Splendid Isolation – The number two tip for remote working around Coronavirus

Let’s get specific on communication.  If you are a manager of a remote working team there are three communication priorities that you need to consider every week.  These three topics are born out of real world research into effective remote working and have their source in three problems that can occur when digital nomading. 

Every week you need to be asking yourself who do I say what to, under each of these three headings:

Priority 1: Issues and risks for escalation.

Remote workers need a higher level of support when it comes to dealing with the tricky things.  In the office people will ask, check, seek out advise from others.  In the remote world there is a small but significant in the moment barrier to doing that, which means there is more chance they will ‘just go with what they think’.  This can lead to unhelpful decisions as well as an increased sense of anxiety for the isolated individual.  As a manager you must facilitate the opportunity to raise issues and risks into the dialogue so that they can be discussed in a supportive way.  

Priority 2: Focusing objectives and sequence of events.

The second thing you need to communicate on a weekly basis counters the potential for people to become less focused when remote working.  Managers need to step up the clarity of expectations.  What is this weeks focus and what is the sequence of events that will get us there.  Spelling this out ensures that your team stay on track and expend their energies in the collective right direction.  This needs to be clearer than intact team working and will need your coordination to ensure everyone is progressing in the right direction.  

Priority 3: Motivational and developmental feedback

The final weekly communication priority is to deal with the performance management conversations around your team.  These will be both motivational and developmental conversations.  Every week you must decide who you need to say what to; that is praising them in the excellent work they are doing; encouraging them in the good work they are doing; and supporting them in the work they are finding more difficult to deliver. Remember remote workers lose almost all of the social learning that goes on in the office.  That means that you have to be on point to encourage the great stuff and help with the not so great stuff that they are doing.  

Make this a Monday morning priority, I would recommend you put it in your diary, pick up the phone or video conferencing and work through these there priorities every single week.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain 

Splendid Isolation – The number one tip for remote working around Coronavirus

What strange days we are living in!  We’ve got plagues, floods, crazy leaders, and all manor of economic fragility.  I don’t know about you, but the media hype certainly doesn’t help me stay calm and drink tea.  Yet a little bit of me would love some splendid isolation!  The thought of two weeks being locked in at home sounds like bliss compared to a punishing diary of international travel and training.  I suspect though my propensity towards activity would probably send me a little mad if any isolation extended much beyond a fortnight. 😉  

But let’s face it, working as a digital nomad is so easy these days, there’s no reason why business and organisations can’t prosper and operate with people confined to home.  The passed few years has seen us develop a much deeper understanding of what it take to work effectively as a remote team member and or manager.  Yes, there are some issues that need to be compensated for, but the bottom line is that it’s extremely viable to operate effectively in a geographically dispersed team.  

Our top tip for remote working

So what’s our number one tip for you if you should find yourself banished from the office in the coming weeks?
It’s simply this; step up your synchronous communication.  

‘What even is that?’ I hear you cry.  Synchronous communication is just dialogue existing or occurring at the same time.  In comparison, email is asynchronous; it’s not existing or occurring at the same time.  

In any remote team working environment, it is highly useful to increase the synchronous comms.  Think about it, in an office environment, there is a lot of it and the danger when working remotely is that it can be eliminated almost completely.  All the research suggests that remote workers have much more likelihood of sending an email than having a conversation.  

Cutting to the quick, this means that you need to:

  • Use the phone more, and or synchronous messaging ‘chat’ tools.
  • Be conscious of the need to inject dialogue back into the team relationships.  It’s the one thing that will massively assist you in sticking together, as apposed to becoming personally silo’d. 
  • Even something as simple as a team WhatsApp feed can be hugely advantages for keeping a sense of community while working in a dispersed way.  
  • The key is to avoid everything becoming asynchronous – in other words all email.  

There are a whole bunch of other things that matter and make a difference when working in remote team situations, but the number one focus needs to be on keeping dialogue in the mix.  It will ease the loneliness and isolation, increase the interaction, keep everyone up to date, help you work smarter and quicker and keep you in a good place for getting back together once the separation ends.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

What’s stopping you reach your potential?

I wonder whether the fact that you’ve read beyond the title may indicate you have yet to realise your ambition?  For some ‘reaching your potential’ seems to matter, for others, they probably didn’t click this far through!  I don’t know why it is, but some people are simply more driven to max out on what they are capable of.  I’m afraid to say I’m one of those crazy dream chasing dudes 😉  It’s a strange thing, because in my experience it’s an elusive win!  No sooner do you attain your next level, another frontier pops into view.  I still believe I won’t truly reach my potential until I get some space to do whatever I jolly well fancy after ditching the day job and ‘retiring’!  Who knows!  

One thing is for sure, if you don’t have some of those aspirational dreams, you won’t have much of a chance of attaining them.  One of the big problems with this is the short term nature of almost everything these days.  We are utterly driven in the moment, and seldom give space to the future.  I’m not talking about next week future either, but the longer term future; the next 5 or even 10 years.  

So here’s my advice, if you want to reach your potential develop an understanding of what that might look like.  

Create for yourself a realistic vision of the future, 1 year from now, 2 years beyond that and 3 years after that.  That will give you a staged 6 year plan to act as a guiding star to your every action.  Get quite detailed, because it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t all work out exactly as planned.  You can of course change it too.  It’s only in politics that you are not allowed to do a U turn. Everyone else has that luxury!  By detailing the vision you will automatically start seeking out things that deliver it.  

Having created it, don’t hide it.  One of the biggest drivers for entrepreneurs is the fact they tell people their best ideas.  That acts as a catalyst for them.  It’s two fold; one, they’ve given the secret away so it might get stolen if they don’t act quick.  But secondly they have set an expectation in others, so they lose face if they don’t achieve it.  Share your plans, it can open up all sorts of possibilities.  

Finally step up into those plans yourself.  The people who get noticed, are always those that effectively behave in ways that show they have already progressed.  It’s simple, if you want the managers role, behave like a manager now.  That’s the quickest way to be noticed fr the role.  Clearly you don’t yet have the responsibilities, but you can still pick up the behaviours that are linked to that role.  

As ever, tap into our episode of Squeeze exploring potential.

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

Impact, gravitas and charisma a might trinity!

Over the last couple of weeks, my colleague Will karlsen and I have been musing on what it is to have impact, gravitas and charisma.  Have a listen to our two podcasts Episodes 17 & 18 on the topic.  We all know when we meet someone who could be described as credibly having any or all of the ‘impact, gravitas and charisma’ trinity.  The question we might ask is ‘how do we develop these three?’

These qualities might often be associated more with nature than with nurture, but the truth is, they can absolutely be developed, nurtured, in our lives should we make that choice.  

Be engaged

A lot of the answer is caught up in how engaged with the topic or debate I am.  It’s very hard to demonstrate impact gravitas or charisma if I am not engaging with the other party.  Engagement is about listening, but it is communicated through response.  I need to respond to what I have listened too, for people to read ‘engaged’.  

Have an opinion

Having an opinion really matters too.  People without an opinion will fail to have impact.  Man sure your opinion is shared, you have a right to your view even when it’s not the same as others.  Owning our position shows strength.  

Take interest in others

People who care come across well, because they invest in the other person.  The ability to impact is greatly enhanced when people feel they are valued by you.  Ask questions and keep eye contact to show you are truly present with them.  

Give generously 

Charimsa comes from the word charis or ‘grace’.  Think of gracefulness.  Are you clunky or graceful in the way you go about things?  But also think about grace meaning ‘unmerited favour’ – giving generously when it is least deserved.  

Work at being liked

People with charisma often operate using referent power.  That has to do with attractiveness.  I will be influenced by someone I find attractive in whatever way.  I admire you, I think you are funny, I like the way you are principled, etc.  All ways in which follows will be influenced by your referent charisma.  Make yourself someone others want to work with.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

Three things you must avoid when giving feedback

I previously wrote about feedback in the blog post ‘Three reasons positive feedback matters’.  

It’s clear that being able to deliver feedback in a great way is such a useful skill for anyone to have.  However, I’ve certainly met lots of people who would say that they have experienced poor feedback on any number of occasions.  So I thought it would be useful to cover off a few of the pitfalls and trip hazards that occur in feedback so that you can work at avoiding them.  

1.  Abolish the term ‘Constructive Criticism’

I’ve never understood the use of this phrase ‘constructive criticism’.  Surely it’s an oxymoron?  You simply can’t dress up the word ‘criticism’ however hard you try.  When anyone asks me whether they can give me some constructive criticism, the internal me is shouting loud “No thanks, I prefer to remain in my ignorance”.  

This is more important than mere semantics, how can you expect someone to be receptive to feedback when you’ve effectively just ignited their emotion response just by using the word criticism in the sentence.  So instead, use some alternative names.  I use the two phrases ‘motivational feedback’ and or ‘developmental feedback’ depending on whether I want to encourage someones good practice, or help them improve it.  Think about it, you can take the best person in the world and still give them developmental feedback, we have a clear example of this in our top athletes.  They are the best, yet they know feedback is the breakfast of champions.  

2.  Don’t do the crap sandwich thing!

The second common pitfall I experience is the use of what I’m politely calling the crap sandwich.  You know the thing, I’ll give you some good news, then the bad news and finish it off with another piece of good news! 

The problem with this is simple – what I actually want to address is the developmental feedback, but I try to soften it (perhaps as much for myself as for you) by adding two other pieces of feedback.  

Look, if you want people to change forget giving them three pieces of feedback, instead focus on doing the single pieces well and one at a time.  

3.  Don’t assume they know how to change.  

The most common complaint I hear about bad feedback is that it came without any assistance in correcting or changing the identified behaviour.  Let’s face it, if someone is not doing something particularly well, it’s likely that they are unsure about how to change it.  Now I know we can coach them in that moment, but we may have to spell it out clearly too.  Especially if they are struggling to know what to do differently.  Enter the conversation with the heart and intent to help them, that way you will not only point out the problem, but support a progression towards the solution. 

Delivering feedback well is a tricky business, so make sure that you avoid these three things to aid the potential for the other person to be receptive and engaged in the feedback conversation.  Make it a two way discussion, explore and work towards the goal with them. 

If you’re interested have a listen to this episode of Squeeze.

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain.  

Looking out for number 1

This weeks Squeeze podcast considers what it might mean to look after number 1, a little bit of self care.  It’s an odd topic for me, even as I start writing now, I feel a strange discomfort with it.  I think it must have something to do with a foundational belief I hold too, that ‘selfishness is undesirable compared to selflessness’.  I have always liked the principle that self serving managers, are nothing compared to organisational (or team) serving ones.  

I’m not quite ready to give up on that view just yet either, but I do accept a burnt-out manager is pretty well no good to anybody.  Which all does suggest, that looking out for ourselves must have some significant value.  

There are times for all of us when we need to burn the candle at both ends.  Those exceptional times that require an extra push, extra hours, extra effort.  The problem comes when that’s not the exception but the rule.  Whoever we are, we are not machines and constant battering by the stresses of life are bound to have a negative impact.  Rather like the car that goes from year to year without a service, the person who fails to look after themselves will at some point find the wheels will fall off!  

The key is to be sufficiently attuned to ourselves so as to recognise when we are stretching the limits of mental and physical endurance.  We wouldn’t ignore the cars temperature gauge if it was in the over heating red zone, nor should we ignore our own signals that suggest things are getting too much for us.  Listening to our own bodies can be a useful trigger for making some necessary changes.  

There are of course dozens of avenues we could travel down within this topic area, what I eat, how much exercise I take, whether I have destress activities to turn too.  But for the purposes of this blog, I want to focus for a few minutes on the introduction of some helpful boundaries that can act to restore the equilibrium to a busy busy life.  

Boundary setting is a super simple but effective thing to put in place.  It requires us to determine the boundary and then see it through.  Let’s take an obvious example ‘choosing not to work when taking annual leave’.  I’m frequently surprised by the number of people I meet that tell me it’s normal practice for them to keep on top of emails while away on family vacation.  There is always a cost to these types of things.  Maybe it’s a cost to the family, or alternatively a cost to our careers?  Whichever it is, there are choices that you can make.  It’s very easy for us to buy into our own legends, ‘I have to answer these emails, because I’m such a legend no one else could do it’ etc.  The reality seldom matches the legend!  If you were laid up in a hospital bed, the world would still keep turning for two weeks – whoever you are, however big your particular legend.  

So setting some simple boundaries with my team before I go on holiday would demonstrate quickly to me that I could make the choice to give family 100% of my vacation.  

Useful boundaries can be found in almost every walk of life.  What time you are willing to arrive and leave the workplace, when you will start and stop looking at work emails, how far you are willing to travel in a day before stopping over in a hotel, etc.  

Determining and putting in place some simple boundaries is just good common sense in the area of self care.  May I dare to suggest, the person who foregoes setting any boundaries like these is in fact just a total victim to their circumstances.  There should be limits in life.  A good employee will know when enough is enough and draw out the lines in clear and constant terms.  It’s probably the simplest thing you could do that would give you an immediate return in the self care stakes.  

Don’t run your personal motor into the ground and be assigned to the scrap heap way too early!  Work at a little bit of ‘looking after number 1’ and establish some appropriate boundaries for a much healthier and sustainable approach to managing your work.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

It’s brexit whether you like it or not!

So tonight as the hour passes 2300 GMT, Britain will exit the European Union.  Quite a moment, that will end a 47 year relationship with our neighbouring countries.  No doubt entering the union was an experiment, just as is leaving it now.  No doubt many will morn and many will rejoice.  No doubt life in the union will carry on, just as it will in the newly patriotic UK.  

I walked through Westminster this morning, slightly buoyed by the many fluttering union jacks that were dressing Parliament square, even though I was (and perhaps still for now am) an avid remainer.  Somehow I liked the site of these very British symbols, it conjured up a feeling of pride, when I had for many months been quite ashamed of us all, as I mixed with the people of the wider world.  

What a strange thing, it made me hopeful that we could make a real success of the new era, just so long as we found a away to unit behind the Union Jack.  

As managers in all walks of life we should always remind ourselves of the power that can be generated when common good is aligned.  Teams that clearly know what they are working to attain and why, time and again will outperform teams that have no solidarity of purpose.  

Perhaps your team has been divided of late? Can I suggest you re draw the lines.  Chunk the conversations up to the point of common agreement, whatever the topic.  You can always do this.  Say you are disagreeing about one or another supplier proposal, chunk up to what you agree on, maybe ‘that you both want the best supplier for this particular contract.’  Finding your common good will always happen you go back down and deal with teh presenting issue.  

Sometimes being right (in my own opinion) should be conceded against doing the right thing.  Let’s build some unity and solidarity in our work teams, we might be surprised at what we can achieve.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain.  

Like a city whose walls are broken through, is a person who lacks self-control.

There’s an ancient proverb that tells us “like a city whose walls are broken through, is a person who lacks self-control”.  The picture is of the fortified city, which protects its inhabitants from all kinds of trouble.  The walls keep the people safe by ensuring both dangerous animals and enemy peoples are kept at bay.  The city with broken walls offered no such security.  Raiders and wild animals were free to roam, steal, kill and do damage.  

It’s a strong image when paired with the idea of self control, suggesting if we lack self control we are opening ourselves to all kinds of problems and difficulties.  Self controlled people clearly have an advantage in many spheres of life over those who lack it.  It’s always seemed impressive to me to see the levels of self control that elite athletes demonstrate.  They are able to be disciplined in many areas of their lives in order to attain the peak of performance and ability.  Self controlled individuals are also evident in many avenues of successful organisations.  There are clearly many benefits available if you and I can develop good self control in our lives.  So what might help us do that?  Here are my thoughts on three aspects of self control that we can work at on a daily basis.  

Desire (Negative):

Our understanding and management of desire is absolutely crucial to becoming self controlled.  It’s also worth highlighting that it’s negative desire that matters here.  If it is a positive desire, then self control is far less of an issue.  Take an obvious example; if I love eating carrots and don’t like cake, there isn’t really too much need for self control.  (BTW, there’s always the exception, if all I eat is carrot, then I would argue this is in fact a negative desire and so needs dealing with).  The problem arises when I love cake but still want to lose my midriff!  Now I really need to exercise self control at the pastry counter.  

Desire is connected to a number of things.  It’s often emotional, a feeling – if you like it’s full on chimp mode to use Steve Peters analogy.  It also has to do with attractiveness, something that looks attractive to us is clearly more desirable.  But with all of this it’s also down to how well I am able to delay gratification.  Look up Stanfords Marshmallow experiment; do you take one thing now, or get two later. 

In short the stronger or more powerful the level of desire, the more I will need to manage the next two elements ‘discipline and distraction’.

Discipline

Discipline is one of those areas that has a compound effect.  It has to do with our past behaviours.  What habits have we formed, how ingrained are those behaviours?  Clearly the longer a particular practice has been adopted, the harder it is to establish a new discipline.  

But it also has to do with future commitment.  How strong is my commitment to make a change?  Not this is not about motivation, that will always go up and down, when commitment will push on through varying levels of motivation.  

In self controlled people there is a compound effect of ‘letting go’ (or changing) old unhelpful behaviours and establishing commitment to new ways of working.  

Distraction

Distraction is our other friend when self control is challenged.  Assuming we cannot avoid the tempting cake scenario (which is always better) we need to develop good strategies to divert our attention to more helpful things.  There are 4 ways we can introduce distraction:

Renewed mind (thinking)

We need to train our minds to think differently about the desired behaviour.  A kind of mind distraction.  Thinking differently about an area helps us to modify our desires and behaviours much more easily.  Part of that renewed mind could include this…

Consequence

Understand and articulate the consequences of your negative desires.  Use your internal dialogue to outline why this behaviour is unhelpful in the short or long term.  Give yourself good reason to exercise self control over the issue.  

Alternative

The simplest form of distraction is alternative.  What can I put in my way that acts as a good, attractive, viable alternative. Then we can use the desire as a prompt to trigger the alternative behaviour.  

Facts and data

Finally use the logical mind to deal with the emotional desires.  Deal with facts and data, logic not feeling.  Help convince yourself that self control is the logical outcome in the situation you face.  

So there you have it, work at managing desires, adding discipline and fostering distractions in those areas you want to propagate self control.  Be practical about it by working at one area of self control at a time.  Remember success tends to be compound.  If I start wining in one area, I quickly become able to transfer that win to other areas of self control.  

As ever the Squeeze podcast linked here explored the topic further.  Do have a listen if you’ve bothered to read this far into the blog post.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

Have you been committed?

I wouldn’t say that I am avoiding commitment, but I wouldn’t say that I’m not! It’s new year and the news has been full of naysayers suggesting new gym or diet practices are bound to be short lived.  Well for what it’s worth, I rather like the idea of new year new starts.  I joined a gym several years ago on a New Years resolution and have never regretted it.  Yes there has been months where I’ve not made it as often as I would like, but that’s life.  Without doubt I am today physically fitter than I was 10 years ago, so you see, New Years resolutions don’t have to be doomed to failure.  

I rather like the idea of commitment.  I guess I must hold in high regard, a kind of personal value if you like.  If I commit to something I am more likely to stick with it, even when my motivation levels have ducked somewhat.  Motivation might leave me in bed, but a commitment still gets me up and out to the gym when I DON’T FEEL LIKE IT!

For managers it’s really worth working out how you create committed team members.  It transcends motivation every time.  Real commitment often comes when we truly understand what we are committing too.  So make it clear for everyone.  Highlight what’s expected of them, spell out the implications of getting involved, ways of working, behaviours as well as tasks and activities.  

A committed team will be a loyal team, a bunch of people that will go above and beyond because they feel ownership for whatever it is they are doing.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain 

Here’s the two most important lessons about influencing.  

The skill of influencing has to be up there as one of the most valuable things to get right.  We start working out what works when we are about 2 years old, pushing and bending our parents will through any means possible.  Back then, we didn’t even care what others thought of us; we would happily throw a wobbly in the shopping line without the slightest concern for our reputation, all in the name of braking our parents resolve and securing whatever it was that we wanted.  

Social norms do there work and by our teens we are utterly aware of what’s acceptable in the ‘throwing a paddy’ stakes.  So by then we will have developed a whole bunch of supporting influencing techniques right across the spectrum of logical to emotional approaches.  Some work well, others bomb and so we start to nuance them, recognising when and where to adopt different  models.  

By the time we arrive in the workplace, we have already developed a range of techniques that we will lean on, but there are a couple of things that we really ought to cement in our thinking relating to our influencing choices.  These two things are in my opinion the most important lessons about influencing.  Understand them and they will serve you well.  

1. Most influencing doesn’t happen in a single moment…

Influencing well in the workplace seldom occurs in a single moment.  It can and does happen, but nearly always it will be at the coercive end of influence.  If you are able to threaten someone, or give the perception that you can bring about a negative outcome for them if they don’t comply, then you can influence in a single move.  But let’s face it, this has little long term sustainability.  If there is any need to retain a working relationship, then this brick bat approach to influence will likely be your downfall.  Most effective people recognise that influence is better developed over the many small nudges that all add up. No matter what we think of our politicians, they understand this well.  Before any important vote within the house, they will lobby.  They will get to individuals and seek to nudge them towards a particular position before the crunch vote.  They will build the foundations of those that are onside and seek to create a momentum of thinking that will itself bring weight to the desired position.  

So, it’s really helpful to think about influencing any outcome in a series of smaller (rather than one single) events.  Try to work out how you can seed, water and feed your position over a short period.  Let’s take a simple example.  Your boss has asked you to make a recommendation on something that you know they have a strong opinion on.  It would be very easy for you to suggest something that they oppose, so you want to try and influence the outcome in a series of nudges. Having understood their position, you drop into conversation something positive about your prefered approach.  In a progress meeting, you talk about your prefered option first of all, your least favourite option next and finish with your second most preferred option (look up the topic of recency and primacy with regard to this).  Finally when you have the opportunity to present your preferred approach you have already attempted to seed the decision.  It’s not come out of the blue, to some extent your boss has already started to get familiar with the position you are taking.  

Breaking influence up in this way can help you to nuance your positioning and conditioning rather than run the risk of falling at the first hurdle because it’s the first conversation you are having about the topic.  

2. Most influencing does happen on an emotional level…

Another mistake in influencing is to imagine that it primarily takes place in the arena of rational logic.  Yes, it is a big part of influencing in the workplace, but even the most rational logic will often have some element of emotional pull.  

In fact when you analyse the many forms of influence that are used across mankind, it’s surprising just how many of them operate more in the emotional sphere than the logical.  You will often hear people use emotional language in their decision making, for example when presented with two similar logical arguments.  They may say “I feel this one suits us better” or “I warm to this one more than the other”.  For most people there will be an emotional attachment to any particular line they are taking.  If I can understand this, I have a greater chance to influence it.  This takes us back to Stephen Covey’s habit of highly effective people, “Seek to understand before you are understood”.  The more you get to know your opponent, the more able you are to position your preferred idea in line with their relationship with the topic.

Simply ask yourself, what you think their gut feel will be.  Then engineer the conversation so they go first, that way you can better establish if you were right in your assumption.  Even if you assumed incorrectly, understanding before you are understood will always give you the benefit of being able to fine tune your storyline once you get to it.  Sometimes this will need you to chunk up to find common value or agreement, before coming back down to your preferred position.  For example, if you were discussing different suppliers and they favour a different one to you, then chunk the conversation up to the place of agreement “that we both want the best supplier for this contract” before coming back down to focus on your colleagues interests.  How does your preferred solution meet the emotional preferences of your opponent?  

Being able to influence skilfully will bring huge dividends throughout your career.  It is really worth reading more, finding out how influence works and seeking to fine tune your abilities in this important area.  If you would like more (as usual) this weeks episode (10) of #squeeze the podcast explores influence in more detail.

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

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