Thursday, 25 January 2018

Where does thought sit in today's business world?

According to an IoD article in the Directors magazine, a  recent study by a Swedish university on brain plasticity found that the brains of the overworked are aging more quickly.  In addition it reports, the busier CEOs become, the slower their thinking.  Clarity and creativity decreases and they might make bad decisions.  

The warnings of professionals for many years of the pressures on all top tier levels of management, and indeed of their teams, is now made real.  As stress levels rise, absence levels follow and the quality of decision making is arguably declining.  What impact is this having on organisational growth?  How do we address the threat of declining quality decision making in our leading companies and organisations?  It requires a fundamental shift in not what we do, but how we do it.

‘“What do you think?” are the four most powerful words to use in any transformation.’

So says Rene Carayol, globally renowned Executive coach and broadcaster.   The problem in most organisations is that even when (or if) they ask the question, not only is the questioner not listening with full attention, but the person asked is never given the time and space to truly think.  As a result, opportunities are lost.

Nancy Klein with Laura MurphyIn Nancy Klein’s ground breaking work on the Thinking Environment, she found that we think least well when faced with ridicule, competition, cynicism, criticism, and self-doubt.  We think best when we know we are respected, are seeking the best idea, not trying to win; our questions are welcomed, when we are encouraged to think beyond the usual.   And practical application of the tools associated with the Thinking Environment have borne exceptional results with participants universally praising the reduction of time spent in meetings, the quality outputs arising from conversations and the enhanced level of decision making at all levels of the business.  Excellence in leadership is developed at speed.

In my own work with the UK Division of a global company allowing people to think in the presence of full attention, equality and ease has generated a major shift in focus.  Senior executives are more confident about the decisions they are taking and how the actions arising from high quality thinking will occur. Running meetings using this approach and then focussing on one or two incisive questions has also enabled people to speak out with confidence. Creative solutions have been found that they readily admit would not have occurred otherwise and there is a greater clarity on what makes the difference to their bottom line.   

Partnership working is frequently a battleground with different private and public sector organisations following varying agendas and miscommunication can be rife.  It can also be a challenge to gain agreement using a vocabulary that is understood and owned by all sides.  Asking that question, “What do you think?” and then waiting, curious to know the answer and then curious to know what’s coming next is revolutionary.  No longer do people listen purely to interrupt, or add, or counter and there is no space for conflict to feed itself.  The result is better quality thinking and decision making.   
The impact is just as powerful on smaller organisations and some would argue more so.  It is their nimble flexibility which makes them a challenge to the corporates, the disruptors of their industry.  Yet SMEs have their own stressors which can threaten their ability to be nimble and with fewer resources at their disposal to help them cope.  A few simple changes to how they interact within their own staff, customers and suppliers can cut through this.  Faced with a problem, the SME senior group encapsulated it within a question and then following the principles above, enabled staff members who, the Director confided never spoke up, to bring their ideas to the table.  They cut through to the core of the problem and proposed a solution that would have remained unsaid. 

“We did this in half the time it would have taken to come up with a solution, and I think had the workshop been run differently, the solution would not have been as effective.” Business development manager

Many of us work in environments that do not encourage real thought and if this is your reality, your organisation is ignoring a sea-change in how excellent leaders operate.  A survey by Southampton University on 15 organisations that do operate in this manner quoted this:

“I can positively say that as a result of our Thinking Environment culture, our business has improved by at least 20%.  And that’s measurable in financial terms.” Provincial director, financial services

Ask yourself this incisive question. 

“If I knew that by generating a thinking environment I would improve work practices and take quality decisions, what would I do next?”

Get in touch and tell me.

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