After six glorious weeks of school holidays, this week we got properly back to work and back to the routine. August is a special month for me. Beyond the holidays, it’s my birthday month and it’s my company anniversary. Little Bird first hatched in August 2010. Working for yourself means you can and should take time for yourself when you need to. So, this summer, that’s exactly what I did. For the first time in eight years, I’ve taken the summer completely off to recharge. I took a big break with my family. We spent a lot of time at the beach, swimming in the sea, riding our bikes, and exploring where we live. We had a great time, prepared ourselves for a busy year ahead and it gave me the space to think and make plans for Little Bird Communication.
Back to the routine
I always look forward to getting back into the routine after a break, and these summer holidays were no exception. The open and fluid schedules of summer have given way to precision planning in the autumn and the military-grade preparation of getting kids to school, with the right kit on the right day and handing in their homework on time.
As my eldest gets used to his first term in secondary school and with it the alternating timetables, being the youngest again, finding his way around a big building, meanwhile my youngest is enjoying being in the final year of junior school and all the confidence that comes with knowing a place and its people so well after four years being settled in.
Fresh and new vs old and comfortable
It makes me think of how it is for any of us starting a new job or project, compared to how we feel when we’re so comfortable in the rules and systems of the places where we do our work.
When you’re new, you’re busy making sense of everything around you. You notice the quirks and unusual, you’re trying to find your way, assess how all of the newness fits with your values and what you expect of a place you’re going to be doing your work in and the people you share it with.
In contrast, when you’ve been somewhere for a few months or more, you’re settled and comfortable in your surroundings. You know the people and the rules, can work within them and you know what is the accepted norm.
Routine is great, it’s reassuring, it speeds up your processes and helps you to deliver the basics quickly and efficiently. Everyone knows where they need to be and when, what’s expected of them, their decision making and role delivery. People can comfortably stick to their role norms and carry on delivering the work needed to do the job.
But you can also be bound by those norms unwittingly. It takes effort to push out of the comfort that your work may have become. To help you to find creative solutions to your challenges you need to use some different tactics. You need to consciously work at it, put energy into new thinking and new ideas.
How leaders and communicators can help
So, what can we do, as business leaders and communicators to help people on either end of the role life cycle to maximise their potential to keep pushing outside of their comfort zone?
For the new starters, communication needs to give them reassurance and some certainty. Creating patterns and routines that helps them to make sense of the organisation more quickly. Our organisational cultures and values are key to this, they should be consistent. Say what you do and do what you say. If they aren’t consistent then you set your new starters off on an uncertain path.
Pain points to focus on:
Communication in recruitment and induction should be consistent. Recruiting great talent is becoming harder, our advertising has to work harder, but don’t ruin the experience once you’ve hooked the talent, follow up on your promises and be realistic.
First impressions count
That first week is critical – it’s an explosion of new information for the newcomer and your chance to make a first impression as employer. Sitting the newcomer at a desk to wade through online inductions and health and safety may save your HR team time, but what does that tell your new team member about how much you value them? Spend time with them, show them in person how the organisation works. Set time aside to welcome them. You can learn a lot from some of the best employers in the country and a good place to start is Glassdoor.
Face to face
Make introductions with key people and give them a ‘buddy’ to be their contact for anything in the first couple of weeks. Having a ‘friend’ in an unknown situation who you can go to for the endless queries you may have as you make your way around is so helpful. The buddy needs to be able to give the newcomer time and support. It’s no use telling the newcomer speak to Susan the PA, when Susan is in such high demand she’s rarely available.
After a week or two, spend time with your new recruit. Find out how they are getting on and what they notice about the business, what ideas they have and how they are feeling. Use careful questioning that allows new starters to talk openly and share their initial experiences and insights. This information can be invaluable to those in the organisation, giving a fresh perspective and ideas to solve age-old challenges for example.
For the comfortable
When you’ve been doing a role or working in the same company for a few years, it’s easy to get comfortable. That’s often part of what keeps you there. But modern employers need fresh thinking to stay successful. No-one can get away with doing what they always did and expect to stay in business or be the best. Organisations need new ideas from everyone not just the ‘millennials’ joining the company. Success depends upon people having open minds to new ideas and trying out new ways of doing things.
Encourage fresh thinking by:
Focus more on results – less on how you get there.
Clear strategic objectives with the openness and flexibility to find better ways of solving the challenge encourages people to think outside of their comfort zone. But you need the culture to allow this, you can’t just expect people to be innovative if the organisation’s procedures and ways of working are rigid or if perhaps there’s a fear of failure in the organisation.
Learning something new
Learning new skills is proven to enhance neuroplasticity – this is your brain making neural connections, reorganising itself and helping you to learn and solve problems. They don’t need to be work skills, they can be any new skills that help make new connections. As employers and leaders we need to encourage people and give them the opportunities to learn if they want to. Training budgets are tight in most organisations, but there are many ways to learn without busting budgets. Following a path of professional development, keeping skills and knowledge up to date is vital.
Meet new people
Meeting new people opens up your mind to new ideas, perspectives and thinking. It’s essential for comms folk to understand the people they need to communicate with, but in a world of work where everyone needs to communicate well, it’s an important aspect for the whole workforce. Whether it’s through your social circles, professional groups, customers, schools and more, the chance to meet and talk with other people who you do not know well helps you learn and keep a fresh perspective. I recently had the pleasure of spending mealtimes while away for work with two blind gentlemen. Talking to them, about their lives, the impact sight loss had had on them, and general day to day stuff like going to the pub or watching the football. It was humbling and helped me understand so much more about sight loss than I ever could by reading about it.
Change of scenery
When I start on a new project, I like to mull it over while taking a walk. I find walking helps me think the challenges through more easily. Some workplaces use tactics such as walking meetings to discuss project challenges, others may have away days, or other flexible approaches to work to help their people think and work differently. Understanding what works for your employees and the type of work that they need to do is key to finding the best way to change the scenery to inspire new thinking. Time at a museum, park, theme park, beach whatever it is to help your employees with fresh thinking.
Indulge your creative side
This maybe something more suited to some than others, but we all have a creative streak, and it may show in different ways. I love doodling, knitting and making things. I’ve just experimented making Jam, and that doesn’t need much creative input but the act of producing something ‘real’ and ‘edible’ brings a small sense of accomplishment. And it’s tasty. Finding ways to help employees indulge in creative outlets can help them to relax, connect with each other and keep their brains making connections too.
Recognising employees at different stages of their journey with an organisation and their different needs in how they work and what they bring to the business makes sense, but is easily overlooked in the day-to-day running. So take time to think about your processes, and how to maximise the potential of your people. Your communication and leadership needs to support these approaches with clarity and consistency so that people can flex and learn in their roles, and share their insights and knowledge.
In my first week back into the routine, I’ve been to #influencelive the CIPR afternoon event and heard Nigel Milton, Director of External Affairs at Heathrow talk of his time in post and the comms challenges faced at the airport over the last eight years. Then today I was in a field in Dorset for #commsunplugged, where I heard the UK Head of Comms for Twitter, Sam Hodges talk about comms in TV and Twitter. So I’ve definitely enjoyed a change of scenery, learned something new and met some new people too, bringing balance to my routine.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this aspect of work life.
What would you add to these solutions? Are you new into your role? What has stood out for you in your new organisation? If you’ve been in your post a while, how do you keep your thinking fresh?
Thanks for stopping by and reading my thoughts. I hope you’ll be inspired.
I work with businesses of all shapes and sizes to help them communicate clearly, reveal the human connections that matter and get meaningful results. If you would like to find out what people think and feel about your business, get in touch.