Are Work Habits Ruining Your Productivity?

Growth Mindset in Sports

Physical education, games and sports are a vital and integral part of a fully rounded holistic education. I also believe that for many children they also provide some of the most powerful and transferable experiences of what it means to be an effective learner. A child who develops a strong inclination towards a particular student quickly learns the natural connection between effort and outcomes – the more I train and apply myself, the better I become and the more success I can achieve in the sport.

So, as the concept of ‘Growth Mindset’ has developed over the last few years, it was important that specific attention be paid to its application in the area of sport. So, I was very pleased to see from this article that a book has been written on that subject;

Mindsetworks – Blog – Put Me In Coach – Growth Mindset in the World of Sports

Whilst I’m very keen to read the book, the article suggests that the writers have done a good job. One of the points that struck me was one where from time to time i’ve deliberately chosen to have provocative and thoughtful debates with teachers – how should children be chosen for school sports teams? All too often, the child with the high level of innate early talent gets called up for the team over the child who may be starting from a lower base, but who has the growth mindset and potential to work and strive to develop the technical skills.

The other thing the article talks about is the areas where sports coaches can sometimes have ‘blind spots’. Whilst they may pride themselves on a growth mindset approach towards the children and their technical skills and competence in the sport, they may harbour fixed mindset attitudes towards things like resilience, motivation and mental toughness. It’s important that coaches recognise that these are all things that can be learned and tailor their approaches accordingly.

Higher quality coaching that utilises and harnesses the power of growth mindset thinking can ensure that more children get more rich and rewarding experiences from their engagement with games and sports.

Be a Go-Giver

I believe in 10 years from now, people are going to look back and reflect that the work of Adam Grant had a profound impact on our organisations, and even on the wider society. His work is associated with research in to what makes people productive and successful.

What I’ve particularly liked about his work and what has motivated me to continue to follow his ideas is the inclination and motivation he exhibits to promote thinking that enables us to create better organisations – ones in which good people flourish and the less good mend their ways or lose.

I’ve written here in the blog in the past about Grant’s books;

Pursue Meaning, Not Happiness
Being an Original

I’ve also been fond of giving his books as gifts.

So, I was pleased to come across this a few days ago – a video of a recent TED talk given by Grant that brings up to date some of his thinking on giving. In it, he makes some particularly valuable points about how to identify ‘agreeable takers’ who are perhaps some of the most dangerous people in the workplace. He also highlights how givers tend to both be the biggest strugglers and the biggest winners in organisations – there are no half measures with the givers. I also took away his thoughts about how to identify at the time of interviewing prospective employees, who is a taker, a giver or a matcher.

Great Teachers are Made, Not Born

It’s very popular in schools today to talk about ‘lifelong learning’ and its desirability in our pupils. We are meant to take approaches in teaching and learning that help students to develop the skills, the desire and the willingness to take responsibility for their own learning. We want them to see learning as a “pull” process, not a “push” process. We don’t want children to passively wait for us to put knowledge in to them – to do school TO them. Instead, we want their curiosity, their willingness to take knowledge from wherever they think is appropriate, based upon the skill of discernment towards sources.

Who need to be the ‘lead lifelong learners’? The teachers. As education leaders we need to be very clear – this is unlikely to just simply happen by chance, certainly on the levels and frequency we need to influence children directly or indirectly. So, ways to get teachers on a long term journey of learning and to get it outwardly visible to children should be critical parts of our focus. Commitment to invest time in learning is almost always an additional commitment over and above the standard work that a teacher does (teaching time load etc.), not something you’re going to pay people extra for and not something you can really chastise a teacher for not doing. So, it’s critical that these teachers be;
a) engaged with their work,
b) motivated and positive in their outlook,
c) believing that investing effort in their own learning will be acknowledged and recognised by the school/ organisation,
d) seeing commitment to learning as one of the factors applied when considering who gets promoted/ leadership opportunities, and
e) inspired by a positive mission and vision for what the school seeks to achieve that makes them feel confident that commitment to more learning is a reasonable expectation.

The Economist published an interesting article last year entitled – How to Make a Good Teacher: What Matters in Schools is Teachers. Fortunately, Teaching Can be Taught
(Click on the link above to read the article)

It concerned me that the article failed to give due importance to these leadership related factors or the link between teachers learning and striving to improve and the need for children to develop as lifelong learners.

Other concerns were that the article so easily accepts a starting assumption that ‘grades and scores’ achieved by children are the measure of effective teaching. In such circumstances, we shouldn’t be at all surprised that many teachers become motivated to teach to the tests. If others are going to judge them on the basis of children’s test results, then they will do what it takes to have the children produce the highest possible test results.

There was one issue that the article gets right. This is an acknowledgement that within any school, overall good or poor, there will be pockets of excellence and pockets of mediocrity. Thus, for a parent or a pupil there is a degree of chance in whether they are the recipients of great teaching or not depending on which teacher teaches them, however good the school overall. I continue to feel that other industries and especially service industries would not consider this to be an acceptable compromise – that the experience of different customers can be so very different in standards depending on the individual they interact with. I believe that education has to continue to shift to acceptance that schools and leadership have the right to determine standard expectations – to define what are the ‘givens’ and to expect that teachers will commit to strive to achieve that level of standardisation as a minimum.

Next, the commitment to support the teacher’s learning and skills development to achieve those standard minimums should belong to both the school and the teacher. I get concerned at the frequency in schools and teacher culture where there is a perception that the only party paying (financially or in time) for teachers’ attendance at training or learning events, or conferences, should always be at the cost of the school.

The article touches upon the issue that is often discussed – how are the ‘best’ candidates attracted in to the profession of teaching? This is ironic as it really goes against the title and key directions of the article. If we believe that teaching can be learned and teachers are developed rather than born, then where the candidates come from should be less of an issue. This reminds me of a personal experience. When I was at Shri Ram, we took the management contract to manage a school in the Maldives under a public-private partnership with the Maldives government, known as Ghyasuddin International School. When i went to visit, i met many teachers already working in the school whose own education may have not gone much beyond higher secondary. They were very nervous and apprehensive that the new management would simply replace them with imported teachers from India. I set out to strongly get across to them that if they were willing to put in the effort, commitment and flexibility to learn what we wanted them to learn to teach to the standards that we were looking for, they had no reason to fear.

I recently met the Principal of that school and was very happy to learn that so many of those teachers are still in the school, having been transformed in their teaching and standards through a shared and common commitment to invest time and effort in learning.

My final thought on the article – I agree wholeheartedly with the writer’s belief that openness to feedback is a key part of what enables a teacher to grow, to learn and raise their game continuously. Of course, it goes without saying that you can never be too good – every teacher must believe that there is always something in their skills toolkit that they can make better.

More Evidence on Performance Management

Continuing with a recent theme here are some further thoughts regarding Performance Management systems and processes in companies and organisations, after I read this article today;

Entrepreneur – The 3 Performance Management Mistakes You Need To Stop Making

To my mind, the frequency of such articles about ‘fixing’ performance management are a measure of the problems and challenges that exist, as I’ve highlighted in my earlier articles. When i was in Delhi, initially there was no performance management system. The HR and senior team did considerable research in to what was done by other organisations. We polled our teachers and other staff and had endless hours of meetings and discussions looking at different models that we could adopt.

Ultimately, though, we came to a point where there was a crunch question we had to answer – will introduction of this system raise engagement, employee motivation and delivery of the vision, mission and values to a higher level than being achieved with no PM system? Every time we asked the question, we failed to have an answer about which we could be really confident. And so, for over two years we went around and around the issues. We genuinely feared that we could finish up with something that was worse than nothing – and we couldn’t accept that.

One of the other questions that had us all stumped was – could we arrive at a scenario where every individual in the organisation was being told that their performance was at least satisfactory, if not better, and yet be failing to achieve the organisation’s overall objectives. To my knowledge, there is no process by which you can add up all the sum total of implications of all employees’ performance management objectives to determine whether they add up to the collective goals of the organisation.

A further issue raised by a number of teachers was – you say that you want us to work with a team focus, to function in teams and work for each other – yet you talk of a performance system that will judge and rate us individually. I have to say, I think they had a very valid point.

I have also sometimes worried that if performance management discussions are focused on the negative and weaknesses, this is potentially demoralizing, but if they focus on the positive staff will extrapolate that this justifies bigger raises etc. Ultimately, we want to be stimulating dialogue and discussion that ensures all team members understand where the organisation is going, their role in that progress and the standards/ metrics for individual performance within that collective performance.

The four mistakes highlighted by the article for correction are; Ignoring signs, Setting vague goals, Using subjective scoring and Delays/ Putting Off PM meetings.

The first is a fundamental of leadership and management – one needs to determine what measurables enable you to guage the health and direction of effort, track them relentlessly and be ready to take corrective action when things are not happening the way they need to. In fact, rigidly timed PM systems can get in the way of the timely intervention. If an individual needs to be redirected, that needs to happen sooner, not when their PM meeting next comes around. For the third point, the article advocates rubrics. However, I really wonder just how many different sets of these rubrics would need to exist and what this would amount to in time commitment. In addition, to be good a rubric has to be very carefully drafted and educators consider this a specialised skill. Any rubric is only as good as the common shared understanding of the words used in it. Differing understanding will lead to differing interpretations of expectations.

The article doesn’t address what I consider (see yesterday’s article) to be the biggest weakness of PM systems – that they are inherently backward looking. I feel the way forward does lie through structures of dialogue that are formative, forward focused and strongly aligned to the goals and aspirations of both the individual and the organisation.

Beyond Performance Reviews

If you had to create a system from scratch that would contribute to having higher levels of work engagement among employees, would you create a conventional, traditional performance management/ review system as exists currently in most organisations? My guess is that few of us would choose to do that, at least without skepticism and a certain degree of sadness that we wished we had something better. Why - because we know of enough reasons why conventional performance review systems don't contribute to improved or increased engagement and more often, we know that they can be highly demotivational for a significant proportion of our team members.

Who would willingly choose to engage in a process that is ostensibly intended to improve performance, to drive up standards across an organisation and keep 'all the fishes' swimming in a common direction, where the evidence actually suggests that the process demotivates many and leaves others ambivalent about the process, their longer term career and life aspirations and the contribution they make to the organisation?

In knowledge-based organisations and professional fields the process of finding, recruiting and integrating new people is an enormously expensive one. It doesn't necessarily appear as a defined line in budgets, so many of these costs are concealed and hidden in other working costs. In addition, turnover of people, the inevitable times when there are gaps when a position is left vacant because a suitable person can't be identified all act as further hidden costs. It's even worse than that, though. Finding people who are a perfect fit is almost impossible. So, people are taken in to the organisation and considerable time and effort goes in to helping them to fit the roles for which the organisation needs them. In those circumstances to either lose the person or (maybe worse), to have the person stay but never really fulfil their potential is a massive cost. When it happens too often, you have an underperforming organisation that can never really be all that was dreamed or envisaged.

So, we have to be open to all ideas and possibilities about how to lead knowledge workers effectively, in ways that are respectful and respected. To lead people in ways that enhance people's potential contribution, make them feel certain that they're in a place where their personal and organisational goals can be aligned and to see that their future dreams can often be achieved in some form in the organisation (instead of believing that they must go elsewhere).

Ironically, i suspect the lack of meaningful discussion with employees about the future - their futures - is one of the reasons that so many reduce their organisational existence down to just a discussion about money. If i believe the organisation isn't interested in me and the future i dream of for me, then i might as well at least get as much money from the organisation as i can for the limited period that I'm going to stay.

As Russ Laraway highlights in the video above, and in this Fast Company article the biggest shortcoming of performance management reviews (when they happen and even when they're done well) is that they are inherently backward looking. Worse, to my mind, is that they don't look at the past from the perspective of what was important to the individual, but according to a checklist of tasks or deliverables that the organisation wanted from the individual. Laraway acknowledges that the past is an important part of career discussions, but from the context of the person's whole past and especially those aspects of the past that hold clues to who the individual is and their priorities today.

I wrote yesterday about the millennials and how they are different - requiring different approaches from us in the workplace. This is a classic example. As highlighted in the video shared yesterday, they want more attention to be made to them as people. Attention to their aspirations and dreams is something they want, so this approach makes sense and will strike a chord.

We live with a new reality. Workplaces have changed in the last 20 years or so. Leaders cannot be making assumptions that because they issue an order or instruction or declare that something is to be done in a particular way (or even the statement of a vision or mission) that it will be blindly followed, obeyed or done as stated. This isn't to say that millennial employees are willfully disobedient. It's more that they see the workplace and a job as something more transactional. In those circumstances, respecting the individual has dreams, taking time to understand them, their past and those dreams for the future fits right in with the sort of attention they seek in return for their professional contribution.

When Smart People Speak ……

Simon Sinek first crossed my radar a couple of years ago with an excellent and very popular TED talk. Since then i've followed his work with a lot of interest, because i feel he's one really smart guy and we should be taking note of the things he says.

So, I was delighted when a friend shared this video of an interview he gave recently. In it, i believe he sums up so well some critical aspects of the world we're living in today, and particularly the life experiences of so many 'millennials'.

The video has struck such a chord with so many, that Sinek has produced a further short video in which he elaborates a little more about how he came to take an interest in these issues. He also responds to some of the feedback that came his way after the initial interview.

Sinek’s work has predominantly been about leadership and organisations. As he points out, how to manage and lead millennials is now a significant issue in leadership. It does no good to simply condemn how they are, to criticize or to belittle. Millennials, as much as any generation before them are a product of the culture and environment they’ve grown up in.

I believe this is of way more than mere curious interest to us as educators. Firstly, there’s now a fair proportion of the teachers in our schools who are millennials. We need to understand how to lead them, motivate them, keep them and ensure that they are engaged and passionately committed to their work.

Secondly, I was especially struck by Sinek’s comment about how leaders cannot shrug off their responsibility to deal with the challenges associated with millennials. It’s no good to simply blame parents, earlier educators or the millennials themselves. So, we have to understand that if lack of quality parenting, or over-protective cossetting parenting is still influencing the lives of the children in our schools, then we have to figure out how to work with them. We need to help them to develop the skills pertaining to relationships, empathy for others, determining and recognising the importance of life meaning and purpose. Sinek’s arguments are valid, important and we need to be discussing our responses in schools.

Finally, here, I share the link to Simon Sinek’s website that carries more articles, resources and links to his other work:
Simon Sinek – Start With Why