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Asking these 4 questions will improve problem solving in your group

4 Questions that Will Improve Problem Solving in Your Group

Due to a quality problem with a weekly shipment, a large financial publishing firm was facing a very unhappy $50 million customer.

This was obviously a very big deal. The managers were scrambling for a solution and feeling stuck. So they reached out to someone in the organization who knew about our Whole Brain® Model and asked for help.

This person pointed out that the managers had done some things very well. They’d done the analysis. They’d crunched the numbers. They’d focused on the fact-based and implementation-oriented thinking aspects of the problem by discovering what the symptoms were and how they were playing out. Yet there was something missing—a new way of looking at the problem, a shift in mindset. Read more

Quotable Business Advice from the Whole Brain Business Book

Quotes from The Whole Brain Business Book, 2nd Edition

Twenty years ago, Ned Herrmann’s groundbreaking book opened the eyes of business leaders and professionals around the world to the power of Whole Brain® Thinking. With the release of The Whole Brain Business Book, Second Edition, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi, CEO of Herrmann International, is carrying on her father’s legacy and bringing practical new insights and advice specific to the challenges of the 21st century business environment.

Filled with real-world examples and essential charts, action steps, exercises, and tools, The Whole Brain Business Book shows you how to rethink your business, prepare for the future, realign your goals, and reinvigorate your team—by putting your whole brain to work.

The select quotes below give you a taste of what’s inside: Read more

3 Strategies for Increasing Mindfulness and Productivity

3 Strategies for Increasing Mindfulness and Productivity

In our always-on/always-connected environment, between work and family, texts and emails, new demands and ongoing change, most of us are feeling like our brains are full.  And yet the constant stream keeps coming. It may seem unrealistic to hit the off switch, but we’re hoping to at least find a pause button.

This is one reason for the growing interest among business, HR and talent leaders in mindfulness and deep thinking, practices that just a few years ago would have seemed completely at odds with what it takes to be successful in business.

But whether you’re responsible for helping others develop and grow, managing people and projects, or just managing yourself, it’s easy to see how the distractions of the modern world are taking a toll, not just on performance, productivity and morale but also on people’s health and well being.

How can our businesses continue to thrive if we aren’t able to put our best thinking to work?

In fact, mindfulness is being aware of what’s going on in your brain. This is far different than being “mind-full”—letting your brain get so full that you feel overwhelmed by information.

Here are three strategies anyone can apply to increase mindfulness and become more productive as a result. Read more

Employee Engagement and Retention: What You Don’t Know Could Cost You

 

The “shocking” to “disturbing” headlines about employee engagement are almost routine these days. Study after study turns up numbers in the range of 70 to 80 percent of the workforce that’s either not fully engaged or actively disengaged at work, costing companies billions in annual turnover.

It’s not that executives aren’t throwing money at the problem. In fact, by some estimates, companies are collectively investing upwards of $1.5 billion a year into trying to turn it around, without much to show for it in return.

But there have been a few positive signs beginning to emerge. Modern Survey’s Fall 2014 Employee Engagement Index showed engagement levels are beginning to inch up, while disengagement is at its lowest point since the study began.

Sounds good, right? Well, keep reading.

That same survey examined “who wants to leave” and found that, surprisingly (or “alarmingly,” as they put it), nearly a quarter (24%) of fully engaged employees are currently looking to leave their companies.

Something is clearly wrong when companies are spending billions of dollars on engagement, and they can’t even count on their fully engaged people to stay.

One of the biggest culprits? By and large, leaders, managers, and even L&D and HR professionals don’t know their employees. They don’t know what they care about, what matters most to them or what they pay attention to. This is the critical “homework” that has to be done before you put all that money into engagement and retention efforts.

Because work of any kind is primarily a mental activity, the best way to get to know your employees is to start by understanding how they think. This is the filter through which they communicate, listen and process information. It influences how they approach a task and what kind of work they find stimulating (or draining).

As part of the process of writing the second edition of The Whole Brain Business Book, we looked at some of the data around work satisfaction, and generally speaking, we found that the highest satisfaction comes from those who have a strong alignment between their thinking preferences and the mentality of the work they’re assigned to do. The lowest are associated with those who are misaligned—unless they’re looking for a challenge in that specific assignment and have been prepared and are motivated to stretch.

And that’s why this isn’t just about them; it’s also about you. Unless you’re intentional about your thinking, which is what Whole Brain® Thinking is all about, your own preferences will become filters and blind spots, impacting how you communicate, make decisions, assign work and create development plans for others. When fully engaged people are still looking to leave, being able to see past your own preferences and “get inside their heads” is the critical missing piece.

So before you make assumptions about what’s going to engage and retain them, start with thinking. In our experience, it’s the much more cost-effective—and just plain effective—route.

Think Outside Your Comfort Zones in 2015: A Checklist

Recent research suggests looking at cute things can improve performance. We figure it’s worth a shot!

Resolve to put Whole Brain® Thinking to work for you in the new year by spending some time outside your thinking comfort zones. Remember, if you aren’t just a little uncomfortable, you probably aren’t learning!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

A Quadrant:

  • Clearly define work goals for next quarter.
  • Use logic in your decision making.

B Quadrant:

  • (Re-)organize your filing system and/or your desk.
  • Plan out a project in detail and follow through with it.

C Quadrant:

  • Spontaneously recognize another employee in a way that is personal and meaningful for them.
  • Be aware of your non-verbal communication and make it friendlier—smile, be relaxed.

D Quadrant:

  • Set aside time for idea generation, and think of at least one “crazy” idea per day.
  • In your “mind’s eye” (with eyes closed), imagine your organization ten years from now.

You have access to your entire brain, so use it! Happy New Year from all of us at Herrmann International

 

On-Demand Webinar: Developing Leadership Agility for an “All of the Above World”

What’s your biggest leadership challenge?

Engaging employees?

Preparing emerging leaders to step up?

Building high-performance teams?

Developing a leadership mindset across the organization?

If you’re like most training leaders today, the answer is “all of the above.” The good news is, you and your leaders already have the best tool for navigating an “all of the above” world—the brain.

Even better news: Kevin Sensenig’s webinar for Training Magazine has the practical strategies and steps you need to take full advantage of your brainpower and consciously shift your thinking when the situation requires it.

The webinar recording and follow-up resources for Developing Leadership Agility for an “All of the Above” World are available now for on-demand access.

Take a moment to check it out and download the materials, because particularly as the world grows more complex, the time you spend now getting your thinking in order will pay off exponentially in 2015.

 

Don’t Fall Back on Mental Habits

For those of us who observe Daylight Savings Time, this Sunday we’ll “fall back” by setting our clocks back an hour, and that extra hour of sleep will be good news for our brains. A growing body of research is finding that sleep enhances the brain’s ability to process and retain information and memories, unravel complex issues to make better decisions, and make connections that allow us to get more creative, among other learning and performance-improving activities.

But our brains also love their routines. Just try to change someone’s mind (even your own), and you’ll see how firmly engrained those routines are.

In fact, our brains naturally seek and organize around patterns we’ve developed in our thinking throughout the course of our lives. We develop mental habits based on what has always worked for us—and it feels safe.

But when you approach a new situation with your habitual thinking, you severely limit your ability to generate new ideas or solutions. If your thought patterns continue to be processed by your brain using the same neural pathways as in the past, you won’t be able to effectively lead and respond in different ways.

Think about that for a moment: Do you need to do things differently today? Find new solutions or inspiration? Adapt to a changing world? It’s a good bet that you do.

So whether you or your employees want to increase creative output, find new perspectives on how to handle day-to-day issues, or simply lead and manage in new ways, you can’t do it successfully until you break those existing patterns.

Of course, you’ll first need to know what those patterns are. The HBDI® assessment, which measures degrees of preference for different modes of thinking, is a great way to help people understand their thinking patterns and the impact of these patterns on how they communicate, learn, solve problems and more.

Once that baseline is understood, here’s a four-step process anyone can take to break out of their mental defaults:

  1. Visualize it: Because we know what to expect when we do the things we’ve always done, our mental habits feel safe. By visualizing something from a different perspective, we can get more comfortable with it. Here’s an easy exercise to try: Imagine your living room. Now imagine it from the perspective of a burglar. What do you see? How about as an interior decorator? The brain doesn’t necessarily know the difference between visualization and reality, so this is a great way to “try on” different perspectives and make them become reality.
  2. Define your goal: What is it you want? What’s the end game? Write it down and post it in a place you will see every single day. We need that constant reinforcement to remind us why we’re doing it and to keep it top of mind. Otherwise it’s too easy to fall back into the comfort zone of our patterns and preferences.
  3. Use the buddy system: There’s a reason why support groups are so effective for issues like weight loss or dealing with addiction: We’re social beings, and buddy systems actually work. Think about who can help you stay accountable as well as those who could provide some of the alternate perspectives you’re looking for. Maybe it’s a co-worker, someone in your personal life or even an online group.
  4. Make a plan: Give yourself the gift of setting milestones. That way you can celebrate some of the changes you’ve made and figure out where you’re succeeding, where you’re struggling and how to go from there. It’s going to take some time to overcome a natural mindset you’ve probably spent years and years developing and reinforcing.

Change keeps coming. If you keep falling back on your mental habits, you’re going to fall behind.

Don’t just change your clocks this Sunday. Start changing your mindset!

Managers, You Aren’t Responsible for An Employee’s Motivation

With all the chatter about employee engagement and its impact on productivity and retention, we know that employee motivation is a key issue at all levels of leadership.

But people who lead continue to make a fundamental mistake in this area: They believe and behave as if they are responsible for an employee’s motivation.

Here’s a news flash: Motivation of an employee doesn’t come from the manager; it comes from within the employee.

Why is this so hard to grasp? One possible reason is we’ve established a cadre of leaders who think that visible action on their part is the primary way to lead—that you must do something or you won’t be viewed as a leader by those who are led.

The fact is we all motivate ourselves. The more important and useful function managers and leaders can serve is to encourage this inner self-motivation, and there are a number of ways to do this:

  1. Provide employees with work they find stimulating. When people aren’t stimulated by the work, they drop out of the game. Look for clues in their thinking preferences, paying attention to both their primary preferences, which typically are associated with the work they’ll most enjoy, and their areas of avoidance or lack of preference.
  2. Provide a work climate that allows this stimulating work to be performed in ways that satisfy and fulfill the employee. Don’t assume the way you would tackle the work is the best way for the employee. Create an environment where employees have a say and a stake in their own productivity and engagement.
  3. Provide incentives and rewards that supplement the self-actualization the employee is already experiencing. But remember, when it comes to rewards and incentives, one size doesn’t fit all.
  4. Provide the necessary tools, materials and support that allow the employee to optimize quality performance. Employees frequently have a better sense of how to get the tasks done in the most efficient, effective way. Give them the tools they need, and then…
  5. Get out of the way!

This surprisingly direct and simple process is founded on two human resource basics:

  1.  Know your employees. Understand their thinking preferences, their expectations and their job needs.
  2. Understand the mental requirements of the work being done. This requires an investment in time, energy and skill to diagnose the work elements of the tasks to be performed and then construct a thinking profile of the job.

The next step in this process is exceedingly elementary in concept, but impossible to carry out if the preceding steps have not been rigorously performed. This next step is bringing the employee into alignment with the work. When the employee’s thinking preferences are well aligned with the mental demands of the job, they’ll be more productive and engaged, and their companies will benefit as a result. It’s a win-win all around.

Want to fuel your own inner self-motivation? Read more about job fit and alignment for greater work satisfaction in our post, Commencement Advice for Everyone.

 

How to Get Value from a Team’s Thinking Diversity

Trying to navigate a thorny issue? Need an innovative solution? Looking for a way to help your team dig deeper and really flex their thinking muscles?

Bring in diversity—of all kinds.

Our research, and the experience of companies like Harrahs Entertainment and Brown- Forman, has shown what a difference difference makes on a team, whether you’re trying to solve a complex problem or come up with more creative ideas. A recent Scientific-American article echoes this point with the particularly eye-catching title, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter.”

The article points out that not only do people with different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives benefit from the diverse information they bring to the group, the diversity itself provokes different thinking, “jolting us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not.”

So difference in a group can lead to better problem solving and decision making as well as more innovative ideas—but it’s not just as simple as putting diverse people on a team and seeing what comes out of it.

From a thinking preference standpoint, we know that when a team has representation from across the thinking spectrum, each person will approach problems quite differently. This is a huge benefit to the team, but only if the team recognizes each others’ preferences and how they each add value.

Honoring different thinking approaches will allow every member to share their thinking and ideas openly. Once that openness occurs, the team’s creativity begins to emerge as they’re motivated to take advantage of the different thinking styles rather than viewing them as obstacles. And as a foundation for a discussion about diversity, thinking gives people a non-judgmental starting point. It’s not about behaviors, personalities or other attributes; this is just how someone prefers to process information.

Here’s what we’ve learned about setting up a diverse team for success:

  1. The more heterogeneous (mentally diverse) a group is, the more they need a multi-dominant facilitator/leader. Agile team leaders are critical for managing and leveraging difference on the team.
  2. Heterogeneous groups can be extremely creative and successful OR they can “crash,” unless they take the steps and time necessary to find synergy.
  3. Stereotyping of others is a major impediment to team development (he’s a “this” or she’s a “that”).
  4. Because cultural differences can make working as a team even more challenging, more process time and consistent communication are even more important.
  5. Virtual teams need a common language even more than co-located teams to increase the speed of relationship building and decrease miscommunication.

Remember: Successful teams practice “creative contention.” Any team that does not disagree is not doing effective work or leveraging their differences. The art is in knowing how to do it productively.

Are you bringing together diverse thinking to get more innovative? How do you encourage and manage creative contention?

Why Learning and the Brain is on Everyone’s Mind

Learning and the BrainIt’s no secret the subject of learning and the brain is always on my mind. But lately, it seems to be something everyone is thinking about.

In the past month alone, I’ve received two requests to write articles about the impact of brain research on training and learning. It’s also a topic that seems to be percolating more and more in the overall business community, particularly as new methods of studying the brain have generated new findings, more publicity and greater interest in broader circles.

In light of all this, it’s not surprising that one of the most common remarks I now hear from business leaders, training professionals and learners alike is an exasperated, “I feel like people are telling me I have to be a neuroscientist to do my job these days!”

The last decade has seen a frenzy of neuroscience research, leading to an avalanche of new findings and interest in the field. But along with the exciting new knowledge comes the inevitable hype and distraction. New studies abound that may or may not really be practical or relevant in application.

For true ROI®—the Return on Intelligence that comes from getting a better return on not just Investment but also Initiatives, Interactions and Innovation—application is what matters most. That’s why being able to filter out the signal from the noise, the “breakthroughs” from the “bunk,” is critical.

How has this explosion of research and interest affected your strategies? What can we do to avoid the “neuro-learning fad” syndrome? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Drop me a line or tweet me @annherrmann.

(And join me at the Learning 2014 Conference in Orlando next month where I’ll be conducting sessions on this very topic!)