How to Stop Yodelling in Meetings – Managing Your Personal Stress Levels

I’m not one of those people who vocalises my anxiety, more a “grit your teeth and get on with it” kind of chap. But whenever I feel nervous or anxious, I have a feeling which I often describe as an “internal yodelling”. It’s a kind of “ohmygodherewegobloodyhellgetmeoutofhere” internal dialogue. And it’s really rather unhelpful.Stressful_Meeting

Recently, on-going health problems led to me having an ultrasound scan of my abdomen. And it was a bizarre procedure. I was led into an ominously darkened room with a stern but polite nurse and a rather funky but esoteric doctor who appeared to be a little bit too proud of his byzantine and slightly terrifying medical equipment. I half expected Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” to be permanently playing on a loop, but fortunately there was only the rhythmic beeping of the doctor’s toys.

After the inevitable brief conversation about why I was there, I was asked to remove my shirt and lie on top of a piece of apparatus they referred to as a bed but which looked more like a workbench. When the doctor began to lube up my belly, the inevitable internal yodelling started. I was so nervous about the potential outcome of this slightly undignified procedure that I even forgot to deploy my preplanned quip, “is it a boy or a girl?”.

Never mind, they’ve probably heard guys knock out that cracker plenty of times before.

Naturally, the source of my anxiety was both the potential outcome of the scan and the environment in which the process was taking place. I could not necessarily prevent my anxiety but what I did was use a technique I always use in situations like this.

I switched my mind from emotional mode into thinking mode.

Getting Control Of Your Emotions

Now, you may have been in many situations at work where you have felt similar emotions to those I felt on the day of my scan. You’ve probably experienced this most often in meetings. After all, meetings are one of the most intimidating and anxiety-inducing pieces of theatre we perform in organisations. Think about it, you are on show. Everybody is giving a performance. There are expectations, requirements, emotional investments. Everybody is fully loaded with all of these things.

When you walk into a meeting room there is an atmosphere. Hell, some meetings are not dissimilar to my aforementioned hospital room. Beeping equipment, stern but friendly people, an enormous flat surface in the middle of the room and sometimes even, an absence of light. Okay, nobody is being asked to remove their shirt – well, not in any organisation I’ve worked with… but you get the idea. They can be genuinely intimidating.

The thing is, like me and my ultrasound scan, you can’t necessarily avoid this atmosphere or prevent your anxiety from surfacing in the first place. What you can do, is shut off your anxiety so you can think.

Business Requires Thought, Not Feelings

Performing business requires our thinking minds more than it requires our emotional side. After all, the rules of the world and reality are not based around arbitrary emotions. They are based around facts.

And yet, so much of what goes on in organisations today is based on people’s feelings. Meetings are a virtual circus of individual’s emotions but their purpose is to collate collective thoughts in order to make progress on various issues. Ironically, feelings prevent this purpose from being achieved.

So if you can shut off your anxiety and allow yourself to think, you will be able to make a far greater impact on the progress of your organisation and have a much better and more rewarding experience while you’re at it.

Brain Capacity For Thought And Feeling

The problem you have is one we all share. The human brain has a very limited capacity to simultaneously process rational thoughts and emotions. It works like this-when you’re feeling emotional your capacity for rational thought reduces.

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 19.13.21

Similarly when you’re engaged in rational thought, your capacity to feel emotions also reduces.

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 19.12.19

If you are generally ruled by your feelings, this process works against you. However, if you are able to turn the tables and knock your mind into thinking mode then you can make this work very much in your favour.

When you are in a stressful situation such as a meeting, the environmental conditions are usually what puts your mind into feeling mode and prevents you from getting into thinking mode. You might remember my internal dialogue from earlier -“ohmygodherewegobloodyhellgetmeoutofhere”. Try saying this to yourself over and over again in a frenzied manner and see how rational and stable you feel at the end of it. In my case, my yodelling is default internal dialogue that helps to reinforce the messages that are being sent to me by the stressful environment I’m in. It’s likely that you will have a similar internal dialogue that surfaces whenever you feel anxious.

Now it turns out that you can switch your mind into thinking mode by changing your internal dialogue to a logical and thought based phrase. My yodelling example is clearly an emotional phrase, so my technique for changing modes to thinking is to use the phrase “hmm… this is interesting”.

Try saying this to yourself. You’ll notice that this phrase immediately makes your mind curious to gain further understanding of the situation you’re in. It is not connected to any emotion, it is a logical phrase.

When I was in the hospital, lying on the work bench, lubed up with what appeared to be a storm trooper’s head being scraped across my gut, I said this phrase to myself – “hmm… this is interesting”. The anxiety lifted, I began to see the humour in the situation and I became interested in understanding more about how the procedure worked and what all the equipment did.

This could work for you in meetings and other stressful situations.

What’s your logical phrase going to be? Pick something that works for you and next time you’re sitting in a meeting and internally yodelling from all the drama and theatre, use your logical phrase. Switch your mind into thinking mode and become interested in solving the problem or situation and watch how effective you become. Imagine how effective you will be and how much influence you will be able to assert if you are able to think where everyone else is yodelling.

And finally, in case you’re wondering, all was well with the scan but take my word for it, if the Doctor asks you if you’d like to see the images, just say no.

“ohmygodherewegobloodyhellgetmeoutofhere!!”

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 15.07.21

John Hackett

Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.

Advertisements

“On What Basis?”: The Dirty Question You Must Never Use at Work – How To Cut The Crap In Meetings

Being something of a serial Apple purchaser (I know, I know), about six months ago I decided I would rather like a brand new Mac Pro. As I am a frustrated musician, I could see this being the perfect purchase for my home studio. “It’s the choice of professional studios”, I said to myself. “It has limitless expandability”, I reasoned. “And it’s really cool”, I fantasised.

I went as far as to look at prices, even attempting to work out how I could fund one of Imagethese almighty beasts. Various web pages describing the Mac Pro were salivated at and numerous YouTube videos were watched with a sense of wonder and glee. This process continued in earnest until one day I happened to mention to my wife that I was considering buying one. Her question cut straight through several weeks of mental machinations – “On what basis do you want one of those? You already have a top of the range iMac”.

Perspective was suddenly achieved. I had everything I needed for my home studio setup in my existing kit. Why was I even considering replacing it with something way more powerful than I needed?

Alarmingly, I had never once asked myself that simple question – “On what basis?”.

In the business environment, we so often sit through meetings exploring various plans and ideas in great detail. What is absolutely staggering is that very rarely does anyone ask “On what basis are we doing this?”. If someone does dare to try out the question, they are often greeted with the same kind of response you get when you secretly build a brick wall across your neighbour’s front door during the night and they work out who did it the following morning. It’s not a popular question to ask in the middle of an intense meeting.

Why is this? Why do we so dislike being confronted with such a useful question in a business situation? Why don’t we use it more?

A key reason is that old human trait – attachment. It is common to all of us – when we have an idea of what we want to see happen, we often attach ourselves to a specific outcome. We emotionally invest in that outcome, it becomes meaningful to us and once that happens, attachment rules our behaviour.

You can test this. Find the guy in the office who is really excited about his potential purchase of a new BMW 3-Series and tell him there are better options in the market. You may get a similar look to what you experience when you pick up someone’s cup of coffee and pour it out of the window. He won’t thank you for it.

He is of course attached to the specific outcome he’s decided he wants – that particular model of car.

In the business environment, people often put forward ideas to which they have become attached. After all, it’s their idea, right? This is the result of an emotional decision-making process rather than a logical one. For more information on the background of how people use emotion in making decisions, take a look at my other blog post – “Why Batman is Relevant to Your Business”

So people in business decide on a particular outcome they want, they pick the means by which it will be achieved and they become attached to it. As a result they don’t question their own logic.

So what happens if you ask the question “On what basis?”. Well, it turns out that this question is one of those lovely phrases that is inherently logical. There is absolutely nothing emotional about it. If you introduce a logical phrase to the brain it resets your mind into a thinking state rather than a feeling state. Now, you may get an initial emotional reaction from someone who’s attached if you put this question to them, but once you get them engaged in processing the question they will quickly switch into logical thinking mode. This is where you want them, because at this point they are separated from their emotional attachment and engaged in solving the problem logically.

By doing this during meetings at work, you can quickly make a big impact on the quality of decision-making and corporate planning.

If you are in any doubt about the impact of a simple phrase, consider this. Would history have been different if someone at Decca Records in 1961 had asked “on what basis do you think guitar groups are on the way out?” after the decision to reject The Beatles? Could a lot of unnecessary cost and bad publicity have been avoided if back in 1985, someone at Coca-Cola had asked “on what basis do you think we need to change the flavour of our most popular drink?”. Would IBM’s fortunes be better today if back in the late 1980’s, someone had asked “on what basis do we think it’s a good idea to give all the rights to our PC operating software to Microsoft?”.

So why not try this out – ask yourself this question when you are planning to do something and also ask your colleagues. It may be a little tricky at first, but I am confident that the benefits will outweigh any short term discomfort.

And by the way, I still have my iMac.

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 15.07.21

John Hackett

Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.

There’s no Silver Bullet for Organisational Change – How To Avoid Methodology Madness

In a previous existence, I spent a good portion of my career as a business analyst. And like many business analysts or change managers, I was always on the hunt for the silver bullet – the single “right” approach to making change within an organisation.

silver-bulletIt’s a bit like trying to fix my rather lovely but very temperamental Jaguar S-Type. I’m forever trying to convince myself that the next major repair will magically cure the problematic little bastard once and for all. It never does of course.

Anyway, like many of my colleagues, I always thought that there would be one approach that would sort it all out – a single methodology that once applied, would deliver the kind of improvements that would cause anyone interested in organisational change to dance around the office in delight.

So naturally, along with the organisations I worked for, I had a go with all of the popular change methodologies. Business Process Re-engineering, SPRINT, PRINCE2, Lean, Systems Thinking, Kaizen – the list goes on. And on each occasion, the various approaches delivered good results in particular areas while at the same time leaving other aspects unchanged. So the pattern would be this – try an approach, get some good results, realise that it didn’t work for certain areas and move on to the next approach. Then repeat.

Along the way, the organisation involved would experience a process similar to a failed romantic relationship. It would start with attraction – the organisation would learn of this approach, perhaps from another organisation that had tried it and become curious. That would be followed by romance – the organisation would fall in love with the exciting new approach and focus immense effort on spreading the word to employees. The approach would be tried out and often applied to any situation that would arise. Once issues began to appear, the organisation would move to the doubt stage. Questions would be asked – “is this the right approach?”. Previous users of the approach would come out of the closet and reveal that all was not rosy. Horror stories would begin to appear. Then, this would finally bring the organisation to the divorce stage. The approach would be discredited and thrown out, and the hunt for a new one would begin.

If you’ve ever attempted to make change in an organisation, you will no doubt relate to this. You may have also experienced the frustration and disenchantment that comes from the constant hunt for a single way of making change. You may still be hoping to find that elusive change method, the one, true silver bullet. Well it’s a bit like trying to push a piano up a back staircase – it can’t really be done.

So my advice is simple. Stop looking for that silver bullet.

You will never find one method that will solve all of your organisation’s problems. And the reason is that organisational problems are too complex and too varied.

Many traditional approaches to organisational change are very effective at working on specific elements of your organisation. And yet, your organisation’s culture and therefore its performance is made up of two distinct elements. The condition of these elements affects the way your organisation works.

The two elements can be described as Systems and People.

Systems and People affect your organisation as follows:

✦ Systems – The design of your organisation’s processes is a direct consequence of the way managers view the design and management of work.

✦ People – The day-to-day behaviours and experiences within your organisation are a direct result of the way people think. Their view of the world governs how they react to work situations, how they relate to colleagues, suppliers and partners and how they manage their personal development.

Your organisation’s culture is the product of the relationship between these two elements.

If you want to improve the performance of your organisation, you must address both of these elements. With this in mind, it must be true that a traditional change methodology would work well for specific portions of specific elements, but would fail to address all of them.

So what can you do differently to avoid falling into the trap of swapping approaches every 6 months?

I like to describe it in this way. You may be familiar with the ancient art of alchemy – the belief that any base element could be turned into gold by the application of a particular process. The word “alchemy” has come to be defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.

Think about a typical situation within your organisation – say an area where you want to make improvement. You will find that there are multiple elements in place. These could be things such as:-

• A business process that is riddled with waste and inefficiency
• A lack of knowledge and skill within the team
• Several employees who have low self-esteem and consequently shy away from any involvement in making change
• A manager who validates his identity by imposing strict rules and restrictions on the team
• An outdated IT system that is no longer fit for purpose

Is a single “kill-all” approach such as Lean going to sort all of this out? No. Each of these elements requires specific attention and a unique approach to be changed.

Working through a business process reengineering project might sort out the waste and inefficiency in the work design but will it resolve the people issues such as the employees with low self-esteem or the dictatorial manager? Implementing a programme of training may improve knowledge and skill levels but will that be of any benefit while the work design is sub-optimal?

If you want to change this situation, you have to look at it systemically. You have to apply the most appropriate process to each of the issues – you have to change each of the base elements to really change the way things work.

It’s the same with my moody Jag. The car is an incredibly complex labyrinth of mechanical and electrical systems that all have to talk to each other and work together to deliver that special Jaguar driving experience. Fixing it involves paying attention to what is going on systemically, otherwise you can never resolve most of the problems that occur.

Damn thing.

So to conclude this blog, I want to leave you with this thought. Stop searching for a single approach to organisational change. Embrace your curiosity and identify all of the elements in the situation you are working on, then apply the most appropriate process to each of the elements to bring about the change you want. You may be surprised at just how much change you are able to make.

Oh, and no offence to Jaguar Land Rover intended. They make fabulous products and I recommend you check them out.

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 15.07.21

John Hackett

Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.

Why Batman is Relevant to your Business – Better Decision Making

Every single day, you and your colleagues make decisions within your business. The quality of these decisions is what influences your future direction and success. So let me frighten the living daylights out of you by suggesting that the way we all make decisions is fundamentally flawed.

But before I get to that, let’s talk about Batman.Business handshake to seal a deal

Some of you on here may have seen The Dark Knight. If you haven’t, I suggest you check it out. It’s a fantastic film.

For those who don’t know, the basic idea behind the film is the moral dilemma faced by Batman.

There are two main characters in the film – Batman and the Joker. Batman is the altar-ego of Bruce Wayne. Wayne lost his parents when he was a child because they were murdered in cold blood by a criminal. Wayne assumed the identity of Batman in order to go out into Gotham city and bring criminals to justice. At the same time, he made a rule that he would never kill anybody. He did this on the basis that he believed killing was wrong, most likely because of what happened to his parents.

In the film, we see the arrival of the Joker in Gotham city. The Joker has no rules. He is prepared to do anything he likes and kill as many people as he likes purely for his own pleasure. It is clear from an early stage in the film that the Joker is unstoppable.

This presents Batman with a dilemma. As he refuses to kill anybody he’s powerless to stop the Joker. As the film progresses, Batman’s inaction results in the Joker killing numerous people in the city and also several close friends of Batman.

Ultimately, the Joker wins because Batman has rules, whereas the Joker has none.

What’s relevant about this to you is that the cause of the problem in the film is Batman’s strong right and wrong functioning.

We all make decisions in our businesses based on right and wrong functioning to some degree. You may well have experienced moments where you have felt you have made a wrong decision. Equally, you may have experienced times when you feel you have made the right decision. On both occasions, you will have experienced some emotion associated with this. If it’s a wrong decision, you may have felt unhappy. If it was a right decision, you may well have felt good about yourself.

If you listen to the language people use in meetings, you will hear people referring to making the right decision on a regular basis. So like Batman, we all operate to a set of rules and have strong right and wrong functioning in our decision-making.

But curiously, the world is not a binary place. Situations are generally far more complicated and have far more outcomes than the rather simplistic right or wrong options we normally use. Our right and wrong decision making reduces every situation to a binary set of outcomes. Is business really like this?

Right and wrong decision making is based on a number of very rickety elements. Personal values, moral views, emotional states, social pressure and assumptions to name but a few. How consistent are these between different people? How objective are they? Are they always reliable?

Right and wrong decision making blinds us to all the available options we have when making a decision. And we are all brought up with right and wrong functioning hard-wired into our thinking.

Every decision has multiple different options and multiple different outcomes. Every single option is relevant. If we look at all options with no desire to make a right or wrong decision we are left with a choice of which option is the most appropriate to the facts of the situation we find ourselves in. In other words, we are freed from all the emotional baggage that we normally associate with decision-making and are able to make a business led choice.

Next time you come to make a decision, do the following:

  • Assess the facts of the situation; what’s really going on?
  • Consider ALL possible courses of action, even those that seem unpalatable
  • Consider the effects and implications of these actions; what will happen if you follow them?
  • Assess which course of action best fits the facts of the situation based on its cause, effects and implications. There’s your decision!

So maybe it’s useful to be aware that one of the options in reducing our company debt is to sack half of the staff. Maybe it’s okay to consider the possibility that we don’t do that amazing merger deal with another organisation. After all, it’s all just options!

Now think about poor Batman. If he was able to see that the most appropriate option to deal with the situation with the Joker at the beginning of The Dark Knight was to kill the Joker, he would have avoided the one thing that he feared most. Loss of life.

Next time you’re faced with a decision where you find yourself desperately trying to come to the right solution, remember to kill the Joker. It’s not wrong, it’s just an option.

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 15.07.21

John Hackett

Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.

Don’t Paint Your Business’s Face Green – Managing Customer Perception

You may remember the Beach Boys – the all-American purveyors of intricate, fragile and often beautiful songs about sun, surf, love and heartbreak. The band’s creative core was the tortured genius Brian Wilson. An incredibly gifted writer, producer and arranger, Wilson rewrote the rule book for pop music in the 1960’s before succumbing to a drug-hastened mental breakdown in the early 1970’s.Image

There is an infamous story about Wilson’s behaviour at a meeting of record executives sometime in 1969. Around this time, the Beach Boys were having great difficulty in securing a new record contract. Having gone through several failed attempts to make a deal with a number of labels, they received an offer from Reprise Records, a boutique label in the Warner Bros. family.

Given Wilson’s reputation for instability at the time, Reprise needed to be convinced that he still had what it took to create saleable new music. In order to do this, they arranged to meet Brian in person at his home studio.

On the day of the meeting, a group of Reprise executives drove to Wilson’s house, accompanied by the Beach Boys’ manager. As they pulled up at the parking area to the rear of the house, Brian emerged; his long hair combed neatly, his smart clothes carefully pressed – and his face painted a vivid shade of bright green.

During the two hour meeting that followed, Wilson was the perfect gentleman, proving to be astute, commercially aware, polite and professional. But with his face painted green.

The Beach Boys almost lost the deal.

It’s very hard to get past a poor first impression. By our very nature as humans, if our first impression of something displeases us, whatever we see next is diminished or at worst made irrelevant. You may have heard the phrase “only one chance to make a first impression” and it’s sadly true.

Customers are extremely and increasingly sensitive to the first impression created by your business. You could be the best business in the world – have the greatest products, the most premium service and incredible staff but if the image created by the first interaction with the customer is a negative one, all of these things count for nothing. That’s a lot of money, time and resource wasted, don’t you think?

Your business will have a front end or first point of contact. It may be a contact centre, a retail outlet or something else. Whatever happens here influences the customer’s impression of your entire business. Here’s a few examples of things that can go wrong:

  • Staff with low skill levels
  • Poor presentation (e.g. emails, shop fronts, brochures)
  • Hard selling
  • Inflexible processes

All of these things paint your business’s face green. They create an indelible first impression that sticks with the customer no matter how good the subsequent experience is.

I had an experience as a customer of a company who were in the premium end of the lifestyle market. I asked for some information on their products via their website – an experience that proved frustrating as I had to complete a very specific and limited form that didn’t allow me to fully express what I wanted. Having submitted the form, I then received a poorly formatted email that included a rather cursory and thin brochure. Then, around two days later I began to receive regular voice messages from the company, attempting to pressure me into attending an event they were hosting onsite.

I felt harassed and undervalued, while questioning the quality of the company’s products, thanks to the poor presentation of the website and email. Needless to say I didn’t do business with these guys – their face was most definitely painted a vivid shade of green. I later found out that the company’s products and level of service were the best in the industry. What a shame I couldn’t see any of that before I committed to do business with them.

What’s it like to do business with you? Are you providing amazing customer service but with your face painted green?

Maybe it’s time to wipe off that greasepaint and let customers see the very best of what you can do.

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 15.07.21

John Hackett

Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.

How you can overcome the limitations of the business world and become happier, more productive and more influential in your business life.