Archive | August, 2015

When is the best time to procrastinate?

24 Aug

Procrastination is typically a repeating cycle with four stages:

  • Putting off something we aren’t positively motivated (energised) to do
  • Feeling guilty
  • Reduced self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • Reduced energy, which makes us more likely to put things off…

Coaches and mentors can help clients break this vicious cycle by firstly helping them to recognise it, then to develop strategies for addressing each stage. When people fail to break the cycle, it is often because they address only part of it – so the process continues as before.

Here are some practical approaches for addressing each stage.

Putting things off

Useful questions:

  • What are the common characteristics of things you put off?
  • What are your emotional responses when you are faced with such a task?

Useful strategies:

  • Having a process for recognising and acknowledging tasks you are likely to put off
  • Alongside the traditional To Do list, create a Procrastination list, with three columns:
    • What I’m likely to procrastinate about
    • The consequences (which may be a mixture of positive and negative)
    • My tactics for getting this task done
  • The “quick peep” strategy – saying to yourself “I know I don’t want to do this, but I’ll take a look at it now, to see what’s involved”. Much of the time, it proves to be less difficult and less discomforting than you thought, so you get on with it anyway.
  • Saving up all the tasks you have low energy for and tackling them in one blitz on a Friday morning. Many people find that they are energised by the fact that they won’t have these things worrying them over the weekend. When this tactic becomes a habit, people typically find that they are also motivated by the reward of having Friday afternoon to concentrate more fully on tasks they particularly enjoy.

Feeling guilty: 

Useful questions:

  • How would you like to feel?
  • What small shift could make that happen?

Useful strategies:

  • Identifying the emotional triggers that make you feel guilty, and reframing these
  • When I do get round to doing this, what can I add to improve the output, so that other people feel it was worth waiting for? (Envisioning positive reactions from others can help to motivate, too.)

Reduced self-esteem

Useful questions:

  • How will you feel about yourself once you’ve done this?
  • Who can you call upon for support and encouragement?

Useful strategies:

  • Analyse how the task plays to your strengths and weaknesses. Explore how applying your strengths to it could result in a better outcome
  • Practice self-forgiveness. Tell yourself you are sorry and agree what you are going to do to re-establish the balance of your self-respect

Reduced energy

 Useful questions:

  • How do you recharge your batteries in other circumstances?

Useful strategies:

  • Taking a brisk walk or doing some other exercise (physical exercise increases the flow of blood sugars to the brain and so makes us mentally energised)
  • Cultivate curiosity: What could I learn from doing tackling this in a different way from normal?
  • Link the task with a reward
  • Do something that makes you laugh. Laughter produces endorphins, which give you an immediate energy “fix”
  • Choose your time of day to tackle tasks you are likely to procrastinate about. We all have more energy at some times of the day than others, so adapting to your energy cycle makes sense.

When procrastination is habitual, it’s not easy to overcome. However, addressing each stage of the cycle makes the odds a lot better.

© David Clutterbuck, 2015

Why we should make talent management more messy

24 Aug

Systemic Talent Management views talent management, performance management and succession planning as complex, adaptive systems — unlike traditional HR approaches, which broadly treat these activities as if they were simple, linear systems. An interesting perspective on these contrasting approaches comes from Eric Abrahamson, professor of management at Columbia Business School, and David Freeman who explore the conflict between the human need to create order and the fact that most people and most systems work more effectively when there is a moderate amount of messiness that upsets the orderliness.

In their book A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder (2006, Little, Brown, New York) they draw on a wide range of science, including Einstein’s theory of Brownian motion and the concept of stochastic resonance, research and example to argue that mess is an essential part of a fully functioning organisation, function or individual. Among their observations:

  • There are often significant cost savings to be had by tolerating a certain level of messiness and disorder… moderately disorganized people, institutions and systems frequently turn out to be more effective, more resilient, more creative and in general more effective than highly organized ones (p5)
  • Chaos and complexity theory is about finding hidden order… that’s not the same as lack of order (p22)
  • People, who said they keep a “very neat” desk spend an average of 36% moretime looking for things at work than people, who said they keep a “fairly messy” desk … a messy desk tends to reflect the way you think and work (p31)
  • Office messiness tends to increase sharply with increasing education, salary and experience (p33)
  • New York professor Bill Starbuck found that “companies that did a lot of strategic planning performed, on average, no better than companies that did less”
  • Stochastic resonance says that adding some sort of randomness to system can make it more effective – i.e. that disorder can sometimes improve things (p71)
  • Messiness conveys six benefits: flexibility, completeness, resonance, invention, efficiency and robustness (p78)
  • Dutch economics professor Peter Nijkamp describes path dependency – a tendency by companies as they grow to try to impose increasing order. The problem with all these systems, policies and structures is that they reduce the organization’s ability to respond to external change (p165)

Abrahamson and Freeman suggest that organizational and individual effectiveness lie in achieving the optimal balance between messiness and order. They recommend (p230) “Try being a little messier in some way and see if there is an improvement. If there is, try a little more. Keep going until you get the sense that somewhere along the line things got worse, at which point you might want to try being a bit neater.”

Putting this into the context of HR and talent management, it’s not hard to find examples where the desire to predict and control talent management borders on the obsessive. Some simple practical steps that might counteract this and stimulate creative messiness might include:

  • Include some randomness in how you select candidates in job or promotion interviews
  • At least once every year, randomly select policies and explore what would happen, if you threw them out or made them more flexible. (For example, according to Abrahamson and Freeman, neat desk policies cost companies vast sums in wasted time and effort!)
  • Whenever the suggestion comes up that something needs to be better controlled, consider: What’s the minimum level of control that would meet our needs, while preserving as much flexibility as possible?
  • Create opportunities for new ideas and perspectives to gain traction, by including an element of randomness in meetings. For example, you can make item one on the agenda “What’s interesting?” or “What assumptions can we challenge?” Or invite an observer from outside the team, who may ask naïve questions.
  • If any aspect of talent management does seem to be ordered and under control, take the perspective that it is probably not delivering what you think it is. (For example, if everyone in your talent pool gets promoted, is it really the result of superb selection or an unhealthy reduction in diversity?)

The aim is not to create mess or disorder for it’s own sake, but to counteract excessive order that prevents the natural expression and development of talent and restricts who has access to opportunity. When Galileo was persecuted by the Church and the Establishment for pointing out that they Earth went round the Sun, rather than vice versa, it was because he questioned the orderliness of the cosmos (which we now know to be a very messy place indeed!) and hence, by inference, the orderliness of Society.

Getting to know a client: Clutterbuck’s twelve questions

24 Aug

Psychometrics and other forms of diagnostic, such as 360-degree feedback, can be very helpful in getting to know a client and “what makes them tick”. But they take time, often require lengthy analysis and can become somewhat mechanical processes that miss the richness and complexity of “who is this person and how do they connect with the world around them?

By far the fastest way to get to know someone is through an initial dialogue, in which empathetic curiosity plays a strong role. Ideally, we want to gain a multi-perspective, holistic insight that encompasses values, aspirations, culture and both current and historical context. The dialogue serves a dual purpose, creating awareness for both the coach-mentor and the client.

The following 12 questions and their subsidiary questions provide a framework, on which to build this kind of exploratory conversation.

  1. How did you become you?
  1. Who do you admire? (What does this say about you?)
  1. What do you most care about? (How does this influence the choices you make?)
  1. What are your core values? (How do you put them into practice?)
  1. What do you fear most? (How do those fears affect your behaviour?)
  1. What does success mean for you? (What is your purpose in life?)
  1. What’s the difference between your public and private selves?
  1. Where do you find your energy and how do you focus it?
  1. What do you still have to accomplish in your life? (What is your future story? Who do you want to become?)
  1. How does what you want to achieve in the short term fit with your long-term aspirations?
  1. What creates interference for you, preventing you from focusing on what’s important to you? (How do you manage interference?)
  1. What resources do you have/ could you create to support your aspirations?
  1. How do you think coaching/ mentoring can help? (What are your expectations of me and of yourself?)

Of course, other questions and topics will emerge from the dynamics of the dialogue. However, these 13 questions are enough to establish the insights and rapport essential for beginning a journey of deep learning and transformational change.