Listen and Learn

In this newsletter I return to Nancy Kline’s book “Time to Think”.  She claims that “everything we do depends on the thinking we do first” and “our thinking depends on our attention to each other”.

I believe she is right and this time I want to pick up her second point that “our thinking depends on our attention to each other”.  She says that “attention – the act of listening with palatable respect and fascination is key to the Thinking Environment”.  [1]

We think we listen, but we don’t.  We finish each other’s sentences; we interrupt each other, fill in the pauses with our own opinions, give advice and come in too soon with our own ideas.  In our haste to present our views and say what’s on our minds we sometimes miss what others might have contributed had we listened and asked questions to help our understanding.  These could be questions such as “What do you really think about this new idea?” “How might we make it a better one?”

I suspect that the more senior you are in an organisation the more important it is to listen.   Peers and staff are less likely to proffer their thoughts and ideas if they think their views will be disregarded by a more senior person in the organisation.

Kline claims that the times when she has just listened with no intervention at all have resulted in the best outcomes.  She cites the example of a woman trying to decide the next step in developing her herb garden project and opening it to the public.   Kline says that she said nothing apart from a few “hmms” and at the end of the conversation the woman thanked her enthusiastically because she’d been so helpful!

So the challenge this year, certainly for myself, is to become a more attentive listener, particularly for the more strategic and difficult issues, but also to listen to those who are prepared to question you with a “but what about . . .?” rather than “oh yes, what a good idea . ..”   What will be the challenge for you in this regard?


[1] Nancy Kline advocates ten components to creating a thinking environment;  attention, incisive questions, equality, appreciation, ease, encouragement, feelings, information, place and diversity (See Leadership for the Future – February 2012)


Coaching – does it work?

There has been much said and written about the virtues of coaching and whether it adds value to an individual’s performance and, indeed, an organisation’s performance.  As part of re-launching the executive coaching offered by Hafton Consultancy I am giving three clients two sessions for the price of one (£100 including VAT).  This will be on a first come first served basis.

Research carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) showed that, when asked about effectiveness, 67% regard coaching by line managers as ‘effective’ or ‘very effective’ and  91% judge coaching by external practitioners to be ‘effective’ or ‘very effective’ showing that coaching by external coaches is considered to be more effective as a means of learning.   For senior managers and Chief Executives, external coaching may be the answer, particularly where line manager coaching is not really an option.

The research carried out by CIPD went on to ask the participating organisations if they were measuring and assessing the impact of their coaching interventions. Rather than solely relying on participants’ perceptions, the feedback showed that organisations were making considerable efforts to assess the impact of coaching including :-

  • feedback from participants’ line managers,
  • assessing changes in individual performance or career progress,
  • measuring achievement of goals set at the beginning of the coaching and
  • assessing changes in the culture of the organisation.

By taking the trouble to look at these measures organisations can at least have some idea of whether coaching is making a difference to their managers’ learning, confidence and performance.

Clients I have coached say they have greatly benefitted from the space to talk and think through a range of conflicting issues, and to clarify how they can plan and make major changes.  This is particularly the case when under a burgeoning workload.  The coaching, they said, gave them the vision and clarity they needed to make the change happen.  Coaching, in my experience, whether I am being coached myself or am coaching others, needs to be outcome focussed.   To that end having some specific actions with measures of what success will look like helps the person being coached to know when they’re headed in the right direction.

So does coaching make a difference?  Why not give it a try?  As I said at the beginning I am offering three clients two sessions for the price of one (£100).  These sessions will be for up to one hour each and can be done via telephone or face-to-face at a London venue.  There is no catch but you will be asked to agree to give feedback at the end.


How engaged are your staff?

Many businesses and charities now are interested in “employee engagement” and maybe it’s simply down to the fact that employers want “engaged employees” because they deliver improved business performance. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) research has repeatedly demonstrated the strong link between the way people are managed and overall business performance.

Employers want employees who will do their best work or ‘go the extra mile’. The quid pro quo is that employees want jobs and careers that are worthwhile and that inspire them. Organisations are looking for a win-win solution that meets their needs and those of their employees.

So what is employee engagement? It can be seen as a combination of commitment to the organisation and its values and a willingness to help out colleagues, sometimes referred to as organisational citizenship. It goes beyond job satisfaction and is not simply motivation. Engagement is something the employee has to offer: it cannot be ‘required’ as part of the employment contract.

The CIPD recently launched its Engage for Success programme and have published a report called Creating an Engaged Workforce which looks at the organisation-wide issues that contribute to or detract from employee engagement in different settings. Some of the factors which employees valued as part of their engagement and commitment to the organisation included:-

having opportunities to feed their views upwards
feeling well-informed about what is happening in the organisation
believing that their manager is committed to the organisation
involvement in decision-making
freedom to voice ideas, to which managers listen
feeling enabled to perform well
having opportunities to develop the job
feeling the organisation is concerned for employees’ health and well-being.
So how can you build an engaged workforce? Well, you first need to be sure that you want “engaged employees”. It may seem a ridiculous question but if you raise expectations that you want employees ideas, their commitment and additional contributions but have no way of recognising their extra effort, any initiative is likely to backfire.

Once you are committed to improving employee engagement the first step is to measure employee attitudes. Many large employers, both private and public, now conduct regular employee attitude surveys. The results typically show what employees feel about their work on a range of dimensions including, for example, pay and benefits, communications, learning and development, line management and work-life balance. Attitude survey data can be used to identify areas for improvement. In smaller organisations it may be more obvious where there is strong employee engagement and easier to identify what may need to change, but some strong objective analysis is recommended.

The drive for an engaged workforce needs to build on good people management strategies and policies which are aligned with the wider business and with the active support of line managers. There is no short-cut to building and maintaining employee engagement but the time, effort and resource required will be amply repaid by the performance benefits.

Please contact me if you would like to know more about the report and what its implications are for your organisation.


Motivating your staff without the carrot

At a time when pay rises are lagging behind inflation how do you keep your staff motivated to give their best performance when there are no pay rises on offer?

Pay is considered a “hygiene factor” along with job security and fringe benefits. This means if you get it right there is no positive satisfaction, but if you get it wrong then it can lead to dissatisfaction and disengagement from staff.

As mentioned in my last newsletter focusing on staff engagement has come to the fore for senior managers. Many senior HR professionals have recognised that making sure staff understand the value of their “total package”, which is extrinsic to the work itself, such as pension, work conditions and work environment as well as career development and progression, has been a key focus.

This is particularly prevalent with top performers. How do you keep your top performers from straying to the competition? They are unlikely to move for a small increase in pay but they might believe that the competition has a more supportive and positive organisational culture and decide that it would be worth the risk. Some organisations have tried introducing enhanced training opportunities and benefits for their star performers in order to keep them sweet.

Recent articles have also highlighted the importance of clearly communicating the rationale for pay decisions, particularly when employees see that the organisation is making reasonable profits, but hoarding these gains rather than giving a cost of living increase which matches inflation. Compare this practice with organisations, such the John Lewis Partnership where staff received a 17% bonus this year. Sir Stuart Hampson, a former chair of the John Lewis Partnership tells the story of the rushed opening of their out-of-town store in High Wycombe earlier this year. Hearing of problems, staff from other shops travelled to the new store on the Sunday before it opened to help clean and prepare it. “They said, it’s our shop, our customers, our reputation, we’re not going to have it anything other than ready to open”.

The light at the end of the economic tunnel still seems far off and we may not be able to replicate the John Lewis Partnership model but there are still plenty of creative ways to keep staff engaged in this cold climate!

Please contact Hafton Consultancy if you want to talk through your organisation’s approach and ideas: annastobart@haftonconsultancy.com


Trust drives high performance

A recent report published by Working Families, an organisation which campaigns for better work-life balance, looked at the link between long-term sustainable performance within businesses and individual performance.  The report found a clear link between individual performance, their level of trust and the overall level of productivity.

Trust: the key to building well-being and performance in the workplace found that trust between staff and their employer is “critical” for driving high levels of performance and motivation and went on to identify eight drivers for building trust.  These included:-  

Belong and connect The feeling that the   employee feels part of and connected to their team and the business 
Voice and recognition The individual’s   ability to speak up in a way that allows them to influence decision-making 
Significance and position The employees’ sense   that they have a clear and important role in their team 
Fairness The understanding that   individuals are evenly treated within their team and the business 
Learn and challenge The opportunity to   learn and master new skills and achieve tangible results 
Choice and autonomy The sense of control   over workplace delivery and their own role 
Security and certainty The sense of   predictability and confidence in the workplace environment 
Purpose The understanding of   how an individual’s role contributes and is aligned to the team and business’   success

Employers need to consider all eight of these trust drivers to move towards optimal performance.  However, “truly understanding how individuals are motivated at work provides not just the gateway to optimal performance, something sought by every organisation, but also an environment where every person can flourish,” their lead researcher and consultant said.

How do you think your organisation compares alongside these drivers?  Does your organisation have an environment where staff thrive and flourish or is there more you need to do to cultivate a culture of trust?

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Are you missing out on hidden talent?


Who are our ethical leaders of today?

I attended an International NGO Learning Forum recently on Leadership & Ethics hosted by Islamic Relief which, although it was planned a while ago, seemed apt as it followed the media coverage over the leadership crisis at Cooperative Bank. A bank, indeed, which prided itself on its integrity and its ethical stance.

Transparency International whose aim is to promote transparency, accountability and integrity at all levels and across all sectors of society published their 2013 results of their Corruption Perception Index. It is interesting to note that countries like the UK rank only 14 (up three places from last year) and the USA are ranked in 19th place. The top ranking countries are Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Singapore, and countries like Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia ranked lowest at 175. We, in the UK, may think we are nearer the top of this list but we should not be complacent.

Turning to eminent people in recent times, who we might describe as “ethical”, then leaders like Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Desmond Tutu and, of course, Nelson Mandela would probably come to mind. The definition given of ethical leader given at the Forum was “one who leads with the highest levels of honesty and integrity, builds trust, and is immensely cognisant of his/her need to role model, and act based on worthy values and ethics”. I think it would be fair to say they fulfil these criteria, but it begs the question “who are the emerging ethical leaders”? Pope Francis? Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Is 'working from anywhere' really an option?

How can People & Culture shape and deliver your ESG agenda?

Are you missing out on hidden talent?


Inspiring the next generation of women?

Recently I came across a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk about a young engineer.  TED, since their inception in 1984, have produced hundreds of events and short videos under the strap line “ideas worth spreading”.

I was particularly intrigued by the young woman’s tenacity and patience in following through her idea to inspire the next generation of young girls to become engineers – a professional that has traditionally been male-dominated.

Despite setbacks and being told there was no market for a toy targeted at girls to teach spatial awareness and engineering skills, she has achieved it and has set up a company called GoldieBlox.  Just a pity the toys are mostly in pink!

Take a look at her story here.


Is 'working from anywhere' really an option?

How can People & Culture shape and deliver your ESG agenda?

Are you missing out on hidden talent?


What’s ahead for 2015 in our labour market?

There has been much talk this last week of improved unemployment figures, some small rises in salaries and continued low inflation.  So what’s ahead in 2015 and should employers be upbeat about the economy this year?  Well, there seem to be hopeful signs – but there are also some “known unknowns” according to a recent CIPD report on the labour market.

We have a general election looming which brings its own uncertainty.  The Office of Budget Responsibility forecasts that growth in salaries is set to stay around 1% to 2% and even with our current low inflation it means that wages in real terms will only increase slightly.

Interest rates which have been low since 2008 are likely to rise in 2015.  Some mortgage or other borrowers who have taken loans on the assumption that interest rates will remain low may find it hard if interest rates start to rise. Yet any rise in interest rates is unlikely to be enough to please those with savings!

The economic situation across Europe, despite the European Union’s optimistic outlook, looks uncertain.  High unemployment rates in Italy, Spain and Greece, particularly amongst the youth (under 25 year olds) which are running at between 44% and 54%.are holding their economies back.  Here in the UK, while overall unemployment is running at 6%, our youth unemployment is 17% compared with other European countries like Germany, Netherlands and some Scandinavian countries where youth unemployment is between 4% and 8%.

And then there are the currency uncertainties; the Norwegian Kroner has taken a 30% tumble because of falling oil prices and conversely the Swiss Franc has risen sharply now that it has delinked from the euro.

Yet chief executives in the UK are more upbeat than they were three years’ ago about expanding their business than their counterparts in other European countries according to a Price Waterhouse Coopers report.  They are, however,  more concerned than before about the skills gap with 84% of them reporting concerns about finding the right skills and talent for their business.    Chief Executives reported that they wanted the government to prioritise its commitment to developing a “skilled and adaptable” workforce.

So what does this mean for you as a leader, manager or employer in 2015?  How will you ensure you retain your key talented staff and ensure that any expansion with new positions are filled by people who have the right values, attitudes and skills to contribute effectively to your business?

Is 'working from anywhere' really an option?

How can People & Culture shape and deliver your ESG agenda?

Are you missing out on hidden talent?


Should you give support and guidance to your staff on financial matters?

Employers are making clear strides when it comes to caring for the physical health of their staff members, but what about their financial health support?

At a time when employees are struggling financially, and the top talent is in higher demand than ever, it’s important that employers work to help their employees with their financial health.  By ignoring this aspect of employees’ wellbeing, they risk losing them to competitors and fail to deliver a holistic strategy.

A recent report by UK Employee Benefits Watch, based on 450 UK employers representing approximately 1.8 million employees, reveals that more than two-thirds of UK employers are failing to provide the financial support and guidance required by employees in the workplace.  Most employers now have pension schemes in place, thanks to the auto-enrolment provisions, but there is little focus on addressing employees’ short and medium-term financial needs.

Providing adequate financial guidance is not only important for employees but is also beneficial for employers, because it means that by nurturing your biggest competitive advantage, they are not hampered by the myriad effects of poor financial health.

If you would like to get further advice about how and when to turn to for financial advice for your employees please get in touch.   We’d love to hear from you and signpost you to some renowned providers.

Is 'working from anywhere' really an option?

How can People & Culture shape and deliver your ESG agenda?

Are you missing out on hidden talent?


The Art of Nudging

Normally when you tell people what they need to do, they ignore it or rebel against it.

So how can you influence people to take action? Well, you can nudge them. Nudge theory has been around for a while and has been much written about including Richard Thaler’s book, Nudge, published in 2008. At its core is the premise that people will respond to indirect suggestions and reinforcements so influencing their behaviour and decisions in a positive direction.

In recent years we have seen government initiatives use this theory, with a view of improving social outcomes. For example, the pensions auto-enrolment scheme and Making Tax Digital (MTD), are both based on persuading individuals to take positive action. So you have to act to ‘opt out’ rather than actively ‘opt in’.

A recent CIPD report “Our Minds at Work: The Behavioural Science of HR” argues that the HR professional and management could benefit from using the power of the ‘nudge theory’ based on what and how people are thinking rather than focussing on policy and procedures.

So how should you think about making a good nudge initiative? Ideally it should follow the EAST acronym. Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely. You also need to make the most of a number of human traits:-
• Inertia: Situations where people are lazy and stick with the default option such as organ donation. The government plans to bring in an automatic opt-in from spring 2020.
• Social Pressure: We are social beings, so we tend to follow if the majority of others have taken a certain action. We believe they can’t all be wrong!
• Immediacy of events: After major events like floods and storm damage, people tend to forget very quickly about updating their insurance.
• Framing: How a proposition is put to us is important. If you tell people 10% of people who had this operation needed further treatment within five years, they will probably react with alarm. However, if you present the same information that 90% of people needed no further treatment after five years, they might go into the operating theatre in a better mind-set.

Anyone involved in management or human resources will need to consider how people think and what influences their behaviour. Creating policies and telling staff what they should and shouldn’t do is unlikely to have the desired effect. On the other hand, identifying what will persuade them to buy into increasing their pension contributions, taking up company benefits, joining in the in-house welfare initiatives will make sure that these interventions succeed rather than fall by the wayside.

If you believe your organisation could benefit from some insights into “nudging” or you wish to discuss how to frame some of your organisation’s initiatives then please get in touch with Hafton by giving us a call or email us at info@haftonconsultancy.com.

Is 'working from anywhere' really an option?

How can People & Culture shape and deliver your ESG agenda?

Are you missing out on hidden talent?