1. How to Thrive on Stress

    January 26, 2016 by ahmed


    Originally posted on LinkedIn by Jo Marchant

    We all know that being stressed at work is bad for us. Quite apart from making us aggravated and miserable, stress chips away at our physical health, increasing the risk of chronic conditions from eczema to stroke. But scientists are discovering that stress isn’t always damaging: in the right circumstances it gives us a boost that improves both our mental performance and our physical health. What’s more, by changing how we think about stressful events – an exam or work presentation, say – we can shift our physiology from a harmful state to a helpful one.

    Feeling afraid or stressed has a dramatic impact on the body. If you face a threat, whether it’s a hungry lion or angry boss, your heart beats faster. You breathe more heavily, and your pupils dilate. Blood is diverted away from non-urgent areas such as the gut and sexual organs and towards the limbs and brain. Digestion slows, and fat and glucose are released into the bloodstream to fuel your next move.

    This fight-or-flight response is controlled by stress hormones released into the blood stream, including adrenaline and cortisol, as well as the sympathetic nervous system, which connects the brain to the body’s major organ systems. It has evolved to help us survive in emergencies, and in most animals it switches off as soon as the threat has passed. But humans have the ability to worry all the time, even about things that have already happened or may never happen at all.

    Such chronic anxiety leaves us on constant alert, and over time this can damage the body, increasing the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, for example. Stress also triggers an immune response called inflammation, which acts as the body’s first line of defense against infection and injury. That’s great in an emergency but if switched on all the time it can eat away at healthy tissues, exacerbating conditions from diabetes to dementia. Inflammation is even thought to accelerate cellular aging by wearing down the ends of our chromosomes.

    The good news is that stressful events don’t harm us directly. What does the damage is our psychological response to those events, and this we have some control over. In my book, Cure: a journey into the science of mind over body, I investigated the scientific evidence behind a range of stress-busting techniques. For example, mindfulness meditation aims to help us distance ourselves from our worries. We’re encouraged to recognize that negative thoughts are fleeting and don’t represent reality. Trials show that mindfulness training reduces stress and anxiety, protects against depression, and improves quality of life. There’s some evidence that this in turn has physical health benefits, such as easing pain and auto-immune disease, and reducing our susceptibility to infections from the common cold to HIV.

    I was surprised to discover, however, that not all fight-or-flight is the same, and sometimes it can actually be good for us. Psychologist Wendy Mendes of the University of California, San Francisco, uses the example of a skier who unexpectedly comes across a steep icy trail; it’s her only way down the mountain. Her heart rate will rise, but depending on how experienced she is, she might feel either fear or exhilaration. And those have different physiological effects.

    Psychologists call these contrasting states “challenge” and “threat”. “Challenge” is the mindset of a hunter closing in for kill, or a fighter who knows she’s going to win. To put that in a work setting, imagine giving a talk or going into a job interview where you’re confident of success and keen to show off your talents. Your sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive, causing your peripheral blood vessels to dilate. This allows your heart to work more efficiently, pumping oxygenated blood to the limbs and brain. People experiencing this type of response perform better than normal, not just physically but mentally too.

    Fear, on the other hand, causes the body to go into damage control mode as it prepares for defeat. You’re being hunted and there’s no escape, or fighting a stronger adversary. At work, going into that presentation or job interview, you feel underprepared. Instead of focusing on the potential rewards, you’re terrified of embarrassing yourself or losing out.

    In this state, psychologists have found that the sympathetic nervous system activates to a lesser extent. Instead of dilating, your peripheral blood vessels constrict and your heart beats less efficiently, meaning less blood is pumped around the body. From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense: it minimizes blood flow if you’re caught or injured. But it also impairs performance and strains the cardiovascular system, because the heart is forced to work harder to push blood around the body. A threat response also triggers inflammation, as the immune system prepares for injury and infection.

    When it comes to longer-term health, challenge responses are generally positive, while threat responses are damaging. Mendes has found that people who experience a challenge response bounce back to normal fairly quickly. Mild to moderate bursts of such “positive’ stress, with time to relax in between, are thought to provide a useful workout for the cardiovascular and immune system.

    But people in a threat state take longer to recover, physically and mentally. They worry more about how they performed, and remain more vigilant for future threat. Their blood pressure stays high. Over time, the extra strain on the heart can lead to hypertension, while high levels of stress hormones contribute to chronic inflammation.

    Crucially, it turns out that thinking differently about stressful events – focusing on what we have to gain rather than what we might lose, for example – can help us to shift from a threat state to a challenge state. In fact, Mendes has found that a change as simple as how we interpret our physical response to stress can have dramatic results.

    In one study, she subjected volunteers to a stressful public speaking task. She told one group that if they experienced physical symptoms of anxiety during the test, such as a racing heart, this was a good sign. It meant that oxygenated blood was being delivered to their brain and muscles, she explained, and this would help them to perform better. Just knowing this shifted these volunteers towards a challenge response – with greater vasodilatation and cardiac output, compared to those who were advised instead to ignore the source of their stress, or who received no instructions at all.

    In another study, Mendes found that reframing the body’s responses in this way didn’t just shift volunteers’ physiology, it improved their performance too. She asked students preparing for the Graduate Record Exam (a high-stakes test required for admission into graduate school) to sit a fake test in the lab. Compared to a control group, those advised to interpret their stress as positive had physiological benefits as in the other study. But they also scored higher – not just in the fake test but in the real GRE, which they sat weeks later.

    Changing your outlook isn’t a magical solution to all work stress. If you’re overworked, badly treated, or doing a job you don’t enjoy, consider what you might do to change that. Meanwhile employers have a responsibility to treat their workers well. But all jobs worth doing will challenge and stretch you, and you have more control than you think about how you respond. With even a small shift in attitude, you can start to perform better under pressure. And that may improve your long-term health too.

  2. Dubai Municipality Leading the Way in Government Initiatives

    January 23, 2016 by ahmed

    Dubai We Learn Logos

    The Dubai Government Excellence Programme’s (DGEP) Dubai We Learn” initiative consists of a range of organisational learning and benchmarking activities as described in a previous blog “Identifying and Applying Best Practices for Government”

    At the 2nd Progress Sharing Day held on 18 January 2016, 13 project teams from 13 government departments shared the progress of their benchmarking projects. To maximise the engagement and learning of the government entities the audience were invited to vote on which teams had made most progress.

    The team judged to have made most progress were from the Dubai Municipality with its project to “Improve Purchase Procedures and Channels”. Other government entities recognised for their progress were the Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Service for its project on “Development of Emirati Paramedic Leaders” and Mohamed Bin Rashid Enterprise for Housing for its project on “Improving Customer Experience” particularly through using SMART applications. Regardless of the voting, all teams demonstrated an exceptional dedication to their projects.


    All projects are using the TRADE Best Practice Benchmarking methodology with an expectation that most projects will be completed within a year (the projects began in October 2015). Currently most projects are in the “Research” stage of TRADE and making sure that they have a deep understanding of their processes, systems and performance before moving to the “Acquire” stage. The Acquire stage is where the teams will be identifying benchmarking partners and learning best practices.

    Dubai Municipality have made substantial strides in its procurement process in recent years including becoming the first government department in the Emirate to introduce web-based automation across its entire procurement cycle and achieving recognition at a number of international awards (CIPS Middle East Awards 2015 – Most Improved Procurement Operation ). The procurement department’s project for Dubai We Learn aims to reduce the average cycle time of processing purchase requisitions from 16 to 12 days or less. The team have studied in depth their current procurement system and performance using process analysis tools such as: workload analysis, value stream analysis, influence – interest matrix, customers segmentation, fishbone diagram, process flowchart analysis and waste analysis. As a result of this analysis a number of areas for improvement were identified such as ensuring that technical specifications are correctly detailed and how to quickly evaluate potential suppliers for technical purchases, and how to automate these processes. The next stage of their project will be to identify relevant organisations to learn from.

    At the Progress Sharing Day the performance of all the teams was commended by the Executive Council of Dubai and Dubai Government Excellence Programme (DGEP). His Excellency Abdulla Al Shaibani – Secretary General of the Executive Council of Dubai and Dr. Ahmed Al Nuseirat – General Coordinator of Dubai Government Excellence Programme, both delivered speeches and encouraged the teams to maintain their momentum.

    Are you implementing a best practice in any area related to the 13 projects below? If so, we would like to hear from you. Please email ahmed@bpir.com for more details.

    Government EntityProject title
    Dubai Cooperation for Ambulance ServicesDevelopment of Emirati Paramedic’s Leaders
    Dubai CourtsPersonal Status Smart Certifications Services
    Dubai CultureDeveloping National Human Resources for Museums
    Dubai Electricity & Water AuthorityShams Dubai Initiative
    Dubai Land DepartmentTowards Happy Employees
    Dubai MunicipalityImproving Purchase Procedures and Channels
    Dubai Police Head QuarterSmart Police Officer
    Dubai Statistics CenterInnovative Statistics
    General Directorate of Residency & Foreigners Affairs DubaiDeveloping a World-Class Customer Service Design Process
    Knowledge & Human Development AuthorityPeople Happiness
    Mohamed Bin Rashid Enterprise for HousingImproving Customer Experience
    Public ProsecutionJudicial Knowledge Management
    Road and Transport AuthorityRTA’s Knowledge Repository Gateway

    For more information about this initiative download the attached article and sign-up up to COER’s newsletter to receive the latest updates.


  3. Life-Changing Benchmarking: How Does Your Organization Compare?

    January 16, 2016 by ahmed


    Originally posted on Blogrige by Dawn Marie Bailey

    Executives who have applied the Baldrige Criteria to their own work and used Baldrige feedback reports for assessment and planning have often spoken about how new insights led them to continuous improvement and the very beneficial results achieved both for their organizations and the people they serve. The manufacturing sector is no exception.

    In a recent Industry Week article, “How Do You Know You Are Winning?”, author Bill Baker writes that his life changed after his company Texas Instruments (TI) received its first Baldrige feedback report. The CEO had asked, “What did we learn and what were the opportunities/shortcomings that we need to fix.” With leaders assigned to each opportunity, the course of Baker’s career quickly went in a new direction.

    I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Baker, now president/owner of Speed To Excellence and co-author of Lean for the Long Term, about his Baldrige experience and being a manufacturing executive.

    Baker began his career in the “wild and crazy world” of mechanical/manufacturing engineering in the Vietnam era, when missile programs, laser-guided bombs, satellites, night-vision equipment, and drones were just being built and perfected, some right at Baldrige Award winner TI under Baker’s direction.

    In the late 1980s, Jerry Ray Junkins, who eventually served as president, chairman, and CEO of TI, came to TI Defense Systems and Electronics Group (DSEG) praising the newly written criteria for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, said Baker. The environment was such that defense budgets were decreasing and competition was increasing, and an outside excellence criteria that could be used for learning and improving was something he saw as very valuable.

    Although the defense manufacturer was very creative and innovative in terms of new products, Baker said, the organization’s first Baldrige Award application, which did not even lead to a site visit, yielded some disappointment—at first. “We are in the defense industry. They don’t understand us. We’re better than they think we are,” Baker said was the feeling of his colleagues, but “the CEO held the line [saying] we have to use this as a learning experience. Get ready. Apply again.”

    Baker, then a manufacturing engineer on missile programs, was assigned to learn about benchmarking, an insight from the Baldrige examiners that the company was very good but did not have the comparison measurements to prove it. “If you do not have continuous improvement goals based on benchmarking and benchmarks, you do not know how you compare,” writes Baker.

    Benchmarking was a new concept at the time, and Baker and a few colleagues were tasked to figure it out, starting with a visit to Xerox and Robert Camp, a well-known leader and author on the topic in 1990.

    The TI folks quickly learned what the Baldrige examiners were trying to tell them: “You have to know how you compare to know if you’re any good,” said Baker.

    For its second Baldrige Award application, TI received a site visit, with examiners visiting most of its plants and the TI staff on walkie-talkies sharing what the examiners were asking about during interviews. This time the feedback report had a focus on sustainability and more trend data.

    “The feedback was that we were doing lots of good things, but we did not have a long enough track record,” said Baker. The examiners’ message was “show us that you are really going to stick with this.”

    Its third application in 1992 resulted in TI DSEG being the first defense company to win the Baldrige Award. Said Baker, by that application, “We were rolling on benchmarking. Everybody was doing it. You couldn’t put up a chart without benchmarks and goals to exceed the benchmarks.”

    On winning the Baldrige Award, Baker said, “We were happy that all of our work had borne fruit, but the best thing, of course, was becoming more competitive in the defense business. That was the benefit. [The Baldrige Criteria provided an] outside criteria where you don’t just evaluate yourself on how well you’re doing. You’ve got comparisons. You’ve got world-class goals as opposed to just the industry goals of the business owner.”

    According to Baker, TI DSEG used the Baldrige Criteria every year as part of its annual planning to help it prioritize areas of focus until the company was eventually bought by another defense contractor that also had the foresight to value external benchmarking/learning and internal knowledge sharing.

    The value of benchmarking and continuous improvement, as well as an outside criteria to offer an objective evaluation, is still of paramount importance today to the success and sustainability of U.S. organizations, and especially manufacturers, said Baker, who now serves as chair of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence’s Target magazine editorial board.

    “You can always look at yourself and say I’m the smartest one in the room, right?” said Baker. “But guess what, there’s only one person in the world that can say that. You can learn from everybody. . . . When I was doing benchmarking, people would say ‘Why are we benchmarking them?’ And I would say, because they’re the leader in their industry. And our job is to find out from them what we can use to get better.” Plant managers want to know how to get to market quicker, design quicker, work with suppliers, said Baker; benchmarking other companies is key to fast learning.

    In addition, said Baker, “The best learning is from somebody outside your industry. Other people try to do things in order to survive. You may be doing things just to compete.”

    The Baldrige Program offers several tools to help organizations benchmark world-class organizations, including Baldrige Asks, “How Do You Know?”, the posting of Baldrige Award winners’ application summaries, and the Baldrige Award application process itself that provides organizations with feedback from a team of examiners who often represent every sector of the U.S. economy.

    Writes Baker, “What are you doing to improve, and how do you know if you’re winning?”

    My suggestion, apply for the Baldrige Award and find out.

  4. Business Development Sectors Failing to Use Employee Feedback to Drive Strategic Change

    January 14, 2016 by ahmed


    Originally posted on CXM

    Organisations see the importance of listening to employees, but are failing to collect feedback often enough and are only using it tactically, rather than strategically. These are the headline findings of recent pan-European research carried out by enterprise feedback management software provider Questback.

    70% of respondents said that employee feedback contributes to the delivery of business development strategy and 82% believe the content of staff surveys is aligned with corporate priorities. At a time when most business development sectors face continual business change, the insight staff provide is increasingly valuable, as recognised by the fact that 96% discuss it at senior management meetings.

    However, the vast majority (90%) still carry out employee surveys annually (48%) or every two years (42%). This is far too infrequent given the fast-moving nature of business development, and the desire of staff to give and receive more regular feedback. This is contributing to a realisation that simply running surveys annually is no longer frequent enough – 25% of managers surveyed felt that current timescales were insufficient, with a further 5% unsure on frequency.

    Once it is collected, feedback is being used tactically, rather than to support strategic business goals.

    81% used employee insight to improve the working environment, with 73% seeing it as a way to encourage dialogue between managers and employees. Under half (45%) used feedback to ensure that employees are aligned to strategic priorities and goals and just 48% applied staff feedback to improve business development processes.

    “When it comes to employee feedback, our research uncovered a gap between theory and practice,” said Frank Møllerop, Questback CEO. “On the positive side, senior management say they want to use the insight staff provide strategically – yet this is not translating into regular, integrated programmes that embed feedback into business decision making. Too many companies are stuck in annual survey cycles, rather than opening the two way, continuous dialogue with staff that is necessary in today’s business world. Now is the time to change if they want to bridge this gap and reap the rewards of listening to staff, and acting on their feedback.”

    The tactical emphasis of many organisations was backed up by the other types of surveys they are carrying out with staff. The most popular areas were collecting feedback around training evaluation (64%) and exit surveys (60%). Very few are monitoring the entire employee lifecycle, with just 18% conducting onboarding surveys and only 4% asking for feedback when there are major changes in the employee journey, such as around promotion, changing team, or being assigned a new manager.

    Organisations are beginning to take a more holistic view of employee feedback, with nearly two thirds (65%) able to link data from different surveys together. This will make it easier to gain a complete picture of what their staff are saying, and shows a marked improvement on research carried out by Questback in 2014. This found that just 36% of companies were able to integrate employee and customer feedback, with many blaming technical issues for holding back their plans.

    Questback surveyed 2,000 senior managers involved with employee feedback from organisations across the United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. The online research was carried out in the second half of 2015.

    A full management report detailing the findings can be downloaded here.

  5. Managing By Commitments – 5 Disruptive Practices To Improve Execution

    January 10, 2016 by ahmed


    Originally posted on Management Exchange by David Arella



    Failure to execute is the key 21st century management problem. Current work-norms are dysfunctional. There is one profoundly simple thing we can change that will dramatically improve execution – we need to get better at making and keeping commitments. Simple, but radical practices are described. New supporting systems are coming.


    The biggest problem today is not creating visions, nor developing plans. The real problem is a failure to execute. Balls get dropped, deadlines are missed, deliveries are half-done, priorities constantly change, projects overrun budgets, initiatives don’t get accomplished. And it’s easy to see why. We have an overload of messages and communication to wade through. Communication about execution is more and more conducted remotely, not face-to-face or even in real time. Coordination is more difficult as organizations become more and more matrixed, and as the need for collaboration increases, personal accountability becomes more diluted and unclear. Employee engagement is in decline. A return to 20th century command and control hierarchy will not work, as today’s workforce wants more influence over decisions that effect their day to day work, not less. The solution is to develop new processes that both improve execution and simultaneously create more commitment.


    Managing by Commitments – A Brief History

    Managing by commitments is not a new idea. Commitment Based Management was first introduced as an innovative management practice in the 1980’s with the work of Fernando Flores (UC Berkeley) and Terry Winograd (Stanford). They described a “conversation for action” where two parties make an explicit agreement to deliver a specific outcome by a certain date. The core idea was that the performer was required to negotiate a specific commitment, leading to more buy-in to meeting the commitment and therefore better results and a more collaborative environment. The process of a virtuous conversation between the requester and the performer was defined in three stages: negotiation, delivery, and assessment. Early implementations to enable this process were eventually perceived as too prescriptive and confining, but the core idea offered profound promise.

    Twenty-five years later the need for coordination and collaboration has grown many-fold. Accountability is even more diffused. Communication overload has reached epidemic proportions with new and multiple channels operating at once, but the communication is unstructured and not presented in a useful context. Technology advancements enable better access and easier adoption. It’s time to reinvent and reinvigorate management by resurrecting the core principles and practices of Commitment Based Management, but with better implementations.

    Commitments Drive Better Execution

    There is one profoundly simple thing we can change that will dramatically improve execution – we need to get better at making and keeping commitments. It’s as simple as saying what you’re going to do and then doing what you said. Simple, but not easy.

    Scrutiny reveals that our common work norms do not support this principle. In fact, many common work practices actually get in the way. People make vague requests. Actual performers are unspecified. Delivery dates are proposed without confirmation – if they are mentioned at all. Agreements to deliver, when they are obtained, shift and derail without clear dialog. Expressions of satisfaction with the delivery, or of dissatisfaction, are absent. Closure is rarely achieved.

    Even worse than these mechanical flaws, we are all familiar with the attendant interpersonal breakdowns. Team members are silent about their cynicism toward a proposed request. Real engagement by employees is lacking, and there is little incentive for contributing any discretionary effort. People work on their favored assignments and leave other tasks to decay. Low trust that deliveries will be met on time forces a need for backup systems and frequent check-ups by “management”.

    We all have accepted this dysfunction for a long time. Isn’t it time to disrupt the old system and try something new? Let’s get back to basics and recreate our working relations around the foundational principle of “say what you’re going to do, and do what you said”.

    Negotiating a commitment, rather than being coerced or given an assignment has powerful implications. Accountability is increased since the performer has ownership over the commitment (because they had a real part in creating it). Clarity and transparency build trust between both parties. “Requestor” confidence is increased many fold. The quality of the ensuing dialog between performer and requestor removes vague assumptions and instead forms clear and realistic agreements. Our word creates a bond with the other person.

    Five Disruptive Practices For Making and Keeping Commitments

    Managing by commitments can be readily implemented with a small set of repeatable and observable behaviors. The behaviors are simple, but profound. They are as obvious as they are radical. The following 5 disruptive practices describe what such an approach would look like:

    1. Make requests, not assignments. This practice is not limited to hierarchical roles; requests go down, up, and sideways within and outside organizations. Other roles include stakeholders and observers, but let’s be clear on who is being asked to deliver what to whom.

    The requester formulates an explicit request (i.e. in the form of a question, not a statement). For example, “Bill, can you get the spec to me by August 1?”; not “Bill, I need the spec by August 1.” Bill responds by making sure he understands the specific details and expectations associated with the request. A clear request is composed with a specific due date.

    2. Negotiate clear agreements. This is the part about “saying what you’re going to do.” For delivery dates that you cannot meet, make a counter-promise you can keep. The requester changes from a position of hope (i.e. “I assigned this task to Bill with an August 1 due date, and I’m hoping he will deliver.”), to a position of confidence (i.e. “Bill said an August 1 delivery was really a problem for him, but he committed to getting it to me by August 5”).

    Decline the request if you know you will not or cannot deliver. Make no mistake, however, this is a radical notion. Allowing team members at any level to “decline” requests from upper management would be a very disruptive concept in most organizations today. And yet, where performers never have the ability to say NO, there is not the possibility of a committed YES. The practice of negotiating commitments is not one most workers are adept at or even comfortable with; some personal courage is called for. This practice puts the performer more on a peer-to-peer footing with the requester, but yields clear accountability.

    3. Keep communication going during the delivery stage. Stuff happens along the way. Agreements are not guarantees that the delivery date will be met, but agreements must be honored in a manner that is far different than failing to deliver on an assignment dropped on your lap without dialog. Having made a promise to deliver, the performer is now obliged to alert their customer as soon as anything comes up that may interfere with meeting their agreement. An observable hallmark of this practice is early notice of potential problems with meeting a commitment.

    4. Present the deliverable explicitly. The performer makes a clear statement saying “Here is what I said I would deliver” or “This is why I could not deliver”. This is the essence and evidence of accountability. In our current work norms, this step is frequently “fudged”. Deliveries that are nearly complete slide in more or less on the day they were hoped for. It is rare for a performer to make a clear statement that today I am delivering on the agreement we made.

    5. When the requester, always acknowledge and assess the delivery. Honesty and truth demand an assessment as to whether the delivery met the original expectations. Answering the question – were you satisfied? – completes the cycle and assures closure. This underutilized practice is the minimum quid pro quo to the effort of the performer and serves to represent the customer’s accountability to honor the agreement. Moreover, these are the “golden moments” when feedback can enhance both future performance and trust. End-of-year performance reviews have lost much of their value, and this practice heightens the value of more continuous performance feedback.

    New Systems Are Needed

    Implementing management by commitments will rely heavily on a new generation of software systems. Acquiring and instantiating these new practices will require support and re-enforcement. New system implementations that take advantage of modern web, cloud, and mobile technologies will be needed. Software will help add structure to commitment conversations and then track agreements so they are more accountable, more observable, and more measurable. New systems to support these practices are coming, but leaders must embrace the concepts first.

    Practical Impact

    Accountability is clarified. Task ownership shifts to the performer. Instead of the manager saying “I’m counting on you”, the performer is saying “You can count on me.”

    Honesty is increased as the “unvarnished truth” can be told. Agreements are made around clearer expectations. A culture of openness and transparency evolves over time.

    Trust increases over time as commitments are honored. Meeting commitments is the single biggest contributor to building trust.

    New systems will make commitments observable and outcomes measurable.

    Employee engagement increases as they take a more active part in controlling their day to day work and agree to take on specific commitments.

    Execution improves dramatically. Early case studies have shown rapid and dramatic increases in measurable organization performance.

    First Steps

    Get Back to Basics

    We’ve colluded to make task delivery conversations vague and impersonal. Just assigning priorities masks the more fundamental problems of imprecise requests and lack of clear agreements. Our common work practices are packed with inefficiencies that dilute personal accountability.

    Make requests, negotiate commitments. We need to get back to basics by saying what you’ll do and doing what you say. We need to extract the core principles from earlier implementations and support a rebirth of managing by commitments with modern attitudes, technologies, and implementations.