At a time when the workplace has been turned upside down, employers need to embrace the new era of leadership
Getting the best out of your team has got a whole lot harder. The workplace has been turned upside down by the events of the last two and a half years. No one has quite got their head around this new world of work. Leadership is struggling and striving to adapt. Individuals are reappraising the meaning of work and the meaning of life. Productivity is a concern and, for some, a paranoia. Quiet quitters are on the increase. Amid all that, at the heart of the conundrum, is the realisation that nowadays, one size fits nobody.
In working out how to motivate your team to succeed, it’s worth pausing to consider how much has changed. The workplace is not what it used to be. For most, the hybrid and virtual worlds have replaced the physical office. The workforce is not what it used to be. The relationship between employee and employer is fundamentally different as the Great Resignation has sparked both a talent war and a recruitment shortage.
The marketplace in which most franchisees operate has also seen seismic shifts as customer habits have changed and new technology has accelerated at an astonishing speed. These big changes have resulted in many challenges, whether or not what we did in the past to motivate teams and maximise performance is still valid.
Small steps towards big changes
As the COVID pandemic started to retreat in the spring of this year, I began working with the Olympic team psychologist, Sarah Broadhead. The question we asked ourselves was: ‘What’s the best way to improve the performance of teams in business?’.
Sarah coached the teenage taekwondo star, Jade Jones, to Olympic gold at London in 2012 and in Rio in 2016. Her philosophy was to break down the ambitious goal of becoming the best in the world into small, less daunting, and more manageable steps. Every week they focused on three or four different areas where they wanted to improve. These included rest and recovery - getting quality sleep, building strength, honing technique and improving nutrition.
Each week they wrote down the everyday actions they were going to take on the road to gold and reviewed their progress in focused coaching conversations before resetting for the next seven days. This helped them avoid distraction - the enemy of focus. It also helped them embed new habits which through repetition and determination would become second nature. They were growing unconscious competence.
According to Sarah, from the psychologist’s point of view, this is the way to reduce the anxiety of the enormity of the task. By religiously focusing on the marginal gains, she believes you will inevitably create the difference between winning and losing.
Create focus and avoid distraction
So, what if we took a similar approach in the world of business? Could that change the way we maximise the performance of individuals and teams in corporate life? We decided to see for ourselves. The managed IT and solutions provider, VCG, was facing several big challenges. Following an acquisition, they had to bring together two teams and two cultures while coming out of the COVID pandemic. They wanted to accelerate sales, increase employee engagement and deliver several behavioural changes across the business.
They set clear goals for a 10-week sprint focused on performance improvement. Each person then created their own everyday actions through which they could take small steps towards their big goals. Everyone got a coach - their equivalent of Sarah Broadhead. That coach would sit with them each week and review their progress and then re-set for the next five working days. Using technology through an app on their phones and laptops, they got daily reminders to keep them on track. The company’s leadership was able to monitor progress through a data reporting suite which pulled together the individuals’ everyday actions of the team and presented a collective view of progress. It gave them valuable visibility in the virtual world. VCG were delighted with the results. They put a stretch target on attracting new business into their sales pipeline and over-achieved that by 360 per cent. Employee engagement went through the roof. While it would be an exaggeration to say that it was all plain sailing, this new approach and methodology clearly helped them make progress which took them by surprise. What they had really done was create focus and avoid distraction. They’d created a performance coaching culture, just like Sarah Broadhurst and Jade Jones.
The group head of sales at VCG, Jeff Wheeldon, said: “The numbers were superb. But the standout for me, is seeing the inter-team coaching and support. That is what makes a team succeed together. There is no doubt this approach achieved much more togetherness.”
Wired for success
Another business, Perfect Image - an IT-managed services and data provider - tried a similar exercise. The challenges they faced included the need to grow - building a pipeline and closing more deals - in a very crowded and competitive marketplace. They wanted to make a significant improvement in employee engagement as they came out of the pandemic and build a coaching culture. They too rolled out the methodology of everyday actions into their sales team, while running a 13-week sprint. They worked closely on helping individuals choose the right everyday actions or nudges as they were now called. They put in place a system of peer coaching so that everyone had someone to help and challenge them. The coaches kept the sales managers focused as they worked together to hit their big goals - to sell more, engage better and grow more leaders.
By focusing on everyday actions, avoiding distractions and clearly measuring progress, their performance soared. They added over 350 new deals worth more than £6 million and their employee engagement scores rose from -69 to +20.
The new era of leadership
So, what could the methodology of everyday actions do in the world of the franchise? That is, yet, unknown. But at a time when so much has been turned upside down for employer, employee and customer, it could hold one of the keys in a new approach to the new world of work.
Yet leadership itself must change to conquer these new challenges we all face. The changes to the way we lead are existential. The world of command and control is dying a welcome death. It was fizzling out before the pandemic dealt its first deadly blow. But in the hybrid world, we can no longer stand over people and steer them.
The new world of leadership is all about trust and inspiration. Trust is, of course, a two-way street. Inspiration is what’s needed to attract, retain and energise our teams amid the talent war being waged in the marketplace.
To motivate our teams to succeed we need to get back to some of the basics, which are widely recognised but sparsely practised. The leader needs to empower in the hybrid and virtual worlds. The age of micro-managing is done. The leader needs to truly listen - listen to understand and admit they don’t have all the answers. No one does.
We also need to be kinder to the people we work with and celebrate the small successes. Feedback and praise need to be consistently practised rather than grudgingly given. And we need to face a naked truth - some of the leaders we had before COVID may not possess the skills to motivate, inspire and succeed in this new world of work. We need to confront this fact with honesty and urgency.
There is one other truth that we should not be too harsh about. That is that no one has yet cracked this new world of work. It will evolve. Those who come to terms with some of the truths raised here and embrace some of the new ways of thinking will be the ones who succeed.
The franchises who stop, look, and listen will be the winners in the world of work.
Key takeaways from Jeremy’s column
1. The new world of leadership is all about trust and inspiration
2. Olympic team psychologist, Sarah Broadhead, believes we should break down the ambitious goal of becoming the best in the world into small, less daunting and more manageable steps
3. The key to soaring performance is in focusing on everyday actions, avoiding distractions and clearly measuring progress
4. The leader needs to empower in the hybrid and virtual worlds. The age of micromanaging is done
Jeremy Campbell is CEO of the performance improvement and technology business, Black Isle Group; executive coach and evangelist for the methodology of everyday actions.