1st P = Productivity
Problem 1 – Stress
During personal or organisational change people are usually more stressed and sleeplessness a regular consequence. Stress attacks the immune system increasing bacterial and mental health issues, resulting in increased sick leave and absenteeism. When employees experience a combination of personal and workplace change they are less likely to cope then those employees who have at least one stable environment in their life.
There are two factors that stress people during change: uncertainty and control over the change. The way our brain is wired is to first create a fight or flight response and secondly an emotive response such as frustration, fear, or anger. The third (front) part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex is the area of decision making, strategy, judgement and emotional self-regulation. This only starts to kick in when we can reduce or get comfortable with uncertainty. The brain works in a way that it tries to reduce uncertainty. And the easiest way is to stay within the current status quo. Our brain needs fuel to function. We only have about 2 hours’ worth at the best of times. Brain fuel burns quicker during stress as the body needs to work harder. The only thing that can recharge it is a break, food, sleep or exercise. So imagine if you have a one hour stressful commute to work, you half way there to have to refuel.
In the workplace good employee engagement works like an antidote. Firstly, engaging people builds trust and gives them a sense of control over what is happening. Secondly, being a participant in the change reduces uncertainty that something may be imposed or is going to happen that is detrimental. You see having participation means openness and more transparency. Motivated bright people can live with more controlled uncertainty than other employees. Controlled uncertainty helps them with more creative problem solving.
Problem 2 – Learning
During change, learning is vital for either new technical skills or adaptive skills such as adapting new behaviours. Research shows that most people will forget about 90% of course material in a matter of 30 days with the most loss happening within 2 hours. So much money is spent on training and learning that is forgotten.
Neuroscience shows that stressed brains find it more difficult to absorb learning. So this is exasperated during a time of great need. Repetition is the key. Consistent repetition drives new learning. It is the same for learning new behaviours or habits. A buddy system or mentoring helps with the reinforcement of new skills. These relationships engage employees at an emotional level influencing their feeling of connectivity with the organisation. And improved interactions have the potential to increase mindset capacity and collaboration.
2nd P = Performance
Problem 3 – Lack of sleep
I am sure you have heard of the biological clock that is regulating sleep. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, describes this clock as a war between two armies: one that wants to keep you awake and the other that wants you to sleep. During specific intervals each army wins and loses. It’s this never-ending war our body succumbs to. If the ‘awake’ army wins constantly we become irritable, forgetful, tired, and after several days begin to hallucinate and become disorientated. Often intern doctors work for several days at a time…scary thought when we are at the mercy of their knife!
NASA found they get 34% better performance when their people have a 26 minute nap in the afternoon. Our brain is wired to have this afternoon downtime. People without it are less productive for the rest of the day. Yet, our workplaces are not geared for afternoon naps. In fact, employees at all levels often work through their lunch break ignoring the basic needs of the body and brain. We ignore the fact that brain fuel only lasts for about 2 hours and sleep is vital to restore it. To top it off we have developed a culture of working long hours and promoting those who are working long hours.
Performance management based on results can counteract these negative effects. I suggest you find individuals who achieve results within time frames and manage to work normal hours, take a lunch break and perhaps even an afternoon nap. The quickest performance enhancer is to find out what these individuals do and learn from them.
Problem 4 – Fixed Work Hours
Most people need sleep after 16 hours. When we need the sleep differs between people. Imagine that 7 out of 10 people function mostly between normal working hours of 9am and 5pm. This leaves 3 out of 10 who don’t. Some work best between about 6am and 1pm, others from 3pm to midnight. Note that nightshift from midnight onwards is not listed as a functioning work option.
Clearly, three people will experience sleepiness during a standard 9to5 day. My sons are currently among those who function better in the late morning to later at night. It is apparently a common occurrence among teenagers and young adults. So perhaps the social loafing and underperformance of your Gen Y staff is not a performance issue, but rather a fixed work hours or shift issue. At a colleagues work place most people added overtime to their daily shift. As the work is quite physical they take more breaks and perform less work than those who go home after the shift, but give their all while they are there.
Maintaining fixed work hours also increases errors and accidents, and reduces efficiency, learning and creativity. Imagine splitting up the work schedule to suit employees sleep patterns. You cannot just reduce problems, but also get the most from them, whilst increasing service access for customers.
3rd P = Profit
This section is not a formula for bigger profits but rather the processes that lead to increased profit.
Problem 5 – Decision Making
People develop, implement and monitor strategy, innovation, new systems or work processes. This requires decision making. Working at the University of Wollongong, one senior executive said to me 1% of decisions are absolutely critical, 4% are very important and the other 95% anyone can make. It is a method I have lived by. But during change decision making may not be very effective regardless of the importance of that decision. It depends on the stress experienced by decision makers. It depends on how hard they drive themselves to work, how they schedule beaks and refuel their brain. I mentioned before, under stress our brain fuel burns quicker.
So, less decision making powers makes a change success more difficult impacting. To add to this we have created a culture of brainstorming. Quick decision making is praised these days and seen as a sign of strength and decisiveness. Combine this with the top 5% of decisions and you most likely have a disaster.
The fact is our brains don’t storm very well even when we are not stressed. The reason is that our brain needs time to process all the information received. While we sleep the brain is super active. It creates connections and draws on previous experiences to relate to the existing issue. Hence, far more effective is reflection and sleep. Reflection bring insights; often during sleep. It taps into a person’s collective brain power – conscious and subconscious. Based on these principles a decision making process should go over a period of time and look like this:
Day 1: Formulate the problem that needs solving.
Day 2: Share knowledge, ideas and insights.
Day 3: Solve the problem and make decision.
Each break allows for the brain to make its connections. This process also helps the 30% of introverts who will be very quiet in a brainstorm type meeting; or people from non-English speaking backgrounds who need time to translate and reflect. Why would we ignore over 30% of our collective brainpower just for the satisfaction of being seen as strong and decisive.
Problem 6 – Focus on System
It is people who work in a business and help make the money. Machines are just tools to help do this faster or better or both. Most change projects focus on updating these machines and the systems around them. This will work to a certain extent. However, what is forgotten is that people need to adjust to use the new system or machine. Imagine when you install a new computer system. In your tender you have a training component to help staff learn that system. That’s great! You already know that people forget 90% of learning in 30 days and that repletion is required. You also already know that training only covers technical skills to use the system. But we also have to learn to adapt to the system. That also needs consideration in the implementation plans.
Our brain works to see the negative before we see the positive. Often people build two concurrent processes around change; one based on the old and a bad or lazy adaptation to the new. I saw this in a previous role where I was a quality assurance champion. Staff were hanging onto paper based records management whilst also using the new system. Hence, we need to focus more on people and their relationship to change. We need to start building new habits that will help people move to the positive uptake of change. Habits need supporting through symbols and rituals. Make these appropriate and visible in your workplace so they become a constant reminder (helps learning) what the change is about. The reminder needs to be there until the new change is embedded in people’s brain. Newest brain science tells us it takes six weeks to change a habit depending on repetition and recall. So, the quicker people can adapt to new habits the quicker they are productive and have higher performance that lead to profits.