Key success factors in any change program is to determine ‘quick wins.’

“Good things come to those who wait.” It is a saying that we are all used to, but sometimes in business quick wins are equally important.

This week I (Ak Sabbagh) was delighted to be invited to speak to a dozen or so CEOs as part of Bruce Fielding’s CEO Institute chapter here in Perth.  The topic was about not wasting a good crisis and using the time to be innovative and creative in your business.

We agreed that innovation does not mean that the business has to invent the cure for cancer or a new revolutionary app.  Indeed, many of the CEOs present were able to share how smaller innovations (like changes to current products and services, and tweaks to processes) have helped them to remain “business fit” in uncertain times.

With innovation comes ‘change.’ Change is an interesting thing – and right now, for many of us it feels like we are experiencing ‘change fatigue.’  Who isn’t exhausted by the amount of change that we are experiencing either directly or indirectly at the moment?

This led us to a conversation on our personal relationship with ‘change’ itself.  How do you feel about change?  For some, it is an exciting opportunity to challenge, create and grow.  For many, the mere thought of change brings up fears.  The fear of loss of control or agency, the loss of security and certainty, etc.

It turns out that these fears stem from deep seated chemistry within our brains.  In recent conversations with applied neuroscientists Lyra Puspa and Dr Paul Brown, I learned that our brains are naturally ‘lazy’ and love habit because it preserves energy.  This trait is essentially a key to survival.  Brains learn to become lazy by creating habits.  And as we get conditioned to those habits, (i.e. become creatures of habit), this reduces how much energy the brain exerts on doing things.

It’s why we look at systemising processes and creating procedures in what we do.

But there are times where we need to change the systems or the processes.  That means we need to change our habits, and our natural tendency is to resist the change.  Why? Because it means our brains have to work more to learn the new way of doing things.  This works at the most fundamental level – can you recall the agitation created the last time an invited guest sat at your dinner table in ‘your spot’ or your 2nd child’s usual chair?  Breaking the norm challenges us.

So one of the key success factors in any change program is to determine ‘quick wins.’  Incremental changes that move us towards the ultimate goal without a need to make major shifts all at once create an environment where ‘quick wins’ get associated with positive rewards (I guess that’s why they call them ‘wins’). A quick win sets off good chemistry in the brain.  Small, incremental, habit forming changes that are positively reinforced set off ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ chemical markers of motivation (opioids and dopamine).  In contrast, change that cause negative reinforcements sets off cortisol – a key stress marker.

So, what are the innovations you are introducing that are creating positive motivations? Creating new, constructive habits? We’d like to know what’s been going on with you in your business.

Join us this coming Friday 21st August at 9am WST with other business leaders and owners for a Zoom conversation to discuss what we’ve collectively learned, what we take forward, leave behind, and how we Find a New Balance.

Join us to Find a New Business Balance, click here to register now.

Ak Sabbagh

Coach & Mentor

Director

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Making lemonade from the Covid-19 lemon

As business coaches and mentors, my colleague Margaret Armitage and I are often asked by clients and contacts “what are you seeing ‘out there?’.” Over the past 6 months of our shared Covid-19 winter in Australia, we have lost count of how many times this question has been asked.

Our response feels somewhat ‘bi-polar.’  It all depends on what lens you see the world through and how you interpret that input.  We do see the tough side of how some businesses are not coping well, but in the main we are experiencing and seeing positive outcomes.

Part of the reason for this is that, as generally positive people, we tend to attract clients who are optimistic by nature, are open to learning and growth, possess a ‘on-purpose’ mindset, and have a creative ‘open’ quality about them.

When I shared this observation with a client last week, her response was “So I guess you’d call yourself a ‘glass half full’ person, then?”  My response: “Well that depends…”

I find the “glass half full/empty” analogy problematic as it never really considers CONTEXT.  And context determines (consciously or unconsciously) so much.

With respect to the glass, we must consider its purpose.  What is the glass for? If it is for beer, then for a beer enthusiast, half full OR half empty is not a good situation – it’s only a half a glass of beer.  If it is half full it will be too full for a red wine lover.  And if cognac is your thing, then the glass is most certainly over full – even at half.

You can apply the same logic to most things.  When it is raining, is that good or bad weather?  It’s great if you are on the farm and need rain, and not so great if you promised the kids a camping weekend!  In the end it’s a judgement call on a situation, and in the same way we judge anything as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ our attitude and perspective/context dictates the outcome.

The “glass half full/empty” concept is often used as an analogy to describe a person as being either an optimist or a pessimist.  Australian research just released by the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute  shows a link between pessimism about the future and a greater risk of dying earlier.  It showed that, on average, participants who scored higher on pessimism were likely to die two years earlier than optimists.  Interestingly, a highly optimistic perspective did not show extended life expectancy above the average life expectancy.

Regardless, what I take out of the research is that while you may not live longer than average by adopting a positive/optimistic attitude towards life, business, and the world at large, it certainly doesn’t hurt.  And when we work with positive, and optimistic business owners, we witness incredible creative energy that spins off opportunity and a sense of Agency (refer to Margaret’s blog last week) and certainty in a world that for others seems out of control.

It’s time to stop thinking about how bad (or in some cases, good) the whole Covid-19 situation is – enough energy is wasted there already.  Instead, if we simply acknowledge that it is what it is and ask how we can make the most of it, then we can begin to see a way out.

So what are we seeing out there? We are seeing optimistically minded business owners making lemonade from a pretty bitter lemon.  Among other things we see them:

  1. Redefine their businesses, seeing growth in new markets that were unavailable to them only 4 months ago.
  2. Learn more about themselves and their personal relationship with “change” and “risk,” often surprising us with bold moves to expand when competitors have shuttered up.
  3. Take stock of Covid-19 Lockdown #1 – learning and determining what they will take forward, leave behind, or adapt if and when Covid-19 Lockdown #2 occurs.
  4. Be real about the situation – not being over-optimistic and betting on a cure-all vaccine by Christmas (although wouldn’t that be great), instead, they are pragmatic and prudent in their planning for what may be.

Above all they are not waiting for a ‘new normal’ to form.  They are pro-actively creating, defining, and shaping the new normal for themselves and their businesses.

What are you seeing out there? What have you heard?  What have you learnt?

We would love to know…

Are you waiting for a ‘new normal’ to form or are you pro-actively creating, defining, and shaping a new normal for yourself and your business?

If you belong to the optimists doing the latter, then please join us on 21st August at 9am WST with other business leaders and owners for a Zoom conversation to discuss what we’ve collectively learned, what we take forward, leave behind, and how we Find a New Balance.

Join us to Find a New Business Balance, click here to register now.

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Brains, Drains and Webinars: How a Leader’s Brain Works in the Virtual Covid19 World

Margaret Armitage, 22nd April 2020

Amongst the flood of valuable online material, webinars, zoom meetings that make up life in COVID-19, there are one or two that have really resonated and bring a whole new awareness to me as a Leadership Coach (and a person, dare I say) in both an online world and when we return to ‘normal’.

The first that resonated was a revelation for me at a personal level regarding my own energy, or lack of! Many of us – me, my clients, colleagues and friends and family are feeling more exhausted being locked down, working from home, which is strange when you think about it because I for one expected to have so much more time and be more  relaxed without travel (in the air or on the ground) to fit into my life, or to negotiate my time around grandchildren’s school runs, or an exercise class or a myriad of things.

Well, it isn’t as I expected!

The online environment is more demanding – this new intimacy significantly amplifies the need for those in leadership to be present and expand our awareness. In other words, we need to stay focussed, we cant doodle, check social media or let our minds wander and then plug back in. It is more demanding because we are “missing many of the environmental and personal visual cues which enable us to easily speak or present face-to-face”.

I learnt this in a post from Claire Braund, Executive Director of Women on Boards, “The ON-switch is never OFF in this new World of Work”

The message to take from this is that our brains are working in a different way which accounts for some of the exhaustion we are feeling and we need to develop extra muscles used to build intimacy and presence at the same time as we are managing other tasks, such as checking the ‘chats’ and questions in our zoom meeting , ‘admitting’ people to the meeting, helping out those who ‘can’t get on’ –  all this whilst remaining fully engaged with the webinar we are running and of course – looking into the camera. It can be exhausting!!

The second amazing series of revelations came from an equally incredible woman, Lyra Puspa a neuroscientist and leadership coach who gave a webinar titled “Decoding the neuroscience of Leaders” or in my lay terms “How do Leaders Minds Work?”

The first significant fact that I discovered is that even when we aren’t using them our brain consumes around 20% of our energy! Which explains why this new world of work which demands much more brain activity is causing leaders to feel drained.

Another amazing insight from Lyra was the impact that stress and lack of sleep can have on our leadership brain’s mechanism. Now we all might know this intuitively and even have experience it, but Lyra explained why. The mechanism our brain follows when making decisions are almost involuntary – we have Fast, intuitive thinking 95% of the time and Slow, reflective thinking only 5% of the time. It is much easier to think Fast, like being on autopilot than it is to Slow down and be deliberate and intentional. When we are tired our default is Fast thinking – although we might feel like we are slow!

In addition to that we have two distinctly different Thinking Neural networks to inform our decision-making. The two networks cannot work at the same time – the DMN (Default Mode Network) manages the Relational thinking for feelings, empathy,other-centered information whilst the TPN (Task Positive Network ) manages Rational thinking, based on judgement, task, action and goal oriented neural activity.

Therefore, leaders cant work on a Financial Report and actively support the emotional needs of staff at the same time. It is impossible for our brains to do this.  Switching from one network to another quickly and easily is what leadership is about.  If we have had a bad night’s sleep or are stressed and anxious we will flip too quickly into Rational/Judgemental TPN thinking and may even show up as more racist or harsh in our decision-making.

 

Finally, leadership isn’t located in one part of the brain, however, there are two hormones, testosterone and cortisol, that influence our leadership style.  These hormones are present in everyone but the aim is to have higher Testosterone levels to help us be inspiring, fearless leaders and lower Cortisol levels to keep us healthy. Cortisol, sometimes called the ‘stress’ hormone blocks testosterone and reduces our immune systems. Studies show that high performing leaders have high testosterone, are resilient, bounce-back easily and see stress and failure as just another event. Whilst low performing leaders have high cortisol and take failure very seriously. Lyra’s research showed that cortisol reduces when we are at peace and in a deep reflective state and testosterone lifts. Brain measurements showed that during facilitated leadership coaching leaders can move into a deeply reflective state that induces a mindful state, similar to deep meditation in Buddhist monks. Following this deeply reflective state, an ‘aha moment’ frequently occurs resulting in transformational change. As a leadership coach, I hope for that for  all my clients.

So, it isn’t just an old wives tale that sleep and reflection builds strong leaders – It is proven by neuroscience that good rest, good food and mindfulness build up the muscles in our leaders brains helping us lead through difficult times. Please look after yourselves.

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All Choked up and Nowhere to go?

The Holden drama, or soap opera as one of my colleagues calls it, that we have seen play out in the last few weeks has raised commentary from many quarters on what should have been done and what could be done.

As a Business Coaching firm, Beckon Business has followed the scenario closely. My business partner Akram Sabbagh asked me “Are we seeing the Battle-for-a-Brand or Death-of-a-Business-Model?” Whatever the answer there is a lot of passion – feeling and angst about Holden’s shut down. The brand was/is loved. It has a cult like following.

The question made me think – is there anything Holden could have done differently to keep their business alive? I’m not going to make a list of dos and dont’s. Instead, I’m going to reflect on similarities in leadership approach with the fabled business story of Kodak and what brought about its demise.

It seems the one big thing that happened with Kodak is that Management/Leadership failed to keep their company relevant. Let’s consider:

1. Shift in consumer mindset: Leadership at Kodak were out of step with the changes in their market and didn’t get that there was a shifting sentiment from taking high quality photos for high quality printing to simply capturing the moment. The renowned ‘Kodak Moment’ no longer needed printing.
Sounds familiar with the move in car industry from developing a replacement Monaro to meeting the demands of environmentally friendly transport.

2. Shift in market values: The digital disruption changed the entire process of capturing the moment and impacted on the value placed on archiving family snapshots. Kodak’s leadership failed to see that their market was no longer women recording the family history, but everyone and anyone snapping the experience.  The market also moved from “trusted relationship” with their brand  to transactional convenience. Consumer’s wanted instant, quick and Kodak was still working on a quality and lengthy turn-around model.  They got the “moment” confused with the “chemistry.”

Fast forward to today and we have the same situation in the car industry where, despite a romantic/passionate bond to history with a brand name, the market is no longer looking for a legacy investment in the set of wheels that will be a family heirloom. Instead they value something that is going to be transitory and has minimal impact on the entire planet.

3. Weakened by your strength: Kodak leadership were proud of their role as a chemical company and saw their strength as producing high quality printed images with a consumer who valued this.

Despite having invented the digital camera, they minimised the digital aspect because it could never achieve the quality they saw as their leading market position. This was their weak spot. They didn’t see what the market loved about Kodak – that they could be trusted to capture the ‘’Moment.’  Again, the car industry has the same issue, especially those brands that have a cult like following. If you see your strength as a local car manufacturer when in reality it is your weakness then you may be going to end up like Kodak. That the manufacturing of vehicles in Australia was a loss-making venture has been known for years. The closure of the production plants is sad but predictable.  But I wonder if the people at GM are having their Kodak moment by seeing this as a manufacturing problem only?

Have they worked out the real value in the Holden brand itself?  Even if not manufactured in Australia, have they asked how ‘the Aussie’ cultural attachment to a century-old brand could be leveraged going forward right now to reinvigorate sales and imagination.

With the speedy changes in consumer sentiment, values, needs and beliefs, have the GM leaders missed the mark by seeing this as a manufacturing issue only?  Do they really know what their modern customers want from them?  What do the consumer’s value about their industry? What makes them relevant today? What are they very good at other than being a local car manufacturer in a globalised world?

And as a final thought… If you take out the brand names and industry specific references in this blog and replace it with your own, how does the above relate to your business and industry? What are you doing to keep relevant?

 

Margaret Armitage

Coach & Mentor

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What business coaching and space travel have in common

Feature photo:Photo Courtesy NASA

Written by Ak Sabbagh.

 

An article in the Weekend edition of The Australian Financial Review by Chief Executive of CSIRO’s Data61, Adrian Turner got me thinking about the work we do with our clients at Beckon Business.

We are often asked about how we “do” business coaching and what are its benefits.   This is relatively hard to articulate as each client uses business coaching in a different way. When they really take advantage of what we offer, it is not uncommon to measure average economic returns on investment somewhere between 7-13 times. The non-commercial and personal benefits are often immeasurable, with comments like “I’ve got my life back in balance” or “I am spending more time with my kids and family” or “I don’t get as stressed out anymore.”

Turner’s article was about the world environment and the threats we as a species are facing.  He suggested that we take an astronaut’s perspective of the situation.

What is Turner talking about? It is a phenomenon called the “overview effect” – described by space philosopher and author Frank White as “seeing the Earth from a distance, and realising the inherent unity and oneness of everything… The viewer moves from identification with parts of the Earth to identification with the whole system.”

I was unaware that this was a “thing” despite having had the opportunity some years back to sit at dinner with Captain Dan Brandenstein who flew four shuttle missions.  He described how seeing the Earth as an entire system, it’s fragility, the intensity of the stars, etc. as a life-changing experience.  It gave him a new perspective on life.  The Overview Effect.

It’s the same perspective that we give our clients.

In many ways the role of a business coach is to help an entrepreneur and his/her partners gain the overview effect on their business.  We regularly get comments like “I’ve never seen my business this way before.” “It’s like the fog’s been cleared…”

How do we do this? We use a coaching style to help our clients sit above it all and consider the context of their situation – rather than sitting in the situation itself.  We use proven frameworks and tools to engage in discussions that elevate our client’s perspective of their business, processes, leadership and communication styles, people, goals and aspirations to new levels.  We are always innovating new approaches to help our clients get the “overview effect” they need to realise that the solution was always with them – it’s just that they were standing too close to see it.

Why do we do this? Because, regardless of the size or style of their business, we love working with the highfliers in business who want to enhance their experience of being “in business.”

 

 

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