Author Archives: OPRA Psychology Group

Learning agility: where wisdom meets courageous problem solving

The Iliad is the earliest piece of Western literature and illustrates the generally distinct characteristics of wisdom versus problem solving with risk and courage. King Nestor the wise might miss opportunities for gain due to his caution, but is renowned for eventually making great decisions based on his judgement, knowledge, and experience. While Odysseus has a great ability to courageously solve problems in circumstances of extreme risk, but more often than not gets himself into such situations due to his own lack of wisdom!

The title of this blog suggests that learning agility bridges this gap between Nestor’s wisdom and Odysseus’s courageous problem solving.  So what exactly do we mean by “learning agility”? While the ability to learn can be broadly defined by one’s ability and willingness to do so, learning agility concerns the speed with which people learn and the flexibility with which they apply that learning.  A hallmark of the agile learner is their ability to learn from previous experience and apply that learning in current situations, often in creative or unique ways.  Sounds wise right? Continue reading

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Emotionally Intelligent Leadership

Emotionally intelligent leadership:

Game changing for business, life changing for people.
By Ben Palmer

If you are a leader in business looking to improve your organisation’s performance you might want to consider improving your capacity to identify, understand and manage emotion, that is, your emotional intelligence. A wide number of research studies over the last decade have shown there’s a direct link between the way people feel and they way people perform in the workplace. For example, research conducted by the Society for Knowledge Economics here in the Australian labour market, found people in high performing workplaces typically feel more proud, valued and optimistic than those in low performing workplaces. Conversely, people in low performing Australian workplaces people typically feel more inadequate, anxious and fearful. Leadership is fundamentally about facilitating performance. Research on emotional intelligence has proven that a leader’s emotional intelligence is key to their capacity to facilitate emotions in employees that drive high employee engagement and performance.

To illustrate this point Genos International, part owned by Swinburne University (a human resource consulting company that specialises in the development of leaders emotional intelligence www.genosintenrational.com), together with Sanofi (the worlds fourth largest pharmaceutical company www.sanofi.com) teamed up to investigate whether the development of sales leaders emotional intelligence would improve the amount of sales revenue generated by their sales representatives. In order to control for market influences Sanofi randomly placed 70 sales representatives (matched in terms of tenure and current performance) into two groups:

1.The control group, this group and their managers received no emotional intelligence development training) and
2.The development group, the managers of this group participated in Genos International’s award winning emotional intelligence development program.

The Genos development program involves an emotional intelligence assessment for each person before and after the program (to create self-awareness and measure behaviour change) together with a number of short, focused development sessions over a six month period on:

  1. How to improve your capacity to identify emotions, and 
  2. How to improve your capacity to effectively regulate and manage emotions

Development in these areas makes leaders more self-aware, more empathetic, more genuine and trustworthy, more personally resilient, and better at influencing others emotions. Ultimately it helps leaders make their employees feel more valued, cared for, respected, informed, consulted and understood. On average, the emotional intelligence of the sales managers improved by 18 percent. As can be seen in the graph below this helped facilitate, an on average 13% improvement in the Development Group’s sales performance in comparison to the Control Group’s. There was a 7.1% improvement in the first month following the program, a 15.4% improvement the month after and 13.4% improvement the month after that (as measured by retail sales revenue by territory). The revenue of the Control Group stayed flat an in the same revenue band during this period.

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The improvements in revenue generated by the Development Group returned approximately $6 dollars for every $1 Sanofi invested in the program. The findings of the study have been published in a peer-reviewed journal which can be downloaded from the Genos website (http://static.genosinternational.com/pdf/Jennings_Palmer_2007.pdf).

Feedback from the participants showed the program not only helped improve the sales performance of reps and their managers. It also helped them improve their relationships with each other. At the time employees were navigating a difficult time within the business as bumps from a merger were ironed out and two different company cultures integrated. As one participant put it I have seen improvements in behaviour that have increased the bottom line with sales reps. From a management perspective, increased skills that have lead to more buy-in, acceptance, spirit improved, and better communication. However the greatest benefit I received from the program was an improved relationship with my 14yr daughter”.

This participant feedback highlights the added benefits of improving your emotional intelligence. Your capacity to identify, understand and manage emotions contributes to your life satisfaction, stress management and the quality of your relationships at home and at work. That’s why developing your emotional intelligence can be game changing for your business, and life changing for you and your people.

 To improve your skill at identifying and understanding emotions you can:

  1. Stop and reflect on the way you feel in the moment. Take the time to label the feelings you are experiencing and reflect on the way they might be influencing your thinking, behaviour and performance.
  2. Become more aware of other characteristics that interplay and indeed cause you to experience emotions such as your personality, values and beliefs. By understanding these you can become better at identifying different emotional triggers and they way you (and others), typically respond to them. This awareness is key to adjusting the way you feel and respond to events.

  To improve your skill at managing emotions you can:

  1.  Eat better, sleep more, drink less and exercise (if you aren’t already).
  2. Adopt a thinking oriented emotional management strategy, like Edward Debono’s 6 thinking hats, use it when strong emotions arise.
  3. Adopt a relationship strategy, someone who’s great at listening and helping facilitate perspective on events.
  4. Search the app store, there are some great emotional management apps out there today. For example Stress Doctor, a revolutionary mobile app that helps you reduce your stress level in just 5 minutes via a biofeedback technique to help sync your breathing rate with your autonomous nervous system (ANS).

If you would like more information on Enduring Impact Leadership Training please contact auckland@opragroup.com.

Guest Blog: When your buttons are pushed how long are you ‘unproductive’?

Featured Guest Blog: Rebekka Squire, Client Services Manager GENOS International

GENOS International are a global developer and supplier of emotional intelligence and engagement tools and consulting experts in leadership, emotional intelligence and driving engagement. As Client Services Manager Rebekka works closely with OPRA, and the GENOS network of distributors, to provide expert advice around leadership and emotional intelligence development.

I always find it interesting when I both experience and observe an emotion in myself. By that I mean, here I am sat at my desk experiencing a negative emotion and processing that cognitively and managing it physiologically. But at the same time, with my psychologist glasses on, and my knowledge of EI and neuroscience, I watch the scenario unfold, as if observing another person.

For the purpose of this blog lets say the button pushed was fairness, and the emotion I experienced was feeling under-valued. Im sure, this is one we can all relate to! So the event happens, and I have a reaction, which using my re-active emotional management strategies I manage and refrain from saying or doing anything and just sit still. I knew the reaction had put me in a ‘threatened’ state, so the next thing I did was to search my emotional vocabulary for the right word to nail how i was feeling (in order to re-engage the pre-frontal cortex, and shorten the amygdala hijack).

It has just taken me 50 minutes, and writing a draft email to myself (saving it) and then starting to blog my experience from a process perspective to actually get to the bottom of it! Can you believe that – 50 minutes, reacting to 1 emotion!!?? Even with all the knowledge of what was going on in my brain, and how to manage it from a reactive perspective, I still took 50 minutes to get back to a place where I feel like I could actually get on with my work again!

Imagine if each of your employees has one emotional reaction a day, which I ensure you they do! We actually experience 27 emotions each waking hour,  3000 over the week (Bradbury & Greaves, 2005). If you have 10 employees, you do the math; thats a lof of un-productive time, that YOU are paying for!

So what is the message? Well:

1) Improve the EI of your managers so that they have the emotional awareness of others to minimise threat, and negative reactions!
2) Improve the EI of your staff so that they can hopefully deal with it quicker than I did!

And now back to the productive place 🙂

Building Your Personal Brand

Written by past contributor, Ali Dwan

There has been a lot of debate recently about the increasing role social media plays in our personal and professional lives.  We have all heard the horror stories: an employee loses their job over an inappropriate tweet about their boss. There is a lot of valuable advice around ensuring your social media activity does not impact negatively on your career. However, once these do’s and don’ts are understood, social media can help you professionally by building and expanding your personal brand.

Most people have got their feet wet in the social media domain, so if you’re already out there think about how professional contacts will see you. Dorie Clark the author of the forthcoming What’s Next? The Art of Reinventing Your Personal Brand (2012), believes that you have to understand that private space online does not exist. So you must make a conscious decision to use social media for professional purposes, understand what you want to gain from social media, and then proactively manage your digital footprint. You can use social media both professionally and personally, just make the distinction clear.

 If you have not yet delved into the social media world there are three easy steps you can take:

  1. Decide which forum(s) you wish to be involved in – which areas of expertise do you want to be known for? What are you passionate about?
  2. Establish a presence – make sure that when people search for you online they have something credible to see. An easy way to do this it to create a LinkedIn profile http://www.linkedin.com/home?trk=hb_home
  3. Establish content – create content that people want to read and share with others. Clark (2012) says “the key is to build an army of ambassadors who pass your content on for others to see”.

Once you have made yourself at home with social media you can begin to brand yourself, internally and to external peers, and to potential future employers or networks. When people peruse your social media they get a sense of who you are. Make sure that you post, comment on, or write about topics which are relevant to your profession. The more you do this, the more likely people will affiliate you with your profession or area of expertise. Clark (2012) describes the “echo chamber effect” of social media. Even a small amount of content can go a long way toward establishing you as an expert. As Clark (2012) says “social media can be a way to demonstrate your familiarity with a field. If you blog or tweet about a topic it shows that you’re in the game.”

When managed appropriately social media can help you professionally. Be proactive about managing your activity and image online and have fun sharing knowledge and engaging with experts worldwide.

GUEST BLOG: What type of leader are you: a ‘diminisher’ or a ‘multiplier’?

Featured Guest Blog: Rebekka Squire, Client Services Manager GENOS International

GENOS International are a global developer and supplier of emotional intelligence and engagement tools and consulting experts in leadership, emotional intelligence and driving engagement. As Client Services Manager Rebekka works closely with OPRA, and the GENOS network of distributors, to provide expert advice around leadership and emotional intelligence development.

In OPRA’s first guest blog, Rebekka draws on her experience working with leaders to enhance their ability to “multiply”, or enhance, their teams.

A recent article in the HBR described diminishers as leaders who “underutilize people, and leave creativity and talent on the table.” Multipliers on the other hand, “as capable as they are, care less about their own IQ’s and agenda, and more about fostering a culture of intelligence in their organsiations.”

The reality is that all leaders will exhibit elements of both styles, so the question is not so much which style you use, but whether the choices we are making are diminishing or multiplying others. A second question worth considering is how do we best manage ourselves in response to a diminisher or multiplier style?

EI is an obvious mindset and tool to employ to achieve a ‘multiplying’ effect with people. It is also a key skill in managing ourselves when faced with the ‘diminisher’ style. What we know about positive and negative emotional response may help us to get underneath how best to manage ourselves in these situations. Barbara Frederickson’s broaden and build theory has educated us on the effect of the thought-action repertoire.

Managing ourselves: Have you ever been asked a question, to which you know the answer but your head is empty, and you loose your train of thought, and feel a bit silly? Often, this response is a result of nervousness, anxiety, or pressure – all negative emotions. Yet, you leave the meeting and all the things come flooding back, and you want to kick yourself? Well that’s our thought-action repertoire coming into play!

How do we manage ourselves in these situations? Having awareness that you may experience a limited thought process is a great start – and knowing this ok, it’s just your brain serving to protect you (fight or flight)! However, in that crucial meeting it might just be parking the item and coming back to it. Just breathing as you think. Diverting the question back to the person asking it, or even stepping out to go to the bathroom while you re-compose.

Managing Others: Positive emotion broadens our thought process, and allows space for creativity, intellect, idea generation and expansive thinking. Negative emotion, (often experienced in the ‘diminisher’ situation) actually limits our thought action repertoire, or simply put our thinking capability. Influencing the moods and emotions of others and expressing your feelings effectively could also be key in these situations. Have a conversation with that colleague about your feelings, to create some awareness for the individual about how they are ‘being’ and how that is impacting you. Managed well the two of you can think about how you could work better together.

What are your thoughts on effective management strategies?

Christmas Madness

Did you know that Christmas is a dead end? The finishing point? The last stop at the station? Forget the New Year, or the many months stretching out into the future. Christmas is the deadline. We must get everything done before December 25.

Why do we put this pressure on ourselves every year? We make ourselves elaborate “To-do” lists, including Christmas shopping, Christmas cards, Christmas cooking and catching up with everyone before Christmas day. Why? Does everyone suddenly disappear in a puff of smoke on December 26? It’s no better at work. We run around trying to get everything done before the holiday season begins. For some people however, working hard to have a clean desk by Christmas Eve means that it’s easier to relax while on holiday. By doing this, we know that when we come back we can have a clean start to the New Year.

Although you may feel the pressure is on right now, it’s a time to be realistic about what we can achieve. Try to find a balance between feeling satisfied with what you have accomplished and burning yourself out. Take a step back, a deep breath and be sensible. Say NO to unrealistic demands. In line with this be reasonable about what others can achieve and don’t pressure them to get unnecessary things done. After all, the work will still be there after Christmas because sadly work never completely disappears for most people.

And to get the most out of your well deserved holiday…

  1. While you are on holiday have email free days. Avoid obsessive checking of emails and refuse work-related calls.
  2. Enjoy your last days of holiday. If you can, compartmentalize. Do not start thinking or worrying about work until you are there.

 What other tips do you have for making the most out of your summer holiday?

The Art of Productivity at Work

Written by past contributor, Ali Dwan

I find that I can be the most productive at work during my ‘witching’ hours. That hour or so at the very beginning or end of the day when I am not interrupted, when my focus can be completely on the task at hand and I am working on the ‘big’ tasks. Unfortunately, this prime environment for productivity cannot be maintained and eventually the interruptions and distractions begin. It is also not feasible to begin work a few hours earlier and finish a few hours later everyday as that would extend the working day to about 12 hours. So, how can I recreate this environment to ensure that my time at work is spent being productive?

Peter Bregman the author of 18 minutes: Find your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done (2011) believes that little rituals everyday can help you improve and maintain your productivity at work. Rituals such as

  • “Spending five minutes in the morning to place your most important work onto your calendar;
  •  Stopping every hour to ask yourself whether you’re sticking to your plan;
  • Spending five minutes in the evening to learn from your successes and failures;
  • Answering your emails in chunks at predetermined times during the day instead of whenever they come in;
  • And never letting anything stay on your to do list for more than three days (after which either do it immediately, schedule it in your calendar, or delete it).”

Bergman states that if you consistently practice these rituals, or whichever pattern works for you, then it won’t take long for your rituals to become habitual.  Once these rituals become habits they become your identity and then, you become a productive person.

So often at the end of a day I reflect on what I have achieved and find that I have spent my day being re-active to emails, phone calls and interacting with my colleagues (all important parts of the job), but the ‘big’ tasks, the pro-active tasks are often left on my to do list.  I am hoping however, through sticking to Bergman’s few simple rituals I can turn those rare ‘witching’ hours into extended hours, without actually having to work longer days.

Bergman, P. (2011). 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, And Get The Right Things Done.  Business Plus: Warner Books.

Employees Get Creative!

Written by past contributor, Ali Dwan

Many people invest a lot of time and money into their homes, creating spaces which are perfectly suited to their needs. We spend a lot of time in our homes, so it makes sense to ensure we are comfortable and happy in that space.  We spend a lot of time at work too, yet we rarely have much control or even invest much time into the aesthetics of our work environment. Why is this?

Some organizations adopt a conservative approach to the design of their work environment. Managers create a ‘lean’ environment that reflects a uniform, corporate identity. However, a recent study conducted by the University of Exeter’s School of Psychology challenges this approach. The study suggests giving workers the freedom to personalize their offices because ‘employees who have control over the design and layout of their workspace are not only happier and healthier, they’re also up to 32% more productive’ (Science Daily, September, 2010). The study showed that when people feel uncomfortable in their environment they are less engaged, with both the space and what they can do with it. Give them some control of that and everything changes. People in the study reported being happier at work, identifying more with their employer and being more efficient in their work when given the chance to arrange their own work space.

The freedom to control the design and layout of a workspace didn’t require changing the colour of the walls: simply hanging some paintings or having a vase of flowers in the officepromoted happiness and helped people concentrate on the task at hand’ (Science Daily, September 2010). This doesn’t seem like a lot to ask of employers, particularly when there is something in it for them! Being aware of employees’ needs will help employers increase staff wellbeing and productivity at a minimal cost to the organisation. It’s a win, win outcome.

Is There Value In Valuing Employees?

Many things have come from the February earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Of particular note have been the varying reactions of both employees and employers to the natural disaster. Specifically, some employees have shown uncompromising commitment to workplaces where they feel valued, the flip side has also been true. In the days following the quake many people worked extraordinary hours in the emergency services to deal with the aftermath. I have heard stories of people returning to ex-employers to help with the company’s workload when most of the current employees were too traumatised to return to work. Additionally, many employees were back at work within days out of pure loyalty to ensure the business kept functioning over such a unique and stressful time.   From the organisational side, some Christchurch business’s offered their employee’s basic needs such as food, water and shelter. Other companies brought in washing machines and dryers and portable showers to be used by their employees and families. It was also not uncommon for organisations to provide paid-time off to allow employees time to recover.  Such displays of support from both employees and business’s leads to the question : why is it that some employees and organisations exceeded what might have been expected of them, when others did not?

In my opinion the answer is simple really – value your employees and they will value the organisation they work for in return. I recently found an interesting website which conducts annual employee satisfaction surveys in Canada. They reported that employees who feel valued and invested-in are clearly more likely to place higher levels of value and investment in their company. The findings also stated the obvious – companies which implement internal communication initiatives have higher levels of productivity.  I can hear companies now retorting that they can’t afford the large amounts of investment that it requires to put such initiatives in place. Interestingly, according to the survey, the top places to work are also some of the highest grossing in Canada.  Why do companies often only see the initial ‘cost’ to implement something and yet fail to see the long-term benefits?

Valuing employees doesn’t always mean cold hard cash. Simple programs such as flexi-hours and promoting a work-life balance were suggested.  As an employee, sometimes just knowing that your input not only matters but is listened to, is the greatest reward of all. How much does it really cost to value your employees when the return on that investment can be so high as was demonstrated by the Canterbury Earthquake? It’s worth thinking about.  Who knows when you will next need to rely on your employees in a difficult and stressful situation.

Welcome to the OPRA Blog

Welcome to the first official OPRA Blog.

The  purpose of this blog is to facilitate discussion, active participation, dialogue and awareness in areas of relevance to organisations and IO Psychology.  There is a vast range of topics that we wish to contribute to this site including discussions around:

  • change management;
  • psychometric testing;
  • emotional intelligence;
  • workplace engagement;
  • surveying (360’s, exits, post appointment)
  • leadership;
  • workplace diversity; and
  • many more general IO topics.

We have a range of authors and experts from both within and outside the OPRA team who will contribute to this blog over the next 12 months.  If you have any specific topics that you would like covered, please place some comments below and we will endeavour to discuss / present some opinions on the topic of interest.

Happy blogging!