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Wheel of Life

We all want a life of balance. In the daily rush of things, we however lose focus on reflecting on that. How does one even start reflecting on how to have a balanced life?

I have just the right thing for you.

The Wheel of Life (WoL) is a great exercise and tool for helping you create more balance and success in your life. It is often used in coaching and is a great foundational exercise for goal-setting.

As in the image below, you can see that the Wheel of Life is split into different life areas: Career(/Business), Money (financial health), Health (physical, mental & spiritual health), Friends & Family, Significant other (romantic partner), Personal growth (one’s level of self-awareness and growth), Fun & leisure (time spent enjoying hobbies, me-time, family time, etc.).

On each of these areas, rate and record your current satisfaction levels out of 10, where 1 is closest to the centre of the circle and 10 is at the edge of the circle. Use the first number that pops into your head, not the number you think it should be.

With that, you’ll be able to reflect and gain insights into how satisfied you are in life’s different areas. With this workbook, you can further delve into appreciating the areas that are already wholesome, those that you’d like to improve on, and the steps you’re inspired to take.

Below you can see an example on the right and a blank template right next to it. Whenever you’re ready, you can start the exercise and then move on to the questions below.

Wheel of Life

Reflections: Here are some great questions to think about:

  • Are there any surprises for you?
  • Which of these categories would you most like to improve?
  • What steps are you inspired to take to bring that life area into balance?
  • What steps are you inspired to take to bring the whole WoL into balance?
  • How could you make space for these changes in your life?

I’m eager to hear from you. How did you like this exercise? What insights did you gain? Please share in the comments.

Leadership through Crisis

This article is an extract of the conversation that I had with Karin Wierinck, who is a global HR business leader with close to 30 years of experience in HR. She is a renowned expert in people and organization matters including successful reorganizations, talent management, capability building and business or HR transformation. Having worked with countries such as Brazil, India, Iran, Turkey, Russia, China, in Europe and the USA she is keenly familiar with crisis management and the challenges and opportunities of remote working.

It was a pleasure to have her talk to our live audience in a session about Leadership in Crisis and Managing Work Remotely. 

Question:

Karin, I see you have a lot of experience leading through crisis. Can you please share a couple of personal stories about leading through crises?

Karin: As you already said I have close to 30 years in the field of HR. One story dates back to 1996 and the Upjohn company had just merged with Pharmacia. As a result, the international operations in Belgium were closing down and moving to Milano. I had to let go of many talented employees, and some were being asked to relocate. I was late twenties and one of the people impacted was ‘Mark’. Mark was in his late fifties and he was offered either termination or an early retirement package. He was not offered relocation to Italy. I had studied the package options and thought both were absolutely great! What I had not anticipated was that Mark would react very emotionally and totally unhappy, disgruntled. Mark wanted to receive also a relocation offer. He may not have actually relocated but the relocation offer for him was ‘proof’ of his value to the company. I learned a valuable lesson of EMPATHY that is also very relevant in these corona times. Don’t assume. Don’t project or enforce your views. Ask questions. Be human. And walk in the shoes of the other person. Anticipate the other person’s feelings, emotion and pain.  

My second story is a more recent one. I had just taken on a new role in an organization in ‘depression’ that had undergone significant and repeated downsizing and cost savings and was feeling let down by senior management. Trust was at an all-time low. I entered with my usual mindset of wanting to assess the situation and look for opportunities to fix or solve. That also entails looking for improvement and in my normal transparent way of operating, I gave lots of constructive feedback. The challenge with this approach is that I entered the organization and trust was non-existent. I, as a senior management representative – was looked at suspiciously and if I came with a hidden agenda. I learned the importance of building trust fast and that generosity and not judging or not appear to be judging are critical to BUILD TRUST FAST. Encouragement, praise and recognition, as well as only listening and asking lots of questions would have taken me much further faster.

 Question:

Tell us Karin, how can we apply the lessons from these stories to what we are experiencing right now, as we go through the COVID lockdown and the subsequent crisis?

Karin: My 2 keywords from the stories are empathy and trust.

It is always important to build trust “fast” whether it is in person or virtually and whatever the circumstance. When struggling with a situation, I like to find frameworks that’ll help me get back on track at the earliest. I have done a fair amount of research on the topic of trust and here’s a framework that I like a lot and would like to share:

Build trust by BRAVING: it’s an acronym. B for setting boundaries. Even while being generous, not everything is allowed. Set boundaries, what are the ‘no-gos’? R for Reliability. Keep your promises. A stands for Accountability. You assume accountability and hold the other accountable as well. V stands for VAULT, because you will keep things that are shared in confidence in the vault, i.e., confidentially. I stands for Integrity. N for non-judging and G for generosity. You already heard me take about these in my stories above.

B oundaries / R eliability / A ccountability / V ault / I ntegrity / N on-judging and G enerosity.

Question:

Coming back to empathy that you mentioned before in this conversation. What is that in your personal definition, Karin, and how can one apply that in today’s context?

From my story, I guess one could sense that I associate empathy with walking in the other’s shoes and deeply relating to the other person’s feelings or pain. Empathy these days also means knowing and understanding each other’s circumstances and acting accordingly.

Someone who is single – or someone with a partner and small kids will have different needs today. For e.g., a friend of mine has agreed that her husband will work in the mornings and she will work in the afternoons. That is what they have agreed amongst themselves as a couple and what she has communicated (as her availability) with her manager and her team.

  • AGREEING clearly. Agree on a good time to connect with your team.
  • Stick to the agreements and schedule. Create a regular cadence.
  • When there is so much uncertainty, it pays to have structure and routine – so as not to introduce unnecessary chaos.

You may need to be on the lookout for people feeling more stressed. Talk about these feelings and discuss what you can do support or help.

This support can take different shapes and forms, for instance,

  • Ask what would be most helpful
  • Clarify/readjust goals
  • Don’t aim for perfection, 80% is good enough
  • Offer support from a partner/buddy
  • Discuss the future/vision/purpose in the new context
  • Reduce workload 

Question:

How can a manager and leader keep people accountable without micromanaging?

Start with defining what success looks like. At this moment in time, it is worthwhile to stop and assess if what was defined as success a few months ago is still valid. If not, redefine.

I would describe success in terms of what needs to be accomplished. What is the desired outcome? Years ago we introduced 4S to our sales managers as a coaching tool to help the sales reps think through their work. This could be helpful now as well. 4s stands for S = Success, S = situation, S = source / hurdles and S = steps to undertake.

As a manager you help define the desired outcome but you leave a lot of freedom to the individual how they will reach that. You agree on being kept informed of progress – when and how. You touch base if the person needs any support and you help remove hurdles. Recognition and encouragement, praise are greater motivators than constructive criticism.

Question:

How can leaders best manage mid-year evaluations remotely?

First and foremost, if you did not look at relavance of previously established goals, then this is something that should be done ASAP.

Today many companies are changing from traditional performance management with predetermined sequences to a more fluid approach of many shorter conversations.

Regardless of the approach you operate with, I would say that it is critical to have:

  • Keep an open mind – to share and compare views and adjust
  • Review the past vs. the future -‘post-mortem approach’ where you evaluate how something went and extract the lessons learned
  • Have transparency and clarity
  • Collect feedback from multiple sources

Good performance management is when you manage to a ‘no-surprises’ situation. You are on the same wavelength. Hopefully, you would have had lots of open conversation in the course of the year, through your 1-1 and informal sessions, with sufficient feedback.

Question:

How about hiring/extending team in this period? Is it recommended to do the hiring process remotely? Any tips?

From a financial/economic perspective, it is worthwhile asking if that position is a critical one to fill now. If you decide to proceed, examine if the mandate of the position is still the same. What is the impact this position is to bring? What are the projects and the outcomes to pursue? Has it changed? If so, you need to update the job spec. Also, keep in mind that a job specification is better expressed from an outcome perspective than from a task perspective!

It is very common to do the first rounds of the hiring process virtually. There are many tools – Webex, zoom, even Whatsapp or Facetime that you can deploy when interviewing. I would always opt for having ‘a visual input’.

It was not common – up until now – to complete a hiring process without inviting someone to meet with others at the workplace. So, if you proceed, it would make sense to organize an alternative for this experience: a virtual group meeting.

Once you have completed the hiring process and the candidate has accepted, the next question is whether you should have the person start immediately or later. Many companies do opt for delaying, again driven by economic considerations and because onboarding someone in a completely virtual fashion might be challenging.

If you proceed, then doing an exceptional job at onboarding is important. You may ask all stakeholders to introduce the person to the organization and to share not just about what needs to be accomplished but what the best ways of working are, to also share insights about the company culture, the history, the roots. It would also make a lot of sense to assign an onboarding mentor/buddy.

Here’s some additional reading. Link.

Question:

One last question Karin, what’s the most important thing for people to remember from this conversation?

Build Trust fast by BRAVING!

That’s a wrap!I hope you enjoyed the conversation with Karin. If you found this helpful, please share and leave a comment. If you have any questions, you can write to me at hello@meeraremani.com. Thank you!

Lessons from 10 Days of Silence Meditation

Recently, I attended a 10-day Vipassana course where one observes silence for the entire period (no phones, no eye contact, no sign language) while learning this 25-century old meditation technique, said to be preserved in its ancient form as taught by the Buddha.

I had my reservations all along, however, since, in the larger scheme of things, it’s just 10 days of my life to experience something that has been on my bucket list for long, I decided to give it a go. I am absolutely happy I took that decision.

The richness of experience and learning in that environment is not something I can capture in one article. Hence I will share that over the coming weeks, with the intention that it helps you too in your daily life.

My key takeaway – Equanimity

Today, let me talk about one of the key lessons from the course – Equanimity. The state where the mind doesn’t sway between extreme likes (cravings) and extreme dislikes (aversions), where one accepts transience as a constant. A state that when practised enables one to be more at harmony at whatever happens in life.

Woah! I know that sounds like new age bulls**t. But hang in there while I explain with some examples. I’m by no means an expert, but ever since the start of the course I have been giving this (practising equanimity) a fair shot and I have to admit, I see subtle but noticeable changes in and around me, for the better.

We all have wants, needs and desires in life – for it to be a certain way, for people to behave a certain way with us or for us to achieve certain goals. What starts off as a simple wish grows into a strong desire which in many cases becomes a full-fledged craving – probably to obtain a certain career success, a material possession or to have a certain someone be more present in your life. When we are caught in the middle of that craving, we are actually miserable, very often wavering between the extremes of hope and despair, sadness, anger and frustration. We tell ourselves it’s miserable without that certain someone or something. Neither is that a satisfying place to be, nor is it productive (for us to reach those goals).

For many of us, especially those super ambitious go-getts amongst us, that is a recurring scenario. What if there is a middle way which we can follow and still get to our goals? That is the path of equanimity.

Trigger and Reaction – the magic of a pause.

Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of a cravings-fit, or an aversions-fit (where we simply dislike what’s happening, for example, body pains or an irrationally angry spouse or partner). What if we give ourselves a few seconds between trigger and reaction?

The easiest and most damaging response we can give to someone or experience is a spontaneous reaction. That response comes from a mind in agitation, our own mind. A spontaneous response usually aggravates and multiplies the misery of an unpleasant situation. What if, we start practising taking a pause between trigger and reaction? What if we curiously observe the changes in our body and the biochemical reactions that result in bodily sensations when triggered?

Be a curious scientist.

When something triggers anger in you, you most likely will feel heat and perspiration on your skin, your heartbeat rate go up, etc. Your body is in agitation— when you pause and observe it, you stay present with your body and the emotion you feel, with every passing moment your mind regains calmness, helping you give a more equanimous and productive response thereafter. Notice this is different from suppressing a feeling which isn’t healthy because sooner or later it manifests itself with even greater force, but about staying with the feeling, but not letting it overpower you. You truly are then the master of every moment presented to you.

When it comes to your dreams and desires, check in with yourself. Are there moments where you feel desperate and frustrated at things not going the way you wanted? How about taking a few moments to pause, count your blessings, review the scenario and make the necessary changes? How about releasing the need for instant gratification and allow things to unfold at their natural pace?

I have been taking baby steps and it’s been incredibly helpful. The environments inside my body, home and office have been more harmonious, productive and peaceful.

A gentle encouragement

If this resonated with you, how about you give this a shot too. If you manage to take a pause 1 out of the next 10 times you’re triggered, pat yourself on the back. You have your first win! Over the next 10 such instances, you might pause and provide a more equanimous response 2 out 10 times. The frequency of productive, equanimous responses thus keeps increasing steadily.

I’m curious to know what you think of this article and if you have any questions. Please share your thoughts. Thank you.

How to build high functioning teams

As always, I’m sharing some insights from a client conversation I had this week. This is for the business owners, managers and those amongst you who collaborate with people on a daily basis (well, basically, all of us!).

A well-functioning team is what everyone dreams of, whether you’re a business owner or manager. You feel supported and free when your team works seamlessly and efficiently. On the other hand, it can lead to stress and sleepless nights when there’s trouble in the team, even if it’s just one team member’s performance that doesn’t meet expectations.

So what can you as a business owner or manager do when faced with team members whose performance seem to be suboptimal?

While firing the person might be an immediate, tempting choice, it may not be the best at hand in most instances. Why? This is because most human beings bring some strength or the other to the workplace. As a leader, it is up to you to identify, nurture and use those to the advantage of the company, your team and the individual’s career progression. In this blog, I delve upon ways how you can do that.

1) Understand that not all of your workforce may comprise of the superstars you desire to have

This understanding alone can take the pressure of expectations off your back. It will help you realize that you have the responsibility and power to create the team that you want, even if things aren’t going great right now. While great teams can be nurtured over time or can also happen as a rare natural constellation, as with everything in life change is a constant. People switch teams, leave the company, you add new team members, etc. which change the structure of the team. With the addition of every new member, there’s a steep learning curve – not just on the specifics of the work topic, but also in integrating into the team and company culture. This requires effort from everyone in the team if it’s a high-functioning team that you desire. While as a leader, you can hope and dream that the person is motivated to learn, integrate and thrive, the onus falls upon you to create the space within the team for the person to feel accepted, provide support and have regular conversations to understand how things are shaping up. More on that in the points below.

2) Trust is key

Take time to know the person and what their professional aspirations are. Be human. Over several interactions show genuine interest in the person and treat them as a human being. I see our society is very uncomfortable with this, but here is where the gold lies. You see, every human being is wired for human connection. We thrive in environments where we feel connected and appreciated, where we feel we are valued. We then are motivated to contribute our best. On a Monday morning, when a person steps into the office, s/he doesn’t remove that requirement from their personalities. We are all habituated to wearing armored selves at work, but at the core, we all still crave to be understood. Can you imagine the difference it will make when your manager take the time, sits down by your side when you are going through an exceptionally challenging situation in your personal life and work, and offer her/his support? It doesn’t mean you have to pry open your entire personal lives to each other, but why not go beyond the usual superficial pleasantries?

Trust is built in small increments through such seemingly inconsequential steps. When someone knows that you as a leader have their back, that they can rely on your support, their motivation skyrockets. It helps during those tricky performance feedback meetings as well, when you can share your feedback (clearly, honestly and kindly – more on that in another post), where the person will understand that you’re coming from an empathetic space where the only desire is to create exceptional results for the company including the individual.

3) Communicate clearly

You might have the best intentions but if they are not communicated clearly in a way your employees understand, it can only lead to confusion and poor performance. Ask yourself these questions, reflect on the answers and see what changes you can make.

  1. Am I regularly sharing updates and expectations with my team?
  2. At the end of key meetings, do I summarize or ask someone in the team to summarize the key priorities, ownership structure and desired outcomes?
  3. Am I being approachable and open enough for my direct reports for clarifications, feedback and sharing ideas?
  4. Do I set regular milestones, through regular touchpoints, to review progress and provide feedback?
  5. If something didn’t work, what could I have done better in hindsight to clarify and follow up on expectations?
  6. Are there regular SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) in place that teams can follow for important, repetitive tasks?

4) You are the leader. Mindset is key and, everything starts with your mindset

What’s your attitude when it comes to your team? Do you have stressful thoughts when you think of a particular team member? What’s the quality with which you’ll show up at work when your internal software (thoughts) is mired in resistance?

Instead, what if you choose to take a positive stance, to understand the motivations and strengths of each individual, and how to build a coherent team using everyone’s unique skills, knowing you are completely capable of creating an exceptional team? Feel your state shift. It’s a more empowering stance, isn’t it?

5) With that empowered mindset, take a look again

Is that person or people in your team really unsuited for the job? Can there be skills that can be taught? Am I ensuring that the people in my team have enough time to build the skills? Or can you re-assign jobs based on individuals skills? With the right support, training, and feedback, you’ll notice improvements.

Thinking of parting ways with a person (aka firing or severance through a mutual agreement) should ideally be the last option in my opinion. The more humane and empathetic workplaces become, the more motivated individuals and teams will be. This is the ideal foundation for exceptional results for the business and a highly satisfied and motivated workforce.  

Teamwork, performance and business results – I’ve touched upon some key areas here. I’m eager to hear from you. Do you have insights to add or are struggling with something related to team performance? Let me know in comments.

 

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