Thursday, 8 September 2011

Absence - It is time to learn to engage!

Whilst on my travels these days, and indeed over the course of my previous management career, there continues to be an issue for organisations (big and small) in the area of absence from work. Not only is the cost of it detrimental, but more so it is the management and admin time which is consumed by it. Compounding the control of absence, is often the wider impact of how it is managed locally, in terms of containing the growth of absence among wider groups, the decline of morale, even employee disillusionment from having to cover for it.

According to Aaron Ross, the founder and CEO of  Firstcare the UK’s leading outsourced minute one absence management company, "With the direct cost of absence exceeding £17bn a year employers are understandably focusing resources on tackling sickness absence, but putting more pressure on an over-stretched HR function to reduce the number of sickies is an edict doomed to fail". Aaron believes, from evidence gained helping major brands and health trusts, that an organisation needs to re-address the core approach to absence if it stands any chance of reducing the costs associated with sickness.

What is my point I hear you ask... 
With valuable line management and HR time so heavily invested in "dealing" with and trying to "reduce" absenteeism (not just sickness), what else must be done to create better outcomes from the time which is invested (and it is time, often hidden and intangible) in understanding and ultimately reducing absence - how can we re-engineer the time to create results and ultimately drive-down time used to manage absence and people? 

Speaking to HR executives I learn one point of view, speaking to Tactical executives and the view is often very different. I read so much these days in various HR and Management forums about engagement and the important impact of it on business. So, importantly we all seem to agree that yes we need to engage with employees, have focus groups, invest time in one-to-one sessions, train and develop managers and supervisors to engage. That is the Strategy and it is vital, not only to write it, but to sign-off on it within the organisational values. Therefore within this, will fall how to manage and reduce absence, due to better understanding and communication, follow-up and coaching.

What is the "Reality" at the front-line?
Strategy and Reality are two different beasts. I see and take-in so much from talking to line managers and HR teams, who are the ones tasked with ensuring the engagement of employees and in line with this, maintaining Key Performance Indicators that relate to areas such as; Absence (authorised, sickness, etc). As I cover in my post "Making Sense of Behaviour...." unlocking "Reality", what it is that these key people leaders feel, about the real limiting factors and pressures of keeping to the Strategy, is the 1st vital piece of intelligence that so many organisations just do not possess. Once these facts are known, the next stage of support for change can begin.

You need to establish how these talented and time-poor FLM and HR teams engage with employees, and more importantly what specifically are they doing in the process, this will reveal how effective front-line engagement is and therefore whether or not insight exists into what is creating absence or what is not helping it. When I ask these questions of front-line managers and their HR support, I get many defensive responses, also some excellently thought through and listed ones. But in many cases, the missing piece not realised is the insight of "what it is that is driving an employee to behave in the way they do/are".

In the case of absence, HOW you de-brief an absentee and HOW you un-cover the real reasoning behind it - behaviour patterns, human needs  - is the vital intelligence process to make lasting change as well as demonstrating to a wider audience that it is a controlled and considered management process. By getting into the Reality of the absentee - thinking and communicating as they do - it will allow them unconsciously to engage with their manager and both can begin to alter behaviour/seek help/communicate and address issues that are causing it.

Helping the front-line!
Time spent by management teams, communicating and also getting on with day-to-day responsibilities, needs to focused on gathering insight. Armed with insight - in context - means that these important people can engage with their teams much more effectively and also begin to influence behaviours that are driven by previously hidden thinking, needs and motivators. By simply improving the time spent one-to-one with individual employees and adjusting what is asked, how it is asked and developing very real insight, then change in behaviour becomes "personal" and "connected" - real!

I always think in terms of ROI - old habit! If a manager and HR colleague spend 70% of their annual time interacting with employees on all manner of things - communicating verbally and non-verbally - then 30% is then spent on other tasks. If combined they cost £70k (incl all costs), then £50k is spent on this interacting with employees. This investment is intangible as it is invisible time and "assumed" to be productive.

What if you could improve the time spent, make each interaction an ongoing "intelligence gathering and development" process - which builds-up information and engagement. What if the time spent actually reduced, because when one-to-one time was used it was therefore effective and less of it was needed.

Say that only 30% of the time was now required, which was ongoing with well connected communication, value driven and the employees felt engaged and understood. I am sure you will have done the maths! Now multiply this - for those with medium to large infrastructure the numbers are huge - across the organisation and imagine the impact.

By the way, the same applies in our home life. Better understanding of people and what they need/feel, means less wasted interactions and mis-understanding. What a wonderful world it would be.

Until next time....

Monday, 5 September 2011

The News of the World - Culture leads behaviour!

A very good blog post caught my eye today from Susanne Jacobs managing director of Aspire Talent Management, (Blog Link) not only because it picks-up my interest area of behaviour in the context of organisations, but also the way she is putting across her point about behaviour and it becoming an acceptable or unacceptable culture in work environments. Susanne asks "When does internal organisational behaviour go from being acceptable to outside the moral code? When does it become OK to hack the phones of young murder victims and their families in order to further your career? Or, as with the Common’s expenses scandal, put through claims that may not breach internal policy but which are clearly at odds with a role that is supposed to serve the public good?". 

My own interest in these two scandals was in how such behaviour had become large scale "cultural" and I found myself wanting to get inside the environments to determine from talking to the people what exactly drives such thinking, how does having  influence and power lead people to make and distort their judgements. I know that fear stops when you have a culture of "we all do it" and arrogance that what is being done is quite okay - becoming a fixed state of mind - when these groups are looking at and interacting with the world around them.

I would want to determine what ways do they filter their values and beliefs, so as to self-justify what they and others around them behave. Susanne states and I agree, that how we all act is, among other things, a sign of the culture in which we live - at home and work. If you refer back to my previous posts where I make the point that how we create our Reality is how we truly believe the world is - which is not the same for anyone else. Our behaviour, plus that of others in any group will either be detrimental, or aid successful outcomes/goals/performance. Susanne rightly states "businesses need to be aware that our behaviour is driven by what we see around us and how it affects progression within an organisation. We are tribal animals. The urge to belong is fundamental to our emotional engagement. We need to connect to and be part of a community. Scientific research indicates this need for connection to others is a basic human requirement, on a par with eating and drinking".

When considering the popular phrase - which to me is a nominalisation that cannot be succinctly described - "Engagement" , to create harmony and aligned thinking, interactions and behaviours, you must first ensure that you understand (have gained insight of) the behaviour culture that already exists. Determine what creates and becomes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour within the various locations that make up the organisation and the employees/partners/suppliers that represent it. I often ask clients "How do you think that they think, act and interact? If not as you expect, does this actually fit-into your strategy? By knowing and factoring-in insight of the behaviours, you will ensure that you correctly align what the strategy is with your reality on the ground - therefore managing-in engagement rather than hoping for it!.

It is too easy, when attempting to create "engaged" environments to rely upon values written up and displayed in offices or perhaps within into contracts. As Susanne again states "How many of these organisations know that these values are lived across all their workplace communities? How many truly recognise which behaviours differentiate them from their competitors successfully?"

As I said in my post 6 Basic Human Motivation Needs organisations need to understand, when considering any employee focused strategy, what human needs are actively driving your people and therefore will determine what behaviours results. Without this key insight, whether that be positive or negative, then any strategy, change programme or daily performance turnaround project will be significantly impacted upon becuase people dynamics do not go where strategy dictates. Social norms, beliefs and values are a way of life for all employees, they experience their Reality from what they see around them and that is their measure of acceptable or unacceptable behaviour. As with MP's and NOTW employees, many will have (at the time) quickly justified their actions/behaviour by referencing superiors and colleagues as examples of "culture" to follow and copy.

Having read this, I hope to have provoked a challenge to how you view behaviour that exists around you. Have you considered it, how perhaps it is endemic or "cultural"? If you are a HR or Change professional who is looking after engagement within the scope of your role, have you considered the value of behaviour insight and what it can and will tell you about the "reality" of your organisation? If you are a manager or director then knowing how people behave has a direct personal impact upon you - as was found with the Met Police chief who felt compelled to resign - means you need to be fully aware of the intelligence gathering need.

Until next time....


Friday, 2 September 2011

Jim Davidson Incident...Recognise the dynamics?

Leading on from my last post, being a people watcher by nature, I admit that I do follow the adventures of the stars, simply to enjoy working out what makes them do what they do. In turn I also follow the reactions and the dynamics from those that are impacted by their antics.

Some stars of course play-act to get attention, but others are totally oblivious and blindly go about life upsetting people! I read with interest a headline via BBC News - Jim Davidson banned from Norwich Theatre Royal show  Jim has, for many years now, popped-up in the press for having said or done something that offends and upsets. The last time was on a celebrity chef programme and related to certain none-PC use of language and behaviour that upset many on the set and in the public.

This time it is the Norwich Theatre Royal's chief executive Peter Wilson, who stated in an email that he would "prefer not to have you in our theatre because there is not a single person here who finds this sort of behaviour acceptable”. Jim's retort on his blog was "You will see from the reply I have received from the Theatre Royal below, that this is not the case. If you have any comments I suggest you make them known to the theatre directly."

Use of language is a powerful thing, where people do give away so much about the types of generalisations and assumptions that exist in what they think - thus say, how they perhaps are referring back to old detail via emotion or visual recollection. We behave according to what we have built as our Reality (this happened and I feel like this, that was said and I remember feeling like so).

The incident in the recent Jim case here, is said to have happened in 2004. Since then emotions and perceptions have boiled so much that now Mr Wilson states" I prefer not to have you in our theatre because there is not a single person here who finds this sort of behaviour acceptable. If asked by the people of Norwich, I will be more than happy to make public our specific objections." This suggests that not a single person at the theatre wants to work with Jim, and thus a decision is final.

As an Interventionist - who would be the type of person brought-in to mediate and "fix" such a situation as this - I find the use of words and the stance from both parties, plus the time of negative gestation (7-years), to be fascinating and typical of so many situations I see around me. It makes me ask you:
  • How many times in home and work life have we witnessed this kind of stand-off posturing behaviour? 
  • How many times have we been drawn-in to consider who is right and who is wrong - perhaps jumping to conclusions based upon how the use of language unconsciously resonates within our own Reality?

Letting things "stew" without correct challenge and mediation - if one party feels aggrieved by what was said or not said by another - is to create/encourage unstable and negative behaviours (the aggrieved builds anger and frustration, the other is oblivious). The losers seem to be the innocent people who lose out on something as an outcome. In this case Jim's many fans in the Norwich area, plus the Theatre as a business in terms of takings through bookings and hospitality. All because rather than challenge and jointly identify behaviour, years previously, now what is left is "he said, she said type rhetoric".

Wherever we look, behaviour and what lies behind it, is a soap-story in it's own right! Just read between the lines and see the real dynamics.

Enjoy your weekend....until next time.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Doubt - The silent de-motivator!

During years in business and consulting, there is one character that I meet time and again... the "Doubting Thomas". Found in all walks of life; work, home and community, he/she stands out from the crowd! Yes I'm sure we all have met this kind of person, when we were young to the present day, they usually vocalise unwavering belief in their viewpoint until it is proven otherwise. People who behave like this seem to need concrete evidence and hard proof so as to be convinced.

As with the name "Doubting Thomas", many of us know that it's a term that is used to describe someone who will refuse to believe something without direct, physical, personal evidence. Another label is that of a skeptic.
  • The term comes from Thomas the Apostle in the Bible. Thomas was a disciple of Jesus who doubted Jesus' resurrection and demanded to feel Jesus' wounds before being convinced. After seeing Jesus alive and being offered the opportunity to touch his wounds, only then did Thomas believe. After this encounter, Thomas was also called Thomas the Believer. 
  • If you refer to the dictionary, it defines doubt as a status between unbelief and disbelief, it involves uncertainty, or distrust, or lack of sureness of an alleged fact, an action, a motive, or a decision. Doubt brings into question some notion of perceived reality, and may involve delaying or rejecting relevant action out of concerns for mistakes or faults of appropriateness. It may encourage people to hesitate before taking action. Doubt can sometimes serve to create individual anxiety and to even shield the vision of an unpleasant outcome.

I know many people that do and will say that doubting can serve a good cause; there is this inner Reality that alerts you that something in not right or someone is not telling the truth about an incident. We all need to experience this type of doubt, because in a court of law, as you very well know, jurors must convict, or decide the innocence of a person "beyond a reasonable doubt".

As I have pointed out in past posts, in terms of our outlook on life and how we behave, we all build our Reality by filtering what we see, hear and feel, through internal filters that create (unconsciously) our perceptions. It is important and not in the slightest over-exaggerating, to talk about the negative aspect of doubt in terms of paranoia and the sowing of doubt - which are both negative and dangerous. Hiding under the "mask" many people present to the world, often this type of doubt takes on a totally gruesome face, where a person is so overwhelmed with doubt and unbelief that it causes problems in making everyday decisions and disturbs living a normal, healthy life. This face of doubt is jam-packed with unbelief, and it's a cousin of "worry". Doubt and unbelief can hold you back and stop you from achieving your goals. People can actually have no faith in anything, and it's difficult for them to believe anything. It is easy then to imagine the knock-on effect that can become very destructive to groups and their Reality of hitting targets, goals, outcomes.

Within any organisation or gathering, "Doubting Thomas" is a listened to behaviour unconsciously and impacts upon all around (the ears pick up what is being said without us knowing and we filter what is being said through our minds in terms of needs, values and belief systems). If an individual or group listening currently happen to be disillusioned, anxious, fearful or perhaps have a human need that seeks consistency in life, then without us even realising it, we have an automated unconscious mind-set developing that will create some very unusual dynamics and behaviour.

Something To Consider!
When were you last in the presence of "Doubting Thomas?". Have you previously considered the impact this behaviour and it's mind-set has on the individual and group? I constantly tell people I meet about each person building their Reality of life through their experiences and pre-assumed filters. Doubt is healthy, but needs to be better understood in context and always challenged, so as to secure the full and detailed reasoning and basis for it.

Make Sure!
When in group dynamics, Doubt needs to be understood, so as to control the unconscious knock-on. Taking the time to understand the way people have built their Reality, is the key to addressing whether there is a valid or invalid reason for Doubting or whether it is based upon another emotion or perception deeper inside. Simple and effective questioning will determine where the Doubt is being created, what it is based upon and whether it is a powerful influencer on behaviour. By leaving Doubt un-challenged, impacts ongoing behaviour and perception forming (ever met the eternal pessimist?) in an individual and impact upon the wider group objective or motivation.

Until next time..............


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