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The Concept of Mind over Matter

I recently read an article titled “Mind Over Matter” in the special report section of HRD May 2018 issue. The article was an extract from “Mindfulness for Busy People: Turning Frantic and Frazzled into Calm and Composed (2nd edition) by Dr Michael Sinclair, Josie Seydel and Dr Emily Shaw. Phew now that the credit is done, let’s move on to what caught my interest in this article! I have to admit, it was filled with a lot of take away gems and my journal dedicated several pages to writing these gems down and the highlighter had a great work out whilst I read on the train.

Some of the bits that particularly spoke to me that I wanted to share were “mindfulness is about training ourselves in awareness…” “Mindfulness researchers have shown that people who practice mindfulness experience a reduction in stress related symptoms and an improvement in the way they respond to stress and manage it” I gave the air a little punch when I read this because I recognised this as something that is real! often you will read about research says this or that and you think who did they actually do the research with, because what is being purported as fact is not recognisable. This statement however I understood and could identify with. Mindfulness does not guarantee that you never experience stress, but what is does is enable you to look at it and deal with it in a very different way to how you might have done if you were not aware and able to reframe situations.

“These days, it is as if our attention is being fractured into tinier and tinier pieces and mindfulness may provide us with the much-needed help to remain focused and to get stuff done, in a more effective and efficient way.” Can I get an amen!!! as a working mother, I am used to my attention being fractured on a daily basis. On any given day I have to remember to check homework, support with reading, assist with project, drop off at extra curricular activities, RSVP to the birthday parties, pick up ingredients for the bake sale at school, mend uniforms, iron uniforms, make the packed lunches, remember what each child eats and isn’t eaten that particular week; get the correct coloured clothes for tag day or sports day; book dental appointments, book doctor appointments, go to parent evening; update contact information with school….. you get the idea and this is only daily mommy duties.

Add in work, running a home, events etc and you really get the idea that our attention is always being fractured into tinier and tinier pieces constantly! such fractures can leave anyone stressed and unable to cope but there are ways to prevent this and this is where mindfulness comes in. It allows you to focus, make plans, journal, to do list and helps to allow you to prioritize and not just feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what is in your personal and professional inbox daily.

“Just like the sky, your awareness is never overwhelmed by the strongest emotions or the most troublesome thoughts; it has space for them all. It also be helpful to remember that, sooner or later, the weather always changes.”  What a beautiful sentiment. This reminded me of what I say to myself daily, Focus on what you can control and pick one task, complete it and then move on to the next.

Are you practising mindfulness? as always have a brilliant week.

Are we asking too much of HR?

Human Resources has morphed from its earlier personnel management days and basic transactional services to strategic HR management and various guises of the business partner model including centres of excellence and shared transactional services. On the one hand HR is expected to be all about people development, talent identification, attraction and management; reward and employment law specialists; employee relation gurus, savvy workforce planners who are experts at forecasting and mitigating risks and issues; superb policy writers and implementors; agents of change, project managers, people managers; culture warriors; the organisations conscience….. and the list goes on.

In effect we are valued for all the aforementioned skills and disdained sometimes in equal measures. As I sit outside on what can only be described as a lovely summer evening in spring, enjoying a well deserved cup of tea after watering my plants, my mind wandered to this question about the role of HR in organisations today and whether organisations are asking too much of their HR function. Can we be all things to all people? maybe this is why the value add of HR is still being debated today, despite the function proving its intrinsic value add time and time again. Could we be suffering from trying to be too many things? I never hear of or read about debates around the value add of the finance function or the legal function to specify a few but the debate rages around HR. So it begs the question, as a function are we perpetuating our own demise by trying to be too many things to all people?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and as always have a brilliant week.

Let’s talk about motivation

Motivation is a much discussed topic. There are those who think they have it solved when it comes to employee engagement and there are others who are constantly chasing it. Questions buzz around constantly about how to keep employees motivated so they will stay with an organisation and be productive whilst staying so. Oodles of money are spent annually measuring how engaged and motivated employees are. We fear staff who are not motivated as this normally spells trouble for the bottom line.

Let’s look at the CIPD’s viewpoint on motivation “Employees who have good quality jobs and are managed well, will not only be happier, healthier and more fulfilled, but are also more likely to drive productivity, better products or services, and innovation. This mutual gains view of motivation and people management lies at the heart of employee engagement.” This viewpoint looks at the employees while my focus here is more on prospective employees.

At the point most employees join an organisation they are highly motivated to be there, whether it is due to professional pride in the work that they can deliver and their own credibility or a genuine affinity with the mission of the organisation that they are joining. Not that there are not other motivating factors for why individuals join an organisation, because there are tons, but these two are for illustrative purposes.

I ask most candidates I meet about what motivated them to apply for the role they are interviewing and why a particular company. This is not a trick question, I am genuinely interested in knowing why the role and the organisation fits with your personal motivations and goals. It raises red flags when a candidate is unable to articulate this.

Not that it it’s a disqualification question because it’s not but I do think that candidates need to think carefully about why they apply to organisations and it cannot be just about the money. If research and experience over the years have taught us anything is that money in of itself is not a motivator.

There needs to be a certain level of intrinsic motivation with any employee for them to remain motivated and committed at work. So when the work gets hard and it will you need to be able to self motivate and be resilient to stand up to the task. Every relationship professional or personal is about give and take and being and staying motivated is as much about self as it is about the psychological and physical contract at work.

Can you afford to pay for performance?

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The topic of reward and how to do it effectively is a fairly well debated topic. A great deal of research exists on the topic and every few year a new fad or a rinse and repeat of a previously outdated model is dusted off and becomes the new buzz to ensure reward effectively motivates staff. Daniel Pink in his book Drive hits the nail on the head for organisations that operate a reward system that offers pay for performance. The CIPD’s Reward Management Survey published in December 2017 cited that 48% of employers who took part in the survey stated that they operate a performance related pay system.  The most common criteria used to manage individual base pay progression was also individual performance,competencies, skills and retaining potential.

What is interesting to me is that many organisations that operate a pay for performance scheme, simply do not have the budget to pay “a meaningful amount”. In fact the sums that are offered at times are so meaningless as to be quite de-motivating for employees who strive for that magical rating. Part of the problem at times with how organisation set up their reward system is akin to keeping up with the Joneses. They fall into the trap of being so in awe with another organisation that they admire that they decide to be just like them, even if there is not a fit with that organisation and the one in which they operate. It is also true that many organisations pay consultants to come in, and propose what their reward structures and strategy should be. Now, I am not saying there is anything wrong with this approach but where it can become an issue is when the proposal is adopted wholesale without much thought of best fit for the organisation.

If your budget is limited pay for performance may not be for you. If you are not able to pay a meaningful sum which makes a difference for performance rather than embark on this route ensure that your base pay offer is fair both internally and in the external market. The budget that you would have used to pay that percentage uplift annually, use it instead to consider paying a bit more than the market offers. Make that your attraction tool. Invest in learning and development opportunities for all staff, not just leaders and ensure that promotion opportunities are offered internally. Look at the non-financial rewards that are on offer. Talk to your staff, what do they value the most from work and can you provide these? Let’s be adult about what we can and cannot offer and. Like a friend likes to tell me when I get too excited and want to buy a particular designer item “stay in your lane, the Joneses are broke”.

 

Don’t be afraid of failure

It is remarkable that fear is something that is developed rather than something we are born with. I am often amazed at the lack of fear that babies and toddlers display. I can recall with perfect clarity memories from as young as 2 years old and I shudder with fear now at some of the things I used to get up to!

I recall once at 3 years old climbing underneath my grandfather’s house to hunt crabs that used to make their homes there! In this particular incident the crab had grabbed my comb in its pinchers and scuttled away! I was so determined to retrieve this, that I scrambled after the crab and proceeded to wrestle it for my comb!

If you have seen a land crab in Jamaica you will know that they are not tiny!! In the midst of the struggle, the crab dropped the comb and latched onto my finger with its pincher and proceeded to squeeze!! The howls and screams that emanated from my mouth were enough to bring my mother and cousins rushing to my aid from all directions. Luckily I didn’t lose the finger but I still have the scar today as proof of this incredible act of bravery ; ). At 3 years old I was fearless! The lesson I learned from this at 3 was to never wrestle a crab head on! No knock it out with a big stone first!

My second recollection in being fearless is at 16 years old going on a hike with the pathfinders group I led at church. During this hike alone with a group of kids of similar age or slightly older we had the brilliant idea to end our hike by exploring the local Bat Caves. Apart from bats, we had no idea what else resided in these caves but we were determined to find out! We had no light source just our over developed sense of curiosity and a knowledge that nothing bad could happen to us! ( the knowledge of youth, oh how I miss this).

We proceeded to explore the caves, it was dark and damp. There were a lot of stumbling about while our eyes adjusted to the darkness and about half way into our exploration, we fell into an underground river!! To understand the import of this, you would need to understand that whilst we all lived on an island and had no fear of being in water that very few of us could swim! Myself included there were about 10 others in the group that also didn’t know how to swim. What we did know how to do was tread water! Whenever this memory surfaces I break out into a cold sweat! Just imagine what could have happened if anyone of us had started to fear or panic!

Needless to say we all safely exited this river even though to do so meant diving under a short tunnel to emerge on the outside of the caves. To add to what would now be a big fear factor this all took place in pitch darkness. From this experience I learned that fear can stop you having the most brilliant experiences if you allow it to dictate your actions.

There are many things I have failed at both professionally and personally but it is only through failing and learning from those that I am authentically who I am today. To miss the me now who has developed and grown would have been a personal tragedy. To anticipate me in the future is only possible due to the failures I have had along the way. Don’t be afraid to take risks and don’t be afraid to fail. We learn from our mistakes, we grow by learning.

Priorities

“No matter how good you are, you can always be replaced” (unknown). This feels like a sad statement but ultimately a pretty factual one. I often have conversations with HR professionals who are just starting out or are midway in their career who mistakenly believe that they need to give everything they have to the detriment of friends, family, health, personal wellbeing and personal time to show their competence at work.

They are often stressed, unable to cope and will often leave roles because they are at breaking point or lose confidence as time goes on. Nothing is worth your health whether physical or mental. Nothing is worth losing yourself or your family. At the end of most people’s lives when you read their last words none have reminisced about a report they wrote or how many hours they put in or how much money they made or what award they won!

I have a simple mantra, I Work So I can Live! I don’t live to work. In my case, it’s a very good thing that I also love my work so the two are rarely in conflict but if work ever impinged on my ability to live then I would need to rethink it! It’s a very freeing thing when you evaluate work in this way rather than seeing it as something you have to do, rather see it as something you want to do that enables you to sample and enjoy this truly great adventure called life.

No one is irreplaceable in the world of work so ensure while you take care of work and have things on lock there, that you don’t get it twisted and let the irreplaceable things in your life replace you!

Working from home: Hell or Heaven?

Working from home to quote the queen Beyoncé “can be a sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare”. For some reason I now want to grab the imaginary mic and sing the full song. Tempting but I am not sure you would survive my rendition. This question has been on my mind all week due to “the Beast from the East” storm that rolled into the UK last week. I was snowed in at home for over 4 days and what is usually a dream became a beautiful nightmare!

Now don’t get me wrong I was glad that unlike other employment I have had throughout the years, my employer is very flexible and encourages working from home, so I didn’t need to take holiday or unpaid leave as I was able to and fully equipped to work from home. To understand my predicament you need to understand that given the choice, I would never choose to work from home unless I had personal appointments which meant I needed to be closer to home than work or I was having work done at home which required me to be present.

I applaud and encourage employers who offer this flexibility but for me personally I like going into an office and interacting with others. I like walking into a train station and getting my morning coffee. I like putting my headphones on and tuning out everyone on the train while browsing emails and the news. I like walking out to get lunch and debating what I should eat that day. I love being stopped by colleagues in the corridors and having impromptu conversations. But what I also love, is being able to sign off for the day, whatever time that is and putting on my coat and catching that train home. Work is done for the day unless there is emergency and that ability to stop and go home is essential to me, in enabling me to manage and have a good work life balance.

Working from home while great when it is convenient for you, I found this week was almost unbearable as there were no other options. I literally wanted to climb my walls! maybe it was the endless white of the snow outside or the cold or the feeling I had of being trapped inside! to be fair I wasn’t literally trapped I could have chosen to go for walks outside in the snow, but why? I mean its wet and cold! I grew up in a tropical country, unless I have no other choice and I always have a choice, I do not choose to be cold or wet! What this brought home to me is that employers should offer a variety of options for employees to choose from in their flexible working offer.

One size definitely does not fit all, consider asking your employees to be involved in suggesting what is on offer. Do not put limits rigidly on what is considered suitable or desirable. Be open to different ways of working and understand that what one employee will consider a good option for them will not fit someone else.

What this week also drove home to me, is how we engage with employees whose normal location is home.  Are they in danger of becoming the forgotten workforce?

Is reading really worth the hype?

Some of the most influential Chief Executives and thinkers all advocate reading and laud the value that this has on their ability to be effective people. Even before I read the personal notes from these people, I was convinced that reading on a wide range of subjects in a consistent way gave an individual an advantage that others lacked. While I am nowhere near the level of some these highly successful and motivational individuals, I like to think that in my own small way, I am also able to influence and coach others based on my reading list.

I cannot speak for others but I know that if I was not able to read I would one day wither away and die. Death will happen eventually but without books it would come sooner than it should. For me 80% of everything I know and have learned has been through books. Even though I am often pretty pragmatic in my approach, I am enabled to be so because some way along the course of my life, I have read a book on the subject I am delivering or teaching. In 2018 my reading is list is pretty ambitious as it was in 2017 but I exceeded my expectations and can foresee that this year will be no exception. So without further ado what is on my reading list so far in 2018?

  • The Total Money Makeover: Classic edition: A Proven plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey
  • Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money by Dave Ramsey
  • The Power of Habit:Why We Do What We Do and How to Change by Charles Duhigg
  • Learn Dutch: Word Power 101 by Innovate Language
  • Trust: Mastering the Four Essential Trusts by Iyanla Vanzant
  • What I know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey
  • Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
  • Well that Escalated Quickly by Francesca Ramsey
  • The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
  • Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy
  • Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath

Mixed in with these will be a suite of non-fiction books that will take me into the world of fantasy and magic, of love and tragedy, or music and food and exotic destinations. Life if nothing without balance.

What is on your reading list? comment below, I am always looking for good thought-provoking books to add to my bookshelf.

Do you have a book club at work? if you do, is this something that you think adds to employee engagement?

Feedback is a Cuss Word

Feedback has become the new/newest buzz word to replace rigid performance appraisal sessions with employees but for many employees the word feedback is a “cuss word”. Why is this? the word itself simply means giving someone information in real-time about their performance, whether good, bad or indifferent. Yet many employees hate when they receive an email titled feedback, or they are asked to participate in 360 degree feedback sessions on their managers, peers or subordinates. Body language also changes dramatically when you open a conversation by saying “I thought I would give you some feedback”. Immediately postures become defensive, a coldness enters the meeting, arms are folded, chairs are moved back further away as if to put distance between what is coming and the individual.

Fear becomes a living thing in the meeting room and in extreme cases individuals have shut down or even started to cry as they started to work through all the possible negative things that they may done or caused to happen in the last couple of days or weeks. Sometimes the fear is so potent that they have stopped listening immediately you mention the word feedback and are so busy working out in their mind what they have done wrong that they fail to actually hear what is being said.

It could be that such reactions are due to individuals having experienced a lot of negative feedback in the past which has coloured their perceptions. Or it could be that genuinely we are a culture in the UK that thrives so much on innuendo and being savvy to navigating politics in the workplace; using words to say one thing while meaning another that we have not adequately trained our people from a young age to see feedback as a positive thing regardless of whether is telling us how to improve or how to be even better.

I grew up in a culture where people spoke their minds, nothing was hidden, so it felt useless to fear the unknown because truly was anything ever unknown? I grew up in a village where everyone regardless of whether they were related to me or not took great accountability for parenting me. If my dress was creased, I would be told this several times while walking to school and given advice on how to achieve the perfectly ironed dress. The more forward in the village may even take me into their home and show me how to iron a dress properly.

No subject was off-limits, from personal hygiene, to school work, to spiritual wellbeing, morals etc you name it and someone without prompting would be on hand to offer you advice on how to be better or avoid a pitfall whether you wished to have the advice or not. This was the ultimate feedback culture in which I grew and which has shaped me.

So I had some thoughts about how we can change the fear that people feel when they either need to give or receive feedback:

  • put yourself in the person’s shoes and do onto others as you would have them do to you. If you are coming from a place of wanting to help someone to improve or to keep doing something that they are doing well, because this is what you would wish for yourself, you are able to approach the conversation in a very different light.
  • think about the damage or the limits you are placing on that person by not speaking up. Why would you not offer praise where praise is due? equally if your colleague had a stumble, surely you would not want them to stumble again or worse fall? think about the reason why you give information.
  • my personal favourite it when you think about giving or receiving feedback and the fear creeps in, ask it firmly “what is the worse that can happen?” in reality often we let our fear makes things into a lot worse than they really are. Open up yourself and listen, you may be surprised at the results.

So have you provided or received feedback recently? share your views here, I would be happy to hear how you approach it!

Remember FEAR can also mean Face Everything and Rise!