Monday, January 28, 2013

Technology Noise In Organizations

Mobile technology, both the personal devices that employees bring to work with them and the company issued devices, have created a new and potentially annoying noise level. Have you sat in a large group meeting when several cell phones set to vibration buzz repeatedly, calendar alerts remind us that we have somewhere else we have to be soon, and reminder apps pop up from our ‘to do’ lists?  Or in a virtual team call via conference call, Skype or Google+ Hangout and multiple devices frequently interrupt the flow of the discussion? Trying to find a quiet spot in the public library to complete some research?

Is That For Me?
Today, most places we go there are likely to be multiple mobile devices around us and despite the variety of tones to download the default options are often used. This creates further disruption as half a dozen people in the meeting are checking their devices trying to figure out which one sent out the alert! These days we can add the automatic synching between devices for our calendars, emails, and reminder apps which will then set off multiple tones as reminders. In my office my laptop, cell phone and tablet all set off different tones at the same time; there is little chance I will miss a reminder but it can be disruptive when working alone and in most open plan workspaces it can create an almost imperceptible level of stress.

Early Lesson On Technology Noise
I received my first PDA years ago, just one day before leaving for a business trip. I had quickly set it up and added items to the calendar, tossed it in my briefcase and off I went. Sitting in a group meeting the next day, a rather loud and repeated beeping started up and was quickly traced to my bag. Trying to shut off the sound proved to be a challenge-the manual wasn’t with me and I had not had time to learn how to do much of anything with my new device.

That one lesson, in the days before everyone carried mobile devices, created awareness that as much fun as new technology is it is important to remember that in addition to learning how to use it to benefit ourselves we need to stay aware of the impact it may have on those around us in much the same way as we pay attention to how we communicate without technology. The always on culture pushes us to a level of multi-tasking beyond anything experienced before, we become focused on that next thing to do, place to be, or problem to solve lessening our abilities to be aware of the impact we have on others in the moment.

What, If Anything Should We Do About It?
What does common courtesy dictate and should your company consider guidelines that include reducing the pings, rings, and assorted other alert tones that multiple devices add to the general noise level?

Several studies I read indicated that the presence of uncontrollable noise can significantly impair cognitive performance (the link to one of those studies can be found here:

If the studies conducted in laboratories hold true outside the lab then taking preventative action to reduce noise may provide benefits beyond reducing momentary annoyance. It appears that most of the studies primarily considered the decibel level of noise although there is research being conducted on the lower levels encountered in office settings; and this is where we might consider it worthwhile to create a practice or habit of muting mobile device alerts when in meetings or open plan workspaces.

In Your Coaching Session
When coaching clients that are developing new time management habits it can be effective to ask them to reflect on what the ‘worst case scenario’ might be if they muted all alerts or tones before a meeting or when in an open plan workspace. What might they miss by doing so and what real or perceived impact might there be by doing so. Then it is easier to move the discussion forward to the benefits of muting distractions to productivity, effectiveness and wellness.

Do you experience this issue in your workplace? What, if anything, has been done to address it?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Change, Habits and Being Stuck

In December and January we see a lot of media attention on New Years resolutions. In December it is about making resolutions with a long list of tips to create meaningful resolutions and in January we see tips to make those resolutions a reality.  Sprinkled throughout this time period is acknowledgement that many people who make such resolutions lose motivation to see them through much beyond February.

One question that keeps me curious when all this talk of change, breaking or creating new habits and how to get unstuck is based on an observation that most of the advice seems to be rooted in making such changes to gain, avoid, or reverse something else; and that by doing so this will ‘fix’ a multitude of things we are not happy about in our life. Have you ever clicked on a link or picked up a book because a title spoke to that little voice inside your head that said, “maybe this will be the method that helps me make that change”?  Understandably we want the quickest and least disruptive method to success that we can have.

Do you subscribe to the theory that tackling one small change at a time is the best way to be successful at making change stick, or do you subscribe to the ‘all or nothing’ theory?

The push to change comes from various sources and it helps to understand what those sources are and how they may or may not resonate with us personally. When we find ourselves reacting to a change that is imposed on us from an external source, such as in the workplace, our community, families, and friends or from an internal source such as our desire for personal well being, understanding the role the external and internal pressures play is a good place to start. What changes are we making because of something that we want for ourselves and what changes are we considering because of organizational or societal pressures? Why do we make resolutions, the same ones, year after year without ever achieving the outcomes we expected?

For example, Jill and Chris both smoked for thirty years and had tried almost every quit smoking program available without success. Yet continued to make the same resolution every year, taking the same approach of trying the latest method to quit. Then one year Jill quit and has maintained that for ten years. Chris is still making the same resolution using the same method year after year, no one really expects Chris to quit anymore. The difference between the choice of wording Jill began using when she quit and the choice of wording that Chris uses is remarkably different. Jill started to talk about quitting for reasons that came from within; Chris continues to cite external reasons for quitting.

When you find yourself not meeting the desired outcomes for a change of a habit or feeling stuck try the exercise of writing why you want to make the change and evaluate which reasons come from within and which reasons come from external pressures. This simple exercise raises our awareness of why we do or do not move forward on change.

What clarity did you experience from that exercise? Did anything surprise you or did it confirm what you already knew but perhaps hadn’t thought about in the context of change?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Accountability & Potential-A Winning Combination

Happy New Year! Are you looking forward to 2013 as much as I am? Today, I am starting out with a chat about accountability and I look forward to your thoughts on the topic. 

How often do we hear, read or say: “they/he/she should be held accountable”? What does this really mean and how important is it to our personal success and to the success of a business or other organization? When something goes wrong or is not done when and as it should be the ‘hold “X” accountable is the rallying cry. Too often though it is others that we seek to hold accountable. “I did what I was supposed to; I went above and beyond” are comments that are often heard by those wanting to assure us that they took accountability seriously and this latest problem “is not their fault”-but “X” needs to be held accountable. Finger pointing and criticism too often accompany accountability so it is little wonder that we may feel self-protective when that happens. Yet accountability is likely one of the most freeing and effective methods of achieving our potential.

In the executive coaching certification program one key point that is reinforced throughout the program is that of accountability; that no matter what anyone does or does not do, if you want to overcome your challenges, you must be one hundred percent accountable for the outcome. This can seem a little daunting at first, after all, we can’t control other people, so what does being one hundred percent accountable mean? This point is also one that is reinforced in the Striving Styles Personality System Roadmap process, that clients hold themselves accountable for the progress they make and to take the necessary actions to achieve our potential.

Accountability is a topic that I dealt with frequently in my previous work, one that almost always left me thinking that there had to be a better way to link accountability to intrinsic motivation. It also made me more sensitive to my own level of accountability and aware of when I wasn’t being one hundred percent accountable-those moments when my willingness to accept full responsibility was overshadowed by a stronger urge to deflect that responsibility. Even when I was rationalizing these moments the little flag that tends to remind me that off loading accountability is not the best way to achieve my potential refused to let me entirely off the hook. When this happens we tend to expend energy ineffectively and overcoming challenges and meeting or exceeding our goals becomes that much more difficult.

In my coaching practice accountability has a very important role to play in both my success and the success my clients will achieve. Combining my experience in working with others on accountability in organizations, plus my new understanding of how we can make accountability work for us through my coaching certification process and the Striving Styles Personality System methods offers a much more effective and positive way to achieve our potential through accountability.

Where do you stand on accountability in your work right now? Do you ever feel frustrated in trying everything you can to achieve your goals but seem to keep running into roadblocks caused by circumstances or other people? Does your hard work result in less than expected results?

It is likely that accountability will show up in this blog throughout the year, I hope you join me in exploring a positive view of accountability.