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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

How To Engage Your Team And Brain

Steve Jobs once famously said, "Never let the voice in your head, control the brain in your heart." Just think about that for a moment. What does that mean? For me, it means don't be held back by the limiting beliefs of your mind, and stay in touch with your positive thoughts, hopes and dreams. The more I research and practise employee engagement and culture building activity, the more fascinated I become with the topic of neuroscience, and how our brains work. It may sound obvious, but understanding how and why the brain functions like it does, can have a dramatic effect on your ability to engage with yourself and others.

In episode 35 of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, I talk to Change Specialist, Neuroscientist and Founder of Neuro At Work, Dominique Ashby about the influence our brains have on our ability to engage with the people in our teams, and the things we can all do to engage them more effectively. Using the backdrop of Spring, traditionally a time of change and new planning, Dominique shares her insights and tips for tuning into your brain and by doing so, maximising your ability to perform and engage.

Below is a full transcript of our conversation, but you can also listen to the episode here.

A woman and a man discussing employee engagement and neuroscience
Dominique Ashby (Left) from Neuro At Work and Andy Goram (Right) from Bizjuicer, discuss the important role your brain plays in engaging your employees

00:00:10 Andy Goram

Hello, and welcome to Sticky From The Inside, the Employee Engagement Podcast that looks at how to build stickier, competition-smashing, consistently successful organisations from the inside out.

I'm your host, Andy Goram and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tonnes more success for everyone.

This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses. The sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work, and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it.

So, if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

00:01:10 Andy Goram

OK, then. One thing many businesses have lost, maybe over the past two years is time. Time that's impossible to get back, maybe? And the impact of this time loss now is manifesting itself in a large amount of pressure to regain those associated losses, which in turn brings with it a pressure to go harder, and faster for longer.

Now, the potential fallout of these actions could well see a workforce that becomes quickly fatigued, disengaged, overwhelmed and burnt out. Especially following the period of the pandemic we've just come through.

Now looking ahead to spring, which is traditionally a time of change, not just for business planning, how do we ensure that we take a more effective approach to all this push for reclaiming what's been previously lost, whilst at the same time look ahead to try and flourish and thrive in the workplace?

And continuing the recent series of adding a little bit of science to our discussions, today I'm joined by Dominique Ashby, founder of Neuro at work. Dominique is, in my mind, a unique combination of being a change specialist and a neuroscientist, and someone who believes passionately that every organisation is a product of its people and everything we do is a product of our brains. And she helps businesses take the headache out of change and performance management by putting humanity at the heart of the workplace.

And as you all know, we're all about the humanity of this podcast, so I can't think of anyone better to discuss this particular dilemma with, and I feel very confident Dominique can help us make sense of it all, put us on the right track, and leave us with a few helpful tips on how to tackle these issues successfully, with humanity.

Welcome to the show, Dominique!

00:03:10 Dominique Ashby

Delighted to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me.

00:03:14 Andy Goram

Ah, I've wanted to have you on this podcast, for, goodness knows, I don't know how long. I make no secret of the fact that I love a bit of science. And yeah, we talked to behavioural scientists, we've talked to business psychologists... Neuroscience, I mean, that's to me, a fascinating topic and I think will shine an interesting different perspective, perhaps on this challenge of trying to get back what we've lost over the last couple of years.

But before we dig into all of that, can you give myself and my listeners just a little bit of a heads up into what you're doing at the moment and tell us a bit more about Neuro at Work?

00:03:50 Dominique Ashby

Absolutely delighted to. So my company is very much focused on designing change strategies and ways of working that get the best out of us. Things that engage us, empowers and inspire us, and that can be something that's on the macro level. So, I help different clients structure complex change programs in a way that aligns with how our brains actually learn and process change. So that means it's a slightly better experience. You feel more empowered during that. You end up coming out feeling more inspired than you do possibly deflated, in more traditional change approaches.

And there's things that at a more immediate level as well, because, gosh, we all know over the past few years, head space has been something and the limited quantity as well, dealing with everything going on. So there's a few immediate things I'm working on with people at the moment as well, so workshops that help boost ways of working at the individual level, the team level, and the overall organisational level.

So, it's very much about boosting, engaging, empowering us and inspiring us.

00:04:48 Andy Goram

I love those words. I mean they just make me feel... I don't know, full of full of beans and energy.

And I talked in the intro about what I see is a bit of a unique combination in what you do, looking at change specialism and all those things you just talked about with change and that little bit of neuroscience on top. And like you just explained, what does that actually look like on a day-to-day basis Dominique? What sort of things do you see? What sort of challenges do we face when it comes to change from a neurological perspective?

00:05:22 Dominique Ashby

So, in terms of what change looks like at the Neuroscience level, there's lots of things going on in our brains. So, the first thing to note is that our brains are survival prediction machines. That's their primary purpose. And when you put that in context, you can figure out, ok, how does it do that? What is then the primary function of the brain? What's it doing day-to-day? It's constantly, continually, subconsciously scanning for data points, to be able to best risk model the chances of survival. So it's doing that. And you may think, well, both of us are sitting in the comforts of our home, today, in something that we deem as a safe environment. As safe as it can be. Surely, it's kind of got comfortable with it, it's not doing that now, it’s focusing totally on this. Or actually, no, it's still is because it's all subconscious. We're not aware of it.

But for example, so I live in the centre of a city. And my brain is scanning around and it's listening out for various noises. It's looking around the various threats that may come my way. And as happens in the city, you end up with various sirens coming your way. So at some point over the course of today, my brain will escalate the siren that it's been tracking from afar to my conscious level, if it thinks it's got a little bit too close. Is this something that could actually impact us? Do we have to listen out for that? And so, it's been keeping track of that in subconsciousness, something it might throw it up to my conscious level. And at that point I get to go,

Ok. Thank you, brain. Great, you've been looking out for me. That siren is normally associated with some sort of danger. I am comfortable it's not next to you right now, so we can put that aside. Thank you for risk modelling. We're all good.”

So it's the fact that you know, ultimately, we are all continually helping to look at our survival. And that's a really great thing, and our brains are doing a fantastic job.

Ultimately, they were designed and had their last hardware upgrade about 200,000 years ago so.

00:07:12 Andy Goram

Right. Overdue then.

00:07:14 Dominique Ashby

A little bit overdue. And you think the number of phones you’ve had probably in the past five years alone? Our brain is doing a really good job of having started out in a form where we were living life on The Savannah and survival was a very real, day-to-day point for most of us. There were sabre-toothed tigers around. There wasn't necessarily food in a supermarket. So, we're definitely fending for ourselves. Our brains were very much wired so to look at survival as a continual moments out of our existence. Whereas now, it's having to adapt to the fact that actually threats aren't necessarily Sabre-toothed tigers, not seen many of those around for a while, but it's very much, cars coming our way. It’s the risk of survival of potentially making a mistake at work in a virtual context, because that could mean us being fired fired. Which then impacts our ability to buy food and to keep ourselves sheltered. And so, there's a lot of different, more complex computations that our brains have to do just to be able to get to the same point of what was the best course of action to survive.

And the thing with the past couple of years of the pandemic is that we have faced a very real threat to survival. The majority of us have been really lucky. But this is the first time that we are experiencing something like this. And so, I think for our listeners, you know, it's the first time we've been thrown into a lot of pandemonium. And for our brain, it was an unseen threat as well. A virus is something you can't see with the physical eye, so trying to track that alongside trying to completely overhaul the way that we worked again, if we're in an office environment, we suddenly became home workers and everything... boundaries got blended, alongside trying to manage restrictions and movements that we've never had before at a state governmental level. And all of that tracked into exhaust our brains, because the more ambiguity, the more uncertainty there is out there, of course, the harder it is for our brains to accurately risk model. And our brains don't just say, “Well, I don't have the data, I’ll just pause this for a second.” What it does in response, is it tries twice as hard to get data, so it just scans twice as hard. It drains your mental battery twice as fast. And any data gaps that it really can't find to fill, well, it fills those with negative and worst-case scenarios. Why? Because it's trying to predict your survival. So, if you can plan and think of the worst case of data points, then you'll likely to survive.

So our brains have been working twice as hard, trying to cope with all of the ambiguity that comes with change. They've been trying to be able to fill in gaps with information that we didn't have. And that frankly, information that was coming through tended to be worse than we expected as well. Oh, those slides! Remember the Chris Witty slides in the UK? My gosh, those were intense. And so, they will be coming out of this and we're going into a period, certainly in the UK, where we’re downgrading COVID. Whether we agree with that or not, from there the governmental piece, it’s downgrading. So, there's an area of our brains, a rational area that will think, “OK, fine. Trust in government, perhaps”, but there'll be an element, because we've lived with uncertainty and threat for so long, it'll take a while for our brains to get out of that. So, there’ll still be this hangover of brain energy being used up really quickly. A lot more quickly than we were used to before.

And when we go into that element of, “OK. What can we do to recharge our brains?” the things like holidays, like breaks from work, like being able to leave a physical office and a boundary coming in, so when you get home, you have a different context for the brain to work within. Those are still not quite back. And so, we're not yet recharged in the same way that would be over a normal annual cycle of holidays, breaks, and generally going in and out of the office.

So that's a little bit of a sense of change and the brain, and you know, we've talked about the extremity of a pandemic situation, But even before the pandemic, if you throw any type of change at the brain, because it increases uncertainty and therefore makes risk modelling harder, it does this. It has this effect of mental energy being drained more quickly. Of negatives being filled into where there are information gaps. Of you even being forced into fight or flight, and a lot of us will have experienced fight or flight generally in our lives, but that's not the greatest place to be for the brain. It's useful. Really great for the brain, again, “Well done, brain for being able to do that”, but when we're in fight or flight, the areas of our brains involved in executive functioning, so things like forward planning, rational decision making and memory formation. Things like being able to regulate your own emotions. All of those are inhibited. So when we're in this fight or flight moment through enforced periods of change, then we end up being lesser versions of ourselves. We end up being less able to be at our best, less able to feel positive. Less able to be productive, our wellbeing overall suffers for that.

00:12:13 Andy Goram

I think it's a fantastic backdrop to hopefully this challenge of, I guess, planning for a brighter future, without wanting to try and overplay it, when we look ahead to things like spring. But I think it's fascinating from what you've said and from a couple of episodes previously that these themes of risk, reward and uncertainty play such a sort of a major part in the things that our brains are thinking about, and then what really drives our actions and behaviours as a result of that. I think it's brilliant.

So, if we think then about this current issue that we flagged in the introduction, around this kind of push that's either already here, or probably likely to come in the sort of next round of planning. And if we think about the fact that, like you just said, that the backdrop here for us as humans and our brains it’s not great. We're not in the best situation, perhaps too maybe plan effectively, or take our best course of action. Or even be our best. So, when you think about this challenge going forwards, what are the things we need to think about, Dominique? What are the areas that we need to kind of break down if we think right, we're gonna plan for a fresh start. We're gonna plan to try and get back to flourishing and thriving and being our best. How do we approach this?

00:13:38 Dominique Ashby

It's a really good question. I would say that the key is reconnecting. So reconnecting ourselves with our own mental energy. Reconnecting ourselves with our teams. Reconnecting ourselves with our organisations and reconnecting ourselves with all the other things that matter outside of work to us.

And that reconnection, if we can put an awareness, an agency by understanding a little bit more about how our brains function at the individual level, the team level and outside of that, it's a good place to start. Because if we can balance our mental energy, understand what our purpose... what engages us, what recharges us, then we can get ourselves into the best position possible to give our all for this next spring season. And think for all of those, do you actually want to feel that sense of progress? That we actually want to get... you know, feel whole new chapters opening up in our lives working at home. But we are running on a low battery for the majority of us. So it's reconnecting ourselves to understand how can we best recharge our batteries and how can we refind our spark, our purpose as we do that.

00:14:46 Andy Goram

I think it's fascinating that you mention purpose again in here, because, dangerous as it is to give an idiot a little bit of information, I did watch a Ted Talk by, Richard J Davidson the other day he was talking about the emotions of your brain and some neuroscience stuff. But he talked about what he saw as the four components of a healthy mind.

And so he talked about actually having awareness of what you're doing. You know, not being like when you read a book and you forget the last few pages you've read and you don't know where you are and you wake up. You know so, being aware of the things that you're doing. He talks about connection. And like you've just talked about, so in his view, nurturing harmonious relationships, it's really, really good for the brain. Having insight into our own narrative and having that purpose, a sense of direction. Four things to a healthy mind, which you've also just covered yourself. But from your perspective, and I don’t know, you might have a slightly biased view of this based on where you are, how good are businesses at recognising this stuff? Is it just a few? Are people becoming more interested, more concerned, more aware of this stuff? Or is it still very much pushing water uphill, Dominique? What's going on out there?

00:16:04 Dominique Ashby

Really good question. You know what? There's no one rule for everyone, is there? So, companies I'm working with and organisations are at different stages, and they need different things. And that's entirely human. Entirely normal. And the thing I would say of all of that is, that we generally are feeling a need to reconnect, whatever level that is. So with the distanced working, that actually doesn't necessarily help from our brain's point-of-view. Virtual working is absolutely fabulous and hybrid working for inclusivity, because it allows us more flexibility and more meeting of needs at the individual level, but it can sometimes help us feel a little bit disconnected from that. And therefore, we want to actually connect with each other. And so I'm seeing a wish at the individual level, to reconnect with people. So maybe to go back in an office, that looks like that. But that is sort of offset as well, by the sense of well, we know that what we're doing now works, and it's safe. So again, the brain is in that state of saying,

Well, where I am now, is a safe place to be. It’s where I’ve been for two years and actually there are quite a few advantages that I found, because I've had to find them. Because that's what’s kept me feeling more positive over the way.”

And so that idea of, how do you find a team-ways of working, in particular, and I'm working companies on, that find that ideal balance to get hybrid working, something that's meaningful. That does actually get the best out of everyone but meets that human need of connectivity and that human need of finding a purpose, and a shared purpose in the organisational context, as well. So, that's it, you know what you said, it definitely resonates in terms of things that I'm seeing. Again, one size doesn't always fit all, but reconnections have been definitely for 2022.

00:17:56 Andy Goram

Brilliant, well let's try and move into some practical stuff then, Dominique, because the whole point of this podcast is to talk about some interesting stuff and leave people with some sense of, or an idea of things they can kind of do, and try and make things practical.

Now you talked about the sort of breakdown of looking at yourself, so of preparing yourself. And then also, preparing the team and filling up the energies, right, of both those things. Yourself and the team. And probably taking a look at yourself as a leader, within all of that. So if I could just ask you to explain a bit. When you talk about preparing yourself, and talk about the use of energies, what are you referring to exactly, here?

00:18:42 Dominique Ashby

I'm referring to the idea that the more you understand about the brain, how it works and what constitutes draining the mental energy, what constitutes recharging it, then you can help structure your day-to-day to be your ideal working day, and finish your working day with enough energy, mental energy, to enjoy what comes after. And that's again something that's really key. Everything I do with that person in a work context is very much about also having benefits outside. So that you generally, enjoy life at a holistic level.

So, when you think about preparing yourself, it's things like, actually, do you respect your own Physiology? So, one of the examples, I've got a 10-piece toolkit, that I share in workshops, one of the examples that I share is smart scheduling. So, do you schedule things that are highly brain intensive? And those are, for example, decision making. That's the most cognitively intense thing our brain can do. And creative thinking, that takes a lot of mental energy. Do you schedule those routinely at a time when you know you have the most mental energy in your day? So, for example, I'm a night owl. Always have been. Lived in a morning person world obviously the whole of my life. And one of the things I promised to myself when I set up my own business, was to respect my own Physiology more. To be able to have that flexibility. And so, I know that from between 4 o'clock and 7 o'clock, I am at my most creative. My most productive. My most mental sparky. So I, to the extent I can, schedule things on those hours that I know are going to take a lot of brain energy. Because I know I've got my most energy there. So that's something which you can look at yourself and say,

Well, physiologically, when am I at my best? Can I start to look at certain individual tasks, and certain maybe, team tasks where we schedule to be when I’m at my best?”

And when you’re looking at team meetings, I'll talk to people and say, well, look, your team will be made up of a mix of different people. A mix of different physiologies. And actually, if you've got small children, your physiology may not be able to be respected anyway. So have a look at your team. Ask the question “When do you feel usually at your most sparky during the day?” And then aim to schedule your team meetings at times that match individuals along the way. So it could be that you end up scheduling your team meetings at different times, in different weeks, because then you get that inclusivity of certain people who are afternoon/evening people getting to shine in an afternoon team meeting. Morning people can shine in the morning team meetings that you schedule. So that idea of understanding yourself and then sharing that with team members to create a team calendar that respects physiology is a really good way to start and look at it. And so that's one example from the workshop, that's something practical that you can do.

Another thing is the power of the To-Do List. So normally we approach to-do lists, possibly with a tiny bit of trepidation, at certain times. It depends on your week. And other times, maybe with a little bit of enthusiasm as well. But a to-do list is actually really fab, from a brain point of view. So, it's a powerful thing. More powerful than necessarily we give it credit for. When you think that during times of change, ambiguity is one of the biggest things that's an issue, a to-do list, something as simple as that, is giving your brain the gift of certainty. So, it's telling your brain, “OK. So today, (if you're prioritising today) tomorrow (if you're prioritising the night before), we are going to focus on these tasks. This is what we're going to get through today. And any tasks that I don't know yet when I'm going to get to, I am categorising them at the bottom, as I will check in on these tasks again tomorrow. Don't worry brain they're not forgotten about. I'm putting them here and we'll regroup again tomorrow.”

And that simple task of prioritising is actually saying to your brain,

There’s certainty in this day. You're going to be safe, because at this time of day, you're going to be working these things. So, you've got your risk model set up, because you know what that looks like. So, there you go. That is, ambiguity sorted with increased certainty in the day. Well done you.

And that helps again to stop the brain running down its mental energy. And it also has the benefit of saying, well OK, the ideas that we have or we haven't actually looked at, what's going to be done when? That end of the list that's going to be looked at daily, to have a look at one can prioritise, that's going to stop flashing up in your mind at random moments. Because things we haven't assigned as sorted or going to be looked at a set time, your brain will very helpfully throw them up at the most inconvenient moments possible, and say, “Oh, have you remembered you've got this today?”, midway through a thought. So, if you're trying to do something that's focused, it's creative, you don't want that to interrupt your cognitive function. So, the To-Do List suddenly becomes this transformative thing. What was once potentially a chore, is actually one of those lovely things that you can give your brain at this time. Especially during times of change.

So, looking at things in a new way also helps in terms of saying “OK, so what can we do at a daily level?” And, you know, part of the toolkit is also looking at what happens when everything goes a bit wrong. So, the best will in the world, you've got this beautiful to-do list, that you're working through and then there's a curveball that comes your way. Well, there’s things you can do to boost your brain as well. To reset it. So, mindfulness is something that's obviously come to the fore over the past two years. But even something as simple as the power of positive memories is really something you can keep and use anytime. So, the way that our brain encodes memories, is it encodes distinct data points. So it's, you know, all of the primary sensory inputs are encoded as part of that memory. Which as an aside, is why perhaps times felt very hazy as if there’s no demarcation of time in past years because the primary sensory inputs have been static. We've been working in the same environment, listening, talking to the same people, doing the same thing. So actually, the distinction that our brains need to make distinct memories hasn't been there. So, if you felt that your short-term memory, in particular, is potentially a little lower than it used to be, that's probably why.

But to get back to the power of positive memories. When we encode a positive memory, the chemical state when we lived it is encoded as well. Now the same is true for negative memories. So, if you've got a negative memory being coded, that chemical state is encoded. When you recall a memory, you reactivate the chemical state. So, your brain is flooded with the chemical state you first lived in. So, for positive memories, you're flooded with fantastic chemicals that make you feel good. And it just so happens that if you flood your brain with those chemicals, you're also in a sort of boosted state. You're in a state that's ready for focus, for creativity. A lot more emotionally resilient. So, if you're having a day that there's been a curveball that's come your way, with the best will in the world, you’ve used all the other practises you can, to structure your day, think of a positive memory. Bring it to mind in as much detail as possible. Laugh if you can. All of that will help your brain recharge and re-boost.

00:25:53 Andy Goram

The power of positive thinking is... it makes so much sense when you talk about it and yet people sometimes think that stuff’s a bit fluffy. But I really like this idea of recharging your battery. Putting more energy, like everything works better with more energy. Having that degree of certainty for your brain in that planning, and just, I guess, tuning into your own physical state. I mean that sounds like a really good bit advice to get yourself sorted.

I'm a big believer in putting that oxygen mask on yourself first, before you try and help others. So, in that Leadership perspective, those are three things alone, that can put you on a path to being, you know, at least some way to being your best self, in this context of trying to reconnect to team and move it forward.

When we're specifically thinking about teams, let's say we’ve kind of sorted ourselves out here, but now we're kind of projecting more in teams, and you've mentioned things like team scheduling and all that kind of stuff. What other things, as a leader, should we be thinking about when it comes to our teams in order to make them feel, or at least put them in a position to feel like they can be their best version of themselves?

00:27:07 Dominique Ashby

Absolutely, so sharing tips you have as leaders, obviously that help manage you, is a great way to share as well with the team. Overall, from a team perspective, we’ve all been going on a personal journey, of our own personal identities have shifted, because the world has shifted. Our team identities have shifted and our organisation wants have. The world has changed so much over the past two years that actually, it's time for us to look again at what it means to be us. And when you’ve got a good amount of mental energy as your base, as you said, the oxygen mask, then you're in a good position to think about that. So, if you've set the baseline to be good on the mental energy front, you have the creativity and the capacity to think about actually who am I? Who do I want to be? What is my purpose? What engages me? And you can do that at the team level as well. And that's a really nice way to help cadence in this return to the office that's happening in the UK. With hybrid working as well.

So, start by refreshing and rebuilding your team identity. What is your purpose? And I do this with teams by looking at, co-creating team taglines and team ideas of brand. What do you stand for? Having time dedicated to looking at that and again co-creating with the team, helps to bring us back into a positive mindset to do work, and an idea of growth. It gives us a sense of that purpose. What do we stand for? What is driving what I do, day-to-day, and what we do day-to-day as a team? How can we get there in new and exciting ways? And it lays the, you know, sets the baseline as well for lots of other great activities, like revamping their ways of working, having a look at different ways of approaching things. Setting up your innovation hubs, because a lot of companies are again, focusing in on innovation. What can we do to be something better tomorrow? So, you can start to lay the light on all of that. And even things like diversity, equity, and inclusivity. They’re already part of this because you get to understand what had an individual level matters and how that relates to the team level identity. And being able to see yourself in the team is really key to help you keep engaged and productive through work. So, it's something that I'm doing a lot with teams at the moment, is resetting, refreshing that sense of team identity, and how that can be the springboard for lots of other team level activities that come out of that. But just resetting everything and reconnecting people.

00:29:42 Andy Goram

I think that's a great idea, especially in the context of, you know, looking ahead from spring and moving forward. As a brand guy, I'm bound to love the idea of, you know, resetting what your team brand is, but that's a deeply practical thing to do. And in the background that is absolutely setting an identity, a bit of meaning, a bit of purpose for that team and helping guide them forwards. Which I think is brilliant.

From your perspective, Dominique, when we think about teams and balancing the needs of all the individuals in that team, but the collective, what does your experience and science tell us about the importance of rebuilding trust and meaningful relationships as part of this whole mix?

00:30:25 Dominique Ashby

The majority of us are neurotypical. We are very social beings. So ultimately, we are there to connect with others. We feel social rejection using the same pathways as we do physical pain. So, if we feel excluded from something, left out, passed over, then the pain that we feel is equivalent to physical pain. So, it's very real. So, in terms of the idea of trust and relationships, they are absolutely fundamental to our brains functioning at optimal levels. To us being our best. If that isn't there, then our brain is in probably fight or flight mode depending on the extent to the fact that you don't fully trust this person or the fact we feel excluded. And as we've said before, fight or flight it means that the areas of our brain that do our best work are inhibited. So, we're just not able to be our best or feel our best. And so, the idea of building trust is fundamental to that. And there's something about humans, that if we share things with others, then we tend to feel a level of trust as well. So, inclusivity is great as a topic to look at as teams, to understand who we are as individuals. To have that empathy sense of, I understand my teammates around me a little bit more. And then you have that discussion again. You put those on the table and as a team, you decide,

Well, OK. As a team we have this identity, this purpose. We have this impact we need to make. Here is what at the individual level makes each other be our best. Where are the areas where we are going to accommodate each of those individual levels? And where are areas where potentially we need to compromise, for the greater good of the team and our purpose?”

And once you've got that team identity and purpose, that conversation is a lot easier, because with relationships there are always elements of compromise for group good. So, looking at that, but if you understand the basis of the inclusivity, understand what you're going for as a team, then you can start to build that trust in that relationship. And things agreed are agreed at team level group level, rather than necessarily a leader shouting down or any one individual.

00:32:35 Andy Goram

I like that. I like this whole idea of setting that identity but then thinking about the positives, in terms of how we move it forward. From, so what does good look like? And then how do we do more of it? And using that as an inclusive discussion around, you know, what are the good things, guys? And how do we do more of those, and what's it going to take from all of us, to kind of do that? That's what you mean, right?

00:33:00 Dominique Ashby

It is, but also let's not put, you know, hiding all the bad things. Transparency is key as well. And there's something extremely cathartic about sharing your pain points.

00:33:06 Andy Goram

Yeah, yeah.

00:33:09 Dominique Ashby

So, it's not... It's never just a positive conversation. It's very much, you know, it's essentially what is the best thing in your job? What's the worst thing in your job? What do you get out of bed for? What is the dissonance that you think actually doesn't align with your own personal purpose? What are the things that really do? And you go on that journey with teams, and you could completely reform the way that performance management is done. So, you completely re-look at the goal-setting, and can put that on its head.

So instead of the traditional method of an organisation decreeing strategic objectives, which then go to team objectives, that then go to individual objectives, and it's sort of this roll down the hill, as it were, you could start with the individual level. And part of rebuilding the individual identity is saying,

Well, what is it that actually does get me out of bed in the morning? What is it that drives me as an individual? What am I most engaged about? And what is it in an individual that I want to help others to grow in as well? What is it that I would like to see over this next six months, year, whatever your planning cycle might be?”

And you start from there. You match that to the purpose, and the identity that you've refreshed and co-created. And those are the objectives that the person, the individual creates that are the things that get them out of bed. That gets them most excited about going into work for. The idea of the individual fulfilment and helping others feel fulfilled through coaching and skill sharing. And to be honest, the majority of those, those will be core to your team purpose as well, because your team purpose has been co-created and defined. But if there are areas and other tasks which as an individual you have to do because the organisation needs them, but it doesn't necessarily fully fit into the, I’m jumping out of bed to do them, then you can start to look at a team and say,

OK, look. The reality is, there's going to be these things. They're not the things that you want to do first. They are things that you’re probably going to leave to the bottom of the To-Do List, because we're not super-excited about them. What can we do to help motivate us?

And it goes back to something you said earlier about reward. You can, as a team co-create an award structure for those tasks where you’ve just got to get them done. There's no inherent necessarily reward in terms of them aligning to your personal growth or growth of others. And so you can start to set team reward levels.

It can be things as, you know, as normal as a, “OK. For every five of these tasks that an individual does, we get to have a free coffee in our local coffee bar?” You know, it's it can be something like that. Or it can be non-financial. It could be something related to, you know, gaining rewards and loyalties within teams that then leads to other things and status, which is really key for us as humans. To feel that our status is recognised and valued. So, you can start to really look at performance management as being something that engages people, that rewards some for the bits that, let's just put it on the table there, not the bits you come into work for the joy of doing. And then you can start to measure those in a different way as well. So again, this idea of measuring people for success. And what success looks like. Well, for the ones that are really about the things you love and get out of bed for, you measure those in terms of learnings and life learnings made. And so, you start to take away that stress of, “I have to hit this bottom line” in that way. You make them about learning and growth in that experience. Which is something from the cognitive point of view, the neuroscience point of view, learning is rewarding for our brains intrinsically. So, phrasing those in the framework of learning is really key because it helps us feel connected and gets those rewards going without the fear of retribution. So again, that helps increase psychological safety as a cultural point as well.

And then, for the other reward ones, yes, they can be in a more traditional sense of, “I've hit this target.” And then you've got this team co-created, individual level reward flows, which again feels like you’ve got a little bit more control and autonomy over what you do. So even though they’re things that you necessarily wouldn’t have picked, actually you have autonomy over what happens when you do meet those? So, it's all about reframing and reconnecting with ourselves again. The word, that I think will be most often repeated during today's session together. But that idea of, we've got a chance and an opportunity at the moment to rethink what we do and how we do it. And there's so many opportunities out there to do it in a way that really inspires us, engages us, gives us agency, in a time when a lot of that has been taken away. And that is an absolute success factor in terms of where you need to go as an organisation.

00:37:44 Andy Goram

That's quite a flip in terms of the positivity around performance management, within all of that, which nobody comes with a kind of sad face as opposed to a smiley face when we talk about performance management. So, thank you for that.

I'm sitting here with my mind kind of racing a little bit, in terms of there's so many things here. And we started off with the context of look, let's look ahead to spring. We're going to be coming together. We're going to put plans together. How do we get ourselves in the best shape possible? And you have covered a huge amount of ground in what we can do for ourselves and what we can do for our teams and the attitude we need to take as a leader.

We have already come to the point in the show Dominique, where we try and summarise all those things in Sticky Notes. Which is where I ask you for your three best bits of advice, in the context of coming back together and trying to put a plan together as a team, that's as effective as possible and gives us a chance of being at our best.

What's the three pieces of advice you'd leave everybody with?

00:38:45 Dominique Ashby

First would be, structure your day to get the most out of your mental energy. Once you've got your mental energy at a good level, the rest of the world is your oyster. So, start with that structure your day to get the most out of your mental energy.

Then I would say refreshingly, connect with your own identity and purpose. It's something that doesn't stand still as we grow; it grows and shifts. So, keep that connection with your own identity and purpose, and bring that with you to your team, because actually, that shared connection at the individual level creates something more powerful at the team level.

And then the third thing would be to say actually, before you plan any kind of big changes with your team, factoring in the neuroscience of how our brains work. Because if you don't, then very sadly that change won't happen. If you do then it will be successful. So, remember your power partner’s neuroscience when it comes to change. Factor that in and you'll be on the right road for empowering, inspiring and engaging.

00:39:46 Andy Goram

Well, you’ve been my power partner today. There's no question about that, Dominique, in terms of giving us some real food for thought. And in terms of just some subtle changes and maybe revolutionary changes for some people, but just thinking about how the brain works when you're trying to put all this stuff together can make a dramatic change in the outcome. And the dramatic way that people feel about it. That's marvellous! Fantastic!

I cannot believe we've come to the end of our time already. Thank you so much for your time today. I've loved the conversation. I've done a lot of listening, 'cause it's fascinating to me and I'm sure my listeners will feel the same way. So, thank you so much for your time today, Dominique.

00:40:27 Dominique Ashby

It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for listening as well, I can't wait for our next conversation. Well, hopefully, I'll be able to learn from you as well.

00:40:34 Andy Goram

That'd be brilliant. But yeah, thank you today. That's just marvellous!

Well, everybody that was Dominique Ashby, and if you'd like to find out a little bit about her and some of the things that we've talked about today, then please check out our show notes.

00:40:52 Andy Goram

So, that concludes today's episode.

I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forward.

If you have, please like comment and subscribe, it really helps.

I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to the Sticky From The Inside Podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.

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