Sunday, 31 March 2013

Network like a Spy

When it comes to networking, any good sales executive will seize the opportunity to go to a particular conference where the speakers are the go to guys in their given industry. It makes sense to get their take on what is happening, where future trends are headed. It is also very likely that there will be a good calibre of delegates in attendance to hear the gurus message. All that makes for great networking possibilities.

None of this is news. When it comes to networking, we have the rule of thumb, the more important people we can meet the better. The higher up you can network in your industry the better.

Consider another complementary approach. Network downwards. In her book ‘Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer’ J.C. Carleson explains how it pays to establish relationships at all levels, from the secretary who can choose whether or not to put your call through, to the software developer who can give you the inside track on those quality control issues. The most effective networks are far-reaching in all directions, up and down.

So take time to get to know the admin staff, the delivery guys, in your own organisation and your clients organisations. There is more to networking than hob knobbing it at conferences.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Athletes 'die twice', first time is when they Retire

We will all retire at some stage, despite the best efforts of national governments to get us to work into old age. For many of us, hopefully retirement will be a happy process, it will be at a time of our choosing and in a manner that reflects how we want to spend our golden years.
It is not always that simple. I read an article on the BBC Sport website which looked at how sports psychologists explain why athletes struggle with retirement. We can all think of many examples of people who went from hero to zero after retirement, end up financially badly off, get hooked on addictive habits, abuse alcohol, struggle with relationship problems. Any regular follower of boxing will be able to name a few from recent years.
The article discusses the profound sense of sense of loss retired athletes experience. For years their identity was formed by their profession, people looked up to them for what they did and achieved. With retirement, that is gone.
There are also biological factors. For example, they no longer get their daily dose of serotonin from working out and dopamine from winning. Keeping fit is very different to being professionally active.
Working athletes have a regimented life with a focus on the daily routine they rely on to keep fit and compete. With retirement, this framework for how they spend their time, decide what to eat, how to socialise, disappears.
There can even be a grieving process, where a forced or untimely retirement can leave them feeling angry, in denial, making it hard to accept and move on.
The article makes the case well for athletes, but you could also see this translating into the work place, where the parallels are obvious. Perhaps we need to look at roles where identity is largely derived from the position in the workforce (e. the military) or where daily routine is heavily influenced by work.
Retirement should be enjoyable, but aside from the financial arrangements of the pension plan and the going away party, we may need to look at the lessons learnt from retired athletes and focus on the specifics we can quickly apply to ourselves and our older colleagues.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Sleep less, Facebook more?

So how did you sleep last night? I’m not making small talk, I’m just wondering how much time you are going to spend in work cyberloafing (your boss might say time wasting). Research shows that for every lost hour of uninterrupted sleep, employees are spending 12 additional minutes on this questionable activity (using company time to check personal emails and visit non-work related websites).
Previous research has found that a lack of quality sleep is related to problems with self-monitoring and self-regulation.  Sleepy people are less able to stay focused, less likely to suppress their prejudices, and less likely to control addictive impulses (perhaps like the dopamine hit we get from winning arguments mentioned in previous posts).

Its therefore not that hard to see how losing sleep, makes us unable to control the overwhelming impulse that most of us share of checking our Facebook or Twitter while at work.
For productivity, that type of behaviour can be a disaster. But as long as we know about it, we can plan around it or mitigate the effects. If you have staff members on call at night (e.g. out of hours tech support) and they get a few calls the night before, then don’t have them doing some intricate task the next day requiring prolonged focus. If you have a salesperson just off a long haul flight, it might not be a good idea to give them an early morning meeting with a difficult client. If a member of staff has new born baby, don’t be too upset if focus and productivity slip a little.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Breaking Bad News

You are entering a meeting. It’s an annual review with a key client. You have some good news, they now qualify for a loyalty discount and some bad news, you are closing the local office they would normally have dealt with.

How should you break the news? Research suggests that when we are up front about problems or short comings, people like us more, i.e. we bring the bad news up at the start of a meeting, rather than at the end. Mentioning it at the start is seen as refreshing honesty, keeping it to the end is seen as concealment, and we don’t like that.

The reverse is true for good news or achievements. Coming out with these at the start is seen as boastful, it’s almost as if you are trying to make an impression and get a favourable response. If the good news is left to the end, people may feel that you didn’t try to use it to manipulate them or get anything in return.

There could also be a memory effect at play here where we finish on a good note and that is the context in which our meeting is remembered.

Have a think about this, have you been in meetings where someone gave you bad news as they wrapped up, how did that come across to you?. I have had that happen and it’s not a good feeling.

Monday, 25 March 2013

When being Right is all that matters

We have all been in meetings where our position is challenged, someone contradicts our reasoning or opinion. The atmosphere gets a little heated. We come to a point where we go all out, drop any empathetic feelings and make our stand. We don’t care who we annoy or upset, along as we are proved to be right it doesn’t matter. This can be in the board room discussing some major project or among workmates discussing last nights football game.
If we reach the point in an argument where we feel we are going to get labelled as ‘wrong’ or somehow derided, the body makes a neurochemical choice about how best to protect itself. You are in fight or flight territory now.
If we fight and win, the brain releases hormones including  adrenaline and dopamine, which make us feel good, even dominant. It's the  type of sensation any of us would want to feel again and again. So the next time we're in a tense situation, we will fight, flight is less appealing.  We get addicted to being right.
You become a regular fighter in those cantankerous meetings, getting your adrenaline & dopamine hit. This has downsides for management style. If we always go into fight mode and want to win at the expense of someone else, it can make collaboration more difficult and damage relationships.
As a negotiator you become predictable, and as long as you think you have got your way (perhaps on a minor point), you are happy. As a communicator you become confrontational  and spend too much time arguing your perspective at the expense of exploring alternatives.
Learn to put winning an argument in context, if you get addicted to winning arguments, you have a blind spot in your decision making process. If you think I am wrong lets argue it and see how you feel if you win.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Sleep on it

Ever had a decision to make and decided to ‘sleep on it’? Or perhaps you go off and distract yourself at something else for a while before making that all important call. New research attempts to shed some light on the science behind the ‘sleeping on it’ strategy.
Brain imaging research from Carnegie Mellon University, published in the journal “Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience,” finds that the brain regions responsible for making decisions continue to be active even when the conscious brain is distracted with a different task. The research provides some of the first evidence showing how the brain unconsciously processes decision information in ways that lead to improved decision-making.
This research begins to chip away at the mystery of our unconscious brains and decision-making,” said J. David Creswell, assistant professor of psychology in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and director of the Health and Human Performance Laboratory. “It shows that brain regions important for decision-making remain active even while our brains may be simultaneously engaged in unrelated tasks, such as thinking about a math problem. What’s most intriguing about this finding is that participants did not have any awareness that their brains were still working on the decision problem while they were engaged in an unrelated task.”
So for those big decisions, a nights sleep, the distraction of a good book, DVD or nice walk could help in allowing more time to process the decision and hopefully come up with a better outcome. If you are unsure about how useful this really is, sleep on it.