LEADERSHIP INTEGRITY – WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR AS A LEADER?

Integrity is something that no one can fake. No amount of coercion can convince me that you are a person of integrity if you are not. As soon as you ‘relax’ your own values, as soon as you ‘allow’ the bending of your own morals or ethics, as a person or as a company, you can no longer be ‘in integrity’.

So many companies espouse wonderful values: ‘do no evil’ (Google); ‘be open, connect people’ (Facebook); ‘integrity – we work with customers openly, honestly and sincerely’ (Enron – remember Enron?!) – but how many LIVE to those values? The problem is that living to values creates ethical problems – we want to be the biggest and best organisation in our sector, so if we live our values, does that mean we can’t compete?

Integrity etymologically comes from the Latin ‘integritas’ meaning ‘wholeness, completeness’ and figuratively, ‘purity, correctness, blamelessness’ – its very etymology lets you know integrity is not something you can be ‘partially’. It’s all or nothing when it comes to integrity, and sadly more and more organisations are falling short when it comes to integrity.

The modern meaning is even more explicit – ‘honesty, honour, of the highest standards, ethics, morality, virtue, decency, fairness, truthfulness.’

If you have to go ‘find out’ if you’ve opted into something, or find out whether your interest rate has changed this year, that means that your bank or your search engine provider has not been completely honest with you.

Honesty does not mean we’ll tell you if you ask. Honesty means we tell you and are as open and transparent as we possibly can be in our dealings with you – full stop.

So what’s this got to do with you – The LEADER that is reading this?

Well, the latest leadership research points to the fact that the leadership value that people hold above all other things is ‘authenticity’.

Authentic comes from the Greek ‘authentikos’ which means ‘original, genuine, principal’ and its original meaning gives you a clue that when you’re authentic, you have to be clearly ethical and live the values you espouse – i.e.: ‘principled.’

And guess what the second most important leadership characteristic is?

Yep, you guessed it – ‘Having clear ethics and values’.

Authenticity in leadership means being who you are, not trying to be someone you’re not. It’s an acceptance of self and an acknowledgement of strengths and weaknesses. It means being open and honest whenever possible, admitting mistakes, acting with honour and being a ‘real human being.’

So as a leader, it’s important that you have integrity in all that you say and most importantly in all that you do. This doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect; it just means that it’s important to be true to who you are and treat all others as you would expect to be treated.

The problem is that right now we are not living our values in organisations, and as leaders we find ourselves constantly having to bend and corrupt our own values in order to stay in favour.

Almost every organisation has a published set of values – go into any organisational reception and you’ll see them framed and up on the walls. Go into the office and you’ll see them on office walls, hanging over desks, on mugs, on mouse mats and, a popular one right now, on screen savers on the computers – they are everywhere!

However, ask the average employee to state the company’s values and the likelihood is they’ll remember a few but rarely will they know them all. Ask that very same employee whether they believe the senior management LIVE to those values and act in accordance to them, and the likelihood is that they’ll say quite simply, ‘No.’

Now I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture of organisational practice right now, but we are seeing a worrying trend of previously value-led organisations beginning to wander away from the path of truth and integrity and allowing their values to slip.

So what can you do as a leader? Well, you can make a commitment today to be a more authentic leader: a leader who admits their mistakes, puts their hands up when they’ve got it wrong or stepped out of line. You can be a leader who stands up for the little guy and tells the truth even when those around you don’t seem to be.

When was the last time you thought about what your values and ethics are? By making a list (and by the way, I strongly urge you to do this as an exercise) you can refer back to it and decide those values that are most important to you, those that you cannot bend or waive.

Most leaders I come across in organisations right now are finding themselves at times hitting up against their values – perhaps it was being party to someone getting a roasting in front of everyone else in the last executive team meeting you took part in. Or perhaps it was watching a staff member being on the wrong side of a badly handled restructure or pay review. Maybe you watched a bullying leader get away with flagrant misuse of their power?

With your own written set of values and ethics you can refer back to, you can instantly remind yourself of what matters to you, and why that particular incident troubled you as a leader.

The problem for many of us is that we are conflicted. We want to speak up, we want to make a stand for what we believe to be right (and by the way, make a stand actually in most cases for the values that are on the wall behind us in that meeting) but we don’t want to rock the boat, we don’t want to be seen as a troublemaker and we don’t want to lose our jobs!

The irony is that I come across VERY FEW (I can count them on one hand still, in the 17 years I’ve been doing this!) leaders who do not want to live to the values that we all hold dear as human beings. Most people areprincipled and want to do the right thing where possible. So it is my belief that by being an authentic and principled leader ourselves, we encourage others to be so too. And for those that forget or slip, I find a gentle (and appropriately timed) reminder will often quickly allow them to come back to their core values.

When we are under stress and overwhelmed, there is no doubt that our behaviours get worse not better. We get grumpy, uptight, snappy – and that’s OK! No-one wants a perfect leader – they want a human being. All that’s important is that we don’t ignore our own behavioural transgressions and we stick our hands up and say ‘my bad! I’m sorry I was out of order yesterday’ – and you know what? Almost always that will make you a more endearing and authentic leader to your staff not less.

In this blog I’m not asking you to go beyond what you feel comfortable with doing. I’m asking you to stop and think what YOU stand for as a leader.

You have influence, at the very least with those that you lead in your team or department. Your staff will look to you to be the example, you ARE the role model to them, and so have a think about WHAT TYPE OF ROLE-MODEL you are being right now.

Are you rushing around like a mad thing, going to meeting after meeting? Are you available to them? Do you take your lunch breaks? Do you create time to prioritise your workload properly? Do you work all hours god sends? Do you work on weekends? Are you open and honest in your dealings with your staff? Do you celebrate your team’s successes? Are you guilty of pinging emails to everyone and rarely talking face to face? Are you exhibiting the behaviours that you’d like to see in your team? Do you admit your mistakes? Do you work well with your leadership team peers? Do you live to your values? Do you protect and stand up for your staff? Do you tolerate behaviour that perhaps you shouldn’t?

As a leader, it’s important to remind yourself that leading isn’t about getting everything done at all costs. Leadership means to LEAD – to forge a path for others to follow. It’s also about reminding people (and you yourself may need this too) what path they are on, and when they wander off path to bring them back to the right path, a path of integrity, that leads to a better place and a better organisation for all.

Integrity isn’t something you can fake. Authenticity in leadership cannot exist without a clear set of lived values and ethics. As a leader you have influence, and you have power – Use that power for GOOD.

At Meta we’ve been helping organisations re-connect to their values and live them. We help leaders like your good self in organisations to become authentic leaders who use their power to empower others. Now more than ever, it’s important to return to the values that enable creativity, innovation, quality, integrity (and yes, profits!) to flourish.

We believe it’s time to work in a way that engages, encourages and empowers your greatest asset (your leaders and your people) to be the very best they can be. It’s time to work smarter not harder and be a force for good in the world. If you’d like to find out more about the work we do, then we’re always up for a conversation, just get in touch – we’re in business to support leaders like you in any way we can.

Jo Clarkson

CEO of META

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SEEING THE WOOD FOR THE TREES – WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO GET YOUR TEAM AWAY FROM THE OFFICE

The reality is that, right now, you’ve got a lot on your plate. You’ve got so much to do on your to-do list that there’s barely enough time to get it all done. It’s one thing after another, each more urgent than the last, and time is so precious we feel as though we don’t have the luxury of time to ourselves to think, to reflect, let alone getting time away from the office.

Yet on a personal level, most of us find that it makes a difference when we stop and consider things before we just bash on, and even more of a difference when we talk things through with others, and get some perspective on what’s really important and what really matters.

Yes, there are lots of meetings to go to in most workplaces, (probably too many!) but these are not generally for sharing or exploring ideas and possibilities, they are for information giving, reporting and dealing with immediate issues.

This ‘meetings culture’ in organisations results in several things:

  • People still tend to work in silos – Despite being in a team, most people still do their work primarily on their own, and don’t use the benefits of working together or develop the relationships with others that make that easier.
  • Urgent gets done rather than important– People deal with whatever seems most urgent, and often neglect the important things that would make a positive difference to the culture, their effectiveness, and help to reduce the number of immediate issues in the future.
  • We lose the wider perspective – If people are focussed on what needs to be done next, they lose their perspective on what they are trying to achieve overall, and the consequences of their actions for others who are involved in the process.

What’s the alternative? – Most teams have an away day at least once a year. Too often these are just a lengthier and more complex version of the meetings they have back in the workplace.

But what if they were to use that time differently? – To do things that they don’t have time for in the office, like think things through, reflect, generate ideas and be creative? What if we used those away-days to help us work closer together, develop our skills and build a real team culture?

The benefits of space and time away from the office can be enormous:

  • The team can develop their relationships with each other in a relaxed environment
  • They can look at ways of enhancing their effectiveness in working together, so they get all that stuff done more easily
  • They can reflect on the bigger picture, what they’re trying to achieve overall, and develop ideas on how to do that more effectively
  • They feel valued enough to be given the space to think about something other than their immediate list of things to do
  • The team can make important decisions together, so that priorities are clarified and do not get confused
  • They can explore how best to work together, in order to achieve their goals for the year
  • They can develop particular skills across the team that will enable them to deliver their departmental objectives more easily
  • These developed skills become a shared learning, a common language of development that all the team share, something that brings them together
  • They have the opportunity to look at things that perhaps they don’t have time for at the office, things that are important to the team as a whole, but just not important enough to make the top of individual to-do lists
  • They can come up with more innovative solutions to problems because they are away from the BAU (business as usual) tasks back at the office and have time to reflect and THINK
  • Teams are a living system, a social network, being away from the office reminds everyone that they are not just their job titles or roles, but real human beings and that those human beings are actually rather nice to work with!

We at Meta have facilitated such days for teams in organisations over the past 18 years, and we know just how valuable they can be in helping to create sustainable success in the workplace.

Time and time again we hear the same things: ‘It’s just so good to get away from the office together’, ‘I feel like this has really brought us together’, ‘I thought it was just me that thought like this, it’s nice to know we are all on the same page’, ‘It’s nice to have some space and time to think!’ ‘I can see how we can make this work if we work together on this’.

We all instinctively know that time away from the office together as a team isn’t a ‘jolly’ – (unless you decide that go-karting is the way to go!) – it isn’t a luxury; it’s an essential to the long-term success of the team. Without away days teams become fragmented and individualistic. It is no longer about the team and what the team needs to deliver but ‘how can I get done what I have on my to-do lists, so that I am in the clear’. That may sound harsh, but for many of us that is the truth.

At Meta, we want to change that story. We want to help you to create a team that grows and develops together. Having your away days facilitated by an independent, someone outside of the team dynamics, who is not involved with the organisation, has been shown to make a real difference to the effectiveness and longer-term success of a team away day.

So think about your team away day this year. Firstly, do you have one? If not, you might want to think about setting one up.

Would you like to get the most from that day away from the office? Would you like to develop the working practice of your team? Would you like your team away day to be fun, enjoyable, motivating, productive, inspiring and different? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes please!’ then why not get in touch with us here at Meta?

At Meta we’ve been running staff and team away days for years. We’ve worked with teams at every level within organisations, global to start up, from CEOs and directors to people working on the shop floor. We know what works and over the years we’ve developed and refined our programmes, so that they are practical and easily applicable back in the workplace, thus overcoming that traditional ‘that was a nice away day, and now we’re back in the office, we’ll revert back to the way we’ve always worked’.

Now more than ever we need to be investing in our teams and giving proper time for their development. We love helping teams to realise their potential, and we don’t want your away day to be wasted. We want it to become a way for you to sustainably change the way your team works for the better.

At Meta we truly believe that its time to utilise this opportunity away from the office to its fullest, so that your team comes back raring to go and ready to give of their best. So why not use YOUR away days this year to get more? Use YOUR team away day to motivate, develop and inspire your team – you’ll be so glad you did.

Have a great month everyone,

Jo and Di xx

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BREAKING IT DOWN

The saying goes: ‘The only way to eat an elephant is to cut it into small pieces and eat them one at a time.’ What a horrid saying! It conjures up revolting pictures, doesn’t it! Yet it does capture a truth about working smarter: if anything looks too big to tackle in one go, you break it down.

Now, apart from the unpleasant thought of eating an elephant in the first place, the saying implies that you only need to do this breakdown to objectively big things. Yet in our minds, even smaller tasks can seem daunting. So I would change the saying to: ‘If anything feels too big to tackle, break it down into small chunks.’

Sometimes we put off that phone call or email because it requires more than one step. We have to check our diary first, or find the right phone number or document to refer to. And we’re not that keen on sorting it out anyway! In these cases, break it down: check the date, find the document or phone number, and be pleased with yourself for doing that much. Then you can do the next step a little later.

Almost any task we have to do can be broken down into smaller pieces, so rather than putting it off, and leaving it hanging in the back of your mind – or forgetting completely to do it! – we can just identify the first step we need to take, or one thing we could do to reduce its size or complexity.

And often, when we just set ourselves to take that first step as a task, we find that, once we’ve started, we feel OK about doing a bit more of it. This works because, instead of failing to do it all, we have now done what we intended to do, so the bit more is a bonus – we can praise ourselves twice over!

I find that I get twice as much done if I only set myself easy small tasks as goals, because I feel good that I’ve achieved them so I do some more. It’s so much easier than building up the dread of doing that long, tedious complex task.

So next time you feel your own resistance to starting on a task, why not ask yourself: ‘What’s one thing I can do to get this started?’

 

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THE RIPPLE EFFECT – WILL YOU BE A POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE RIPPLE TODAY?

At Meta we’re always interested in scientific research that backs up our own ideas about how organisations work. Recently we were made aware of some really interesting research done in America on social networks, by the excellent author Dr David Hamilton.

During a recent seminar we attended Dr David Hamilton referred to on-going research that shows that how we interact with others has a lasting and surprisingly big impact on others. This impact is what is known as the ripple effect. This quantum physics term essentially says that how we are in any interaction, has a positive or negative ripple outwards. The surprising thing is just how far that ripple ripples out!

How we are in all our interactions with others (e.g. happy, sad, positive or negative) ripples outwards into our social network. Our mood is like a stone when dropped in a pond. It has an initial impact as it hits the surface and then that ripples outwards across the pond, and actually our mood can affect someone we’ve never even met.

In research done at Harvard University on a social network of 12000 people (that’s a real social network, not a Facebook one) they tracked and measured how the mental health changed in individuals in response to mental health changes in their social network. There were some really interesting results! For example, if a close friend or partner of yours becomes depressed for any reason, it increases the likelihood that your mood will be affected negatively by 93%. It works the same with happiness. A happy friend can increase the probability of you becoming happy by 25%, and a happy best friend can increase your likelihood by 63%. The fact is that we transmit our moods to those around us, in fact that ‘emotional contagion’ can be measured up to three steps away in your social network – that’s your friends’ friends’ friends – And you may not even know your friends’ friends’ friends, but how you are has an effect on them.

Let’s just think about that for a moment in the work environment. Our workplace is also a social network. Every day we interact with different people. Some are in our immediate sphere of influence, our own team, then there are those in the wider team, other departments, other management levels within the business, and then there are those outside of the organisation, our customers, and our business partners.

Many studies show that the success of teams is heavily influenced by the mood of one or two individuals, if a leader is happy, it can lift the mood of a team, and if they are upset or angry, it can lower the mood.

This leads us at Meta to think more deeply about this. To us, it seems there is a simple choice to be made, and yes, we always DO have a choice about this. Every day, remind yourself that actually every interaction is an opportunity to spread a positive contagion through your team and through your organisation.

Think about it, if you’re friendly and positive to a colleague that has the potential to ripple outwards to not only them, but also their team, and anyone else that comes into contact with them through that day, up to three degrees of separation.

Let me put that into some figures for you: Let’s say that there are 10 people that you are close to at work, and let’s say that each of those people have 10 people that they are close to, that’s already 100 people that you have the potential to effect positively, in only 2 degrees of separation. Now when you see it like that, you begin to realise that how we are at work really does make a difference.

So let’s get back to the most basic choice of all. What kind of ripple do you want to be? Do want to be a negative ripple or a positive ripple in your organisation? The research shows that actually the effect you will have will be pretty much similar, so if that were the case, why would any of us choose to be a negative ripple?

In the busy, pressured working environment that many of us find ourselves in these days, it’s sometimes easy to fire off that angry email, or perhaps are curt with a team member or colleague in front of other people. And that is OK, as we are only human, and we’re not expecting you to be perfect here! We are just making you aware of the fact that how you are in EVERY interaction that you make be it face to face, on a phone or indeed virtually via email, has an effect.

So think of the ripples you’re making. They are not just affecting those that you interact with, but also their work colleagues, their department, their customers, and even their family!

Oh yes, that ripple doesn’t just stay at work – it also comes home with us. Think about it, when you’ve had a bad day at work and you come home frustrated and angry, how does that mean you are with your family? Maybe you get a bit snappy with the kids or maybe you aren’t your normal loving self with your partner? This ripple effect thing is a bit of a bugger when you think about it!

At Meta we hope to be a positive ripple in the world of work. We believe that the most productive, effective and excellent teams and organisations are the ones that understand that these things do matter. They see the value in their interactions, and see every phone call, meeting, 1-1 or emails as an opportunity to spread a more positive, friendly ripple out into the world.

If you’d like to know more about the ripple effect and how it can help the culture and working practice in your organisation then get in touch, we’d love to talk to you more about it!

Have a wonderful month!

In peace,

Jo and Di xxx

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CELEBRATING

Meta has just had a party to celebrate 18 years as a company. We are confirmed believers in celebrating and would encourage you to look at what you can celebrate.

It gives everyone a boost in morale, and it reminds us to pay attention to our successes and progress, rather than just focussing on what hasn’t worked or has gone wrong.

Celebrating doesn’t have to be a party. It can just be a cup of tea and a bun for the team at the end of a tough week, to celebrate getting through the toughness. It could be telling everyone to go home half an hour early because you’ve hit a target that week.

It really works well as an agenda item for meetings, where each person says something they’re pleased with or proud of. This reminds people that progress is being made, and also helps to make sure that the team stay aware of what each other is doing.

As well as celebrating progress with the work, you can also celebrate the way your team behaves. I know of teams who nominate a team member each month to have the ‘trophy’ for the person who has best demonstrated the values of that team. This is a great way to recognise that how we behave contributes to our success as much as what we get done.

We all respond to recognition positively. It’s a great motivator. And it doesn’t have to involve great fanfares. Just knowing that someone has noticed that I did a good job, that I handled something well, that I behaved in a way that was helpful and constructive, encourages me to do more of the same. And it contributes positively to the team spirit, helping us through the more difficult bits.

Work can sometimes seem like a hard slog, with just the ‘lowlights’ being paid attention to: when things go wrong, when someone messes up. Let’s balance that by noticing the ‘highlights’ as well, and remind ourselves that, on the whole, we do a pretty good job!

Di Kamp
Leadership Director of Meta

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NEW YEAR AT WORK

As you resume your work after the Christmas break, it is a good time to resolve to work smarter this year than you did last year.

Working smarter is a theme that runs through all the work that Meta does – it is essential if you want to be at your best and stay productive and healthy.

It is not difficult, in fact it is common sense, but we often forget to apply it when there seems so much to do. So what does it mean in practice?

1. Take breaks

If we stop and take a break when we are running out of energy, we give ourselves the chance to recover and become more productive again. Just a tea break, or a short walk can make all the difference.

2. Do what is most important not what is next on the list

It’s easy to just keep going through those mails and wear yourself out with the less important things. If you take a few minutes to decide what you really need to do that day, you are more likely to ensure that what matters most is what gets done well.

3. If it’s a big job chunk it down

If the task you have looks daunting, break it down into smaller chunks. Everything becomes more manageable if we don’t try to do it all in one go, but set ourselves part of the task to do each time, and we have a better sense of achievement.

4. Talk to people rather than email them

It is not only often more effective in resolving things to have a conversation with someone rather than try to do it by email, it is also good for us to have proper human contact in the course of our day.

Even if we only applied these principles to our workdays – and maybe our lives in general! – we would make it more likely that we didn’t exhaust ourselves, and that we enjoyed what we do more.

Keep them in mind as you launch into 2019 – it would be great to make this the year you enhance your care of yourself.

Happy New Year from the Meta team.

Di Kamp
Leadership Director of Meta

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IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN!

This month we have the shortest day of the year and the Christmas period: two things which add to the normal everyday stress.

We all know that Christmas can cause us extra stress: thinking about presents and finding the extra cash for them; preparing the expected feast; and the often obligatory visiting with various family and friends – which also sometimes means travelling in bad weather. A time which was intended to be a celebration and originally a mid-winter time to relax and enjoy yourself can turn into a flurry of activity and duty and cost.

What we tend to be less aware of is the stress of our short hours of daylight. No one likes getting up in the dark and coming home from work in the dark, as far as I know. However, our bodies like it less than our minds. It disrupts our natural rhythms, because our biology is designed to work in synch with nature, not against it. So we have to force ourselves to be active, even though it’s dark, because our bodies respond to lack of daylight as downtime.

So please, be a little more kind to yourselves this month.

Simplify some of that Christmas madness

  • Agree with other grown-ups in your life to just give token gifts to each other
  • Make sure some of your Christmas break is me-time, and just relax
  • Agree to do some of your visiting relatives at a more pleasant time of year

Give your biology some allowance

  • Let yourself have lazy evenings for December
  • Sleep in at the weekend, so at least sometimes you get up when it is light
  • Top up your fuel tank with good comfort food, things to make you laugh, favourite warm clothes – you’re using up more energy than usual

Give yourself the best possible Christmas present this year – be kind to yourself for a month!

May you have a delightful and peaceful Christmas period.

With love

Di and Jo

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A LESSON FROM WINNIE THE POOH – ON CREATIVITY & INNOVATION

As I mentioned last month, I recently saw the Disney movie, ‘Christopher Robin’. In the film there were so many nuggets of wisdom, and I was struck by just how poignant and powerful the messages were that were held in the film.

What was wonderful was that as Christopher had aged (he’s now an adult in the film), so Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and all the other Hundred-Acre Wood animals had too. I’ve always considered Winnie the Pooh to be a source of sage wisdom, and for those of you who’ve worked with Meta over the years you’ll know that we have often used his stories to illustrate our work. Now Pooh was older and wiser than ever.

In the film, Christopher Robin is now grown up and has left Hundred-Acre Wood. He’s become a responsible adult, with a sensible job with a luggage manufacturer, is married with a young daughter and has all the responsibilities that go with having the family. He has also lost his innocence, playfulness, his joy and ability to have fun. In his role at the organisation he is asked to ‘reduce costs of the luggage by 25%’ and ‘by the way, we need you to do that by Monday!’ So out of the window goes his promised (and long overdue) trip to the country with his family for a weekend break and work and duty once again takes precedence.

It’s heart breaking to watch because you know that’s Christopher Robin! And he wants to be with his family, but he feels he must conform and do what his organisation demands of him.

He’s being asked to do something that many of you will be familiar with – to reduce costs and he’s also going to have to be creative and innovative in order to get to that 25% reduction in production costs in a few days. The problem is that he’s stressed, he’s running on empty, he’s beating himself up because he’s let his family down and, as a result, the ability to be creative, to be innovative, has completely gone out of the window. How on earth can he do the seemingly impossible in this state?

Thankfully Disney beautifully conspires to re-unite that stuffy, uptight, responsible adult with his childhood chums and what results is a wonderful and inspiring exposition that creativity requires imagination and imagination requires the ability to have fun, play and actively do NOTHING sometimes.

Whilst sitting under the pine tree at the top of the Hundred-Acre Wood in Pooh’s thoughtful spot, Pooh delivers for me one of the most brilliant and sage lines from the film:

“Doing nothing, I find, often leads to the very best kind of something.”

That line stuck with me. Because I have found that when I am busy doing something, there’s no space for the creative ideas to come through. If there’s one thing that is missing in most of our work lives right now it’s space and time for reflection, thinking, and doing nothing. The result? A dearth of creativity and innovation in many organisations.

“But surely doing nothing is a bad thing Jo!” I hear you cry.

Well actually, when was the last time you did nothing at work? When was the last time you had real time to think? When was the last time you had enough time to reflect? When was the last time you allowed yourself space to just be creative?

A dear friend of mine is a top design consultant. He was asked recently by a large global consultancy to set up a design office for them. When I talked to him, he talked eloquently about how important the culture, the environment and the working practices were to a) attract the right type of creative talent and b) to ensure those talented people were able to be at their creative best.

When you stop and think about it, Pooh’s suggestion of the fact that doing nothing leads to the very best kind of something is accurate. We are so often rushing from one thing to the next that there is no space for thinking about anything else other than whatever is next on the to-do list.

Creativity and innovation require time and space. They require time for reflection and time for the inspiration to come in! If you’re busy being busy, the likelihood is that you won’t be very creative in your work.

So why do we need creativity? If I’m not a designer or in a creative profession, then what has creativity got to do with me?

The simple answer is – EVERYTHING.

If you need to write a report, it’s creativity that makes your report the one the board likes to read. If you need to write a proposal, it’s your creative flair that will make it a winner with your potential customer. If you’re looking to solve a major problem in the project you’re working on, the likelihood is you’ll need all your creative juices flowing to get a sustainable and workable solution. If you are a leader facing another round of cost cutting and efficiency saving in your department, you’ll need to get creative to make that possible.

Creativity is at the core of our work-lives; it’s a part of who we are. If we’re not being creative, then life and work is dull and lifeless. Creative places aren’t quiet and silent, they are animated and dynamic. Centres of innovation know that for every innovative and successful idea there are probably 10 that failed or didn’t come up to scratch.

To be at our creative best we need to have not just outside time and space, but inner space too. We need to make sure our minds and bodies are fuelled properly. We need to create the mental space to ensure we can give maximum brain processing power to the creative solutions we may need to come up with. Innovation needs to be FED and running on empty is a sure-fire way to ensure mediocrity.

So what can we do? We all have very busy work lives and a heck of a lot to do! And it’s important to make space for us to think, reflect on and prioritise our work. It’s also important to download your workday, either before you leave the office or when you get home, so that you can free up some mental capacity when you are home.

We suggest carving just a half-hour a week to start off with, maybe at the end of a day on Friday, or first thing on a Monday, or maybe mid-week. Perhaps you need to find a space where you can do nothing, as admittedly the likelihood is that in a busy open-plan office you might not feel comfortable in putting your feet up to just think. So maybe take that half hour away from your desk. Have a walk, or sit in a nearby coffee shop with a cuppa. The important thing is, that you do NOTHING. At first your mind will race with all that needs to be done, but you can always write those down, and after a while it’ll settle down and that’s when the ideas will start to flow.

Once you’ve got into that habit, find yourself more time and space wherever you can. Be that at work or indeed at home. I have found buying and reading a Sunday paper a great way to unwind, and although I’m doing something, I’ve found that it clears my mind of work ‘stuff’ and provokes different more creative types of thought. OK, so I confess it takes me nearly a week to read it, but hey.. Small steps and all that!

At Meta we’re passionate about helping you to be at your creative best. We believe that everyone has the capacity to be brilliant and amazing, and we’re in business to help and support people like you to be your very best.

In February we’ll be starting our Journey to Mastery programme. It’s all about how you can be your excellent best more often, so if this blog has interested you why not drop me a line and I’ll send you some information about next year’s Journey.

And of course we have lots of tools that can help you and your teams to be even more creative, and it’s part of our purpose to share those, so do get in touch if you’d like to inject some creativity and innovation into your team or organisation!

So why not practise doing nothing this month, and see if it leads to the very best kind of [creative] something for you?

I do hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s blog; I’ve certainly enjoyed writing it.

Have a wonderfully creative November!

In peace,

Jo xx

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A LESSON FROM CHRISTOPHER ROBIN ON WORK-LIFE BALANCE

As many of you who’ve known Di and me for years will know, Winnie the Pooh holds a dear place in our hearts. There is sage wisdom in that ‘bear of little brain’ and we’ve often used stories from Winnie the Pooh in our Meta programmes over the years.

This week I went to see ‘Christopher Robin’, the new Disney film which focuses in on Christopher Robin as he grows up and leaves Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and the other animals behind in Hundred Acre Wood. I was read Winnie the Pooh as a child so I have a particular fondness for him. The film is poignant, deep and surprisingly thought provoking. What I love about Disney and its partner Pixar, is that they seem to be asking the questions of society that perhaps more of us need to be asking.

In the film we see the adult Christopher Robin (played most beautifully by Ewan McGregor) devoid of joy, giving everything to his work, working all hours god sends and not having time for his wife and daughter. All joy seems to have left his life; the fun-loving playful Christopher Robin of Hundred-Acre Wood seems a lifetime away. He’s playing the responsible, stiff, obligated adult extremely well. It comes to the point where he has a choice, to go with his family for a weekend away or return to the office to work on ‘reducing costs and cutting staff’ for his manufacturing bosses. Work wins out and his family leave for the country without him. What’s interesting is that this is not a modern re-imagining – this is happening in post-war London. But the theme I’m sure will be something that will sound familiar to most of you reading this.

OK, so maybe your workplace hasn’t asked you to work on the weekend recently, but how many times have you checked your emails over the weekend or just checked in online on a Sunday night? Maybe you haven’t had to not go on your family holiday, but have you been asked (or just expected) to work longer hours? If you’re a leader have you been asked to reduce costs and reduce headcount? Have you sometimes had to put your organisation first? Have you missed the odd bedtime with your children? Have you not seen as much of your children or your partner as you’d have liked?

This is what Disney is highlighting (among many other things in the film such as loss of innocence, how seriously we take life and how we all need to play more, have more fun and enjoy life) and it’s an issue we all need to look at and do something about.

In a recent survey almost two thirds of staff and leaders interviewed said that if money were not the driver they’d leave their current place of work. In another survey of some 3,000 people, 47% said that their working hours had a heavy impact on their work/life balance and a further 39% said that it did have some kind of impact – that’s a whopping 86% who said that work was impinging into their home life.

This is not something that is going away, it is something that is getting worse, not better. Now I don’t want to paint a bleak future, I want to highlight something that for many of you is very real right now.

The tide of work is still coming in, and it will continue to do so until we ourselves decide that it’s time to stem that tide and create our own non-negotiable boundaries: what we will do and what we will not do for work.

For many of us there just is no work/life balance right now, it is dominated by our work. So how do we redress the balance?

We need to create boundaries, hard boundaries that are not to be crossed (unless in an emergency). For some of us that means turning our technology off over the weekend, for others of us it means always being home in time to tuck our children into bed and read them a bedtime story. For some of us it’s about leaving the office at a pre-determined time every day and for others it’s about always taking a lunch break away from our desk. You choose what the hard boundaries are for you, and then you have the softer more flexible boundaries that allow you to be the flexible worker that organisations need right now. At Meta we see just how committed staff and leaders are to their organisations, so committed that they are working themselves beyond what is sustainably possible – mentally and physically.

This year mental health and well-being are at the forefront of many organisational agendas, and it’s important that they are. Far too many people that we know and love are suffering from stress-related health issues right now. So in order to have that mental health and well–being, we actively need to address the WAY in which we are working, not just put on some yoga classes, give a mental health phone line to call, or promote healthy eating. All of these things are GOOD, don’t get me wrong, but we need to look at the causes of stress within the workplace. We need to address the ‘hard work culture’ we have in many organisations, and the longer hours that inevitably come from having more to do in shorter deadlines, with less staff and less budget. The reality is that most of you reading this are now doing a role that was once done by two or three people.

I’m not advocating a revolution; I’m saying that it’s time to re-assess what’s important in our lives. Nothing should be more important than our own well-being, our families wellbeing and yes, that of our staff too.

It’s time to look at HOW we work, so that we can work in a smarter way, one that understands and maximises our brains amazing powers, one that works in harmony with the physical body we inhabit. We need a way of working that realises that our energy and our state are incredibly important to our ability to perform and that inspiration often comes in the quiet, reflection times.

We need to be looking at creating a fun, dynamic and exciting environment where people can be their creative and brilliant best, a culture that enables all in it to flourish, grow and realise their potential. This requires a shift in mind-set, away from results at all costs and doing things faster for less, into a more sensible, common-sense approach that give realistic deadlines, space to think, create and innovate and, importantly, the right level of resource to enable the BEST results.

This is not just some dream that is unattainable, it is absolutely attainable. Look at many of the global tech-companies who do understand how important it is to create the right culture and environment to enable creative brilliance. Note as well, CEOs, Directors and guardians of your organisational cultures that are reading this, that those companies are also amongst the most profitable and successful in the world.

This isn’t about doing these things to ‘tick the box’ for the mental health and well-being agenda, this is about getting the most from your staff, increasing productivity and creativity through developing the right culture.  It’s about working more effectively and efficiently through smarter working practices that enable all your staff to give of their best more of the time. It’s about reducing sickness and turnover of staff, whilst increasing your organisation’s ability to attract the best talent. It’s about increasing quality and innovation whilst delivering more. In short – it just makes SOUND business sense!

So what can we do about this? Well, first of all, as mentioned earlier, it’s important to have an agreement with yourself about what are your boundaries when it comes to work, and to stick to them. We also here at Meta have a whole raft of smarter working tools, that we’re more than happy to share with you, so do get in touch if you’d like some of those.

If you are a leader, you have some influence. At the very least you have influence over your own team. What can you do to create a team-culture that advocates well-being and work-life balance? What can you do that encourages and enables those that you lead to fulfil their potential and be their very best?

If you are at the top table it’s time to ask a different kind of question. The questions of working practices and organisational culture are not ones that you should put off addressing any longer. In the coming years there will have to be a change in organisational working practices, because the younger generations will not tolerate the hard work, deliver at all costs culture that their parents did. A change is coming, the question is do you want to be ahead of that change curve or lag behind?

The future is not in working hard; the future is in working smarter. At Meta we are really passionate about helping individuals, teams, leaders and their organisations to make that cultural transition. It’s not rocket science; it’s actually much easier than you think. We’ve been doing considerable research into the field of smarter working, mental health and well-being, and cultures that enable excellence. We also love to share what we’ve learnt. So if you’ve enjoyed this blog, why not get in touch and talk to us some more about the topics we’ve touched upon?

In the meantime I hope this blog has given you some food for thought!
And I wish you a wonderful month,

In peace,

Jo xx

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BE FULLY PREPARED – PART TWO

Last month I suggested that looking fully at the outcomes you want can significantly improve the results you get. This month I want to look at the effect you have on any interaction.

We often forget how powerful we are. Our body language, our voice tone, the words we use, will all affect how well or badly others react to us. We are not usually conscious of this and therefore can take our bad mood, fed-upness etc. into a meeting and wonder why, despite our efforts to be polite and constructive, it doesn’t go well. It is because how we are really feeling shows through despite our best intentions, and has an effect on others involved.

So an important part of our preparation for meetings and conversations takes place just before the event. It is the way we choose to set ourselves up. So often we rush from one meeting to another without stopping for a moment to establish how we want to be in this next interaction, which means we take with us the mood and attitude we finished with in the last one. Now if this was a good meeting and we are feeling good, that could be useful. However, if we have run out of energy or been disappointed, then those are the things we will carry over.

It only takes a few moments to reset ourselves, yet it can make a big difference.

  1. Shake off any negative effects from the last thing you were doing – move your body and release the tension.
  2. If your energy is low, give yourself a moment to recharge your batteries – have a cuppa, look at something to make you smile.
  3. Take a deep breath or two and see yourself having a constructive and useful next meeting.
  4. Set up your expectations that it will go well – imagine coming out of the meeting feeling good about it.
  5. Remind yourself of reasons for the other party to want this to be a constructive meeting as well.
  6. Picture times when similar meetings have gone well.
  7. Take another deep breath, let your shoulders relax, and smile to yourself.
  8. Now go into the meeting.

All this doesn’t take long at all – not much more time than it takes to read it – but it does change your state and give you a much better chance of a useful meeting.

The extra moments used to prepare yourself properly can really make life easier for you. Try it out for yourself and see…

Di Kamp

Leadership Director of Meta

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