

Working from home means longer hours, fewer sick days, & fewer bonuses, according to a major report

The remote-working shift is hailed as the future – but new data highlights potential negative trends.

Remote workers were more likely to work overtime and less likely to get bonuses, for example.

Insider rounds up four key takeaways from the report.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted bold predictions that the future of work will be from home, after millions were forced out of offices for more than a year but able to do their jobs remotely.

Homeworkers were working longer hours for less reward compared with their peers going into offices, the research found.

Here are the report’s four main takeaways.

1. Those who mostly worked from home were less likely to get bonuses

The ONS study found that, based on analysis of survey respondents between 2013 to 2020, people who mainly worked from home were on average 38% less likely to receive a bonus in salary compared with those who never worked from home in the same period.

The ONS suggested two possible reasons for the discrepancy. It may “reflect biases in the labor market with people who worked mainly from home being overlooked for promotions and bonuses due to a lack of visibility at work.”

But it also said homeworkers might have forfeited bonuses for benefits such as flexibility and a shorter commute.

Dr Lucy Davey, a former psychiatrist who is now a coach for professional women, said this trend would hit women, who are more likely to take the option of working from home.

As many companies shift to giving employees the option between working from home or the office after the pandemic, Davey told Insider: “A higher proportion of women will take up the offer of working from home in order to fit around their childcare needs.

“Ultimately, this means that they’ll spend less time in the office, will be less visible than their office-based counterparts (often male) and less likely to be next in line for a promotion.”

2. Remote workers were less than half as likely to call in sick

The sickness absence rate for employees working from home in 2020 was 0.9% on average, compared with 2.2% for those who worked from offices in their main job, the ONS report found.

Though it is possible remote workers were less exposed to illness, the report suggested that many people were simply just working through periods of illness or injury. “When sick, homeworkers may not have travelled to a workplace to work but still felt well enough to work from home,” the ONS said.

Elisa Nardi, a HR professional with 30 years’ experience, including 15 as a group chief people officer in large corporates such as Virgin Media and Bupa, said that, so long as few employees have purpose-built home offices, it’s likely homeworking will mean “many employers will face a future wave of claims related to muscular-skeletal employee health and wellbeing issues.”

3. And they did more hours of unpaid overtime

In 2020, people who “mainly,” “occasionally” or “recently” worked from home all did an average of around six hours of unpaid overtime a week. This was almost double the 3.6 hours by those who never worked remotely.

The ONS noted that, from 2011 to 2019, those who “recently” worked from home did the most unpaid overtime but the three cohorts of remote workers had done roughly the same in 2020. The 3.6 hour figure was the same as in previous years.

4. They were also more likely to work in the evenings

The pandemic appears to have caused a shift in the working day.

In September 2020, homeworkers were more likely to work between the hours of 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. compared with those never working at home, according to the ONS report.

This contrasted with an earlier sample in April, at the start of the pandemic, when homeworkers “tended to keep hours close to typical office hours, because homeworking was new to many.”

The report said homeworkers may have been continuing to work beyond their finishing time in the time they previously would have previously been commuting.

By Zahara Tayeb from Business Insider Australia

https://www.businessinsider.com.au/wfh-4-key-takeaways-from-a-major-ons-report-2021-4

It’s not just you – meetings really have spiraled out of control in the pandemic

Microsoft analyzed how users of its workplace tools interacted with each other in the pandemic.

People are now spending more than double the time in meetings and receiving almost 50% more chats.

More than half of surveyed workers say they’re overworked.

If you’ve been exhausted working from home in the pandemic, here’s some alarming new research that could illuminate why. People are now spending more than double the amount of time in meetings compared to before the pandemic, and they’re getting bombarded with chat messages from their colleagues.

That’s according to an analysis, released recently, of the interactions that took place over this past year on Microsoft’s suite of workplace tools such as Microsoft Teams. The data cement what many workers have felt firsthand: Working from home creates a host of challenges that make it harder to get real work done.

“The digital intensity of workers’ days has increased substantially,” the report said.

The graph below charts the time users spent in meetings over this past year (in blue), as well as the chat messages they sent each other (in yellow). Both measures spiked in March as companies sent their employees home and kept rising throughout the pandemic.

Both meetings and chats have soared in the pandemic.

By February 2021, workers spent 2.5 times as many minutes per week in meetings compared with February 2020, and they were sending 45% more chats per week to their coworkers. They also sent 42% more chats to each other outside of regular business hours.

It’s no wonder that workers are burned out: In a survey of about 30,000 full-time or self-employed workers that Microsoft also released on Monday, more than 50% of respondents said they were overworked. Other surveys have shown similarly widespread levels of burnout. If people are spending more time attending meetings and responding to messages, they have less time to perform their actual jobs during regular business hours.

That often gives them no choice but to keep working through the evenings or on weekends to get everything done. In fact, people do appear to be working longer hours in the pandemic, by anywhere from 49 minutes to three hours, depending on the study.

Even before COVID-19, endless meetings and digital overload have been widespread problems in corporate America. Businesses have deployed some small fixes over the years: Years ago, Google built a “speedy meetings” setting in Google Calendar to encourage shorter calls. But now, several companies are doing more to intervene on behalf of exhausted employees. For example, Citigroup told its employees on Monday that it’s banning internal video calls every Friday (although it’s still allowing phone calls).

“The blurring of lines between home and work and the relentlessness of the pandemic workday have taken a toll on our well-being,” Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser wrote in a memo obtained by CNBC.

In addition to this communication overload, the data from Microsoft showed another downside of working from home. During the pandemic, people within teams communicated more often, but people in separate teams communicated less often.

Teams have become siloed in the pandemic.

“When you lose connections, you stop innovating,” Nancy Baym, a senior principal researcher at Microsoft, said in the report. “It’s harder for new ideas to get in and groupthink becomes a serious possibility.”

Interestingly, in New Zealand, where lockdowns eased once the country effectively stamped out the virus, a measure of team isolation improved, according to Microsoft.

In a separate blog post that was released in tandem with the research report, Microsoft said that it’s going to allow more of its workers to return to the office if they wish to do so, starting on March 29. It announced in October that, after the pandemic, its employees will be working a hybrid workweek, in which they will be working from home less than 50% of the time.

By AKI ITO from Business Insider Australia

https://www.businessinsider.com.au/meetings-during-pandemic-spiraled-out-of-control-2021-3

How to turn a bad day around

Let’s face it. Life can be full of frustrations—an argument with your teenager over breakfast, a missed train, or even just a spilled coffee can make you wish you could crawl back into bed. How can you change your mood when you’ve started your day off on the wrong foot? How do you stop annoyances from dragging you down and killing your productivity?

What the Experts Say

The good news is you can turn a bad day into a good one. “Happiness is a choice,” says Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage. Even when something objectively negative happens—your star employee gives notice or you’re late to an important meeting with the CEO—it’s important to focus on the positive things that are also happening. “Studies show that when you’re positive, you’re 31% more productive, you’re 40% more likely to receive a promotion, you have 23% fewer health-related effects from stress, and your creativity rates triple,” he explains. Discontent is also contagious, adds Annie McKee, founder of the Teleos Leadership Institute and coauthor of Primal Leadership. “Your negative emotions spread like wildfire,” she says. “It’s worth changing your mood, not just to make your day more pleasant and productive but to spare those around you.” So what can you do when you’re in a downward spiral? Here are some ideas:

Pinpoint the problem

The earlier you catch your bad mood, the easier it will be to do something about it. “We have to have early warning signals that tell us that our resilience is dwindling,” says McKee. She recommends pausing regularly to check your emotional state. “Perhaps you’re being snappy with people, you’re not smiling as much, or you have a headache,” she says. It’s also important to pinpoint and name what’s going on. It’s better to say, “I’m upset because I’m behind on an important project and traffic was terrible today,” rather than the over-simplified, “I feel awful,” McKee says. Having a concrete reason for your unhappiness gives you something to work on.

Take a moment to be grateful

One of the simplest ways to focus on the positive is to think about what you’re grateful for, whether it’s your job, your kids, or the clothes on your back. “There are neuroimaging studies that show it’s almost impossible to be in a depressed state and grateful at the same time,” explains Achor. McKee agrees that gratitude is “a powerful antidote to the urgent feeling of stress and lack of control.” So as soon as you start to feel negative, short circuit your mood by asking yourself, What are three good things that are going on right now? Consider saying them out loud or writing them down. This will help you get some perspective on the bad day. Sure, you may have had a fender bender or missed an appointment, but there are other, perhaps more important, things in your life that are going well.

Take action

Another way to stop yourself from “trending negative” is to “take a single concrete action,” Achor says. Send that email that you’ve been meaning to get to or make a phone call you’ve been dreading. Even choosing a healthier snack, a piece of fruit over a candy bar, can create a positive “mental avalanche” for the rest of the day. “Your brain records a victory,” Achor explains. The effect is even stronger if the action you take benefits someone else. You might be buried in your inbox, but if you take two minutes to send an email praising or thanking someone else, you’ll actually feel like you’ve gained time.

Change your routine

If you’re feeling miserable, don’t hunker down at your desk for the rest of the day. A change of scenery often helps signal to your brain that the current mood doesn’t need to be sustained. “Drive around, take a walk, or just go to a different floor. The key is to put yourself in a different physical location,” McKee advises. And once you’re there, take a few deep breaths. “If you’re heading for or already in an amygdala hijack, you have to do something to get control of your frontal lobe and breathing does that physiologically,” she explains.

You can also do something you enjoy, like listening to music or a podcast or catching up on news. Just be careful about the content you choose! A recent study by Achor in partnership with Arianna Huffington showed that just a few minutes of consuming negative news can cause a bad day. “Try to find a news outlet that focuses on solutions. Or at least create a different ratio. If you’re going to read a negative piece, read two positive ones as well, about medical breakthroughs or someone helping others,” says Achor.

Reset realistic expectations

“Expectations can have a huge impact on mood,” says Achor. “If I expect my flight to be canceled and it’s only three hours delayed, then I’m going to be thrilled. But if I expect it to be on time and then it’s delayed, then I’m going to be upset.” A lot of bad days start when you have unrealistic expectations about what you can accomplish. If your mood is deteriorating because it’s after lunch and you feel behind, don’t despair. “You can rewrite the narrative on the day,” he says. Highlight what progress you have made. “Write down two or three things you’ve already done. You woke up, you had breakfast with your kid, you drove to work, you even wrote a checklist. That way you’re starting at 25% progress.” And then make a list of “short, attainable goals” for the rest of the day.

Learn from your bad days to prevent future ones

When you do have bad days, it’s important to reflect on them before you put them behind you. By taking note of what went wrong—and then right—you can “learn what your triggers are so you stay away from those particular stimuli or at least know how you’re likely to react if you’re triggered,” McKee says. If you’ve tried the above strategies, make a note of what works for you and what doesn’t, and “be more precise in the future in how you turn things around.” And definitely pay attention when bad days pile up. Is there something bigger going on that you need to address? Is there some broader action you need to take? “We’re seeing a movement toward higher workloads and longer work hours and there’s lots of research that shows that when people work more than 55 hours a week, engagement and happiness levels plummet,” says Achor. Consider whether you need to fundamentally rethink the way you do your job or balance your work and family life.

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • •Think of three things that you’re grateful for
  • Consider what you’ve already accomplished even if it’s minor
  • Reflect on what triggers your bad days and which tactics help to turn them around

Don’t:

  • Believe that you are a victim of your circumstances—you choose whether to be negative or positive
  • Hunker down at your desk—change scenery and take a few deep breaths
  • Set unrealistic expectations for your day

Case study #1: Focus on opportunities not problems

Kate Hanley, a mindset coach and the author of A Year of Daily Calm, often helps her clients develop strategies to get out of their bad days. “People come to me because they’re feeling stuck and they’ve tried everything they know how to try,” she says.

She usually starts by asking them what triggered their negative mood. “I try to get them to pinpoint where it started to go bad,” she says. “Naming it can be really helpful.”

Then she advises her clients to “get curious” and ask a lot of questions about what is going on. Is this a one-time event or an ongoing trend? Have I felt like this before? What caused it last time? “We’ve evolved to scan for danger so once you’re in a bad mood, it can be hard to get out,” she says.

She also tries to get people to reframe problems as opportunities. If an important client meeting gets canceled, what can you do with that free hour? If a direct report doesn’t do a good job on a presentation, how can you help her learn from the situation?

Kate uses these same tactics when she’s having her own bad days. A few weeks back, she noticed she was in an awful mood around lunchtime and quickly identified the cause: two clients had canceled on her that morning. “I don’t like when my appointments get moved a lot because it screws up the rhythm of my day,” she says.

“My mind quickly made a trend out of it but I pulled back and asked myself, ‘Do clients cancel a lot or is it just today?’” With that perspective, she was able to think more positively. She also took a few moments to get out of the office and do something she enjoys—listen to music. “If you ever see me driving around in my car listening to classical, you know it’s been a crazy day.”

Case study #2: Remember it’s just one day

Darin Freitag, who manages residential and commercial projects at the general contractor RYAN Associates says that he can usually tell early on in a day when things are going wrong. “It starts when I receive a phone call from an angry client or I realize that an important project isn’t going to be done on time,” he says. Then “I’m distracted so I’m not thinking clearly and I make more mistakes, like speeding into work and getting a ticket or even backing my car into something.”

That’s when he takes a step back. “I tell myself, ‘OK, something’s going on here. I’m just not in a place where I’m going to win today.” To get himself back into the right frame of mind, his first step is to get some perspective. “I think about how this is just one day in the long haul of a career, or a project, or the business,” he explains.

He reminds himself that it’s normal to have a rough patch here and there and that he can’t solve every problem. “Like many people, I often have this grandiose idea that I’m so important that I can fix anything. But that’s just not true. And if I try to fix it all, it’s just going to get worse,” he says.

So he temporarily resets his expectations for the day. “Sometimes I need to lower my standards and be more realistic,” he says.

He remembers one day when he had to give a presentation. Not only did he feel unprepared but there were also technical problems with the projector. But instead of getting frustrated, he took a deep breath and told himself, “OK, this is not going to go as well as I hoped or planned.”

Over time, he’s learned that, while he can’t stop bad things from happening, he can control how he responds to them. “I know I’m going to be miserable until I change my perspective, or accept the situation,” he explains. “I can wallow for a while but it’s not fun and it just leads to depression. I eventually realize that I’m swimming upstream and that I need to stop swimming and just float. And then usually it doesn’t take long for the situation to change.”

By Amy Gallo from Harvard Business Review
https://hbr.org/2015/10/how-to-turn-a-bad-day-around

How to turn a bad day around

Let’s face it. Life can be full of frustrations—an argument with your teenager over breakfast, a missed train, or even just a spilled coffee can make you wish you could crawl back into bed. How can you change your mood when you’ve started your day off on the wrong foot? How do you stop annoyances from dragging you down and killing your productivity?

What the Experts Say

The good news is you can turn a bad day into a good one. “Happiness is a choice,” says Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage. Even when something objectively negative happens—your star employee gives notice or you’re late to an important meeting with the CEO—it’s important to focus on the positive things that are also happening. “Studies show that when you’re positive, you’re 31% more productive, you’re 40% more likely to receive a promotion, you have 23% fewer health-related effects from stress, and your creativity rates triple,” he explains. Discontent is also contagious, adds Annie McKee, founder of the Teleos Leadership Institute and coauthor of Primal Leadership. “Your negative emotions spread like wildfire,” she says. “It’s worth changing your mood, not just to make your day more pleasant and productive but to spare those around you.” So what can you do when you’re in a downward spiral? Here are some ideas:

Pinpoint the problem

The earlier you catch your bad mood, the easier it will be to do something about it. “We have to have early warning signals that tell us that our resilience is dwindling,” says McKee. She recommends pausing regularly to check your emotional state. “Perhaps you’re being snappy with people, you’re not smiling as much, or you have a headache,” she says. It’s also important to pinpoint and name what’s going on. It’s better to say, “I’m upset because I’m behind on an important project and traffic was terrible today,” rather than the over-simplified, “I feel awful,” McKee says. Having a concrete reason for your unhappiness gives you something to work on.

Take a moment to be grateful

One of the simplest ways to focus on the positive is to think about what you’re grateful for, whether it’s your job, your kids, or the clothes on your back. “There are neuroimaging studies that show it’s almost impossible to be in a depressed state and grateful at the same time,” explains Achor. McKee agrees that gratitude is “a powerful antidote to the urgent feeling of stress and lack of control.” So as soon as you start to feel negative, short circuit your mood by asking yourself, What are three good things that are going on right now? Consider saying them out loud or writing them down. This will help you get some perspective on the bad day. Sure, you may have had a fender bender or missed an appointment, but there are other, perhaps more important, things in your life that are going well.

Take action

Another way to stop yourself from “trending negative” is to “take a single concrete action,” Achor says. Send that email that you’ve been meaning to get to or make a phone call you’ve been dreading. Even choosing a healthier snack, a piece of fruit over a candy bar, can create a positive “mental avalanche” for the rest of the day. “Your brain records a victory,” Achor explains. The effect is even stronger if the action you take benefits someone else. You might be buried in your inbox, but if you take two minutes to send an email praising or thanking someone else, you’ll actually feel like you’ve gained time.

Change your routine

If you’re feeling miserable, don’t hunker down at your desk for the rest of the day. A change of scenery often helps signal to your brain that the current mood doesn’t need to be sustained. “Drive around, take a walk, or just go to a different floor. The key is to put yourself in a different physical location,” McKee advises. And once you’re there, take a few deep breaths. “If you’re heading for or already in an amygdala hijack, you have to do something to get control of your frontal lobe and breathing does that physiologically,” she explains.

You can also do something you enjoy, like listening to music or a podcast or catching up on news. Just be careful about the content you choose! A recent study by Achor in partnership with Arianna Huffington showed that just a few minutes of consuming negative news can cause a bad day. “Try to find a news outlet that focuses on solutions. Or at least create a different ratio. If you’re going to read a negative piece, read two positive ones as well, about medical breakthroughs or someone helping others,” says Achor.

Reset realistic expectations

“Expectations can have a huge impact on mood,” says Achor. “If I expect my flight to be canceled and it’s only three hours delayed, then I’m going to be thrilled. But if I expect it to be on time and then it’s delayed, then I’m going to be upset.” A lot of bad days start when you have unrealistic expectations about what you can accomplish. If your mood is deteriorating because it’s after lunch and you feel behind, don’t despair. “You can rewrite the narrative on the day,” he says. Highlight what progress you have made. “Write down two or three things you’ve already done. You woke up, you had breakfast with your kid, you drove to work, you even wrote a checklist. That way you’re starting at 25% progress.” And then make a list of “short, attainable goals” for the rest of the day.

Learn from your bad days to prevent future ones

When you do have bad days, it’s important to reflect on them before you put them behind you. By taking note of what went wrong—and then right—you can “learn what your triggers are so you stay away from those particular stimuli or at least know how you’re likely to react if you’re triggered,” McKee says. If you’ve tried the above strategies, make a note of what works for you and what doesn’t, and “be more precise in the future in how you turn things around.” And definitely pay attention when bad days pile up. Is there something bigger going on that you need to address? Is there some broader action you need to take? “We’re seeing a movement toward higher workloads and longer work hours and there’s lots of research that shows that when people work more than 55 hours a week, engagement and happiness levels plummet,” says Achor. Consider whether you need to fundamentally rethink the way you do your job or balance your work and family life.

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Think of three things that you’re grateful for
  • Consider what you’ve already accomplished even if it’s minor
  • Reflect on what triggers your bad days and which tactics help to turn them around

Don’t:

  • Believe that you are a victim of your circumstances—you choose whether to be negative or positive
  • Hunker down at your desk—change scenery and take a few deep breaths
  • Set unrealistic expectations for your day

Case study #1: Focus on opportunities not problems

Kate Hanley, a mindset coach and the author of A Year of Daily Calm, often helps her clients develop strategies to get out of their bad days. “People come to me because they’re feeling stuck and they’ve tried everything they know how to try,” she says.

She usually starts by asking them what triggered their negative mood. “I try to get them to pinpoint where it started to go bad,” she says. “Naming it can be really helpful.”

Then she advises her clients to “get curious” and ask a lot of questions about what is going on. Is this a one-time event or an ongoing trend? Have I felt like this before? What caused it last time? “We’ve evolved to scan for danger so once you’re in a bad mood, it can be hard to get out,” she says.

She also tries to get people to reframe problems as opportunities. If an important client meeting gets canceled, what can you do with that free hour? If a direct report doesn’t do a good job on a presentation, how can you help her learn from the situation?

Kate uses these same tactics when she’s having her own bad days. A few weeks back, she noticed she was in an awful mood around lunchtime and quickly identified the cause: two clients had canceled on her that morning. “I don’t like when my appointments get moved a lot because it screws up the rhythm of my day,” she says.

“My mind quickly made a trend out of it but I pulled back and asked myself, ‘Do clients cancel a lot or is it just today?’” With that perspective, she was able to think more positively. She also took a few moments to get out of the office and do something she enjoys—listen to music. “If you ever see me driving around in my car listening to classical, you know it’s been a crazy day.”

Case study #2: Remember it’s just one day

Darin Freitag, who manages residential and commercial projects at the general contractor RYAN Associates says that he can usually tell early on in a day when things are going wrong. “It starts when I receive a phone call from an angry client or I realize that an important project isn’t going to be done on time,” he says. Then “I’m distracted so I’m not thinking clearly and I make more mistakes, like speeding into work and getting a ticket or even backing my car into something.”

That’s when he takes a step back. “I tell myself, ‘OK, something’s going on here. I’m just not in a place where I’m going to win today.” To get himself back into the right frame of mind, his first step is to get some perspective. “I think about how this is just one day in the long haul of a career, or a project, or the business,” he explains.

He reminds himself that it’s normal to have a rough patch here and there and that he can’t solve every problem. “Like many people, I often have this grandiose idea that I’m so important that I can fix anything. But that’s just not true. And if I try to fix it all, it’s just going to get worse,” he says. So he temporarily resets his expectations for the day. “Sometimes I need to lower my standards and be more realistic,” he says.

He remembers one day when he had to give a presentation. Not only did he feel unprepared but there were also technical problems with the projector. But instead of getting frustrated, he took a deep breath and told himself, “OK, this is not going to go as well as I hoped or planned.”

Over time, he’s learned that, while he can’t stop bad things from happening, he can control how he responds to them. “I know I’m going to be miserable until I change my perspective, or accept the situation,” he explains. “I can wallow for a while but it’s not fun and it just leads to depression. I eventually realize that I’m swimming upstream and that I need to stop swimming and just float. And then usually it doesn’t take long for the situation to change.”

By Amy Gallo from Harvard Business Review
https://hbr.org/2015/10/how-to-turn-a-bad-day-around

Who made the list of 50 best places to work in Australia in 2020?

The 50 Best Places to Work Australia list has been released, which includes companies such as Canva and Salesforce.

The list was chosen by global workplace research and consulting firm, Great Place to Work. It was done between September 2019 and June 2020 – including when COVID hit – and took into account more than 39,000 Aussie based workers across 124 companies.

Each company in the study for the best places to work list earns a score based on two main factors. The majority (two-thirds) is based on employee responses to a survey, while the remaining one-third comes from Great Place to Work’s evaluation of company procedures and policies.

The list looked at companies with over 1000 workers, between 100-999 workers and under 100 workers.

“Through the 2020 Best Places to Work study process, we have had the opportunity to observe how businesses inspire, invent, and innovate as they introduced new initiatives whilst navigating through this changing landscape,” the report said.

“The 2020 Best Places to Work sprang into action early on by leading and demonstrating care for their employees by being supportive, communicative, and flexible through this time of uncertainty with clarity and confidence.”

Here are 20 companies that made it onto the list and what they did during the coronavirus pandemic:

Over 1,000 workers:

Cisco Systems Australia

During the pandemic, the company unveiled a ‘Your Response to COVID-19’ campaign asking employees to suggest ways they could take action to help their teams, customers and community.

Salesforce

The company launched a B-Well Together half-hour series with tips and resources from wellbeing experts that employees and their families could use. It became so popular, Salesforce decided to make it available to customers and communities as well.

SAP Australia

SAP released a remote ‘pulse check’ for employees to share how they were feeling and what management could do to support them. The company also launched health and wellbeing resources such as mindfulness sessions and virtual yoga.

Mars Australia

The consumer goods company launched a ‘Be Well’ program to help workers become emotionally resilient, mentally focused and physically energised.

DHL Express

Transport and logistics company DHL held virtual team building events and even sent out care packs to those working from home.

Between 100 and 999 workers:

Interactive

IT services provider Interactive implemented new ways to connect with workers during the pandemic, by using social channels and collaboration tools.

AbbVie

Biotechnology company AbbVie reviewed its internal communication plan during COVID and launched a daily bulletin that kept workers informed about any updates.

Canva

Design giant Canva created a ‘Keeping the Vibe Alive’ website with resources that helped reinforce staff camaraderie while they work remotely. The company also launched more Slack channels with work-from-home tips and tricks and how-tos.

SafetyCulture

During the pandemic, SafetyCulture launched measures to keep workers mentally and physically healthy such as access to online fitness videos and launching a mental fitness app.

BPAY Group

Amid the pandemic, BPAY’s CEO Blog rolled out weekly instead of fortnightly to keep workers updated on the business, how he is feeling personally and share his thoughts on a range of topics. It’s also a way for workers to connect and speak with him.

Insight

IT company Insight worked with its employees during the pandemic to make sure they had the right tools and systems when working from home. It also provided workers with chairs and monitors where needed.

OMD Australia

Media and Communications agency OMD created a weekly newsletter during COVID which was about promoting health and wellbeing while in isolation.

Nintex

Software business Nintex rolled out a range of initiatives during the pandemic, including a COVID Committee, company updates though Slack, virtual meetings and a webpage with local information about the coronavirus.

Mantel Group

Mantel introduced a weekly Q&A live forum where they discussed business updates, health and safety and accepted questions from employees.

Stryker

During the pandemic, medical technology company Stryker rolled out a redeployment plan which included internal and external secondments (temporarily transferring a worker to another position) and developing a ‘Stryk-tasker’ role for one-off projects.

Intuit Australia

When the pandemic struck, Intuit decided to close its Sydney office and allow remote work. Information about working from home was put up on an internal microsite to guide employees.

Kronos

Kronos rolled out a ‘Working Virtually’ microsite to support staff as they work through the pandemic.

Adobe

During the pandemic, Adobe offered a flexible schedule to workers. It also released a “Time Off” benefit, which provides up to 20 working days off for the rest of the year for employees who can’t work because of a COVID-related issue.

Envato

During the pandemic, Envato provided two weeks extra paid leave for workers who were unwell or caring for an immediate member of the family.

Service Now

The company developed a virtual ‘global village’ to help parents with home-schooling. This included virtual story reading sessions and access to high school maths tutorials.

Starlight Children’s Foundation

The organisation created a program where workers could donate their annual leave toward a ‘hardship fund’. The fund would in turn be used by Starlight to pay casual workers who had reduced or no shifts.

Other companies that made it onto the list include digital bank UBank, comparison site Finder, eBay Australia and the Green Building Council of Australia.

Top Tips on different tactics business leaders employ to get stuff done effectively

Amantha Imber, founder of innovation consultancy company Inventium, told Business Insider Australia she began the podcast “How I Work”, after hearing her clients say they don’t have enough time to focus on innovation.

“I was looking around at people that I thought were really successful and great innovators,” she said, “And I thought, well, they’ve got the same number of hours in the day – so what are they doing differently?” With plenty of interviews under her belt, Imber shared some of the biggest tips she learned:

“Batching” meetings for better productivity

Imber’s first interview was with Wharton psychology professor and New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant. There were two main tips which stuck out to her from that interview.

The first was that Grant “batches” all his meetings, meaning he does them back to back. It came from research from Ohio State University which found that productivity decreases by 22% if you know you have an upcoming meeting.

Another tip Imber picked up was that when Grant finishes work for the day, he will finish half-way through a certain task. “That way, when he starts the next day, it’s super easy for him to pick back up because he’s already halfway through it,” she explained.

Using clothes as a communication tool

When Imber interviewed former Pinterest president Tim Kendall, she said he talked about using clothes as a communication channel.

“When he was at Pinterest, one of the focus areas strategically was about just focusing … on doing a small amount of things really well,” she said. And so Kendall had several different t-shirts that said ‘focus’ which he would wear.

“He literally wore that all year,” Imber said.

Changing your password when you’re on holiday

Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of junk removal company 1800 Got Junk, told Imber he would get his assistant to change the passwords to his email and social media accounts when he goes on holidays. In doing so, he ensured he isn’t “lured” to answer them.

Small changes create big differences

Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress, discussed how small hacks or changes can help you develop good behaviours. He described to Imber a little hack that would encourage him to read, right on his bedside table. “He finds if he puts the Kindle on top of the phone, he’ll be more likely to read it,” Imber said.

Read your work out loud

Author Daniel Pink explained how he reads his work out loud during the editing process to see if the sentences flow. “He will…read or have someone read his books – the whole book, end to end – out loud,” she said.

A podcast that can “improve people’s lives for the better” Imber explained that from every interview, there would be at least one thing she would try out when it comes how to she works. She also said she gets people writing to her saying it has changed the way they approach work too.

“I just want my podcast to continue to have that impact and improve people’s lives for the better,” she said. “For me, that makes it an intensely rewarding project.”

And her dream interviewee? Playwright, composer and actor Lin Manuel Miranda.

The Benefits of Recognising Your Team Success & The 3 Rules of Celebration

Have you, as a team, raised a glass to last month’s successful efforts? Don’t forget to celebrate you and your team’s success for the sake of improvement in team spirit and performance. There are several reasons why you should be recognizing team success if you aren’t doing so already. But first things first, what is success? Have you, as a team, raised a glass to last month’s successful efforts? Don’t forget to celebrate you and your team’s success for the sake of improvement in team spirit and performance. There are several reasons why you should be recognizing team success if you aren’t doing so already. But first things first, what is success?

How do you define success for you and your team? Is success making $50,000 in revenue in the previous month? Or is it a 60% year-on-year growth in terms of sales? Or is it winning an industry award? These benchmarks could be identifiers of success, however, success does not always have to be something that involves money or a long-term effort.

You should celebrate success whenever you achieve a goal. Short term objectives count. Personal efforts also count when the achievement contributes to the team’s common goals. Basically, everything that gets done and contributes to the mission of the team, is a team success.

For example, one of your customer support staffers goes an extra mile to satisfy a client. The client leaves a positive feedback regarding her service. You should definitely acknowledge her efforts and at the same time, you should encourage her to share her story with the rest of the team. Success sharing and celebration are both important. Both are extremely beneficial for team performance and should not be taken lightly.

Why should teammates share success stories?

Success stories can be very helpful. They are the practical tips others can adapt in order to solve similar problems. For example, a member of your customer support team gains an exceptionally high level of customer satisfaction because she works out an ideal flow to deal with inquiries and follow up with customers. Others can learn from such a workflow. Encourage her to share the best practices to benefit the whole team’s performance.

Besides, success stories are a great source of inspiration for others to excel. Think about why you read biographies of successful people in various fields from politics to arts. Not all the tips you come across are applicable to your personal and professional life, however, you are inspired by their strong will to excel at what they do and their passion to make a difference. Such aspiration is likely to affect you more if it comes from people you know and whose work you value.

Sharing stories helps strengthen your team as they become more and more familiar with one another. For example, your manager knows which skills your sales agent excels at and what inspires her. She will find out the best way to work with her in the future. As an owner/manager, you will also find it much nicer to supervise a close-knit team.

Why should everyone recognize everyone else’s success?

Recognizing success is very powerful. Peer recognition brings fulfilment because it reinforces the meaning of one’s hard work. When you show your respect to one’s achievement, you are likely to boost his or her self-esteem, which is the second highest need of a person according to Maslow’s hierarchy.

Moreover, a manager can motivate an employee a great deal by showing gratitude and appreciation towards his or her accomplishments. This motivation will make it more likely for the employee to work harder and be inspired to contribute more and more to the team. Mutual respect creates a stronger relationship between team members and increases the level of loyalty.Recognizing both individual and team achievement helps build a sense of solidarity and identity for the whole team.

How to share and celebrate success

The story

Sharing success is like telling a story. You want to tell a good story that has an impact. You want to help and inspire people to achieve their own goals. Here are some tips for a good story.

Focus on useful content 

You want your audience to take home practical tips. Think of the exact step-by-step process that you have taken to achieve a goal. Share these steps as a tool to solve a similar problem.

Be inspirational and authentic.

You want to inspire your audience to gain something for themselves. Think back to the obstacles, especially mental blocks, and how you overcame them. A story that talks to one’s feelings tends to have a stronger impact in the process of being remembered.

The celebration

As manager, you should take time to celebrate employee achievement. Show them that you do not take their hard work for granted. Besides, it is helpful to create an environment where teammates can easily recognize and celebrate each other’s success. Here are some tips for you, as manager, to make a positive impact with recognizing employee achievement.

Do it soon  

One rule for recognition is the earlier, the better. As a manager, you should always know what is going on in your team. If your employees do something great, you should be the first to notice and congratulate them. Give them a handshake or high five as soon as you can. An official congratulations or a bonus can come later, but there is no reason why you should wait to say thanks to an employee for his or her hard work.

Make it public

A public recognition is much more impactful than a private one. You don’t have to put up a stage with flowers and stereo sound system every time, but a compliment in public is far better at boosting one’s esteem than one sent via an email or even 1-on-1. A celebration only feels like a real one with a crowd. That is why we gather for fireworks to celebrate a new year or a national holiday. As manager, you could hold weekly meetings (e.g.15 minutes of heroism) to make success acknowledgement official and public.

Add a bonus or a token gift 

A high-five or a handwritten thank-you note is great but more is in order in many cases. Rewards and hard work often go together. Depending on the level of achievement, a certain form of reward is due.

Rewarding your employees is important, but you should learn to do it appropriately and perhaps in a creative and authentic way.

Rewards can come in all shapes and sizes, and can involve cash or non-monetary rewards. Traditional rewards often include a monetary bonus or a pay raise. Inarguably, most would be happy and motivated with a bigger pay check, however, there are rewards that can be just as effective that will cost the company far less. To name a few ideas:

• A day-off pass to use for extra time off or flexible hours
• A nice, long lunch to celebrate the achievement together
• A voucher from a fine restaurant in town
• A massage gift card
• A one year Spotify subscription

Do you have some good ideas? The key is to link a reward to the employee and his or her accomplishment. For example, a junior salesperson reaches a milestone of the first $10,000. A pen holder made out of the number 10,000 to be put on his desk would be a nice gift because it will remind him of his achievement every day. Go an extra mile to find out what your employees like, what their hobbies are, and what they are passionate about. For example, if an employee likes reading, a book signed by his or her favourite author could make a great gift. Personalizing rewards shows that you not only care, but will go the extra mile to make sure your employees feel recognized.

In brief

Building a great team is a challenging job. You should take pride in your team’s success by taking the time and effort to celebrate it. Whenever you achieve a goal, acknowledge your appreciation in a timely and public manner. In addition, don’t forget to give a reward or a token gift. Recognize employee achievement and you will reap the rewards from their motivation and loyalty.

 

Source https://blog.impraise.com/360-feedback/the-benefits-of-recognizing-your-team-success-and-the-3-rules-of-celebration-360-review

Managing Change – Three Ways To Manage Change In Your Business

Any business that is serious about innovation and growth will have to master the ability to manage change because innovation will always lead to change. Before we get into the five points of the article, it’s important to provide a little context regarding change management in business and why it is such a huge area for improvement.

A PwC Report in 2013 from the Katzenbach Center with over 2,200 participants from various levels of business highlighted that the global success rate of major change initiatives is only 54% and 65% of employees feel pressured to adapt to too many changes at once. Already we can see that managing change is a difficult process as just over half succeed and more than half of employees feel pressured by change. Furthermore 48% of respondents stated that their company’s lacked the skills to ensure that change could be sustained. While an astounding 44% of survey participants reported to not understanding the changes they were expected to make. With these seemingly damning results the conclusion from the report was that any change management process should focus on being culturally driven from the top down and should be characterised by open communication and clear purpose.

With this information in mind here are three ways to improve your ability to manage change successfully in your business.

1. Drive Change Through Culture

In the Katzenbach Center report it was outlined that 84% of respondents believed that an organisation’s culture was vital to the success of the managing change. What this points to is that it is vital when aiming to make any long term changes within your business to consider the culture of your organisation and to understand that any significant change will be affected by the culture. With that being said a great way to try to drive change with your culture is by getting your employees excited about the changes by outlining their personal opportunities for development and growth during the process. Nothing motivates people more than showing them the personal benefit in what they are doing.

Another approach that could be used is to create a ‘Cultural Change Board’ to help drive change. This board would be made up of key individuals within your business who hold influential positions and importance to the culture of the company. While the owner or director and managers may be driving the strategic implementation of the change, this board would help get the rest of the employees on board. An example of individuals that might be a part of this group could be an individual who has great personal relationships across the whole business; this individual could be asked to get the others excited about the transformation by talking about its benefits. Another individual might be a long term employee who can add some perspective on how the employees and business are going with the transformation to the executive and managers. Another individual might be a young, innovative manager who is typically known as an ‘ideas’ individual. All three members of your ‘Cultural Change Board’ should liaise with management to convey the opinions and feelings about the process transformation. This technique not only opens up a strong line of communication between the staff and management but also helps to more firmly connect the change to the culture, as other employees will see these influential staff members as willing participants. If you can successfully use your businesses culture to drive the changes you want to implement your chances of success and long term adoption increase significantly.

 2Role Modelling From The Top Down

This step of the change management process seems to be very simple but its value cannot be overestimated. It is imperative that from day one of the transformation process that the desired process changes are integrated into the daily processes of all relevant employees. This goes from the most junior floor staff all the way through to the director or board members.

Role Modelling of the new processes in manager and staff daily routines has a twofold effect. Firstly employees that see their leaders undertaking the process changes will feel inclined to participate themselves. Seeing your manager or director undertaking the proposed changes creates a personal accountability for the changes in each employee. The second effect is that employees that see others undertaking the new changes in their daily routines will have a support network to draw upon. If individuals are unsure of how to execute the process or change they need only look at their neighbour and mimic their execution.

Obviously this point is very self-explanatory but the impact of not holistically carrying out the changes across all levels of the business cannot be overstated. A lack of consistent engagement with the changes will kill the transformation very quickly.

3. Fully Engaging With Change

Engagement with the proposed changes goes beyond simply telling employees to undertake the process changes or modelling them yourself. Engaging with change is a process that is enriched by structured communication. Some businesses when undertaking significant change will hold large ‘Town Hall’ style meetings. At these meetings employees from all levels of the company are invited to discuss how the changes would impact them.

Another method of opening up communication and increasing engagement would be to host IC (Innovation and Change) Meetings where a smaller numbers of employees would meet with their direct managers and discuss how the changes impact them, how they (changes) will help them and talk about how they will go about implementing the changes. These smaller meetings are great opportunities for management to get a feel for how their employees are dealing with the changes and to get a macro view of the transformation process.

A fantastic idea for managing change that was used by a global publishing house was hosting an Internal Change Fair. This fair basically brought together all the various departments and management teams to produce a short presentation or display that highlighted how the changes were being introduced and managed going forward. It provides a great way for individual departments to showcase innovative thinking and for driving change by making it slightly competitive amongst employees.

Change management is vital to any evolving small-medium enterprise; never forget that change starts at the top and that most people struggle with it. The role of the manager is to facilitate the easiest pathway for their employees to adapt.

Innovation In The SME Environment: Success As A Workplace Culture And Hurdles To Innovation

Rather than being ‘nice to have’, innovation should be a vital element in the way SMEs conduct business, collaborate and deliver to their customers.”
Joined-Up Innovation: Culturing Success, p. 3; Pip Marlow (Managing Director – Microsoft Australia).

Part 1 – Barriers To Innovation For Laggard and Cruiser Companies
Just as Pip Marlow stated in the research paper preamble we at Resurg firmly believe that innovation should be at the heart of business practice. This is part of the reason that we strive to offer our clients services that will innovate their business practices and provide tangible results. We do this by offering our business coaching and work groups services that offer business owners opportunities to discuss and implement best practice and innovation with the help of experts and their peers. On top of this we also aim to arm business owners with the data and information they need to drive change and improvement in their business through our benchmarking and dash boarding services. That being said enough about us; lets talk about how workplace culture and purposeful strategic decisions can encourage and discourage innovation and growth.

In the Joined-Up Innovation: Culturing Success research paper Microsoft surveyed and interviewed over 500 SMEs and their employees. This research made them categorise 33% percent of the sample as Leaders in innovation, 43% percent as Cruisers and 24% as Laggards. These numbers while just a small sample of the Australian SME environment highlight a surprising fact, innovation is actively pursued in 76% of companies interviewed. What this means is that just wanting to innovate and having an idea or two isn’t setting you above the curve, in fact it makes companies just average. So if that is the case let’s talk about the differences between Leaders, Cruisers and Laggards as Microsoft characterises them and how they can transition between those categories.

The Laggards
Microsoft characterised a Laggard as any company that had little to no desire for innovation. These companies may be profitable and they may even have a modicum of success which gives them little perceived incentive for innovating. That being said three common factors holding the laggards back were:

  • A lack of trust between employees and leadership,
  • Business structures that are linear and traditional
  • A sense of apathy.

To begin with let’s talk about the Laggard’s lack of trust. This element is primarily to do with organisations not trusting their employees expertise and as a result not allowing them to think creatively and critically to find new solutions for fear of failure or detrimental impact. Not allowing employees time or resources to explore ‘out of the box’ solutions diminishes their self perceived value in the workplace and makes the culture of the organisation potentially one of blame sharing. What this means is that when something goes wrong (And they will when innovating!) people produce excuses out of fear rather than taking ownership and creating solutions. This lack of trust can only truly be combated by fostering an open and communicative workplace where experimentation is encouraged and where all ideas are considered and valued. A method to encourage this failure free and open environment could range from providing an employee ‘suggestion box’ to holding team or company meetings where problems and goals are discussed.

The second issue regarding linear and traditional business structures is really about companies failing to allocate resources for innovation.  What this usually looks like in companies is that budgetary funds and personnel are often given to those individuals or departments that are purely assessed on KPIs. Often these business structures will have a very top down organisation where upper management dictates methods and means for staff to fulfil their jobs, diminishing their expertise. It is often the case that these traditional structures mean that money and resources are often dedicated to purely short term benefits (current deliverables) and not to providing or improving long term benefits (future deliverables). This cultural and structural issue links directly into the last barrier to innovation within Laggard organisations which is a deep residing sense of apathy. Two methods of fighting this particular barrier is to experiment with flat and more transparent management structures, where there are high levels of communication between leadership and staff. The second method that might work is simply creating a metric or policy where small amounts of time are dedicated to innovation or self reflective job journaling. Many large and highly successful multinationals especially within the technology sector now provide employees with up to or more than an hour a day of time to work on personal projects they think might benefit the long term goals of the company. One such company that employs this non traditional business structure is Google, a company that does not suffer from apathy for innovation, that is for certain.

It is the apathy for innovation which can be most difficult to remove from a Laggard company. This is for the simple fact that it requires not only changing employee’s mindset in regards to their roles but also changing the psychology of the leaders of the company. The apathy is created when the leadership of the company and its staff see no reasonable incentive to innovate (profit or reward) and they only perceive potential negatives at attempting to innovate (fear of failure and loss of resources). This barrier would be most aptly described as the “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” barrier. Companies that operate with ‘relative’ success or profitability, control a niche market or demographic or are simply small will often suffer from this mindset. In fact it was found in regards to company size that from the paper only 35% of businesses with up to four staff conducted innovative activities in comparison to 63% of companies with 20-199 employees. These relatively successful, niche and smaller companies are missing out on potential revenue by not looking to grow and improve their services. While apathy is difficult to cure especially if the ambition isn’t there it can be diminished by simple things such as incentive programs to reward innovation.

The above summarises the major barriers to innovation for companies that have little to no interest in innovation based off Microsoft’s research, which was a minority. The largest group in the study the Cruisers face interesting challenges in their own right.

The Cruisers
While the issues of the Laggards may seem difficult even ‘successful’ innovators are faced with issues, in particular the issue of delivery.  The Cruiser companies were characterised as having significant interest in innovative practices and may even have significant plans or ideas for the business underway but struggle to execute those plans (For the phases of development for working on an innovation project read this article). The reasons that the Cruiser’s innovation and changes often fell apart were broken down into three specific issues, which were:

  • Issues with the delivery pipeline
  • A frightened workplace culture
  • A lack of transparency and stability for employees

The first barrier regarding issues with the innovation delivery pipeline was characterised as often being due to the lack of resources and commitment. To use an old adage, the Cruisers very rarely gave it “110%”. Companies that were branded as Cruiser’s often showed an unwillingness to divert resources and expertise from regular workloads and projects. They did this often because they saw only the maintaining and growing of their traditional incomes as the priority for their business models. Inextricably tied to this particular issue is the second issue regarding a frightened workplace culture. This is twofold in that it pertains not only to employees being afraid of making mistakes on potentially costly innovative undertakings but it also relates to leadership being afraid to potentially sacrifice staff and income for “potential” long term gains from ‘risky’ innovative activities.  Companies that do not surmount this one-two punch of unwillingness to commit and being afraid of failing are often eventually relegated to being Laggards, as each successive failure or budgetary blowout for a new project is seen as evidence for the failure of innovation rather than a price of being cutting edge. This then slowly but surely entrenches the “let’s stick with what we know” mentality which eventually coalesces into a deep abiding sense of apathy.

At the end of the day an unwillingness to commit and a fear of failure on a companywide level can only be combated by two things; courage and planning. Any successful innovation project will only occur if it is planned, evaluated and implemented at a high level in a holistic and macro level. As to the courage part of the solution the answer is both simple and terrifying, as Winston Churchill the famous British politician said “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is courage to continue that counts”.

The final barrier to innovation within Cruiser organisations from the research report is both a structural issue and a cultural issue. Employees who lack an understanding of how their roles fit into the overall strategic mission of the company or project will not feel a sense of purpose or assurance of job security. By communicating to staff the objective of any innovative undertaking and creating a clear picture for staff that they are vital in that undertaking companies are opening up a number of positive opportunities. Firstly they are confirming for staff that they are necessary and valued team members whose work has greater meaning to the company other than immediate deliverables. Secondly they are providing employees with the ability to not just look at their tasks in a micro and isolated manner, they are allowing them to look at the whole problem and potentially use their prior knowledge and expertise to solve the much larger problem or objective. Indeed some of the greatest innovations can come from employees being given greater understanding of a company’s strategic plan and allowing them the job security to explore solutions to problems without the threat of being fired or reprimanded for it. One example of this in the business world would be Google’s recent development of an interface that allows users to determine if their house is a good candidate for solar panels. This was a side project by a engineer who saw that Google wanted to expand their environmental engineering contributions and used his knowledge of their mapping technology to make this possible.

So now that you know what the Laggards and Cruisers within the domain of innovation look like, let’s have a look at the Leaders. In the next part of the article we will be briefly outlining some of the strategies used by those who Microsoft characterised as Leader’s of innovation.

Part 2 – The Leader’s of Innovation

So far we have talked about two of the major categorising groups presented in Microsoft’s research into innovation; these were the Cruisers and the Laggards. From now on the article will be focusing upon talking about what makes the business practices and workplace culture of the top innovators (Leaders) so successful. The Leader’s in the research paper were characterised as being companies who are actively innovating within “dynamic and open workplace cultures” (p. 7). The paper further characterises Leaders as those who have an awareness of the need to innovate, a drive to innovate for the betterment of their customer outcomes not just their profits and those who have the internal structures and resources to effectively collect and deliver on ideas from staff and customers. With that brief explanation out of the way bear with us as we explore the often nebulous and tricky world of navigating and managing and implementing workplace culture and strategies to foster success and innovation.

Whenever any business writer or consultant is looking to talk about workplace culture there are always a number of reactions these range from boredom to confusion or frustration. All of these myriad of reactions are due to the fact that workplace culture is one of the most integral factors to a business’s success and it is also one of the hardest to manage and change. Now rather than begin with a rather wordy and over complicated explanation of what an innovative workplace culture should look like, I’m just going to present some deceptively simple dot points and then discuss them. So without further ado here are just seven of the most vital elements to a workplace culture as displayed and reported by Leader’s within the SME environment in regards to encouraging success and innovation:

A SME that is characterised as a Leader of innovation will possess a culture that is/has:
1) Non traditional leadership and communication hierarchies

2) Open communication pathways

3) No fear of failure

4) Flexible work agreements and conditions

5) A business vision that is clear to employees

6) A clear innovation project planning pipeline from start to delivery

7) Employing creative and team friendly staff

All of these elements are integral to fostering a work culture which will maximise a company’s ability to safely and successfully innovate their business practices and as a result improve outcomes for themselves and customers. With that being said some of those strategies are exceptionally broad and business owners may find it confronting when planning how to enact those changes in their businesses. With that in mind the next section will now be seven dot points which will provide one suggestion for fostering that change in your business. Some of them may seem simple or even familiar  as they may have already been discussed earlier in the article or in previous articles here.

1) Flat management structures or micro structures where the staff roundtable ideas and planning with leadership. This is an innovative structure popular with smaller companies as it reduces middle management and facilitates more efficient and healthier communication with staff to those that dictate company strategy.

2) Daily or weekly micro meetings discussing objectives, goals and problems; these meetings should be upon supporting collaborative problem solving. These meetings should also be held relatively informally to foster a safe and relaxed environment to brainstorm and problem solve within. Lastly and most importantly staff should feel free to express ideas as there is no such thing as a bad idea as one of my old university lecturers was fond of saying.

3) Always start any brainstorm or problem solving meeting yourself with an idea or a question for the other members. This will engage them and show yourself as an active participant rather than a judge. It is also important to use the time tested positive-negative-positive system when providing feedback for ideas. This method will diminish the self esteem hit staff will take if an idea is off target or disruptive. It is also important to not shut down that member if possible but offer them a means to save face by posing your improved suggestion or redirect as a question that is seeking their opinion.

E.g. “Your idea for improving sales speed is great because it….But it doesn’t really take into account “X”…That being said perhaps we could move from that and look into “Y” to improve the process?,  What do you think?”

While this may seem like a lot of work the value of having staff who aren’t afraid to share their ideas cannot be underestimated.

4) Allow staff to telecommute or work at flexible hours if appropriate. For example letting employees telecommute or allowing early leave on some days for appropriate reasons can be an easy way to foster positive relationships and to motivate employees to work at optimal levels, just make sure you monitor their performance as normal.

5) Include staff of all levels in your broad strategic planning and objectives outlining, obviously they don’t need to know everything but breaking down what’s pertinent for your staff will help them identify their wider role in the company and potentially boost productivity by granting clear meaning to their work.

6) See this article

7) Aim to have a diverse workforce. Injecting some young staff fresh from high school or university while initially presents a training cost due to their inexperience it can lead to real gains from their technological knowhow and fresh perspective.

To read the original Microsoft Joined-Up Innovation: Culturing Success report go to: https://www.microsoft.com/enterprise/en-au/business-leaders/joined-up-innovation/articles/read-the-report.aspx#fbid=4OWOw9AnO-q