Not a day goes by without someone telling me that they feel under increasing pressure to make faster decisions and deliver ever faster results. I am not surprised. The complexity and interdependence of work has dramatically increased in recent years at the same time as the digital agile world demands ever faster decisions and faster outcomes, whether the organisation one works in has a fully agile decision process or not. Covid-19 appears to have accelerated both the demand for quick answers and the complexity to actually identify straight answers amidst the greater uncertainty.
What can each of us do? Spoiler alert: you can register to this free online course.
It may seem easy to defer the responsibility to the organisational set-up (” boss, colleagues and stakeholders keep asking for more, everything is equally urgent and important and I am left having to deliver on all fronts”). Yet nobody thrives blaming others and accepting to be a victim. Even if advice abounds on “how to manage priorities” (don’t rush to say yes, take a deep breath and think, don’t multitask, make a list, restrict your availability, etc.) all these nice suggestions are easier said than done in practice. But there is another way.
Let me give you an example.
A top executive once told me this during a coaching session, when discussing empowering her organisation:
“I believe that one of my key responsibilities is to make the system feel the pain”; she further explained what she meant: ” If I accept every demand that comes my way, not only do I put myself and others in a constant stress mode, but, most importantly, I actually harm the business, because I accept not to have the important conversations that we must have; there are more great ideas than resources; each one of us is paid to help the business, not to be complacent; we must challenge every idea that comes our way and make sure that we are crystal clear about whether or not it supports our intent, contribute to the business and can be reasonably supported by our resources; as uncomfortable as these discussions might be, we are not doing our job or fairly earning our salary if we shy away from having them.”
In this case, her commitment was to support her direct reports, regional and category directors, build the confidence and the courage to face the uncomfortable conversations that we must have in order to serve the business without exhausting our resources. We put together a plan and the results were outstanding. Her direct reports went through a program that truly helped them stand up to having these difficult conversations, with benefits for themselves and the business: improved clarity and agility.
This is no easy task, of course, because the vast majority of managers dislike and try to avoid difficult conversations (for example, a recent survey by Vital Smart indicates that more than 80% of “knowledge employees” shy away from confronting disagreements; another study by BGT indicates that between 40 and 60 % of managers across different sectors admit to spending time in menial tasks for not daring to challenge the system)
What it takes to challenge excessive demads or disagree is to learn how to have courageous conversations. This learning is a transformational journey, not easy, but extremely rewarding. These are the three main strategies:
Improve Self Awareness: we need to take a good look into our instinctive responses, to identify those “inner saboteurs” that tell us horror stories meant to keep us overly-cautious and defensive (I must agree or else harm relationships; or accept more work to prove that I can; or avoid asking for fear of sounding stupid, and so on)
Define a Mindset Shift: once we are aware of our inner saboteurs, we need to challenge them in order to set the goal of re-channeling our instinctive reactions (e.g. do I really damage my reputation or the relationship if I question the urgency or importance of a request, share my concerns and offer alternative ideas? or isn’t maybe the opposite true?)
Learn and Test New Behaviours: once we have been able to imagine an alternative to our initial instinctive fear-based reactions and set the goal to re-set our mindset, we can go about learning, experimenting, testing and practicing alternative behaviours. Usually, by learning to express concerns factually and asking relevant questions assertively. we can soon find out how we can become more influential and help the business focus on the essential, so we can work better and more productively.
Many have taken this journey successfully and I continue to be fascinated by the results, excited every time someone comes back to me saying that by having more confidence, courage and improved negotiation skills, they now feel less stressed, feel in control and are more influent.
It is not easy to do this alone, so I encourage you to attend the free training program highlighted here below. For further encouragement, all registered participants will receive the ebook “How managers often cause, and how they can minimise, RESISTANCE TO CHANGE” in which you will discover how having courageous conversations also helps overcome resistance to change.
LEAD WITH A SMILE!