The Management Blog
Tips & advice to help you improve your performance
When you’re in a meeting, do you often find your mind wandering to other stuff that needs doing when the meeting’s finished? Are you sometimes looking through emails on your laptop while also talking to someone else on the phone about totally different matters?
If so, you are probably practicing multi-tasking without realising it. But is this the most effective way of getting work completed?
Well, recent research at Stanford University has unearthed some interesting results concerning when we try to get more done by multi-tasking. They found that people who multi-tasked regularly performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to the reduced ability to filter out interference from other tasks.
They concluded that we, as humans, are not suited to paying attention to multiple tasks, and having multiple things to do at the same time.
Professor Earl Miller of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that our brains have to skip inefficiently between tasks, because it finds it difficult to concentrate on more than one task at a time, as it causes an overload on its processing capacity.
When we try to multi-task, we are often using the same part of our brain to do two different things, like when we are talking on the phone and writing an email. The processing power simply slows down.
When students took part in an American study, it took them up to 40% longer to completely solve problems when they had to switch to other tasks, than when they spent time solely concentrating on the problem itself.
And Glen Wilson, from the University of London, found that trying to multi-task similar situations could knock a whole 10 points off your IQ: the equivalent of losing a whole night’s sleep.
Does this mean we shouldn’t be doing more than one thing at a time? Naturally, we are able to flit our thoughts around while working on a task, but it seems that we are unable to work faster and accomplish more. In fact it can produce more stress, worry and frustration. We tend to go onto autopilot when we multi-task, and so we don’t use parts of the brain that form strong neural connections.
The obvious answer is to concentrate as much as possible on one thing at a time. But if you have to multi-task, here are some ideas:
• Overload often happens when you’re tired, so try to accomplish more things in the mornings, rather than leaving them to later in the day
• Multi-task with simple things that don’t take much brain work
• Try not to do too many similar things at once, as our brains will be using processing power that will slow down our responses if we do
• Take a break (5 minutes or so) every 90 minutes, so you refresh yourself
By the way, it’s a myth that women can multi-task better than men! Women have learned to do more diverse things better, so their brains are being utilised in a different way. Men can learn that, too!
Anyway, back to those e-mails, before another phone call comes through!
Small businesses have not done enough to put post-recession recovery plans in place, according to a new report from the Open University Business School.
Newbusiness.com said the report revealed that only 10% of small firms have put together a plan for the recovery and that those businesses with a plan were most confident about their immediate prospects
. “Just under a third of business owners with no plan in place said it was because the effects of the recession had not been significant enough for their business. A further 18% said recessionary effects on their customers are still too uncertain,” said Professor Colin Gray, professor of enterprise development at the Open University Business School.
“Although there are increasing signs that the economy overall may be turning the corner, recovery remains elusive for the 95% of all firms in Britain that employ fewer than 10 people.”
The question now is, What are you and your colleagues doing to plan your future progress?
Are you specifically looking at ways to improve your cashflow or ROI? Which areas of your business are getting the most attention?
The answers to these questions may well dictate how quickly things pick up for you.
Sometimes you wonder whether change is necessary within your department, and the factors driving change may be counteracted by factors resisting it. How do you work out the results before taking the action? Kurt Lewin may have the answer for you.
Lewin was an American social psychologist perhaps best-known for developing Force Field Analysis, an analysis that determined if change was necessary within a company. Learn More
The Balanced Scorecard method of Kaplan and Norton is a strategic approach and performance management system that enables organisations to translate a company’s vision and strategy into implementation, working from 4 perspectives:
1. financial perspective,
2. customer perspective,
3. business process perspective,
4. learning and growth perspective.
1. The Financial perspective:
Often, there is more than enough handling and processing of financial data. With the implementation of a corporate database, it is hoped that more of the processing can be centralised and automated. But the point is that the current emphasis on financial data leads to the “unbalanced” situation with regard to other perspectives. There is perhaps a need to include additional financial-related data, such as risk assessment and cost-benefit data, in this category.
2. Customer perspective:
Recent management philosophy has shown an increasing realisation of the importance of customer focus and customer satisfaction in any business. These are leading indicators: if customers are not satisfied, they will eventually find other suppliers that will meet their needs. Poor performance from this perspective is thus a leading indicator of future decline, even though the current financial picture may look good. In developing metrics for satisfaction, customers should be analysed in terms of kinds of customers and the kinds of processes for which we are providing a product or service to those customer groups.
3. Business Process perspective:
This refers to internal business processes. Metrics based on this perspective allow the managers to know how well their business is running, and whether its products and services conform to customer requirements (the mission). These metrics have to be carefully designed by those who know these processes well. In addition to the strategic management process, two kinds of business processes may be identified: a) mission-oriented processes, and b) support processes. Mission-oriented processes are the special functions of directors and senior managers, and many unique problems are encountered in these processes. The support processes are more repetitive in nature, and hence easier to measure and benchmark using generic metrics.
4. Learning and Growth perspective:
This includes employee training and corporate cultural attitudes related to both individual and corporate self-improvement. In a knowledge-worker organisation, people are the main resource.
In the current climate of rapid technological change, it is becoming necessary for knowledge workers to be in a continuous learning mode. Many companies find themselves unable to hire new employees and at the same time is showing a decline in training of existing employees. Kaplan and Norton emphasise that ‘learning’ is more than ‘training’; it also includes things like mentors and coaches within the company, as well as that ease of communication among workers that allows them to readily get help on a problem when it is needed. It also includes tools such as the Intranet.
The integration of these four perspectives into a graphical appealing picture have made the Balanced Scorecard method a very successful methodology within the Value-Based Management philosophy.
Tony Robbins has identified six basic human needs and believes everyone is—or can be—motivated by their desire to fulfill these needs.
You may want to consider these needs when thinking about developing your team members The question to ask is, “What need or needs do my team have that will enable them to fulfill their job roles effectively?”
1. Certainty/Comfort. We all want comfort. And much of this comfort comes from certainty. Of course there is no ABSOLUTE certainty, but we want certainty our computer will start up, the canteen will be open when we want it to be and our job will still be there when we wake up tomorrow morning .
2. Variety. At the same time as we want certainty, we also crave variety. Paradoxically, there needs to be enough UNcertainty to provide spice and adventure in our lives.
3. Significance. Deep down, we all want to be important. We want our life to have meaning and significance. Can you imagine looking back on your life and wondering whether you made a difference and coming to the conclusion that you didn’t? There’s not many things worse than that.
4. Connection/Love. It would be hard to argue against the need for connection with other people. We want to feel part of a community. We want to be cared for and cared about. Abraham Maslow called it our need to ‘belong’. It’s the essence of teamwork. It’s what we crave for when we work with others.
5. Growth. There could be some people who say they don’t want to grow, but that’s probably because they have goals that don’t inspire them (or no goals at all). To become better, to improve our skills, to stretch and excel may be more evident in some than others, but it’s there. Try creating goals for the team that will provide rewards other than money, and see which team members go for it. Those who don’t may have died mentally, but not told you!
6. Contribution. The desire to contribute something of value—to help others, to make the world a better place than we found it is in all of us. Take that need away, and you lose all motivation.
Evaluate this list to better understand your personal motivations and examine which ones seem the most significant to you. Then, look at what you do to fulfill the needs of other team members. It will likely make a difference in what and how you do what you do. It also should make a difference in the way you describe and explain what you and your products can do.
In this unprecedented time, one thing is for sure; business will never be the same again, and with respect to your department budget, this will more than likely be the case!
It’s unlikely that the company will increase the overall budget available.
You’ve decided that two candidates for an important role in the department should be invited back for a further interview. Both have similar experience and backgrounds…both would fit in well with your team. Here are some questions that might help you differentiate between them.
“You need to convince me you’re the right person for the job. What can you tell me that would make me say ‘yes’?” Learn More
Imagine what’s going on in the mind of your new employee when they come to work on their first day.
“Have I made the right decision? I wonder what they have planned for me. I’m excited but really nervous. Will I make a good impression? I hope I don’t mess up on my first day”
What can you do to ensure these natural concerns are dealt with immediately?
Professionally organised and delivered induction training is your new employees’ first proper impression of you and your company, so it’s also an excellent opportunity to reinforce their decision to come and work for you. Proper induction training is increasingly a legal requirement. Employers have a formal duty to provide new employees with all relevant information and training relating to health and safety in particular.
Creating and issuing a suitable induction plan for each new person will help them do their job better and quicker, and with less dependence on your time in the future. Employees who are not properly inducted need a lot more looking after, so failing to provide good induction training is false economy.
Here are some examples of how you can get the new person up and running as quickly as possible that can be used in addition to formal training programs:
• on the job coaching
• delegated tasks and projects
• reading assignments
• presentation assignments
• attending internal briefings and presentations, e.g. ‘breakfast briefings’ format
• special responsibilities which require obtaining new skills or knowledge or exposure
• videos and DVDs
• internet and e-learning
• customer and supplier visits
• attachment to project or other teams
• shadowing (working with another employee to see how they do it and what’s involved)
Of course, induction training will have to include some fairly dry subjects, so anything you can do to add interest, variety, different formats and experiences will greatly improve the overall induction process.
Induction training must include the following elements:
• General training relating to the organisation, including values and philosophy as well as structure and history, etc.
• Mandatory training relating to health and safety and other essential or legal areas.
• Job training relating to the role that the new starter will be performing.
• Training evaluation, involving confirmation of understanding, and feedback about the quality and response to the training.
Remember, each new starter will have different learning styles, so ensure you include a lot of variety to cater for all styles and abilities.
Here are some tips to make sure you give yourself the best opportunity to create a successful induction:
• Use a feedback form of some sort to check the effectiveness and response to induction training – whatever you choose as a format should be an evolving and improving process.
• Involve your existing staff in the induction process. Have them create and deliver sessions, do demonstrations, accompany, and mentor the new starters wherever possible.
• Make sure you involve a lot of contact with other staff for the new person. It’s important that they get to know the values and standards of the company by watching others and learning from them. It’s also a good task to set team members, as it brings home to them the responsibilities they hold as a key worker, and encourages them to share their knowledge.
• Depending on the job role, the new person may not always be able to get out and about to introduce themselves, so make this a proactive task within the whole process.
• Keep close tabs on the feedback from the new person, helping them to see how their role plays an important part in the company. Encourage them to ask questions and to be aware of the mentoring that is available to them.
For the first few days and weeks, your new team member will be looking for guidance and advice without asking for it. They are an ‘unconscious incompetent’ at this point (they don’t know what they don’t know). So speed up the contribution that the new person offers to you by proactively managing their expectations and you’ll see their learning and development quickly grow and they become a supportive and valuable member of your team. They’ll be glad they made the decision to come to work for you!