Tag: leadership

How to Recognize and Avoid Groupthink Psychology

Groupthink psychology happens when close-knit groups ignore or suppress opposing views and inconvenient facts.  It can lead to catastrophic failures in organizations large and small.  Know the signs and adopt solutions to avoid groupthink psychology.

“How could we have been so stupid?” That striking John F. Kennedy’s quotation opens Irving Janis’ Psychology Today article entitled “Groupthink” which coined the phrase in 1971.  Kennedy was reflecting on the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, which Janis examined as an example of the newly named phenomenon. (A pdf version of Janis’ original article can be found at this link.)

Groupthink psychology happens when group members seek consensus while ignoring or suppressing opposing views and contrary facts. The results of groupthink can be found in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the collapse of Enron, and the 2008 financial crisis, among many other examples.

Groupthink psychology robs group members of their judgment and independence, whether in the White House or the conference room down the hall. This article will examine the causes of groupthink and consider solutions for organizations large and small.

Causes of groupthink psychology

Groupthink psychology grows from the desire of individuals to conform and show loyalty to their group. It is more likely to take hold when a group becomes cohesive and the members feel accepted. In that situation, group members are less willing to challenge each other, or “rock the boat.”  

These are some of the contributors to groupthink psychology:

  1. Sense of invulnerability: Groups with an inflated sense of importance (like Enron’s “smartest guys in the room”) are willing to take exceptional risks while ignoring obvious dangers.  
  1. Rationalizing: Group members rationalize away objections, including their own, to justify the group’s course of action. The group avoids examining assumptions or taking criticism seriously.
  1. Belief in the group: Group members believe in the “rightness” of the group and its mission. Belief in the group causes members to lose sight of their own ethics and morality.
  1. Stereotyping: Group members see competitors in simplistic ways. The group sees itself as the best, the smartest, the most moral, while seeing the competition as weak, immoral, or untrustworthy.
  1. Pressure to conform:  Group members put pressure on those who express doubts about the group’s decision. Pressure adds personal cost to dissent and reinforces the need to support the group.
  1. Self-censorship:  Group members defer to what they believe is the group consensus. They keep silent about, or minimize, their own doubts. 
  1. Illusion of consensus: Group members feel an illusion of consensus – that everyone supports the decision. The illusion is the result of pressure to conform and the failure to consider consequences and alternatives.
  1. Gatekeepers: Group members appoint themselves gatekeepers to “protect” others from receiving information that could cast doubt on the group’s decision.  

The results of groupthink psychology are often disastrous – and yet the same mistakes happen again and again: Groups limit discussion to a few options – often just two, according to Irving Janis. They fail to re-examine decisions in light of new facts, or to consider ways of improving rejected options.  They fall into confirmation bias – only seeking out information that supports their decision.  

Strategies to avoid groupthink psychology

The most important takeaway is that groupthink psychology can happen to anyone, even the best and brightest. The desire to fit in is a powerful force. The best way to overcome it is to ensure there are safeguards in place. Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Play devil’s advocate:  Assign one or more group members to play “devil’s advocate” and critique the solutions proposed. Requiring objections will make it safer for members to speak up.
  1. Challenge the status quo: Give every idea a hearing, even if it seems wrong or is ultimately rejected.  A good way to hear different points of view is to include people of different ages and backgrounds. Rewarding risk-taking is another way to encourage thinking differently or “outside of the box.”
  1. Divide into teams: Have members of the group work separately to analyze the issues. Teams can either propose competing solutions or work independently on different pieces of the puzzle.  
  1. Keep leadership impartial:  Members are more likely to “go with the flow” when leaders express a preference for one solution. To avoid bias, make the leader a facilitator who encourages discussion.
  1. Adopt placeholder solutions:  An approach reported in the Harvard Business Review saw the team adopt a “placeholder” to revisit and examine. Agreeing to explore the idea relieved pressure to find the “best” solution prematurely. It also allowed members to agree on broad principles while disagreeing about details.  

Groupthink psychology can derail the decision-making process. To make sure your organization doesn’t fall into its trap, be aware of the causes and make a plan of action. If you would like to learn more about groupthink psychology, leadership, and team dynamics, please contact us.

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.

Future Proof your Organization by Focusing on its Purpose

To prepare your organization for the future, begin by finding your purpose and values.  Then put your vision into practice by developing a purpose-driven culture. These are the building blocks that will connect the dots towards a future proof organization for the long term, beyond technological trends.

There is no way to “future proof” our organizations any more than we can “future proof” our lives. It can’t be done. “Future proof” sounds like we need to create an impenetrable force field, and then change will bounce right off. That’s not how it works, and if we think it does, we won’t be ready when change hits us. What we CAN do is to be clear about who we are and what’s important to us, and then build on that solid foundation. Then, when change happens, we’re ready, and even if it knocks us off balance, it won’t knock us down. And when it does knock us down, we’ll learn, get back up, and grow stronger. So, rather than delude ourselves about being “future proof,” let’s look at making ourselves “future-ready.”

The future isn’t coming, it’s happening now. Every moment is different. Every day. Every year. The question is, How do we prepare ourselves to meet those challenges head-on?  It may be tempting to plunge into the latest trends in technology, management, or business development. There is always something new, and some of it is truly revolutionary. However, when we’re chasing the “next best thing,” how do we know it’s a thing that’s right for us? A better way to future-ready your organization is to start at your core and make meaningful decisions about what best serves your unique purpose and the culture that puts that purpose into practice. 

Answering the question, “Why are we here?” is a good place to start. What is our purpose that will help us define a compelling vision? What are the values and motivations that make our organization unique?  Those qualities are powerful tools to engage employees, inspire customers and stakeholders, and prepare us to be future-ready.  

Find your purpose to unlock potential

Purpose “embodies everything the organization stands for from a historical, emotional, social, and practical point of view.”  Finding purpose has the power to unlock “greater focus, more engaged employees, more loyal customers, and better financial performance,” according to a study published in the MIT Sloan Management Review.  

“Why are we here?” leads to, “What do we stand for?” and “What makes us different?” These seem like straightforward questions on the surface, but to really answer them, we need to dig deep into our core. When answers come from generic words tossed around a conference room, a company will never be able to communicate what makes them truly unique. All companies want to be “nimble,” “customer-focused,” “collaborative,” etc. Duh!  Dig deeper. What does “nimble” look like in your organization? What does it mean? Why is it important? For example, “We are [what nimble looks like in our organization], so that [how that benefits our customers, employees, the world, etc.].  A future-ready organization will be able to clearly state what it stands for and why it exists.  

Do companies need to make money? Of course! But the P&L statement is not a compelling vision, and net revenue is not a lever we pull. Success metrics are the results of creating a compelling vision, aligning that with strategy, and executing on our goals. AND all of that is guided by a purpose and through a culture that either supports results or hinders them. So, do you want a compelling vision? You bet your sweet $$ you do. 

To create a compelling vision, we need to inspire people. We need to inspire our employees (people), our customers (also people), and our shareholders (yup, more people). What is a compelling vision? A compelling vision paints the picture of who we are (purpose and meaning), where we’re going (future destination), why that’s important (values), the impact we’ll have (results), and what we (people) will do to get there. When we create that level of clarity from our core, our organization is not just “ready” for the future, we create it.   

Future-ready your organization with a purpose-driven culture

When an organization puts its values into action, a purpose-driven culture is the result.  While many organizations believe they act in accordance with their values and purpose, objective data shows a gap between the ideal and reality.  For example:

  • Only 40% of employees feel strongly that their organization’s purpose makes their job important;
  • Just 39% of employees agree that actions are aligned with the organization’s values and direction; and,
  • A slim 20% of employees feel strongly connected to their organization’s culture.

When our organization’s actions and values are not aligned, people (employees, customers, shareholders) see it, feel it, smell it, taste it. This disconnect not only undermines a culture, it defines the culture, through which we drive our results. We may say we have values X, Y, and Z, but behaviors express our values far more than words. From our daily tasks to large scale change and everything in between. Our behaviors not only identify “how we do things” but “who we are,” and if our behaviors do not support who we want to be, we need to change those behaviors to change our culture

Communicate vision.  Aligning purpose and culture begins at the top.  Leaders must define a purpose that will inspire employees, customers, and stakeholders.  The vision should be the result of asking hard questions about what the organization values and what it stands for.  

Set the tone.  Leaders are advocates for the organization’s culture.  They need to communicate the organization’s purpose and values to inspire others, and they must define behaviors that will make the vision a reality. 

Prepare the people.   The first step to future-ready an organization is to help people continually update their skills (e.g., upskilling and reskilling) to be not only “relevant” but ready for change.  Upskilling refers to people keeping their skills up to date, while reskilling refers to moving people into positions that meet growth needs, both for the person and the organization. Developing future-ready skills goes beyond tangible technical skills to also building “critical intangible” people skills we need to successfully navigate change together.

Connect performance with purpose. We connect performance with purpose by showing people how their day-to-day work aligns with organizational purpose.  Leaders (also people) must not only talk about these connections, but model the attitudes and behaviors they promote to fulfill the organization’s vision.  

Empower people.  A future-ready organization must provide employees with guidelines and context for making decisions in line with the values and purpose.  Once in place, give people latitude to develop solutions.  Empowering decision-making connects people and their work to the guiding purpose to achieve the best results.  

In summary, when we identify our company’s unique purpose and clarify our values, we create a strong foundation on which to build a future-ready organization. From this foundation, we then create a compelling vision that aligns our purpose and values, and empowers the actions we all need to take to be ready for the changes to come and create the future we want to live.

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.

AI Fears and AI Opportunities

The AI revolution will transform business and work in unforeseeable ways.  Organizations can prepare for the coming changes, and address workers’ concerns, by emphasizing learning and development.  Both technical skills and “human” skills will need to be updated to make the most of the coming opportunities.

Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) has been dominating tech industry headlines lately.  Many commentators emphasize “doom and gloom,” but there is plenty of room for optimism. Change is inevitable, and the rate of change will continue to accelerate. We cannot know or control exactly how change will impact the future. The only thing we can control is how we choose to adapt today, and we can adapt.

While AI fears will need to be addressed, the coming technological revolution offers brand new opportunities for growth. AI can be a catalyst to inspire and motivate how and where we choose to invest in those opportunities. This article will review AI in the workplace and ways to alleviate AI fears and inspire growth.

The AI revolution, old and new

At first glance, AI seems to have burst on the scene fully formed with the release of ChatGPT in November, 2022. Its Large Language Models are able to generate text on a wide range of topics, even if not expertly. In the months since, the AI revolution has gathered pace, with AI generated art and AI generated video coming online.

Of course, this isn’t the first time AI has grabbed the headlines. In 1997, for example, IBM’s Deep Blue computer defeated chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, to general dismay. And in 2011, IBM’s Watson computer won a Jeopardy quiz show tournament against human competitors. The victory prompted contestant Ken Jennings to welcome “our new computer overlords.” AI fears have been with us for some time now.

One big difference between earlier AI advances and the current ones is access.  IBM’s computers, Deep Blue and Watson, were far removed from the general public. But ChatGPT and its rivals have opened the doors to mass adoption of AI technology. The AI future is here, bringing with it both AI fears and hopes.

The AI economy and AI fears

In the quarter century since Deep Blue, AI has developed from a technical curiosity to a major economic force. In a 2023 report, Goldman Sachs estimated that generative AI could drive a 7% increase in global GDP (worth $7 trillion) and a 1.5% boost in productivity over ten years. That’s good news, but there are challenges, too.

The report states that 300 million jobs will be “exposed” to AI, including two-thirds of jobs in the U.S. Workloads in those jobs could be reduced substantially. However, the report concludes that “most jobs and industries are . . . more likely to be complemented than substituted by AI.”  (Emphasis added.)

As support, the Goldman report points out that 60% of occupations today did not exist in 1940. They were made possible by advances in technology. According to Goldman, that suggests 85% of all employment growth since 1940 has been due to technology. And most of the growth has come in new fields and new businesses that were not anticipated. While AI can be expected to “disrupt” the business world, it is likely to create new opportunities and industries that we can’t yet imagine. 

Overcoming AI fears by emphasizing individual development

While the situation is far from gloomy, AI fears are real. They are reflected in a 2024 Gallup report finding that 22% of workers worry about their jobs becoming obsolete due to AI. That figure is up from 15% in 2021. There are silver linings, though. 

Gallup points out that workers are eager for learning and development. Some 48% of workers said they would switch jobs for better training opportunities – while only 47% feel they have the skills to excel in their current positions. 

In short, there is a large, unmet desire for training and development. At the same time, new AI technologies will require more training and development. 

To make the most of the situation, leaders and organizations should prioritize upskilling, the process of updating job skills to meet new requirements, and reskilling, the process of moving employees from outdated positions into needed ones.

Leaders should consider two complementary paths. 

Teach technical skills.  The first path is to teach workers to use AI tools to improve their work product and increase productivity. AI is best suited to automate tasks that require less human judgment and interpretation. By giving employees the tools to use AI’s labor saving qualities, organizations will be able to maximize their human strengths.

Teach “human” skills.  That brings us to the second development path: Going where AI cannot go by emphasizing so-called “Soft Skills” (or “Critical Intangibles”) like communication, leadership, problem solving, and teamwork. These are the human qualities AI does not have – and won’t develop for the foreseeable future. 

By leveraging Critical Intangibles, organizations can maximize their “human assets” – the people who bring passion and creativity to their tasks. Unlike technical skills, these Critical Intangibles are durable, providing a long term boost to productivity.  By showing employees that they will have the skills to adapt as their careers evolve, organizations can make great strides toward alleviating AI fears. 

The path to adopting AI technologies won’t always be smooth. Change never is. But organizations can prepare by emphasizing learning, development, and growth to help people embrace change and adapt as the future unfurls. 

If you would like to learn more about preparing your organization for technological change, please contact us. 

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.

Simple Steps to Reduce Quiet Quitting

To reduce quiet quitting at workplace, provide clear performance expectations, encourage autonomy, have fewer meetings, communicate, connect, and engage your workforce.

Quiet quitting is not new. It’s just gotten more press in the past few years. More than a decade ago, I recommended that a leader invest in the development of his team to improve engagement and collaboration to achieve better results. 

“But what if I develop them and they leave?” he asked.

“What if you don’t develop them and they stay?” I replied. Which of course I said in my most supportive coaching voice. (I used my “inside-the-head” voice for the eye roll.)

Below, you’re going to read a number of statistics, causes, and ideas to reduce quiet quitting. All of it is good information, and all of it is stuff you already know. So, if we already know all this, why does quiet quitting continue to stay on our Top 10 list of people concerns? Really, I’m asking. Why?

If I had to guess, I’d say that we often look for tactical solutions but forget how to engage the “people” at the center of those concerns. We talk about employees, managers, and leaders, but all of them are people. What would it mean for each of us, every day, to engage with every individual we encounter as a person? This may sound fluffy, but it’s not. What does each person need to be their best and to do their best work? 

Let’s flip the question on its head for a moment. Instead of a person, let’s talk about a car. (Humor me.) What does a car need to operate at its best and to do its best work? The car needs gas, oil, and regular maintenance. Unless it’s an electric car, then it has other needs (just like different people do). Let’s assume our car is gas-powered. It’s a great car with a great engine and great potential. Which is all great. But what if I decide I don’t have time to fill the car with gas or change the brake pads, and I don’t understand why I need to change the oil, so I don’t? I’ve also ignored the “Check Engine” light burning brightly on my dashboard for months. Who cares? It’s just light, right? But eventually, my lack of attention and investment in my car are going to cause problems. However, my car is not going to quit quietly. Instead, I run out of gas, my battery dies, my brakes fail, and my engine seizes. All of which leave me stranded on the side of the road in the middle of the desert with only vultures for company.

It’s much easier to pay attention when quitting is loud and obvious, rather than quiet. What does a person need to be their best and to do their best work? There’s no manual for how people operate, but we have some good ideas, many of which you’ll find below. So, let’s review what we already know.

The Stats

Did you know that only one in three workers is fully engaged at work today?  Quiet quitters still make up half of the workforce, as they have for several years.  

A pair of Gallup reports, released in 2022 and 2024, summarize the situation:  

In its 2022 report, Gallup found that 32% of employees were “actively engaged” at work, while 18% were “actively disengaged,” (so-called “loud quitters”), and 50% were simply “not engaged” (the “quiet quitters”).

In the most recent report, released in January 2024, the results were very similar, with 33% of employees “actively engaged,” 16% “actively disengaged,” and at least 50% “not engaged.”

What is Quiet Quitting?

“Quiet quitting” refers to making the minimum effort to stay employed.  Broadly speaking, “quiet quitters” are employees who aren’t engaged at work, but aren’t actively looking for a new job. 

As a post-pandemic phenomenon rooted in lack of engagement, quiet quitting arose in tandem with the Great Resignation.  It increased sharply in the second half of 2021, according to Gallup. It remains a challenge today, but organizations can take simple, practical steps to reduce it.

Causes of quiet quitting

Workplace disruptions

Quiet quitting can be broadly traced to the effects of the pandemic.  Here are some contributing factors:

The Great Resignation was a major contributor to quiet quitting, according to a study reported in Forbes. The Great Resignation placed extra burdens on most of the employees who stayed. It caused organizations to restructure, breaking up teams and putting people in unfamiliar environments.  Not surprisingly, engagement suffered and quiet quitting rose.

Another pandemic-related disruption has been the rise of remote and hybrid work. Many organizations have yet to adapt.  According to Gallup, most managers reported having no formal training to lead a hybrid team. 

Without adequate management, the “new normal” of hybrid work has led to lower levels of engagement and more quiet quitting.

Unclear workplace expectations 

Many employees simply don’t know what they should be working on.  They report a lack of guidance on priorities, deadlines, and organizational goals.  Remote and hybrid workers are twice as likely as in-house workers to say they don’t receive enough guidance. Unclear expectations have been another cause of quiet quitting, according to both Gallup and Forbes.  

Lack of personal connection

 According to Gallup, employees are less likely than before the pandemic to say that “someone cares about them as a person” at work.  This lack of personal connection to the workplace leads to quiet quitting. 

Taking steps to reduce quiet quitting

The good news is that, although “quiet quitters” are not engaged, they are not beyond reach.  

Here are a few simple steps organizations can take to motivate quiet quitters to be more engaged at work.  

Have one conversation per week

This surprisingly simple suggestion comes from the 2024 Gallup report.  It is cited as the single most important step leaders can take to combat quiet quitting.  Spending 15 to 30 minutes per week speaking with each team member has several benefits: 

  • Making sure employees know what is expected of them, including clear priorities, deadlines, and organizational goals.  
  • Checking in with employees who may be struggling or showing signs of becoming disengaged. 
  • Making personal connections to reduce the feeling that “no one cares.”  

Avoid unnecessary meetings

This should be a no-brainer, but reporting in Forbes shows otherwise.  Too many organizations are scheduling ever more meetings to cope with post-pandemic changes. The results have been predictably negative.  

Employees feel micromanaged.  They report lower productivity, with some losing one-quarter to one-half of the workday to meetings.  And despite the time spent, employees feel no more informed about workplace expectations. 

The simple solution is to schedule fewer meetings, with fewer participants.  Avoid “all hands” meetings unless absolutely necessary.  Have conversations instead!

Encourage Autonomy

Encouraging autonomy and showing flexibility is another way to reduce quiet quitting, according to Psychology Today. Increased autonomy promotes feelings of being trusted and valued, rather than being micromanaged. 

Once the organization has made its expectations clear, let individuals decide how they will achieve their goals, as much as possible.  Be flexible in accommodating different working styles so each individual can realize his or her full potential.

The above steps are simple on paper, but harder to implement, especially if we approach fixing our culture and engagement like we would a car, rather than interacting with people. We need to invest time and attention in our people to understand what will help them to be at their best to do their best work. Quiet quitting is our Check Engine light. It’s a good indication that something’s not working, and the light has been flashing on our dashboard for decades. So, what are we going to do about it?

If you would like more information about employee engagement and quiet quitting, please contact us. 

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.

Developing Soft Skills to Future-proof Organizations

Soft skills go beyond “people skills” and provide a solid foundation for organizational growth.  Improving soft skills through coaching and training is key for any organization facing changes in technology and the future of work.

I hate the term “soft skills.” Let’s just put our cards on the table. “Soft” is a terrible descriptor. According to Thesaurus.com, synonyms for “soft” include comfortable, easy, mushy, and fluffy. “Soft” sounds like a fluffy cushion for “hard” skills to rest on. 

We may think debating what to call “soft” skills is silly, but language influences how we think. When we label skills as “soft,” we label them as “easy” and imply they aren’t important. Yet when I coach executives and other leaders, “soft” skills are often the hardest skills for them to master.

So, why do we call them “soft” skills? To understand the “soft,” let’s start with the “hard.” Traditionally, organizations have focused on “hard” skills, such as technical skills and competencies. “Hard” skills tend to be easier to define, teach, and assess. In other words, hard skills are more tangible. By comparison, “soft” skills seem more intangible. We struggle to clearly define “soft” skills. For example, what are the specific skills required to be an expert in “interpersonal communication”? How do we teach someone “resilience”? As a result, it can be more difficult to understand “soft” skills and how to develop them.

So, before we dive into a discussion about “soft” skills, I want to plant a seed. I vote to rename “soft” skills as “Critical Intangible Skills,” or “Critical Intangibles,” for short. I may not yet have swayed the rest of the world, but throughout the rest of this blog post, I challenge you to think “Critical Intangible” when you read “soft,” and see how this change affects your thinking.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are sometimes equated with “people skills,” but that isn’t the whole story.  Soft skills include mental qualities like persistence, resilience, problem solving, emotional regulation, and creativity.  They also encompass practical skills of self-regulation through time management, organization, and the ability to prioritize tasks.  Finally, soft skills include “people skills” like communication, teamwork, and leadership.

Soft skills apply broadly and can be transferred easily between jobs and industries.  They have been called “durable”, because, unlike technical requirements, they remain constant.

Twelve of the top 15 skills needed globally are soft skills, as reported in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023.

Soft skills are the “secret sauce” for long term organizational success in a changing world.

Teaching critical intangible skills in the workplace

Contrary to a common misperception, soft skills are not hard-wired or unchangeable. According to research conducted by McKinsey, Deloitte, PwC, the Harvard Business School, and Forbes, organizations can help people improve their soft skills through coaching, mentoring, and training. When people improve these skills, they are better prepared to adapt to changes in technology and the workplace.   

Teaching soft skills requires planning, execution, employee buy in, and assessing success. 

Survey the organization’s needs.  The first step is to determine which soft skills are most in need of development.  

Look at both gaps in performance and high performance. What skill gaps may have contributed to negative customer feedback? What skills contributed to rave reviews? What skills are bubbling up most often in employee performance reviews? What skills are leveraged most by the highest performing teams? What are the skills on which you want to focus, and how can people best develop these skills?  

Develop teaching strategies.  With clear development priorities, the organization is ready to create an action plan. HR Partners and People Partners may find it useful to leverage consultants to help deliver programs and coaching to support development efforts.

Use a mix of approaches. Different skills and personal learning styles will require different learning strategies. Developing skills requires acquiring knowledge and putting that knowledge into practice. Here are some examples of learning approaches to help people develop their skills:

  • Skills workshops that include role plays focused on real work scenarios with self-reflection and feedback.
  • Coaching
  • Mentoring
  • Other learning methods that people can then put into practice, such as online courses, webinars, podcasts, etc. to build knowledge and insights, upskill or reskill.

Continuing efforts, as opposed to a “one and done” approach, will be needed.  After all, we don’t expect people to master skills in a single session.  

Get employees to buy in.  To invest in people development, employees need to understand the importance of soft skills and how coaching and training will help them develop these skills. Organizations can further emphasize the importance of soft skills through recognition, performance reviews, and requiring soft skills as criteria for promotion.  

Measure progress.  One mistake to avoid when assessing teaching programs is simply measuring “inputs,” such as the number of training sessions offered, “butts in seats,” or the number of hours completed.  It’s more useful to design ways to measure outcomes. Metrics will vary by organization but may include assessments of individual performance, employee engagement, team dynamics, customer satisfaction, sales volume, and similar data points. The goal is to be as objective as possible, and to keep the workforce informed.

As the world of work changes, soft skills (or “Critical Intangible Skills”) will only become more important, and strengthening these skills will provide an enduring foundation for success.

Please contact us if you would like more information about soft skills and employee development.  

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential, through coaching soft skills, among many other areas.

Reskilling:  Changing Roles for a Changing World

Reskilling is the process of preparing an existing workforce for new and different roles as the result of market changes and technology. Profound changes in the future of work, combined with a labor shortage, make reskilling a strategic imperative for large and small organizations alike.

Reskilling and upskilling are critical in a changing world

Upskilling and reskilling are more than trendy buzzwords.  They describe efforts to develop workforce skills in an era of technological transformation and demographic change.

In the previous blog, we looked at “upskilling,” the process of continuously upgrading employee skills in existing positions.  In this blog, we’ll consider “reskilling,” the process of preparing employees for different roles within an organization.

The world of work is changing

The World Economic Forum and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation predict that 1.1 billion jobs will be “radically transformed by technology” by the year 2030. The change will require intensive upskilling and reskilling to keep pace.  Despite the challenge, the WEF predicts that the combined effects of upskilling, reskilling, and improvements in early education could add $9 trillion to global GDP in this decade. 

The labor market is changing

The labor market is also forcing organizations to take reskilling and upskilling seriously. 

The U.S. unemployment rate was just 3.7% in November 2023, near historic lows.  According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, even if every unemployed person in the U.S. found work, the economy would still face a shortfall of 3 million workers. 

Long term demographic trends reveal an aging U.S. workforce whose growth has been slowing for decades.  In parts of Europe and East Asia, population decline has already begun.  The workforce of the future is likely to be smaller, in other words.  

Organizations can no longer expect to “hire” their way to success.  Instead, they must take steps to retain, upskill, and reskill the existing workforce.

Let’s next consider some of the steps to be taken in any successful reskilling effort. 

Identify Outmoded Positions and Skills Gaps to be Addressed

As was true of upskilling, the first step to a successful reskilling effort is to survey the organization’s needs. 

Identify the positions.  As a first step, the organization must look for positions becoming obsolete due to marketplace changes or advances in technology.  The organization should then look for areas where it wants to grow or where it has identified skills gaps. 

Identify the skills.  The next step is to identify the skills needed for success in the new positions.  The World Economic Forum and others have developed skills taxonomies to make the process more systematic.  Using such systems can help identify employees with related skills who may be a good fit for new positions.  

Identify the employees.  One under-appreciated challenge is to convince employees to undertake reskilling at all.  Organizations should recognize that reskilling can disrupt the lives of employees.  Resistance to change should be expected.

Organizations can manage that resistance by being open and transparent. Presenting clear career paths and training goals is key to improving results.

Design the reskilling effort to maximize success

Another key to success is giving proper attention to the process of reskilling.  

Choose appropriate reskilling methods.  For example, many adult learners prefer a “hands-on,” experiential approach to learning.  Practical training in the form of mentoring, internal apprenticeships, and “job shadowing” is often the most effective.

In other cases, online courses or webinars may be appropriate.  These should be easily digestible in short segments, typically an hour or less.  Lunchtime seminars are another way to fit learning into the workday.

Finally, some technical specialties may require certifications or the completion of degrees.  Some organizations, including Amazon, have programs to pre-pay or reimburse tuition and other educational expenses. They also provide time off for study and exam periods.

Involve all levels of management in the reskilling effort.  Having the support of C-suite leaders and upper level management is critical to success.  But still more is needed. 

The benefits of reskilling should be made clear to the middle managers and first line supervisors who implement it.  Too often these individuals bear the burdens of reskilling without reaping the benefits.  

One solution is to make employee development a part of the performance goals of all managers and supervisors.  Done properly, such goals can help instill a culture of development and provide incentives for participation. 

Meeting the future

The future of work is changing and so is the workforce.  Organizations need to adapt to the transformational changes already underway if they are to survive and thrive.  That means making the most of the existing workforce through upskilling and reskilling, to ensure that people have the tools they need to meet the challenges of tomorrow. 

Please contact us if you would like more information about reskilling, upskilling, and employee development.  

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.

Upskilling:  A Program of Continuous Development to Meet Changing Needs

Upskilling is an ongoing process of learning and development designed to meet current and future workplace requirements.  It leverages the talents of the existing workforce to improve business outcomes and increase employee retention. 

What is Upskilling?

The simple answer is that upskilling is the current buzzword for a program of continuous and long-term employee development.  Upskilling is distinct from the equally buzzy term “reskilling,” which is the process of moving employees from redundant or outmoded positions into new roles. 

Upskilling seeks to provide learning opportunities to an organization’s existing workforce in their current positions, not merely to fill gaps but to keep pace with the increasing rate of change in the world today.

What Are the Benefits of Upskilling?

Keeping ahead of the innovation curve is one of the main challenges for organizations large and small.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has predicted that technology will transform over 1 billion jobs in the next decade, while the World Economic Forum anticipates that upskilling will add $6 trillion to global GDP by 2030. 

Let’s take a look at a few of the benefits of the approach. 

Upskilling increases employee engagement and retention.  In today’s tight labor market employee retention is more important than ever.  Employees are looking for more than a paycheck.  They want to know that the organization is committed to helping them reach their full potential. 

Providing training and development opportunities is a tangible investment in their future careers.  When employees see a path to career growth, they are more likely to stay than look elsewhere. 

Upskilling is a cost-effective use of resources.  Training and development can be costly, but it should be thought of as an investment.  The alternative is new recruitment. 

There are drawbacks to recruiting people to bring skills to an organization. One is the labor market.  People who already have the latest, most in-demand skills are a scarce resource. They will be highly sought after and may command a premium. 

Another drawback is the time and expense of recruiting and integrating new hires into the existing workforce.  While training and development have costs, the cost of recruitment is greater. 

Upskilling improves business outcomes.  A final benefit is to improve the organization’s ability to achieve its business goals.  That applies regardless of industry. 

In one case, that may mean more effective customer outreach.  In another, it may mean completing transactions more efficiently. Wise organizations set business goals into the framework of their development efforts, providing a metric for effectiveness.

What Goes Into A Successful Upskilling Program?

Here are some guidelines for developing an effective program.

Survey the organization’s needs.  The first step is to identify existing skills’ gaps and future needs. The organization should review its business plans and the challenges it faces in achieving its goals.

It is equally important to ask:  What training and development opportunities do employees want?  That may not have an obvious answer.  Many employees will not know what particular skills they would like to develop. 

A better way of getting the information may be by asking, “Where would you like to take your career in the next year?  In five years?”  By framing the question more holistically, the employee and the organization can begin to take steps towards the desired goal. 

Develop individualized programs.  Having considered both the organization’s needs and the employees’ goals, the next step is to develop individualized plans. 

The survey process is likely to have uncovered recurring themes – both in terms of business needs and employee desires.  These themes can be subjects for broader training efforts across teams or departments.

Individuals should also be encouraged to explore subjects that interest them.  That may mean pursuing a software certification or other credential.  It may mean an introduction to another functional area or mentoring by an expert within the organization. 

Develop metrics to measure progress toward goals.  Finally, the organization needs to measure progress, both individually and as an organization. 

Individuals will want to know how they’re progressing – and how much farther they have to go to reach specific goals.  

The same applies to the organization as a whole. The more specific business goals can be measured, the more likely for upskilling to be seen as an investment in the future. 

If you would like to know more about upskilling, please contact us. 

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.

Using Organizational Development to Create Effective Change

Organizational development goes through these phases: identify a specific problem, solve the problem with change, assess progress, and reset organizational culture, says Rachel Burr, Catamentum leadership Coaching.

Organizational Development is a systematic method of creating effective institutional change.  It relies on open communication with stakeholders (which can include managers and employees, suppliers and clients) and effective feedback to:

  • Identify a specific problem;
  • Effect changes to address the problem; 
  • Assess progress; and,
  • Reset organizational culture to the “new normal.”

Impetus for organizational change comes from changes in strategy by top leaders, when leaders need to steer the organization in a particular direction, they will need active involvement by stakeholders at different levels. Individuals who are active in the process of change are more likely to adopt it. 

Change Agents Lead the Way

Organization Development operates through “change agents” – Change agents can be leaders within an organization. Other times, leaders partner with OD consultants who bring their expertise to help leaders create and sustain change. They work with individuals and teams to identify both the problems and possible solutions, and make change happen.

Once the desired outcomes for changes are identified, change agents often begin the process through structured activities, such as workshops, surveys, or interviews, which are designed to gather information and collect feedback as the process unfolds.  Another big part of the change agent’s role is to coordinate communication so the reasons for change, and the benefits of change, are well understood. 

The communication itself needs to come from leaders. An OD consultant can help leaders design a plan for communication, including timing and messaging to different stakeholders. They may even help draft communications for the leader, but it is important the leaders themselves communicate to ensure these communications have the necessary weight and importance.

The Change Management Model – Three Steps to Change

A clear and concise way of viewing organization development is through the Change Management Model originated by Kurt Lewin, a pioneer in the field.  According to Lewin, successful change occurs in three phases , which he labeled:

  • Unfreezing;
  • Transition; and,
  • Refreezing.

Let’s explore the three steps individually, keeping in mind that there will be overlap among them. 

Unfreezing – Preparing for Change

Unfreezing is the planning stage, in which leaders and those assisting leaders with organizational changes gather information to identify the problem and its cause.  As noted above, the process may include structured activities or workshops, as well as surveys and interviews, to get stakeholders actively involved. 

The objective is to help people understand why the changes are happening, how these changes will impact the work, what the challenges might be, and how to navigate those challenges.

The leader is the owner for the change(s), even though some of the implementation work can be delegated to others, the leader owns both the responsibility and the results. 

Transition – Making the Change

Once the organization is “unfrozen” and ready for change, it’s time for action.  The organization undertakes the planned course of action, often called interventions

Interventions can take any number of forms, and may impact individuals, groups, or the organization as a whole.  

An individual intervention may call for training or coaching, either due to a new role or a performance issue.  A group intervention may involve team building exercises or workshops to develop new ways of collaborating.  Finally, an organization intervention may involve restructuring or strategic changes that affect everyone.  Such major changes will be unique to each organization. 

Transition is the most difficult stage.  Even with maximum involvement and understanding, some individuals will resist adopting new ways of working.  Leaders must communicate – clearly and consistently – the need for, and benefits of, change, and they must be prepared to help the organization navigate the resistance. 

The change agent has a dual role at this stage:  Supporting leaders in their communications, while also monitoring the impact of change.  The second part of that role reflects the need to continue getting feedback, assessing effectiveness, and making adjustments if needed. 

Refreezing – Establishing a “New Normal”

Once the hurdles of the transition stage have been overcome and the results assessed, the organization needs to reset its culture around the new ways of working.  The refreezing stage is intended to reinforce and ground changes in the organization to avoid falling back into old patterns. 

Leaders must set the tone and lead by example, becoming role models for change.  Leaders must understand where flexibility will be necessary: giving individuals time to adapt, preparing for the inevitable resistance, and providing other support as needed.  The goal is to ensure the organization successfully embraces change as a new way of doing business. 

If you would like to learn more about organizational development, or if you want to leverage Catamentum’s OD expertise, please contact us.

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.

Boosting Employee Morale is Good Business

Ways to boost employee morale include giving employees autonomy, recognition, appreciation, avoiding burnout, respecting work-life boundaries, etc., per Catamentum leadership coach Rachel Burr.

Happiness and fulfillment is what we all want, in life and at work.   Work forms a big part of our individual identities – our sense of who we are and what we contribute to the world. Work is also an important source of social contact. 

Being happy at work is good for business too. 

Research consistently shows that high employee morale is associated with higher revenue and profitability. High employee morale is also associated with higher productivity and lower use of sick time.

This article will consider three simple strategies to boost employee morale to create a happier, more productive workforce and  increase your organization’s bottom line.

Increase Employee Morale by Fostering Autonomy and Agency

People generally like to feel a sense of being in control of their lives and destinies, not a powerless bystander.  A simple way to boost employee morale, then, is to provide opportunities for employees to exercise autonomy and agency in the workplace.

Autonomy and agency can take many forms.  The American Psychological Association suggests several simple steps, such as

·         Giving employees some control over their schedules and working hours;

·         Allowing employees to manage how assigned tasks are accomplished; and,

·         Giving employees a voice in decisions that affect them.

Another important way is to allow employees to use their natural strengths and talents at work.  An easy way to find out what captures an employee’s passion and interest is by having a conversation.  The next step is to support that passion and interest with career development and training, as needed. 

Recognition, Appreciation, and Pitfalls Thereof

As the Harvard Business Review points out, recognition and appreciation are very different animals.  Both can be beneficial.  Each offers a different way to connect with employees to boost morale.

Employee recognition is essentially transactional.  It rewards a job well done, a goal achieved, or a milestone met.  The reward may be financial but not necessarily so. 

Employee appreciation is the acknowledgement of a person’s inherent value, regardless of goals or milestones achieved.  It can be formal or informal, public or private, according to the circumstances.  It can be as simple as remembering a person’s birthday or giving a note of thanks. 

Celebrating both outstanding performance and inherent value provides the organization with more ways to reach out and interact with employees – to show them you care.  As Maya Angelou says, that’s what they’ll remember.

Paradoxically, some studies have shown that financial incentives can backfire as a reward for performance.  For example, an analysis by the London School of Economics found that financial incentives can reduce an employee’s natural desire to complete tasks, and the pleasure they feel in doing so.  

An article by the American Psychological Association also found that competition to achieve unrealistic performance goals can lead to cynicism and disengagement. 

While we like to receive financial rewards, organizations should handle them with care.

Addressing Employee Morale by Dealing with Structural Issues Leading to Burnout

Organizations have been hit with a number of challenges over the past several years.  We’ve been through the COVID lockdown, the “work-from-home” and “return-to-the-office” disruptions, and now a tight labor market. 

These stressors and disruptions can lead to exhaustion and burnout among employees – which requires a look at deeper, structural issues, with people strategies. The Harvard Business Review emphasizes the effect on middle managers, but any employee can feel the burden of being stretched too thin. 

When demand on employees outstrips their resources, here are some steps to take:

·         Re-assessing the work assigned – ask whether each employee has the resources to keep up;

·         Re-prioritizing the work – make a list of the top three priorities and consider removing outdated issues, or putting them on the back burner;

·         Re-distributing the work – ensure that the burden is equally shared and that no individual is bearing more than their share.  If budgets allow, consider bringing in outside help, whether temporarily or permanently.

Respecting work-life boundaries

Another issue is to look at working culture and working boundaries.  If the work intrudes on employees’ personal lives, it can add to stress and contribute to burnout.  Consider reinforcing the boundaries between working life and personal life. 

For example, implement a “no email on the weekends” rule to make sure employees get some real downtime to recharge.  Another possibility is to make vacation time mandatory.  If vacation is required, employees may feel less inclined to skip taking time off because they’re “too busy.” 

These are just some of the ways organizations can build employee morale for the good of both their employees and their bottom lines.  The key is communication.  If you would like more ideas to keep your employees motivated and engaged, please reach out.

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.

Click here to book an appointment.

Creating Effective Teams and Managing Personalities in Teamwork

Diversity in both skills and personalities in teamwork relies on team members’ psychological roles based on personality and functional roles.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

–       Helen Keller

Organizations are built on teamwork.  A large organization can include many different teams.  A small organization can be a team itself.  It follows that building better teams can lead to better outcomes for any size organization. 

This article will look at the elements of effective teams, the benefits of having different perspectives, and the effect of individual personalities in teamwork. 

The Benefits of Teamwork

Research has shown that teams have several advantages over individuals, including:

Better Problem Solving: Teams of three to five people consistently outperform the best individuals.  Researchers say teams generate correct responses to problems, reject incorrect responses, and process information more effectively than individuals.

Greater Innovation: Teams push and pull each other to new thoughts and insights.  A healthy clash of perspectives provides just enough discomfort to spur growth and new ideas.

Happier Employees. Employees in well-functioning teams are much more likely to report a sense of well-being, and happier employees are much more productive than unhappy ones.

Diverse Perspectives Make More Effective Teams

Just as teams outperform individuals, diverse teams outperform non-diverse ones.  As we’ll see, diverse teams tend to check each other’s assumptions and keep each other on track. 

The case for diversity in the workplace has been made repeatedly, including studies published by McKinsey & Company in 2015, 2018, and 2020. Diverse workplaces consistently report better financial results and are more profitable than non-diverse ones. Credit Suisse found a similar association between better financial results and including women on corporate boards.  

And, according to the Harvard Business Review, diverse working teams also perform better than non-diverse teams. For example:

Focus on Facts:  Diverse teams have been shown to focus more on facts and make fewer factual errors than non-diverse teams.  When errors do occur, they’re more likely to be corrected.

Information Processing: Diverse teams also have been shown to process information more carefully and deliberately than non-diverse teams, leading to more accurate decisions.

Greater Innovation:  Finally, diverse teams have been shown to introduce more innovations into the market, and to develop more new products, than non-diverse teams. 

Diversity pulls people out of the comfortable, well-worn patterns of thinking that occur in non-diverse contexts.  Getting out of that comfort zone is vital to making better decisions and driving innovation. 

The Effect of Personalities in Teamwork

Individual personalities also have a major impact on teamwork, no matter what kind of group is involved.  Team members’ personalities can affect cooperation, problem solving, and overall performance. 

The Harvard Business Review has proposed one way of looking at personality in the workplace:

Results Oriented.  Team members who are leaders, socially confident, and energetic. 

Relationship Focused.  Team members who focus on the feelings of others and fostering group cohesion. 

Process and Rule Followers.  Team members who pay attention to details, rules, and process.  They tend to be organized, responsible, and conscientious. 

Disruptive Thinkers.  Team members who focus on innovation and shaking things up.  They tend to be adventurous and open to new experiences.

Pragmatic.  Team members who are practical and skeptical.  They tend to challenge ideas and to be prudent and level-headed. 

None of the personality traits above is “better” than any other.  Teams with a mix of personalities and approaches result in better overall performance.

If the majority of the team are disruptive leaders, but the team lacks relationship builders, group cohesion will suffer.  If the majority are relationship builders, but the team lacks leaders and disruptors, innovation will suffer.  

Managing Personalities in Teamwork

One way to maximize team effectiveness is to recognize that team members play both a functional role and a psychological role. The functional role of each individual is based on their position and technical skills.  It is usually the main focus when putting together working teams.  Equally important is each team member’s psychological role, based on their personality. 

The goal is to create a balance of  personalities so the mix of different styles and  approaches will optimize the team’s success.

If your organization would like advice on building better teams, we are happy to assist. 

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.

To book an appointment visit: https://catamentum.com