Archive Monthly Archives: July 2020

Leading Change – How to support your team when they are worried about their jobs

Leading Change - How to support your team when they are worried about their jobs

Right now, many of the people you work with are worried about their jobs - are they going to have to start going back into the office, how safe will it be to travel to get there, how safe will they be when they get there, how secure is their job anyway? For others, their concerns will be around what happens at the end of the furlough scheme, or maybe they are worried about contact with the public or what happens if there is a second wave of the pandemic. As well as worrying about themselves they may be worried about their friends in the organization and the future of the business too.

And as leaders, we know how that feels since we are feeling it too - and it leaves us wondering how best to support our teams through this uncertainty. And yes, if it's your business you are feeling all of this too, regardless of the size of their business.

So are you ready?  It's time to get curious and make some choices about how you can lead and support your team when they are worried about their jobs.

What's In It For Me?

If you have ever led a team through change you will know that as changes are announced, even small ones, people's first reaction is to ask, sometimes out loud, sometimes not, What's in it for me?

Naturally, people will look at the changes from this perspective. Then let's add in our inherent negativity bias, the natural fight or flight reaction and our immense capacity to catastrophise, develop scenarios that don't end well, and which are based on so many assumptions most of which defy logic. It's no wonder that when it comes to our work when we tell our teams about changes they will assume the worst and at best feel a bit unsettled.

And this all happens as people process change and do check out Episode 2, How We Experience And Process Change, if you want to know more about that. As people move out of the ice-cream brain phase of change, where the initial panic feels like it does when you eat ice cream and your brain literally freezes, everything hurts and you are just trying to remember to breathe, the uncertainty and vulnerability creep in. As leaders, we need to manage that.

In the current climate with talk of a four or five-year recession and double-digit unemployment, and here in the UK with the government's furlough support coming to an end, as we work out what the future looks like for our organisations, people are naturally worried about their jobs and their future. Mainstream media is doing nothing to calm those fears!

How should I approach supporting my team when they are worried about their jobs?

So what can you, as a leader, do to support your team when they are feeling vulnerable and unsettled because they are worried about their jobs and how they can come back to work safely?

Well first up is acknowledge to yourself that this is happening.

You could choose to ignore what is going on for your team members and hope it just goes away, but this 'avoid and abdicate' strategy is not going to help anyone and will almost certainly make the situation worse. A much better choice would be to approach the situation with curiosity and compassion. There are a lot of very human emotions at play here and this combination will enable you to step into your role as a leader and work with what is happening rather than against it.

And that links to the second thing you will find it helpful to keep in mind. You have built great relationships with your team, and you may well even consider them friends or at least work friends. And yes, when people are feeling vulnerable and uncertain about their jobs and needing to feel safe they need their friends, but they also need their leader, their manager to step up and lead. Remembering that they all have other friends and you are their only leader through this will help you give them the support they really need and the support you are uniquely placed to give.

So now you are approaching it as a leader who is curious and compassionate what comes next?

Listen to Understand

When we are feeling this way we need to know people understand, so listening to what people are saying, and not saying, and then acknowledging how they are feeling will help you to show your team that you do understand what they are going through and what concerns them.

Interestingly this is a conversation many leaders seem reluctant to have and when I've talked to clients about why that is they usually worried about one of two things - making the situation feel worse for people or because they know what they have to say is bad news. You know your team, they are bright people and that's why they work for you.

Not acknowledging the concerns they have means they get bigger and bigger in people's heads and before you know it that feeling of vulnerability has become full on fear. The fear will expand to fill the vacuum left by your silence.

Listening and acknowledging people's concerns won't shrink the concerns by itself but it will stop them from growing out of proportion. If you are going to do all you can to ensure their long term future you need to keep the fear at bay so they can stay productive and engaged in their roles.

Having the conversations when you know the subject is hard and you don’t have all the answers takes courage, as leaders we often think we need to provide answers all the time - isn’t that why we are the leader?  Nope!  We need to be able to get beyond that belief so we don’t find ourselves paralyzed by the situations where we don’t know the answers. And when we do we create the space in our minds to get really curious, to find out what people are thinking and find out more about the situation. This, in turn, allows us to approach those conversations and help people feel understood and to find better ways to navigate situations and make decisions where we don’t have the answer.

In these kinds of circumstances, it's time to practice curiosity as a way to have great conversations. Ask great open questions which don’t suggest a particular answer and then listen, really listen and show then that you understand their concerns. During your conversations see what you can find out about the person, what is causing them to feel the way they do, what are they worried about happening? What do they need to know to make them feel better?

Challenge assumptions but don't judge

It may be tempting to judge their concerns and think they are stupid or irrelevant - but remember to the person they are talking to they are very real and very valid. When you show any judgement in a situation like this you damage the trust that someone has in you and you make it less and less likely that they will talk openly to you about things in the future, making it harder and harder to support them.

What you can do however is to challenge their assumptions. Asking them to tell you how they came to the conclusions they came to can result in some wonderfully rich conversations where you learn a lot about how they see the current situation. Again be sure not to judge what they are saying, and certainly don't tell them they are adding two plus two and getting six, you'll know from being on the receiving end of that kind of comment, that it's a sure way to close down the conversation and leave them feeling even worse. But you can give them any extra information you have, and share your perspective to help them see where their assumptions may not be valid.

Don't try to reassure people by over promising

It can also be very tempting to provide reassurances and answers that may make the person feel better but which either you don’t know to be true and which may not be grounded in the situation.

Make sure you are not implying that you can do something or deliver something you cant. It’s much easier to tell someone their job is safe than it is to acknowledge the possibility that it might not be. I’ve seen people do this for all the right reasons but if they later have to have the conversation about someone’s job being at risk that gets even more difficult since it will feel like you are going against your word and on top of the chaos that this conversation inevitably brings you are dealing with someone who is also thinking and probably saying ‘but you said’ This damages the relationship and makes it harder for the individual to process the changes that being put at risk of redundancy bring.

Obviously share what you do know with people when you are having these conversations. Share what you do know about the companies policies and what they are doing to create Covid safe workspaces, listen to the questions people have and if you need to ask them of the people putting the measures in place. Then, be clear about what you don’t know and what the situation really is.

Being honest and clear like this will build the relationship and allow you to work through the concerns that someone has

How much empathy should I show?

During these conversations, you need to show empathy for the other person and what they are going through- the chances are this is going to be easy as you are probably feeling some of the same concerns. And it’s OK to demonstrate your understanding by sharing your take on those concerns - but be make sure the conversation doesn’t become all about you and what’s going on for you - that’s not what you are going for here! We all have that one friend who asks you a question because they want to give you their answer, so you know how bad it feels especially when you are feeling stressed anyway.

When you overstep empathy and make the conversation about yourself you are also making it harder to keep listening to understand the other person’s perspective. There is a balance to be found here between showing empathy and understanding and being distracted by your own thoughts.

And when you do find that balance you will be in a position to help your team identify what is really important to them. Cutting through this fog of concern and identifying what is important about their working world, what they need from a job and knowing what success looks like for them, will allow them to find it what ever the future of their role. It will help you manage them for as long as they are in your team and should their fears about their role turn out to be true it will also allow them to know what they are looking for in the future.

Get the support you need too

And finally, you remember when we used to fly there was a safety briefing and we were told to put our oxygen masks in first? That rule applies here too - to support your team when that are concerned about their jobs you need to be taking care of yourself and making sure you have the support you need. You need your friends and family and you need someone to really listen to you and help you work out what’s important and what decisions you need to make. And that support can come from your own manager, your peers or an external coach.

Summary & Taking Action

OK, so in this episode, we have talked about how we can approach supporting our teams when they are worried about what the future of their work looks like, especially when we don't know ourselves. By being courageous and approaching conversations with curiosity, we can build trust, relationships and our own understanding of what is happening for people, we can help them feel heard and understood, feel valued and supported. When you support them like this, not only can you maintain your team's productivity, but you can also maximise the chances of a secure future for them where they are working in a way that is aligned with the things that are important to them.

The things I share are based on my experiences, and some will be more relevant to you than others - it’s up to you to decide what you take and apply from this podcast. That’s what curious choice leadership is all about - getting curious and building our understanding then evaluating what we find and making choices about what’s right for us and our business.

And the question I would like to leave you with is:

What can you do today to make your team feel more supported when they are worried about the future of their jobs?

How will you know you are successful?

How Will You Know If You Are Successful?

We are celebrating something fun with this week’s episode of the Curious Choice Leader - it’s our 10th Episode!  I can’t believe how fast that has come around and how much fun I’m having talking to you each week, and I really appreciate each and every one of you who listens.

I set up this podcast to help experts like you become the leaders you want to be, to create working worlds that work for you, your business and everyone connected with it.   Right now it’s been very focused on how we lead through theses strange and rapidly changing times, and I have really appreciated the feedback some of you have shared about how you are using some of the things we have talked about and how it’s got you thinking differently about something.  

You have no idea how happy feedback like that makes me - my big hope for this podcast is that the content does challenge you and get you to think so that you can step into your leadership one curious choice at a time.

So I’m calling that a success.

And success is what we are going to talk about today, how do you know you are successful?

So are you ready?  It’s time to get curious about success and make some choices about what it means to you.

Is success hitting your goals and objectives?

When we are working on a project, a change programme or for someone else, we know if we are successful in that role when we hit whatever measures and targets are in place for us and our teams.  We may have objectives set for our work and our role as a leader, and we may well measure our success in our role against those, or against the rewards our business offers us.  And that’s not just the money they pay you. There was one company I worked in, for example,  where having a meeting table next to your desk was seen as the ultimate sign of having made it.

We might have goals set for how we manage our teams, and we may even have set a few extra for ourselves.And these definitions are great, in the short term, but if you have ever had that feeling that you delivered what was needed in the way it was needed, but it just didn’t feel great or even like success, then you will know there is more to being successful than hitting targets set by someone else.

So if you are hoping for some insights into how to lead your team to hit its objectives, this episode is going to leave you wanting.  Instead, we are going to do something we haven’t really done in previous episodes and instead of talking about what your team needs from you and serving your team, we are going to turn the focus inwards and talk about you.  

Absolutely leadership is about your team rather than about you, but you can’t do your best work for your team, or be the best leader you can be, if you are not working in alignment with your personal values and your own definition of what success means for you.  And that is what we are focusing on in this episode.

Why do you need to know what success means for you?

Defining what success means for you, what it looks like, what it feels like and how you will know if you are successful, sounds easy on one level, but something interesting happens when we start to really challenge ourselves to get curious about our definitions.  It’s much harder than we think it’s going to be and the answers aren’t as obvious and are a lot more complex than we thought.

The good news is there are no wrong answers to what success means to you, it’s going to be a very personal answer, and one that only you will know is correct.It’s also something that everyone you know will have an opinion on, and they may well judge you based on their own definitions of success.

So you may be wondering if it’s so hard to work out what success is for you, and others are going to have an opinion, why it matters to figure it out anyway.

The answer to that is simple - it makes every decision simpler.  You will know what goals and aspirations to set yourself, you will know what motivates you, you will know if an opportunity is or isn’t for you, you will be more aware of the opportunities that lead you in the right direction and you will be more confident in the choices you make.

So whose definition of success is it anyway?

OK, so how can you work out what success looks like for you.  The key here is to get curious and explore the idea from different angles.  I’m going to share some questions with you in a bit, but before I do, I want to talk a bit more about the fact that everyone has their own definition of success and their own way of determining if other people are successful.

What we see and hear around us

Our definitions are moulded and shaped by what we see and hear around us. The pressure is applied by the thoughts, words and actions of people we know and by the cultural norms around us.  And this can be very deep-rooted, as children, we probably knew our parents’ aspirations for us and what they would consider us successful when we achieved it, be that a gold star, a good school report or even our career choice. Going against those and deciding what we want to do to be successful can be tough, and it has been the subject of lots of great films!

Sometimes our success is judged by us and those around us by the things that we do, I know my parents, like many of their generation, hoped that I would grow up, meet a nice young man who would take care of me and have lots of kids.  And many of society join them in measuring women by their children, not something that is an option for everyone or something that everyone wants, and it’s totally OK not to want even if you have that option.  It’s about your own definition of success.

Sometimes we are aware of the picture of success that others are imposing on us, and sometimes we are not.  In our jobs, for example, the measures being used are made clear by goals, objectives, the feedback we get and the behavioural definitions and role models in the organisation.  When we meet someone for the first time, however, we may have absolutely no clue how they are deciding if we are successful.

The things we have - the impact of marketing

And then sometimes our success is measured by the things we have, long before social media made what you have and the external appearance of your life into something to flaunt and make sure everyone knows about, we were judging people by where they live, and where they go on holiday.  I know I’m not the only person whose family and friends have judged their new boyfriend by the car they drove.  

The pressures around these material measures of success are huge - and there is a whole industry built around telling us we are not successful unless we have their products - it is literally the job of many marketers to sell is their companies vision of success, so we spend our money with them to feel good about our sleeves, that is successful.

And many of them are great at what they do, and we knowingly part with our money to buy into their brands.  But sometimes it’s done much more insidiously,   I’ve seen it all too often, especially in the online business world where the tactics used are not based on such a visible exchange.

As a coach, I get targeted by people on a daily basis who want to sell me the dream of doing less work and making a six or seven-figure income.  They promise huge results from very little work and tell me how to do everything from finding unlimited leads, sell to high-end clients, to run a course and if I do exactly what they say I will be successful - and if it doesnt work it’s because I didn’t do it right or believe it enough; basically it’s my fault.  

This is wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know where to start and this episode is not here to be a takedown of those modern-day snake oil sellers, so let’s just say, engage your brain around these things, and if it looks too good to be true or doesn’t seem to add up or make sense on the surface you are probably best walking away, after all, if there was one set of emails that made everyone rich, why would someone sell them to a super low price if you buy them in the next 5 minutes, and we know from our attempts to buy clothes that one size never fits anyone let alone all.

So the point of talking about this is that they are pushing their definition of success on you.  I’m very clear, for example, that I don’t want to run online courses.  I love working with people one to one and having a real impact, that’s where the joy in what I do comes from for me.  Teaching groups in real-time are fun for me too, but online courses lack that connection and having worked behind the scenes with businesses who have them, they are a lot of work, a lot of financial investment, make a low return both in terms of time and money and can actually damage the reputation and the business of talented people.  The people selling the dream of ‘build a course based on something you know a little about and sit back and let the money roll in’, don’t tell you that the people the money rolls in for is them! The mantra from the film Field Of Dreams - build it, and they will come, is just that a dream and certainly not a business reality!So are courses for me no, quite aside from the numbers not adding up and the amount of time I would need to spend selling the course, they won’t make me feel successful because of that lack of contact and the lack of visibility of the results they are getting.

Without a firm understanding of what success looks and feels like for me, like everyone else I would be very susceptible to these people selling by appealing to emotional and physical aspirations.

So we can know we are successful from how we feel, what we are spending our time doing and from the size of our bank balance and what we can buy.  There are other aspects of our definition to consider too.  

Status and Relationships

We can define it in terms of status and popularity too.  We are going to look at those two together as in many ways they are two ways of looking at the same thing - they are defining your success in terms of other people’s ratings and opinions.

Without wanting to make myself sound as old as I am, it can be hard for the generations that have grown up watching programmes like the X Factor and with things like Instagram where self-worth can be linked to the number of followers and likes that you have being everything, to define success as anything more than those vanity metrics.  

But here is the thing - What difference will having another few thousand followers really have, what difference will being more visible make, what will change when you get that next promotion?  What we know, and something one influencer found out on Dragon’s Den (Shark Tank if you are listening outside the UK) is that the number of likes and follows you have on social media do not equal money in the bank.  The influencer concerned was presenting her opportunity on the basis that she was an influencer and because she had, however many thousands of followers it was, that was all she would need to make it worth investing.  The Dragons couldn’t get her to elaborate on how she was going to make money beyond that - and what followed was one of those great standoff moments you sometimes get in the Den.  The point being that they had very different definitions of success and one did not translate into the other’s world at all.

How to work out what success means to you

So how can you start to get to your definition of success?

There are lots of different ways, if you like writing then journal around these questions if talking it out works best for you try talking about it with someone you trust not to impose their views on you, if letting it brew in your brain for a bit works, do that, maybe draw or mind map or maybe a bit of all of these to really get curious and explore the ideas that come up for you.

As we have talked about success has many dimensions, and we need to explore them all.

One of my favourite ones to start with is with asking yourself, how will you know if you are successful?  Another great place to start is a question I was first asked when I worked through Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  It’s a bit morbid, but it really made me think and kickstarted my thinking about what success means for me, and many of the ideas it uncovered probably 20 years ago are still part of how I define success for myself.  

What I was challenged to do, and what I'm challenging you to do is to imagine you are at your own funeral - what would you want people to be saying about you?  How do you want to be remembered?

Success can be determined by the things you do, so what things do you want on your list - they could be one-off achievements or the way you act, the contribution you make or anything in between.We’ve also talked about how it can be measured in terms of things.  There is lots of literature about creating a vision board of what you are looking for in the future - and this can be a great way to represent what you consider successful in terms of material things your success brings you, but it is just one lens and to be really sure of what success is to you, you need to look through all the lenses so you don’t miss something important.

And then we need to get precise about what feelings we will be experiencing when we are successful.  Success does not feel the same to everyone, so I challenge you to break down what you mean by feeling successful.Then the final lense to look at success through is relationships and people.  What kind of relationships do you want, what kind of people do you want in your life?

So that’s just a few questions to get you started.

Summary & Taking Action

OK, so in this episode, we have turned our curiosity inwards so we can work out what success means for us.  We have looked at why knowing is important, how our definitions are shaped and the impact of other people on them and then we have looked at how we can start to uncover our own definition of success.

My hope for you is that you will make the time to get really clear about what success means for you, what it feels like, what you will be doing and what and who you will have in your life.  That definition may evolve over time, so don’t feel what you decide now you are going to have to live with forever.  When I left the corporate world, I soon discovered that buying a new pair of shoes every month didn’t make me feel successful in the way it had in the past, and in fact I found a pair I hadn’t even worn when I moved house some 7 or so years after I left!

Once you have your definition, you will be able to hold yourself to account and make choices that move you ever close to meaningful success and be in a stronger place to lead others.

If you need any help with this, please reach out and ask, it’s foundational to everything else you do and how effective you can be as a leader, and I’m happy to help you uncover it if I can.

The things I share are based on my experiences, and some will be more relevant to you than others - it’s up to you to decide what you take and apply from this podcast.  That’s what curious choice leadership is all about - getting curious and building our understanding then evaluating what we find and making choices about what’s right for us and our business.


So the question I would like to leave you with is

What does success mean to you?

Leading Change – Why Your Why Matters When You Are Leading Change

Why Your Why Matters When You Are Leading Change

When we ask people to do something difficult, like change the way they work, they are very unlikely to do it unless they understand the reasons that sit behind the changes, but the rationale itself is often not enough.  Unless not changing puts people in danger, they need something more than a logical argument to be motivated to make those changes.

They need to be inspired by a bigger vision or purpose, our business why.  But that’s not the only function talking about our business why has during change, it also serves as an anchor for our decisions when it seems like everything around us is changing.

Given the situation, we find ourselves in at the moment, surfing rolling waves of change and leading our teams through the uncertainty this brings, we are going to need to be clear about our business why more than ever.

It’s time to get curious and make some choices about why we need a why,  what difference it makes having a why when we go through change and why when I talk about why a lot I end up with the Tom Jones Classic Delilah in my head!.

Your Why and leading change

Ok so, maybe we won’t talk about Delilah, but if it reminds you that asking why and telling people why at least three times is important, I won’t need to apologise for the earworm.  And just to be clear if you end up singing the song in your head or looking up the lyrics, I am in no way suggesting that you use them to guide any actions apart from talking about why!

As we have discussed in previous episodes, when we are leading change, one of the things we need to do is talk to people about why things are changing.  What we are looking to do is win over people’s hearts and minds so we engage them in change.  And that means we need to look at the why we are talking about on more than one level.

Our Why inspires people's hearts and minds when we are leading change

To win over the logical mind, we need to provide a well thought through rationale explaining why we need to change, the logical part of our brain thinks in facts and figures.  Often, as we start a change process we know why we have to change, maybe the market we are operating in is changing, maybe there is a company-wide restructure, either because we are growing or because we are shrinking as a business.  We usually have some facts and figures which explain why we need to take action.  

When we share these we help win over people’s minds.  But as you will know from your own personal experience sometimes a decision makes perfect sense, you totally understand the rationale, but it just doesn’t feel right.

That’s because the logical neocortex part of your brain is happy with the decision, but the limbic brain, which deals in feelings first, isn’t.  

The limbic part of the brain is what controls behaviour and it does so without language getting in the way.  When we talk about a gut reaction to something, really what we are describing is the feelings created by the limbic brains reaction.

So to inspire people to change their behaviour we also need to appeal to the limbic brain and we do that by talking about the purpose of what we do, our mission, and our why.  Doing this consistently and clearly builds trust and loyalty to something that is bigger than the immediate change.

When we work with people whose business why either aligns with or inspires our own it feels right.  When we are asking people to do something they find hard, when we are asking them to pull against everything that is familiar and safe, they need to trust your motives and the direction you are heading.  Your business why provides them with that.

What does having a Why mean at a business wide level and how can it help us now?

Back in the early 90’s when I was finding my feet as a leader, businesses started to introduce visions and missions, hoping to inspire their staff.  It was based largely on the work of Stephen Covey and in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People where he talked about creating a personal mission statement and beginning with the end in mind.  

Like individuals, businesses used this as a way of aligning what we were trying to achieve.  Coming out of the ‘greed is good’ era of the 80’s and the economic crash at the end of the decade, companies needed to find a way to keep people focused and moving their businesses forward despite the recession.  

The companies who survived and performed well tended to be those with clearly defined missions and visions, or if you would rather a clear why, that engaged people both logically and emotionally.  Those whose mission was to make lots of money for their stakeholders didn’t do well but those who set out to change the world somehow, for example, Apple who set out to change the status quo, did much better.  

It’s certainly a lesson we can all take and apply as we enter into what are going to be challenging economic times.

Simon Sinek's Golden Circle Model

The Golden Circle Model, described by Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why, puts our business Why in the inner ring of a bulls eye, surrounded by how we do what we do, which in turn is surrounded by what we do.  

It can be very helpful in making sure you have got to the heart of your why or your business why.

Let me illustrate the model using my own business as an example.  My personal why is to enable others to shine.  My business why is a version of that, it’s to create working worlds where people can add value and feel valued.  Now there are lots of ways I could do that, the one I focus on, my how layer,  is by developing Curious Choice Leaders, that is leaders like you, who get curious and make great choices.

If we then go to the outer circle the what layer of the model, these are the things I do to develop Curious Choice Leaders - Coaching, Consulting, Development Programmes, sharing ideas and things like this podcast too.

So knowing your company why, its purpose and the difference it wants to make in the world is going to allow you to win over the hearts of your team, as well as attracting clients and aligning your other stakeholders.

Simon Sinek' Golden Circles Model

Your Why matters when you are leading change as it guides your decisions

All important when you are leading through change - it also becomes like your compass guiding the way for you and your team.  People tend to feel a bit lost during change and when we feel lost we need something to guide us, our why is that north star for us to head towards. But that’s not the only reason being clear and talking about your business why is important during change. 

In the last episode, we talked about making decisions when everything seems uncertain.  One of the things we explored was how when our capacity to make decisions is reduced because we are using our processing capabilities to process the changes, it can really help to have a decision framework to make making decisions easier.

Our why should be the first part of that decision framework. The first gate that every decision has to get through.  And that gate is opened or closed by the answer to one simple question.  

Does this move us closer to achieving our business why?  

Quite simply if the answer is no, then the gate closes and there is no need to consider that decision any furtherOn first thought that might seem to limit your options, but when your why is big enough there will be plenty of things you can do to keep moving in broadly the right direction.  If you find yourself wondering if it does move you in the right direction or not, ask yourself how does this move us towards our why?  Your answer will allow you to work out if the movement is sufficiently in the right direction.

So your why matters because it helps guide our decision making, and if our why is strong enough for us and for the people who are working on this journey with us it can act as a winch pulling and pulling us towards it.

This is all supported by our values and our principles which guide how we act as humans and what is and what isn’t acceptable to us as humans and which reflect the outer two rings in the Golden Circle Model

Why does your Why matter when working with other people?

Now when we work for ourselves we have total control over our business why - we get to decide it, share it and make it what we stand for and put it at the centre of everything we do -  and that’s great, but what happens when we work for someone else, or when we have people work for us?

Well as team members we are looking for a why we can believe in, for values and principles that align with our own.

As leaders, therefore we need to share these things so people can decide if joining us is right for them.  Some people will decide its’ right for the long term, other that it is right for now,  and others will decide it’s not for them.  And whatever they decide is good, if they are aligned everything works well but where they are not the whole team can suffer the consequences in terms of stress, tension and lack of effectiveness in the team.  

Sometimes the first thing we know about our why’s not being aligned is a  vague feeling something is off and you can’t quite put your finger on it, sometimes it gets lots in the excitement of the work we are doing and then sometimes its a almighty clash, either with a manager or when you work with clients with one of them. Being clear about our why and talking about it often can help keep people aligned and help them decide if the alignment is no longer there and its time to go their separate way.

Right now we are seeing lots of people questioning and re-evaluating parts of their lives, a major change or crisis often has that effect.  As leaders our role is to make sure people know the purpose of the team, it’s why and the values and expectations that support that, so that they can decide what’s best for them, and if we are offering a working world where they can add value and feel valued in ways that are meaningful for them.

Summary & Taking Action

OK, so in this episode, we have talked about the importance of having a why, how it helps unite people and win over their hears as well as their minds as we ask them to join us on any change journey.  But it’s also much more than that, it in itself provides direction and shows us which way is forward, guides us when we feel lost in the messy middle of change.  It can also help us make our decisions giving us something constant to check them against.If your wondering what your business why is, I have created a worksheet for you to help you figure it out.  You can download it here.

The things I share are based on my experiences and some will be more relevant to you than others - it’s up to you to decide what you take and apply from this podcast.  That’s what curious choice leadership is all about - getting curious and building our understanding then evaluating what we find and making choices about what’s right for us and our businessSo the question I would like to leave you with is, 

What's your business why?

Leading Change – Making Decisions When Everything Is Changing

Making Decisions When Everything Around Us Is Changing

As a coach I’m used to hearing people tell me they can’t make a decision or can’t decide what to do, it goes with the territory.  it’s largely what we are there to do, to give people a way to work things out.

When we are in the middle of change and surrounded by uncertainty, that feeling of not being able to get your head around decisions grows, it’s very unsettling and can leave us questioning our own judgement.

And that’s not a great feeling especially when we are leading others through change - in fact, that just piles the pressure on and makes it even harder to think and make a decision.So what can we do to help ourselves make decisions when everything around us is changing?  That’s what we are going to talk about in this episode, so are you ready?  

It’s time to get curious and make some choice about how we make decisions when it seems that everything is changing around us.

How we feel about making decisions when everything is changing?

We’ve all been there, trying to make a decision, thinking it should be simple, but each time we think we have made that decision, we find a new fact and find ourselves questioning it again.  And yes, we might expect a bit of twisting and turning along the way to making a big decision like buying a house, or even choosing a holiday, remember those!

But when we are surrounded by uncertainty or imminent change we can find ourselves going through that process and questioning our ability to make decisions over what we think should be simple things, like what to wear today or what to eat for supper.  

Then we start to worry disproportionately about the consequences of decisions we make and now we have a huge dollop of anxiety in the mix.  By the time we come to make the decisions we have used a whole lot of energy and we need more to make the decision - except now we are exhausted and the problem gets worse.

But we are great at decision making - we do it a lot!

Contrary to how we may be feeling when it get’s like this, we are actually really good at making decisions. 

It’s estimated that we make about 35 thousand conscious choices every day, they range in size from is it time for coffee (the answer to that should always be yes) to much bigger and potentially life changing decisions.  

Now if we assume that we sleep for 7 hours a day and that we are not consciously making decisions then, that means we are making a decision every 1 ¾ of a second, or 2059 an hour.  That sounds exhausting in itself and actually you can measure a tiny drop in our blood sugar level when we  make decisions in experimental conditions.

Why does it seem so hard to make decisions when everything around us is changing?

The way our brains make decisions is to pass the information along pathways, think of that information as being a bit like water.  The first time we put some water down it tends to just go everywhere, but with some effort, we can guide it to its destination.  If we do this often enough it will start to wear a groove and flow more consistently in the same direction.  

Eventually, it will create a deep gully with few obstacles or even bumps and will flow quickly along.  It will seem like we hardly have to think when we make that decision and it will become increasingly less conscious as it takes less and less effort.

And that works beautifully when everything is relatively stable.  But incredibly big and powerful as our brains are, they do have a finite processing capacity, even when we are operating on full sleep and optimal health.  

When you throw in change, some of that capacity is taken up thinking about and processing that change, leaving less for the other decision.

Change and uncertainty are like little explosions or sometimes big ones on the surface of our decision making, and suddenly the walls that hold the flowing water in have started to crumble and water is escaping, we don’t know where the cracks are and we have to rush around and fix them before another one appears.

For a while, each decision becomes more conscious and takes more effort and energy.  This always happens with change, even if it's just a small one like your favourite brand of a product not being available in the supermarket.  But if you think back to your experience during the corona virus lockdown every decision became proportionally bigger as we had to work out how to do the basics, like shop for food in a whole new way, and certainly everyone I’ve spoken to has said that it moved from being a quick decision that was hardly thought about to being a huge internal debate around a whole new set of criteria.

Making the most of our decision making capacity during change

So how can we make sure we use the capacity we have to our best advantage?

Well the first thing is to make sure we are managing our overall levels of anxiety and stress, looking after ourselves generally, making sure we breathe deeply and keep doing what ever it is you normally do to stay on the top of your game.  


Next, we need to make sure we are using the processing capacity that we have on things that we can do something about.  In the last episode, I shared a technique for putting decisions into one of three buckets - the things you can control, the things you can influence and the things that concern you but that you can’t do anything about.  We need to do the same here - by focusing on decisions that we can control we will make progress, we will be more confident in our ability to make decisions and the things we can make decisions on will grow.  If we fill this limited capacity we are experiencing with things that we are worried about but which we have no control over we will soon feel overwhelmed and helpless.  

If you want to know more about that check out Episode 7 on how to plan when everything is uncertain.

How can we make the right decisions when we don't know what's going to change?

So once we have optimised how we are using that decision processing capacity it’s time to put it to good use.

When we are making decisions in a rapidly changing environment it is harder to know if we are making the right decision?

We know every decision we make has consequences and part of making decisions is weighing up those consequences.  But how can we do that when we don’t know what the world we are operating in looks like, what’s possible and what’d not and we know that the criteria we are making those decisions by is likely to change?

We are experiencing an extreme case of this in our working worlds at the moment - literally, no one knows how business is going to operate in the post-pandemic world, we just know it is going to be different.  And yet we find ourselves needing to make important decisions that could have lasting consequences.  It’s no wonder we are a little decision shy at the moment.

We have however had to make decisions when we are going through change before and when there has been a heightened level of uncertainty, and we need to draw on that experience and use the tools that helped us then.

Understanding the risk - what's the worst that could happen?

One of the techniques that I find helpful in these situations is borrowed from the world of project management and is based on creating a risk matrix. 

When you are considering a decision ask yourself what could go wrong if you make that decision?

There was a series of adverts here in the UK for Dr Pepper which included the question, what’s the worst thing that could happen.  Now when I worked for the company that owned Dr Pepper is was a question we asked a lot so these adverts really stood out for me.  There were a few but basically there would be someone who was considering drinking a Dr Pepper, and we would hear that internal dialogue as What’s the worst thing that could happen - and in the adverts it was a crazy ride of highly unlikely things leading to a very embarrassing situation.  Some of the things that happened were easy to predict and very likely to happen, usually the first few in the crazy chain of event, but as the advert unfolded they became less and less likely.  Some of the things had small consequences, like spilling the drink, others had major ones like broadcasting your potentially embarrassing conversation with the school nurse to the whole school.

It’s the same with our decisions - we need to decide how likely each potential thing that could go wrong is, it’s probability, and then how big an impact or problem it would cause if it did happen.

I find it easiest to divide each into high and low and then to plot them on a grid like this.

Risk Martix

In the bottom left corner of the grid, you have the things that won’t have much impact and are not very likely to happen - kind of like a shallow ditch you have to step over as you walk along.  The concerns you have that fall in this box can be ignored - after all the chances are they aren’t going to happen and even if they do you won’t really notice them.

If we go to the top right box, however, we have the things that will have a big impact and there is a strong chance that they will happen - here we are talking a major very wide very deep hole we have to navigate.  Obviously, these things need our focus.  When it comes to making decisions we need to put our effort into understanding what makes them likely, and if there are any ways we can reduce that likelihood with things we can do.  There may not be many of them, so we also need to look at what we can do to effectively fill in that hole and make the impact of them smaller and easier to manage. 

Risk Matrix Focus

So for example, if there is a second wave of Corona Virus, there are things we can do to make that less likely, but it’s not totally in our control so we also need to find ways to minimise the impact of it on our business.  What those are will depend on your business, but for example, keeping people working remotely and making sure your business is set up to serve clients that way would mean the impact of another lockdown would be minimised.

Once you have the top right box covered off you can consider the other two diagonals and decide if you need to do anything with the things in them.

So when you are facing a big decision you can work through the risks of the different choices you and make and then make one.  

And a couple of things to keep in mind.  You can always decide not to make a decision, don’t forget you can always decide not to make a decision but you need to consider the consequences of that and the risks involved of those.

And secondly, as part of your normal business processes, you’ll be reviewing what's going on in your team and your business and if that decision turns out not to be a great one, you can always go back and make another decision and change course.

Summary & Taking Action

OK, so in this episode, we have talked about that panic we can feel when we are faced with making decisions when everything around us seems uncertain and this impacts the mechanics of how we make decisions.  We talked about protecting the capacity we do have available in the midst fo change and uncertainty by looking after our wellbeing and focusing on the things that we can control.  Finally, we grabbed a can of Dr Pepper and looked at the worst thing that could happen if we took a certain decision, and looked at how we could look at the probability and the impact of those things to work out if we could deal with the outcomes of the decisions.

The things I share are based on my experiences and some will be more relevant to you than others - it’s up to you to decide what you take and apply from this podcast.  That’s what curious choice leadership is all about - getting curious and building our understanding then evaluating what we find and making choices about what’s right for us and our business.

So ready for the next time you are finding making a decision difficult because of all the uncertainty, the question I would like to leave you with is, 

What's the worst thing that could happen?

Leading Change – Planning in an Uncertain World

Planning in an uncertain world

Somehow we are at the midpoint for the year and usually, that means reviewing our plans and checking we are on track.  I have to admit, I wondered if it was worth going back to mine given how much has changed since I wrote it and how much like a work of fiction it would look.  I know I’m not alone in wondering where to start with planning and making decisions with all the uncertainty we are experiencing.

That’s what we are going to talk about over the next few episodes.

So, are you ready?  Its time to get curious and make some choices about how we plan in a rapidly changing world.

Is it worth planning with all this uncertainty about?

If you are listening to this podcast in the week it’s published, the strange but true fact is that we have just hit the halfway point for the year.  I say strange but true as it doesn't really seem that time has been passing in its usual way and the Dr Who quote about time not being a linear progression from cause to effect but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint being more of a big ball of wibbly-wobbly,  timey wimey,   stuff, seems more apt than ever.  

And normally, the midpoint of the year is one of those times where we press pause for a moment, review where we are and then refocus our plans.  But let’s face it nothing has been normal about this year, so is this something we should pass on, another thing to let go of as we navigate the rolling waves of change the storm that is 2020 is delivering?

And even if we do decide to plan, how can we since all our usual planning assumptions are proving to be untrue and we don’t really know what to expect from our business environments?

And those are very valid questions.  And we could choose not to plan and to just go with the flow, but let’s be real my Curious Choice Leaders, that’s not really our style is it.  OK so it could be an interesting experiment and we might learn something from doing it for a while, but we know that now we are in the messy middle of the changes this year is creating, it’s time to start looking to the future so we can build whatever comes next for our businesses, our teams and ourselves.  If you and your team want to keep doing whatever it is you do in the long term you need to all be going in the same direction and you need a plan.

Why we should still plan despite the uncertainty

Now what that plan looks like, in terms of details and time frames may need to change but you need to come together, plan and then work the plan. 

It’s part of what our teams need from us to make their work feel worthwhile, to keep them pulling in the same direction and give them a sense of purpose that we all crave.

What happens when we don’t provide this clarity about what is coming next is people will fill in the blanks in their own way, which can cause some very interesting challenges down the road.  Just last week I had a call from a client wanting advice on how to handle a situation in their team where one team member had assumed they would all continue working from home and was now living five hours away from the office.  The company concerned have not yet decided if they are going to continue with remote working in the long term but hadn’t communicated that and now this leader has a complex situation to resolve.

As we look at our roles in leading people through change it’s all very well when we know where we are going as a result of the changes, but right now we are all trying to work out what a post-pandemic work world is like.  Hopefully, we won’t always have to lead with this much lack of information about the future very often, but what we learn doing it now will make it simpler next time we’re leading change.So, yes you can probably see how to lead people away from the Pre Covid world, but where are you taking them?  That’s something we are all working out as we go along.  The world around us is literally changing week by week if not day by day, and sometimes it feels like hour by hour.  There are very few certainties.

Does that make planning harder, yes.  Does that make it more complex, yes.  Does that make it impossible – No.

As we have discussed, in previous episodes, we can always choose our reaction to a situation, you could choose to avoid and abdicate planning as a leader right now we’ve talked about the consequences of that option, or you can choose to see this as an opportunity to improve your planning and build your team and your performance going forward.

But where can we start with our planning

So how do we do that?  Where can we start when we need to plan in a seemingly unplannable situation.  From my perspective, there are three areas to think about, what’s stayed the same, what we can control and how far out we plan and I’m going to talk about each of them in a little more detail.

What stays the same?

It’s a very natural reaction when we are faced with change, to focus on what is different and stop noticing what has stayed the same. 

If you think back to when you were younger, you may have done those spot the difference puzzles, the ones where you have two pictures and you have to spot what’s different about each of them.  As you do the puzzle the differences become all you can notice and we almost literally stop seeing what has stayed the same.  It’s the same with change - we are drawn to what is changing and soon forget what has stayed the same.

And recognising the things that have stayed the same give you a platform for your planning.

Things that are likely to have stayed the same include what your organisation exists to do, the clients and customers you serve, the values your organisation lives by and the business goals may well have stayed the same.

We can use the things that have stayed the same in two ways to help us plan - firstly it gives us a start point and some constraints and secondly it can help us build a framework to make decisions.  And once we have the framework it becomes relatively easy to make decisions, effectively you just need to ask, does this meet the criteria we set and move us in the right direction.

Planning Horizons

Next up we can think about the timeframe we think about our plans for, or if you like our planning horizons.   

If you think of planning like a road taking you where you want to go, when things along the road are staying still and staying in line, the road is straight and it’s easy to see a long way into the distance, and maybe even all the way to where you want to be.  When things are relatively stable we can see a long way ahead, the horizon can be a long way away, and we can plan further into the distance.

Now imagine the things at the side of the road keep moving into the road, one or two we can cope with just by gently swerving around them, but as more and, more of them move we can find ourselves on a twisty trurny slalom course of a road, and only able to see a few feet ahead and not knowing which direction to turn.  Sounds a bit like 2020 doesn’t it!  It becomes a bit like being a rally driver waiting for the co-driver to read the plan and tell us which way and how hard to turn just before we need to make that manoeuvre.  We still want to get to the destination, there is still a plan for us to follow and rather than focusing on the moves some miles ahead we need to focus on making the right next turn now.

This shorter-term decision making in the context of a long term objective is uncomfortable at first, just like rally driving it uses some adrenalin, and importantly it relies on us being able to help our team flex and adapt rapidly and uses all our skills leading change.

Your task here is to work out what the right planning horizon is for your situation.  The reality is that these planning horizons are going to move and emerge as new information comes to light, so there is no one right answer here, you need to consider things like how long the things that are uncertain will remain uncertain, and if there are things you can do to reduce the level of the uncertainty around specific things or even remove it altogether.  

It can be helpful to keep a list of all the assumptions you are making around the uncertainties so you can monitor when anything changes and adjust your plan accordingly.

Personally, since March I have changed my business planning horizons from having an annual planning framework with detailed quarterly plans, to focusing on my long term vision and planning month by month what I need to do to keep moving in that direction. For my business that feels right and the question is what’s right for you in your situation.

What can you control?

Finally, the third area we need to consider is focusing on what we can control. 

If we think about our business and the world it operates in, we can break the thing we think about down into 3 areas, the things we can control, so things like how you do a particular task, the things we can influence, so things that you need other teams or other people to help you with, and the things that concern us but that we can’t directly influence or control, like finding a cure for Corona virus - unless you are one of the amazing research scientists working on this, in which case, thank you!

When we are planning how we solve a problem or move to a goal it can be helpful to break the factors that impact that plan, the ideas we have about how we can reach our goal, and the things we think may stop us, and all the things we are not certain about, into one of those three categories.  Imagine these three categories as concentric circles - the inner circle is the things that you can control, next out is the circle that is made up of the things you can influence and outside that are the things you are concerned about.  

Circles of Control, Influence and Concern

What happens when we choose to focus our energy and effort on the things we can control is that that circle gets bigger pushing the circle of things we can influence so it grows too.  However, if we focus on the things that concern us that circle grows too - but rather than expanding overall it grows by pushing in on the things we can influence and the things we can control so both circles get smaller.

When our circle of control is small we notice the uncertainty and feel we are being pushed around by whatever changes come our way.  

So we need to focus our planning on the things we can control, and spend most of our time and effort there,  with some time spent working to influence the things we can influence.  

The successes you gain working this way will help you, your team and your business feel good about the work you are all doing and soon build the momentum you need not to be thrown so far off course by any changes that come your way.

Summary & Taking Action

OK, so in this episode, we have talked about how even though it can seem like an impossible task that would be pointless anyway given our experience of the last quarter, we need to plan ahead and why that is important.  That plan may look different and we may well not be able to provide the clarity we are used to providing with our plan.  Then we talked about the three areas it’s helpful to consider when starting to bring you plan together; looking at what has stayed the same and using that to build a decision framework, thinking about our planning horizons and how far ahead it is sensible and pragmatic to plan and then finally how we need to concentrate on the things we can control.  We have choices to make about how we plan, and as we reach the half way point of the year, now is the time to make them.

The things I share are based on my experiences and some will be more relevant to you than others - it’s up to you to decide what you take and apply from this podcast.  That’s what curious choice leadership is all about - getting curious and building our understanding then evaluating what we find and making choices about what’s right for us and our business

So the three questions I would like to leave you with are, 

  • What things that impact your planning have stayed the same?
  • What is the right planning horizon to be working to now?
  • What are the important things can you control and use as the basis for your plan?