I’ve been a loyal customer of my bank for several years. At least, until this month. I closed my savings account and transferred the money to my ISA. I transferred my credit card balance to another company to take advantage of a 0% offer. Probably thousands of pounds’ worth of business, gone with just a few clicks.
I doubt anyone noticed. Certainly, nobody cared.
Rewind a few decades and I would no doubt have had to visit a physical building and speak to a person behind a counter. That person would probably have asked me if there was anything they could have done to change my mind, and maybe even have called the manager over. They would have asked why I’m moving my account, and they may even have been able to offer an incentive to convince me to stay. The scale of banking makes this sort of customer care impossible.
Twenty years ago I started my career in care. One of the motivations for leaving teaching for the care profession was the fact that teaching was starting to feel like a conveyor belt of coaching children to pass SATs, regardless of the actual value of those abstract assessments. As a carer I got to know the young people I was working with in a much more holistic manner. Partly because I was no longer working under the label of ‘teacher’, but mainly because I was working usually on a 1:1 basis. Later, when I found myself as a senior RSW, deputy manager, and then manager, I maintained that close knowledge of the young people and staff. It is an essential part of any caring role.
So where does that leave me as a senior manager? Currently I oversee ten beds over five sites across south and mid Wales, with responsibilities that extend far beyond those of a home manager or project manager. This year, if all goes to plan, there will be another site with another two beds as well as work on a multi-million-pound multi-site project in West Wales. All of this will pull me further away from ‘front-line’ work. So how do I ensure the company doesn’t become just another gigantic, faceless corporation leaning more to the ‘industry’ side of the ‘care industry’? Having briefly worked, for one of those companies where you are just a column on the payroll and there are no people to care for, just beds to be filled, I am determined to do all I can to stop even the suggestion that we will head in that direction.
This is the sort of thing that really does start with the senior management team’s actions. Not their words – anyone can write a mission statement putting the needs of clients/service users at the heart of the service. This is a lovely marketing tool, but to really care at scale you need substance and integrity. Caring at scale can’t be done by the MD, the CEO, or even the Director of Services. Our job is to create the culture in which care is central, and every decision we make sends a message across the company and beyond about how serious we are in that intent. Do we invest in our staff? Do we ensure the homes we offer are places we’d want to liv in ourselves? Do we regard minimum standards, legislation and guidance as things we want to exceed, or simply meet in order to save the extra expense? Do we hire manager, team leaders, and carers who live these values, or do we look at interviews for people who can manage a spreadsheet and find every last penny of efficiency, no matter the real expense? Do our people understand the cost of everything, or the value?
It is easy to get swept up in the profit and loss statements, the cash flow predictions, the spreadsheets, and the language of management and finance. This is especially true when your chosen role takes you away from the day-to-day lives of the people in your care. What’s so important at a senior management level is to remember why we do this, and ensure we employ people who carry our values – but then support them do work in a manner that supports this.
It’s been a while since my last update. A long while, in fact – this will be my fist website update since September 2023. The reason?
Mid-September I decided to step away from the website for a while. Many of my hobbies (writing fiction; playing guitar: recording with GarageBand; building guitars and tinkering with effects pedals; even going to the gym) had taken a back seat to other commitments.
Work exploded. We lost a manager, necessitating my taking over his project. I have certainly had to put my change management chops to the test, with my initial QA audit finding improvements I needed to make in every area. It’s added an extra eight hours’ driving a week to my schedule. This has been in addition to my regular duties as a director. In situations like this, there is a choice between complaining about the workload, or seeking and growing from the learning opportunities on offer. I have to say that these additional responsibilities have reminded me of all that I’ve missed about frontline management (as well as all the things I haven’t!). We’ve also had a change in senior management, offering further opportunities to learn, grow, and contribute.
Then there was the diabetes diagnosis, which has necessitated more planning in how and what I prepare and eat, especially on the days I’m travelling two hours two and from work.
My progress through my level seven senior leadership qualification continues unabated, and already it’s time to start thinking about my end point assessment, essentially a business proposal containing the most important elements of the previous eighteen months’ learning. It’s not due until September, but the prep starts now.
Our chair of governors (I’m the safeguarding governor for a local primary school) left, leaving his position vacant. I’d been on the board of governors for several months and found the whole process a little disjointed. I thought that being chair would be a bit more involved. Let’s say my habit of understating things like that is at least consistent.
I’m also contending with the worst landlord I’ve ever rented from – a bar so low only professional limbo dancers need apply. The amount of time and effort needed to get emails acknowledged, let alone anything significant done through them is unreal.
All of which has meant I’ve not been able to keep up to date with my blog and book reviews.
It also means I’ve had to rethink my approach to organising myself and my commitments.
At one point I was managing two Outlook accounts for work, on the work laptop; my personal Gmail account, together with a mish-mash of Dropbox, Evernote and OneDrive on my personal Macbook; my personal google calendar on my phone; my governor’s Onedrive/Outlook account; and whichever notebook I happened to have on me at any given time. Not only was this an atrocious way of collating and organising information, it also meant I was trying to juggle various commitments at any given time – writing a work email that reminded me of something I needed to notify the head of, jumping from online diary to online diary to see where I could fit an online meeting; and generally feeling pulled in a dozen different directions at once.
FYI, there’s no such thing as multitasking. It’s a lie. The human brain can’t do it. You can’t engage in a book and a film at the same time. You can’t do deep-focus writing whilst really listening to music. You can’t (insert any activity of choice here) and drive at the same time.
So I took back control, in a way far more successful than Brexit will ever be. It started with the realisation that I didn’t have a time management problem - I had a focus and concentration management problem. Whatever I was doing, there was always something else I could be doing, new tasks and ideas appearing out of nowhere, or the feeling I should be doing something else. Damn, did I remember to check all my diaries after agreeing to that meeting? And who’s emailing me now the middle of writing this email?
Firstly, I took the luddite approach of ditching all the online calendars. Well, not entirely. I still accept Teams and Zoom calls via email invites. But I purchased a week-to-view diary insert for my trusty old Filofax (and I mean, really old: a bargain-bin impulse buy from Llanelli Tesco back when I was still in uni, so about 2002 at the latest). All my appointments for work, governing, my level seven and my personal life are written in there. Now I have only one place to look when someone says, “Tuesday’s no good for me so can we do Wednesday”. And then decides that, actually, the cat’s pedicure was Wednesday, sorry, can we do Tuesday after all? [pro tip: use a lot of pencil for appointments]. That step alone really streamlined the process.
Then I bought a lot of paper inserts and dividers for the Filofax. This allows me to keep a running to-do list/weekly planner with me at all times. I generally outline this on a Friday or Sunday evening, and add to it through the week. This is used to remind me to chase up emails, make calls, etc. It’s not a planner for larger tasks. This means I generally complete all the tasks by Friday, and can put it in the bin at the end of the week. It’s surprising how effective this is for a sense of achievement. I own a few Lamy Safari pens in different colours, and tend to use blue for work, red for governance, and green for my L7 and personal tasks. This sheet is one of several paper-clipped together; the others consist of ongoing project notes that I need to keep handy. For example, we are currently looking at how to improve our induction and onboarding process. We have had a few online meetings about this, as well as a number of emails. I keep these notes handy whilst this is something that’s still ongoing. When I drop by the project I’m managing I usually have a few specific things I need to achieve (I’m only there twice a week at most), so I keep notes on the most important things I need to do. These systems keep me focused on the task at hand whilst also giving me a space to ‘dump’ whatever ideas or non-urgent tasks that come to mind. I don’t have to deal with every email as it arrives, nor start a task before I forget [another pro tip: turn off email notifications, and schedule regular times throughout the day to deal with emails. If it’s urgent, they’ll phone. If it’s not, then it’s a distraction from whatever you should be focussing on right now].
The dividers are the plastic type, with sticky labels to identify the topic. These are a fluid element of my organisation. For example, we have to upcoming projects, one in Cardiff and one in West Wales, so each of these gets a section. As we get closer to realising the projects these notes will not be enough, and so I will relabel the sections for whatever is relevant at the time.
Finally, I was bought for Xmas a Traveller’s Company leather notebook cover and inserts. At the moment it has three notebooks inside. One I use for general notes and ideas (fiction ideas, character/plot/short story outlines, ideas for guitar projects, films and music I want to check out, and the like). Five minutes on YouTube will show you what a rabbit-hole journalling with the Traveller’s Company notebook can be – thankfully I’ve no interest in that, and am content to use it simply as a notebook. I may even take out the two additional inserts and keep one in at a time.
I’ve found this method makes it much easier to keep track of and prioritise tasks. It also helps me maintain focus on one thing at a time.
If you have any productivity tips or ideas, let me know.
“Show me a completely smooth operation and I’ll show you someone who’s covering mistakes. Real boats rock.”
If you’ve been following my book reviews you’ll know I recently worked through the original three Dune audiobooks. I’m currently re-reading the original Dune and listening to ChapterHouse Dune, the sixth of the original series and final one to be written by Frank Herbert.
The above quote is from ChapterHouse Dune. Whilst the last three of the original six (God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and ChapterHouse Dune) don’t have the same philosophical depth as the first three, they do a good job of describing the fallout from the philosophies explored in those books. Even so, this quote leapt out at me when I heard it- so much so that I had to pull the car into a lay-by, skip back, and bookmark it. It’s rare that a fiction book can so effectively summarise elements of politics, religion and philosophy through seemingly throwaway lines rather than deep observations, but Frank Herbert does this with alarming frequency. I wish I’d met him.
The above quote does the same thing for management.
Those of you also involved in quality assurance management will hopefully understand the vastly different outcomes an unannounced visit can result in, as compared to a planned and announced visit.
Unannounced visits have their place. You may get a more realistic and nuanced picture. Staff will be less prepared for your arrival, and therefore have less opportunity to plan for their conversations with you - meaning they will be less prepared to divert the conversation into more comfortable areas. This also means that they may be less likely to have relevant information to hand, should you want to take a ‘deep dove’ into a specific topic. You also risk arriving at time when people are simply too busy to give you the time you need to get done what you need to do. Different industries will have their specific risks also, with regard ti unannounced visits. Working in the care sector, you may find that you’ve arrived to interrupt an important meeting, an activity, or they may simply all be out. There is the risk also that you could arrive mid-incident, or that your presence precipitates one. A rarity, but still a risk.
With a planned visit you can ensure (as much as is possible) that everyone will be aware you are visiting, and prepared accordingly. They may have the relevant information to hand, and you can ensure your visit does not clash with any other arrangements. In care, the residents can be prepared also. You may find that they re more engaging and revealing as a result of having time to prepare for your visit. I’ve certainly found that children with attachment difficulties and people with certain learning differences such as autism much prefer to have time to prepare for your visit. If there are issues that need addressing, staff may have time to think about what those issues are and how they can be resolved, instead of being unprepared for the conversation. On the flip side, knowing you will be arriving may result in a team more interested in pleasing you and ‘achieving’ a positive report, rather than presenting you with an honest view of how things are going (“The boss is coming! Look busy!”).
Ultimately, a blended approach of announced and unannounced QA visits is likely to produce the best data. QA visits will only ever produce a snapshot of how things are going, at any rate; it’s the contribution QA visits make to all the other management tools that is important, along with how you use the information you glean. There are those who argue that unannounced visits are unfair, or that they are a means of trying to catch staff out. That to me speaks of a failing of the workplace culture, not an inherent flaw in quality assurance visits.
Real boats rock. It’s the job of quality assurance to find out how, when, why, and feedback to the crew.
I was talking with a colleague last week about talent management. Specifically, we were talking about how difficult both recruitment and retention can be in the sector. The company we were discussing had, at the time, a terrible reputation for its retention record. People left to seek promotion and training elsewhere at an alarming rate; the company seemingly had no interest in investing in its staff, preferring to write them of and replace them if they showed ambition.
At least, that was the impression we had of the company. When we discussed where various ex-employees had gone, it was apparent that this wasn’t entirely true. For a start, many people left to pursue entirely different career paths. This isn’t uncommon on the industry. Care, particularly residential childcare, can be mentally, emotionally, and physically gruelling at times. Some people find they do not have the resilience needed to make it through those times. This is not a criticism; all of us are more suited to certain roles than others. When one factors in burnout, it’s apparent that many people leave the care industry altogether when they leave a company, whether permanently or not.
Then there are the people who leave because of personal circumstances. Perhaps the shift pattern no longer suits their lifestyle, they leave for family reasons, or they move out of the area. This is a relatively small proportion of leavers. Similarly there are those who leave due to being dismissed or not passing their probation – again, a small proportion.
So what of those who don’t fall into the above categories? Many people leave out of a vague dissatisfaction with the company, often framed as “I need a change”, only to go and work for a competitor.
When we talk of talent management we tend to focus on those who are intent on career progression. This is only natural; in the same way that Hollywood creators characterise 9-5 work (and, by extension, 9-5 workers) as boring and uncreative, as mangers we have worked hard to get where we are, and our subconscious biases may mean that we judge other’s progress by our own perspectives (“Why wouldn’t you want to work your way up”). I know that personal and professional development are incredibly important to me; and for the longest time I had a very linear perception of what ‘professional progress’ meant: learn all you can in your present role, and get promoted before your job gets stale.
But there are those who have no desire to progress in such a way. They do not want the pressure and responsibility of a management position, or they do not want a role that takes them away from working with children. These people frequently get overlooked when it comes to talent management; yet they need to be as proactively managed as aspiring future managers.
The first step in doing so is to get to know them. Not just as RSWs or Senior RSWs, but as people. What motivates them? What inspires them to do the job? How do they see it or their role evolving? What skills do they have that they are not using right now?
Secondly, it’s important to understand what stage of their career are they at. Perhaps they were previously set on a management role but have since wavered. Why? What are their priorities right now?
With a solid understanding of the person you're working with, you can begin to look at opportunities to help them grow in their role and without any expectation of promotion. They may wish to take on extra responsibilities within their existing role; mentor other staff; promote the company at external networking events; take on a training role; transition to another role at the same ‘level’, even on a temporary basis; or learn new skills that can be brought back to the team. On occasion, you may find that they do not want to take on any extra responsibilities. They may be content for you to be aware that, at this particular moment, they are happy to focus on their job. Such lateral progression is often overlooked, but can provide variety, stimulation and development without what we would traditionally regard as 'progression'. You get a more settled staff member with increased skills and knowledge who will likely remain loyal to the team; and they get some much-needed variety.
Conversations like this are not effective if you regard them as a single event. These are the sort of discussion you should be having frequently. As noted above, people's circumstances change. Someone who is at the moment happy to focus only on the job at hand may have chosen to do so because home circumstances mean they cannot honestly commit to extra responsibilities. As soon as those circumstances change, their desire to progress may also change. If you are unaware of this you may soon find yourself recruiting for a vacancy.
Just because a person isn't clamouring for promotion does not mean they are happy to be ignored; you ignore them at your peril.
In my most recent blog post I discussed that we receive many form of feedback, and that not all feedback is created equal.
In this post I want to talk about how we receive feedback, rather than choosing the type of feedback we seek and respond to.
When I talk about how to receive feedback in this instance, I’m not talking about listening skills per se, though they are vital. Rather, I’m referring to your frame of mind when receiving the feedback.
Receiving feedback can (and, sometimes, should) be difficult and challenging. This can even be true of positive feedback, for example if you are being praised for a job you’re not particularly proud of or if you feel co-contributors aren’t getting the recognition they deserve; or if you are naturally shy, unassuming, or struggle with self-esteem. I’m sure many of you reading this have been recognised for a job well-done whilst simultaneously suffering imposter syndrome.
Receiving negative feedback brings a different set of challenges. You may feel the feedback is unfair or unwarranted. You may, rightly or wrongly, construe it as more a personal attack than a form of professional support.
The first and most important thing to recognise is that you can’t control the feedback you receive, who you receive it from or, often, when you are going to receive it.
What you can control is how you ‘show up’ to the conversation.
When receiving feedback, I am focused on two things. My core values, and my emotional reaction.
Years of dealing with distressed behaviours in the young people in my care has given me the ability to give them the space they need to work through their emotions before making any attempt to support or guide them. I take this same, almost stoic, approach to receiving feedback. I let the other person say what they need to before I respond. Let them get it out of their system. This not only lets them feel heard, it also gives me the time and space I need to formulate my considered response.
This is especially important if the feedback is emotionally charged or if I feel it challenges one of my core values. If I feel my integrity or focus on positive outcomes for young people is being challenged, I feel threatened and want to correct the other person immediately. Just as a dysregulated adult cannot help a dysregulated child, meeting such emotional ‘attacks’ with an emotional response will only result in an argument. Once I have processed what is being said I can respond in a much calmer fashion.
An example of this is the strain that sometimes occurs between balancing the cost of good care vs the need for a company to make profit. Wherever possible I unapologetically put the needs of the people in my care first. Were I to receive feedback that I should be focused on profit first, this would be an attack on my values.
Responding immediately and emotionally to this would result in a fruitless argument. Instead, it’s best to consider how the feedback can enable me to lean in to my values. Could I have achieved the same outcome in a more cost-effective manner? Could I have delayed my actions until an opportunity to meet both demands arose?
If the feedback doesn’t enable you to lean in to your values in any way, you may be at an impasse. You may need to take a close look at your relationship with the other person. What’s more important to you, your values or your relationship with them? If the answer is your relationship, then perhaps it’s time to reassess what your values actually are. Values are the behaviours and choices you live, not those you profess to have. If the answer is your values, then you need to reconsider the relationship.
Whatever your response, it will be more meaningful and effective if you give yourself the space to process and reflect on what’s been said and why.
Feedback is the lifeblood of improvement. It can give us key insights into those elements of our work that we have overlooked, that we can improve upon, or that we should stop doing altogether.
As a service director I get feedback in myriad forms from myriad sources. Feedback surveys from staff and stakeholders. Supervision sessions with managers. The behaviours of young people and my conversations with them. P&L sheets from our finance department. SMT meetings. LAC reviews. Conversations with social workers and other professionals. CIW. The list goes on!
Some of this feedback is actively solicited; some acquired passively; and other feedback-compliments and complaints, for example- is actively given to me by outside agencies.
Altogether, the amount of feedback I receive constitutes an immense amount of data to be sifted, analysed, tracked and acted upon.
But should all feedback be treated equally?
One thing not often considered is the context and quality of the feedback we receive.
I recall an incident some years back in which a child in our care was causing a disturbance. I was approached by a neighbour as I left shift, who complained about the noise and disruption being caused. We’d had several incidents of a similar nature over a relatively short period, and our responses to his behaviour weren’t working. Did I take on board that it was disruptive and distressful to the community? Of course. Did I take on board the criticism that, “what you’re doing isn’t working”? Of course; that was self-evident. Did I take on board that “that child shouldn’t be here”? Of course not. Everyone has to live someplace, and we had seen improvements in his behaviour and engagement, even if that wasn’t apparent to everyone, even amongst their staff team. Did I take on board her criticism that I “shouldn’t be working with children ‘like that’” as I “obviously didn’t know what I was doing”? Of course not. What would be the point in considering criticism of my ability to do my job from someone with no idea of what that job entails?
This is not to say that feedback should be dismissed out of hand. In the above example, whilst I didn’t respond to the criticism of my ability to do my job, I was able to take from the conversation how upset and angry the neighbour was.
Most of us have worked with negative colleagues who seem permanently disgruntled. But being a negative person doesn’t mean all their opinions are not valid. I’ve seen too many examples of where an opinion is based on how the listener perceives the person giving feedback rather than the feedback’s own merits. We must be careful not to dismiss a person’s contributions because their opinions are contrary, cause us too much work or are difficult to address. Equally, we must be careful not to find ourselves beholden to the whims of every person who feels entitled to give you their opinion no matter how ill-informed - their right to speak up does not automatically equate to an obligation on your part. Have you ever found yourself suck in the queue at a customer service desk behind an unreasonable customer being pandered to because “the customer is always right”? The fact is, the customer is not always right and there’s often nothing wrong in being honest with them about that.
The skill is in discerning which feedback to act upon.
From Forming to Performing: How to Overcome Remote Work Challenges in Tuckman's Stages of Team Development.
As some of you may know, I am currently studying for my level seven qualification in senior leadership and management. Today’s coaching session was to look over the work I had submitted for my most recent unit, ‘developing business strategies’, and to look at what I can expect for the next unit, ‘strategic resource management’. As ever, we strayed from the topic during the course of our conversation, and ended up discussing team development.
By now almost all of us are familiar with Tuckman’s four stages of group development - ‘forming’, ‘storming’, norming’, performing’, with ‘adjourning’ being added to a later revision of his theory.
Soon I began to reflect on two things: my experiences managing what was an established team with a few significant new members before, during and after lockdown with my previous employers; and my experience post-pandemic of joining a largely reconstituted team last summer, with a hybrid working style. In the former I was the manager of the team concerned, whereas latterly I have been a member of the SMT.
The experiences of these two situations differ greatly from my previous experiences in building and managing teams, where I was doing so face-to-face.
What I found is that Tuckman's model is still relevant in the age of remote working. In fact, it may be even more important in this context, as remote teams face unique challenges that can make it difficult to progress through the stages of team development. For example, remote teams may struggle with communication, trust, and collaboration, which are all critical components of team development.
In the forming stage, team members are getting to know each other and figuring out their roles and responsibilities. In a remote context, this can be challenging because team members may not have the opportunity to meet face-to-face, which can make it harder to build relationships and establish trust. With my previous employers, where I was the home manager, the staff team were still going in to theme to complete their shifts, whereas I was managing remotely. I found I had to rely on the induction process to do a lot of the heavy lifting in this area. My contribution was to take on as much of the administrative work as possible, allowing the team to build form their relationships with each other and the children. Not that I was entirely passive in this. I still established clear goals and expectations for the team. This helped team members understand what they were working towards and stay focused on the task at hand. Remote work can make it difficult for team members to get to know each other and establish relationships, which can slow down the forming stage. I had established good relationships with the majority of the residential team, which helped. In my current role I was the newest addition to the SMT, some of which was well-established and some of which wasn’t. This was a different dynamic for me, and even now we are still occasionally ironing out our roles and responsibilities as the company grows. As I work across Wales and our head office is in England, I do not get to spend as much time face-to-face with the Telford team as I’d like - especially those team members who aren’t part of the SMT. The second consideration in the ‘forming’ stage when hybrid working is how best to encourage open communication and collaboration. This can help team members build relationships and establish trust, which is critical for effective teamwork. There is a growing reliance on Teams, WhatsApp, Zoom, text messages, Basecamp, etc in this area; and whilst electronic communication is fast and accessible, what it lacks is depth. It’s difficult to read body language via text or Teams, especially with glitchy virtual backgrounds. Despite this, Teams/Zoom was essential in my previous role for ensuring I could spend 1:1 time with each member of staff for catch-ups, supervisions, and the like. I also found it useful for team meetings, in which I could reiterate my expectations regarding practice, communication and collaboration. It wasn’t as effective as being there in person; but it was harder for people to miss those meetings since they could join form home if they weren’t on shift that day. In fact, I recall several people joining meeting whilst isolating as they missed that social interaction. In my current role we (the SMT) do spend time with each other when we can, and electronic communication can be used to supplement this. Text messages and emails can be taken out of context, but when you know the person well who has written to you, this is harder to do.
In the storming stage, team members may experience conflict as they work through differences in opinion and approach. In a remote context, this can be exacerbated by communication challenges and the lack of nonverbal cues, as described above. Communication challenges in remote work can exacerbate conflicts and make it harder for team members to work through differences in opinion and approach. Wherever I detected or suspected this in my previous role, I would always contact one or both of the people involved separately, to act as a mediator, identifying and remedying misunderstandings.
In the norming stage, team members begin to work together more effectively and establish norms and expectations. In a remote context, this can be challenging because team members may have different working styles and preferences. Frequent team meetings when managing the home remotely were extremely helpful in this, as was a string company culture. I found that I had to be a lot clearer in my explanations of how I wanted the staff to work, since I couldn’t be there to role model my expectations. What I have noticed in my current role is that expectations can be greatly affected by the professional backgrounds of the different members of the SMT. Some of us have a care background, some NHS, some property.
Finally, in the performing stage, the team is working together effectively and achieving its goals. Remote work can make it difficult to coordinate and collaborate effectively, which can impact the performing stage. This can be especially true in teams that have a rapid turnover. Thankfully this was not a hurdle I had to consider during the time of lockdown, though once those restrictions were lifted we saw several staff members leave for other sectors (such as to return to outdoors education or the hospitality industry). In both that role and my current hybrid working patter, the importance of frequent and clear communication cannot be overstated. As a home manager it was essential to provide feedback and support to my staff to help them understand how they were performing and identify areas for improvement. As part of the SMT the considerations are more about ensuring we know what to expect of each other and holding each other to account.
Both working remotely during lockdown and my current hybrid pattern of work have served to deepen and broaden my appreciation for Tuckman’s theory. I have had to reconsider my approach to team building and managing as a result of both styles of working. Perhaps in the future I will end up in a role that is almost 100% office-based; it will be interesting to see how I rework my understanding of this theory as a result of that change.
As a service director in the residential care sector, I have achieved a lot over the course of my career. I have helped countless kids, learned better ways of working (and living), gained qualifications and experience I wouldn’t have elsewhere. That doesn’t mean I’ve never taken a misstep. You certainly won’t find “got fired at 16 from the local working men’s club for dropping a stack of glasses during bingo” on my LinkedIn profile. Nor will you find reference to early-career mistakes such as mishandling the home’s budget or misreading a child’s behaviour; some of the practices commonly taught twenty years ago, when I first entered the industry, were far from the therapeutic, trauma-informed approaches that are thankfully far more commonplace nowadays. Such things can be embarrassing to look back on. But I have learned that owning up to our past mistakes can be a powerful tool for building confidence and moving forward. They gave me the confidence to try things later on that didn’t work out as planned - my training company, by copywriting, and my self-published fiction. Thanks to those endeavours I am a more skilled trainer and a better writer than I otherwise would have been, with a much deeper understanding of the importance of a clear business plan with adequate preparation when undertaking a new project.
We all make mistakes, and it's easy to feel ashamed or embarrassed when we do. However, owning up to our mistakes can be a powerful way to build confidence and move forward. When we acknowledge our mistakes, we take responsibility for our actions and show that we are willing to learn from our experiences - remember, you are not defined by the mistakes you make. This can help us build trust with others and demonstrate our integrity.
So, what should you do if you realise you’ve made an error?
Firstly, acknowledge your mistakes: The first step in owning your mistakes is to acknowledge them. This can be difficult, but it's important to be honest with yourself and others about what went wrong.
The second step is take responsibility: Once you've acknowledged your mistakes, it's important to take responsibility for them. This means accepting the consequences of your actions and doing what you can to make things right.
Once you’ve done that, you should then prepare to learn from your mistakes; this is one of the most important, productive things you can do in this situation. So take some time to reflect on what went wrong and what you could have done differently. Did you follow the right procedure? Did you follow the procedure correctly? Doe the procedure you followed need updating or adapting? Is there somebody you could have turned to for support and/or advice? A fishbone diagram analysis may be a useful exercise here. This can help you avoid making the same mistake in the future.
After you’ve reflected on how you made the mistake, use your mistakes to build resilience: Making mistakes can be tough, but when we learn from our mistakes we become better equipped to handle challenges and setbacks in the future.
Finally, consider sharing your experiences with others. By being open and honest about your mistakes, you can help others learn from your experiences and avoid making the same mistakes themselves.
Owning your past mistakes can be a powerful way to build confidence and move forward. By acknowledging your mistakes, taking responsibility, learning from your experiences, building resilience, and sharing your experiences with others, you can turn your mistakes into valuable learning opportunities. Remember, we all make mistakes (anyone claiming otherwise is, frankly, not being truthful), but it's how we handle them that matters most.
This last week I’ve continued the first draft of my latest non-fiction, a guide to supervision for managers. I’ve finished a couple of audiobooks during my commutes and gym sessions, started reading a paperback of “Nudge”, and also continued reading the Witcher series (I started last summer, then sort of forgot about it as other things took over). I’ve been reading/watching YouTube videos on AI, which I am convinced is going to be as revolutionary as the Internet itself was. I’m also watching The Expanse, an excellent sci-fi that I put on hold whilst keeping up with The Mandalorian and Picard, and have been binging Brand New Cherry Flavor. And don’t tell anyone, but my son’s long-neglected Switch has been getting an overdue retro NES/GameBoy workout. Y’know, just to test it’s till working. And whilst I’ve not worked on any music in months, I do try and pick up the guitar occasionally. #DadRockRules. That new Metallica has been getting a lot of play also.
As the world becomes more and more fast-paced and digitised, we are constantly bombarded by stimuli that keep us engaged and occupied. Thankfully I’m not into Instagram and Tik Tok videos, or that would be another few hours a week my brain doesn’t rest. We rarely have a moment to slow down and breathe, let alone experience boredom. However, studies have shown that boredom is actually critical for creativity.
Boredom is often seen as a negative state that we try to avoid at all costs. We fill our time with social media, TV shows, video games, books, and other distractions to keep us entertained. But when we are constantly engaged and stimulated our brains have little time to wander and think creatively.
Boredom, on the other hand, allows our minds to wander and explore without any particular goal in mind. It gives us the opportunity to daydream and think outside of the box. It also allows us to reflect and digest information, which enables us to make new connections and generate new ideas.
Many inventions and innovations in history have been born out of boredom. The idea for the postal service was thought of while a man waited impatiently in a long line, and the concept of the steam engine was conceived while James Watt was staring at a boiling kettle. I know from experience the effects of a long walk, lost in my own thoughts, can have on my fiction. The idea for my novel ‘Swarm’ came to me one afternoon when I was sitting on the sofa, doing nothing in particular. I didn’t have any new books, there was nothing on TV, I had no ideas on the guitar. My wife had been in the garden, and as she came inside briefly she mentioned the wasp problem at the front of the house. Thirty minutes later I’d outlined almost the entire plot. Had I been distracted by a YouTube video or some other mental occupation the conversation (and therefore the idea) would have passed by without me giving it any consideration.
Research has shown that boredom can increase our ability to problem-solve. When we are bored, our brains naturally seek out stimulation. We begin to see our surroundings and problems in a new light, which can lead to breakthroughs and innovative solutions. How many times has a solution struck you’ve given yourself the time to relax and subconsciously reflect? I’ve generated more ideas and solved more tricky plot-points sitting in traffic than I ever have whilst my mind is concentrating on something.
Boredom can also help us to develop new interests and hobbies. When we are bored, we are forced to explore new opportunities and try new things. This can lead to a newfound passion or an unexpected talent.
In order to experience the benefits of boredom we need to embrace it rather than avoid it. This means setting aside time to be unoccupied and allowing our minds to wander. This could be as simple as taking a walk without our phones or sitting outside and watching the clouds go by. In a way I have found that post-pandemic remote working has stifled my creativity. I used to use the drive to and from work to decompress, giving my mind space to wander. The same thing would happen in between meetings, supervisions, and other ‘tasks’. Ironically I find that, working from home, when I’ve not got an immediately pressing problem or task at hand, I find myself work to do as I don’t want to feel like I’m not ‘working’ just because I’m at home; whereas during quiet moments in the workplace I don’t feel the same pressure - I’m already at work so there’s less to prove, right?
We can stimulate boredom by doing seemingly mundane tasks like washing dishes or folding laundry. By engaging in these mundane tasks, we allow our brains to focus on something routine and straightforward which can lead to a state of boredom.
Boredom is essential for creativity. While entertainment and stimulation are important, we need to make time for boredom to allow our brains to think creatively and generate new ideas. So, the next time you feel bored, embrace it and see where your mind takes you.
I've been thinking a lot about work over the past few weeks. This month, we have three bank holidays. Usually, we work a minimum of forty hours a week, not to mention picking up text messages outside of work, making hands-free calls on the way home, and responding to a few emails in the evening. I haven't done any of that over the bank holidays. Instead, I've taken the dog for a walk, played guitar, swapped the pickups out of my Telecaster (a mini humbucker in the neck, for those fellow guitar nerds who are interested), listened to some music, played card games with the family, planted vegetables and flowers in the garden with my daughter, and caught up on some reading ("Nudge" and "Sword of Destiny"). So, with a few shorter workweeks and protecting my personal time outside of office hours, I should be miles behind, right?
Nope. Not even close.
Alongside all of this, I've read two thought-provoking articles on our working culture. The first questions what productivity is and how we should measure it (https://www.vox.com/technology/23710261/productivity-definition-measures-remote-work-management), and the second, from the same website, focuses on the successes of the four-day workweek (https://www.vox.com/22568452/work-workweek-five-day-four-jobs-pandemic). Already, I can hear the out-of-touch complaining that people only want a four-day workweek because they're lazy, comparing the modern workplace to the days when one had to be chained to their desk to produce anything.
Those days are gone. We are far more efficient than any previous generation of workers, and this only becomes more true as AI advances. Granted, there are some jobs - care roles, for example - in which workers currently need to be present to do the job they are paid to do. In such cases, it is apt to pay people per hour. But an increasing number of roles are dependent not upon where you work, but upon the interactions you have and the decisions you make. If you are able to meet the needs of all the stakeholders to whom you are accountable in less than forty hours a week, then why shouldn't you, if you are being paid for the results you achieve? Working less than forty hours a week means you are more likely to arrive at work recharged, refreshed, and more able to provide creative solutions to the problems you may face. Contrast this with the tiredness of someone who fills the remainder of their week with busywork so they can meet their forty-hour quota, or someone who lacks the self-discipline to manage their calls and emails outside of work hours. It's been said before, but if you don't manage it, it manages you.
I think the call for shorter working hours will only grow stronger in the coming years as we understand the benefits to ourselves and our businesses of being better rested, alongside reaping the benefits of AI.
Or perhaps I’m being overly optimistic. Few households can live on a single income; inflation and our refusal to deal with the nations’ failure to ensure an adequate supply of good quality, fairly priced housing will see this worsen. Many adults juggle more than one form of employment, alongside a side hustle of some sort, just to get by. Added to that is our experience of automation in industry. Those efficiencies were supposed to free us up to pursue our hobbies and spend time with our families, since we could achieve the same outputs in a fraction of the time (sound familiar)? Instead we saw no reduction in working hours, but an increase in the profitability of large companies. AI could lead to the same problems, increasing the already worrying concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.
Dramatic words? Maybe. But if history is anything to go by, we risk sacrificing our health and relationships to work the same long hours to make the rich richer when we could be reducing our work commitments with no impact on our productivity. I don't think that working shorter hours will be a panacea for all our problems, nor that it's a one-size-fits-all solution. But as individuals and societies, we need to rethink our relationship with work. We should question why we work as much as we do, and what it is we're trying to achieve. We should reflect on whether we're sacrificing too much of our health, relationships, and well-being for our jobs, and whether the rewards we get are worth it. And we should explore alternative ways of organising work, whether it's through shorter working weeks, more flexible schedules, or more creative ways of measuring productivity.
Of course, these are not easy questions to answer, and there are no easy solutions. But as we celebrate the bank holidays, let's take a moment to reflect on what we really value in life, and whether we're spending our time and energy on the things that matter most to us. Perhaps then we'll start to see that working less, and living more, can be a win-win for everyone
This is the page I'll update most often, with thoughts and opinions on management, writing, and what I've been watching or listening to. So dip in and see what takes your fancy.