A lack of sleep causes multiple problems: concentration flags, reaction time slows and reasoning skills are impaired. However, a new study reported in the latest Harvard Business Review shows that our perceptions about sleep matter just as much as the sleep we actually get.

Colorado College’s Professor Kristi Erdal and psychology student Cristina Draganich led an experiment in which subjects were tricked into believing that the quality of their previous night’s sleep could be determined by measuring their brain waves. Those randomly selected who were told that they had a below average percentage of REM sleep significantly under performed on an auditory test, regardless of how they actually slept.

The study therefore reveals that positive perceptions about sleep can therefore lead to better performance in some areas. This is similar to alcohol: when people think they are drinking alcohol they start to behave as if they are drunk.

Many recent studies show that psychological placebos, which make people shift their minds, can also affect physiology. An example of this is a study which showed that hotel maids lost more weight when told their duties were the equivalent to various exercises. Similarly, another study showed that milkshake drinkers produced more of the gut peptides that regulate appetite when told they were consuming an indulgent 620 calories, instead of a sensible 140 calories (the actual calorie count was 380 calories). Most people are unaware they have gut peptides so this proves that unconscious changes can indeed be prompted by psychological placebos.

To conclude, we need to average eight hours sleep a night. Most importantly though, psychologically, we must feel positive and rested to get the most out of the day and perform to our best. After all, sleep deprivation – real or perceived – is a bad idea.

We all love to complain, be it at work, home or elsewhere. However, there is in fact a formula on how to attain happiness and feel good according to Paul Dolan, a Professor of behavioural sciences at LSE. He is one of the world’s leading experts in the emerging study of happiness and part of a wave of social scientists whose findings confound expectations.


Dolan’s central insight is that how we evaluate our happiness differs greatly from how we experience it: ‘we generally pay more attention to what we think should make us happy rather than focusing on what actually does’. If we want to be happy, we need to determine what makes us happy in the moment.


Dolan stresses that happiness is ultimately about the ‘pleasure-purpose principle’ - the need to balance both pleasure and purpose to experience happiness. For example, after a bad day at work (purpose) we choose to relax in front of the television (pleasure). However, when purpose has no pleasure, that doesn’t make us happy either. For example working on something we know is a pointless waste of time it makes us unhappy. While these insights are applicable in many areas of life, it is at work where they are most relevant. After all, it is at work where we spend most of our conscious lives.


Tips to happiness:


Attention is a scarce resource: use it wisely

We constantly misuse attention, giving more attention to novelties than things we’re used to. This can lead to ‘situational blindness’.


All work and no play leads to regret

Instead of having regrets, it is better to focus on consuming a good balance of pleasure and purpose now.


Future happiness does not compensate for current unhappiness

Many people make sacrifices for future gain but remember, lost happiness is irretrievable.


But do consider the present benefits of future decisions

Material things we do with a view to the future often have a positive non-material impact now. For example, allocating a pension helps in later life, but it also makes us feel secure about the future before that moment arrives.


Change your environment

Our brains are highly susceptible to “priming” effects - random stimuli that shape the way we respond, whether we realise it or not.


Making decisions is difficult. Seek help

Often, our unconscious brain is better at calling things than our conscious brain. Studies have shown that people who take breaks within the decision-making process are more satisfied with the outcomes over time. Try delegating the most important decisions relating to your happiness, or at the very least, seek help.


Don’t think about the weather

Our ideas of weather and happiness are inextricably linked. However, weather doesn’t have that much effect in itself if you don’t think it does.


Minimise distractions

Someone who maximises their happiness is someone who allocates their attention optimally. Switching between tasks up ‘attentional energy’. Try instead to promote focus.

When giving presentations, minimise or eliminate visual aids. When writing online, cut out hyperlinks, which have been shown to make readers confused and less informed. Turn off email: it has been estimated that email distractions cost UK businesses £10,000 per employee per year. And never make Facebook your homepage.


Surround yourself with people who increase your happiness

The one failsafe way to be happier is to surround yourself with people you like. Social contact makes us happy and so does being nice. Volunteering is also a structured form of social contact which makes us intrinsically happy.


Do not compare yourself with others

Researchers at the University of California recently ran an experiment where they provided employees with links to the salaries of their peers. People who were earning less than the median were less satisfied with their jobs once they knew what their colleagues were earning. You may be curious but you’re probably happier not knowing.

Social anxiety is on the rise and brands are in the firing line. The endless stream of aspirational identities projected on the likes of Instagram and Facebook is creating a collective apprehension and fuelling the ‘discrepancy monitor’, where consumers use social media platforms to evaluate their current situation against an imaginary gold standard, according to this month’s Marketing. Lucie Green, editor at trends consultancy LSN:Global comments, “this is particularly prevalent in millennials, who are not only the heaviest users of social media, but also the most ambitious, with a strong notion of self-entitlement”.

Brands have always capitalised on consumers’ insecurities, but they cannot afford to ignore the dissenting voices in this new era. SapientNitro’s Dawson says it is brands which recognise and empathise with people’s insecurities which will flourish. Sainsbury’s has proved this with its ‘live well for less’ campaign. Aldi has too with its ‘like brands, only cheaper’ slogan. This warning also applies to politics: politicians must recognise and help the public resolve their anxieties. If not, they will pay the price.

Trust in Britain’s biggest brands is at an all-time low. Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet, believes the plethora of information available today is a double edged sword, as we worry about things we might never have even thought about previously. Furthermore, how factually reliable is this information? In today’s society, anyone can be an oracle and anyone can be a charlatan and this only serves to exacerbate our anxiety.

Those consumed by anxiety fostered by the great life they are not living would do well to remember that the filter of social media is a constructed reality – one that real life, with all its flaws and challenges, should never aspire to attain.

There is an interesting quote that says it all: “the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel” (Pastor Steven Furtick). 

Despite the ‘R’ in CRM and the staggering $11 billion spent on CRM software annually, many companies fail to understand customer relationships at all, according to an article in the latest Harvard Business Review.  What they lack is relational intelligence – they aren’t aware of the variety of relationships customers have with a company and don’t know how to change them. 

Capturing demographic data and matching it with purchasing information is an industrial view of customer relationships – thinking of them as resources to sell to.  Instead the key is to address customers as individuals looking for certain kinds of interactions. 

In the article, researchers Jill Avery from Harvard, Susan Fournier from Boston University and John Wittenbraker from market research firm GfK, share their insights from firms that have managed to get things right.

Fundamental, they advise, is capturing data that tells companies which relationship types their customers are looking for – ‘flings’, ‘partnerships’, ‘master-slave’… or something else.  Companies must then use these insights to shift customers towards relationships that help advance the organisation’s strategic goals. This means understanding the rules of each connection and then reshaping marketing around relationships.

The clear example cited is Pinterest.  It has shifted its users into more valuable relationship types by encouraging strangers to engage in ‘flings’ with the site by positioning it as a place users can always discover new things.  Fleeting acquaintances are encouraged to connect with other users who have similar interests.  As they expand their connections, their relationships switch to casual acquaintances and eventually teammates.

Each type of customer relationship is governed by its own rules.  The researchers share the rules and regulations that need to be followed.

Basic exchange – the customer wants to obtain a good product or service at a fair price and wants dependability without having to think or do too much.  E.g. a loyal customer who sticks with a toothpaste brand.

Best friends – the customer wants intimacy and emotional support and a two-way flow of honest communication.  However, it expects loyalty and not being taken for granted and that personal information is not disclosed.  E.g. the customer expects to be updated in advance of any changes on prices or to the business

Buddies – the customer wants a sustained interaction, but not too close or emotional with any demands.  E.g. the beer loving customer who wants to be able to choose from a variety of brands and resists individual brands approaches to gain loyalty

Fling – the customer wants to experiment with a new identity and is looking for excitement with each interaction e.g. the customer of a watch company who continually expects to be delighted with new models

Master-slave – the customer enters this relationship to intensify feelings of self-worth and demands that the company satisfy every demand without questions.  E.g. the customer may terminate a relationship if the online retailer disappoints with poor service which shows lack of respect

Business partners – the customer wants to work with the company as a valued partner to solve problems e.g. the customer gives ideas for better service and new products to a retailer and the company listens and acts


The high pressure of any job can force you to take on tasks and responsibilities that result in steep learning curves, according to City A.M.’s Harriet Green. While number crunching can make creative minds quake in their boots, mathematicians are often terrified of presenting.

However, back in 1908, a study published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology showed that while playing it safe will deliver consistent results, stepping out of your comfort zone into the unknown will have longer-lasting positive effects.  This echoes the well-known teachings of Susan Jeffers in her book ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’.

So what are the ways in which we can all make the most of new experiences? Green shares three suggestions:

 

  1. Tenacity

If you don’t succeed at first, try, try, try again as practice really does make perfect.  Author and table tennis player Matthew Syed highlighted the myth of talent and the power of practice in his book Bounce, while Albert Einstein is quoted as having said that ‘genius is 1 per cent talent and 99 per cent hard work.  Even if you do not have skills in a particular area, determined practice will get you there. Good fortune can, however, be just as crucial.

 

  1. Routine bean

Regardless of your area of expertise, make sure that you put a rigid process in place when dealing with anything new and uncomfortable. A recent study at the University of California found that ritualising your approach to new challenges will help you to master new skills.

Psychology professor Roy Baumeister believes that deciding what you want to achieve before you start a task will allow you to break it down into small chunks and get the best results. Having attainable, ‘mini-targets’ will satisfy your reward system and help you grow in confidence.

 

  1. Leap of faith

Feedback, in the right amounts and at the right time, is a vital aspect of growing in confidence. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz advises that too much feedback can create a ‘cognitive overload, increase anxiety and interfere with learning’. Take small doses of feedback to allow yourself time to put what you’ve been told into practice.

 

Renowned organisational consultant and author Warren Bennis, said long ago that the best leaders are ‘first-class noticers’.  This means they pay close attention to what is going on around them, seeing things others miss and knowing when to look further to help make informed decisions. 

The importance of becoming a better noticer is discussed in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review by HBR professor Max Bazerman.  He shares the actions, rooted in research, on how to build noticing skills.  

1.     Look inward to analyse previous mistakes

Most failures have both external and internal causes, but too often people use external attributions only.  First-class noticers always consider internal causes too, which allows them to learn from their experience.

 

So when a problem arises, consider the role you or your company played.  Which warning signs did you miss?  What are your weak spots and how can they be fixed to prevent future lapses.

 

2.     Take an outsider’s view

So often organisations say change isn’t possible, because ‘things aren’t done that way’, but there is no reason why the bad habit can’t be broken.  Outsiders are better than insiders at noticing vulnerabilities and opportunities and suggesting solutions to either address or capitalise on them.

 

3.     Create a noticing organisation

Leaders not only need to work on their own noticing skills they need to encourage others to do the same.  Explain that you expect everyone to dig deeper and keep a close look out. Also set an example by calling out any transgressions and react with transparency, speed and compassion.

 

According to a piece in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review failure is not necessarily negative: difficult experiences can in fact lead to revelatory transformations and, although few of us actively invite drama, it tests our resilience and celebrates our mettle.

Indeed, many literary works have examined human beings’ ability to endure repeated hardship. Over the past few years, resilience has emerged as perhaps the foremost emotional virtue and a much desired characteristic.

However, is the idea of surmounting adversity becoming idealised? Triumph over disaster is undoubtedly a key factor in cognitive development, but it is not a prerequisite. Marc Andreessen, a leading venture capitalist, states: ‘taking the stigma out of failure is very exciting but we see founders who give up too quickly, maybe it’s time to add a bit more stigma’.

The importance of resilience and persistence is also being questioned in terms of education; are these really the most important qualities to instil in children?

Psychologists have forever examined why some manage to respond to adversity more easily to others, and what they gain in the process. Many factors can influence and determine resilience, be it religion, forgiveness or the awareness of mortality.

Psychologist David Feldman and journalist Lee Daniel Kravetz describe how significant traumas can become catalysing events: ‘these people don’t just grow; they revolutionise their lives, they transform and transcend their suffering even while enduring it’.

Overall, resilience is undoubtedly a virtue and an essential part of our emotional makeup. To quote the famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

Robotic assistants, driverless cars, connected homes, digital public services, laboratory-grown meat and electric-powered vehicles are just a few of the futuristic technologies soon to become reality. However, ingenuity alone is not enough for sci-fi-style experiments to succeed in the real world according to a recent article in the FT.

 

Innovation can shock. Al­though people say they like new things, often what they want is mere­ly for existing things to work better. Innovations must be bought repeatedly if they are to succeed commercially.

 

Simon Roberts, an anthropologist and director of an innovation agency, says: “businesses often look on innovations as ‘new things’. But to understand how new things become part of the everyday, it’s more helpful to think of them as skills and habits consumers ac­quire”.

 

Innovations that fit current circumstances may succeed more than those that don’t: to break the social norm is dangerous.

 

Karthikeyan Natarajan, global head of integrated engineering solutions at Tech Mahindra, suggests a possibility for helping people feel at ease: gamification. A game-based app that people can download to become accustomed to the product.

 

When an innovation has an image problem or needs explaining better, well-chosen analogies may help. Borrowing familiar terms such as “shopping cart” and “checkout” from supermarkets helped Amazon demystify ecommerce. Giving innovations names that are easy to turn into verbs can also help to spread habits by focusing people’s attention on “the [do]ing – Skyping, Googling, Tweeting – rather than on [the product]”.

 

While there are always pioneers far out in front, “most people like to think they’re part of a widespread movement”, says Erik Fairbairn, chief executive of Pod Point, a UK electric vehicle charging-point provider. To foster the impression of a fast-growing technology, he recommends designing products to self-advertise. Similarly, placing stores in “high-visibility” locations helps normalise the product.

 

Lastly, the fear of being tripped up by technology is a powerful deterrent for consumers. According to research by Visa “one of the greatest inhibitors to buying is when people feel they’re at risk of being embarrassed”. Manufactures must therefore make products as intuitive as possible.

 

How to turn an innovation into a consumer habit:

 

 Respect social norms. Work around any existing infrastructure. Even disruptive innovations need to fit into the world as it is. 

 Choose your words. Analogies can help people grasp how innovations work: by referencing familiar things makes it less daunting. 

 Show, not tell. Concentrate on creating opportunities for people to experiment hands on with innovations. 

 Engage the senses. Building prompts and cues into new technologies is reassuring for novices. 

 Get verbal. Names that sound good as verbs encourage consumers to think of innovations as things others are embracing.

Entrepreneurs are renowned for their tenacious approach to work and their creativity, which is often cited as missing in the world of big business.  How entrepreneurs are inspired and the secrets of their success is discussed in a recent article in the FT by leading business writer Jonathan Moules. Having talked to a number of entrepreneurs he lists five key points that will help aspiring entrepreneurs make the most of their sources.

1.     Out and about

Being out and about is often the best way to come across ideas. The founders of Innocent Drinks got their initial inspiration for the business when snowboarding in the Alps.

2.     Imitation over invention

Entrepreneurs are often cited as being copycats rather than innovators. The idea of Make Your Mark With a Tenner, a moneymaking contest for British schoolchildren, was taken from a newspaper. Founder Oli Barrett, argues that the best business ideas are copied from other people. ‘I read about a vicar who had given his congregation £10 each to raise church funds’. Seven years, and hundreds of thousands of £10 notes later, the programme is still going.

Barrett also uses social networks and Google searches to source ideas that are trending. ‘This is incredible’ or ‘this is genius’ may reveal what products and concepts are getting people excited.

3.     Make unusual connections

Meeting people face-to-face is a good way to get your brain into gear. Anne Wood, founder of Ragdoll Productions which made Teletubbies, says that the children’s television hit was based on 30 years’ experience, first as a teacher and then in children’s book publishing. She says ‘if you are engaged in work with children, your inspiration comes from observing what they pay attention to’

4.     Listen to clients

Andy Gent, co-founder of tax software company, Arkk Solutions, says an excellent idea came for a new product came after meeting with a customer who asked if he could assist him with some regulatory filing. They googled the idea – the product created had sales of £500,000 in the first six months.

5.     Get annoyed

New Zealander Dale Murray quit a senior executive post to co-found Omega Logic, which introduced mobile phone top-ups to the UK. Within five years the business had an annual revenue of £450m. The idea for top ups came during a chat about the shortcomings of the IT industry between Murray and her co-founders. Murray says that ‘if you are critical of something, follow that up creatively constructing ideas to improve it’.

Failure to address conflicts at work is one of the principal reasons executives lose respect in a team, according to a recent article in the FT. Not acting in fear of conflict is often why decisions are postponed, problems linger and realities are ignored says psychotherapist Naomi Shragai, author of the piece. Apparently, the desire to be liked can inhibit thinking and stop one from expressing dissenting opinions, which can in turn hinder a company’s growth.


Although there may be reasons for people to avoid disputes in the office, these anxieties can also be irrational and exaggerated because they are easily confused with childhood experiences and family conflicts. Small disagreements at work can develop into conflicts because the capacity to discriminate between the past and the present is diminished.


While someone may be appearing a good team player by never disagreeing and avoiding confrontation, it can in fact be detrimental. Withholding opinions means you can stop listening to your own internal voice and become self-doubting and consequently increasingly dependent on others’ views. You lose critical ability, whilst your company loses out on your unique ideas and talents. Sibling business relationships can be particularly problematic in this regard, as childhood patterns are reflected at work: historic conflicts, envy and jealousy can obscure decisions.


According to Nigel Nicholson, Professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School and author of The ‘I’ of Leadership, as we have become a more politically correct culture, people in business have become more fragile and conflict-averse. He states that although there is less overt conflict, covert conflict is much the same: “the way conflicts are expressed these days is much more coded and much more indirect. There is less brutal conflict as there used to be, but there’s still a lot of frustrations and resentments in organisations, and a lot of perceived unfairness.”

Managers play a crucial role in how conflicts are perceived. When they fail to confront problems decisively they frustrate their staff which lowers morale. Such managers avoid conflict in many ways, such as making themselves invisible, or surrounding themselves with people unlikely to disagree with them. Another tactic is to create an overly optimistic climate in which everyone is encouraged to sing the same tune thereby silencing any disagreements. The danger is that those wishing to disagree can be accused of being insurgents for raising what could, potentially, be serious concerns.


There is nothing more destructive to a team than unresolved conflict, and perhaps nothing more creative to business than finding solutions to such disputes. The best leaders rise to the challenge.


Strategies for dealing with conflict in the office


Individuals: people need to recognise how they deal with family conflicts as these strategies may be detrimental when applied to office life. They must learn to read situations more accurately and respond more assertively.


Managers: they should encourage diversity and allow dissenting voices of to be expressed and heard. Professor Nicholson states “managers need to see conflicts as an opportunity to show firm leadership or to say there is a difference here, we need to recognise and deal with it.”


Resolving conflicts:  finding a “shared reality” between people is essential for solving disputes according to Professor Nicholson and this involves compromise. A constructive solution must be made and agreed between both parties.


Boredom generally carries negative connotations and is deemed to be something to avoid. However, can it be that this idle state of mind actually has the ability to be beneficial for our creative development?  Writer Kate Bussman explores the issues.

Bussman highlights that most people cannot remember the last time they were bored, rather the last time they allowed themselves to be bored. Many are hesitant to allow themselves to fully switch off, which is made harder in a society where we are glued to our phones and computer screens.

Today, boredom is associated with idleness – a negative vice. Children and adults alike, we don’t take time off when we are off duty. We garden, cook, read, play video games instead. As Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction notes: ‘Being over-scheduled and overworked is the new status symbol: it shows we’re in demand, that we’ve earned our good fortune.’

Every spare moment is filled with a distraction and, as some point out, we’re missing out on something creatively, psychologically and even biologically. Many creative thinkers such as Grayson Perry and Michael Chanon believe that boredom is what made them into creative thinkers in the first place.

Teresa Belton from the University of East Anglia believes that television has become a major part to play in destroying the imagination of children. ‘If children felt bored they were likely to turn to the screen to fill the vacuum rather than pursue their own thoughts. Being bored lets you stand back from life and observer it, [giving] you the impetus to create your own mental activity.’

Boredom takes many forms, from doing nothing to the mundane, there is evidence to suggest that simple activities can foster more creativity than letting your mind totally drift. According to Jonathan Smallwood, a psychologist from the University of York, an effect called “incubation advantage” has a part to play in this. He states that ‘people use free time to consciously or unconsciously generate solutions to problems.’

Recently, Smallwood’s team discovered that when our minds wander, we tend to think about the future, an important skill, in so much as it allows us to make decisions based on future not instant rewards.

Nevertheless, not all boredom is the same –a total of five types have now been discovered. Two of them “indifferent” and “calibrating” boredom are likely to be the most creative. One of the types, associated with depression and violence, is often the cause of people “zoning out” and causing accidents such as car crashes.

The idea that idleness is a vice is nothing new. Apparently fourth century Benedictine monks used to come up with ways to combat sleepiness, boredom and exhaustion which is now manifested in the modern “culture of busyness”. It is related to our need to be shown to be doing, producing, achieving and attaining all the time.

Still, many of us find it hard to entertain the thought of letting boredom bloom. Could it be that we might simply be bored with ourselves? 

Although many women are successful and ambitious, they still fail to assert themselves in important meetings, according to a recent article in Harvard Business Review. Authors Kathryn Heath, Jill Flynn and Mary Davis Holt who wrote the book Break you own rules: How to change the patters of thinking that block women’ s paths to power, look into how women can improve their performance. During their decades of research, they found that women feel less effective in meetings compared to other business situations. 
 
When questioned, 270 female managers in Fortune 500 organisations and 65 top male and female executives from companies such as JPMorgan Chase and eBay highlighted that while men and women agree on the problems, they disagree on the causes.
 
Male managers suggested that women fail to articulate a strong point and are often quiet and tentative. They described women as being defensive when challenged and apt to panic or freeze if they lose the attention of the room.
 
From a female perspective, most say that they have more problems with timing than anything else, feeling confident that they are able to marshal facts and stick to a point.
So what can women do to combat this problem? The authors outline four steps:
 

  1. Mastering the ‘pre-meeting’. This is where most of the real work happens. Participation in these informal advance conversations is key when it comes to having a voice in the actual meeting
  2. Prepare to speak (especially spontaneously). Try to have written some things down you want to talk about – even the casual remarks you hear have been rehearsed
  3. Keep an even keel. Try not to be too passionate about an idea or opinion as male managers and colleagues might see this as having ‘too much emotion’. It is not so much what you say as how you say it
  4. Move past confrontation. Ensure that comments are not taken personally; a little compartmentalisation can be healthy

In addition, Heath, Flynn and Holt suggest that women should try and make their language more ‘muscular’ in order to hold the floor. Try using phrases like ‘I strongly suggest’ rather than ‘how about’ and ‘here is my plan’ rather than ‘maybe we can’ to take ownership and start getting results. 

Published: Bondy Consulting

The most important thing to look for when recruiting is potential, according to Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, author of ‘It’s not the how or the what, but the who’, who writes in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review.  Having spent 30 years evaluating and tracking executives and looking at performance factors, he considers potential to be the most important predictor of success at all levels, from junior management, to the C-suite and the board.

The first era of talent spotting thousands of years ago focussed on an individual’s physical attributes and whether they could erect a pyramid or fight a war, the second, in the 20th Century emphasised intelligence, experience and past performance. Then came the third era, in the 1980s, which valued competencies. We have now entered a fourth, more uncertain and volatile era, where focus must shift to potential. 

According to Fernandez-Araoz, competency based appraisals and appointments are increasingly insufficient, given that what makes someone successful in a particular role today, might not tomorrow if the competitive environment shifts and the company’s strategy changes.  Key is not whether the company’s employees and leaders have the right skills, it is whether they have the potential to learn new ones.

So what are the indictors of potential?

First is the right kind of motivation – a fierce commitment to excel in the pursuit of unselfish goals.  People with high potential have great ambition and want to leave their mark.  However, they also aspire to bigger, collective goals and show deep personal humility.  This sort of motivation is usually an unconscious quality.  If someone is driven by purely selfish motives, this is unlikely to change.

Once this has been assessed, four other qualities are looked for:

  • Curiosity – a penchant for seeking out new experiences, knowledge, candid feedback and openness to learning and change 
  • Insight – the ability to gather and make sense of information that suggests new possibilities
  • Engagement – a knack for using emotion and logic to communicate a persuasive vision and connect with people
  • Determination – the ability to fight for difficult goals despite challenges and bounce back from adversity

Despite potential being the defining measure, Fernandez-Araoz suggests it would be a mistake to ignore other lessons learnt to evaluate people.  He proposes also looking for:

  • Intelligence – you should still hire people clever enough for your requirement, because their general intelligence won’t increase dramatically over time
  • Values – these are critical and they need to reflect the organizations core values to ensure a proper fit
  • Leadership abilities – including collaboration and influence, organisational development, team and change leadership

Once you have found a high potential, the next step is keeping them.  Pushing them up a straight ladder won’t accelerate their growth, uncomfortable assignments will.  They also need to be given autonomy in four dimensions - task (what they do), time (when they do it), team(whom they do it with) and technique (how they do it).  Fundamental is helping them towards mastery by setting difficult but stainable challenges and eliminating distractions.

Published: Bondy Consulting

Neuroscientists are in demand for their insights into business according to a recent article in the FT. Last month the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development hosted seminars on what neuroscience has to teach leaders and trainers. Meanwhile employers from banks to IT companies have been calling in academics and coaches to talk about its implications for the world of work.


Apparently neuroscience may help to solve a typical business conundrum- why many companies still struggle to create socially and ethnically diverse workplaces, even though they profess equal opportunity.


Professor Amodio, who teaches at New York University, is a pioneer of social neuroscience, an interdisciplinary field that explores the neural reactions underlying motivation, prejudice and co-operation. His research shows that those who turne out to be fairly unprejudiced had greater electrical activity in brain regions associated with self-control, suggesting they were working hard to stay focused on the task and respond impartially.


His findings suggest that the brain can apply a conscious override to instant bias. Other experiments measuring threat responses in the brain agree with the idea that while we may instinctively mistrust “difference”, the brain has mechanisms to keep prejudice at bay.


It is this research that could provide help for employers. If prejudice is partly innate, by encouraging managers to spot their prejudices and work around them, this may be more effective than repeating the mantra that prejudice is wrong.


At the University of California, Los Angeles, Matthew Lieberman has been exploring the part of the brain that deals with social relationships. He shows that brains feel a social form of hurt – such as exclusion and unfairness – much as they experience the physical pain, such as breaking a leg.


His view is that most organisations miss this vulnerability. Employers appoint task-focused managers who lack human understanding, and trust that money will motivate employees, overlooking social rewards such as praise and opportunities to help others flourish. He argues, the brain registers just as powerfully.


Steven Rice, who leads human resources at IT company Juniper Networks, was won over by the explanatory power of neuroscience. He had already sensed that many Juniper employees regarded the ranking system used to evaluate them as unfair. However, it was reading about how the brain reacts to threat and unfairness, in the book Your Brain at Work, by David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, that motivated him to redesign Juniper’s performance management process from scratch. “It was one of those ‘Aha!’ moments, when two things came together.”


Not everyone believes neuroimaging can supply management insights. Sceptics say most brain regions perform multiple functions, making the interpretation of brain activity difficult.


Apparently there are also limits to what neuro­imaging can observe, while preliminary findings from small-scale studies are often regurgitated as facts. Managers need to be aware that there is a neuro-myth alongside the neuroscience.

Published: Bondy Consulting

In the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, researchers from the University of Minnesota discuss the details of the hiring process and how algorithms beat instinct.

When it comes to hiring a new candidate, it is very easy to go through the motions thinking that you are choosing the right individual for the job. Many people think that they know both the company and the role they are trying to fill inside out, and will use their experienced brain to select the best candidate.

However, what the researchers propose is that you take a step back from the process, take time to crunch the applicant’s data and apply the resulting analysis to the job criteria. This, they say, will result in a better hire.

Humans are excellent at specifying what is needed for a position and pulling out information from candidates. Nevertheless, what they aren’t so good at is weighing up the results. Having analysed 17 studies of applicant evaluations, they found that a simple equation will outperform human decisions by at least 25%. This effect remains the same in any situation, regardless of the job type.

In addition, the research, carried out in conjunction with the University of Toronto, looked into situations where the decision makers were highly familiar with the organisation and, more often than not, the applicants as well. In some cases the people making the call had more information about the applicants than was included in the equation.

Another problem that arises is distraction. People can be thrown off course by compliments and remarks from the applicant – usually on arbitrary topics. This in turn can destroy the parameters that were established for the job. It is in these cases that the selection process would be best left to a machine, who’s judgement hasn’t been impacted by a kind gesture or a floppy handshake.

Although there may be an obvious objection to the notion of influence by arbitrary topics, surveys suggest that when it comes to assessing individuals, 85%-97% of professionals rely on a degree of intuition. Many managers argue that they are able to make the best decision by going through an applicant’s folder and looking into their eyes.

While the algorithms suggested have real value, if companies were to impose a numbers-only hiring policy, people would most definitely find a more emotionally-based way to get around it. While the researchers do not by any means suggest bowing out of the decision process altogether, they do propose using a purely algorithmic system, narrowing the field before calling on human judgement. In addition, they believe the best approach is to have several managers independently inputting into the final decision and then averaging their judgements.

 

The prospect of a world full of objects that can communicate with each other is an idea that has given way to a host of amazing inventions. Making sense of this ‘internet of things’ presents a challenge for marketers who need to ensure that new developments offer real, life-improving benefits to their customers.

Andy Hobsbawm from software provider Evrything praises the new connectivity of products and cites two positive examples. He recently worked alongside Diego to personalise its whiskey brands. Purchasers were able to attach a personalised film tribute on bottles they were giving as Father’s Day gifts. For Nike and its FuelBand Hobsbawm comments: Nike goes from being just a shoe brand to a socially connected digital fitness service...it’s an ongoing service they subscribe to’.

According to David Benady, who writes about what the evolution of the internet will mean in the latest issue of Marketing,  once a brand has captured a consumer’s data, it becomes increasingly hard for the customer to make a transition to another product. It places brands alongside retailers in their relationship with consumers. In short, the more data that is amassed about the user, the more invaluable the gadgets becomes, fostering a very powerful level of loyalty.

While many dispute that developments promised by promoters of the internet of things might not really be that useful to consumers, research firm Gartner disagrees. According to recent studies there will be 26bn connected objects by 2020, more than three times the number of smartphones, tablets and PCs.

Chief Executive of digital agency DigitasLBi UK, Anil Pillai, argues that the developments today can be compared to the web in the early 90s. Back then, like now, there were many predictions and challenges around the internet. For the ‘internet of things’, the main challenge is establishing universal formats that allow objects to connect with one another. There are walled expanses of data such as the Oyster card that has not yet been opened to marketers.

Managing partner of digital agency Poke, Tim Hostler, predicts that manufacturers of a new generation of smart products will gather this data and develop a detailed view of customer habits. They will use this to deliver enhanced services and messages helping to create a new era in smart services and insight-driven marketing. Hostler is confident that once marketers get their hands on the data created by the ‘internet of things’, they will be able to find some stunning uses.

One obvious area for investigation will be using this data to help tailor pricing for consumers individual needs. The data could be useful for brands, helping to build rich profiles of consumer behaviour and to manage pricing. Ultimately, it is down to marketers to make sure that people come first and technology second.

It is said that half of the predicted future never happens. However, the half that does happen will allow us to be healthier, safer and more in control of our surroundings than ever.

 

 

Effective marketing to mothers is critical with women controlling 70% of household budgets according to Boston Consulting Group, yet many companies are getting it wrong.  Discussed in Marketing Week following an event organised by Mumsnet and Saatchi & Saatchi, the fundamental mistake brands make is to perceive women as mums first, rather than as individual people who happen to have had children. However, new research shows that three out of 10 mothers see themselves as ‘me first and then a mum’.

ITV director of commercial marketing Sarah Speake agrees that ‘mums tends to be lumped together as one homogenous group which doesn't resonate with us all…we all have different requirements…’ Grouping mothers together is believed to be far from beneficial to either the brand or the audience and by doing so marketers are widely failing to resonate with their female consumers. Interestingly, the Saatchi & Saatchi study showed that just 19 percent of UK mums surveyed consider mums in advertising to be relatable to.

The study sets out a new five point plan for communicating with mothers to ensure the best results...


 1. Motherhood does not define a person

This is the fundamental point to bear in mind when gearing any initiative towards mothers. For many women with children, motherhood is not the overriding factor that defines them – they want to be recognised as individuals, for their careers, passions, hobbies and identities over and above being mothers. Being a mother is significant but it doesn't ultimately define you as a person.

2.  Mothers are not desperately seeking perfection

Modern day mums do not want to feel the pressure to conform to the 1950s stereotype of the perfect housewife and are attracted to campaigns that focus of the more realistic messy and fun. In fact 75% of mothers questioned in the study do not believe that the perfect mum exists. This is why ideas like Persil’s 2005 ‘Dirt is good’ campaign work so well – they allow mums the freedom to stop striving for perfection and embrace the chaotic reality of family life.

3. Mothers are not prudes

 Marketers need to bear in mind when appealing to 21st century mums that just because a woman has children she doesn't become automatically devoid of sexuality and humour. Only 23% of mums surveyed think that they should stop talking about certain subjects after they have had children. Mumsnet chief executive, Justine Roberts, warns against the ‘Virgin Mary’ effect that takes over when women become mothers and believe that brands are missing a trick by not targeting mums with humorous ads and playing on the ‘ridiculous situations that mums find themselves in’.

4. Motherhood is not drudgery

Marketers should never take the stance that motherhood is a task to be endured. Apparently 60% of mums say that the best fun they have in their lives is with their children and that kids are far more fun than adults. Marketers should focus on the enjoyment that mums get from their children.

5. Don’t forget the fathers

Brands that acknowledge that fathers have an equally key role in parenting and adjust to the gender roles of the current day are more successful in engaging with families. Marketers that paint all dads as clowns and gear campaigns solely towards to female in the household make a faux pas as 60% of women surveyed said that their partner is just as involved in parenting as they are.

 

Half of all retailers will be using gamification in some way by 2017 according to analysts, while others argue it could become as important to customer retention as Facebook.  Discussed in The Grocer, the idea is that factors that drive millions of us to play games – desire, challenge, reward and mastery – can help sell a product, promote a brand and change both consumer and staff behaviour. 

Apparently it is things like smartphones and digital wallets that give retailers new ways to build game dynamics into shopper activity – perhaps even persuading them in-store instead of online.  It appears that games are seen as a way to capture hearts, minds and wallets of the incredibly fickle Gen Y, who by 2025 will make up a staggering 75% of the global workforce.

Forrester Research analyst Elizabeth Shaw believes that gamification is key to helping retailers differentiate themselves by building interaction, intimacy and influence. Shoppers who interact with a brand are apparently more likely to buy it.  Incentivising consumers with tokens, social currency or status on a league table can encourage them to share games with their friends and generate all important word of mouth. 

The Grocer highlights how Japanese soft drink Pocari Sweat launched an electrolyte drink in Indonesia with a game called Ionopolis. Over 94,000 signed up to defeat comic book monsters who wanted to dehydrate a city.  Players shared updates, checked out locations on Foursquare and were rewarded for buying drinks with in-game benefits.  Whole Foods awarded badges to encourage people to adopt a healthier lifestyle.  Games can boost user engagement with a website by a third, sharing on social media by 22% and content discovery by 68% according to gaming platform Gigya.

It is not just about consumers, gamification can also be used to help companies attract, train and retain employees.  Unilever uses games in training, as does US retail giant target to encourage its cashiers towards better transactions.  KPMG is using it to increase graduate intake.

Key for the introduction of any game is to ensure it fits with the business strategy.  Fatal is to retrofit a game dynamic to an ad campaign to make an organisation look cutting edge.  Not every department in an organisation will also be suitable.

With a predictions that 70% of the world’s top companies will be using gamification by 2016 at a value of $2.8bn, it is something which cannot be ignored.

Published: Bondy Consulting

An interesting article in the FT this week by Rhymer Rigby discusses whether giving 100% effort in the workplace is far too much. He reviews a new book - How to be a Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott, - which highlights that people often look at tasks the wrong way – concentrating on the detail of what they are doing, instead of the impact they have. According to Allcott, “ It is actually far more practical to think in terms of the 80-20 rule and focus ruthlessly on doing things that have the greatest impact.” We should also be delegating the mundane tasks that anyone can do, instead of not giving them up for fear of them not being done at their best. This is usually the challenge with perfectionists. “Perfectionism is how they define themselves and to let anything out of their hands that isn’t 100% goes again their sense of professional pride,” says business psychologist Karen Moloney. She believes the solution is to remember it is about delivering what the business needs, not what we want to give. While perfectionists want to always give a 100% and not doing so it tantamount to failure, Moloney says that by re-framing by saying to oneself that knowing which tasks do not need 100% shows good judgement.  

Cadbury is the UK’s ‘happiest brand’ according to new research.

The study, which ranks Andrex second on the happiness scale followed closely by Google, shows that brands which display happy tendencies connect better with consumers. Apparently, being associated with happiness helps build stronger emotional connections between consumers’ memory structure and the brand.

New research by ad agency Isobel suggests happy brands can be broken down into five key characteristics: whether they are playful, happy, trustworthy, generous or optimistic. Steve Hastings, co-founder says: “We felt these five values explained a lot of the differences in the way that people would consider a brand to be happy or not happy.” To be considered in the top 10 of happy brands, a brand must score well on each of these five values.

When it comes to happiness, FMCG heritage brands are outright winners. They dominate the top 20: Cadbury (1), Fairy (4) and Heinz (10). These are brands that, in Hastings’ opinion, ‘are simple, clear brands with good heritage and consistency of delivery. Coca-Cola only comes in at number 19 in spite of its strapline ‘Open Happiness’.

While FMCG brands have managed to perform well, grocery retailers have not had so much success. Although Aldi ranks the best of the supermarkets at 21, Tesco (58), Lidl (49) and Waitrose (50) did not do so well. According to Hastings: “Aldi, having been a UK player for a relatively short time, has benefited from being a blank canvas, unencumbered by old perceptions that other supermarkets might be.”

In other areas, digital brands performed well with Google, YouTube and Amazon featuring in the top 10. Newspapers, political parties and banks did not do so well with Lloyds, RBS, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats all featuring at the ‘unhappy end of the scale. Their positions are reflected in their lacking of the key five characteristics named above; in particularly generosity and optimism.

The top 10 brands’ results show there is value is making clear promises to customers and then keeping that word. “Advertising doesn’t necessarily solve all problems but if you have a clear promise that you consistently keep and communicate, you have a tried and tested recipe for success,” explains Hastings. Play and pleasure are paramount to the consumer experience as well; consumers get enjoyment from the nature of the brand: its packaging, texture and the way it looks and smells.

The study clearly implies that emotional and rational attributes are legitimate ways to leave a mark with a consumer. Brands that have a measure of both are the most popular and the happiest. 

In an article in the Financial Times, four decision gurus discuss how they make decisions.

Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University, admits that for small decisions he makes the same mistakes most people do. However, when faced with big decisions he aims to think imaginatively.  He cites the example of buying a house; rather than being ruled by money considerations, he decided on an area with the shortest commute as people told him he would never get used to it. While a lot of work was needed in the house, the decision was to make changes every six months as opposed to a complete overhaul at the start. Six years in, only two changes have been made.

Nudge co-author Richard Taler, Professor of Behavioural Science and Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, has spent time looking at individual choices, citing that real life decision-making is not always rational and rarely follows economic models. He gives an example of the ‘sunk cost fallacy’. This involves paying for something which cannot be undone. If you buy a plane ticket then fall ill, you need to decide whether to make the trip based on pleasure and whether it will outweigh the incremental costs, not because the ticket has been paid for.

Anil Gaba, Professor of Risk Management and Professor of Decision Sciences at Insead, has an approach that blends the rational (economics and maths) with realism (based on psychology).  He believes ‘uncertainty connotes negative things in people’s mind but it can be very positive.  It would be very boring to map out with certainty the next 20 years of your life.’

Harvard Business School Professor and teacher of decision making and negotiation, Francesca Gino, talks about the challenge of being side-tracked.  She herself got side-tracked when deciding on her university course.   Rather than doing architecture, she met an enthusiastic student when rushing to take her entry test, so she took economics and management instead.  For her it worked out well, but for others side-tracking can lead to poor decisions.  Nowadays, she tries to weigh up important decisions carefully looking at the pros and cons.  As she rightly identifies, ‘too often we decide what we want to do and then ask people we know will support that, whether or not it is the right path’.

Finally, Nigel Nicholson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School highlights that one of the pitfalls of decision making is self-deception and that our mind is good at shaping perceptions through prejudices.  He suggests putting oneself in other people’s shoes to help smooth the decision-making process.

Writing for the Financial Times, Alicia Clegg determines that emotion and empathy are vital tools in the art of negotiation and that the most diplomatic among us are those that purposefully remain connected with their feelings and those of their opposition. Clegg sites Nelson Mandela’s commitment to learning Afrikaans (the native tongue of his captors) while incarcerated, as a prime example of how the ability to see the world through the eyes of your adversaries is an important quality when approaching any negotiation. According to Clegg, possessing emotional awareness arms you with the capacity to read the situation, foresee how it will play out and respond accordingly. Those who are consistently tuned into the emotional undercurrent of the conversation are more able to ‘respond creatively to unexpected twists and turns and run with a theme.’

In his recent book, ‘The Art of Negotiation; How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World’, Professor Michael Wheeler of Harvard Business School teaches us how we can learn to embrace our nerves rather than suppress them and ‘turn anxiety into curiosity.’ Wheeler determines that if you can harness your nervous energy it will make you more engaged and allow you to listen more intently during a meeting, asserting that ‘if you are deeply attentive your mind will be quieted’. Erin Egan, a senior manager at Microsoft, echoes this sentiment, claiming that before an important negotiation she tries to channel her nerves into excitement – the idea being that it is a much more natural for the mind to shift from anxiety to excitement than anxiety to calm. By turning anxiety into excited energy she is able to ‘visualise an outcome that will be really positive.’

Professor Wheeler also draws comparisons between the skills of an adept negotiator and those of improvisational jazz musicians and comedians. Artists like these are highly accomplished at reacting to the emotional energy of others in order to tailor their performance to achieve the best possible reaction from their audience.

Clegg consolidates Professor Wheeler’s perceived similarities between musicians and negotiators into five mains points of comparison. In negotiation, as in jazz, it is impossible to anticipate every eventuality, but skilled improvisers are able to harness this uncertainty by:

  1. Paying heed to the emotions of others

    By concentrating on the body language, words and underlying tone expressed by the opposition one can spot any opportunities for compromise

  2. Knowing how to work as a team and how to fly solo

    Akin to musicians top negotiators know how to complement others, when to take the lead and when to relinquish centre stage

  3. Having the ability to change tempo

    It is important to be able to harmonise with other people’s agendas and adjust with fluidity to the pace of the conversation

  4. Stockpile fall back plans

    One must possess the emotional awareness to know when to revert to plan B when negotiations reach a standstill

  5. Staying in touch with reality

    The primary aim should be to fit plans to reality and not reality to plans. Plans should be treated as hypotheses to test, reshape and discard if necessary – not as set manuscripts

This month’s issue of Marketing includes a review of the eagerly anticipated book The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin.

Godin’s essential concept is that we are all brainwashed slaves to an industrial reality that has standardised our ambition, education and creativity. We have learnt to judge our own potential and successes within the narrow confines of the prescriptive world in which we live. Our default programme is to follow the leader and we lack all independent thought as we settle into the drudgery of everyday life and avoid flying too close to the sun. According to Godin, in this industrialised era, ‘we are not happy because we are just cogs in a machine.’

Godin argues that the remedy to this depressing picture is to pursue the creation of art. In order to overcome the confines of our brainwashed state we are to disrupt the norm, follow our dreams and accept failure as a natural part of the artistic approach.

Kristof Fahy, William Hill’s CMO who wrote the review, thinks that although Godin states some esteemed truths of how to live a good life, the book lacks any real depth of content. In fact, Fahy asserts that ‘this is one of those books where you read the back cover and you are pretty much done.’

However, despite his reservations about the content of the book, he does come away with six key concepts Godin has enlightened his readers with. The primary ways to avoid being hoodwinked by The Icarus Deception and achieve personal success are as follows:

1.     Remember that the industrialised economy in which we live is holding us back and stifling innovation and creativity. It may seem like a road to success but within the confines of standardised mediocrity.

2.     Keep in mind that the assets that matter to achieve true success are that of an artist; remarkability, humanity, leadership, trust and a story that spreads

3.     Practice your art – you can only become an artist by constantly creating art

4.     Accept the fear of failure and use it as fuel to spur you on. It is better to take risks than stay within the boundaries and never explore the depths of your own potential

5.     Make strong connections with people and make them matter

6.     Don’t sit around all day pondering decisions – do it today!

Feedback is and always will be fundamental in business, helping to improve performance, develop talent and boost the bottom line. Nevertheless, for numerous organisations, feedback is a tricky business. With a mere 36% of managers actually completing appraisals and 55% of employees claiming their most recent feedback had been unfair or inaccurate, the topic of feedback needs to be addressed.

In this month’s issue of Harvard Business Review, Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone, coauthors of Thanks for the Feedback, discuss how to receive positive and negative feedback.

As they identify, a critical performance review, a well-intended suggestion, or an oblique comment can provoke an emotional reaction. However, what makes receiving feedback even harder is that the process strikes at the tension between two core human needs – the need to learn and grow and the need to be accepted just the way you are.

Heen and Stone have devised six steps to take feedback on board and see it as a positive stepping stone.

  1. Knowing your tendencies – there will no doubt be patterns in how you usually respond to feedback. A defensive and argumentative attitude is often not the best way to react
  2. Disentangle the ‘what’ from the ‘who’ – ensure that you learn to separate the message from the messenger so that relationships don’t get in the way
  3. Sort toward coaching – some feedback is evaluative and some is coaching. Everyone needs both in order to learn and improve
  4. Unpack the feedback – make sure that you analyse the feedback before you accept or reject it. This way you can judge whether or not it’s valid and useful
  5. Ask for just one thing – find opportunities to get bite-sized pieces of coaching from a variety of people throughout the year. Don’t just wait until your annual performance review
  6. Engage in small experiments – after you’ve worked to seek and understand feedback, it might still be hard to discern which pieces of advice will help. Try designing little experiments to see what helps and what doesn’t – this might be a presentation or leading a team meeting

Criticism is never an easy thing to take on board. Although it might interpreted as unjust and ill-used, growth depends on the ability to accept feedback in whatever form it might take.