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Following Laura’s recent blog (29 June) on how we respond to significant change, I wanted to share a number of practical insights into how leaders can help themselves, and their teams, to handle uncertainty.

There are many different ways to reflect on the challenges that will emerge from our decision to leave the EU. There are threats of the economy weakening and of years of uncertainty. Equally, there are opportunities for greater freedom and wider trading options. But for everyone, there is a strong sense of uncertainty about the future. And one thing is for sure: now, more than ever, people will feel the need for leadership.

A lot of Pearn Kandola's work in leadership development involves testing and challenging leaders in unfamiliar situations. We can gain a great deal of insight into a leader’s behaviour, mindset and decision making style when they are stretched and taken outside of the usual zones of familiarity. This is because intense pressure causes people to revert to a range of personal strategies that will either increase or reduce leadership effectiveness.

Many studies have made strong links between the ability to cope with uncertainty and our personality, while other studies have linked the use of positive affect and reframing (the capacity to see situations from a wide range of perspectives) as being critical to handling uncertainty. From years of observing leadership in action, however, there are a number of very important and practical strategies, some of which may seem counter-intuitive, that lead to greater effectiveness in leading others. These are:

Be aware

The strongest leaders have the ability to reflect on what they are thinking and feeling (it’s called meta-cognition) in a way that gives them more choices in their response and enables the leader to adapt and learn more quickly than their peers.

Zoom out

One of the hardest transitions for any leader is moving from being the expert to being responsible for experts. A strong temptation for many under pressure is to resort to seeking details and clinging to facts, in order to prove worth to others. Instead, this gets in the way of focusing on what people really need – greater vision, strategic plans and support.

Ease off

Some leaders, under pressure, feel an overwhelming need to take greater control. While clarity and direction from leaders can of course be important in handling uncertainty, taking control from others simply undermines the self-belief of followers at a time when they need opportunities to build and sustain personal confidence.

Be open

The temptation for many is to shoulder fears and concerns about the future. Again, nobody appreciates ranting or screaming in pressured situations, but being open about fears and seeking opinions and ideas from others enhances, rather than diminishes effectiveness as a leader.

Over-communicate

The final point is the need for communication. Effective leaders know that followers need to hear and know what is going on. Bluffing, covering up or giving half-truths are obvious ways to destroy trust in teams – the only option is to communicate openly, honestly and frequently.

It is during times of turbulence, such as the collapse of the banking and finance system in 2008 and this latest decision to leave the EU, that organisations learn about the qualities of leadership. In the past, ‘charismatic’ and ‘inspirational’ leadership models were held to describe the essence of leadership, based on the notion that having certain (often male) characteristics was essential to leading others. In recent times, however, responsible, ethical and moral leadership have taken centre stage. Perhaps from here, in the constantly changing and uncertain times ahead, we will see an increasing focus on connected and inclusive leadership?

To read more of Stuart Duff's blogs on leadership and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

It is unlikely that many of us, whichever way we voted, really expected the ‘leave’ camp to come out ahead. There was a sense of disbelief amongst everyone, whichever side of the fence they fell. The unexpected result has suddenly imposed a significant change on us all.

In the face of this unprecedented change, we will experience a range of emotions before we are able to accept the new world and move forward positively. The triggers for these emotions are basic: they are essentially a physiological reaction to threat. The fear or anger we feel is a direct result of increased brain activity, and will be felt through increased blood pressure, a higher pulse rate or a desire to punch the desk. It is the body’s way of coping with threats and a fear of failure. We fear not being able to cope with the new world and we react defensively.

It is important to bear in mind that we will all react in different ways to the changes ahead and we will all find personal strategies to deal with what is happening. If you want to know how people are feeling about the change, just listen to their words…

• “This is ridiculous. It can’t be happening…”

We will all feel some kind of shock… even those who voted to leave. It is normal to go through a period of disbelief or confusion. A fear of the unknown will make it harder to think clearly and we could find ourselves pre-occupied and unable to focus on everyday life. At this stage, we will need time to adjust, and simple, clear information to help us to grasp what is actually happening.

• “This is wrong. There must be a mistake…”

In response we shift towards denial and refuse to accept the reality of the change. For the referendum this might mean challenging the legality of the outcome or proposing options for over-turning the decision. Many of us will now be thinking that the decision will be reversed, but according to senior government figures, it won’t. It is natural for us to search for angles that take the pain away before we are able to accept and deal with the reality of a change.

• “How did the government allow this to happen?”

We need reasons why this has happened. When it becomes increasingly clear that change is a reality, we may become preoccupied with thoughts of “if only….” revisiting and refining our understanding of how it happened. It can be tempting to lay blame on others and find scapegoats. It is important to recognise that there is a collective responsibility both positive and negative that may have led to the outcome. And that, indeed, some factors may have been outside our control and some choices only clarified by hindsight.

• “It is what it is. We need to make the best of the situation…”

No-one will want to stay in a state of uncertainty and conflict for ever. When ready we will begin to explore new possibilities and a vision of how the future could be optimised; new relationships with Europe; new ways for politicians to connect with their own people. We will become impatient for the pain to be over and shift towards looking to the future.

• “It’s a great opportunity. Let’s get on with it…”

Ultimately people will focus on making the new situation a reality and will absorb or embrace it as the new “normal”. Revisiting resentment and blame will feel counterproductive and, as we become more familiar with the new situation, there will be far less uncertainty and anxiety driving our responses. Ultimately, the whole experience will give greater context to other major changes – such as a new prime minister or new ways of working.

Whether it is weeks from now, months or perhaps longer, we should all look forward to the point where the future has become the past. Once there we will no doubt find the reality to be far less frightening than it currently seems. Right now, we might still be reeling from the shock of unexpected change and fearful of the unknown, but we will adapt. The world is dynamic and no outcome would have resulted in a perpetual status quo. We react, learn and evolve.

To read more of Laura Haycock's blogs on performance management and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

Warning!! This article explores how the psychology behind cognitive bias can help us weigh up the rights and wrongs of the Referendum arguments. The result may be more confusion and uncertainty. I apologise for that. Once you start to unravel the murky processes by which we make sense of the world you come to realise what emotional irrational beings we truly are.

However, fear not! The less confident you are of your ability to be objective, the chances are the more objective your decisions will actually be. Uncertainty prompts us to re-examine our assumptions and be open to new evidence. Perversely it is the people who are still undecided that we should probably have most faith in; assuming they are eventually able to make up their minds!

In this week’s Telegraph Daniel Kahneman warns of the risk in allowing ‘heart’ to rule over ‘head’ in the upcoming EU Referendum. Kahneman sees the Brexit campaign as being particularly at risk of emotionally biased judgments that might prove costly. However, I respectfully challenge Kahneman’s assessment and explore the world of cognitive bias to reveal how none of us, whether Remain or Brexit, can be certain we are right. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/06/05/british-voters-succumbing-to-impulse-irritation-and-anger---and/

In the EU referendum we are tasked with making a crucially important decision that carries significant potential risks. We are asked to do so even though few of us understand macroeconomics, have little understanding of the true structure and processes of the EU and cannot fully predict the pressures and priorities of the future. To decide we have to listen to the views of experts, friends and family, and the community at large and weigh up what is authentic and important to us as individuals. Emotion and bias are an inevitable part of what we decide to vote for.

Indeed being biased is part of being human. Our decision making, our beliefs, our motivations and emotions are all intertwined. Emotional reactions are fast and subconscious. Our logical brain has to play catch-up. But as Kahneman explains, our logical brain is lazy. Rather than running objective scientific analysis, it is too prone to look for logical reasons that justify the emotional reaction that is already there. As a result the decisions we make can often ignore the facts and information put before us i.e. they show cognitive bias.

Wikepedia lists over 170 different sources of cognitive bias. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases. I have identified 5 general groups that could impact our referendum decisions.

Need for Clarity

First and foremost humans don’t like to feel confused. We are programmed to feel anxious if things don’t make sense and this motivates us to find clarity and answers where reality might be more ambiguous. As a consequence:

● we artificially exaggerate the difference between alternative options in order to create more distinction between them. Each side tries to paint themselves as all good and the alternative all bad although most of us recognize that either outcome brings costs and benefits. This leads the groups to become polarized.

● we don’t favour options where we sense the outcome is unknown or ambiguous. We tend to assume that the status quo is better. This preference works against Brexit which, to many, seems like a shot in the dark. However, we are also reminded of the risk that the EU could go in directions we can’t anticipate.

Need to be Right

We feel much happier if we believe our views are true and correct. It helps us feel good about ourselves if we can trust in our own logic and view of the world. This creates an unhelpful impetus to prove that we are indeed right:

● we actively look for and pay special attention to evidence that proves our initial theories but neglect to explore alternatives to the same degree. Modern media feeds this by allowing us to be selective of the news and commentary we read.

● however, even where new evidence is presented we maintain our views and fail to sufficiently revise them. To do otherwise would be to let chaos back in and admit that we were wrong before. How many of us are guilty of tuning out when someone starts to challenge our established beliefs.

● whatever the final outcome, we tend to assert that we always knew it would end that way; if the outcome is a positive one then whatever we did in the first place must have been the right thing to do; if the outcome is negative then it’s obvious that someone else was to blame. So don’t worry; everyone’s a winner! Your brain will make sure of that.

Need to Belong

We are by nature tribal animals and strongly driven by a need to feel accepted within a group that is distinct from other groups. But loyalties, identity and pressures of consensus are powerful forces that can bend our logic.

● we start to perceive things differently in tune with others in the group we choose. When a consensus builds it is hard for individuals to go against the tide. Group members not only feel pressure to openly agree with one another they actually do start to think the same way which strengthens their belief that they must be right.

● in spite of this, you will view your group as more rational and capable of considering a point from all sides; whereas you will see the alternative group as sharing the exact same faulty thinking as each other and being woefully subject to bias. The press in particular seems to expect that a political group share uniform views and they home in on any dissent as a sign of weakness. However, dissent is a sign of healthy thinking.

● we also want to be on the side of our friends and not of our perceived opponents. The EU referendum cuts across party politics and yet there is unease at sharing a platform with an individual you dislike or a party you normally try to dissociate yourself from; even though you might want similar outcomes. It takes a brave Corbynite to stand alongside Nigel Farage.

● critically we are being challenged to define which group we do belong to: cosy middle England; the diverse legacy of a British Commonwealth; or a trans-European melting pot. The reality might be all 3 but forces pull our loyalties in particular directions that are then embodied in preferential trade agreements or deals on free movement. Your own group identity will undoubtedly shape your attitudes to the debate.

Reward versus Risk

When choosing between options, we must make complex judgments between the probability of reward against the potential risk of losses. Our ability to weigh up the significance of these is often flawed and leads us to make decisions that do not deliver the best utility in the long term.

● we have a much stronger preference for options that will make life better now rather than ones that will help us further down the line; it is hard for us to imagine the future and the benefits of long term options can feel too abstract and remote to take a gamble on. Brexit has a tough job convincing people that change will be worth the short-term pain for something better in long term.

● if we have already invested a lot in an idea or project, we are more inclined to carry on investing in it regardless of how successful that investment is. We find it hard to abandon our earlier investment and walk away. The EU has been an enormous investment which our friends and neighbours across the continent have put their life savings into too. How hard would it be for us to sell out now even if that was the right thing to do?

● if we consider the possible outcomes to be relatively positive we will act in a way that is risk averse. However, if we perceive the possible outcomes to be relatively negative we will act more boldly and take a greater risk in order to avoid those negative consequences. If this is true perhaps the Remain camp should be emphasizing a generally positive picture of the future to lure people into preserving the status quo, and allowing Brexit to focus on prophecies of doom.

Limits in Attention and Memory

Even if we try to control all these biases, our brains have limited ability to perceive, process and remember information. We have therefore evolved to pay attention to and remember whatever information is deemed to be most important.

● Negative information that signals risks will be regarded as more important than good news and you will give it more salience in your decision making. There is a reason why everyone is trying to scare us (and ignoring the last point above).

● We can get so focussed on one issue that we regard as important that we lose sight of a multitude of other issues that collectively carry as much weight. This issue might well be one that you have anchored your opinions to from the outset. The central issue for you might be financial wealth; or democratic control. We don’t like it when people confuse us by talking about farming subsidies or the NHS or mobile phone tarrifs. So more likely than not we tune those messages out and hang on to the one thing that stood out from the start.

● if we hear something often enough we start to believe it as fact. There is an illusion of truth simply because it sounds familiar. Politicians need not worry too much about proving their statistics. They just need to keep repeating them.

Managing Bias

One thing is for certain; the more you know about how you think, the less you think you know about anything.

We have a huge blind spot to our own biases. In spite of all the evidence of the flaws in our decision-making, we continue to fool ourselves that it is only other people who are subjective. In fact, the more you pride yourself on your track record of making morally balanced judgments, the greater the risk of you being biased in the future. You should always continue to question your own thinking.

Of course, you might be wise to the ways that others try to influence you and attempt to maintain a cynical attitude to their arguments. Sadly, again, this could put you at greater risk of bias. Sensing that others are trying to control or coerce you may provoke a subconscious reaction to do the direct opposite and exercise your sense of freedom.

Whilst you teeter on the fence a little longer, gathering views and opinions, a key challenge is which experts to trust. We have good reason to question the motives of business leaders and politicians. However, if we discount everyone’s views then what are we left with?

Anyone want to flip a coin?

To read more of Laura Haycock's blogs on performance management and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

Role models are important. Having contact with someone who shows what is possible, makes it more likely an individual will follow a similar path by:

● increasing their motivation to do the same,

● providing useful knowledge and support in how to do it, and also, importantly,

● by raising a person’s level of belief that they can do it too; their self-efficacy.

This seems to be particularly important, however, for women, who might not otherwise imagine themselves following a particular path themselves. Seeing other women succeed, in spite of any gender-related obstacles, increases young women’s own self-belief and makes them more likely to follow their own dreams and aspirations and fulfill their potential.

All people benefit from role models. For example, Buunk et al (Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2007) showed that final year students presented with an interview of a successful graduate in the job market had a higher degree of aspiration and proactive career behaviour as a result. However, others have found that exposure to positive role models had a particularly strong impact on women and such patterns can be seen at different life stages and in different cross cultural contexts.

Example studies:

● Barnir, Watson and Hutchins (Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2011) found that contact with entrepreneurs (male or female) had a particularly strong impact on women’s own entrepreneurial self-efficacy and consequently their intention to become an entrepreneur themselves.

● Lockwood (Psychology of Women Quarterly, 2006) found that women are particularly inspired by female career role models, whilst for men the gender of the role model was less significant; after reading a fictional account about an outstanding female professional, female students rated themselves more positively than if the article had been written about a man.

● The presence of a female role model can impact performance as well as aspirational drive. Latu et al (Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2013) observed that female students, when asked to give a presentation spoke less and to a lower rated quality compared to male students, unless, there was a picture of a female role model (Angela Merkel or Hilary Clinton) posted at the back of the room in which case the gender difference disappeared.

● Seeing a girl succeed in maths is more likely to inspire other girls and help them improve their performance, unless it is made clear that the role model’s success had been contingent on hard work rather than natural ability in which case girls were equally inspired by both male and female role models (Bages and Martinet, British Journal of Social Psychology, 2011).

● In India, girls who grew up in a village where there had been a female leader in the local council were more likely to achieve the same educational attainment as the boys and spend less time on household chores, in spite of comparable labour markets (Beaman et al, Science, 2012).

Role models can be found anywhere, but mothers play a particularly crucial role. Research has shown that having a mother who has pursued further education or a career inspires their daughters to stay in education longer, to set higher career goals and to persist in those careers longer, ultimately achieving greater success. The sons of working mothers, meanwhile, are also more likely to share family caring, presumably as they have experienced this within their own family dynamic (McGinn et al, Working Paper, 2015). Many women might themselves choose to combine work with family and here too having a role model is crucial. For example, seeing particular individuals who have themselves progressed to senior positions whilst working part time (Durbin and Tomlinson, Gender Work and Organization, 2014).

Whatever a woman’s career choices, it is clear that role models have a powerful impact. The more that schools and employers can do to demonstrate what is possible, the more likely it is that women will see a diverse range of career opportunities as being available and possible for them. This means bringing attention to real women who have become doctors or engineers or business leaders (in addition to those in more traditional female roles and careers); showing how success has been the result of hard work rather than due to a gift or privilege (and therefore something anyone could potentially achieve); and also showing how these individuals might have done this without excessively compromising on their own personal family goals whatever those might be.

To read more of Laura Haycock's blogs on performance management and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

In December 2013 an advertising copywriter in Indonesia was said to have ‘literally worked herself to death’ after her punishing work schedule left her totally exhausted.

The story of Mita Duran was told during a symposium organised by Altruth McDowell on work-life balance and well-being at the Division of Occupational Psychology conference in Nottingham.

This symposium looked at the impact technology is having on our lives, both positively and negatively and I’ll highlight some of the key points.

Firstly though it’s worthwhile pointing out that the enormous computing capability that we all carry around with us has bought manifest opportunities to work more collaboratively and flexibly than ever.

However, the blurring of the lines between work and home life means that the concept of “downtime” may have bitten the dust. We are all on call, potentially, all of the time. In the research carried out, people blamed the ‘culture’ of the team and the expectations of others. What became apparent is that we may be the ones who are primarily responsible. We all contribute to the team culture and by our apparent willingness to respond to emails at any time of the day we perpetuate the very thing we are criticising.

Even when people have drawn up agreements with family members not to do work emails whilst at home, it appears that many of us can’t resist taking a peek when no-one else is around.

Organisations tend not to have policies or guidance around this-it's assumed we should all know how to deal with it. Many people, in fact, assume that their colleagues deal with work-life conflict better than them which can lead to not wanting to admit the struggle they have controlling how much work they do in their leisure time.

Having said that, a one size fits all policy isn’t the solution, as each of us has our own preferred way of working. Instead we need a framework to help us decide what works for each individual. Above all, teams need to talk about this to establish a set of group norms, agreed and monitored by everybody.

To read more of Binna Kandola's blogs on diversity and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

As we embark on a new year, many of us will be setting goals and aiming to improve ourselves in some way; reflecting on the year that has gone, with a gnawing sense that we “could do better”.

We know that goal setting can be helpful in supporting achievement and, in turn, the achievement of our goals can give us a sense of success. However, repetitive striving towards something better is risky. Fuelling a perfectionist attitude can actually lead to a loss of motivation and proactivity unless a more adaptive approach is practised.

Multiple demands

I know that I could be thinner, fitter, better dressed and healthier; I could be a better parent, neighbour and friend; I could be more socially responsible and ‘green’; not to mention more popular, famous, wealthy and respected. On top of that we all want to get the best exam results, performance review or job that we possibly can. The pressures to be successful are diverse and pervasive. They are fuelled by self-help books, social media and cultural expectation which externally define what we all could and should be. And underlying all this is the belief that by achieving these goals we will be happier.

In a competitive world we have been brought up to strive to meet these expectations placed upon us and constantly achieve more. However, this approach can feed a sense of insecurity and of never being good enough. Rather than making us happy, this pattern of thinking drags us down. The effect of this constant pressure is taking particular toll on younger people with dramatic rises in anxiety, depression and eating disorders. In reality, it isn’t possible to be the best you can be in every different measure of success. There are only 24 hours in each day and we must budget our time to focus on the things that matter most. So the perfectionist in us is already doomed to fail.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

Striving for perfection

A person’s degree of achievement orientation is a powerful driver to their need to set and work towards goals. And the perfectionist will make these goals more challenging and of a higher standard. These personality traits can lead to higher actual achievement as they motivate the person to work harder towards their goals. However, satisfaction is often short lived as the goal becomes replaced with another more challenging one. Further there is a risk in defining success purely in terms of the accolade achieved. For someone with these characteristics, the failure to achieve a goal is likely to lead to feelings of shame and guilt. Such negative emotions ultimately become a deterrent for the perfectionist to take risks or to try something that they are not confident they will “succeed” at. Warning signs of unhelpful perfectionism include:

● Procrastination – finding it hard to start owing to fear of failure

● Being highly critical of others as well as yourself

● Emotional outbursts when things go wrong

● Catastrophising after negative feedback e.g. “I’m not good enough”

● Understanding “average” as meaning failure

● Being overly concerned with what others think

● Cycle of dread (of potential failure) and relief (rather than satisfaction with success)

Adding fuel to the fire

There are things we do that feed this perfectionist attitude. Educationalists have found that measuring success purely in terms of test results and congratulating students for high scores, in the long run becomes counterproductive. Using this approach, those who expect to achieve and be recognised for high scores, become afraid to test their boundaries and are more likely to give up when the questions get tough. They find it hard to deal with failure. At the same time those who cannot hope to get a high score and receive recognition may never choose to try in the first place. This is called the “performance approach” to encouraging achievement. We see this performance approach in other spheres. In the home, parents are encouraged to take particular care in over-emphasising achievement and giving attention only when a child “does well”. If a child does not believe they are valuable and loved in their own right just for being them, then the emotional reward from an achievement becomes empty and short-lived. Similar patterns exist in the workplace where we know that, over and above pay rises and bonuses and measurement against targets, what creates the best engagement is feeling valued and receiving personal consideration from a manager.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill

Running your own race

More useful is a “mastery approach” to encouraging achievement. If teachers recognise and reward the effort that students put into their work and the perseverance they show when things get tough; the result is everyone feels better about the outcome and feels good about the experience of being tested to the limit. Using this approach, maths teachers will see students “have a go” more readily, try longer and progress to harder questions over time than if they reward test scores alone.

By shifting the emphasis towards effort rather than results, we create a more “adaptive” perfectionism. This is perhaps most brilliantly enshrined within Paralympic sports where we celebrate triumph over personal challenge more than who was overall the fastest or strongest. The shift in focus benefits us all as we are encouraged to also run our own individual race.

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” Booker T. Washington

The route to true success

Giving up on perfectionism does not mean giving up on achievement. It’s about turning your definition of achievement on its head. This will help you to find a sense of satisfaction that is more lasting and significant. It will make it more likely that you try in the first place, and more likely that you stick to your goal and ultimately more likely you will rise to higher standards of achievement.

● Value yourself and what makes you unique and special. You don’t have to win to be worthwhile and good

● Be authentic. Invest time and attention on a goal that holds meaning or value for you alone

● Focus on how you cope with challenge and sustain improvement rather than seeing success as a specific outcome

● Be prepared to start, to experiment, to take risks and get it wrong

● Let go of the need to achieve in other arenas – no-one can win at everything

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” Maya Angelou

To read more of Laura Haycock's blogs on performance management and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

We’ve all made the mistake of going shopping when we’re hungry, so we all know what happens: our trolleys get filled with unhealthy treats that we don’t really need, but that we want now, while we forget to stock up on the essentials that we’re going to need for the rest of the week. Even when we know it will make us feel guilty, we do this because of a little thing called ‘projection bias’, which happens when our desire for short-term gratification overrides our longer-term needs. It’s a major barrier to making strategic long-term plans, because it can make it difficult to identify what we’re going to need in the future.

Overcoming projection bias

In this example, it’s easy enough to overcome projection bias - we try in future not to shop when we’re hungry. But there’s a bit more to it than that. We need to be able to form a vision of the future - of our future needs - in a way not influenced by what we’re feeling at the moment.
This applies to more important decisions than what we need to buy at the supermarket. For example, it could mean the difference between a successful business plan and an unsuccessful one, or it could mean that your team reshuffle doesn’t work in the long-run. Any kind of decision or project that will have long-term ramifications needs a strategic approach to make it work - and there’s no room for projection bias when it comes to strategic thinking and planning.

Developing the vision to see your goals fulfilled

We’ve devised a tool that is designed to help you build strategic, realistic long-term goals without succumbing to the influence of biases, available in the iLEAD Tools: Thought Leadership book. It centres around the six core elements needed for goal-planning to be successful, and they go by the acronym “V-SPORT”, which stands for:

● Vision - the focus of your strategy - your end goal

● Stakeholders - who needs to be involved? It could be key customers, investors, or anyone else whose support is critical, and whom you’ll need to keep informed throughout.

● Priorities - having a clear idea of which actions are most important will allow you to make the right decisions if or when time and resources become stretched.

● Opportunities - what do you, and others, stand to gain from the completion of your goal? Will you be able to delegate anything, and if so, what benefits will this bring to those to whom you delegate?

● Risks - what could stop your project from being successful? How can you avoid or manage these risks?

● Timelines - what time and resources are needed to achieve your goal? Flexibility is key when it comes to timings, as you’ll need to be able to accommodate potential future changes, such as new developments in your competitors’ activity.

Within each of these areas, the ‘How to develop strategic long term goals’ tool helps you work through the questions you need to consider in order to achieve your goals. It includes a Strategic Goal Setting Checklist tool, which will help you to make sure that you cover everything and is broken down into sections corresponding with each part of the ‘V-SPORT’ acronym, starting with writing down your vision and taking you right through to fitting your goal in with wider objectives and forecasting future change.

Where do your strengths lie?

Similarly organised is the V-SPORT Self-Analysis Checklist. This allows you to flag up any areas where you may require additional support, and you complete it using a “red, amber, green” answer system to indicate which aspects of V-SPORT you can complete easily and which are likely to be harder to achieve. A simple two-step process will enable you to calculate your results, which will tell you where your strengths lie as well as areas where development may be needed. After this, your answers to a series of questions provided in the tool will help you formulate a plan to achieve your goal.

So what’s stopping you?

If you’ve followed all the steps in the iLEAD Tool so far and you’re still having problems, it could be because you’ve come up against a common barrier to success. To help you get past it, we’ve also included in this tool a reference guide to the most common barriers to success and what you need to do to overcome them. A particularly common one, for instance, is that the goal you’ve set yourself is too big and complicated, and it seems impossible to understand how to go about achieving it. With practical guidance from the iLEAD Tool, you’ll be able to work past this problem. For example, you’ll understand the need to make each milestone as specific as possible.

What happens next?

Having worked your way through the resources provided in the ‘How to develop strategic long term goals’ tool, you’ll be in a much stronger position to set goals in a strategic, considered way, maximising your chances of successfully fulfilling your objectives. The tool also includes a section on the next steps to help you put your plan into action, including advice on gathering feedback that could provide you with valuable insights on your strengths and areas for development.

For more information on how to put this knowledge to effective use, read the ‘How to take responsibility’ tool in the iLEAD™ Task Leadership book.

Shortlisted for the Chartered Management Institute Management Book of the Year Award 2016, iLEAD™ Tools provide you with the advice and practical resources to enable you to develop your task, people and thought leadership skills. By gaining a better understanding of leadership and learning how to lead, from how to communicate your vision to how to make ethical decisions, you will become a better and more effective leader and create stronger and more successful teams.

To read more of Mike Idziaszczyk's blogs, click here.

If you witnessed an accident, what would you do? Would you rush over to help, administering first aid to casualties and calling the emergency services? Or would you stand by and watch, waiting for someone else get involved? However much you’d like to think that you’d be the hero, research suggests that you’re more likely to do the latter. Why?

Leave it to someone else…

This behaviour is called the ‘bystander effect’ or bystander apathy. It arises when we’re afraid of ‘losing face’ in front of strangers. In this situation, it’s because we assume that there are other people better qualified to get involved than we are or that if we step in it may be unhelpful or unwanted. In other words, it’s a fear of failure. It sounds like an irrational fear, particularly when the consequences of our not getting involved could be that someone in trouble doesn’t get the help they need. But it’s been observed in numerous psychological experiments and in real-life emergency situations.

The benefits of being a responsible person

Being more responsible doesn’t just mean that you’re a better person to have around in the event of an accident. When you’re willing to take responsibility, you become a more productive and efficient person. In the workplace, your efforts to become more responsible are sure to get noticed and will help you climb the career ladder, because you won’t just be doing the minimum required to pull your weight – you’ll be owning tasks and showing that you’re someone who’s got what it takes to lead others. Outside work, other people will start to realise that you’re someone they can rely on, bringing new opportunities to enrich your life.

But how do you go about becoming more responsible? You can start by understanding what’s currently holding you back.

What stops us taking responsibility?

We’ve already seen some of the reasons for not taking responsibility in the accident scenario described above. Fear of failure is one of the biggest things that holds us back, as we’re conditioned from an early age to seek approval from other people. This means that unless we’re sure that we’ll be successful, we avoid doing things that could risk drawing criticism. Again tying in with the accident scenario, we’re also held back by an assumption that we don’t have the relevant expertise, and that someone else does.

Other reasons for not stepping up to the mark include lack of time – we perceive ourselves to be too busy to take responsibility for something, though closer inspection may prove that spending too much time being unproductive may in fact be to blame. You may also be avoiding taking responsibility for something because you’re simply not interested in it; examining your own motivations – or those of an employee – may be key to dealing with this mental block. Alternatively, you might actually be willing to take responsibility, but you’re just not sure how to convince other people that you are.

You can become a more responsible person

Our iLead Task Responsibility tool is designed to help you identify, evaluate and challenge your lack of responsibility and the reasons behind it. Employers or managers can also use the tool to help with the personal development of their staff. For each of the reasons for lack of responsibility mentioned above, the tool takes you through a practical step by step process that allows you to work through the underlying causes and become a more responsible person.

Overcoming your fear of failure

To give you an example of how the iLead Task Responsibility Tool can help you become a more responsible person, or help you with training your staff, let’s take a look at the step-by-step process that helps you work through challenging the fear of failure.

Step 1 – identify what it is that you’re afraid of. By defining it, you’re making a start on challenging it.

Step 2 – evaluate the fears you’ve written down, and assess whether they’re rational concerns. What’s the worst that could happen if your fear were to be realised? At this point you can also exercise some methods for keeping your fears in check: writing them down, focusing on the present moment and thinking about the successful moments in your life that you needlessly worried about beforehand.

Step 3 – reinterpret your fears. Peel back the layers of the fear to find out what’s at the bottom of it, and where they originate. For example, are you only afraid because of something that happened to someone else?

Step 4 – do something about it. Talk to other people, who may help to put your fears into perspective, and focus on the positive outcomes from each of your decisions, no matter how small. Gain confidence from thinking about what you’ll learn, and from developing different ways of achieving what you want to achieve – these are your back-up plans, and they make failure less likely.

For more information on how to put this knowledge to effective use, read the ‘How to take responsibility’ tool in the iLEAD™ Task Leadership book.

Shortlisted for the Chartered Management Institute Management Book of the Year Award 2016, iLEAD™ Tools provide you with the advice and practical resources to enable you to develop your task, people and thought leadership skills. By gaining a better understanding of leadership and learning how to lead, from how to communicate your vision to how to make ethical decisions, you will become a better and more effective leader and create stronger and more successful teams.

To read more of Mike Idziaszczyk's blogs, click here.

A particularly English phrase, “banter” refers to the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks; a form of verbal sparring between friends that can encompass deliberately offensive remarks or put-downs. Two friends can safely play this game knowing that the insults will be taken as a joke. In fact the exchange of banter can be a strong signal that you regard someone as your friend as it can show an assumed familiarity, shared attitudes and level of trust. However, banter should carry a warning sign in the office environment. Where others don’t see the funny side, the risk is that banter will be construed as harassment. Obviously malicious jokes can be used as a deliberate ploy to undermine others. However, even if meant as sign of friendliness, banter could be classed as harassment if the humour is unwanted, offensive or intimidating. As a safeguard for staff and to encourage greater diversity and inclusion, it’s important to help businesses get their heads around what is and isn’t OK with workplace humour.

This doesn’t mean the end of laughter in the workplace. Laughter has important physical, psychological, social benefits. It improves happiness, reduces anger and anxiety, with measurable impacts on stress hormones. It can also be an important way to help people with challenging jobs to reframe their experiences into something less threatening (anyone with friends in the police, fire service or medical profession will testify to a dark but seemingly important sense of humour they share). Socially, laughter improves the emotional climate of work, and helps people to connect and feel part of the team. In fact, there are demonstrable benefits for team performance; Lehmann-Willenbrock and Allen (Journal of Applied Psychology, 2014) have shown that the more frequently a team laughs together the more they share ideas, ask each other questions, collaborate and give praise and that these behaviours lead to better team performance.

The difficulty is that used in the wrong way, humour can have the opposite effect to the above. In fact if it is perceived as harassment, it can cause stress, anxiety and depression; it can undermine trust; and increase feelings of isolation with a consequent fall in work performance. A particular risk is that those who do not share the joke feel excluded socially from the team and discouraged from participating. It is irrelevant whether the joke was aimed at them. Bystanders and witnesses to office banter can equally feel negative impact, if the jokes undermine their sense of inclusion and identity with the team.

There are risk factors that increase the chance of humour landing badly:

Default style. It’s harder to put a joke into context if the person uses sarcastic humour all the time. Trust should be built by also showing respect in other ways at other times.

Predominant culture. If a one-off joke becomes repeated and copied by others in the team the impact starts to weigh heavier on those who hear it. Leaders need to take care to set a good example and not establish an unhelpful habit of offensive banter.

Reasonable response. If it is reasonable to expect that someone could be upset by a jokey comment then don’t say it. Particular care should be taken in relation to “protected characteristics” such as age, disability, race, gender or sexual orentiation. It would be reasonable to expect that someone could be upset by jokes around these.

Context The situation will affect whether the banter is seen as a “playful and friendly exchange”. For example:

• Where it is used by someone in a position of greater power or authority, the receiver may feel inhibited in responding and therefore more threatened and undermined by the joke.

• Where it is only shared or understood by the majority group in the organisation, this could underline the “differentness” of a minority individual and make them feel excluded as they are unable to join in the joke.

• Where it could be seen as unwanted sexual flirtation. Humour is a cornerstone of attraction and can be a way of signalling sexual interest. Therefore if it is consistently directed at one person in particular, it could reasonably cause them discomfort.

To avoid banter becoming damaging it is important that it is dealt with within an overall framework of encouraging diversity and inclusion. Creating respect and dignity for all is critical to achieve this. Leaders should role model positive behaviours and raise others’ awareness of the risks. They should put in place policies and procedures to safeguard all staff from harassment and take action where there is inappropriate behaviour. Leaders should embrace all the positive benefits of workplace humour and actively add to a positive and enjoyable work climate. However, this should be done whilst encouraging a thoughtful and sensitive attitude to others.

To read more of Laura Haycock's blogs on performance management and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

Under new plans unveiled this week by the College of Policing, all new police officers in England & Wales could require a degree as a minimum qualification for entry. As a business psychologist with expertise in designing and running robust assessment systems, this is an interesting development. It also stands in stark contrast to EY’s recent decision to no longer consider degree or A-level results when assessing potential graduate employees. So, who’s right?

Claiming that the role of a police officer is now of “degree level complexity” and that “the role of a police officer was as complicated as that of a social worker or a nurse”, Chief Constable Alex Marshall, chief executive of the college, is proposing that police applicants must complete a degree in practical policing (or a conversion course) if they are to be considered for future roles.

Whilst I applaud any desire to raise standards, this approach smacks of laziness. It was not so long ago that job adverts used “xx years of experience” as a linguistic shortcut to imply the skills and capabilities required to do the job successfully. The introduction of Age Discrimination Legislation in 2006 (integrated into the Equality Act 2010) put paid to that approach and instead employers are now rightly required to make clear specifically what is needed to perform well. The current proposals are conceptually the same; they are being used as a linguistic shortcut to describe a need for applicants to have sufficient intellectual capability to cope with complexity and an ability to learn from experience. If you want certain qualities, be clear in what those qualities are.

Secondly, while the research is clear on intellectual capability being the best predictor of performance and should therefore be assessed during recruitment, the use of a degree as a tangential measure of intellectual capability is flawed. It assumes that the standard of degrees between universities is equivalent. The use of direct measures such as ability tests will provide a far more objective, consistent and accurate insight into intellect than assumptions based on a degree.

Finally, I agree with EY’s conclusion. Bearing in mind that the average degree currently costs £12,000 per year, there is a risk that use of a degree qualification as a minimum requirement will indirectly favour those individuals who can afford it. Those from certain socio-economic backgrounds and ethnic minority groups will ‘perform’ less well under this system, decreasing the diversity of the applicants at a time when the College of Policing is working hard to create a police force that is representative of the population it serves.

Any attempt to identify the best candidates for the right job using fair, objective, consistent and accurate means should be the aim of all employers. But to do so using shortcuts such as this could be more damaging than we think. As my mum used to say, if you’re going to do it, do it right.

To read more of Jon Atkin's blogs on business psychology topics, click here.

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