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Psychological wellbeing unlocks the door to continuous improvement

By Derek Mowbray

There are, basically, four things that organisations need to do to be hugely successful.

Psychological wellbeing unlocks the door to continuous improvement.

Derek Mowbray
August 2017.

There are, basically, four things that organisations need to do to be hugely successful. They are:
a) To develop or adopt products and/or services
b) To deliver these to a market in the most efficacious manner possible
c) To have excellent financial management
d) To sustain a workforce that is so engaged and motivated that it delivers everything (above) brilliantly and with minimum avoidable cost.
Organisations, however, should never stand still. Once everything above has been developed and adopted, organisations will need to continuously improve to maintain and expand their position in the market place, and, for the public sector, within the communities they serve. This means perpetual change; the need to be agile, flexible and constantly innovative.
Knowledge intensive organisations require their workforce to take decisions based on data analysis, evaluation, assessment, judgment and hunch. They, also, require their workforce to be both specialist, focusing on the specifics, as well as generalist, focusing on the horizon and scanning it for any ideas, potential threats and challenges. Almost every type of organisation needs an element that is knowledge intensive, even those which are predominantly technical in the construction and delivery of their products.
At the core of a knowledge intensive organisation is a requirement for the workforce to be able to concentrate. Concentration is essential for individuals to perform. Without being able to concentrate, all the skills, knowledge and experience that individuals have, are a waste of time, as they won’t be able to concentrate long enough to use their skills effectively. Failure to be able to concentrate for long periods may be the cause of flat productivity.
Creating and sustaining organisations that provoke their workforce to concentrate, particularly on activities that help the organisation towards success, is a basic requirement.
These processes are well known. They are common sense but not common practice.
The challenges that appear to prevent organisations from acting in this manner are of two main forms – a) a wide knowledge-action gap, and b) fear. Fear may be the cause of the wide knowledge-action gap, but it may not be the only cause.
Concentration on activities of choice comes from individuals’ feeling in mental control of themselves, and having the appropriate attitude and motivation.
All too frequently, leaders and managers adopt the stance that individual performance is a matter solely for the individual. Some, however, understand, and know, that the ways in which the organisation functions is key to whether or not individuals have mental control, possess a positive attitude to their work and organisation and are motivated to concentrate and succeed.
What leaders and managers appear not to possess is the will to apply and embed the triggers that result in the cultural environment that provokes people to feel psychologically well, and motivated to be engaged in making the organisation a success. They appear to be reluctant to implement the processes that provoke the workforce to concentrate.
A reason for this might be fear. Fear is an emotional, hormonal and neurological reaction to events, designed to protect our survival. It can, also, be a result of an evaluation of the degree of safety and security that individuals feel in a situation, and colour the way in which individuals behave. Safety and security play directly to individuals’ sense of survival, which is a rudimentary compulsion we all possess. Leaders and managers who are placed in these roles having been successful in doing something else, probably something that is technical, are often completely ill equipped to manage people, and are frightened to try. They, therefore, don’t bother trying, and when they do, they may cause distress amongst the workforce because of their lack of skill.
Fear is endemic in organisations. It may not be expressed overtly, but can be identified by simple questions about the degree of individual freedom to express their opinion openly about ideas for improving the prospects of success for the organisation. Unfortunately, many leaders and managers feel they possess the supreme intelligence and wisdom to be the only group of people who have valid opinions about how to improve the prospects of success for their organisation. They may be defensive when someone other than a leader or manager spontaneously comes up with a valid idea to make improvements. The long established division between leaders, managers and the workforce in many organisations, particularly in the public sector, is well documented in staff surveys and research.
Such a division, where it exists, does nothing to entice individuals to have a positive and constructive attitude, and be motivated to concentrate and perform at their peak. Such a division effectively signals that attitude and motivation are entirely a matter for the individual. It, also, opens up the possibility that the culture is based on the notion of blame, blaming the individual for the failure to succeed, not the leaders and managers for failing to provide the working environment for individuals to thrive.
The WellBeing and Performance Agenda, created by me, is designed to help leaders and managers develop the working environment that provokes individuals to feel psychologically well, possess a positive attitude to the organisation and their work, and be motivated to achieve great success.
There is a focus in the Agenda on provoking individuals to concentrate by eliminating the events and behaviours that run the risk of causing stress, a major inhibitor to concentration and performance.
It is well established, over many years, that if individuals feel psychologically well, and feel success and happiness in whatever they do, they will perform at their peak. The WellBeing and Performance Agenda helps to create the environment in which individuals thrive.
It is, also, well established over many years, that if individuals feel success and happiness they are also more agile, flexible and innovative, the qualities that organisations require for continuous improvement.
Central to the WellBeing and Performance Agenda is the adoption of Adaptive Leadership, a process of leadership that recognises that everyone is a leader, and needs to be fully engaged in making the organisation a success.
There are two key cultural principles on the Agenda, that Adaptive Leaders implement.
Psychological Responsibility, which is the responsibility each person has to maintain their own psychological wellbeing and that of everyone else. For this to be anywhere near effective, the working environment has to be one where individuals can take the action they require to maintain their own psychological wellbeing. In other words, the culture is one of acknowledging that individual psychological wellbeing is essential for performance, and no one should be fearful of raising any issue about anything at work.
The second cultural principle is sharing responsibility for the future success of the organisation amongst everyone in the organisation. This means, in practice, that anyone can raise any matter about anything to do with improving the prospects of success for the organisation. It means spontaneously sharing resources around the organisation to ensure no part of the organisation is failing due to lack of resource. It means raising and dealing with all elephants in the room. It means that the attitude is that all failures are successes waiting to happen. It means that no idea is a bad idea; all ideas are good. It means that everyone is encouraged to know everything about the organisation, so they can make their contributions to success. It means that fear is banished, and a strong sense of ownership by the workforce is in place.
Authoritative leaders and managers, those who hold positions that are held to account for the delivery of the organisation’s purpose, are trained and developed in the behaviours needed to manage people to implement to cultural imperatives described above, including the implementation of adaptive leadership – the process of expecting everyone to take a lead.
The Wellbeing and Performance Agenda links psychological wellbeing with the ability to concentrate, and therefore, perform. For organisations to continuously improve, the workforce and their leaders and managers, must feel psychologically well to be agile, flexible and innovative. Psychological wellbeing, therefore, unlocks the door to continuous improvement.

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