Leadership is like dog walking

Posted in General on December 5th, 2012 by Derek Mowbray – Be the first to comment

I live in the company of two blondes. On a good day they are Golden Retrievers; on bad days they resemble dirty Black Labs. I spend a lot of time walking them. This morning it occurred to me that there is some connection between walking my dogs and leadership. At its simplest, leadership is taking a lead. Slightly more complex is leadership being a process that inspires someone to do great things, who, in turn, inspires others to do great things.

The connection between dog walking and leadership seems to me to be in the use of a lead. For unruly dogs the lead is used tightly to keep the dog under control. The shorter the distance between the walker and dog the more control is being exercised. For dogs who are reasonably well controlled the distance between walker and dog may be lengthened, although the dog may still be on a lead, just in case the dog decides to do something inspirational. Under some circumstances the lead may be replaced with these long extension leads, for use when the walker isn’t quite certain that the dog is controllable, but the circumstances of the walk suggest the dog should be able to roam, be inquisitive, innovative, exploratory, but only when the walker allows this to happen. A sharp tug on the lead can rapidly draw the dog back to being next to ‘Master’.

Only when dog is compliant, well trained, well behaved and amenable to command will a lead be dispensed with. The dog will walk at heal, be allowed to roam at large, but on command returns instantly to ‘Master’ – a good, compliant and and obedient dog. The reward is freedom from the lead.

Now, let’s see if any of this rings bells for human leaders and human followers, especially, but not exclusively, in the public sector.

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The Wellbeing and Performance Agenda 2013

Posted in General on December 4th, 2012 by Derek Mowbray – Be the first to comment

We had a hugely successful mini-workshop last week on Measuring Wellbeing and Performance with an audience of nearly 80 on  Thursday afternoon in London. Bridget Juniper led us through how to cost health, cost presenteeism and establish the return on investment of interventions. I chatted about the steps to be taken to introduce and sustain wellbeing and performance at work. We’ve had some excellent comments and feedback that makes us feel great – in fact, makes us feel psychologically well!

I have now put together a revised paper on The Wellbeing and Performance Agenda, setting out the problems we confront in changing the attitudes and culture in favour of an environment that provokes people to feel well. The biggest problem as I see it is organisational amnesia – a condition that forgets that organisations are made up of people, and therefore forgets to place at the front of any queue the requirements for the workforce to function at peak performance levels. Next is the problem of selecting the strategies of change that dis-engage people rather than engaging them. Next is the problem of all the impediments to performance that managers’ have a hand in – such as poor computing where people have to wait a long time for the wretched thing to boot up, or you need endless passwords that never seem to work, or a help desk that doesn’t help. All these problems deflect the mind away from concentrating on work, and produce under-performance, and the phenomenon call psychological presenteeism – being present but mentally absent from concentrating on work.

The solutions have to be systemic in approach. Fixing one aspect of the organisation cannot compensate for not fixing the others; they all have to be fixed.

The culture needs to be one that provokes commitment and trust between everyone, as this raises the levels of psychological wellbeing in people. The culture has to be focused on peak performance as well. The combination of feeling well and being focused on peak performance creates a buzz that is infectious. This is a ‘will do’ culture, but having particular regard to the triggers that make people feel psychologically well, so no boasting, no aggressive talk, no humiliation,no domination, no oligarchy,  no bullying, no targets that drive, but loads of encouragement, challenges, feedback, discussion of the un-discussable, mutual expectations, important and strong relationships, celebrations, individual support and development , polyarchy, and everyone having joint responsibility for success.

Leader and manager behaviour should be persuasive without causing distress – seductive in other words. These guys are the controllers of everything, they hold the authority to spend money. They need to share responsibility for success and are pivotal in sustaining a culture of positiveness and encouragement. It takes special people to be brilliant leaders and managers, not everyone can do it, so care in recruitment is vital.

Getting rid of the impediments to performance. There are groups of impediments – nutrition, exercise, ergonomics, IT, and manager processes. Each need to be focused on making it impossible for the workforce not to concentrate on their work. The nudge principles of Thaler and Sunstein come to mind; nudging everyone to peak performance.

The last part of the wellbeing and performance jigsaw is personal resilience, the contribution the individual makes to peak performance. Aside from being appropriately skilled and with the knowledge and experience to do the work that is expected, there is a need to have a robust attitude towards oneself, events and other people so that when challenges arise they can be dealt with without any diminution in peak performance.

Each element of The Wellbeing and Performance Agenda needs to be applied to every organisation everywhere. I can help!

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Measuring the Impact of Well-Being on Performance at Work

Posted in General on September 25th, 2012 by Barbara – Be the first to comment

Measuring the Impact of Well-Being on Performance at Work

Do you know how the well-being of your workforce is affecting the performance of your organisation?

Are you struggling with how to measure the well-being of your employees?

Do you have the right data to guide your thinking?

Can you confidently justify your programme?

Are you clear about the results you want to deliver?

Our unique, half day, low cost workshop in central London entitled Measuring the Impact of Well-Being on Performance at Work will give you the tried and tested, practical basics to build the case for employee well-being.

Divided into three sessions, the workshop will enable you to:

  1. Calculate the real costs of impaired health in your organisation; we will show you how to get to a number that is accurate and gets the attention it deserves.
  2. Pull together existing information on health and wellness in your organisation to help quantify well-being levels that will inform your plans going forward
  3. Review your current approach; learn about the key elements of an effective employee well-being programme so you can take an objective view on existing activity, hold on to the good stuff and can set about adjusting the rest.

You will learn how to combine measurement, costs and outcomes in one practical session so you can really get the most out of happy and healthy staff.

The session will be led by Professor Derek Mowbray of MAS and Dr Bridget Juniper of Work and Wellbeing.   Frustrated with existing approaches, they have designed this exclusive workshop based on their research, best practice and hands-on experience of well-being programmes that really work.

Details for the workshop are as follows:

Date: 29th November 2012
Start Time: 1430 for 1500 start
Finish Time: 1730
Venue: Central London
Cost: £49 + VAT = £58.80
To Book: On Line Payments

Visit our website to book your place and for further information about the workshop. To discuss running the session in house, contact Barbara Leigh at barbara.leigh@mas.org.uk or call on 01242 241882.

You will find a number of articles by Dr Bridget Juniper around the topic of employee wellbeing in the section headed Leading and Managing for Wellbeing and Performance in our article library.

Hope to see you there.

The MAS Team

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Personal Performance

Posted in General on August 17th, 2012 by Derek Mowbray – Be the first to comment

The Olympics is an opportunity for me to think about such basic ideas as performance – basic as it’s one of the foundation subjects for the work I do on a daily basis. It is, as well, one of the foundation subjects for all psychologists, linking psychological wellbeing to performance. I’m not sure all my psychology colleagues see it like that, but, to me, it’s obvious. If you feel psychologically well you perform better than if you don’t.

Performance relates to everything we do, and is about achievement of tasks, no matter how small. The combination of tasks is how we move through daily life. The performance of tasks is the manifestation of behaviour, and, as such, is preceded by thoughts and feelings. We think before we perform a task. We tell the brain what to do.

Peak performance is the aim for most of us. My ‘Just a Minute’ model of performance, based on the Radio 4 show, includes the need not to deviate, hesitate or repeat actions required to achieve a task. Listening to the show you can instantly tell that the incredient for successful completion of the task to complete one minute without D,H or R requires massive concentration. Why are some able to complete the task whilst others cannot? That is the question at the centre of my current reflections on performance.

Concentration is at the centre of peak performance, and the achievement of concentration requires the elimination of interference, combined with a focus on the task. Focusing on the task brings me back to the Olympics. What has been the task for participants at the Olympics – to focus on their event, and do the best they can, and if the best is better than anyone else, they win. However, the focus is on the task to do the best they can by eliminating interference. The kind of interference they may experience includes pressure to win; the desire to stand on the podium; the anticipation of crowd support. If any of these interferes with their focus they will not achieve peak performance. If the enthusiasm of the audience acts as a positive context for concentration it may help focus; if it interferes with concentration it will impede performance.

Two things about performance are, also, important. Knowing oneself extremely well, as this helps us know if we are properly equipped to perform well, and helps us to identify the kinds of things that interfere with our concentration. Accepting personal responsibility to achieve peak performance is the second. If we accept entirely that our performance is everything to do with us, and little to do with anyone else, we will perform at our peak. What stands in the way is our ability to maintain the personal control that personal awareness and personal responsibility imply.

At work, for example, individuals may do the best they can to focus and concentrate on their tasks, and do their best to eliminate interferences, but find that their best efforts are thwarted by the cultural context and the behaviour of others. Whilst I can provide techniques and approaches that strengthen personal attitude towards events and people (resilience), many will suggest it’s impossible to change the way things are done, and, therefore, have little chance of achieving peak performance all the time. Even under these circumstances there will be tasks during the day where personal focus and concentration  should be grasped, as the interference of culture and others behaviour may not have an impact on personal focus.

One way of managing interferences to concentration is to become so confident in oneself, ones’ own abilities and sense of ‘being at one’ with the world that interferences become shadows rather than having an impact. The degree of personal confidence in oneself has a powerful impact on peak performance – it reduces or eliminates the thoughts that produce hesitation, deviation or repetition, and provides a kind of certainty that drives one on, even in a chaotic environment.

So the participants at the Olympics who have a huge amount of self confidence and the capacity to focus and concentrate on the task at hand, will, also, have the capacity to neutralise or eliminate forms of interference with their focus on the task. It enables them to do the best they can; and the best may be better than others and they may win.

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The Olympics and Coaching

Posted in General on August 8th, 2012 by Derek Mowbray – Be the first to comment

Like most people, I’m now basking in a vicarious glow produced by the triumphs and participation of so many athletes and spectators at the Olympics.

What intrigues me is how top athletes achieve the success they do, as they are always required to  achieve higher performance from the same person; and the flip side, why do some achieve success at exactly the right moment, whilst others don’t yet have the capacity to do so (and may have achieved excellent performance in the past).

Coaching clearly plays a very big and pivotal part in the entire process of producing performance; coaching in techniques, coaching in nutrition, sleep, balancing life. All are ingredients of the performance cake. A major ingredient, probably the strongest influence, is encouragement, helping athletes to strengthen their self belief, helping athletes to imagine triumph before they actually do anything physical.

I have been struck, however, by how frequently everyone is saying it’s been a team effort, and it started way back when – 15 years or so ago, and it’s been a build up of confidence combined with performance enhancing activities.

For me, this is the big message to take away and apply elsewhere – the success is about the context for success, the cultural environment that nurtures the athletes to perform as well as they can, and better than others. Athletes travel to the physical environment that promotes performance; they also have the psychological environment that stimulates the brain to achieve.

So, it really is the wellbeing and performance strategy in action in sport – the positive environment, the managers and coaches and their behaviour towards the athletes, the elimination of impediments to performance (moving to conducive physical environments, for example, and the attitude of the athletes towards the challenging events, otherwise known as resilience.

Who makes it all happen?

The managers and coaches have to bring together the ingredients of the cake.

So, it’s not simply techniques; it’s about the whole process – the positive culture surrounding the athletes; the behaviours of everyone towards each other that nurtures, encourages and  applies techniques, styles, approaches – getting it right for the athlete as an individual and as teams of individuals; and the elimination of anything that interferes with performance.

Why doesn’t this apply to businesses and services? It’s what we do to help businesses and services thrive; pity they aren’t called sports people; they are simply called workers.

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Doing more for less

Posted in General on July 18th, 2012 by Derek Mowbray – Be the first to comment

It’s now a common challenge for people at work to be asked to do more for less. Normally this is about being asked to complete more tasks in the same time. To help everyone along, there is a groundswell of interest in building individual resilience to cope with this  demand to do more in the same time.

To do more tasks in the same time relies on improving intense concentration as it’s the diversion of concentration that causes tasks to be repeated, hesitated or deviated from the straight and narrow.

What seems to be happening is that managers demanding more for less are paying no attention to how to enable greater concentration by those they manage. The same old problems occur; interruptions, unnecessary meetings; more emails for more tasks; less breaks, less support, less interest.

This is, of course, the opposite of what excellent managers should be supporting. They should be identifying the important tasks to be performed, leaving aside the urgent and not important tasks; they should be encouraging their staff with loads of gratitude; they should be lining up the supporting skills to operate smoothly to ensure tasks can be completed first time and successfully; they should be encouraging breaks for ten minutes in every hour; they should be setting mutually agreed expectations.

The knock on effect of not being aware of the needs of staff is that individual self interest will erode the process of helping others to help oneself – the most successful way of achieving personal self interest. Secretaries, or as they are now called, business support services, will not provide support; managers will not supply supervision and support; colleagues will not help resolve problems that arise. There is a general shut down of mutual support and interaction whilst the tasks keep piling up and not being completed effectively.

This trend will be very difficult to reverse, if one generation of workers follows a generation that uses selfishness as their best method of interaction. It is a recipe for perpetual under performance, at a time when performance needs enhancing.

Resilience isn’t about doing more for less; it’s a process that produces an attitude towards events. If general attitude is to look after number one first, then that isn’t the most resilient way of performing effectively. Looking after others who then look after number one will produce much higher performance and psychological wellbeing, which is precisely what we so desperately require.

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Why do managers often make the wrong decisions about wellbeing?

Posted in General on July 9th, 2012 by Derek Mowbray – Be the first to comment

There is an enormous industry built up around supplying services that are promoted to improve wellbeing of people at work. Most of them focus on the individual, and many of them are linked to our physical comfort and satisfaction – exercise or massage in one form or another. Others may be customised diets and the availability of counselling and other forms of employee support for people at work. All good stuff. The evidence of impact on the performance of the business or service is slim if any, although personal satisfaction does have an impact on motivation and degrees of engagement.

The approaches to improving performance through improving psychological wellbeing are systemic, involving changes in the way the organisation is managed as well as changes in the individual. This is because context is everything; we are hugeky influenced by the culture of organisations, our managers and how our colleagues behave within the organisational setting.

The processes that are needed to prevent events occurring at work that may trigger responses that lower performance, are the same processes needed to improve individual and corporate performance, and involve the organisation and the individual interacting effectively together to produce the high level performance.

Why is it, therefore, that time and time again managers focus only on trying to improve performance by focusing only on the individual? This has limited impact unless the context changes. It’s a bit like a stressed person who’s been off sick returning to the same job with the same people, and the expectation is that the person will be able to cope better. Nonsense.

It is less expensive focusing on improving culture, manager behaviours and resolving stressful trigger points than focusing on developing individual capacity to cope, as it has greater impact and longer lasting effect. This is simply because individual change can only occur if reinforced over time, and if the context is the same yesterday as it will be tomorrow where does the reinforcement come from?

So, my message to managers when considering an improvement of psychological wellbeing of your workforce, please consider the approaches to changing culture, manager behaviours and stressful trigger points as well as boosting the capacity of the workforce to be able to cope. The sustainable impact will improve corporate and personal performance beyond recognition.

Managers – please do not continue only with your idea of the ‘quick fix’ – they don’t fix very much unless something else happens to reinforce the fix. You know it makes sense. It is common sense but not common practice.

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Why do we need to be resilient?

Posted in General on June 28th, 2012 by Derek Mowbray – Be the first to comment

My wife is going for her audition to remain in the Bach Choir. These auditions occur every three years, and even the most hardened and professional singers become extremely anxious at the prospect of singing solo in front of the musical director, the world renowned choirmaster and organist, David Hill. My wife has been a member for a couple of decades, almost, so she’s been through the ordeal several times. Why, she asked this morning as we were taking our normal prevention of ill health walk, am I so nervous?

This got me to reflect why we need to be ever more resilient, and started to make my wife’s walk even more anxious making. The erosion of confidence is unsurprising in the light of the activities of Barclay’s Bank, and, we are given to understand, a whole network of banks. This comes within a week of RBS making it impossible to use accounts, although it is of interest that NatWest does manage to access accounts to take their own fees but cannot access accounts to transfer and pay others. This all comes in the middle of the general economic crisis that is eroding confidence in the major institutions – our political system that seems incapable of dreaming up ideas for improving our confidence sufficient enough to provide the energy to take risks and grow, our policing service that has been exposed as being partial, our dwindling interest in a Faith that would normally provide comfort in uncertain times, our doctors who so misguidedly took industrial action – so all the principal institutions that we would normally depend on and trust have eroded our general level of confidence by creating levels of anxiety as soon as we get out of bed.

Resilience is an attitude of mind. We can often choose to be resilient or not depending on our assessment of the events for which resilience may be required. Sometimes, the choice between being resilient or not is a Hobson’s Choice, with the room for mental manoeuvre so limited that an enforced choice is the result. Our attitudes are formed from our thoughts and feelings towards an event; these, in turn, link back to our sense of control over our ability to survive the event. If we lose the sense of control we become anxious. Resilience development is to stretch our ability to control our anxiety, and this boosts our confidence, which boosts our attitude and makes us more resilient.

So, which bit of the Bach Choir audition causes the anxiety, for which my wife needs to strengthen her resilience? Everything it seems, even though her voice has been confirmed as ‘white’ – pure and her overall abilities are fine. It seems that the anxiety is the loss of control over the decision making process, which is not a pass/fail type of process but an opinion of an expert. What has been happening to our reaction to experts? We have lost confidence in them because of the general context we live in.

The real mix of causes of anxiety is the uncertainty that surrounds the opinion of experts; do we trust them any more to produce the results that we expect, knowing that we are doing everything we can to produce the right result? The wrong footing that takes place appears to be reaching epidemic proportions. At the simplest, trying to make an appointment on time when it involves travelling – you plan the travel, but hey ho, the bus drivers are on strike (last Friday getting to my own workshop in Central London); the garage that you normally fill up at is closed for maintenance; the train that you rely on is going slow because of a signal failure further up the line (yesterday!).

It seems that there is a distinct possibility that our general resilience is reaching the tipping point from being robust (an attitude that seeks to actively face up to and overcome challenges) to a sense of helplessness when there is nothing we can do to cope effectively with the situation. The more we experience the inability to influence events and our response to them the more we adopt the learned helplessness stance. And that has a direct impact on our energy, motivation and determination, resulting is less risk taking, less performance and greater anxiety. Our possible solutions are drinking and eating more to assuage the feelings of anxiety – but these are very temporary and leave us in a worse state after the effect has worn off.

What can applied psychologists do about this? We can bash away at trying to influence context to shift context towards being more supportive – creating the resilient community or society by focusing on raising awareness amongst our leaders that context is everything. And we can do practical things at a more micro level by helping families, groups, communities and organisations to focus on their own context or mini culture to enable those within these groups to strengthen their attitude away from helplessness to a robust attitude that says we will over come the challenges.

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National Centre of Applied Psychology

Posted in General on June 24th, 2012 by Derek Mowbray – Be the first to comment
The ideas behind the National Centre of Applied Psychology and a network of local centres (http://www.mas.org.uk/applied-psychology/centres-for-applied-psychology.html) are not a million miles from other people’s thinking. The vision I have is for a network of centres from which AP is delivered that mirrors General Practice, but being active and reactive in intent – so enabling APs to work together and be active in supporting Health and Wellbeing Boards and engaging in communities with the purpose of elevating wellbeing and performance, as well as being reactive in responding to client demand.
NCAP exists, albeit in a very modest way currently, and local centres are emerging including the one local to me The Cotswold Centre. We have sufficient expressions of interest from around the UK to know that this will eventually mature into a practical model, owned by APs under a licensing arrangement to achieve another purpose – a critical mass of APs that can influence policy and tender for the largest contracts, as well as being sensitive and responsive to local demands.
I maintain that the purpose of all APs is to facilitate psychological wellbeing and optimum performance with infinitely different applications to achieve this purpose.
The challenge facing me and my colleagues is to continuously facilitate the thinking behind the idea so that APs can feel confident enough to join together without feeling they are being ‘managed’ and can maintain their independence professionally. At the same time the need to safeguard the public against inappropriate application of psychological theories and principles, and to nurture APs to widen their skills, knowledge and experience, are all part of this evolution.
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Wellbeing is good for business

Posted in General on June 17th, 2012 by Derek Mowbray – Be the first to comment

Last week I gave a talk to a combined meeting of Chambers of Commerce in the Midlands on ‘wellbeing is good for business’. The approach I adopted was to focus first on the impact of normal working life on working people, where there may be little or no emphasis on wellbeing. Such a scenario relies on ourselves to maintain a sense of wellbeing, and this requires us to strengthen personal resilience against the risks and threats that working life brings these days. The consequences of low maintenance wellbeing may result in a gradual development of ‘learned helplessness’ – a feeling that there is little we can do to place ourselves in a better position to thrive and survive (the drivers most of us have that keeps us alert and ‘pushes’ us to grasp opportunities). I went on the describe the well known consequences of people feeling unwell turning up for work – they tend not to perform at their best because they think about matters other than their work. This is particularly dangerous for those whose work requires intense concentration, the lack of which might cause injury. It is, also, important for everyone to be able to concentrate to perform effectively at anything. Those who do turn up for work and think of other intrusive matters (including day dreaming about a better life!) contribute to psychological presenteeism, a massively expensive waste of resources – more expensive than sickness absence and staff turnover combined.

I went on to identify the steps to be taken to prevent psychological presenteeism occurring in the first place – steps that involve creating a positive work culture based on healthy organisation principles; adaptive leadership styles that provoke commitment, trust and engagement; and tackling the lifestyle@work issues that divert attention away from concentrating on work – poor IT systems, badly designed premises, open plan offices, inability to discuss confidential matters because of lack of privacy, hot desking, poor nutrition, the inability of take proper breaks and exercise, all matters that managers can do something about relatively easily.

There is now another big reason for focusing on wellbeing in the workplace. The government initiative relating to the ‘fit note’ , persuading people to return to work, is a vital element of the range of initiatives to reduce expenditure using tax revenues. A clearly sensible initiative as work of any kind has health benefits and contributes to wellbeing – a sense of feeling well. It is also sensible to lower the amount of money to support people who are off sick if they can, in fact, work. However, the initiative is clearly a shift of expenditure from the tax payer to business (and a recycling of tax in the public sector) as it is more expensive to have people at work under performing. In the private sector it is probably the biggest wasted cost. Increasing that cost, by having more under performing workers isn’t sensible. Hence an urgent need for businesses and services to tackle the problem of psychological presenteeism to improve performance and cut expenditure on under performance.

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