Monthly Archives: June 2009

Work life flexibility – a useful business strategy

A Fast Company leadership article about CFO views of work life flexibility strategies is yet another example of the knowing – doing gap. Yost’s study of CFO perspectives confirms that American CFOs recognise the business potential of work life balance, yet few of the American companies surveyed have formal policies, or their use is constrained by leadership teams who see such flexibility as perks.

The practices are indicative of the research by Avery & Bergsteiner into sustainable leadership practices in Rhineland Europe, where downsizing has not been a regular practice because leaders realise the value of maintaining a skilled workforce through economic cycles.

For Australian HR professionals, Yost’s research and articles providing a starting point in building a business case for flexibility practices as a viable alternative to downsizing and Avery & Bergsteiner’s research provides the  examples of leading organisations that have already turned the knowing into doing.

Customer service resilience – riding the waves of emotionality

Have you found that as market and job uncertainty creates additional pressure on people, emotionality has increased in the workplace and employees are subject to poor behaviour from clients, suppliers and even peers or managers?

One of our clients noticed this trend and has engaged us to build the resilience of their customer facing staff and managers.  We were challenged to make the learning “fun”, so we’ve developed four key lessons using the language of the surf (with accompanying loud shirts and leis):

Lesson 1: “Duck, don’t fight a big wave”.  When someone is emotional, they won’t listen to reason, so these people learn to hear an insult or angry voice and say, “This is not really about me, it’s about my role / the product / the company”.  Thus, they were less likely to get angry or sarcastic in return and could focus on successfully pointing their clients towards the “shore”.

Lesson 2: “Watch for the end of a set”.  They learn to listen for the underlying concern or pattern and to watch for the ending of a tirade. They practiced using the magic word “OK” to express empathy, rather than “Yes, but”ing their client and facing a new wave of anger.

Lesson 3:  “Get prepared in the lull”.  They learn to make co-operative suggestions in the calm between the angry waves, e.g. “what we can do is…”, “what our options are…”.  They also learned to minimize the tendency to say “no”, by exchanging it for “I’d like to help you and ….”, or the softer ending, “…and just not now”.

Lesson 4: “Keep getting back on the wave”.  They learn to take a no from the client in their stride and to focus on the progress they were making.

The benefits are happier, more confident team members, who can stay focused on client outcomes and can joke about difficult clients and shrug off the emotions quickly.

If your team is suffering from emotional dumpers, consider a two hour Hawaiian escape session.  It’ll be fun and it works.

Give Paul or Sharon a call to arrange a no-obligation, feel-good, discussion.

Working with the Paradox of Brain Plasticity

I recently listened to author Norman Doidge at the Sydney Writers Festival and promptly bought and read his book The Brain that Changes Itself. What I most liked was the discussion on the paradox of plasticity.  It answered the question: “If our brains have plasticity, why do so many of us have habits that are hard to change?”

The answer relates to the title of one of my other favourite authors – Robert Fritz – and his book The Path of Least Resistance (for Managers).

Doidge quotes the metaphor of medical director Alvaro Pascual Leone, who says that our plastic brain is “like a snowy hill in winter” and our genes represent the features of the hill.  When we first snowboard down a hill we can take any path we like within the constraints of the hill, but the second and third time we will tend to take a path similar to the first path and thus “the path of least resistance is born”. By the end of the afternoon, we will have created a preferred path and for some, this will be the only path we use because it is fast, efficient and we can snowboard down without thinking too much.  Hence a neural path is born and that path is mirrored in our body’s musculature following the same path.

Others who crave variety may wish to try new paths, but they will have to actively focus on looking for and setting new routes – which requires more effort.

So what does this mean for changing existing habits?

Doidge quotes researchers Taub and Pascual – Leone, who found that when it comes to learning new physical skills – you have to block or constrain the commonly used pathway (the competitor for mental energy).  E.g. when they want a stroke victim to learn to re-use the non-functioning hand, it happens more quickly if the good hand is bandaged and not available for use.   They talk about setting up roadblocks to help change direction and they also talk about “massed practice” giving a person lots of practice in the first few months to develop the new skill.

So this got me thinking about overused mental habits of thinking or feeling – what then?  What is the equivalent of bandaging up our strongest thinking and feeling processes so that we can’t use them, thus allowing other areas to develop?

I don’t have firm answers yet, but the question helps explain why it is hard to learn new habits in these areas, unless we engage in some sort of “massed practice” – intensive development opportunities – where we immerse ourselves in the new learning,  we encourage our colleagues, friends and family to support us in making the changes and we  limit ourselves as much as possible from using our habitual responses.

My challenge this month is to stay appreciative – not critical – of every opportunity.  It will be fun I’m sure!!!