Allowing Autonomy

low angle photo grayscale of person tightrope walking
Photo by Marcelo Moreira on Pexels.com

This article from the Pacific Institute (note, I am affiliated the Institute) really struck a chord with me.

It talks about allowing some risk when guiding employees. Too many rules and teams will be constantly looking at the next step and not the outcome.

In creating the “tightrope effect” we increase the stress and anxiety in people who are too fearful to make a mistake. As the article says, when people “look down” to make sure they are following the steps they are not looking ahead to what can be achieved.

I’ve worked on a number of initiatives where people are asked to adopt a process of some kind. A process or a daily target, for example.

This article made me think of the tightrope we ask our teams to walk if we mis-manage the implementation process.

Riding a motorbike requires the rider to look ahead. I’ve ridden bikes, never look down. Look ahead to see what’s coming so you can negotiate it successfully. (Plus it’s more enjoyable leaning into corners! 😎)

Source: http://www.canyonchasers.net
Here’s an example:

In a recent role, we were implementing a new process. There were five steps and each step had five “criteria”. Staff were required to meet each of the criteria at each step. On a regular basis, a scenario was recorded and critiqued by the management team.

Could they identify each of the steps and the associated criteria? Yes. No. Maybe. (Even the managers couldn’t agree!)

The team member was then coached on the outcome of that discussion.

“Here’s what you missed! Here’s what you did well.” What do you think they would reflect on?

“Dear Team Member, Please make sure you complete all steps and all criteria within each step! – Manager”

The feedback asked them to “look down” at each step and criteria. Next time they were with a customer, where do you think their focus would be?

“What if I didn’t do all the criteria but the customer was happy?”

The guidance being to “work it in. Focus on the steps, not the outcome.” That wasn’t the intention, of course, but you can see how it would work out that way.

I had the opportunity to speak with the developer of the model and asked them about the strictness of the model. Do all criteria of each step have to be completed for this to be a success?

“Oh god no! As long as the person is achieving the main steps (rapport building, explain benefits, good questioning, asking for the order and closing) the criteria are guidelines. To help with coaching and development.”

This is where we need to allow some autonomy of our people to do their roles well. We can create so much unnecessary stress in our teams if we demand a certain set of behaviours where a slightly different set will achieve the same outcomes.

In general, we’re dealing with adults but rigidity to this degree means we can also treat them like children.

Allow some risks to be taken, as the original article suggests. Don’t make them look down, you’ll increase the stress, limit performance and the only target you’ll exceed is your staff turnover.

The Inner Critic (Self Talk, Mindset)

woman in gray tank top
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Do you have an inner critic that you’re tired of listening to?

If someone else spoke to you the way you speak to you, would you put up with it?

Here’s “Thing 1” … 

While you’re berating yourself …

  • others have full confidence in you
  • you provide encouragement, support and confidence to others (who also have an inner critic!)
  • when others fail or falter, what do you do? You’re quick to pick them up, I bet!

Maybe some self care is in order.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Pause/breathe – think about what you’re about to say to yourself
  2. Respond – don’t react
  3. Define what you do want – what does ‘good’ look like?
  4. Next time … what could you do next time this happens. Write it down if you can, it helps with imprinting and reinforcement
  5. Affirm what you’re wanting to achieve – write an effective affirmation (more on this coming soon) 

Here’s “Thing 2” …

  • Think about what you were berating yourself about 12 months ago.
  • Can’t do it, can you? 😉
  • This too will pass, grab any learning you can, let it go and move to the ‘good’

Want an example?

Meeting 1: “God, that was a train wreck! I am hopeless at running meetings. I can’t control the participants. I can’t stick to the agenda. What an idiot!”

Meeting 2: [Pause/breathe] “Well that wasn’t ideal. Next time … I’ll be clear about the agenda and keep participants on track. I’ll allocate some time to plan better. Will see Jane about how she does it, she runs her meetings well.”

Affirmation: “I plan my meetings well and maintain control to achieve the outcomes we need.”

Self Efficacy and Self Talk

So there’s this thing called self efficacy.

“Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments (Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1997). Self-efficacy reflects confidence in the ability to exert control over one’s own motivation, behavior, and social environment.” (Source)

There is another concept called self talk.

Self-talk is our internal dialogue. It’s influenced by our subconscious mind, and it reveals our thoughts, beliefs, questions, and ideas.” (Source)

Most people talk negatively to themselves most of the time. If it’s not negative, then it is neutral, with little to no power to progress.

In order to make progress

We need to improve our self efficacy, the ability to cause something to happen. Otherwise we will remain waiting for something to happen. Waiting on others, or waiting for a windfall.

To improve our self efficacy we can look to improve our self talk. Note from the source above, it can be influenced by some deeply held beliefs we may need to challenge or at least question.

What do you hold to that may not be true?

We could be talking ourselves out of the very things we want to happen in our lives, career, relationships etc.

As Henry Ford said,

If you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right!

What do you want to have happen?

How are you talking to yourself about it?

The Wrong Question

There is an oft quoted challenge: “If money and time weren’t an issue, what would you do with your life?”

I don’t think that is a good question. I think there might be a better question.

It presumes that time and money are the only variables.

Time and money are tools. We can accumulate and use both.
But we should not be defined by those two variables.

I get the point of the question but it limits our options.

It presupposes something like the following: “Well, I don’t have the time … or the money. So what can I do?”

And it potentially absolves us of responsibility.

Perhaps a better question might be:

“If I was who I really wanted to be, what would I do?”

Find out what that is and find a way to do that!

Feedback and the SCARF Model

In my last post I described a feedback model that has been proven to be easy and effective.

It also fits in well to the SCARF Model as developed by David Rock.

SCARF Stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.

If you are unfamiliar with the Model, it proposes that humans have two basic modes: Threat & Reward.

Anything that happens which threatens you, you will move to defend or get away from. We know it as the “flight, fight or freeze” model.

Anything that is seen as a reward we will move towards.

Using the feedback model I proposed (R-ASBINT) we can see that it fits in well with SCARF.

Firstly, if you have a good relationship with the person you are giving feedback to, they are more likely to accept the feedback or at least listen to it and reflect on it positively. They may decide it’s not true or effective so they will make their choice to act on the feedback or not.

However, this is better than the alternative where there is little to no positive relationship and the feedback is seen as a threat. The person may become defensive or simply not act on it in any way. It may also worsen the relationship, making further feedback even less effective.

Relationship = Relatedness/Status

The Relationship side of feedback, corresponds to the Relatedness factor in the SCARF model. A good relationship also builds the Status within the SCARF model. A person confident in their Status will act more openly and creatively, knowing they are well regarded and regard themselves well.

Behaviour = Certainty

Offering feedback also helps create greater Certainty. Again, this relies on a good relationship to get the best out of it. Providing clear feedback builds certainty in an individual’s world. Letting them know a missed deadline is not acceptable. Or arriving at a meeting late and/or unprepared. And, just as importantly, letting people know when a good job has been done, reinforcing the behaviour and attitudes that need to become the norm.

In our current crazy world, some things may be difficult to be clear on. So it is even more important to provide feedback where some certainly or clarity can be provided.

Next Time = Autonomy

Where the feedback model looks for the behavioural change in the “Next Time …” stage, the model suggests not to dictate what to do. We allow the individual to choose how they will close the gap or continue the good behaviour. We do this by simply stating, “Could you do that differently?”, “Could you fix that?”, or “That’s awesome what you did!”. This relates to Autonomy in the SCARF Model, which give the individual the choice on how they want to develop. Sure, if they need help, provide it. But people are more capable than we might think and if you are clear on your feedback and situation, they’ll have an idea of what to do.

Simple = Fairness

Fairness in the SCARF Model is where the feedback model is so simple and easy to do. It’s also quick, you don’t need a meeting in a closed office, you can do it on the fly. So it allows for greater equity in our dealings with our teams.

Look for opportunities to provide feedback to your team members, peers and managers as the opportunities arise. Don’t just focus on those you want to “Fix”!

Finally

Management and leadership practices don’t operate in a vacuum. Many of our behaviours, beliefs and attitudes flow into all parts of our practices. Being more conscious of them, at least initially, until they become habitual will go a long way to building the self image of your team to becoming high performers.

Try the feedback model for a month. See how you go.

I’d be keen to hear from you.

I’d start with focusing on positive feedback. Often, at least in my experience, when team members are feeling food about themselves, the last thing they want to do is let their manager down. And many times they know when they are cutting corners. You may find as you provide the positive, constructive feedback, the gaps you currently see may disappear automagically!

Is this the worst acronym in management?

R-ASBINT

Feedback is often delivered awkwardly so it deserves an awkward acronym!
Pronounced Rasbint, it lists the steps in delivering effective, ongoing feedback.

Let’s have a look

Feedback is one the most effective ways to help develop high performance. Unfortunately, people tend to shy away from giving feedback. At least, feedback that infers a gap in performance. We might call it constructive feedback but the receiver may take it as negative feedback. And so, it can be delivered poorly. It is either too infrequently. It can be too vague or it can be over emphasised … like a storm in a teacup. Sometimes the intent is to coerce or belittle and to make the deliverer of the feedback feel better.

Worse still, delays in providing feedback, can have long term effects on the individual, team and business performance. Delayed too long and it gets swept under the carpet altogether.

So why do we give feedback in the first place?

The aim of feedback is to always improve future performance.

That’s it. Nothing else. Learn from the mistake, take corrective action next time and move on. Anything else simply over complicates it. (Feel free to Agree/Disagree in the comments).

Therefore, if you’ll accept my aim of feedback, let’s look at the R-ASBINT Model.

R – Relationship: This is fundamental in all leadership/management roles. How solid is your relationship with your team or the individual? The stronger it is, the more effective the feedback will be. That is why it is separated from the acronym by the hyphen. You can do ASBINT on its own but you’ll get better results with a strong R. Be sure to build the relationship with your team and the feedback will be a lot easier.

A – Ask: This is where Manager Tools with Mark Horstman and Michael Auzanne, differ from many other models. Ask first. It may be rhetorical (see Note below) and you will give the feedback anyway, but asking first is professional and polite. This helps with the R part above. People in good relationships don’t bulldoze others. And, hey, isn’t it nice to be asked?

Keep it simple: “Hey, can I give you some feedback …?”

S – Situation: Outline the situation you’re referring to, so that the context is clear and specific. This could be really simple like: “When we have have our weekly sales meetings…”, or “When we need to submit our monthly reports…” or even,”When we’re in a meeting …”.

Behaviour: Describe the behaviour you saw. Not what you thought you saw. Be objective, factual, clear. (e.g. your report missed the deadline.) Also, remove any inflammatory emotion if the behaviour has triggered you. If you use phrases like: “When you do the thing, it p!sses me off!” you’re making it about you and not about the performance.

“When we have our weekly sales meetings and you’re late …”

“When you don’t submit your data on time …”

“When you yawn in the sales meeting …”

Impact: Describe why it’s an issue. Be clear, concise, no stories and no lecturing. (e.g. when the report is late, it delays the Board Report and other people’s schedules).

Again, I like how Mark Horstman says it at Manager Tools:

When you, did the thing, here’s what happens …”

Next Time: This (to me) is the best part. There’s no need for a long drawn out discussion. Simply say something like: “Could you fix that?” (Inferring next time), or, “Can you address that next month?” In addition, by leaving the solution with them, you remove the possibility of a “Yeah, but …”. If you tell them how to fix it, they may have a legitimate reason why your solution won’t work. (I know, how could your solution not ever work! 😉)

Thanks: Okay, maybe this is the best part. Say thanks and move on to your next task. Polite, professional, genuine.

Why it works

– It’s quick. It takes around 10 – 20 seconds in most cases.
– It’s conversational. There’s that R factor again.
– You don’t need a room to speak with them. I cringe at the times I took someone into a room (for privacy) when a quick message like this would’ve been better. Can you imagine what they must have been thinking? As well as those working with them? Were they next? (Of course, if you need a room for privacy because of the nature of the feedback, please use common sense.)
– It’s polite and professional.
– It allows autonomy on the part of the recipient. You’re not telling them how to do their job.
– What you’re asking is likely aligned to a KPI or agreed outcome.

What are your thoughts? Agree? Disagree?

How do you successfully deliver feedback?

Note: Is Asking really rhetorical? Actually, no! If you ask the question, the recipient has the right to decline. And we need to respect that. This reinforces why a good relationship is so important. Keep in mind when people are offered feedback, generally, their automatic response is, ”this can’t be good!” So the chance are they’ll be defensive at first. If this is the case, start by offering good feedback for a while. We need to be doing that anyway. Look for things people do well as often as possible. Make sure you comment on that.

Be That Guy! (or Girl!)

Be That Guy!

Yes, be that guy! (or girl) in the sense of being the person you want to be.

I don’t mean in a new age, woo-woo manner (though there’s nothing wrong with that either!) What I mean is taking the time to define who and what you want to be in your best role or current role.

How do you see yourself at the moment?

A simple analogy: look in a mirror. Do you like what you see? This doesn’t mean you need to hate what you see or what you are. Just look and see what you’d like to change.

If you don’t think the shirt goes with the dress, change one of them. If you need a new hairstyle, go to a hairdresser.

Now work on the real you: do you get angry easily? How can you address that?

When you give presentations, are you cool and calm and enjoy the process or are you all nerves and flustered? How can you address that?

How do you talk to yourself? Are you encouraging yourself or berating yourself? How can you address that?

There is a saying to “find the job you love”. If you have done that, greatI If not, great: “love the job you find!”

More importantly, “love the ‘you’ you find!”

The ball is in your court.

And here’s a simple way to start moving further along the achievement line.

Grab a piece of paper.

Step One: List down up to 5 things you really want to address.

Step Two: Now pick one of those items you’d like to work on first (or select the one that will provide you the biggest improvement)

Step Three: Using the item you have selected list down up to 3-5 things about it that you do well, or want to do well. For example, if you selected “talk well to yourself”, what 5 things could you do (or are doing) that supports the notion of you being productive?

Step Four: Looking at those 5 items, select one that will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Write that one down, or highlight it.

Here’s the fun part:

Step Five: Action: What will you do, each day, to develop that item?

Working example:

List 5 things you want to improve on: presentation skills, meditation, pause before reacting, highlight strengths of others, reflect gratitude

Choose Meditation/Mindfulness

List 3-5 things you do, or want to do, that will help you be more mindful: start mediating in the morning, read books on the benefits of mindfulness, write “be more mindful” in a conspicuous place, remove distractions (social media?)

Biggest bang: start meditating in the morning – will set me up for the day as well as reducing social media in the morning (double win!)

Action: segment my morning routine to allow 10 minutes for meditating, download an app, add to calendar.

While the process above may appear simple, the critical factor is moving towards being the person you want to be.

Following something relatively simple like this will help you see progress and, if you miss an opportunity, you will be able to quickly get back on track.

Change Win-Lose to Win-Learn

No-one likes losing. I don’t! I generally feel like I’ve take a step backwards. Those I work with may have lost a little faith.

Maybe. Maybe not.

I think it’s apocryphal but if it took 10,000 failures for Edison to invent the light bulb, noting each time that, “well, that didn’t work”, and then “that didn’t work” – 10,000 times, it was all learning, not losing.

More recently, a product called WD-40, has that name because the first 39 versions did not achieve what the creators were developing! (HT to Michelle Ockers of Learning Uncut)

I attended a leadership course a couple of years ago and here are my bullet points I rediscovered while re-organising my reference material (bracketed notes are my thoughts now):

– There is always more than one perspective, you may need to change lenses (this can be tough, especially in a topic you thought you had sorted already but …)
– There’s generally more than one “right” answer (and rather than thinking we were wrong or fell short, maybe we just added a cool new tool to our toolkit.)
– And, building on that, don’t stop at the first “right” answer you find (always ask, at least initially, “And what else …?”)
– Learn to sell your “photos”, or, in management terms, your vision (the “photo” reference may have come from a story in the course which I cannot recall)
– Don’t be afraid to make mistakes (this is a well worn truism, still true though)
– Break the pattern (people maybe more comfortable with unhappiness than uncertainty (Tim Ferris, 4 Hour Work Week, p xx). Breaking the patterns may need broad shoulders for a while. People are comfortable with their own patterns.)
– Reframe the problem to be an opportunity (e.g. what can I learn from this gap?)

Every time we look at what we have done and critically analyse it, we give ourselves the opportunity to learn something new:
– about ourselves and
– about those we work with.

Maybe it’s Not the To Do List

When it comes to productivity and to do lists, there is a plethora of apps and processes that promise to alleviate us of our stress and make our lives so much better.

Many of these tools help us accomplish those things. But there are also situations where we look at our list, whether it’s in a notebook, on an app or in our head and we still get overwhelmed. There is just too much to do and not enough time. Apparently, the ancient Romans had the same issue!

I’ve been pondering if there is a root cause. Something besides the number of tasks and the time we have. Even the most disciplined people can “fall off the wagon” and need to get back in control. What causes this?

The founder of Ness Labs, Anne-Laure Le Cunff (@anthilemoon) has just begun a YouTube channel and she discusses three types of motivation when it comes to procrastination. One of which I want to discuss here: perceived abilities.

If we look at our to do lists we see a lot of tasks that come within the brief of our job, whether that job is your employment or a more casual (non-KPI’d) role, like being a dad or a friend or a maintenance guy around the house (I have the fix the headlight on my car! Update: it’s fixed! 🙌).

We can look at the list of tasks and some are relatively easy to do. For me, presenting in public comes relatively easy, simply because I’ve done it so many times and feedback has been good (or, perhaps, polite! 😉). Therefore, if someone asks me to do a presentation, I’m not going to get too anxious, in fact, I’ll probably look forward to it! Weird huh?).

In another area of my role, as a Change Analyst, I’m relatively new to the function and I’m working on an IT project, which is also new to me. I’ve been asked to develop a change plan. Not something I’ve done before. I have been given guidance and a template and plenty of support. I still procrastinate and look at the task, not with dread, but certainly with a little less confidence than giving a presentation. There are so many elements that go into a change plan I don’t really know where to start, or what is enough information and what might be too much.

As I develop my change analyst skills, this will become easier. We grow, even if subconsciously, in the things we repeatedly do.

Therefore, when I suggest the list isn’t the problem, I’m suggesting it might be the skill set required to complete the tasks on the list. Brian Tracy authored the book, “Eat That Frog” to help people get over the toughest task of the day early. My question is, “Why is it tough?” Referring back to Anne-Laure‘s* video, she also discusses two other motivational areas: head and heart. She explains it better than I can, so head on over to the video (and subscribe while you’re there).

For many of us, me included, a long list can cause anxiety in and of itself. But then, as you decide which task to tackle first (or second, or third …), you need to be aware of what skills you have to complete the task. And what skills you need. And once you have decided that, what are you going to do about it to become more competent, less anxious and enjoy the task more.

Here’s my Plan

My process will be to look at tasks and batch them. As Tim Ferriss* (among others) has written and spoken of time and time again you don’t need to know everything about a topic, you just need to know the top 20-30% of things (Tim refers to speaking Japanese and how many words you really need to learn!) To me this means: what skills do many of these tasks require and what skills do I need to develop.

Touch Typing

I have been procrastinating on touch typing. Why? Even though I am making small progress, I just want to be able to do it now! I start and stop with the practice. I know becoming competent will benefit me, especially as my mind races with thoughts that I cannot get out quick enough.

Learning how to develop a Zettelkasten

Another is developing a Zettelkasten approach to note taking to help me learn more, with more interest and, in the long run, learn quicker.

Both of the above would help me develop change plans better, as one example, and through more effective research and developing ideas.

The list itself, at least for me, isn’t the basic issue. It’s having or developing the skills I need to complete the tasks on the list; whether I am looking at the larger outcome (Change Plan) or breaking it down to smaller tasks.

Coming Up: How Developing the Skills adds to the Time to Complete Tasks

*shameless name dropping! 🙂

Winning

Did you win yesterday? Are you going to win today?

What I mean by “winning” is – was it (will it be) a good day?

Our life is made up of moments. Just like games of football (above) over 90 minutes. Each moment contributes to the final score. The run, the pass, the kick …

The score, though, summarises the minutes and moments of the game.

What happened during the game that resulted in the final score?

How do you develop your “game plan”?

Coaches of sporting teams often talks in terms of “week at a time” or, “not looking past next week”.

Stephen Covey used the weekly planner as his basis for time planning. And weeks are made up of days and days, as we know, are made up of moments.

What moments do you know you’ll have today?

How will you plan for them? Enjoy them? Learn from them?

Learning from them implies reflection. Do you stop long enough to reflect?

How do you reflect? Do you quickly breeze through it, or do you stop, write down your thoughts and ensuing conclusions? And plan again?

I hope you do.