Sunday, 27 May 2007

Positive Ageing

...pure inspiration...

One of our March blogs looked at the subject of legacy and making a contribution ; we featured the fabulous Peter, aka Geriatric1927 , who posts his own unique videoblogs on Youtube. Well, he's popped up again, this time as part of the band, The Zimmers, who stormed into the UK Singles Charts at Number 26 this week with a brilliant version of The Who's "My Generation" . Believe it or not the lead singer, Alf, is 90.

You might have seen The Zimmers featured on Tim Samuels' BBC2 documentary last week, Power to the People: The Great Granny Chart Invasion. What an inspirational bunch of people. This is positive ageing in practice.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Authentic Networking

Yesterday I went to a fascinating presentation by Microsoft
at a Womenintechnology event on Raising your Profile, at which the results of the recent Microsoft / Womenintechnology survey about women's careers in the technology industry were revealed.

Some women who completed the survey felt that a glass ceiling exists in their company; perhaps it's more common in some industries and cultures, however the message from the presenters was very clear - this is not a reason not to follow a career that you love and be very successful in it.

Eileen Brown, IT Pro Evangelist Team Manager,and fellow blogger (see here spent 10 years working as a navigating officer on Shell supertankers before joining Microsoft, so she clearly knows what it takes to succeed in a male environment. Both she, and Kate Isler,Chief of Staff for the Microsoft Online Services Group, emphasised the role of choice and responsibility in career decisions. It's easy to forget these when you're immersed in an organisation and especially if you seldom take the time to network externally.

I was also intrigued to hear limiting beliefs mentioned several times; many people allow themselves to be defined by their beliefs, even when they're unhelpful and can be changed. Uncovering what your beliefs are is a good first step to transforming them into something more useful.

At the panel debate and Q&A session afterwards, Salma Shah, Director of SN Training, talked about the importance of creating a consistent personal brand, not in the sense of something manufactured, but by building on your strengths and letting people know what you're about.

And Terry Thorpe, CTO of the Centre for Integral Transformation , and also a blogger (and whose blog looks spookily like ours... see here, mentioned the importance of networking as a way of doing the job you currently do, not as an add-on, or something that gets done after hours. I think this is a really critical part of business success - in the sense that it's the only way to let other people know who you are as a person, and what you stand for.

Finally, I liked what Paul Norris, Microsoft EMEA Director had to say about being yourself, being genuine and being human. Often in the cut and thrust of business we can forget that success is due to people. You can have a great product or service, but without great people you'll get nowhere. Getting the best out of your people, and allowing them to play to their strengths, is what will make your team and your business succeed.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Identify Your Strengths 2

Our last post looked at how to identify your character strengths using the VIA-IS on-line tool.

There is another on-line inventory called the Gallup Strengths Finder tool.

In order to access it, you need to buy Tom Rath's book first; with the book you get a password which enables you to access the tool on-line. As with the VIA-IS questionnaire, you get a report of your Top 5 Strengths. There is guidance in the book as to how to interpret the results and apply them.

And as we mentioned before, please use the results as a starting point for a discussion about your signature strengths, and how you might apply them day-to-day. You can also use them as the basis for creating an alternative Personal Development Plan, one which builds on the aptitudes you already have and which you enjoy using.

As always, we'd love to hear how you get on.

Bristol Happiness Lecture

Practical, research-based (and free) suggestions for improving your happiness and well-being.

On Saturday I went to the 2nd Bristol Happiness Lecture, presented by Dr Chris Johnstone and my UEL Positive Psychology course leader, Dr Ilona Boniwell .

Both presented lots of practical tips on how to apply Positive Psychology in the real world, supported by research on everything from Broaden and Build Theory of positive emotions to Self-Determination Theory.

Here's a small selection:

1) In any personal relationship the ratio of positives to negatives needs to be at least 5:1 (and not more than 11:1) for the relationship to really flourish. So, for example, make sure you say five positive things to your partner for every one criticism; if you do criticise, focus on the behaviour not the person.

2) A limited choice is better than no choice at all, or many choices. Choice enables autonomy, which is essential for motivation. This works very well in motivating small children to do things they don't otherwise want to do. So, for example, ask them if they want to do their maths homework first or their science homework - they'll be more motivated given a choice.

3) The things you focus on, good or bad, tend to increase in significance. Think of it in terms of rowing a boat across a lake; rather than focus on trying to avoid the rocks which get in the way, focus instead on what you can do to raise the water level.

4) Be aware of learned helplessness (Seligman); i.e. thinking 'Nothing I do matters' or 'I was helpless yesterday and regardless of new circumstances, I will be helpless again today'. This feeling can be very prevalent in organisations whose cultures do not allow staff to make a difference. It requires more management effort to re-engage people once you've lost them, than to manage them effectively from the start.

5) Negative feelings are not always bad, and not something to be avoided at all costs. They can enable you to respond to a situation in ways that lead to a turnaround. Boredom, for example, can prompt a child to seek out new and interesting experiences, and helps promote self-motivation. The key thing is to be aware of the negative emotion, and to ask yourself what it's there for.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Identify Your Strengths 1

Since our last blog on Strengths-based Management, several people have asked how to identify what their strengths are; there are a couple of easy-to-use questionnaires, the first is the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA - IS) .

Before you start, just a word of caution. As with all assessments of this kind, we would urge you to use the results as the starting point for a discussion about further personal development work, either for yourself or your team, rather than as an end in themselves. This is how we use them in coaching, to begin the process of Personal Development Planning.

The VIA-IS tool lists your strengths in rank order. You can access the it for free here . It is a very comprehensive assessment designed for adults, based on 24 character strengths . The full version contains 240 questions and takes about 30 minutes to complete.

You get a report of your Top 5 strengths immediately, which you can print out and/or save. If you want more information about character strengths, see Martin Seligman's book, Authentic Happiness.

In order to improve work and life satisfaction and well-being, use your Top 5 strengths every day, both inside and outside work.

There is a shorter version (Brief Strengths Test - only 24 questions) as well which you can access here. If you work with children, there is also a young persons version (for age 10-17).

Friday, 4 May 2007

Strengths-based management

Many organisations are now talking about managing people according to their strengths, rather than the traditional approach where weaknesses are addressed. I find this new strengths-based approach (being used in recruitment, selection, evaluation, development, project management) very interesting on several levels.

In my experience, people seem quite keen to talk about their strengths; at least, they are keener to do this than share their weaknesses (or 'development needs' if you want to be PC). This also gives the whole area of organisational evaluation and development much needed energy and enthusiasm, which is a fantastic outcome. For many employees, annual appraisals were occasions to be endured; now they find that their managers actually want to talk to them about the things they excel at, which makes people feel a whole lot better about themselves, more motivated and more engaged,

The idea of playing to your strengths isn't new of course, but the suggestion that you no longer need to be a well-rounded individual at work is. I think there are some key skills that you have to develop, regardless of your strengths, particularly around the 'soft' interpersonal skills. At some point, therefore, you may need to look at areas where you are deficient. In order to be truly effective in the workplace, an understanding of how to identify and build on ones skills, knowledge and experience, as well as ones strengths, is required.

It seems to me that the thrust of strengths-based management reflects the position of Positive Psychology at the moment - erring very much on the side of the positive rather than focussing on the negative. I think what is required for both to be sustainable in the long term, however, is a more holistic approach.