Friday, 11 January 2019

Communication Health Audit

My children are always concerned about their ‘health’ and not the health that requires trips to the doctor but their level of health in whatever video game they are playing. They even have me roped in. My seven-year old recently set me up on Duolingo so I could learn Spanish for an upcoming trip to Panama. Duolingo measures my ‘health’ based on how many correct answers I get. My son assures me my health is ok for today.

I am forever quoting Peter Drucker, ‘what gets measured gets done’. You want to lose weight, step on the scales so you know where you are starting from, want to save money, set a figure to reach. Want to assess your health then figure out how to measure it. The health I am referring to, is the communication happening within your organisation, not external, and even deeper than the general understanding of internal but the people to people interactions that happen every day. How we treat each other.

A communication audit is a really useful tool which provides a snapshot of these transactions and allocates a value to the process. It has greater value than just relationships between colleagues but how is information transferred, how is it utilised and how is knowledge created. This is the tacit return on investment that is hard to capture.

Different layers of communication exist in an organisation, the business needs to communicate with its stakeholders; customers, shareholders, employees etc. This needs to be a two-way street, internally the business must engage its employees. Treating your employees right ensures they have the tools to look after your customers. There is another layer in this web of communication and it is how we interact between department, between teams, with our office mate, between each other. These small and often seemingly insignificant interactions affect the overall health of relationships. Small issues can chip away until suddenly it is the straw that broke the camels back.

A formal audit allows you to do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of the health of the communication within your business. Maybe you already know there is an issue, or perhaps you are concerned another issue is happening because of an underlying communication concern. A systematic approach will allow you to identify and analyse. Bring in a consultant who can objectively gather information through interviews, questionnaires and observations to provide a fuller picture of the health within your communication system. In collaboration with management the consultant can then support and guide you to make an informed strategic communication plan to improve employee communication and create a healthier work culture for everyone.  It might not be as much fun as a video game but hopefully a lot more effective.

Connection for the Remote Introvert

Introverts adore their own company, think comfy PJ’s in front of a roaring fire, it recharges us. Despite the myth portraying the stereotypical hermit, we do in fact need and sometimes even crave social interaction too. Remote working is an ideal work scenario for the introverted, offering the quieter alternative to a busy overstimulating office environment but at times this option can be lonesome and come with its’ own set of challenges. Statistics demonstrating low employee engagement and lack of inclusion augment the need to support ourselves and our colleagues in harnessing the power of personality type to be the best we can be at work. 

Social Beings
Human beings are born to be social, we are here for connection. Scientist Matthew Liebermann says this need is as fundamental as food and water. Work is more than just a function to earn a living, it is a way for us to collaborate and express ourselves among others. Introverts are no different in this goal and remote workers share the same need albeit the connection may not be physical.

Liebermann further states that feeling pain in social situations is equal to feeling physical pain, the phrases we use such as ‘he hurt my feelings’ are not far from the truth. 70% of introverts are termed highly sensitive people, often overly aware of elements in the environment, picking up on non-verbals, others feelings and gaining meaning where others may not. In a remote working situation much of this can be lost leading to lower engagement, less understanding, frustrations, and break downs in social connections. Many remote working companies insist on annual or often more regular face to face meetings and these can be very valuable.

As a leader, manager or colleague of remote workers you might be interested to consider some of our what are kindly termed ‘superpowers of introverts’ but might just drive an extrovert crazy without understanding.

Introverts can often be self-judgemental and with no one there to recognise the hard work done to complete the task be sure to provide positive and supportive feedback for a job well done. In their book ‘Conversations Worth Having’ the authors say that people ‘long for meaningful engagement that builds connection, fuels productivity, and generates positive change’. Pay attention to the conversations you are having with your employees.

As we discussed above, we are social beings. If a worker is 100% remote provide opportunities for engagement in other ways such as attending networking events, training sessions or perhaps volunteer as part of a company-wide effort to support local communities to provide that physical connection with others. It is shared experiences that connect us.

Our introversion influences how we work. We may procrastinate over decisions although not always a bad thing according to Stephen M. Fleming, Principal Research Associate at University College London who says, slower decision making is more effective when facing novel situations. So allow us time to process before coming to any conclusions.

We are unlikely to self-promote so provide opportunities to share achievements although privately would be our preference. A dislike of conflict and confrontation may mean grievances go unsaid, ensure you ask the right questions to assess a situation.

Offering flexible and remote work options is essential for the workforce of the future but ensuring their engagement is equally important to build an effective and sustainable team. By recognising differences in temperament you can successfully put communication strategies in place to support your team.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Introverts, Exams and Pressure

This week is exam time for thousands of students across Ireland. It is many years since I sat my Leaving Certificate exam but yesterday as I read some of the commentary on the English paper I began to consider introverted students and exams. Exams are pressurised situations requiring students both to think and act quickly.

‘Introverts, preferring the longer pathways in the brain, take longer to process information. They prefer to think deeply and analyse prior to commenting or engaging outwardly on the information. Extroverts, by contrast think more quickly and act almost impulsively on information’.
(Fonseca, 2014)

One could argue based on this quote by Christine Fonseca that extroverts are at as much of a disadvantage in exams but the challenge for introverts is they get stuck. Fonseca says that "introverts go too far, allowing their thinking to trap them in indecision. They weigh every option ad nauseam; afraid to make any one decision for fear that it is the wrong decision". She further adds "striving for perfection and becoming rigid in those efforts can lead to a form of paralysis when it comes to education."

This has serious consequences for students who do not do well in their exams. An Irish Examiner article from November 2014 states that "in Ireland an individuals’ position in the workforce is strongly influenced by their qualifications". We have an antiquated system that is still heavily exam based and entry to University is based solely on exam points. Other countries have a more rounded approach to college entry although in her research on high school seniors Fonseca identified many other challenges that introverted students face in US high schools where displaying their strengths on paper was as challenging as they compete with extroverts for college places.

Of a much more serious nature is the research that is coming to light linking high levels of suicide to the school year. In a recent Psychology Today blog post, Dr. Peter Gray, Research Professor of psychology at Boston College says, "Suicide is the third leading cause of death for school-aged children over 10 years old, and the second leading cause (behind accidents and ahead of homicides) for those over 15. The evidence is now overwhelming that our coercive system of schooling plays a large role in these deaths and in the mental anguish so many young people experience below the threshold of suicide." Dr. Gray found that the number of psychiatric visits and suicides rise during the school year and drop off during the Summer.

My conclusion is not that we do away with exams. Both introverted and extroverted students need to learn the skills to perform under pressure but a more rounded or humanistic approach is needed. One that balances the need to perform in a timely manner while allowing students the opportunity to play to their strengths and for introverted students that might be a year-long research paper rather than sitting an exam. Both teachers and parents have a responsibility to meet the individual learning needs of each and every young person so we can fulfil our responsibility to protect them.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Roar Like A Tiger

Roar like a Tiger!

Inclusivity within organisations usually brings to mind disability awareness, race and gender policies and accommodation of special needs. Rarely does the question, is your organisation fair to your introverts come to the fore. Yet, introversion and extroversion are one of the most highly researched areas of personality psychology and where you lie on this spectrum influences almost everything that you do. Creating an environment and culture inclusive of all personalities is vital to successful employee engagement and experience.

Most are familiar with the terms introvert and extrovert but misperceptions exist as to what they are. It is now generally accepted that the main differential lies in our sensory needs. Extroverts are energised by high social interaction, introverts may like social interaction but at a point will have enough and need to take time to recharge. Remember no one person is a total introvert or extrovert. As Carl Jung, father of these terms said ‘There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum’. Although with 50% of the population claiming introversion tendencies there is enough of us for it to matter.

While driving, Katy Perry’s song ‘Eye of the Tiger’ came on the radio and it reminded me of when my sons’ class had to perform this in school and I remember he said he didn’t like doing it. It was part of an anti-bullying awareness campaign in the school. As I listened to the song I realised why. My son is an introvert, preferring to curl up with a book than play soccer with the other boys outside and in the middle of this song Katy Perry starts to ‘roar like a tiger’. The children had to perform this on stage for the rest of the school and of course what an extroverted thing to have to do but stand on stage and roar as loud as you can like a tiger. This would not suit an introverted child who will most likely be quietly singing than roaring like a tiger.

Where does your organisation lie on the spectrum? Do you expect employees to roar like a tiger or do you support quieter means of working? Can employees use online methods to contribute ideas or are they expected to always speak up at meetings? Does the culture expect participation in lots of employee corporate events (take a look at the movie ‘The Circle’ for a satirical take on this)? Are there quieter areas to work? What do daily schedules look like, lots of meetings or can employees manage their time? There are so many examples the list can go on.

Solitude and time to reflect improve our creativity and decision making. Neuroscience backs this up as we learn more about the brain and how quiet times allow us to tap into our imagination, our mental processing and perspective. Organisational culture is a powerful tool to communicate inclusivity of all personality types and supporting such a mindset is not just of benefit to individuals but supports creativity and innovation in the whole organisation. So, go on, let those who want to roar like a tiger, roar, but for the rest of us we’ll sing a little softly in a quieter space. 

Monday, 25 September 2017

Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement

The popular TV show ‘Rules of Engagement’ had at the heart of its storyline; commitment; commitment between a married couple, a newly engaged couple and two single friends. I am quite familiar with the show as my husband often likes to quote Jeff Bingham, usually when he believes I am in the wrong! Although the humorous anecdotes do take the sting out of an argument situation, the bigger lesson to be learned is the commitment the characters have to make relationships work despite the challenges of everyday life.

This commitment otherwise referred to as engagement is a hot topic in organisational leadership today. Read any article on modern-day organisational challenges and statistics surrounding millennial engagement and retention will surely be mentioned. This got me thinking, what do we really mean when we speak of engagement and why does it matter. The writers of the show mentioned above, linked engagement with commitment, so how as leaders do we find this commitment?

For investigation purposes, I further define engagement as connection. The author and researcher Brene Brown in her book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ provides a more in-depth definition of connection;
‘the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship’.
How great is this definition! We simply need to ‘feel seen, heard and valued. Brown says we are wired for connection, it is in our biology. This connection is food for our soul, Brown refers to it as sustenance. It might be a simple definition of connection = engagement but not a simple task. It is not a one size fits all. For example, in my research into introverted styles of work I can see how differently we all approach leadership, communication and relationships depending on where we lie on the introvert-extrovert line.

The term employee experience is often used to replace engagement and I like it because it seems to acknowledge the uniqueness of each of our expectations of work and provides a broader term on which to explore connection, commitment and engagement. It would seem any strategy on employee experience needs to be agile and open. It needs to come from employees themselves and leaders need to continually reflect and ask for feedback from employees.

Many companies do a really great job on a large scale of engaging employees, from providing amazing workspaces, community involvement projects, social events, bonus schemes, mentor programmes, leadership development, learning opportunities and so on. But what if you are a small or medium sized business without a large dedicated budget to engagement? It can be done, invite your employees for tea and a chat or provide opportunities for employee participation and feedback. Remember, your introverted employees may prefer participation through paper and pen or e-mail rather than verbal. Support employees’ participation in community involvement on projects dear to them. Consider work-life balance compromises. Provide positive employee experiences by reflecting on styles of leadership and communication. Building connection doesn’t have to take a big budget but it does need a strategy and processes in place to ensure success.
If you are looking for support in this area send me a message, I am passionate about supporting organisations to create great places to work.

As ‘Rules of Engagement’ shows us engagement or experience starts on the ground, it is the commitment to make relationships work despite the everyday challenges, get that right and you’ll build a strong workforce with a great connection. 

Monday, 11 September 2017

The Leader in Me

The Leader in Me
It was the Summer of 1984. As CEO of my own airline, I was in my element organising staff and giving directions. My mother, on the other hand cringed as she watched out the kitchen window. I was only 8 years old bossing the neighbourhood kids around.

Leadership and management have always been my passion. My desire to be in charge as an 8 year old, would guide my career towards a Degree in Management and later a Masters in Communications. I followed that goal until I reached the working world and began to consider that I might not “have what it takes”. I wasn’t comfortable speaking up at staff meetings, I didn’t interrupt to get my opinion heard, I found it difficult to challenge management, colleagues, and even my own employees. I let others more vocal than myself tell me what to do and say. I was sensitive, took things personally and questioned my decisions. I found conflict very upsetting. I was an overthinker and it caused me stress.
I retreated from the working world, grateful for an opportunity to be a stay at home mother where I could manage my own schedule, have time away from the noise of corporate life and pursue another passion, raising my children. I later decided to open up my own business unaware that this would prove to be my most challenging experience yet. A business owner with employees who are motivated and passionate about their job will be continually challenged to stand behind decisions, to effectively communicate the vision for the business, to manage conflict and build a culture strong enough to create a sustainable business. I was naïve as I began that journey. However, I am grateful, as it pushed me to the limit, pushed me to find out how I could be the leader I wanted and knew I could be, pushed me to find my voice.

I found that voice when I began to understand that I was an introvert. I knew I was the quiet student in school, shy in large social gatherings, preferred in depth conversations rather than social chat, and was more comfortable in small groups. But what I didn’t know was that it was okay to be all those things, the enlightened moment being when I realised it wasn’t a failing, it was who I was. The most amazing revelation, I could still be an effective leader. I began to do what I do best, I connected on a personal level with employees, focused on building strong relationships. Leading a team doesn’t have to mean shouting louder, it means stopping, listening and understanding. I used my skills as a thinker to demonstrate I was an effective decision maker guided by not only analytical thinking but good intuition (introverts are good at going within). I managed stress by taking the time out for solitude when I needed it. I was good at sales because I could understand others, see their perspective and explain why we do our business not just what we do. Simon Sinek highlighted the importance of this in his book ‘Start with Why’. I was good at building relationships with customers because I connected on a personal level.

My most important lesson; to be true to myself. Now, I dedicate myself to supporting others in their own self-awareness journey and maximising their skill set to find their inner voice. Gandhi, one of the worlds’ most well-known introverted leaders said it best, ‘You must be the change you want to see in the world’. 

Friday, 21 July 2017

Are Irish Millennials More Extroverted Than Previous Generations?

As a nation, we Irish are branded as generally introverted, certainly in relation to our US counterparts. This influences our work style, our ways of communicating, how we design our office spaces. Yet, times are changing. By 2025 three quarters of the workforce will be Millennials. Lisa Smith of the training company EngageSmith noticed ‘that Millennials had a different way of working than GenX or BabyBoomers’. This is a hot topic. At the end of June KonnectAgain a Dublin based company which uses their platform to connect alumni from organisations, held an event to explore this. Experts in this area collectively summarised the desires of Millennials as; company culture, flexibility, career and personal development. EngageSmith says Millennials were raised to believe they can do anything. This is a generation that came of age right at the beginning of the Celtic Tiger in Ireland.

So, this begs the question? Are Millennials more extroverted than previous generations? Millennials have grown up in a ‘noiser’ world, more social collaboration, constantly ‘on’ with technology and devices never far away. Work environments are changing in line with this. Open plan office spaces are the norm. A conversation with an employee in the construction industry in New York recently described the office spaces he works on as ‘chicken farms’. A recent New York Times article stated that ‘The average amount of space per office worker in North America dropped to 176 square feet in 2012, from 225 in 2010’. As a researcher into the introverted experience I wondered where do introverts fit in this modern workplace? A 2015 Business Insider article was titled ‘Millennials and Extroverts more likely to succeed in smaller offices’. Is the assumption out there that Millennials are more extroverted? This article recognises that this approach doesn’t always work for everyone and suggests the answer many companies find is to balance this openness and collaborative approach with separate spaces, one company calls them ‘refuge rooms’. 

As an Irish born Gen X Introvert, I know where I will be when I need to get some productive work done, in a quiet space huddled away for hours at a time, my American born husband however a Gen X Extrovert would most likely be found in the café surrounded by people. Are we introverts a dying breed? Research shows that approximately 50% of the workforce have introverted tendencies, with the growth of Millennials in the workforce will this figure drastically reduce? Of course, genetics will always play a role in these traits continuing but the nurture debate would strongly support the argument that environment plays a large role in our personality development. Susan Cain in her book ‘Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ discusses research that would state our temperament is dictated by our genes but our personality is more influenced by our environment. If that is the case how much more extroverted are Irish Millennials who have grown up in a world entirely different to generations before and how will this influence our corporate cultures in Ireland? Will there be less variances between country specific workplace cultures as Millennials themselves become a culture of its’ own? Perhaps only time will tell.