Time to accentuate the positive

For about a year now, we have been bombarded with stories of how bad things are. House prices are falling, people are being made redundant and businesses are going to the wall.
It would be easy to think that the forces of the universe were lining up against us and surviving this maelstrom was a matter of luck, outside our individual or business control.
But throughout history and across cultures there are stories of those who have persisted in adversity and made light of setbacks that crush others. And in every downturn there are businesses that see new ways of doing things, new opportunities, and thrive despite the gloom.
Your business can be one of those success stories, and you can be one of those individuals – but you may have to change the way you think and the way you run your business.
The human mind is wired to accent the negative, which helped our ancestors prepare for and survive the hardships of their environment. But now, with fewer sabre-tooth tigers to avoid, paying lots of attention to things that could go wrong means you are also overlooking the things that are going well and all the possibilities for business growth.
Focusing on the negative drags down spirits, mood, and morale – and makes it more likely that the worst scenario will come true. Keep focusing on “how bad everything is” and your team’s motivation will drop like a stone. Then you miss critical deadlines, make poorer decisions and are less likely to put in the effort needed to win that next piece of business.
Overcoming this tendency takes time and effort, but it’s worth it, and it will make the difference between maybe just getting through the recession and thriving despite it.
Organisational psychologist Marcial Losada specialises in finding out what makes some companies function much better than others. Some of the things that have a big effect on results seem almost too simple, but they work.
For instance, in high-performing enterprises compliments flow, effort and results are acknowledged, and people are constantly encouraged to be the best. Sadly, this is not an accurate description of many New Zealand businesses.  Invariably the participants on mental toughness courses I lead describe organisations in which negative comments outnumber the positive ones.
A negative work environment encourages people to simply get through the day with minimum effort – it does not motivate them to excel, or to find creative answers to obstacles the business may be facing. Who can give their absolute best when the dominant theme is fault-finding?

Six steps to positive change:
So what practical steps can you and your business take to ensure you thrive in adversity? Many of them are very simple – they just require a determination to concentrate on the positive, look for opportunity and act on it. Try these:
1. Set aside time at the end of every business day to write down three things that went well that day, or opportunities that presented themselves. Share this list with staff and ask them to be on the lookout for similar successes and opportunities. Before long, you will all be focused on what’s going right and acting to make the most of it.
2. Encourage the use of positive language even if it does seem trite.  It helps overcome the negativity.
3. Minimise the impact of setbacks. That doesn’t mean ignoring them, it means looking for what you need to do to quickly and productively move on, rather than dwelling on them and wallowing in negativity.
4. Look for the positive, no matter how small or fleeting, and comment on it while holding back the negative comments that come too easily.
5. Increase the amount of consultation at all levels, and avoid the temptation to over-manage.  We naturally want to exert greater control when business is down and soon we fall into the trap of issuing more orders and micro-managing. But that demotivates employees, rather than encouraging them to come up with creative solutions.  It takes a conscious and sustained effort to “let go” and be more inclusive, but you will be rewarded with increased effort from everyone.
6. Cut down on reporting. Right now a lot of businesses are damaging productivity by requiring more reporting to explain why people aren’t meeting targets set when times were better. As one wise head commented, there’s only one report required: “Results are down because of the recession! We won’t be reporting for the next few months or years as we are all head down, and bum up working harder than ever to keep the firm going through this recession with as little harm to the bottom-line, and staff numbers, as possible.”
With that attitude, the business will thrive, while more gloomy competitors struggle. And by adopting the same attitude, you and your business can do the same.
Jamie Ford is director of HR and mental toughness consultancy the Foresight Institute,
www.foresight.co.nz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publishing Information
Magazine Issue 
NZBusiness August 2009