Essentials of Personal Effectiveness for Success PART 1

* Bringing out the Best in You *

Ambition has always been one of the greatest drivers of growth for humankind.  Which one of us does not aspire to get the most out of our abilities to achieve success? The desire for achievement can only be fulfilled if we first master ourselves and school the self to extract the talent that resides in us.

It is to this end that a study of the factors that enhance personal effectiveness was embarked on and the results follow. Below are some tips that will help you to most efficiently put your personal resources at work and remove the barriers that may be holding you back from reaping the fruits of your complete potential.

 

I. Stop being a slave to your public image – We all have a self-concept that we constantly try to live-up to sometimes at the cost of being effective. The need to be likeable can stop you from being tough and take difficult decisions, the need to be seen as intelligent can stop you from asking questions that sometimes need to be asked.

Mohan, in charge of a large team of customer service representatives, prided himself on being a person who never veered off-course once he had made a decision. Decisive and tough – that was his mental image. Unfortunately, this stopped important feedback regarding his decisions from reaching him since he was perceived by his team as being inflexible and out of touch with his human side.

To be effective in varied situations, we need to rise above our self-concept and send out the message that will be most useful in that situation. That includes being perceived as less intelligent sometimes when it serves a purpose  🙂

 

II. Don’t ignore your intuition but double check the data to verify your assumptions – Intuition is defined as immediate cognition, the faculty of knowing or sensing without using rational processes. For that reason it is often dismissed as intellectually lazy and not based on facts or reason.

Intuition, in fact, is based on facts and past experiences that are stored in the recesses of our brain and also on subtle clues and external cues that the brain notices on a sub-conscious level. Research at Leeds University based on forensic analysis by psychologists (on people who had taken crucial or life-saving decisions based on “hunches”) discovered that “hunches” are often based on the instantaneous evaluation of internal and external cues on the non- conscious level.

But, intuition does need correct interpretation and unfortunately doesn’t always give the complete answer. It is important to tune into your intuition to allow the conscious mind to better understand the message and to use tangible information available to whet the decisions where time permits.

 

III. Control your Desire for Security – Our personal fears and need to protect our space can seriously interfere with our focus and levels of productivity. Risk aversion and self-protection are embedded in our DNA which can make us expend valuable time and energy on unproductive activities.

Sheila had been part of the recruitment division for a large organization for 5 years now. She had started at the lowest rung and risen up steadily till she became the Head of Recruitment, the youngest one the organization ever had.  Her early success won her admirers and adversaries alike. While the admiration was something that she felt she deserved for all her hard work, the adversaries started taking up a lot of her mind-space. She was constantly on her toes lest she give one of them an opportunity to pull her down.  This started taking so much of her attention that the single-minded focus on results that had brought her here soon started getting diluted. Also, the forthrightness that was one of her admirable traits was replaced with evasiveness or defensiveness on occasions when her adversaries were part of the discussion. This had an obvious impact on the results and the wisdom of promoting Sheila to the role of Head of Recruitment began to be questioned. Sheila started to get increasingly more bothered about the negativity she felt was surrounding her and started to miss her earlier position where she was cushioned by the then Head.

Most successful people are those who made an effort to break out of their comfort zone and stay focussed in a competitive or even hostile environment.  I was surprised to note how energized people feel once they stop defining themselves by their personal fears.

 

IV. Never stop working on yourself. The skills and level of proficiency that got you so far will not necessarily take you to the next level.  Success breeds success they say but then success also starts breeding complacency.  You worked hard to start with and kept updating and developing yourself. Soon you were ahead of a lot of peers in your levels of proficiency. This is the point where complacency begins to set in, after all your skills got you many promotions and always kept you ahead of other, didn’t they? But remember, when you want to move to the next stage, the higher plane in your career, you would need to master whole new set of competencies before you can be an effective leader. 

We no longer live in a world where expertise in one area can safely see you till the end of the career. With new breakthroughs everyday, you never know when your knowledge might become obsolete.

 

V. Feedback should be APT.  Avoid seeking excessive and continuous feedback – Feedback is only useful when it is APT – Actionable, Precise, Timely.  Ambiguous and unspecific feedback rarely adds value and would only create information overload, interfering with learning. Excessive feedback can strain your cognitive capabilities which can lead to increased stress levels and seriously hamper learning.

Feedback should be taken at intervals and ideally be followed up with an action plan. Only when you have achieved a milestone in your action plan should you consider seeking further feedback.

 

I hope some of these tips would help you embark on the journey to success with renewed vigour and I will be sharing another set of tips that can help us tap into our complete potential with you next fortnight in my upcoming blog. I would be glad to hear your personal stories of growth and obstacles overcome. Do write in.

 

“If you have a great ambition, take as big a step as possible in the direction of fulfilling it. The step may only be a tiny one, but trust that it may be the largest one possible for now.”

-Mildred McAfee

 

Copyright ©2011 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

Essentials of Personal Effectiveness for Success PART 2

Thank you for your tremendous response to the first part of the Essentials of Personal Effectiveness series. Your stories have been an inspiration to me and I present here more information to help you increase personal effectiveness and remove barriers that may be holding you back.

 

I) Don’t stereotype your Critics – We often distort people whom we have conflicts with. Once we have built our mental image of the person, we begin to perceive his/her actions/incidents in a manner that would confirm the image we’ve built up. Colleagues whose agendas seem to oppose our own are not necessarily our enemies. Similarly, people who cannot see the point behind our brilliant ideas are not necessarily intellectually inferior 🙂

Sonia (name changed on request) suffered the leadership costs of this when she was leading the process excellence team of a large multinational company. She was sometimes exasperated by the inability of department heads to see the point of process improvement and compliance. The CHRO, Sanjay (name changed) was someone whom she had decided was seriously lacking in logical thinking and analytical ability. To add to that he was mostly flattering the business heads in what she perceived as an attempt to hold on to his job since he didn’t seem to have any other talents!!

About this time, the leadership team of the organization participated in a self-development workshop where Sonia was paired with Sanjay in one of the exercises where you had to make an effort to understand your partner and his/her drivers/motivators and share it with the rest of the team. Sonia was forced to humanize Sanjay and look at him as a real person with good reasons for his perspectives and behaviour. She realized she could actually like him and understand the constraints that sometimes made him oppose her suggestions.

When we demonize people, it severs our link to reality and affects our ability to effectively exert influence. We need to proactively assess how we interact with our competitors or people we don’t like or agree with. It is important to realize that they are real people with their own perspective on life who may be stereotyping you just as you are doing to them. Reaching out may get you more allies than competitors.

 

II) Be a Leader not a ‘Manager’ – Stop ‘managing’  – ‘Fire-fighting’ is a popular word today with people using it to describe how busy they are, sometimes to describe the scenario in their offices and often to display their skills in a high-pressure situation. We feel a distinct sense of accomplishment after having ‘doused the fire’ and ‘managed’ the situation, often subconsciously seeking the high and the praise that comes with it.

The question we need to ask ourselves at this juncture is – Are we letting new fires alight while we are busy dousing the old ones? Have we got so used to jumping from one crisis to the next that planning and being proactive have lost their place in our schedule? Are we so busy ‘managing’ that we have forgotten to ‘lead’?

Set aside time in your daily schedule to plan ahead and anticipate crisis waiting to happen. End each day by drawing up a list planning, prioritizing and scheduling for the next day. This will go a long way in increasing your productivity and effectiveness. Also remember, it is the ability to foresee and plan for the future that will take you to the next level as an individual. A successful leader is one that can not only manage his schedule efficiently but also help his team plan, anticipate and be proactive, skills that are fast getting lost in this fire-fighting world.

 

III) Don’t wait for authority – All around us, we see tremendous talent and potential which is waiting to come to the surface but the owners of this talent have been conditioned to keep their heads down and keep working hard, waiting for the right designation and authority to come their way before they take the lead. Unfortunately that may never happen, because today’s progressive organizations reward people who take initiative and seize the opportunity to make a difference using whatever informal power and influence they have.

The power to influence doesn’t automatically follow the fancy designation and authority but the designation may follow the power to influence which you have to create yourself. You have to make the decision to lead and start making the changes that will lead to improvement.

 

IV) Set your own benchmarks for yourself – We don’t always function in situations where we have external benchmarks to live up to and sometimes, even when they exist, these benchmarks may not inspire us to brilliance.

You must be a yardstick of excellence even when the environment around you allows for something lesser. Excellence is a habit, once you get used to below par performance, it will be difficult to get back to higher standards. Also remember, whatever the expectation in your current role, your personal brand is something you need to maintain and live with. If you accept mediocrity in yourself for too long a time, it may become your standard of excellence. So wake up, you owe it to yourself to do better than that!!! 🙂

 

V) Take Breaks – Taking breaks is not just essential for good health but also for being a more effective performer. A period of rejuvenation is essential to engage fully at work and is also necessary to internalize experiences and learning.  Research has shown that when you tune out your brain’s analytical left-hemisphere during breaks, your right hemisphere becomes more active and that is when you’ll have the creative breakthroughs.

Taking a break does not mean only stepping away to the coffee machine or the smoke room, you have to free your mind and avoid your daily stressors to allow yourself to relax and rejuvenate. Use deep breathing exercises at work, don’t miss your weekend break, indulge in your favourite hobby and avoid checking your official mail when on a holiday. These will pay you rich dividends by:

  • Increasing your focus when you return to work
  • Giving you time to introspect and internalize
  • Balancing the development of your brain
  • Allowing you to connect with the latent sensors in your subconscious which can improve your decision-making skills in the long run

 

I hope these tips inspire you further on your journey to excellence, there are more to come. Do keep writing in.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”

~ Stephen Covey

Copyright ©2011 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

Starting Smart – Make an Impact at your New Job

Congratulations, you’ve taken your first step to success, you’ve landed that job. You obviously managed to impress people in the interview, that’s why you are here. So, are you asking yourself questions like – Will I fit in? How will my co-workers view me? Will I be able to live up to the expectations I set in the interview? (Let’s be honest, many of us oversell ourselves during the interview) Or are you confident that you are going to be amongst the best?

Either way, it makes sense to invest time and energy in ensuring you make a positive impression. First impressions can turn into long-term perceptions and can have a significant impact on your future success.

Some of the obvious things that it is essential to manage in your first job are

a) Ensuring you dress to look presentable and professional. Wearing a smile is as important as the clothes.

b) Establishing yourself as a productive employee by working full days, maintaining good attendance and keeping personal work at office to a minimum.

c) Listening more than talking for the first few days and making efforts to absorb and note down the important information.

d) Getting to know your colleagues and establishing rapports.

But to stand out, you need more than that. Here are some tips that will help you settle down and start making a difference faster.

I. Make your place – In most cases, you would enter an existing team which already has established relationships, roles, habits and culture. You need to figure out the unwritten rules and norms to make a space for yourself. Even if you want to change things, it is wise to first fit in, establish your credibility and then start suggesting changes.

Make an effort to get to know people across the organization by introducing yourself and learning about them. It’s good to look up people online but avoid sending networking/friendship requests till you’ve established your offline relationships.

II. Take Initiative and go the extra mile – Initially, you may be given smaller doses of work to allow you to settle in and learn the ropes. As you finish an assignment, don’t wait for someone to give you more work. Instead, volunteer pro-actively to take on responsibility and work. This will not only help you progress faster on the learning curve but also in your career.

Also, be flexible and don’t watch the clock. If you occasionally have to do something additional or stay late to meet a deadline, it will show your commitment and you will always be noticed if you go the extra mile.

III. Find a Mentor – You don’t have to rush into this, but over the first few months, start identifying senior people outside your department who you could develop a mentoring relationship with. A senior person who is not in your reporting line can be good sounding board, can help with tricky questions you can’t ask your boss, can also help you figure out how to work the system and, most important, help direct and advance your career.

IV. Keep your Boss in the loop – Especially in the early days, it is important to regularly request meetings with your boss to build a rapport. Remember, he is going to be the major influencer of your appraisal so it is important for you to know what he values, to ask him to set goals for you and to keep him apprised of your work and accomplishments.

This does not mean you should run to him with every hiccup. It is important to represent yourself as a self-starter who can navigate through the day-to-day issues.

V. Don’t hesitate to ask questions/ ask for help – Nobody expects you to know everything on day one. We often feel like we have something to prove in a new job and think twice before admitting we don’t know something or that we need help.  But it’s okay to ask for help as long as you take charge once you’ve been pointed in the right direction and don’t keep going back.

VI. Be yourself – It’s important to put your best foot forward but don’t try to project something you are not. It will be difficult to keep an act all the time in a place where you will spend a large part of your waking hours. It’s better to stick to what you can sustain because building trust and credibility is the foundation of any successful career.

Being the newbie in any situation presents challenges as well as opportunities. Keep an open mind, network, never stop learning and don’t lose focus. These will keep you on the right track to success.

 

This article was first published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2011 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

Mastering The Time Management Myth

How often have you wished there was just half an hour more in the day? Is there so much to be done on your ever-growing to-do list that there’s no way you can get through all of it?!! Time, the one resource that most people wish they had more of, and the one resource that money can’t buy!! The first step is to understand that time is a finite resource and we can’t ‘manage’ time. What we can ‘manage’ is ourselves and our energy. Here are some tips to utilize this limited resource more effectively.

I) Manage your Energy – While most of us worry about time, we often take for granted the energy that actually allows us to utilize this time. The competitive and never-ending demands of our lives are why we often hear of ‘burnouts’. Our energy can be increased and renewed by concentrating on two important sources – the mind and the body.

Leave behind negative emotions, avoid distractions and participate in activities that make you feel vibrant and alive to increase your mental energies. Take regular breaks, don’t compromise on your minimum sleep, avoid stress and don’t ignore your health to build energy from the body. Remember to focus your energies on nurturing the opportunities of tomorrow not fostering the troubles of yesterday.

II) Plan & Prioritize Smartly – End each day spending a few minutes planning for the next day. Set achievable goals and prioritize ruthlessly. Remember to differentiate between what is urgent and what is important. While the important tasks need your attention and focus even if they don’t always seem urgent, things that disguise themselves as urgent may not need your time if they are not important to you.

Start each day by getting the most unattractive/ difficult tasks out of the way. Plan not just your working day but also your personal time and keep in mind that your life and health goals are equally important.

III) Seize the Opportunity – Did you really not have time to read that important mail today, or return that phone call or invest in your own health by walking for 20 minutes? One of the important factors that differentiate the highly successful people from the rest is their ability to seize the moments to work towards their goals.

IV) Efficiency Vs Effectiveness – We often get trapped into a false sense of accomplishment when we are being efficient even if our efficiency is being used on unimportant or filler tasks that are not priorities.

You are effective when your efforts are “adequate to accomplish a goal; producing the intended result” while being efficient is simply “a minimum expenditure of time and effort” in your activities. Being efficient is important, it is not enough unless it’s also effective. Focus not just on ‘doing things right’ but on ‘doing the right things’ to reach your goal.

V) Cost your Time and Energy and Set Limits – We can all assess the value of our time and energy based on how much we are paid or should be (realistically). Evaluate the cost benefit of each task to decide whether the pay-back is worth it and to set time limits for activities. If an activity doesn’t deserve more than an hour based on its pay-back then an hour is your upper limit.

VI) Avoid Time-wasting Activities – Track your daily activities and maintain an activity log for a few days to understand how you actually spend your time. The results may surprise you. Some common time-wasters you can avoid are:

  1. Handle information only Once – When you see that mail, decide right then whether to trash it, archive it or act on it. Same for files or papers. Don’t keep things pending and keep revisiting them. Also, sync your mails, calenders etc. in your phone, laptop and other gadgets to ensure you have to process entries only once.
  2. Distractions/Interruptions – Anything that’s not on your to do list, needs to be subjected to a quick urgent-important test and the cost-benefit assessment. If it’s not important it’s out and if it is, then the payback tells you how much time you can spend on it.
  3. Delegate/Ask for Help – It’s okay to ask for help or delegate to a competent person. If doing everything yourself was such a good idea, many successful organizations wouldn’t have outsourced their non-core activities.
  4. Meetings – Yes, I said it ‘meetings’!! Don’t call or attend meetings unless they are important or will add value to your work and, if you have to call one, ensure it stays on track and finishes on time.
  5. Learn to say No and Goodbye – Saying a polite no or goodbye to people can be necessary when their important tasks, conversations/meetings are eating into your own priorities.

So here’s to being more productive… While in your race to be more effective in the same amount of time remember that some seemingly unimportant activities can be essential to overall productivity. So while I would tell you to set time-limits, I would also urge you not to ignore the intangible but essential paybacks of activities such as networking, taking breaks, rejuvenating yourself and investing in your health.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of”

Benjamin Franklin

An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2011 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

Stop Stressing, Start Living

“Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response TO what happens. And RESPONSE is something we can choose”                                                                                                                                        ~Maureen Killoran

We all get stressed at some point in our lives, some more than others. In today’s uncertain and competitive times, stress tops the list as the cause of lifestyle related health issues. ‘The silent killer’, as stress has been called, is on the prowl and here is how you can protect yourself.

Know the symptoms of stress and acknowledge its presence. Acceptance is always the first step to remedy. How often have you heard people saying “I’m just very busy, no point in being a wimp about it” or “Stress? Me? Ha ha!!” even while they move around being moody, irritable or simply listless?!  Some common symptoms of excessive stress are feeling unusually tired, anxious, irritable or depressed; losing interest at work; trouble sleeping; headaches; stomach problems; lack of concentration etc.  Noticing your feelings and acknowledging the stressors in your life is the first step to identifying the remedies.

Don’t stress about stress. Some amount of stress is normal, unavoidable and, in fact, good. You might be reading this because you want to eliminate stress. Well, my advice is to focus on reducing and not eliminating stress … or the stress of eliminating stress might get to you. A certain amount of stress can help you focus and perform better; it is when this starts piling up and becomes excessive that it’s bad for you.

It IS in your control. Always remember, while there may be external catalysts that trigger stress, how you react to these is completely within your control. Yes, there are days when nothing seems to go your way but even then you can choose to either let it drive you up the wall or simply decide  that it can only get better from here and work on making it better. Focus on the larger picture and ignore the small stressors.

Stress can be prevented. We can avoid stress with the help of effective time management, prioritization, planning and by avoiding self-defeating behaviours. A contingency plan can help avert many stressful situations and planning your day, time and commitments effectively goes a long way in preventing stress.

You can also prevent stress by avoiding self-defeating behaviours which make you either too tough on yourself or too easy. So, on one hand, you may add to stress by being a perfectionist, overly competitive and constantly comparing with others and, on the other hand, by being very lax about time, or your health or allowing too much procrastination. You need to pull up your socks but set realistic expectations for yourself to beat stress.

Beat Stress. We cannot completely do away with stress but we can manage the stress in our lives by focussing on the following areas:

THE MIND

Good mental health is essential to manage stress. It is important to break the vicious cycle where stress impacts your mental peace and the lack of mental peace makes you more stressed.

1.   Identify your stressors – and take measures to prevent them. Some common stressors are:

  • Peer-pressure
  • Feeling out of control/helpless
  • Guilt over procrastination
  • Feeling direction-less
  • Over-committing
  • Change, especially enforced change
  • Uncertainty
  • Not being able to live up to own/others’ expectations

2.   Understand and Manage your response to stressors – Whenever next you are in a stressful situation, pause, close your eyes and focus on your thoughts and feelings.  It is important to recognize your stress response and emotional experience. Next step is to identify things that can calm you or divert your attention such as the stress busters in the next section.  This will help you develop capacity to manage your reactions in the face of your stress triggers

3.   Stimulate your mind – It is important to stimulate your mind by indulging in activities that you enjoy which challenge the grey cells without being violent or stressful such as reading, puzzles, games or any hobby that you get pleasure from. Mental stimulation improves brain function, protects against cognitive decline, can help alleviate the symptoms of stress and keeps you from worrying about the trivial stressors.

4.   Don’t sweat the small stuff – Some things are just not worth it. Put every irritant or stressor through a simple test – ‘Will this matter as much tomorrow morning?’ and ‘Does this really change anything in my life?’ If it doesn’t pass this test, let it go.  Invest time on the opportunities of tomorrow not the worries of yesterday.

5.   Take a break – Taking breaks is essential to rejuvenate, internalize experiences and learning and to engage fully at work.

THE BODY

1.   Get Moving  – Exercising helps manage stress in multiple ways –

  • It makes our pituitary gland release endorphins which are natural pain-relievers and stress-fighters and create a feeling of well-being.
  • Can help relax tight and strained muscles which can add to stress.
  • Improves blood circulation and helps maintain a healthy body which reduces susceptibility to stress.
  • Serves as an effective vent for pent up tensions.

2.   Eat Right – Low blood sugar can make you feel irritable and stressed. Have smaller meals and try to eat small healthy snacks in between.  Avoid consumption of too many stimulants such as coffee, tea as they may increase your irritability.

3.   Avoid excess Alcohol and Nicotine – While alcohol may give a temporary feeling of relaxation, excess consumption leads to higher anxiety levels and can lead to addiction. Nicotine, again, is a stimulant which actually increases anxiety.

4.   Stress Busting Activities – There are various stress busting techniques such as laughter exercises, deep-breathing, meditation, relaxing music etc. which can help you remain calm in stressful situations. A technique I have found very useful is to close your eyes, take a deep breath and slowly exhale while chanting the word ‘Om’, repeat three times and then slowly open your eyes.

If you need quick relief from stress, try slowing down and stop to smell the roses occasionally. We often become so busy earning a living that we forget to live and enjoy our lives. If the quote below sounds like your life… stop, think and start taking care of yourself before someone else is forced to do it for you.

Stress is an ignorant state.  It believes that everything is an emergency.                                                                                ~Natalie Goldberg

An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2011 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

The Art of Communication

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said. ”
Peter Drucker

Do you feel misunderstood? Are people just not ‘getting it’? Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you are not expressing it in a way that people can understand? The ability to be able to present our ideas in an unambiguous, easy to understand manner is important in every aspect of our lives.

Or is your problem the fact that your partner or your boss seems to be talking Greek (you sometimes wish you had a translator!!) Before you dismiss their communication skills, remember listening is more than just paying attention and hearing the words. We need to make an effort to comprehend with an open mind and keep checking to ensure we are on the right track. One of the most common mistakes listeners make is to assume they can fill the gaps based on their understanding… which may result in an entirely different from what the speaker wanted to say.

Part of the reason is physiological. Our capacity to listen ranges from 400 to 600 words per minute whereas the average speaking rate is about 125 words per minute. This can make the listener impatient and also allows the mind to wander while the conversation is in progress. Make a conscious effort to focus on the conversation and be patient. Chances are, if you listen without interrupting, you will also get an audience when you want to speak.

As Anthony Robbins said “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”

Communication has best been defined as the “ Two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange (encode-decode) information but also create and share meaning.” And it is in this encoding and interpretation exercise that the intended meaning often gets lost.

I like to think of communication as a step by step process with potential safeguards at every step to make it effective:

I. Message Creation – Before you start, be clear  what exactly you want to communicate, why you want to say it, who your target audience is, what biases might they have which may affect their understanding of the message and, most important, what is the impact you hope this message will have on them.

II. Encoding – Always remember that everyone has their own filters, point of view, biases etc. and it’s not necessary their understanding of the subject is the same as yours. Ensure you are concise, precise and your choice of words is neutral and can only be understood in one manner not leaving too much to interpretation. Do not take anything about the listener for granted.

III. Transmission – For a speaker, the manner of transmission is equally important as the choice of words since the receivers mind would be processing both the verbal and non-verbal cues. Make eye contact, use your body to emphasize strong points, avoid distracting behaviours such as fiddling, wringing your hands, twirling the pen etc. Remember, if your body language is sending a different message than your words, the receivers sub-conscious would pick up the signals and send an alert so maintaining congruence is essential to ensure your message is received well.

For the listener, it is important to be an active listener and display attentiveness to the conversation by maintaining eye contact, nodding or sending other cues to show the speaker you are listening and, again, avoid distracting behaviours. Notice the choice of words as well as the emotional vibes of the speaker for better understanding.   Avoid traps such as tuning out because you are planning what you are going to say next instead of focusing on what is being said.

IV. Interpretation – As a receiver, be aware of your own filters and biases and make a conscious choice to reduce their influence. Focus on factual data such as choice of words and stated intention rather than pre-conceived ideas while decoding the message. Always remember to keep an open mind and try to understand from the other person’s perspective.

V. Checking back – This step is very important for both the listener and the speaker. The speaker should always prompt the listener to ask for clarifications and check if the message has been understood well. The listener should paraphrase and summarize what (s)he believes the speaker said and check if his/her understanding is correct.

Take responsibility for the success of any communication you participate in. If you’ve read my earlier blogs, you would have noticed my focus on the ‘self’ because that is the entity which is in our control and the first step towards any improvement always begins with looking inwards. So as a speaker or a listener, it’s your responsibility to ensure your conversations are effective.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw

An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2011 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

Finding Focus

The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire not things we fear. ~Brian Tracy

Focus, Focus, Focus!! How often have you heard that said? Focus is the new mantra. But equally I hear people say ‘I can’t seem to focus!!’ The world seems to be competing with you for your attention all the time:). And this will just get more intense with the increasing proliferation of digital media.

Let’s get the basic tips out of the way first. You may have heard these before so here goes:

  • Plan your day in advance
  • Have clear results in mind
  • Prioritize ruthlessly
  • Track progress continuously
  • Break large activities into bite-size chunks so you can get moving on them faster
  • Learn to say no to people when you need to concentrate on something
  • Complete everything you start

Yes, these are very useful and form the basis of time and attention management but honestly, for this one, I believe there is no one size fits all. Each person has different responses to various external stimuli Eg. Some people concentrate better with music whereas others need silence to hear their own thoughts!! Some people work better with a plan while others spend so much time agonizing over the plan that they forget to get things done!!

I often get inspired byNewton’s first law of motion – “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it”. Roughly translated that says an object in motion stays in motion. So the trick is to keep moving, fight inertia and concentrate on staying in motion and on track.

My first suggestion to you is to become aware of what takes you off-course most often – is it your phone? the ‘you’ve got mail’ pop-up? hunger pangs? coffee cravings? the cute girl/guy who sits on the other side? Or yourself? (Yes, sometimes we just distract ourselves because we don’t really want to do something) Once you have identified what distracts you, you are ready to roll

–  Make time for your distractions. I know popular advice is to stay away from your distractions but considering they are distracting you so often, be it your mail, phone, friend, coffee etc., it’s obviously something that takes up your mind space and something that you want to do. So schedule breaks in your work for these distractions and focus well the remaining time.

–  48 minutes of High-Focus in each hour. One trick that works really well forme is to break my hour into high focus periods followed by short breaks Eg. Focus exclusively on something for 48 minutes, spend 10 minutes relaxing, stretching or indulging your distractions and then use the remaining 2 minutes to get back on track and plan your next 48 minutes of high-focus activity.

This doesn’t mean you keep looking at the clock!! Use a timer and after some time your mind will get used to it. If you are so engrossed at the end of 48 minutes that you don’t want to stop, well then you are focussed anyway and maybe you don’t need this break :). The time span of high focus may be different for you and you need to experiment to find your perfect fit. The 10 minute break is meant to be an energizer so choose activities that perk you up and keep away from activities that pull you down. And remember, the key word here is ‘high’ focus not simply working at your usual pace and then getting up for a break every 48 minutes 🙂

–  Visualize you day. Don’t just plan the next day, try to visualize it. Try to live through it and identify your feelings as you imagine yourself completing each planned task. The points/ tasks where you feel negative emotions or lethargy are the red spots that need to be your high-focus points for the next day to stay on course.  Identify the triggers that caused these feelings during your visualization and try to get them out of the way in advance. Also, if there are activities you feel less positive about while visualizing simply because you don’t like doing them, simply plan to get them out of the way first or schedule them during a high energy time.

The best part about visualization is that it also gives you a picture of what it feels like when you have achieved the desired results and this can be the magnet for your sub-conscious mind to get things done.

–  Don’t forget to reward yourself when you’ve completed an important task in your day. These could be small rewards like taking out time for a chat with someone, playing a short game or simply a small piece of dark chocolate.

–  Meditation is not a complicated or time-consuming activity despite the many myths that abound. It can be done for a mere 5 minutes and still be immensely beneficial. It provides training in self-discipline to be able to focus on one activity and block out all thoughts from your mind.

So take out a few minutes, close your eyes and focus on nothing but your breath. Do not allow your mind any other thought for those few minutes. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it gets every time!!

At this point I rewarded myself for completing this blog by playing a short game(4 minutes) online so now I am back on track, ready to move on to the next activity on my agenda with renewed energy 🙂

If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention than to any other talent.

~Isaac Newton

Copyright ©2011-12 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

Driving Personal Change

New Year Resolutions!!! Just a cliché? Another ritual you go through knowing it won’t matter? Or something you do with full earnestness? (even if you aren’t always able to stick to them)

New Year is one of the few festivals that celebrates the passage of time, and makes us think of the year that presents itself before us. I like to use this opportunity to revisit my commitment to personal growth and set up a framework to ensure I utilize the New Year effectively to drive my goals.

I know people who say why wait for New Year to make resolutions, I can make them any time. Well, sure, you can. But do you? How often in the past year have you sat down to review your personal goals, track where you are and make an action plan? An advantage this occasion gives us is that it provides a predesigned time framework which we can fit our action plan and monthly review into. And we always get a reminder that it’s “that time” of the year again 🙂

As long as you are determined to make and achieve your resolutions, it doesn’t matter when you make them. The three simple steps below are designed to ensure you succeed:

  • Step One – Goal Setting:  Whether you will even get close to achieving your resolutions is often clear at this stage itself. Setting the goals right and setting the right goals is the first step towards achieving them.
    • Identify Areas of Focus for the year. Start by identifying your area of focus for improvement for this year. It could be health& fitness, career, relationships, home, charity etc. I know you want to focus on them all but prioritize, identify the top one or two and remember that you can choose again next year. Once the larger category is determined, setting goals will be easier.
    • Quality over Quantity. Make fewer and more clearly defined and important resolutions. Taking on too much will not allow you to focus your energy.
    • Make your Resolutions Personal.  Your goal should be about something you feel passionately for and not something someone else feels you should do.  Your commitment and efforts will only be for the goals you believe in.
    • Try to Sync your Resolutions with your larger Life Goals.  If your life goal is to achieve a defined level of success by a specific stage in your life, work backwards and identify what you need to do NOW, in this year. It could be ensuring you keep yourself updated in your area of expertise, investing in networking, getting additional qualification or any other. Amit’s life goal was to be making a difference in the lives of underprivileged people so one of Amit’s resolutions for the last year was to spend at least 5 weekends per quarter with an NGO which imparted vocational skills to people below the poverty line.
    • Apply SMART. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic & Time bound goals are not just for the workplace. Any goal should follow the SMART principle. So your resolution cannot be to just lose weight. It would have to be “I will lose 6 kgs this year at a pace of not less than half a kilo per month and not more than a kilo in any month” Quantifying goals helps in tracking achievement.
  • Step Two – Action Planning:Now that your goals are in place, it’s essential to put in place an action plan of how you’ll go about achieving them.
    • Break Down your Goals into a Series of small Steps/ Milestones. E.g. If your larger goal is to master a new area, have milestones attached to each step you have to take: such as “read the manual” as a first milestone, “view all webcasts” as a second milestone, maybe “attend training” as third, “start practising” could be fourth and so on till you get the certification or level of proficiency that you desire.
    • Attach action steps and a timeline to each milestone.  Having action steps and a deadline for each milestone is essential. To take the above example further, you might decide to curtail you TV viewing or facebook updating time to ensure you read and make notes from X number of pages each day to achieve the first milestone.
    •  Track Progress continuously and tweak your plan if required. The moment you let go of tracking is when you may start losing momentum
  • Step Three – Staying on TrackI know this is the tough one especially given our busy and sometimes unpredictable lives but, believe me, it can be done.
    • Write It Down. Writing down your goals and action plan and putting them up where you can see them ensures recall and helps firm resolve. This will help you draw up a definitive plan, track it effectively and give you the satisfaction of ticking off every step that you complete.
    • Share It. Building a support system has been identified as one of the key factors for people who managed to achieve their goals so tell your family and friends. Start a buddy system where you support your friends on their resolutions and they support you. It’s always hard to give up on something people know about and are encouraging you for.
    • Review & Revise. Set a timeframe for regular review and make sure you do it. Review progress, note what went right and what didn’t, find what you need to do differently, if at all and update the remaining plan.
    • Celebrate Small Wins. When you review, don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for achievements. Celebrating small wins will keep you motivated for the long haul. (Just ensure your celebration is not detrimental to your goal like my friend who’d reward herself with a triple scoop, extra chocolate fudge sundae every time she lost half a kilo!!)
    • Focus on a Positive Vision of the Future. People who focus on the benefits of success have a significantly higher chance of fulfilling their goals than those who focus on the downside of failure. Our mind gets energized by a positive vision whereas it is very difficult to really put your heart into something where the only reason pushing you is the fear of how bad it could be if it didn’t work.

Maybe all of us won’t achieve 100% of our resolutions but even if you managed to do 70% that’s far better than giving up or doing nothing at all. There may be the occasional lapses but treat them as temporary setbacks and focus on getting back on track. Just one day has passed; the whole year beckons us, full of promise. I look forward to hearing about all your success stories of personal change and growth and pray this starts a cycle of rejuvenation for you every year.

For training programs or personal coaching on goal setting, driving change, increasing personal effectiveness contact the author at handashweta@gmail.com

An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2012 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

Building Effective Teams

“I don’t believe in team motivation. I believe in getting a team prepared so it knows it will have the necessary confidence when it steps on a field and be prepared to play a good game.”

~Tom Landry (American player & coach, ranked as one of the greatest, most innovative coaches in National Football League)

How many of you have held your breath as you saw a trapeze artist let go and fly through the air only to be caught deftly by their partner? That split second when you thought they might miss… only to be followed by a sigh of relief as their brilliant teamwork shines through.  Have you had those moments in your work team too?  Those times when everything seemed to come together in a beautiful symphony to help deliver outstanding outcomes and you wished you could capture that synergy and make it work everytime. Teams don’t really happen naturally and you can’t force teamwork.

A team, according to me, is best defined as the coming together of a group of people with complementary skills to collaborate for achieving a common purpose.  It is the complementary skills, collaboration and common purpose that sets apart a “team” from other form of groups.  All teams typically go through Tuckman’s stages of group development – first they ‘form’, then ‘storm’, then ‘norm’ and finally begin to ‘perform’.  Attempts to make teams more effective have to focus on identifying the right people to ‘form’ the team, taking care of aspects that will hold the team together when they ‘storm’ and of course ensure the most effective ‘norms’ are put in place to allow them to start performing sooner and become more effective. Let us look at the factors that really differentiate high performing teams.

  • Complementary Skills – Teams need to be built with specific objectives in mind by identifying individuals with a diverse set of skills and abilities; as well as the aptitude to capitalize on these complementary strengths to achieve synergies while maintaining a healthy respect for different approaches and values. The right team mix is an important outcome of the ‘forming’ stage.
  • Collaboration– The level of collaboration has been identified by research as one of the key differentiators of high-performing teams. A number of factors need to be planned to foster collaboration
    • Strike the right balance between collaboration, interdependency and autonomy. Norms need to be set clearly defining the levels of interdependency and autonomy which will ensure that various parts of the symphony come together cooperatively to deliver the final results.
    •  Solid relationships should exist amidst the diversity. Actively create an environment based on mutual trust and respect since no team can perform in an atmosphere of animosity.
    • Involve everybody and encourage all to contribute. Respect for differences and the opportunity to disagree or be different without being punished is an essential part of encouraging people to participate
    • Create an effective conflict management process where differences are discussed openly and resolved.
  • Common Purpose – A team’s success is essentially dependent on a clear, relevant, inspiring, achievable common goal. The power of a team emerges from the members’ commitment and alignment to the goal. Not only does a clear goal focus energies, it also holds the team together during the ‘storming’ phase. Create a compelling vision of the future to provide a deeper sense of purpose to the team and always remember that high performing teams work with more ambitious goals than average teams.
  • Effective Processes and Planning – A successful business team always starts by outlining the necessary processes. The expression ‘complete work approaches’ takes on extra significance for high performing teams since defining the necessary processes, procedures and methods is important to their success. Have you ever heard of a good surgical team or an orchestra or even a sports team begin their attempt without identifying their approach, plan and processes?
  • Open and Continuous Communication – This factor can be ‘make or break’ for any team. The speed and quality of results delivered by the team are directly proportional to how fast; accurate, specific, timely and open communication is within the team. Communication also has a direct impact on the other factors mentioned above. Encourage team members to make time to share, discuss, express their opinions openly and grow together. High performing teams have little time to waste on confusion and misunderstanding and intentional efforts at straight talk should be encouraged.
  • Empowerment – Creating a team and not empowering them to make decisions is akin to putting a cake pan without batter in the oven and expecting a cake when the timer goes off.  The most talented individuals cannot produce results if they aren’t empowered to seek the ingredients, create the right mix and influence the results.  Set protocols, encourage independent thinking and create an environment that demands and appreciates informed decisiveness.
  • Defined Roles – While high performing teams typically need flexible role structures and multi-tasking, it is important for team members to understand their own as well as others roles in relation to the goal. Role clarity is essential to build synergies and understand interdependencies and is a natural extension of defining work approach and putting effective processes in place.
  • Infrastructure & Training – Most often overlooked aspects, both the right infrastructure and timely training are really hygiene factors. Ensuring the team has the infrastructure and resources required to complete their tasks and ensuring they get the correct information, knowledge and trainings required to excel their goals is essential for any leader who wants to create a truly cutting-edge team.

All of these will come together to create the right result-oriented high performance culture.  As a leader it is your responsibility to lay the right foundation by ensuring all of the above as well as to build trust, endorse inclusiveness, encourage initiative taking and create energy within the team.  Effective teams have a higher sense of ownership and it is important to develop individual leadership qualities and promote a shared leadership culture, a very delicate task.  Don’t forget ongoing evaluation and monitoring of progress and performance. Planned development will keep improving the team performance.

“I’ve always found that the speed of the boss is the speed of the team.”               ~Lee Iacocca

An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2011-12 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

Why The Feedback Your Senior Leadership Is Getting May Not Be Good Enough!!

Feedback is a common topic of discussion with most top leaders. Most are happy to get some unbiased straight talk about themselves but there are also those who are reluctant to question their self-concept.  However, when provided real examples, many embark on a self-realization journey.  In the Indian context, in fact in a lot of other places too, honest improvement feedback is rarely forthcoming for people who’ve reached a significantly high position. Juniors don’t want to offend you and seniors, if any, don’t really supervise your activities that closely.

Enough and more has been written about how leaders can obtain feedback – 360 degree feedback mechanisms; identifying and creating relationships with juniors who can give feedback etc. etc. So we now have leaders who pride themselves on being “open” and believe their juniors can walk up to them and offer feedback, who have invested in taking online tests, who have implemented a 360 degree mechanism etc. But who are still not getting the quality of feedback they need for self-development. This raised an important question for me – Even for leaders receiving feedback, why were there such obvious blind spots?

Working with leaders is by no means an easy job. Recent research by See, Morrision, Rothman & Soll has shown that “powerful people are less likely to take advice from others, in large part because they have high confidence in their own judgment and don’t feel the need to incorporate outside views.”  They also observed that confidence was perceived by many as an important attribute of leadership. Thus they concluded that “many powerful people, over time, come to see taking advice as a sign of weakness, assuming that they should project total confidence in their views alone.”

This provides important pointers for us regarding how the feedback should be positioned, assessments undertaken, feedback shared and who should drive the process.  Here is what we have used to create fruitful and successful feedback mechanisms for Leaders and Organizations:

PRE-PREPARATION

  • Create acceptance for the feedback by aligning leaders’ expectations regarding the purpose of the feedback which should be purely developmental.
  • Keep developmental feedback separate from the appraisal process.  Especially for senior leaders keep the appraisal process focussed on targets and results and have a completely independent process for leadership development.
  • Identify the right people to drive the process. This should be someone whom the leader can respect, perceive as neutral and not having an organizational or personal agenda; and someone with the relevant expertise.

USING THE RIGHT TOOLS… IN THE MOST EFFECTIVE MANNER

Advanced organizations have it all – 360 degree, psychometric or behavioural assessments, Assessment Centres, Coaches on call. But do all these interventions talk to each other? Is anybody integrating the outputs from the external assessors and internal feedback mechanisms to paint a larger holistic picture for the leader?

Mostly feedback from the various interventions is shared completely independently. So on one hand, a psychometric assessment is providing the leader feedback about his/her personality of which he may only accept the part that is in congruence with his larger self image and beliefs. On the other there are 360 degree feedbacks. Studies have clearly shown that these surveys are often not taken seriously or that the intensity of feedback is much lower for senior members.  It also doesn’t help that organizations integrate this with the annual appraisal exercise or at least time it together. Then there are the standard assessment centres which most senior leaders ace, having experienced so many.

Breaking These Feedback Silos is the solution that has worked best in my experience. While independently these are not so effective, if you have an integrated team of experts that drive all of these and correlate them at every step, they can be brought together to create superior feedback the leaders can actually work with.

  • The psychometric tool generates the adjectives, the higher level personality assessment and anticipated areas of improvement
  • In parallel, the assessment centre gauges the demonstrated ability and behaviours in a controlled environment and responses to scenarios and situations.
  • At the same time, 360 feedback provides examples of demonstrated on job behaviours. This should not just be an online process which, as discovered by research, is not always taken seriously. It should be carried out in combination with introduction and sensitization by the expert team driving the process. In fact, where feedback is being sought from very senior people, one could use a neutral, external expert who can maintain a high level of confidentiality to collect feedback in person.
  • The expert team would then integrate outputs from all interventions to create a comprehensive and usable feedback.

The adjectives and characteristics identified being backed by real life examples will create the acceptance leading to higher self awareness which forms the base for any incremental transformation activity.

SHARING THE FEEDBACK

The manner of transmitting the feedback to the leader is an important determiner of whether it will be accepted and used. Unfortunately, leaders receive politically correct, very tactful and safely worded feedback both from internal people who don’t want to offend them and external consultants who don’t want to spoil the chances of getting future business. The ideal person to share this feedback should be one who:

  • Has been part of the complete assessment process, therefore having developed an understanding of the leaders’ strengths, blind spots, behavioural styles etc.
  • Can inspire respect from the leader
  • Is unbiased and whose only agenda is development for the leader
  • Is bold enough to show them the mirror in a manner that drives acceptance and inspires change

If this person also has the necessary expertise to take the relationship forward by being a coach in the leader’s developmental process, that would further strengthen the outcomes of the intervention

This approach will enable the organization to provide leaders tangible feedback they can work with, drive self awareness and inspire them on their improvement journey.

The author is a Transformation Expert, Executive Coach, Trainer, Change Management Consultant and also CEO of a small business group. To know more, contact the author at shweta@shwetahanda.com

This post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2011-12 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.