Check-a-Trade’s new approach to work – A poly-working culture


As a part of our research into the evolution of hybrid-working and the rise of Poly-working, we spoke to business leaders who were able to give us a personal account of what flexible working means to them and their organisation. 

Leaders who give their people a say in how they structure their work around life, are recognising that all individuals are, well, individual and that everyone’s realities look very different. Whilst 9-5 may work for some, 6-3 would work better for others and travelling into the office everyday certainly isn’t for everyone. 

Imagine the productivity and happy teams leaders could create, by offering the workplace flexibility that people are craving. We believe that is exactly what Poly-working offers. Poly-working is ‘poly’ because it recognises that not one-size fits all and that there’s multiple different ways to work. 

We’ve been speaking to leaders that have adopted a more flexible approach to work, post-lockdown. Although John Frith, Chief People Officer at Check-a-Trade doesn’t yet identify their work culture as ‘Poly-working,’ Check-a-Trade’s new approach to work is taking on a new, more flexible shape. Allow John to explain…

I believe that flexibility works both ways. The more flexible I am with my team, the more flexible they will be in return, increasing trust and driving engagement.

As we moved out of lockdown and returned to the office, we adopted a ‘hybrid’ approach across the company, with colleagues asked to come to the office for a minimum of two days each week. I trust my team to deliver, so I gave them the opportunity to choose the days in the office that work best for them. Everyone is different, and by giving them the choice of where to work I know I will get the highest levels of performance. I also believe there are peaks and troughs in workload, particularly in HR, so when it’s quieter I try to give time back to the team.

The best of both worlds

Prior to the pandemic we were predominantly an office-based company with most people in four or five days per week. The pandemic gave us an unique opportunity to test remote working  and during this time we didn’t see any drop in performance – so we know that it works. 

That said, we missed having time together in person so I fully believe that hybrid working will give us the best of both worlds, provided we use it effectively. That means embracing new technology more than ever and being willing to change direction as we ‘test and learn’ our new hybrid model.

I haven’t heard anyone say that hybrid working is the wrong approach for us – almost everyone is embracing the opportunity to have the best of both worlds. Of course, there are people who prefer to spend the full week in the office and I am sure that will continue. Even those who wanted to stay fully remote have enjoyed being back in the office and having the opportunity to socialise with their team, especially those who joined us during lockdown. 

Testing and learning

Hybrid is still a new concept for us  – we launched in mid-September – so it’s still early days. We set a trial period to give us all time to find our groove, and we continue to test and learn as much as possible to really embed it. As a result, I believe it’s too early to say we have seen a benefit, but I am very confident it will be successful and drive higher levels of engagement. I also believe that remote working isn’t right for everyone (including me) so had we just offered remote working as a business that would have created more issues.

Trust has always been critical for any leader and leadership team and while I don’t think hybrid working has changed that, I do believe it has taken on a new importance. When working remotely, you have to step back and trust your team but equally know the right moments to check in.

I believe everyone is different and remote works well for some roles and individuals – but certainly not all. To that end I can only speak for us at Check-a-trade – and we believe hybrid is the way forward. 

Homeworking allows us to enjoy the benefits of quiet space and focus, all while embracing new technology, and returning to the office allows us to reap the rewards of teamwork, collaboration and creativity that come with meeting in person. It’s early days, but so far it looks like hybrid working could really help us take our performance to the next level.

Our whitepaper, Poly-working: The Evolution of Hybrid Working, offers an in-depth insight into how leaders are responding to the demand for more work flexibility and we provide the five interlinking areas that organisations must focus on to keep up with the curve. 

You can read it here

As a part of our research into the evolution of hybrid-working and the rise of Poly-working, we spoke to business leaders who were able to give us a personal account of what flexible working means to them and their organisation. 

Poly-working is not hybrid-working, it’s five steps further up the flexible working ladder. Poly-working is business leaders empowering their people to make their own decisions about how they want to work. It’s true flexibility around how, when and from where people work. It’s leaders gifting their people a big dose of trust and measuring results by output, not by contracted hours. 

Large businesses all over the world are adopting a poly-working approach and they’re reaping the benefits. For some though, this is nothing new and they can vouch for the power of flexible working because their organisation has adopted it from day one.

Blinkist, the app which helps us consume books really fast, has always allowed its people to work flexibly. Caroline Arora, VP of People and Culture at Blinkist, explains what this looks like for the organisation. 

From day one at Blinkist, we have adopted an approach where people choose their working pattern. We don’t have a rigid schedule of work as we appreciate that people produce their best work in different ways. That might be from home. That might be early mornings or late evenings and we encourage and enable people to choose what works best for them, in their teams. 

We have an amazing office in Berlin where we have a beautiful kitchen (La Cantina) providing free and super healthy food for everyone as well as an open-plan, relaxed environment aiming to drive creativity and collaboration. 

Our approach is ‘Berlin first, remote friendly’ and since the pandemic we have seen an increasing number of people choosing to have a more flexible and fluid hybrid working style, which we support. For example, our VP of People and Culture is based in Barcelona!

Retaining the best talent

We have always operated this way. We recognise that to attract and retain the best talent, we need to provide flexibility for people to be able to produce their best work and this isn’t always at one desk between the hours of 9-5 pm. 

The pandemic encouraged people to have even more choice over their working pattern and this has created the opportunity for us to really focus on how we engage, motivate and retain everyone in this hybrid world of working. We introduced a remote playbook to support people’s understanding of hybrid working including health and safety support, communications and ideas for collaboration to further enable people.

We run engagement surveys every quarter and our most recent survey in September showed that 94% of employees felt that Blinkist enables them to balance their work and personal lives. In addition, 91% of our employees felt that we have adapted well to working remotely.

We have always seen the benefits of working flexibly and empowering people to own their roles and accountabilities. It’s part of the DNA of how we work, which started from a Holacractic operating model and now expanding with our focus on empowerment. 

We believe empowered people are more engaged and productive, and we see this on our ongoing engagement surveys. This approach, which is really natural to us, enables us to attract, engage and retain the best people and create a really special, engaging community of people. 

Empowering people through leadership

We started Blinkist working in a Holacratic way of working and our approach to leadership has always been more about empowering people to deliver their role however they feel fit, rather than micro-management. 

Empowerment has always been a thread throughout our history and continues to be a key way of working. We do not have ‘managers’ at Blinkist, we have leaders focused more on coaching and developing individuals to learn and grow, rather than managing their day-to-day work. 

In the tech space and especially in Berlin, we see hybrid working as the norm. We see an exciting trend where people who used to be office based now have the freedom and choice to decide how they want to work. So, we have people working from numerous locations rather than one desk, 5 days a week, 9-5. This brings with it some challenges specifically around workplace safety and collaboration but these are all elements of our always evolving people and culture strategy that we try to focus on, address and use to enable people. 

Our whitepaper, Poly-working: The Evolution of Hybrid Working, offers an in-depth insight into how leaders are responding to the demand for more work flexibility and we provide the five interlinking areas that organisations must focus on to keep up with the curve. 

You can read it here

As a part of our research into the evolution of hybrid-working and the rise of Poly-working, we spoke to business leaders who were able to give us a personal account of what flexible working means to them and their organisation. 

If you’re new to the term, Poly-working is the approach to workplace culture that offers people true work flexibility. Poly-working is business leaders knowing that work represents a different slice of the life pie to each individual. Poly-working is knowing that we can’t go back to 2019 ways of working – people want to work from home (or not), they want to be a present parent at sports day, they want more time to do what makes them happy, which in turn makes them a more productive employee. We believe that Poly-working is the future and we’ve done our research to show you why. 

Emma Berry, Senior Director and Global Lead or Colleague Communications and Engagement at Pfizer, was kind enough to share her experience of Poly-working with us. 

With 57.6% of HR leads calling for ‘empathetic and supportive’ leaders to help transition the workplace into this new phase, it’s great to see a company being just that. Take it away, Emma…

For me personally, flexible working started long before the pandemic, as I was in roles that covered large geographies and time zones. It has become increasingly important to me over time as it gave me a chance to juggle my family and personal commitments and helped give me balance in my life. Even though my daughters are now grown up, I still value the flexibility I have to manage my health and personal energy as well as prioritise my relationships. It actually makes me far more energised and effective in my work.

‘And at Pfizer we have a culture that puts colleague health and wellness first.

We work extremely hard, but we are empowered and trusted to get our work done in a time and way that suits us personally.’

My manager focuses on the outcome – not the hours I work! We have clear goals and these are regularly talked about and assessed every 6 months. And of course, the reality is that when you empower and trust people, they give you more. Equally, it is our responsibility as a colleague to build that trust and not take advantage of the situation. 

At Pfizer we are highly energised by our purpose – delivering breakthroughs that change patients’ lives, and if you have a strong sense of purpose, this drives personal accountability. I think we have already made that move beyond hybrid working to a model whereby people can be trusted to work in a way that suits their individual lifestyles. And it will be very difficult to turn back the clock.

The most important thing to remember is that everyone is different – with different needs and preferences. So flexibility is vital and I believe that colleagues will want a range of options in the future and they will choose to work for the organisations who offer it. We also need to understand the needs and preferences of the next generation of colleagues. Young talent will expect us to offer flexibility in my view, but this includes and goes far beyond the option to work from home – they want to travel, have innovative space to work in and the latest technology in their hands to enable flexibility. One of my daughters recently graduated and I am seeing first hand the decisions her friends are making – and these factors are top of mind!

Our whitepaper, Poly-working: The Evolution of Hybrid Working, offers an in-depth insight into how leaders are responding to the demand for more work flexibility and we provide the five interlinking areas that organisations must focus on to keep up with the curve. 

You can read it here

By Jane Sparrow

The word on the lips of so many leaders we’re talking to right now is TEAM. In some cases people feel that the COVID experience has resulted in teams that are, in some ways, stronger than they were before due to closer connections, a level playing field and shared vulnerability. 

But, in other situations, we’ve heard of teams that have struggled to keep connected, have lots of new joiners and/or are just feeling ‘flat’. Building and maintaining bonds in the long-term chronic situation that we’ve been in hasn’t been easy. Whether virtually or in person, reconnecting and re-energising teams as we move forward into a Poly-Working world will be paramount. 

Delivering transformational team experiences

We’ve been enjoying supporting more and more teams as they come together to reconnect, realign and re-emerge and have lots of this in the diary to come. Today, as you read, The Culture Builders team is at Dorney Lake in the UK with the ViacomCBS Leadership Team, delivering a (COVID-safe) day of reflection, collaboration and team connection. 

As well as time together in a beautiful setting to share and explore, with the help of our faculty member and double Olympic gold medallist, Steve Williams OBE, the team will also ‘stress-test’ the ideas and approaches they’ve explored whilst rowing on the UK Olympic lake in Dorney. It often gets described as a transformational and life changing collective experience so we’re incredibly excited for the team with us today. For them, the reconnection will be critical in strengthening the bonds of cohesion that will ensure they face 2021 together as a united group and have a clear direction to ‘row’ as things change and re-settle.

Dynamic and experiential virtual sessions too 

With more and more requests coming through for in person team experiences, we are really feeling the green shoots of progress arriving. Whilst some aspects will remain virtual beyond the pandemic, some of the great benefits of face-to-face, including building trust, relationships, focus and alignment (faster!) are undeniable.     

Despite a COVID safe delivery, of course, for some it’s not what they feel comfortable with yet or it’s not something they’re able to do (including our longstanding global team clients). It’s important to acknowledge and properly respond to this – it’s one of the many, many critical factors that factor in the poly working world. Therefore, we’re continuing to deliver a high number of dynamic, interactive virtual team sessions too.

Team experiences that think different, think smart

Whilst many teams are grabbing the opportunity to come back together, they are definitely thinking differently about how they do it. We’re supporting organisations with plentiful plans around gradual transitions including re-familiarisation days, ‘in-day’ onboarding and experiential team lunches as the first interaction just to ease people in. 

We’re also supporting teams to deliver a range of brilliant virtual experiences with a fresh approach. Some of our favourite recent examples include a colour themed treasure hunt with a major software development company and a ‘locked room’ activity with a Scottish housing association.

Helping teams to understand their DNA

We’ve done a lot of work with teams on personality and personal styles during the pandemic and this continues in the team connection conversations and sessions we are running. Today at Dorney, the team will enjoy an experiential personality profiling session to enable them to understand each other more deeply, their team dynamic and what they each bring. 

We know that the highest performing teams have the highest levels of insight about each other including communication, decision making and learning preferences but also where they’re likely to go under pressure. This deep sense of knowing activates a deep sense of trust, an aspect that will become even more important in a Poly-Working world. 

Teams who own it together will be the teams who thrive

Teams need to own the task of creating sustainable ways of working, with the recognition that, more than ever, each one will need a unique approach that mixes personal circumstances/preferences with the need to deliver on requirements and do it in a way that keeps everyone thriving and creates inclusiveness. 

The only place to start on TEAM is with the team. We’re helping many, many teams right now to come together, be together and shape their future in a way that they can all commit to, a shared language they can all adopt, a common philosophy that promotes principles they all agree on. 

How will YOUR team reconnect, realign and re-emerge? We’d love to help.

By Jane Sparrow

It’s International Women’s Day so we are taking a moment to celebrate women everywhere. Over a tough year, the stories of the many women who’ve continued to play their part and inspire others, leaving a positive impact on the communities and nations around them, have been widespread. 

And let’s not forget the many inspirational women, from all walks of life and global locations, that are part of our network and reading this right now. It’s a pleasure to work alongside you. A call out also to everyone that champions equality, diversity and supporting talent everywhere, regardless of gender. Thank you, your role is vital.

Making inclusion a cornerstone of the agenda

Inclusion and championing women everywhere has been a staple of our organisational agenda since conception and we live this through our message, our network, our women’s afternoon teas across the country (continued virtually through lockdown!) and more. We’ve uploaded three brand new podcast episodes from inspirational women to mark #IWD.

Hilary Wells – Keeping an eye on the talent ball

Diana Jupp – Leadership in the charitable sector

Selina Hales – Working with purpose at the heart of culture

The women who inspire us

We also want to share some stories of the women who have inspired us. We loved sharing these stories with each other and if you can get your team together to talk about those who have inspired you, it’s a great conversation.

Jane: There are so many women that have inspired and helped me grow during the years so it’s difficult to single out just one. It was a wonderful exercise to create a list of those that have had an impact on me professionally and personally. I gave each name a number,  then asked my daughter to pick a number so I could feature just one. But, she reminded me of the story that she’d told me that I often refer to – Yusra Mardini from Syria that had made the journey to Germany, saved her fellow travellers and become an Olympic swimmer – a story that reflects so many values that I hold dear. So, instead, I’m picking Yusra to celebrate. We then talked about my wonderful Mum and her positive impact on both of us that is beyond words. She has been an inspiration and strength in every chapter of my journey. Thank you to all the women in my life –  all help me grow, enjoy everyday and give to others.

Chris: I can only begin to imagine how Rosa Parks felt on that bus, when she refused to change seats. She said ‘nah’ because she felt it wasn’t fair, and that must have taken a colossal amount of bravery. I wish I had half that courage.

Owen: I wanted to choose someone famous for this, but in the end I had to go with a former boss of mine, Heather Sim. She taught me so much about myself, and how to unlock potential in other people. She never told me what to do, always paused me, and asked questions to help me think differently, to think deeper. Then, when the time came that she wanted to step away from the charity she’d created, she did so with a poise, grace and dignity I don’t think I’ll ever be able to emulate, all while helping me and my colleagues step up in her wake.

Anna: What does it mean to inspire? For me, it means to love selflessly without judgement, to empower and nurture others and to put yourself out there even when you’re scared, so that others can learn from your story. There’s a woman who embodies all of this for me – in the way she connects, the spirit she embodies and the quiet way she makes her support visible. She knows suffering yet she brightens every room, she is one who is so wise yet she’s a lifelong learner, she seeks out and hears the voice of everyone from every corner. She’s a total legend and she’s called Pam August

Jo: I think that the woman who has most inspired me is Sojourner Truth. Born into slavery in New York, she escaped with her infant daughter in 1826, having already ‘lost’ her son to her master as he was seen as plantation property. She later went to court to recover her son and, in 1828, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.

Shona: For me, I had the pleasure of getting to know a wonderful woman by the name of Dawn Flockhart who I met when she was my NLP Master Practitioner in 2009.  She was a true angel on earth, a free spirit which radiated energy and a beautiful soul. Dawn taught me more than she will ever know, by being such an amazing selfless teacher and friend who was instrumental in shaping me to be the person I am today.

Annie: Baroness Doreen Lawrence who found purpose from unimaginable loss and stood up for justice and reform. She is a heroic figure who wishes there had never been a reason to know her name. Her modesty and composure tells me to be interested in quiet people because they are the ones most likely to change the world. 

Katie: When I think about women that have shaped my life and truly inspire me, it’s very easy to think of the amazing ones that raised me – my Mum, my Nan, my Aunties – all wonderful, caring, independent and strong. But today, another person springs to mind, Anna Jester. Anna has been a constant pillar of support for me since I joined The Culture Builders team two years ago. Regardless of how many plates she’s spinning, Anna is always there. She has challenged me, mentored me, helped me through tough times and taught me a heck of a lot. She’s a rockstar business woman, an amazing Mum to her boys and a great friend and colleague! 

Dolly: Dolly Parton of course! Not just for her music, dry sense of humour, infectious laugh & resilience either.  But for her many, many kind acts, (most of which are hardly mentioned) and charities she supports. Dolly needs to join the list of the greatest philanthropists of all time in my opinion. She’s certainly no 9 to 5 gal!

Female diverse faces of different ethnicity seamless pattern. Women empowerment movement pattern. International womens day graphic in vector (Female diverse faces of different ethnicity seamless pattern. Women empowerment movement pattern. Internation

More stories from inspirational women

We couldn’t resist sharing some other stories from amazing women over the past year or so too. Pick one that inspires you and have a listen as part of your #IWD celebrations – you could even get your team to do the same. It will spark a brilliant conversation and a session of story sharing, which is, in itself, a huge part of how we will continue to change the narrative around equality.

Kellie McSorley – Talent in the new reality
Libby Townsend – Energising a magnetic culture
Samantha Bramley – Culture change through ethical investment
Heather Golding –  Creative cultures are founded on trust
Suzana Thurston – Growing and managing an international culture within DAZN
Beccy Matthews – The balancing act that is personal wellness
Grace Hannah – Building a strong culture across a UK radio network
Pam August – Looking beneath the wings of WestJet

From the whole of our team – enjoy celebrating International Women’s Day – we all have so much to be proud of.

By Jane Sparrow

Statistics show that during the latest lockdown in the UK, 40 percent of people are exercising less than they were in the previous two, with people opting for a Netflix session over a workout. 

With energy levels challenged and resilience being tested to the max, it’s really easy to understand why this is the case. Of course, we also all know that staying active is crucial to tackling both of the aforementioned. 

Something we’ve really been shouting from the rooftops about lately is walking and talking. We’re all doing more Zooms than ever, in many instances without breaks in-between. Swapping out one or two of those each week for a walk and talk instead can work wonders on every level. 

As part of our Walk and Talk campaign, here are eight things you can do to literally create movement with your team – you will not regret it! 

1. Regular screen-free meetings 

We recently joined one of our key clients at their weekly team meeting to talk about ‘unplugging’, which for that week, they had decided to make it a screen-free one. They gave people the option to move away from their desks, sit in their favourite chair, make their lunch, or walk whilst listening. As this was an all-staff meeting it meant that everyone was on the move for 45 minutes, a solid way to ensure people were moving at least once that week. 

2. Planning ahead

How many video calls do you have that really could be done over the phone? Take a look at your diary for this week and find one call that can be converted to a walk and talk meeting. Embark on an act of kindness and encourage the other person or persons to do the same – a mood booster for all of you!

3. Team challenges

I’ve previously talked about the benefits of encouraging everyone to take on a team physical challenge, and a walking challenge is a great way to do this. Recently we have heard of people joining together to walk to India or Canada, for charitable or other reasons. If your team is small, you could even start with a hundred-mile challenge. Racking up the miles whilst on your team call is a great idea too and everyone reporting back on progress every week keeps the motivation high! 

4. Scavenger hunts 

A scavenger hunt is a fun way to make walking a little more exciting. Create one that’s right for your team, whether you are all based in a town, a rural area, a city or even shielding and therefore walking around the house/garden. Making sure there’s something for everyone regardless of their situation creates a real team feel. 

5. Beat the 3pm slump 

We all know that 3pm is the time our energy dips – one of the reasons we experience this is that we have been sitting still for too long. A great way to combat this is to go outside, get some fresh air and move. Do you have a 3pm video call that can be moved to audio-only? Galvanize the team around the 3pm slump and all get outside. 

6. Getting to know you

Challenge everyone in the team to take a walk each day and send a picture of something interesting that they have seen. You’ll end up with an album full of images of cities, countryside fields, wildlife, views from people’s homes and so much more. Great talking points in your team get together. 

7. Create natural stopping points

One of the most talked about topics of our 2020 & 2021 workshops so far is unplugging. Although we all know how vital it is to switch off, move regularly and eat properly, research shows that over half of UK workers aren’t taking a proper lunch break. A 20-minute walk and talk could well be the solution to remaining productive whilst getting outside and breathing in some fresh air – even if it’s just to the garden, balcony or an open window. 

8. Lead by example 

If you’re a leader or line manager, probably the most important thing of all is to think about what you’re up to and the tone that sets for the team who work around you. Do you schedule back to back meetings with no break? Do you ensure you unplug and get your people to do the same? Do you encourage movement and fresh air and schedule walk and talks with your team? If you do, they will follow.

There’s no doubt that the ongoing pandemic is having a massive impact on people’s mental wellbeing across the globe – so self-care is vital. The simple act of going outside every day helps to reduce anxiety, improve our mood and clear our minds – and it’s something we can all do, in some way, however small. 

Walking and talking isn’t just for lockdown. Kick off your own Walk and Talk campaign today for the long term – and we’d love to hear about the results.

By Jane Sparrow

As if by magic, it’s the end of February! A challenging couple of months for most and probably not the start of the year many of us had hoped for. However, like the many months that went before it, we have knuckled down, carried on and done our best to thrive, in a very different normal. 

Talking of thriving, we wished many of our clients and contacts a Happy Lunar New Year last week as we said goodbye to the year of the Rat and hello to the year of the Ox – a sign of new beginnings and boy do we all need some of those! With a new lunar year comes opportunity – for a new start for all of us, a clean slate, some fresh good intentions. 

If you’re one of the many people who’s New Year’s resolution has fallen by the wayside (nine out of ten will have, and the end of February is the classic time for this!), grab this opportunity to refocus. Ask yourself, what needs a course correction, what needs a new plan of attack, how can you get back on top of those new behaviours you set your heart on achieving? Perhaps there are great behaviours you and the team agreed to start too that maybe are losing intention?

Embedding positive new behaviours, i.e. creating habits, doesn’t just happen – there’s a real science behind them. In actual fact most of our daily lives are driven by a thousand different habits, we just aren’t aware of them. If we think about it, each of us will have created a myriad of new habits because of the challenges the pandemic has thrown at us. With a light at the end of the tunnel on that front, now is a great time to reflect on this and consider which of these new behaviours do you want to keep as we move beyond the current reality. If you do want to keep something for the long term, you’ll need to be intentional about it. 

We’ve been talking to a lot of groups about habits recently, as leaders and teams grapple with both the personal and organisational ones they want to create or keep as we slowly move beyond the current phase of the pandemic. So much so, we thought it was the perfect time to launch our latest module on Sourcecode, our virtual on-demand development platform. 

Packed full of thinking, inspiration, multimedia content and of course, practical ideas for you, your team and organisation, the module includes everything you need to know about making, changing and sustaining great positive habits. To give you a flavour (and to whet your appetite for more!), here’s a few tips on smashing habits.

What’s the why?

We talk about ‘why’ a lot and habits are no different. If the motivation isn’t strong enough, the action simply will not follow. Ask yourself, what will this new habit give me, why does it matter and what’s the long term impact? Write it down, know it inside out, have it ready to smother the unhelpful voices that might try to talk you out of it. 

Be specific 

A vague intention is about as likely to succeed as a chocolate teapot. For any behaviour to become consistent and eventually, become a habit, it has to be specific. What are you actually going to do? When? How? Who with? You get the picture. 

Get accountability

Some people are self motivators and able to hold themselves accountable, others are not (I’m saying nothing!). If you need that extra layer of accountability, get a habit buddy – this means telling someone (and asking them to check in about it), involving someone (anyone you can rope in) or simply letting your friends know you’re trying something new and asking if they can become your official cheerleaders. 

Nudge, nudge

Nudges are brilliant. My colleague puts his running shoes at the end of his bed every night so they’re the first thing he sees every morning, prompting his morning run. Our lives are full of visual nudges, get in control of yours to support the behaviours you want to create. You can find a brilliant podcast on Nudge theory in our Habits module on Sourcecode – check it out here.

Habit plus one 

My vitamin D spray is next to my tea bags so that I remember to take it everyday when I make my cup of tea in the morning. What embedded habits do you already have that can help you to embed new ones. A friend of mine used putting the bin out each week as a ‘habit plus one’ strategy to remember calling her mum every Sunday (don’t ask about the bin link!)

A positive change   

When we attempt to cut something out (a negative removal), we’re destined to fail. Whereas when we work to bring something new in (a positive addition), our brains respond so much better and our motivation levels are higher. If you want to cut out unhealthy snacking at 3pm, try replacing it with a new positive habit like a 3pm walk or chatting to a friend. 

Small wins the day 

When it comes to habits, too big will also mean failure. It’s tough to change too many things at once! Start small and add rather than start massive and fail. Every small win builds motivation and leads to big wins in time. Conquer one habit and then move onto the next. 

Expect a level of failure 

Everyone lapses when trying to build a new healthy habit – it’s part of the process and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. On average we will fail 16-24 times before we succeed so be ready for the occasional slip-up and know it’s OK! What’s important is that you use it as a way to understand your triggers and learn. 

Celebrate success at every step 

Embedding habits is hard work! Ensure you give yourself and/or the team plenty of rewards along the way – no matter how small the win! This will always motivate you and others to keep going, they remind you or your progress and they bring in some fun! Chunking it down with little rewards along the way will win!

Great habits are essential to so much of what is mission critical right now including resilience, productivity, overall performance and wellbeing. The biggest piece of advice I can give you when it comes to habits is to start with one – you can add more in once one new pattern is created. Never forget that as human beings, we are a system, so one new habit has more far reaching impact than you might think.  

In the words of the Lao Tzu, “Any journey in life towards GREATNESS begins with one step and a leap of faith. Nothing is guaranteed, but take every step at a time and you will get where you want to be.”

Check out the new habits module now live on Sourcecode.

By Jane Sparrow

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about resilience, managing emotions and social connection – all of which are fundamental to our own performance and that of our teams. This, of course, is always true, but it’s particularly pertinent right now as we continue to face so much challenge each day. 

There’s something else that is also critical right now and actually forms a part of all three of these things – appreciation. As a leader or people manager, if appreciation isn’t top of your priority list, especially right now, things are going to suffer (usually your people first and then you shortly after). And appreciation is more than you think – so read on!

Appreciation (here comes the science)

Every human being has a fundamental need to feel valued – to feel like they matter. Feeling that we have value goes part way to building a sense of purpose in life. Without a purpose, it’s hugely difficult for us as humans to find motivation. It’s certainly hard to be truly engaged in anything if we don’t feel valued by the people around us. 

Before the pandemic, a lack of employee recognition for individual contributions was the single biggest factor for British people feeling disengaged at work. Although I would expect to see this figure improve during the pandemic. We know from our work this year that when it comes to true appreciation in the workplace, there’s work to be done – there’s also more to appreciation than meets the eye…

You mean saying thank you more, right?

When we talk about appreciation, we’re talking about three key things. Firstly, it’s the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone – this is the saying ‘thank you’ part, but really importantly, not just for doing but for BEING as well (more on this below). 

Secondly, appreciation is taking an empathetic and compassionate approach in order to achieve a full understanding of a situation. This means keeping an open heart, listening deeply, asking questions (not making judgements), watching for non-verbal cues that something might not be right. 

And finally, appreciation is role modelling the behaviour where you take stock, with your team, and pause on what you’ve got to be grateful for. This includes noticing and celebrating success together, focusing on what you CAN control and tackling that together and being grateful for what each person brings to the team (as well as the weekly team doughnut delivery on a Friday that brings a smile). 

How to be a more appreciative leader 

Appreciation really is so much more than saying ‘good job’ every now and then. During the pandemic, we’ve seen appreciative leaders do really well, not only remaining resilient and high performing themselves but leading teams and companies who have done the same. They’ve done this through exercising all three aspects of appreciation, all of which are fundamental right now.

Here’s some different ideas for how to be a more appreciative leader, in every sense. 

Make it personal

You can make a thank you personal in so many different ways. For some leaders, it’s a handwritten letter or card, for others it’s an impromptu drop-in into a regular team meeting (this works brilliantly virtually!) to thank someone, for others it’s a gift chosen specifically for a certain individual. However you say thank you, make it personal and sincere. More than a thank you, think about proactively letting people know why you value them so much. Check out the famous Doug Conant, who during his 10 years at Campbell Soup Company wrote over 30,000 handwritten notes to employees (that would be found all over the world on bulletin boards and in employee cubicles alike).  

The virtual worship chair 

This has been one of my favourites in lockdown and is brilliant for creating positive emotion and team building. Everyone takes it in turns to sit in the virtual worship chair (a bespoke virtual background is nice!) whilst everyone else answers one question about them e.g. what they bring to the team that no-one else does, what we’ve learnt from them or why you matter so much to the team. Works amazingly face-to-face too (the more elaborate the actual chair the better!).

What’s important/precious to you?

Asking all of your team what is important (or precious) for them right now is a critical part of appreciating what they have got going on – in work and in life. Making this a regular part of team meetings (ideally towards the start!) as well as ongoing one to ones is essential to appreciating the stresses and strains of the wider team (and being able to act compassionately). 

I just called to say…

…nothing in particular! How often do you call your colleagues or team members just to see how they are? No work agenda, no purpose, other than connection (tell them this at the start of the call!). Call four people a week for this reason. Watch what happens. 

Being as well as doing

In parenting 101, you get taught to always praise your children for being as well as doing (so having an amazing personality, great freckles on their nose or being kind as much as smashing their maths test or helping to clear up). We need to bring the same philosophy as leaders – appreciate the people around you not just for what they do but the person they are and the impact that has. 

What’s the appreciation ‘why’ 

It’s relatively easy to say ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ but they’re wasted words if the recipient doesn’t feel there is much understanding of the work that goes on behind the scenes. If you’re showing appreciation for a job well done, explain why you believe it was such a good job and what the impact on others has been. It’s why employee of the month photos have little impact – no one knows how they got on the wall, or what they need to do to get there.

Celebrate success

Make celebrating the wins a part of every day. Start team meetings with success stories, virtual high fives for things achieved in and out of work. Have a group round of applause and dial-up the Zoom reactions. If a public thank you is appropriate, make the most of the fun, virtual appreciation techniques available! 

Recognise effort ahead of constructive critique

Appreciation is a key part of delivering successful critique. So often, employees have invested huge amounts of effort and energy into something, only to feel utterly deflated when the immediate feedback is critical. Ahead of challenging or critiquing work, always acknowledge the effort that has already gone into it and use link phrases to move onto the input – never say ‘but’…

Appreciate the bigger picture

When we’re caught up on business priorities and what needs to get done (never truer than now!), it’s easy to forget the wider impact of working life, especially at times when going above and beyond is required. Appreciate not only the effort your people make but the impact on their wider lives and recognise it appropriately. This is particularly relevant right now as millions of us continue to juggle so many balls including care, homeschooling and more. 

There’s something in it for you too

As well as being on the receiving end, let’s not forget how it makes you feel as a person when you appreciate others. Appreciating others is a great way to feel good yourself and top up your own tank of positivity, energy and serotonin. 

If you sit and write a letter to someone to appreciate them it feels like a very positive thing to do and thus also has an impact on your own personal resilience – something all leaders need right now! Back to Doug Conant – after being involved in a very serious automobile accident in July 2009, he was flooded with get-well notes from people all over Campbell Soup Company and beyond. The more supportive feedback you give to others, the more you may very well receive in return.

Appreciation is a leadership behaviour that will make you feel great, as well as those around you. Click here to download and print our appreciation cube – make it up and roll the cube with a different idea on showing your appreciation each day. Get your team to do it too and wait for the conversations it will start. You could even kick it all off on Valentines Day to kickstart the love!

by Jane Sparrow

It may only be the 22nd January but we’ve already run enough sessions with groups of leaders to know that the word on everyone’s lips is resilience. 

When we reflect on the pattern of the last 11 months, encompassing each lockdown we’ve entered in various parts of the world, we begin to see a definite trend in the shape of our collective energy curve – only the starting point has been lower every time. The clear message we are hearing from leaders across the world right now is one of concern about how to equip their people to withstand the coming weeks and months, when there’s so little left in the tank. 

In all of our workshops with leadership teams and people managers this month, we’ve been bringing people back to the basics of resilience – in essence, what makes us human – because it’s what makes us human and our most fundamental primal needs that ultimately determine our survival right now. 

The hierarchy of human needs 

A powerful way to think about this is to take Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs that’s been in general use since 1943. As you can see, from the lowest levels of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological (food, water and clothing), safety (job security and more recently, aspects like psychological safety too), love and belonging needs (human connection and friendship) and at the top, esteem, and self-actualization (achieving our potential). Of course, Maslow never planned for Wifi – which many of us put as the most fundamental needs in our lives!

The needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before anyone can attend to needs higher up. So what does this tell us? Totally – got it in one – if your people are not resting, if they don’t feel safe and they’re not connected to each other, they’re not going to hit the top of the pyramid and ‘perform’. This thinking is critical for work around resilience and performance. 

Our call to arms on team resilience (supporting the pyramid’s foundations) 

Times are tough, probably tougher than ever. Despite a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel (that’s perhaps longer than any expected or hoped), energy is at an all time low, cases at an all time high. 

We’re not starting from scratch on this resilience stuff – there’s been many successful individual, team and organisational strategies over the past 11 months to build upon. However, we have just entered a new phase (again) and the challenges around how our teams and ourselves are coping are possibly greater than they’ve ever been.

Here’s five key things we believe are paramount to focus on to equip your teams for the weeks ahead.

1. Team connection 

Humans are social, group animals. Interaction with others is essential, hence its place in Maslow’s hierarchy. Therefore, as part of your approach going forwards, taking the time to create interactions that are meaningful will be key. This is more than a scheduled call or a ‘how are you’, it’s a sustained commitment to connecting whenever possible, for reasons that are not just to move work forwards. It’s one to one conversations that are ad-hoc and two way. It’s shared reasons to be cheerful like something arriving on everyone’s doorstep that unites them in some way or enjoy a remote meal together, something we were recently interviewed by the BBC about. Tapping into the safety element of the pyramid, It’s being honest about how you are feeling, to encourage others to do the same.

2. True appreciation 

One step up from belonging in the hierarchy and we’ve got esteem – that ‘pumped up chest’ because we feel we’ve done something good and we are, therefore, worthy. Another basic but fundamental human need that the best leaders out there are putting a lot of energy into right now.  Think in your mind for a moment now about the positive emotional impact it had on you the last time someone said thank you, and I mean really said thank you. Check out our top tips for breaking the mould on appreciation here

3. Three dimensional resilience 

Resilience doesn’t happen in isolation and is more of a shared responsibility – as I’ve mentioned, we’re social creatures that like to feel connected to others and to something bigger than ourselves, and as such, we can derive a lot of our resilience from those around us. It’s therefore essential that we come at resilience through three lenses.  Individual resilience is all about you, how you manage yourself and your needs. Team resilience takes our focus wide and looks at how we support each other. Organisational resilience is where we need to be lifting our heads above the parapet and thinking about the big picture and the experience of those we see less regularly. We wrote a full white paper on that last year full of great ideas across all three levels. 

4. Role modelling rest 

I’m aware I’m coming back down to the bottom of the pyramid – so perhaps we should have started here but the reality is that rest isn’t really something many of us prioritise – and this has been exacerbated throughout the pandemic. Leaders are burnt out, teams exhausted – yet untaken holiday was at its highest level across organisations at the end of last year. Do we not need a rest more than ever? The reality is that many leaders and people managers are feeding the next pandemic – a mental and physiological health crisis as a result of the working practises of many during COVID-19. Ask yourself what you might be role modelling to help or  harm your people’s attitudes towards the importance of rest and unplugging. Grab a look at our remote working day graphic, explore it with the team as a great way to discuss habits (good and bad) and people’s attitudes towards rest (an essential ingredient of resilience).

5. Resilience for performance 

It’s only when all of the basic and fundamental layers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are in place that we are gifted with an opportunity to talk about performance. Without true resilience, which comes from our basic human needs being met, consistently, performance (or ‘actualisation of potential’ as Maslow calls it) is a mere farce, met with lip service.  Of course, when our human needs are met, which we have seen become a reality for the teams of many leaders we have worked with over the past year, fulfilling (and even smashing) potential comes back onto the table, a huge part of which is personal growth. We wrote a white paper on this whole area last year which may be of interest (if the rest of your people’s needs are being met!). 

If you’re a leader or people manager thinking deeply about ‘what next’ to bring people back from the brink – my advice is to not overthink it, use Maslow as your guide and go right back to basics. It’s what we all need right now. Rest, safety, connection and self worth – the rest, takes care of itself. 

By Jane Sparrow

We’ve all just experienced a ‘false dawn’ – the huge swell of hope, relief and expectation that the vaccine brought us has been roundly squashed by the reality that is January. Dwelling, for a moment, on the negatives – we are seeing case numbers hit all time highs and countries around the globe imposing strict measures to control the spread of COVID19. It feels (for half the world) that the cold grey mornings of January offer little in the way of hope as, sadly, short-term worries always trump long-term positives. 

But this isn’t March 2020. We’ve learnt so much in the last ten months, and now is the time to apply that. We have the gift of hindsight, we have the wins and the failures to emulate and avoid. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and estimate that we have written, as a professional community, more about the last year than any other year. The snowball of commentary, advice and observation for 2020 is incredible. Lessons have been learnt and things have been accomplished that would not have seemed possible. So, as dark and depressing as January 2021 seems, let’s not forget we are entering it with a whole new skill-set.

We know how to cope. We’ve gone from handling a crisis to understanding how to sustainably tackle what we are facing – the essence of resilience (an area we constantly deliver workshops on, helping teams to build it). Above this, we’ve seen a whole new focus on communication, and an understanding of what it truly means – connecting and involving people to ensure they feel valued and included. As we hit what will likely be the bleakest point of the pandemic, it’s critical to remember that what’s needed is ‘more of the same’. There’s no new solution, it’s going to come down to consistency and determination to do the right things that keep us together and focused.

Throughout 2020 we’ve shared the most critical, repeatable actions that have made the biggest impact. As with the global response, these have matured and adapted as things change. But, right now, we feel there are seven things that we would suggest you put on your ‘checklist’ of preparedness for the next phase of your response. They are the starting point for your planning and will hopefully give you the building blocks for a not only surviving, but thriving strategy that will see you into the Spring.

1. Maintaining social connection. In a world where social distancing is being encouraged, it’s so, so critical to ensure people are still linked to one another. This is not just a nice-to-have, it’s a critical factor. All the data we studied and sourced pointed to this being the number one factor. In one client, it was the most negative factor for more than 50 percent of the workforce. Emotional wellbeing should be seen as a group challenge, with ‘no-one left behind’. Our online content for this area was the most heavily subscribed during the height of things last year.

Humans are social, group animals. Interaction with others is essential – ensuring we feel valued, included and worthy. Therefore, as part of your approach going forwards, taking the time to create interactions that are meaningful will be paramount. This is more than a scheduled call or a ‘how are you’, it’s a sustained commitment to connecting whenever possible, for reasons that are not just to move work forwards. It’s one to one conversations that are ad-hoc and two way. It’s shared reasons to be cheerful like something arriving on everyone’s doorstep that unites them in some way. It’s being honest about how you are feeling, to encourage others to do the same. It’s making others your number one priority.

2. Keep up the communication. Of course, good, clear communication will be key – sharing updates, information and success stories. But, as any good Internal Communications person will tell you, it goes beyond that. We are engaging people and we are including people. 

Questions, discussion, debate and support all fall under this category. Good communication is two-way, good communication is about helping people to be more productive, good communication is about drawing people in, rather than pushing them away. 

Remember, the pinnacle of communication is making people feel something. Aim for that to be ‘cherished’.

3. Using your muscle memory. This is a short one, but also a very clear one. Take the time to review what you did, and didn’t do during 2020 to thrive during the toughest points. We all found ways of coping, and found habits and tools that helped us be effective. Think about how you can drop back into the positive groove that you established last summer, and flex those new ‘muscles’ again. We spoke to many people in July who had built a new, temporary lifestyle and professional approach around themselves that was proving effective. Find it again.

4. Keep moving (forwards). This one is both literal and figurative. In 2020 we spoke to teams that were running daily exercise classes, having walking challenges, standing meetings… We saw a wide and inventive variety of solutions to keeping people active. 

Physical movement became one of the top things that people focused on – the ‘Joe Wicks phenomenon’ was just the tip of the iceberg. We dished out tips to anyone who’d listen about the need to build in regular breaks and frequent activity – heck, we even wrote a book on it. 

But movement in our terms is also about moving yourself forward – learning, growing, keeping your mind active and nourishing your soul. People spent last year trying new languages, new past-times, cookery, podcasts, books. It wasn’t wholly driven by boredom. One of the stated factors for wellbeing is the ability to learn – stop doing it and you diminish.

As you prepare yourself for the rest of winter and early spring, we’d urge you to do two things for this area. Firstly, be mindful about your movement and exercise regime. Don’t make it impossible, and make it fit around the rest of your life, but equally, don’t leave it to chance. As we joked way back in April – exercise isn’t a walk to the fridge every hour. And, secondly, plan your learning. It doesn’t have to be epic, or time consuming, but it should feed your brain. 

5. Be the most human you can be. This isn’t a criticism, it’s a reminder. Last year we ran a resilience workshop with a senior executive team. They were tired, emotional… burnt out. They were also typical of every other exec team across the globe. At one point, a participant imploringly asked: “What more is it that people want? I’m doing SO much right now.” The answer was simple – they just want you to be human. We don’t need heroes right now, we need listeners, and people full of compassion for what we are going through. 

Reviewing a lot of the literature that’s covering pandemic leadership, this is the theme that we are seeing the most (and are talking to people about developing). Yes, we need a plan to navigate the situation, but we need it from leaders that we feel connected to, and we feel care, are genuine and honest.

‘Non alpha’ leaders are emerging as the most successful right now, and it’s a lesson for us all. Tough isn’t the way to go, being human is. So, as part of your strategy for interacting with others, for planning activity, for delivering work, think about how you will do it in ways that show you are listening, that you are responsive to others and that you are humble. Saying ‘I’m not OK’ is far more likely to win you trust than saying ‘I’m fine’.

6. Use your purpose as a driver. Keep talking about the ‘why’. One of my favorite stories is about the world’s deepest hand-dug well. It took four years, and was deeper than the height of the Empire State Building. Imagine, every day for three years and 364 days, facing the same unchanging vista – a floor of rock and earth that needed digging away. Determination kept them going, and the shared belief that ‘we will find water that will help end poverty’ drove them on. And, on the last day, the water didn’t trickle out of the floor, it exploded. An exciting way to fulfill your purpose!

You and your team may need to update your purpose (or, excitingly, as many teams have been – define a whole new one). But what a great way to start 2021 – agreeing what will give us the passion and commitment to ‘get through it’.

7. Do all of this together. “No man is an island,” wrote John Donne. He was half right – he missed half the population in this statement, but did nail the point that we are only successful together. 

Building on point five, being more human, use the power of those around you. Good teams and good organisations have a shared purpose – both big and small – which is your rallying point for bringing people together to work out how to continue achieving that (perhaps adapted) purpose in a tough environment. 

As you work through this checklist, talk about it with others, get their input, share your conclusions and challenges and, critically, link your success to that of others. Create joint actions that help you support each other, set metrics that everyone wants to hit and identify actions that add value to all.

So, that’s our starting seven (take one a day for the next seven days). Doubtless there are many others that could be added in – and we would encourage you to ‘find your eighth point’ as a way of making this personal to you. But, to borrow from my story, every well dug must start with the first spade of earth.

Let’s ensure that 2021 is the year that we ‘fix’ the world, and we start this by coming out of this phase of the pandemic stronger in our habits and approaches, and having moved on and moved forwards, together.