Author Archives: alison hood

Being Present During Feedback

During my career in the HR and L&D space, I could not put a figure on how many times I have given 360 degree feedback to managers, often as part of a leadership development programme. The 360 degree process is certainly not a new one. We know the demand for 360 degree surveys is growing and that this process is increasingly a part of our roles as HR and L&D professionals and leaders in business.

Despite my experience to date though, I am always amazed how much I continually learn about myself in these feedback situations. I know I am an extravert and I operate very intuitively. Whilst these are my strengths in giving feedback, they can also be my downfall. I need to always be mindful of how I am in a 360 degree feedback scenario, and adjust my style for the person receiving the feedback.

The top ten golden rules of feedback are always in our minds. Use specific examples, do not judge, choose the environment etc. However it is useful to remind ourselves of those other rules of behaviour that are obvious, yet sometimes easy to overlook. We must not forget that how you say things and how you phrase your message carries more weight than you think. You cannot escape your personality—but you can temper it.

I recently read some ideas around how to ‘BE’ in a debrief:

  • Be present and maintain self-awareness
  • Avoid value laden language, tone, body language and facial expressions
  • Avoid making interpretations
  • Avoid the use of closed and leading questions
  • Use open and probing questions to facilitate discussion of the results
  • Draw on the individuals context
  • Offer suggestions for improvement when invited to do so and you have them to offer
  • Call any mistakes you make and apologise

(Ref: Dr Ben Palmer, Director, Genos International)

These behaviours sound straightforward right? Yet it is not easy to always be this way when immersed in a feedback relationship with an individual. Our role, the purpose of the 360 degree feedback, the emotional response from the individual can all pull and lean us in directions we should not really go. The first point is the key: Be present. If we stick to that then the rest should fall into place.


What’s my Purpose in Life?

Wow, a deep and meaningful question to open the New Year I know, but hands up if you have asked this of yourself over the past couple of weeks. In fact, hands up if you have asked this on your first day back at work. There are lots of blogs and media articles about ‘back to work blues’, I’m sure you’ve read one. We all know the feeling don’t we, we get it every year.

The biggest adjustment for me (apart from being awake at 6 am, driving a vehicle at 7 am, wearing proper shoes, not being asleep by 3 pm and not eating chocolate and biscuits all day long), is the sheer physicality of sitting at a desk for 8 hours. For those of us in office jobs (and at times like this I wonder if I’d be better placed as a gardener), it is just unnatural to sit on a chair for that period of time; even more so as we have not done so for the past 2 weeks. So, how can we deal with the reality? Breaks, getting up and walking about, changing our work space (I have moved to a different PC to write this blog, quite inspiring actually), and fresh air at lunchtime.

There seems to be two types of people when it comes to New Year. There are those who see it as a chance to write off the past and start the future afresh with excitement and hope. Then there are those who see it as a chance to reflect on the past and what wasn’t and could have been, and feel overwhelmed by the prospect of a blank future. I met with a friend last week who is in the first category. She gushed about the new diary and notebook she got for Christmas and the copious lists she had already written for 2013. She “could hardly wait” for New Year’s Eve so she could immediately begin to action her New Year resolutions. I however am in the latter category. I was asleep by 11:30pm on New Year’s Eve with no list of anything. I feel I should be making New Year promises to myself, but they seem hollow and, to be frank, the same as last year.

Dr Mark Hoelterhoff, Senior Lecturer in Applied Psychology at the University of Cumbria in the UK, has offered some advice on making sensible resolutions and sticking to them throughout 2013.

“In order to make resolutions stick, you need to ask an important existential question of yourself. What is my purpose in life? Picking resolutions that are superficial or incongruent to your values are not likely to last. New Year is a time to reflect on meaningful questions and provide us with an opportunity to act on them. In other words, choose ones that reflect your life and not the life of another person.”

So, what has helped me is the realisation that it’s not as simple as “I will exercise more” or  “I will find my creative side and join a basket weaving class”. Before I can make New Year promises to myself, I need to really think about what is important to me in my life right now and going forward. Deep and meaningful I know, but totally necessary. Maybe just one or two significant and simple promises to myself will emerge and make a difference.

Whatever your approach to New Year’s resolutions, choose what works for you and stick to it. Good luck.

‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ – ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’

Have you wondered why you feel so tired lately? Is it the long winter nights? Is it the extensive hours you have been working? Have your young kids been keeping you awake? Or is it the fact that you have been struck down with the flu?

No! The reason we are so tired right now is because of the Olympics!

Late night viewing of running, rowing, swimming and throwing has meant we are lacking in sleep. Just a bit longer we say to ourselves and before we know it, it’s 2 o’ clock in the morning. And now the track and field has begun, well, we are all doomed to be tired for at least another week.

Friends and family in the UK tell me it’s great to host the Olympics but impossible to watch. Exciting events happen in their working day and during the summer months when watching TV is maybe not your first choice for a warm lazy evening. Here in the southern hemisphere however it’s perfect. We get home from work, we have dinner, we catch up with the sporting events that happened the night before, and then the live broadcasting begins. We get constant streaming of real live action from the ground. I have never watched so much rowing. Perfect, but tiring.

And all the time I watch I am in awe of the athletes. Not in awe of their physical fitness (that goes without saying) but in awe of their focus and commitment to their goals.

In the early swimming heats I heard a kiwi swimmer tell the Sky interviewer that sure he was disappointed he didn’t make it further, but that he would immediately be starting his training for Rio De Janero. What! But that’s four years away? How can he commit himself to such a distant goal so soon after not meeting the last? But then I guess it depends what his goal was, and it may have simply been to get to the Olympics. Our kiwi Lauren Boyle was just satisfied to be in the 400m freestyle so coming 8th was her personal best. She then smashed 3 seconds off her personal best in the 800m final.

Then there’s the rowing; the women’s pair Rebecca Scown and Juliette Haigh told the man from Sky that they set out for gold. If they had not gone out early and hard then they would not have achieved a medal at all. Through that strategy they got bronze. Not the gold they had trained every day for, but they did everything they could and crossed the line with an “empty tank” and a bronze medal. Compare that to the mens double sculls duo Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan. They set out for gold too, but they deliberately didn’t push themselves hard until the last 500m when they implemented their strategy to win. And they came home with gold. These are such varying approaches to goal setting, and to measures of success. Andrea Hewitt may not have got a medal she hoped for but she finished the triathlon in a better position than 2008, telling us she did all she could.

All this Olympic watching leads me to think (at 11 o clock at night!) about my approach to goal setting and measuring my success in my profession as a Business Psychology Consultant. Not around the longer term performance management journey, but the day-to-day operations of my role. How do I set my success measures? Are they conscious or subconscious? How do they fit with the team and the organisation? Do I give everything my absolute best? And how do I manage my disappointment if I don’t get to where I was aiming for? For me, it’s about doing everything I can to achieve my best and the goal for the team and the business. If I don’t win a tender, or I don’t get a repeat of some business, then I, like an athlete, will reflect and learn for next time. I may have gone hard out and my tank may be empty. I may save the best until last. I may get gold sometimes and other times no medal at all – but at least I know I have given complete focus and commitment, just like those athletes.

Enjoy the rest of the Olympics and reflections on your personal goals and commitment. And remember to get some sleep too.

Go the Kiwis!

Life is a Series of Hellos and Goodbyes

When I started this blog, a song came into my head and would not go away. Do you know who it is?

“The last thing I want to do is say goodbye.
Don’t tell me hello hello when everything you say sounds like goodbye.”

As I have grown older, I realise how important saying hello and goodbye is in my life. The Beatles also wrote a song about that (and no, that’s not the artist). When I pick up or drop off my step-kids at their second home I always make sure we all say hello and goodbye. It’s taken some hard training. And when I leave or arrive at my own home I say goodbye or hello to whoever is in, although sometimes there is no one at all! At the OPRA office I always announce my presence and departure in a loud and attention seeking way.

So, this clearly says a lot about me and my preferences, but it also got me thinking about hellos and goodbyes in the workplace. How many of us are so busy staring at our PC screen, our TO-DO list, or a fascinating piece of information on our desk, that we give a meagre over the shoulder greeting to our colleagues?  In addition to this, we are living in times of constant change and with that come people in and out of our working lives. Teams re-structure, people leave a job, projects are set up and completed, offices are moved, businesses merge, bosses move on and leaders change.

It is vital that we recognise our human response to this kind of relationship change, which occasionally can be quite sudden. Much will depend on our relationship with the person or people in question as to how affected we are by them coming or going. We may be relieved or worried, elated or gutted; whichever way we respond it is a new beginning or an ending and we need to acknowledge those feelings in some way. I guess I am talking about that word I don’t really like and it is ‘closure’.

Teams move through the stages of forming, storming, norming and performing, and I could add the stage of mourning. Someone goes, there’s a loss and a gap, we need to work through that often at the same time as a new comer arriving and the team re-forming. So why not reflect on the importance of hellos and goodbyes in your working life and your life on the whole. And if you don’t share my personal need for them then consider that some others you work with probably do.  A simple greeting is an acknowledgement of our presence and therefore our significance, which in turn can affect our motivation, engagement and productivity at work.

There will certainly be some goodbyes and hellos lying ahead this year for our organisations. Let’s notice and anticipate them and think about how we are going to manage them for the best (oh – and lift our head from the PC screen!).

P.S. the answer is Bic Runga.

We have Choice and We Tell the Truth.

We have choice and we tell the truth. That has pretty much been my mantra over the past few years, ever since I attended a Will Schutz workshop called ‘The Human Element’ back in the UK in 2007.

Schutz, an American Psychologist, was a real maverick who believed that if someone is to realise their full potential they need to work on the development of healthier self-concepts, self-determination, and openness. He died in 2002 and his son Ethan now continues his work on the Human Element on a global scale.

A core belief of Schutz’s work is that everything that happens between people is a result of the choices each person has made – both consciously and unconsciously. Each of us is 100% responsible for ourselves and our situation and no one else is to blame.

Another belief is that secrets are poison. The more an individual, a team or an organisation tells the whole truth, the healthier and more productive they are. People are better able to handle the truth than they are given credit for. Truth can free us up from all that rubbish that gets in the way of how we operate together. It’s not about disclosing our deepest and darkest secrets, it’s quite simply about being authentic with each other.

Relationships make our world go around (and around and around). Our relationships with our family, friends, work colleagues, suppliers, business partners, bosses and the call centre operator all significantly affect our happiness and effectiveness. We have choices about whether we want that relationship to be different, how we want to interact, how much truth we want to share and how we want to share it.

It irks me when people say “I’m going out tonight with a friend who is so negative, I am dreading it”. Or “I’m not going to tell my boss about my problem with her, she never listens, I’ll just deal with it”. Or “My colleague is really annoying me in the office, I don’t know how much more I can take”.

Why? We have choices, we are responsible and no-one else is to blame. So tell the truth, share with someone how you feeling, ask them in return, give your perspective. You know what? Like I said earlier, people are better able to handle the truth than they are given credit for. Try it, usually the relationship is so much deeper and richer for both parties. It might be a quick result,  it might take some time, but you have lost nothing and gained so much.

The New Year is about New Beginnings. One of the OPRA values is that we value long-term relationships that are built on open communication, trust and mutual respect. So why not have a think and start with one relationship that you’d like to make even better this year, wherever it might exist in your life.

Happy New Year.