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How To Balance Leading With The Rest Of Your Work

How to balance Leading with the rest of your work

Being a leader is hard! Even when things are going well and there is not much changing around us there is a lot to do.

Add with all the changes that are happening around our businesses, how we are working, where we are working, where our business focus needs to be, our leadership workload goes up, but we still have to keep everything else going too. We need to be doing more to lead and reassure our teams, we have more activities and team outputs to manage, quite possibly with less people and we know we need to be developing our teams too if we want to perform well now and in the future.

So how can we balance getting our work done, with leading and developing our teams? It's time to get curious and make some choices about how we do that for ourselves in our roles.

Leading is only part of what you need to get done!

For many of us being a leader is only part of our work roles, we usually have a healthy amount of work we have to deliver too so finding a way to balance what we need to do as leaders with everything else is something that comes up at some point in everyone's leadership career - and often more than once!

It's a conversation I'm having a lot at the moment as those who are leading are working out how best to work in the current environment and finding themselves somewhat overloaded.

And don't worry I'm not going to sit here and just tell you to work harder or smarter - yes there are some things to think about that may help with that - but working harder and smarter isn't the whole solution here, if it was we wouldn't need this conversation!

It's great that you want to do the best you can do as a leader and that desire to do this as well as you can is going to help you stay curious about your leadership, to keep reflecting on how things are going, to keep learning and to keep growing as a leader. Without that drive you are never going to get things working well for you and the team and you will always feel there is something off and out of balance - the good news, however, if you are putting yourself in the category of people who don't want to do the best you can do as a leader, is that you don't need to listen to the rest of this podcast and you can invest the time in maybe sending those update emails or wondering why it seems you have to do everything yourself!

Does it feel like you are spinning plates

So assuming that you are still here, let's break down the challenge of balancing everything.

There are three main sets of things you need to focus on when you are leading a team, leadership, so setting the direction, creating the working environment and building for the future, managing, the bit where you and your team actually get things done and finally coaching, so developing your team's capability to perform better now and grow their roles and careers going forward.

Imagine each of those as a circle and all the activities you do need to go inside one of the circles.

For most leaders, that's how things feel, three separate plates of activity that they need to keep spinning.

And keeping those plates spinning is hard - we need to be flexible and focused, and that's where working harder sometimes happens - if I put in more effort and more time is it easier to keep those plates spinning? Well in the short term, possibly it is going to help, but it's not a sustainable long term plan.

And it's often where our boss and our advisors suggest we work smarter - maybe grouping similar tasks together, being more strategic about what we focus on but while we are busy spinning the plates that can seem great, but where is the time to work out what that means from a practical day to day perspective? It can even feel like being given an extra plate to spin - not really what we are looking for when we already feel overloaded.

Is there a formula to keep everything in balance and the plates spinning?

I work with a lot of people who are very analytical and I'm often asked if there is a formula for keeping these plates spinning - a correct % of time and effort to spend on each to make sure it keeps going, supports the team and none of them falls.

I would love to be able to say there is, but the reality the answer is that it depends. It depends on a large number of factors, such as your role, what's important to your company, your team's needs, their experience, the work your team is doing now, how your team fits into the organisation and works with other teams, the future requirements of your organisation if there is a lot of change at the moment.

The answer is going to be as individual as we are as leaders and as our circumstances are. So you need to get curious and ask yourself about your situation, apply some critical thinking and make the best decision about your balance for you and your team.

The other thing that I know many of the leaders I work with wish was true, is that when you find that balance it's just a case of keeping it. Sorry to bust this wishful thinking myth as well - the truth is that this balance is in a constant state of flux. Sometimes, depending on what is going on, one of the plates will need more help to keep it spinning and that time has to come from somewhere! So in reality as leaders, you are going to need to keep this balance under review and to be constantly adjusting it.

The magic key to balancing leadership with everything else

So we need to keep keeping all the plates spinning, and what it takes keeps changing - but we need to find a way to do it in a way that is manageable in the long term.

Here is the magic, and many leaders have told me this has been the one thing that has helped them unlock how to balance everything they need to do.

I want you to imagine those three spinning plates and overlap them like a Venn diagram - where part of each circle overlaps with each of the other two and there is a section in the middle where they all overlap.

Now, those spinning plates become more like cogs that help the other ones turn, so the work you do in one helps power the other two as well. Here is the diagram to help you visualise this

Balancing Leading Coachng and Managing

By finding ways to do things that combine activities in more than one circle you are able to have a more powerful impact and better meet the needs of your team and organisation.

The goal here is to spend as much time as you can in the section where the circles or cogs overlap so you are powering more than one at a time. Ideally, you want to be working where all three overlap, so when you do any one thing you are leading, managing and coaching your team.

So that probably all sounds lovely but rather abstract so let me give you an example. Let's say you have a piece of work you need to get done. Most people would class this as a management activity - since that's all about getting things done. Typically you might go to one of your team and ask them to get it done for you. How you move this into the intersection between managing, leading and coaching is in how you approach delegating this task.

It's not about adding to our workload, instead, how we delegate makes all the difference. If we just ask them to do a set of actions it stays as a management activity and I would argue also a lost opportunity.

As we are delegating we also have the chance to lead and to coach. Broadly if we start the conversation by setting the context for the task and explaining why it's important and where it fits into what as a team you are doing you are leading - reinforcing what the team is all about. Talking about the principles behind how the task can be accomplished adds another layer of leadership.

If you then focus on delegating the output rather than the tasks, you also have the opportunity to coach and develop that individual. When you ask someone how they would approach the task or what problems they are experiencing you can take a coaching-based approach and unlock their knowledge and potential. Taking this approach also means they are going to be more engaged and motivated in the task making managing the outputs easier - those three cogs working together to get you better and better results.

By changing how you do the things that you have to do, you can manage your overall workload better, keep everything in balance and make sure that as a leader you don't end up falling over - none of us wants that.

Keeping the leadership balance going

Keeping that balance when there is a lot going on, maybe because of a big project, or because your organisation is having to make a lot of changes, or because the world we operate in is changing so fast and so often, is tough and something you do need to think about.

I remember working on a project doing work I absolutely loved, with a team spread all over the globe. It soon became just about all I was doing and I was having so much fun I hadn't really noticed how little else I was doing either inside or outside work. My boss at the time took me to one side and pointed out how little balance I had in my life and politely suggested I might want to do something about that. So I did, by adding in more and more things around the project until the other areas of my role and my home life were just as busy as the project - so he had to take me to one side again and point out where I'd gone wrong!

That's not what we are talking about here. It's very easy to fall into the 'I'll just add a bit more here while it's busy or because of COVID or because of whatever excuse you are telling yourself - and while that is OK in the short term, if and only if, you give yourself permission to do less of something else, it's not the long term solution.  Remember when we used to fly, at the safety briefing we were told to put our own oxygen masks on first - the same applies here.

Instead, let's apply an extension of the same thinking.

Given there is more to do, how can we take one task or thing that needs to be done and use it to support another? For example, who in the team would benefit from being developed to do this management task? How can I get the team supporting and promoting each other's development? What other resources are there in my organisation to help me show my team what we are all trying to achieve? Who can help me?

Get the help you need

All that said, sometimes the workload will just be too much, and either you have to agree to stop doing some things you normally consider important or bring in extra help.

We all need that extra resource and capacity from time to time and with the level of change and uncertainty we are leading through at the moment I'm seeing that a lot. I know many leaders, especially early in their career, find the idea of getting help hard - it can feel like you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing. I think it's more helpful to think of it as adding extra resource where it's needed so you and your team can flourish and thrive.

Let me give you an example of what that can look like. I'm talking to a lot of leaders at the moment who know the key to the changes they are going to need to make in response to the global pandemic is supporting the people managers in their organisation and growing their capability to manage, lead and implement changes, but who are so busy working out what the organisation needs to do to adapt and survive that they just don't have the time or capacity themselves to develop those leaders.

Developing a training programme isn't really an option since it takes time and the sheep dip approach to developing these skills is slow and not always targeted enough to make a difference. That's where my team of Curious Choice Coaches and I can step in and support leaders, providing targeted coaching and development that is timely and bespoke to the managers involved. And when we do together with the leaders, we are freeing up time for them to focus on the future of the organisation, and together we make sure those cogs keep turning and that the whole team can deliver what's needed by the organisation. If that's something you want to know more about do get in touch.

Summary & Taking Action

So in this episode, we have talked about the need to get curious about your personal leadership situation and create a balance between leading your team, managing so the work gets done, and coaching your team to perform at their best now and in the future.

We have talked about those three roles as spinning plates, each requiring different amounts of effort and energy to keep spinning depending on the team, what we are doing and the circumstances we are doing it under.

We talked about bringing those plates together so they overlap and become cogs driving each other, and we can achieve that by changing how we do what we do, rather than adding to it, so finding ways to incorporate what we do as a leader with development opportunities and tasks that need to be done.

And finally, we talked about how sometimes there is so much going on that you need to look after yourself and get the help you need in terms of additional capabilities and capacity.

The things I share in this podcast are based on my experiences, and some will be more relevant to you than others. I hope you choose to do something with the information I've shared but that is up to you. That’s what being a Curious Choice Leader is all about, getting curious about your situation and then making choices that are right for you and your business.

So I have two questions I would like to leave you with

Firstly what things do you have to get done that you could power up by add elements of leading, managing and coaching?


What help do you need?

Leading Multiple Changes At The Same Time

Leading Multiple Changes At The Same Time

If it ever happens at all, it is very rare that in business we are only dealing with one change at a time. Our jobs as managers and leaders are to continually improve performance, even when we are not in the middle of change projects or a rapidly changing operating environment.

So what are the implications for us as leaders of dealing with lots of different changes all at once? 

In this episode, we are going to dig into that and I'm going to share two ways to check you are doing the right things on the right projects without being totally overwhelmed as you take your team and your business through multiple overlapping waves of change. 

So are you ready? It's time to get curious and make some choices about how you can lead your team and your business through multiples changes at the same time. 

Are you trying to lead too many changes at once?

Even before we started having to react to an operating environment that was changing as rapidly as ours is currently, almost every organisation I spoke to, either large or small was attempting to complete more change initiatives and projects than they could really cope with.

Project teams, change leads and PMO's were working flat out trying to manage and embed huge change agendas while those impacted by the changes hoped that if they kept their heads down for long enough this wave of change would wash over them as the next change initiative of the month would be announced by the leadership team and they could keep doing what they had always done and be safe for a little while longer.

The global pandemic has given us an opportunity to reassess which of these changes we are going to focus on and where our organisational priorities are.

That also means we as leaders have a wonderful opportunity to reassess how we are leading each of these changes and making sure that they are embedded in our teams.

There is a lot we need to do to lead change, it took me two episodes to outline it all, and you can find those things in episodes 3 and 4 if you want to go back and listen again. 

And if you are wondering how on earth you are meant to do all that for every single change initiative and project, I have some good news that I hope will help you.

There are two sets of things that are going to make it all much easier to juggle.

Group the changes around your organisational goals and objectives.

Every change initiative and programme should be linked to an organisational goal, so the first thing you can to do simplify everything for yourself and your team is to group the changes you are facing together around these strategic objectives.

This will help you with the critical task of explaining the reason why each change needs to happen, and the difference it's going to make.

Providing this context and helping your team make the connections between the different change initiatives will create a pull towards how things are going to be after the changes and reduce any sense of overwhelm your team are experiencing.

It's also going to make the number of things you need to communicate to your team about more manageable and easier for them to understand since its all going to be themed.

Not all changes are equal - know your role in each

The second thing you can do is to remember that not every change initiative is equal - and that what you personally need to deliver for each is different. While you will be leading your team through every change the role you are playing in change project itself can and will differ.

Working with Laura Handley, the change leader at Red Wizzard Consulting, we articulated six different roles involved with making change happen. As a leader, you are going to be filling different roles in different change initiatives.

By getting really clear which role you are playing in a particular change you can make sure you are focusing your efforts where they are going to be making the biggest impact, doing the right things on the right projects.

The 6 roles in successful change

So what are those 6 roles and what are the key things you need to do for each?

Firstly we have the Initiator of Change - these are the people who set the change in motion. These are usually, but not always relatively senior people in the organisation and they need to be active, visible and engaged throughout the project. They need to model the future way and talk about how and why adopting this change matters. They need to acknowledge that this change is hard for people and create an environment where people can have two-way conversation about it, where they can share their concerns and have a voice.

Next, we have the Leader of the Change - this is someone who is responsible for inspiring and developing the change. They might come from any part of the organisation, and they need to shape and communicate the plan so everyone can understand it. They need to integrate planning and project processes with the people side of change and make sure that people are given the time and resources they need to adapt and learn new ways of working.

The project also needs Promoters - people who promote and encourage the change but may not be making it happen themselves. These cheerleaders cheer for the people making the change happen and for those who are impacted by the change. As a leader, for a project you don't have another of these roles in you should always be a promoter. You should be using your influence to help with anything and anyone that is either resisting or slowing down the change. You are also there to support the project leaders, initiators and facilitators, providing coaching and a high level of visible support.

Now the project has a team of people willing it to happen and the encouraging the changes to be adopted it also needs a Facilitator - someone who is going to lead the work to actually make the change happen. The could be a specialist Project Manager or PMO or it could be any other manager within the business. As well as coordinating getting the work done the facilitator has a key role to play as a leader of these changes and needs to do everything a leader does to lead change.

Next, we have the project Contributors - these are the people doing the work on the project and promoting it with those who are impacted by the change. They need to be building inclusive relationships and communicating about the change in a way that is meaningful to the person they are talking to, so for example on an IT project not giving every technical detail but making sure the users know how to operate the system - if we were talking about cars, they may be the design engineers and they need to know the different levels of detail to share with a mechanic and with someone driving the car.

And finally, we have the Adoptors of change - the people the change is happening to. Their role is to get excited about the change and to use the new ways of doing things. We may be leaders, but there will also be times when we are Adoptors and we need to show people around us how it's done. No complaining in public about the change or how difficult it's making your world right now - instead its time to step up and lead showing your team what is expected and focusing on the positives.

Change takes a team

As you can see, effective change is a team effort and everyone needs to play their part - not just as leaders.

As leaders, it is our job to work out which roles we are playing in which changes and to help our teams do the same. Then we need to make sure everyone knows what is expected of them in that role.

To help with that we have put together a much more detailed set of outlines which we are happy to share with you. 

If you and the other leaders in your organisation can get clear about what role each of you is playing when you are starting a change initiative, I believe that as a team you will achieve your change objectives faster and with less friction along the way, especially when you are able to be equally clear with your team members so they know precisely what they need to do too.

So if you are curious about how you can do that do get in touch and either Laura or I will take you through it and how you can use this concept in your business.

Summary & Taking Action

So in this episode, we have talked about how you can approach leading multiple simultaneous changes by grouping the change initiatives around your organisations' strategic objectives so that it's easier to see how they all fit together and easier to communicate the future vision to your team.

We also talked about getting clear about what your role is in each particular change so you can focus your efforts on where they are going to have the biggest impact and make change happen faster and with less friction and overlap with different areas of your organisation.

Spending time on setting this up right for each change programme is time well invested and will mark you out as a leader who understands how to make change happen in your organisation.

The things I share in this podcast are based on my experiences, and some will be more relevant to you than others. It’s up to you to choose what you do with the information I’ve shared. That’s what being a Curious Choice Leader is all about, getting curious about your situation and then making choices that are right for you and your business.

So the question I would like to leave you with is,

What role are you playing in each of the changes and projects that are currently happening in your organisation?

Is Becoming A Freelancer or Contractor a Great Decision For You?

Is becoming a freelancer or contractor for you?

With unemployment rising and more and more companies making people redundant, I’m having a lot of conversations with people about the merits of becoming a freelancer or a contractor.

According to IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and Self Employed, approximately 6% of the UK workforce are freelancers and since typically when we see high redundancy levels we see an increase in the number of people freelancing they are expecting that percentage to go up. 

But before you decide if you should join that movement what are the things you need to consider?

So are you ready? Let's get curious about becoming a freelancer and make some choices about the employment status that’s right for you?

Making decisions about your career direction

Deciding what next in your career isn’t easy at the best of times but during a recession caused by a global pandemic, there is even more pressure around deciding what to do next. If you are currently employed is it best to stay put rather than making your next career move? If you have been made redundant should you look for another job or is now the time to freelance or set up your own business?

Whichever of these questions, or variants of them, you are considering, only you know the right answer and can make the right decision for you and your circumstances. In this episode we are going to focus on considering if becoming a freelancer is a good option for you, and whatever your situation you will probably find that some of the questions posed and things I’m going to suggest people consider before freelancing are going to help you with your decision making too.

As a freelancer myself I know all too well what it’s like moving from a corporate role to working for yourself. I made the transition in the last recession so I understand the excitement and the fear that go with building a business in a tough set of economic circumstances. In more recent years I have also worked with countless others who are making the same transition, so am also able to share learnings from their experiences too.

The answer to should I be a freelancer is different for everyone.

As a freelancer, I’m able to focus on the work that I love doing most and I have to admit I love working with individuals who are making this kind of transition. It is wonderful to watch clients who started working with me when they were having a mid-career crisis, you know when you are good at what you do and it's all OK, but the thought of doing it until you retire leaves you feeling a bit empty, figure out what is the best next step for them and then flourish as they have make it happen. 

When you get this decision right everything else is just better - people’s whole body language changes, they get excited about the work they are doing and about where it fits with the rest of their life.

And here is the thing - what is right for one person is not right for another. Only you can decide what the right decision for you, and your life is, but you can get help exploring your options and considering all the angles as you make that choice.

So what are some of the things you need to think through if you are considering becoming a freelancer?

Be realistic about what is involved in being a freelancer

It's important to be realistic about what’s involved in being a freelancer. After a bad day at the office, or after redundancy where you find yourself without a job through no fault of your own it's easy to find yourself sticking the metaphorical finger up at corporate life and thinking it would be much easier if you ruled the world and people would just work your way. Freelancing would be so much easier, you could just do the work, get paid a lot, and that would be that.

After all, that is what we are often told freelancing is. If we have worked alongside freelancers or contractors that’s probably what we have seen and others have said. You don’t have to spend very long on social media to hear from celebrity business gurus who have best selling books and award-winning businesses telling you that you too can have the dream lifestyle doing almost no work, sitting on the beach while the money rolls in.

Dig a bit further and look behind the smoke and mirrors and the picture is very different! If you are seriously considering becoming a freelancer one of the skills you are going to need whatever field you work in is Critical thinking and the ability to think things through. When you come across these ‘too good to be true’ sounding offers - please apply your brain. If you want more information about the flaws in these business and the damage they can do to your business let’s talk. Maggie Pattersons BS Free Service Business Podcast also makes great internet business myth-busting listening.

Being a freelancer means running a business, and there is work involved with doing that on top of the work you will be doing for your clients. Especially when you start out you are going to be a company of one so you will have to do everything yourself. You will go from having whole departments who help you do your job to be the accounts, IT, sales and marketing departments. There is a lot to set up and to learn and sometimes so much advice and so many options it’s easy to be overwhelmed! If you worked in a larger company your knowledge of how other departments really function may be limited and the learning curve can be steep.

Think about how you feel about this kind of challenge and the level of support you are going to need. Is this something that excites you, can you afford to pay for the specialist help when you need it?

What motivates you?

You should also consider how self-motivated you are, it’s time to be honest with yourself if you are the kind of person who works best when other people set your targets or needs others to motivate you, working for yourself is going to be hard. If on the other hand, you are very self-motivated you will find working for yourself much easier but you will have to make sure work doesn’t become all-consuming!

Another thing to consider is how important is being part of a team to you? If you are freelancing or contracting you are going to be spending more time as a team of one, and only being a transient member of other people’s teams. Yes there are freelancer groups and over time you will build up your support team of fellow business owners, but if you are the kind of person who needs the team around then as much as possible, you will probably find the freelancing life hard.

On the other side of the same spectrum, not being part of a team or an organisation means you are not part of office politics in the same way. Yes you have to watch out you don’t get used as a pawn in someone else’s power plays, but you have to do that when you are employed too! For many people, this is one of the best things about contracting or freelancing.

Let's talk about money and freelancing

Then let’s think about money.

The headline numbers that sometimes you see on contractor and freelancer rates can look very high if you are an employee and it can seem that freelancers earn more for doing the same work.

And in some ways they are - but what is covered by that payment is very different.

As a freelancer that is all the money you get - there is not benefits scheme, holiday pay, sick pay, you need to cover your costs, your taxes, your training, any equipment you need, pay for your accounts to be done, for the software you use and the list goes on. As a freelancer you only get paid when you work, and especially early on many people experience periods of both feast and periods of famine.

What you need to think about here is how important is a consistent income to you? How much risk are you willing and able to take with your income? I always encourage people to consider who else is impacted by the risks to your income too - if you have a family you may well want to manage your risks differently than if you are single or your children have left home. The financial rewards can be higher working for yourself and you need to decide where the balance of risk and reward sits for you.

Right now the financial climate for contractors and freelancers is stark. Here in the UK, many didn’t benefit from any of the government’s pandemic support measures and the changes to the IR35 tax legislation has made many employers wary of engaging freelancers and contractors.

That said the need for a flexible workforce is greater than ever with the need for changes to cope with a post-pandemic world and the Brexit which may not be in the headlines but is still an imminent reality.

Add to this the economic realities of the recession meaning that many companies will redeploy internal resources where they can to save making them redundant, even if normally using a freelancer would mean they got the job done faster and better. Frustrating as that is for freelancers we also have to understand them doing the right thing by the people they have employed.

It's another area to think through.

 IPSE is reporting a 25% drop in income for freelancers, and a significant increase in the amount of time people are not working. Being employed can mean some insulation and protection from tough economic times, but it also means you have very little control or influence over what happens to your organisation. Your company could decide to take a course of action that means your job goes and there will be very little you can do about it. As a contractor or freelancer, you have more control over your future, there is always something else you can try to get more work. So you need to decide which of these factors is more important and more attractive to you.

As a freelancer it is down to you to find the work

And talking of getting more work, as a freelancer you are going to be the one lining up your jobs, you are going to have to get comfortable with selling what you do and asking people for work. You may have the option of using an Agency to help you, that will cost you some of what you earn and managing your relationships with agencies and your network who may be able to help you get work in the future all takes time and effort.  As a Freelancer, building and maintaining your network is going to be essential activities.

As a freelancer being really clear about what it is that you do and the problem you solve for clients is going to make it much easier to find work. So as you are deciding if freelancing is for you, I recommend taking some time to think this through. What is it you are offering? Think about your experience not just in terms of what an employer wants when you apply for a job, but as someone who could come in and fix a particular problem. How can you show the results you could get for this type of work?

Being a freelancer does allow you to focus on the kind of work you love to do, you have the choice about which bits of work to take, to choose who you work with and when. You get to choose what you specialise in and to take that specialism and apply it in different companies and in different settings. That freedom and flexibility are why many freelancers chose to be freelancers in the first place.

The final thing I encourage people considering freelancing to think through is what they love about what they do and if they are still going to get that working for themselves as a freelancer. We all like to make a difference and to create a legacy, and depending on what we do and what doing it successfully means to us, you may or may not be able to get that as a freelancer. It’s up to you to decide!

Summary & Taking Action

So in this episode, we have considered many of the things we need to think about if we are considering becoming a freelancer. We have talked about how it’s important to make a decision that’s right for you based on your circumstances and what matters to you about work. It’s about where the right balance is for you between the risks and the rewards, how important being part of a team is for you, how you feel about running a business and looking for more work, what motivates you and what problems you could be solving for clients.

It’s a lot to think through but investing the time to do that will allow you to make a decision that’s good for you and which is going to leave you motivated about your work.

If all this seems daunting and makes freelancing seem like an unattractive option then maybe it’s not the best one for you ad that is totally OK, it’s not for everyone. If you have decided it is, great, let's get going.

If however, you are still not sure, that’s OK too, thinking this through properly is important. Knowing when to get expert help is part of being a freelancer and if you need help working through the decision for yourself let me know and let's chat.

The things I share in this podcast are based on my experiences, and some will be more relevant to you than others. It’s up to you to choose what you do with the information I’ve shared. That’s what being a Curious Choice Leader is all about, getting curious about your situation and then making choices that are right for you and your business.

So the question I would like to leave you with is,

How would being a freelancer or contractor work for you?

How To Lead Your Team Through A Successful Redundancy Programme

How to lead your team through a redundency programme

There is something that every leader I know dreads having to do, and that's making people redundant.

But right now it's something more and more of us are having to do, and I think it's a good thing that we dread it - we should care about the people we lead and having to let them go through no fault of their own is horrid, for everyone.

When things are tough like this, good leadership shows and great leadership shines.

It is going to be tough, but what if you were able to work through it constructively and position everyone for their success in the future, whether that's inside your organisation or inside someone else's?

So are you ready? It's time to get curious and make some choices about how you lead when there are redundancies in the air

Am I going to have to lead my team through a redundancy programme?

The CIPD, Chartered Institute of Personel and Development is reporting that 1 in 3 companies are planning redundancies, and the Office of National Statistics is reporting an even higher number with 2 in 5 planning redundancies when the government's job support scheme ends and people return to work from furlough.

With over 7.5 million people still on the Furlough Scheme at the start of August, whichever way you look at it, the number of leaders who are going to have to lead their teams through the redundancy process is huge.

And the chances are most of us dread having to be one of the leaders in that position. In all my year's working in change and with managers who are having to consider making people redundant I've never met anyone who looked forward to it or who didn't mind doing it.

I've never met a corporate terminator like George Clooney's character in the film Up in the Air, and alas I've never met George Clooney! The film fascinated me on so many levels, when I watched it I was travelling extensively for work and it was intrigued to see a very different version of the lifestyle played back to me and to see how they handled the firings.

And I get it, the idea of hiring someone to have that difficult conversation for you is tempting. If I never have to hold another redundancy meeting I will be thrilled. But even if this is an option in your situation, it's got some serious downsides for your team on an ongoing basis. The film is, however, a good watch and you might learn some things you don't want to do or say if you are making people redundant as well as a few things you might find useful.

How are you going to approach leading a redundancy programme?

So making redundancies is going to test your leadership, and you have a choice how you approach this test.

You could choose to avoid the issue for as long as possible and if you engage in the process at all only do so at a surface level, doing the absolute minimum and letting other people take control, leaving yourself and your team as victims of the redundancy programme.

Or maybe you will choose not to be quite that bad, and do what needs to be done but without taking any ownership or responsibility and keep things going as close to normal as possible just, leaving what happens as a big elephant in the room, with everyone worrying and thinking about it and no one feeling safe or really able to get their work done while it's there. Surely it will be OK and be safe if you hide behind the process and use that as a way of disowning any responsibility.

Or maybe you will choose to step up and lead your team with empathy, compassion, humanity and with a determination to create the best future you can for everyone involved, those staying and those who are going.

I'm hopeful that the third option sounds good but you may be wondering if that is possible or even realistic.

Is it possible to lead a redundancy programme with good outcomes for everyone?

Just as we were heading into the last recession here in the UK I was involved in a major redundancy programme. My role was being made redundant and the last piece of work I was asked to do was to make about 1/3 or a large function of the organisation redundant too.

This wasn't the first round of redundancies this leadership team had faced, they didn't want to do it and they were acutely aware of the impact that going through this process can have on a team. According to all the internal measures their team was the least engaged least satisfied in the whole organisation.

At our first meeting to discuss the redundancy programme it was clear what they didn't want as a team and that we needed to do things very differently. To stop them falling into a poor me pitty party I asked them to tell me how they wanted the process to be and how they would know if they had achieved it. As they started to describe how they wanted to treat people and how they wanted the team to be after the redundancies, not in terms of roles but it terms of what it would be like to work as part of that team everyone's body language changed, they sat forward in their chairs and the energy in the room was electric.

The leaders were very competitive and wanted to do a better job, not just better than their best, but better than any other function in the organisation. We were able to pull together a list of guiding principles that we as a leadership team were going to hold ourselves to account for and which we then went on the use to guide our decision making and how we approached both the conversations we had and how we implemented the legal processes involved.

And just to be clear, you need to ensure you are following the legal requirements and any guidelines that your company has in place - they are there for a reason, what we are talking about here is how you do that, the approach you take to following the mandatory steps.

When the time came to announce the redundancy programme we talked about our hopes for the process. We were realistic and didn't promise that everything would be OK for everyone, but we did talk about how we wanted to make sure everyone was treated as an individual and with respect and dignity, regardless of the outcome of the process for them. We talked about how we would make the process as quick as we could while keeping it fair. We asked them to suggest ways we could do things so that they would feel supported and asked them to tell us when something felt off or not aligned with the principles we had talked about.

What did this mean for the leadership team?

This took courage and unity from the leadership team and a genuine curiosity in what would be best for each individual. We didn't promise we could do the things they wanted but we did commit to listening and being clear what we could and couldn't do.

The leaders I was working with committed fully to serving their teams during this process, they put people first and remembered that they were leaders first and friends second.

And yes there were lots of tough decisions and tough conversations, and yes there was a lot of both coffee and wine drunk, but they worked as a team and supported each other too. They had chosen how they were going to do this, how they were going to lead, and they made the process work for their teams and for them.

All the leaders publically committed to sharing information when they could, and to communicate regularly even if it was to say that there was no news, knowing that when they didn't communicate people would assume the worst.

It was the first time I'd seen people who were leaving the organisation thank the person who had made them redundant for the way they had been treated. What's more, almost everyone left the organisation feeling good about themselves and the process, and ready to think about the next steps for them. 

People leaving is not the end of the process

If handled badly being made redundant can leave a huge scar on the person and it can take a while for them to process that and be ready to look for their next role. If you have ever done much interviewing or if you think about friends who have been made redundant, I'm sure you can think of someone who was a ball of anger and hurt and not able to let go of their previous job and the pain it caused them. Until someone is through that they are going to struggle to get another job or even see any opportunities they have. And what was great about what this leadership team achieved was they didn't leave people in that position.

The individuals who leave are not the only ones who suffer from a poorly lead redundancy programme. Those who are staying can suffer too. I've seen many a leader, even those who have experienced redundancy programmes before, assume that those who get to keep their jobs will be OK and just carry on as normal.

But that's not how it is, often they are suffering from a kind of survivor guilt, feeling guilty that they got to keep their job while their friends and colleagues didn't. They may well be worried about the people who have left. On top of that, they are probably worrying about how they are going to get everything done now there are less people to do it, and if their own job is all that secure.

You, as a leader, need to make it OK to talk about these concerns and to talk about the people you all used to work with. Share their stories and share their news where it's appropriate. Make sure you listen and don't just dismiss their concerns. The people who are staying will have noticed and remembered how you treated those who left, further reinforcing why it's important to decide how you are going to be as a leader during this process.

A redundancy programme is a change programme for everyone involved, and thinking about what is going to help people through that and building that into your plan and knowing what you are doing to lead your team will ease the process for everyone including yourself. You are going to need to lean into all your experience leading change and if you are looking for some tips, I share lots in episodes 3 and 4 of this podcast - What leaders need to do when leading change.

What else did we do?

So going back to the case study I was telling you about.

As well as making sure the people in our teams felt supported we also made sure that the leaders felt supported as leaders too. For example, we set up a buddy system and regular drop-in sessions for them and we made coaching from a specialist coach available to them as often as they wanted it, and suggested they booked sessions every couple of weeks just to check-in.

As the programme progressed and more leaders joined the team making the changes happen we ensured they got extra support too.

Once we knew who was staying and who was going, we needed to start thinking about the future and bringing the function back together again so it could fulfil its role in the organisation. This felt really awkward for just about everyone - many of the people who had been selected for redundancy hadn't left yet as the company policy was for them to work their notice.

As a leadership team, we spent many hours discussing how to handle this. We didn't want to isolate them by excluding them, but we also didn't want to rub salt into the wound by expecting them to get involved in designing a future they didn't want to be part of. Both those went against our principle of treating people as humans with empathy and respect. We had to dig a bit deeper into our principles to get to where we had said we would let people control the parts of the process that we could. This was one of those times where we let the people who were leaving make a choice about this for themselves. Some chose to get involved in designing the future, wanting to do what they could to leave the organisation in as strong a position as they could, while others chose to pick up bits of work which allowed others to focus on the future.

What results can this kind of approach get?

You may be wondering what difference taking this approach made.

The company ran its annual employee survey just after the majority of people who were leaving the organisation left. Typically this would be a time when team morale and employee engagement would be low.

This leadership team encouraged their teams to complete the anonymous survey to help them understand what else they could do to support the team going forward. We got an exceptionally high return rate, I mentioned that they were competitive and this had been one of their goals.

But that wasn't the only thing they did well at - they went from having the least satisfied and least engaged team to having the most engaged team by a considerable margin and to having the joint most satisfied team in the organisation.

It took a lot of work and dedication to make that happen, but it is possible to emerge the other side of a redundancy programme in a strong position and having positioned those who have had to leave to succeed in whatever comes next for them.

Summary & Taking Action

So in this episode, I've talked about lots of things that could help you lead your team through a redundancy programme should you find yourself needing to. The main ideas I hope you will take away are,

  • That you can decide how you want to be as a leader, the values and behaviours you are going to show
  • That you can then actively translate that down into how you implement the process, the process may be fixed but how you act in those meetings and how you demonstrate that people are more important than the process is within your control
  • That it's really important to listen to people and spend a lot of time communicating
  • That it's important to treat everyone, those who are leaving and those who are staying with dignity and respect - its going to be remembered
  • A redundancy programme is a change programme that goes beyond the day the people being made redundant leave. So you are going to have to use all your change leadership skill and you are going to have to focus on bringing your team back together and moving towards your new future.

The things I share in this podcast are based on my experience, and some will be more relevant to you than others. It's up to you to decide what you take away from this episode and apply to your role, that's what being a curious choice leader is all about, getting curious, building your understanding and then making choices about what is right for you and your business. The future of our leadership and our teams is created in how we handle this kind of situation. So the question I would like to leave you with is,

How are you going to BE as a leader in an environment where people are being made redundant?

Leading Change – Why leaders should love being asked difficult questions

Why Leaders Should Love Difficult Questions 

There is something I’ve noticed self-proclaimed leaders doing - it saddens me and it's a mistake I've seen all too often before - and that’s shutting down any conversations where they are questioned.

Most recently I’ve noticed this happening a lot in the online business world from the leaders in how to run an online business in particular, but it’s nothing new - I’ve seen inexperienced leaders in the corporate world and new leaders in other situations make exactly the same mistake.

Now, you know I’m a big fan of questions and their power to help us think at our best and in this episode, we are going to get curious about how leaders react and why they should celebrate when people ask them challenging questions.

So are you ready? It’s time to get curious about the importance of being questioned and make some choices about how we can benefit from those questions.

What have minced beef and carrots got to do with this?

I want to take you back to one of the first jobs I had and an incident I'm not proud of! Like many students, I was working in the school holidays to get the money I needed for essentials like the latest albums and that new pair of shoes I wanted. I mostly worked through a temp agency and did a number of jobs working in kitchens and serving food.

After morning peeling potatoes I was not in a great mood when it came to serving lunches, and it seemed to me everyone who worked in this particular company was very dense and all asked the same question. What kind of pie is that?

The more I was asked the shorter and more curt my answer got until I started just nodding towards the sign. The lady next to me asked me what I doing, and when I told her I was fed up with answering the same question, she asked me something that has stuck with me ever since - not, as you might have expected, What do you think you are doing? or Why aren't you answering them it's your job?

Instead, she asked me you may have answered the question a lot but has anyone asked you the question more than once?

She helped me see that even when something is obvious to me, even if I've told lots of people when someone asks they are asking because they want information.

Oh, and the answer, by the way, was that it was a cottage pice with minced beef and carrots.

And that for me is the key - finding out what is behind the question, but before we get to that there are a couple of things we need to keep in mind.

Not all questions feel like challenging or difficult questions

Imagine the scene, you bump into someone and they ask you a question, how do you react?

It's not a trick question but it is one that has an infinite number of possible right answers and no wrong ones. It's going to depend on who you imagined bumping into, What you imagined them asking you about, how strong your relationship is with them, how you feel today, how confident you are in general, how you imagined they asked you the question and what you believe their intent was when they asked you the question. That's a lot of variables for you to manage all at the same time.

Not all questions feel the same when they are asked. Some are easy, like do you want coffee (the answer is always yes!) and some are much harder and those are the ones we are going to focus on since those are the ones it's tempting to avoid.

Some questions leave you feeling supported while others leave you feeling vulnerable and challenged.

Here's the thing though - you can control how you react to the question you are being asked both in terms of how you answer it and in terms of how it makes you feel.

It's easy to take on board any heightened emotions behind the questions you are being asked - if the person asking it is anxious, fearful or cross those feeling can be transferred with the question and subconsciously you may have chosen to take them on board.

But, you could get curious about the intent behind the question and choose to react differently.

The words someone chooses when the ask a question have a big impact on how the question lands when we hear it - when for example we are asked why we did something our automatic reaction is to justify what we did, we naturally become defensive. We can choose to put that defensiveness to one side and react more positively.

People ask difficult questions to help them understand

And that leads to the second thing we need to keep in mind, we need to remember that almost always the questions aren't about us.  They are about the person asking them trying to understand something, trying to get things to add up.

Our minds work by making connections and we ask questions to help us find connections between new information and the information that we already know. At a very basic level, that's how we build our understanding and how we learn. It enables us to process the vast amount of data that bombards us moment by moment.

Beyond that people are also looking to align what they have seen and heard you do as a leader with what you have said you will say and do. That integrity of action is vital to a trusting relationship. When someone asks you a question they are looking for the missing piece that either confirms that you are aligned with what they see as your values or proves that you aren't and so they shouldn't trust you.

If when they ask you a question you shut the conversation down they will naturally assume that either you are hiding something or that piece that makes the puzzle fall into place does not exist.

And what if you are being challenged about a decision - like the on line leaders who held a series of in-person events during lockdown or who were questioned over their reaction to the racial tensions and black lives matter movement.  

It can feel personal but the people questioning assume you know something they don’t and are giving you an opportunity to make things better and make things right in their minds. When you close the conversation down or blame yourself social media team you confirm their worst fears about you, you break any trust that there was and getting them to believe in you as a leader again is going to be extremely difficult if not impossible.

Answering difficult questions

Answering these difficult questions can be hard, it takes courage and you can feel very vulnerable when doing so. You are going to have to manage any Imposter Complex feelings that come up for you and put them to one side.

Remember, it's very rare that someone is looking to catch you out, and even if they are, how you approach answering their question will show them how capable you are as a leader and how good you are at getting to the heart of an issue.

And if you have to admit along the way that you were wrong about something that's OK too - you are human and good leaders acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them.

Interestingly when you show vulnerability in this way, people see it as a strength, as openness and as trustworthiness. Its when you hide behind not answering questions people assume there is something wrong and there is a vulnerability or problem with what you are telling them. It's a paradox that when you show vulnerability what people see is strength!

So how should you approach answering challenging questions from the team? You need to work out where things stopped making sense for that person. To do that you need to listen carefully and ask the person asking you to explain what's behind their question, and you stay in a place of genuine curiosity and remember what your looking to do is to provide the information that helps them make sense of everything. When you do this, you will be building a great relationship and almost certainly be learning a lot about yourself and the other person and the topic.

The benefits of answering difficult and challenging questions

And that's not the only benefit of facing these challenging questions.

When we face them and encourage conversations around them we encourage people to think and to really bring their whole self to work. If we want a high performing team, to surround ourselves with people who make things happen and get things done we need them to understand what needs to be done, why it needs doing and to think about how best to do it. We don't want a bunch of automitrons who blindly say yes to everything we ask - well not unless you are leading a cult or think the stereotypical head cheerleader, you know the one who is the cool kid who only likes people who do what they say, from teen fiction is a great leadership role model. Its time to make sure the geek squad with their great questions are part of your team too!

What kind of leader do you want to be?

And that is at the heart of this for me - knowing what kind of leader you want to be, and then allowing others to help you hold yourself to account for being that kind of leader by asking you questions.

And yes, sometimes those questions will hurt as you realise you maybe haven't lived up to your standards, but that realisation allows you to grow and be the best leader you can be.

Do you want to be a leader who brings out the best in people and leaves them feeling good about the world?

Then you need to face those challenging questions - they are going to help you and the person asking them grow and learn. It builds trust and increases how engaged and motivated we feel about our work. Engaging your team’s mind is at the heart of empowering them, it's not really empowered when you tell them they are empowered and then tell them what to say and do.

If you want to be a thought leader or an industry expert you need people to understand your perspective and unless you make it easy to build understanding of what you are saying people won’t engage and fully take on board your points. The questions they ask will help you improve your explanations and them to understand your expertise and the value it can bring. Being questioned and asked to clarify things will also develop your own thinking, the questions may well help you learn and think better too. In the same way, people ask questions to make connections, they can make new connections for us as we answer them. Again growing our leadership.

A final thought about challenging and difficult questions

And a final thought. As a leader you don’t have to know all the answers - let’s face it no one does, so it’s time to let go of that belief and stop making that new leader mistake.

What if instead you replaced it with curiosity and had an open discussion about the subject - your role is to collate the ideas, knowledge and thinking so you can make great choices. And yes your thinking matters too - and as I said, when people ask you questions it can really develop your thinking and help you explain things better. It can help you and your team innovate and come up with great new solutions. And it builds a working world where the people around you want to bring their best thinking and do their best work.

Summary & Taking Action

So in this episode, we have talked about why leaders should welcome questions from those around them. How it improves the quality and the quantity of thinking, how it engages people, boosts productivity and better ways of working and deepens your relationships.

When you shut questions down, no matter how good your intentions you send a torpedo through all of these and it can be hard to ever repair the damage.

How you react to difficult and challenging questions is a clear demonstration of what you stand for as a leader. It's your choice, are you going to close the conversation and your relationships down, or are you going to get curious, explore the intent behind the question and grow a mutual understanding of the subject so you all benefit?

The things I share in this podcast are based on my own experience and some of them are going to be more relevant to you than others. Some are going to take a bit more thinking about than others. What I hope is that by sharing them, it encourages you to get curious and make some choices about what you do with what you have heard. That's what being a curious choice leader is all about. So the question I would like to leave you with is, 

How can you improve how you answer challenging and difficult questions?

How To Bridge The Post Furlough Divide In Your Team

How To Bridge The Post Furlough Divide In Your Team 

Here in the UK, the government's job support scheme is coming to an end and the latest figures suggest that about 50% of of the people who were furloughed have either returned to work or been made redundant. As the scheme is phased out over the next couple of months those managing and leading teams that the furlough workers are returning to are being left with some very tricky team dynamics to manage.

A dynamic I'm calling the post furlough divide.

 It's going to provide yet another test of our leadership and given the challenging trading conditions we are all operating in, getting it right is potentially critical to the future of our businesses.

So are you ready to get curious about the post furlough divide and make some choices about how you minimise its impact for your team?

The scale of the post furlough challenge

By the end of July,  9.6 million workers in the UK were covered by the furlough scheme - it's a mind-blowing number and about a third of the workforce.

As companies start contributing to the cost of those employees, hopefully, many of them will return to work and sadly many will be made redundant. We will talk more about how you can best support those being made redundant in another episode, and for today we are going to talk about the impact of those who have been on furlough returning to work.

Unsurprisingly there is a growing divide between those who have been on furlough and those who have been working through this period.

The conversations I have been having with clients and friends has illustrated just how deep this divide is and how most leaders have been so busy keeping the lights on in their business and making sure that there are roles for people to return to, that it's not something they have given much thought to.

It's also something which if addressed now will ensure that your team are soon working together again and you can all focus on securing your future, rather than you spending your time managing a team with deep divides where one set of people resents the other and no one is doing their best work.

What is the post furlough divide?

If you take a moment to think about your personal experience and that of your friends and colleagues, I wonder if you will notice what I have noticed?

Let's start by thinking about the people who have worked through and not been on furlough. They have generally been dealing with larger than normal workloads and certainly a lot more pressure than previously. Keeping the business alive has been their focus, everything around them was changing and they have had to create and adapt to new ways of doing things. Most of them have had to do this while working from home, juggling childcare and home-schooling, sharing their internet connection and often from a temporary desk set up around the house each day.

They have put in a huge amount of effort and many are exhausted. The way they work and get things done will have evolved significantly and they have just settled into their new way of doing things and as people return from furlough it's all changing again.

They have been worried about their jobs and the future of the organisation, and have at least had some sense of how things are going and been able to contribute to ensuring the organisations future. Most of them are not looking to be called out for their heroism, but they do want some recognition for what they have done.

They also feel that on the whole their colleagues who have been on furlough have had it easy compared to them since they have been paid to stay off work and who wouldn't want a nice long paid holiday?

Now let's contrast that with the experience of those who have been on furlough.

I have yet to speak to anyone who was furloughed who thought it was a holiday, some were glad of the break but the reduced pay and the ongoing uncertainty about their future have been very stressful for them and their families. They have spent the whole furlough period wondering if they have a job to go back to. They too have been juggling childcare and homeschooling and to some of their surprise, they have missed having work to do!

They have been dealing with not having the sense of purpose and the sense of self-worth that going to work can give. It's tough to hear your role isn't essential to the organisation.

In general, they feel the people who worked through had it easy compared to them.

So already you can see where there is potential for a very divided team with lots of emotion flowing between the two groups.

And then you've got the people who have been working reduced hours - they have had the best and the worst of both sides!

A 5 step plan to manage the post furlough divide

When they are thinking about coming back to work, the furloughed people I've spoken to have expressed lots of concerns around the practicalities, but there is one big area that almost none of them seem to have considered and that I think is going to be quite a shock when they start back. Regardless of whether they are going back to the place they used to work, or if they are going to be working from home, the workplace they are going back to and the ways of working are going to be very different. In their absence so much has changed, It's going to be more like starting a new job in a new company than it is returning from a week away.

This all leaves a very complex dynamic for leaders, and the situation is going to be different for each team based on the individuals concerned, the company situation and the quality of the relationships you as a leader have with your team.

This may make it sound like a helpless situation, but it's not. If you are now acknowledging that this post furlough divide is a real possibility and that you can't hide from it, you have already taken a step towards managing the situation.

But what else do you need to do?

Here are the five steps I recommend you as a leader take to bridge that post furlough divide and get your whole team working together effectively again.

Step 1: Acknowledge the situation and act quickly 

This is an issue which if you ignore will get worse and you will have bigger problems to work through with your team, so act as early as you can. Acknowledging that this post furlough divide could impact your team and being alert to signs that it is will allow you to do this. The kind of signs you want to be looking out for are things like snippy communications, a drop in people's energy and in the level of discretionary effort they put in, a dip in the quality of people's work, emotions running high or people acting in a way that is not typical of them. Remember this is another wave of change for people to manage and you are going to see everything associated with that. We talked about that in episodes 2, 3 and 4 of this podcast so if you want a refresher check them out. When you see these or any other signs, act quickly, acknowledge to yourself and to the team that this is what's happening and make it OK to talk about it.

Step 2: Getting Curious and Listening to Understand 

As with all difficult situations at work bring your listening A-game! Make sure you are listening with the intent to understand the other person's perspective. You don't know what is going on in their mind, what's worrying them and how that is impacting their work. You don't know what their experience of furlough or working through was like - but you need to find out. Listening in this way will strengthen your relationship with them and is foundational to bridging this divide

Step 3: Get returning team members back up to speed with how things are working now

In the same way you wouldn't expect someone who is new to the team to know how things work around here, those returning from furlough are going to need a reintroduction to how things work now. While they won't need, or want, a full induction programme, taking the time to discuss what is different and the changes you need them to make in the way they work will help reintegrate them into the team. It will help them understand what has changed while they have been away and reduce the chances of their way of working, the old way of getting things done, causing friction in the team and impacting the productivity of the people who have been working through.

This isn't something you have to do on your own, you can involve those who have been working through in it too, especially when it comes to the detailed ways of working and how to make it work now the person is back.

One bonus benefit of doing this is that it will help you, and the team who have been working through to appreciate just how much you have all achieved, something we don't always take the time to do.

Step 4: Find things to unite the two groups 

When you create opportunities for your team to talk and for them to do things together, you reduce the divide between them. And this needs to go beyond just talking about work tasks. Try doing something fun as part of a regular team meeting, having team coffee and doughnuts together either in person or online, you know your team and what they like to do, and what creates the opportunity for connection for them. That's what you need to be doing.

Step 5: Build a shared vision of the future 

An effective way of bringing the team together is to create a shared vision of the future. Having a vivid picture of where you are going and why it's important, creating a sense of purpose for your team will act a bit like a magnet, pulling people together and towards itself. I've talked more about this in a previous episode which I will link up in the show notes.

You may want to consider getting some outside help with bringing the two groups together and building a shared vision of the future. Using an external coach or facilitator brings a level of neutrality and allows you to participate as part of the team. For example, my team of Curious Choice Coaches and I are working with a number of clients to design workshops that allow teams to tell their story, decide what elements of it they want to keep and what they want to leave behind, and then together to write the next chapters of their journey to their vision. The leaders we are working with are telling us that by working with us they are able to address this quickly and they are able to focus on getting the work done rather than adding designing and delivering this as another task on their already too long to-do list.

Help bridging the post furlough divide

As I hope you can tell, bridging the furlough divide matters to me, our economy needs it but more importantly, our people need it - they deserve to work in places where they can add value and feel valued. So if you have a team some of whom have been furloughed and some of whom haven't I want to do what I can to help you get your team back working effectively together as soon as possible. If you would like, we can hop on a video call and take about how to apply these five steps in your team - and that call will be totally free. To take me up on this offer click this button

Summary & Taking Action

So in this episode, we have talked about how different the experience of those who were furloughed and those who worked through were and how in general both feel the other got the better deal. We've talked about how important it is to bridge that divide, and I've shared 5 practical things you can do to bring the team back together effectively;

  • Acknowledging the situation and acting quickly
  • getting curious and listening to understand people's experiences and concerns
  • making sure you plan and take the time to get returning team members back up to speed with how things work now
  • finding things to unite the two groups
  • and finally building a shared vision of the future.

The things I share in this podcast are based on my experience. It's up to you to decide what you take and apply - that's what being a curious choice leader is all about, getting curious, building our understanding and then making choices and deciding what is best for you and your business. 

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

What are you doing to do to make sure there is no great furlough divide in your team?

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?