The Spark

Demanding the impossible                       

“Be a realist, demand the impossible.” Protest graffiti, Paris, May 1968

It is all too easy to accept others’ definitions of achievement. To get caught up in other people’s aims and ambitions. To take others’ priorities as read.

This is the road to disaster. To throwing all your energy into goals you don’t really care about, growing tired and disillusioned, working with less and less energy at something you don’t love. If you’ve ever spent your days watching the clock, wishing the hours away until you can go home, then you know that feeling.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Learning from others, not imitating them

In the spring of 1968 France was thrown into turmoil. Not content to accept the aims given them by politicians and old-fashioned business leaders, students and workers rose in protest. They could see a different future for themselves and their country, and the demands they made, freedoms considered unthinkable by the establishment, transformed the country and led to the downfall of the government.

The world can change.

Steve Jobs built Apple on technologies and practices that were unimaginable to his competitors. The idea that our personal and working futures lay with computers. That we could carry our music collection in our pocket. That the most sophisticated technology in the world could be designed around the principle of simplicity. He created his own sense of achievement and succeeded on his terms.

Business can change.

Every small business owner, every entrepreneur, every consultant and free-lancer you’ve ever talked with started out working for someone else. Then they worked out what they wanted for themselves and they set out to do it.

You can change.

Finding your own aim

Choosing your own goal and working towards it is hard work, but it is infinitely more satisfying than the alternative. Happiness comes from meeting goals we find fulfilling, and you’ll never do that while they aren’t your own goals.

Look at what you value, what really matters to you. Whatever it is, there’s a job to be found or to be created in that field.

Rising to the challenge

Many of us struggle to define what we want to achieve. In that case look at the things that are wrong around you. The places in business, in politics, in your community where the right goals just aren’t being achieved. Look at those places and ask yourself what people are treating as valuable, what they are treating as success. Then ask what you think success should look like, what would be of real value in that area, and work towards it. You’ll have found an achievement that you really value.

Don’t shy away from the difficult challenges. The greatest, most fulfilling successes come from taking the path less followed, from finding things that challenge you and solving them. Satisfaction comes not from accepting our limits but from pushing them.

But always remember, work towards the things that you care about, even when others say that they are impossible. Maybe they are impossible within their world view, but yours is broader. You can see the change you want to be. You can make it happen.

Define your own success.

Demand the impossible.

Demanding the impossible

“Be a realist, demand the impossible.”

  • Protest graffiti, Paris, May 1968

It is all too easy to accept others’ definitions of achievement. To get caught up in other people’s aims and ambitions. To take others’ priorities as read.

This is the road to disaster. To throwing all your energy into goals you don’t really care about, growing tired and disillusioned, working with less and less energy at something you don’t love. If you’ve ever spent your days watching the clock, wishing the hours away until you can go home, then you know that feeling.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Learning from others, not imitating them

In the spring of 1968 France was thrown into turmoil. Not content to accept the aims given them by politicians and old-fashioned business leaders, students and workers rose in protest. They could see a different future for themselves and their country, and the demands they made, freedoms considered unthinkable by the establishment, transformed the country and led to the downfall of the government.

The world can change.

Steve Jobs built Apple on technologies and practices that were unimaginable to his competitors. The idea that our personal and working futures lay with computers. That we could carry our music collection in our pocket. That the most sophisticated technology in the world could be designed around the principle of simplicity. He created his own sense of achievement and succeeded on his terms.

Business can change.

Every small business owner, every entrepreneur, every consultant and free-lancer you’ve ever talked with started out working for someone else. Then they worked out what they wanted for themselves and they set out to do it.

You can change.

Finding your own aim

Choosing your own goal and working towards it is hard work, but it is infinitely more satisfying than the alternative. Happiness comes from meeting goals we find fulfilling, and you’ll never do that while they aren’t your own goals.

Look at what you value, what really matters to you. Whatever it is, there’s a job to be found or to be created in that field.

Rising to the challenge

Many of us struggle to define what we want to achieve. In that case look at the things that are wrong around you. The places in business, in politics, in your community where the right goals just aren’t being achieved. Look at those places and ask yourself what people are treating as valuable, what they are treating as success. Then ask what you think success should look like, what would be of real value in that area, and work towards it. You’ll have found an achievement that you really value.

Don’t shy away from the difficult challenges. The greatest, most fulfilling successes come from taking the path less followed, from finding things that challenge you and solving them. Satisfaction comes not from accepting our limits but from pushing them.

But always remember, work towards the things that you care about, even when others say that they are impossible. Maybe they are impossible within their world view, but yours is broader. You can see the change you want to be. You can make it happen.

Define your own success.

Demand the impossible.

people

An Emotionally Positive Workplace

Emotions are great for work. If people are allowed to bring their feelings into the workplace then their passion will show, engagement will rise, and you’ll free up the energy that might otherwise be spent on repressing those feelings.

But negative emotions can be a huge problem, creating a toxic atmosphere filled with anger and distrust. So how can you encourage emotional expression in the workplace while preventing the negatives from taking over?

Develop Emotional Intelligence

A key tool for anyone in leadership, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand the emotions of others, to empathize with them and to deal appropriately with those emotions.

Training in emotional intelligence should be a compulsory part of training for all leaders in your organization. If they can’t recognize what’s happening with their employees then they stand little chance of managing them well.

Avoid Hiring Negativity

Try to avoid hiring people who don’t cooperate well with others or who default to a negative outlook. Recruiters at Facebook do this by using questions about office politics and working with others to test how candidates respond. It isn’t a subject you can tackle head-on in an interview, but if you can find a way to incorporate it then you’ll avoid recruiting people whose negativity will kill the enthusiasm of others.

Recognize Effort

To spread the positivity around, focus on recognizing effort, not just performance.  Some employees are going to achieve exceptional things thanks to a combination of talent and the role they’ve been given. Others may not make their mark so strongly. If they only see others praised then their emotional engagement with work will drop. So openly acknowledge the effort people put in just getting the job done from day to day, whether or not they’ve done something exceptional.

Be Open

As a leader, you set the standard of behavior in your organization. What you do matters at least as much as what you say. If you don’t let other people see your emotions then they aren’t going to feel like they are allowed to express their own. So let your feelings show, especially when those feelings are of pride, excitement or delight.

This isn’t to say that you should lay your soul bare, exposing every sore nerve end of feelings. Let as much out as you feel comfortable with, and then see if you can show just a little more.

Dissipate Office Politics

Another lesson from Facebook – find ways to actively reduce office politics.

Office politics usually leads to negative feelings being stirred up, rather than encouraging positivity. So train leaders and managers to dissipate politics. Give them the communication skills to direct conversations away from these subjects, to listen to people’s concerns, and to act on then without a big drama.

Make Time to Talk

Most office politics comes from people not understanding the big picture, and so only seeing the part that impacts negatively on them. Taking the time to talk with employees, both individually and as groups, helps to counter this.

More than that, taking the time to casually chat with employees creates positive emotional bonds. The attention of a leader creates a feeling of pride and validation. A little light conversation helps to buoy the spirits, and directs attention onto things that make people happy.

So take the time to talk.

Be Honest

Lies, even well-intentioned ones, even those told by omission, create resentment. People spot the gap between words and reality even if they don’t see exactly what’s amiss.

So be honest about what’s going on with your organization. If things are tough then explain why and talk about how you’re planning to solve it. That way, employees will see that you are realistic, honest and forward looking. If things are going well then this is a time to celebrate. Either way, you bringing the focus onto the positives.

Show Kindness and Respect

A little kindness goes a long, but so does a little disrespect. If people don’t feel that their work and perspectives are treated seriously then resentment will fester.

So treat everyone equally seriously, from the lowest admin temp to the CEO. And use small acts of kindness, like remembering a birthday or making a round of coffees, to show that you don’t think that you’re above it all.

Let Go of Control

Great leaders inspire and guide rather than controlling. No-one likes to feel controlled or micro-managed, so as far as possible set the tone, set the agenda, and then sit back and let people do their jobs.

The more you try to control the flow of work, the more you sacrifice positive emotions on the altar of your ego.

Throw in Fun Events

Everyone has different ways of reviving a team or organization’s spirits, but most of them boil down to the same thing – relax and have fun. You can’t make every day into an away day or fancy dress challenge, but drop these events in once in a while. Surprise staff with a lunchtime buffet. Arrange trips out. Take your team for a drink. Associate your business with fun and people will enjoy working there more.

leadership

Build a Better Leadership Career Starting Today

Building a career in leadership isn’t easy. Building a career in leadership that suits you, that plays to your strengths and interests, that keeps you constantly interested and lets you progress to the best of your potential, that’s even tougher.

These five steps will help you to build a better leadership career – one that’s more fulfilling for you, and more likely to lead to success.

Only Shoot for the Goals You Really Want

Applying for a job that you aren’t suited to isn’t just a waste of the recruiter’s time and energy, it’s a waste of yours. Best case scenario, you don’t get the job and you get some useful feedback – feedback you could have got for less effort by other means. Worst case scenario, you end in the job, doing something you aren’t interested in or that’s a poor fit for your skillset. Nothing kills passion, and so the ability to push a career forwards, like being stuck in a joyless job.

So next time a relevant leadership post comes up at the level above yours, ask yourself if it’s really the post you want, or if you’re just considering applying because it’s there. Unless that specific role matches your interests and long-term career goals, save your time and energy. Spend the effort on doing your current job better, and that experience will stand you in good stead when the job you want comes up.

Use the Culture of Where You Work

There’s a time and place for going against the flow, but as tai chi practitioners know, the most efficient way to achieve anything is to adapt the flow of existing movement.

In career terms, this means working with the culture of where you work. Look at what opportunities for extra duties exist within the organization, identify the ones that interest you and will support your aims, and volunteer for them.

When you identify an opportunity to develop your skills, whether it’s through a training course, a conference or some other opportunity, think about how it fits with your employer’s aims and culture. Set out how the opportunity will help the organization and they’re more likely to fund it. Provide useful feedback to your organization afterwards, whether learning others can use or a list of useful contacts you’ve made, and you’re more likely to be given more opportunities like it.

Study What Matters Now

As a leader, some areas of study are timeless classics. You’ll gain a great deal from keeping on learning about people influencing techniques, change management, and ways to organize a business. But the best way to ensure that your career keeps moving forwards is to think about what’s relevant for you to study right now.

This may be a matter of what’s currently happening in the world, which might currently be social media techniques, the implications of Brexit, or how to work with Chinese businesses. It could be skills that are relevant to where your company is at, such as focusing on lean processes as your organization goes through a period of change. It might be skills relevant to what you want next, setting you up for the next step in the career ladder.

Whatever seems of immediate relevance, study its latest developments alongside the fundamental principles underlying it. That way, you’ll always be presenting the most cutting edge suggestions, not those that have come up a hundred times before.

Use Your Mistakes

Leaders can learn from their mistakes just as much as organizations can. What matters is that you learn from them.

This can be hard. It’s never easy to acknowledge when we’ve messed something up, even to ourselves. If you find yourself getting defensive on a topic, the odds are good that, somewhere in the back of your mind, you know that something in your own outlook is wrong. Use that feeling to identify mistakes instead of to avoid facing them.

However, you identify a mistake, take the time to analyze it. If a meeting you were running didn’t go well then consider what you could do in future to encourage participation or manage the participants. If a project goes off the rails, look at what you missed in the planning process and don’t do the same next time. If you alienate a colleague, work out how it happened, and consider how to achieve a more positive relationship in future.

Mistakes are a powerful tool for self-improvement, so don’t hide from them.

Find the Positive When Things Go Wrong

However hard you try to shape your career, not everything will work out the way you want. Sometimes a dream job will turn out to be a carefully disguised nightmare. Sometimes you’ll be stuck for a while in a place you no longer want to be. Sometimes other people’s goals will simply conflict with your own.

When things get tough, look for the positives in the situation and the ways that you can improve it by building relationships. This way, you avoid being ground down by negativity, have the chance to achieve more from the situation, and develop your people skills.

Whatever your career aims, if you can stay focused on the things you want, adapt to the time and place you’re in, and make the most of negatives, then you’ll build a stronger career and be a better leader.

 

For a socially responsible business, flexible working isn’t just nice to have – it’s a vital part of using work to make the world a better place. Social responsibility starts at home, and unless you treat your employees right then everything else is just an add-on.

Setting the Tone for the World We Live In

One reason why flexible working is so important to a social business is that it sends a message about how you view the world.

Social businesses are about connecting together profits with what’s good for people. Human and environmental well-being don’t get sacrificed on the altar of the fast buck. Instead, human-centered practices are shown to be good for a business’s bottom line, disrupting the old dichotomy between the two.

Inflexible working patterns came from a way of working, and of viewing work, that saw people as little more than a resource with which to achieve business ends. It didn’t matter whether the pattern of work suited employees, as long it suited the business. It was the opposite of socially responsible business – business riding roughshod over human lives.

Flexible working shows that you care about what’s good for your employees. It sends a message to those employees and to the world that you’re not putting money before people, because you think that what’s good for people is good for profits. It sets the tone for your business and for the world we live in.

Social Responsibility Towards Your Employees

It’s great to create socially responsible products and services, whether that’s fair trade coffee, environmentally sustainable technology, or financial services for the disadvantaged. But if your social responsibility is focused entirely on your customers then you’re missing out on helping the people whose lives you most directly influence – your employees.

Flexible working practices make the lives of employees far easier. Tasks important to their well-being, such as visiting the doctor or dropping the kids off at school, become much easier to manage. This makes for employees who are happier, healthier, and less stressed. That in itself is a goal worth achieving.

For this to work, you have to give employees genuine control of their hours. Calling it flexible isn’t enough if you set core hours, duties, or layers of approvals that give them no room to maneuver.

Increased Productivity

Flexible working isn’t just good for your employees – it’s good for your bottom line as well. An international survey by Vodafone, which questioned 8,000 employers and employees, found that 83% had seen improvements in productivity thanks to flexible working. A similar survey of workers in the UK found that twice as many found their productivity increased when working at home as found that it decreased.

Flexible working increases productivity in a number of ways.

Firstly, and tying in to the previous point, it increases the happiness and decreases the stress level of employees. This makes them able to work better.

Secondly, it allows better use of time. If an employee can work while sitting at home waiting for the washing machine repair man then the flow of work won’t be disrupted for that morning. If they can attend a meeting through a conference call while looking after their kids then that meeting doesn’t need to be postponed.

Thirdly, is allows recruitment from a larger talent pool. If you allow home working or flexible hours then you can take on employees who live further from your base of operations or whose lives wouldn’t allow them to work full time, whether due to health, children, or many other reasons.

Flexible working helps you to employ the best people and to get the most out of them.

Community Action

There are countless opportunities for people to volunteer in their communities. From food banks to charity shops to environmental improvements, volunteering helps to fill gaps left by the system. Many people are keen to help out in this way, but the challenge comes in finding the time, and particularly in finding time at a time that is convenient for the task to be done.

Flexible working allows employees to more easily fit volunteer activities into their schedule. Some people might choose to work four days a week and volunteer on the fifth. Others might arrange their schedule to fit a full working week around a morning as a volunteer, or take longer lunch breaks for an activity like reading in schools.

Flexible working can allow groups of employees to take time off together to volunteer. This can make volunteering, and the social good it does, more central to your business and the way it faces the world.

Approaches to Flexible Working

There are many different ways to make working patterns more flexible. Flexi-time can be used to let people shift their hours around, as can being adaptable about scheduling. Allowing employees to buy extra holiday days or be awarded them as bonuses gives them more potential time to themselves. Companies such as Netflix and Hubspot use unlimited leave schemes, allowing employees to work in a way that suits them, focusing on results rather than time spent at a desk. Remote working integrates home and work lives, creating more freedom and saving time on commuting.

By giving employees the chance to balance their home and work lives, you take responsibility for improving the society you’re a part of – that of your employees.

However, you achieve flexible working, it’s a way to be more socially responsible as a business, to set the tone for businesses everywhere, and to give something back while increasing productivity. In short, it’s essential to being a socially responsible business.

achievement

Why should we care about happiness?

It’s the sort of question that could only come up in business. If you were at home, on holiday or out on the town socializing then the answer would be obvious. To a child, the desire to be happy is so obvious they probably couldn’t even put a reason into words. Happiness is what motivates us, what makes life worthwhile. Everything else we value is a means to that end, for ourselves or for others.

Yet happiness at work is something we often ignore. Some even scoff at talking about it. So why should you care about workplace happiness? And as a leader, how can you inspire and spread joy?

Why Workplace Happiness Matters

Years ago, I got into a conversation about work with a friend of the generation before mine. He didn’t do an especially unusual or entertaining job, yet he took joy in it. He said that he couldn’t bear the thought of spending his day watching the clock, just waiting to leave. If he was going to spend that much time doing something, he needed to enjoy it.

His words pinned down a long standing problem – the dissonance between how we ideally believe we should live and how we have accepted that we must work. We have been told that we should make ourselves happy, yet we have also been told that we should put our noses to the grindstone and work no matter our feelings. This creates cognitive dissonance, unsettling us on a subconscious level. Add that to the demotivating effect of doing something you don’t enjoy, and your energy is sapped.

Hence the extraordinary range of figures showing the benefits of workplace happiness:

  • SHRM found that satisfied employees perform 20% better.
  • The Dale Carnegie Institute found that companies with satisfied employees may perform twice as well as competitors.
  • HBR found happy employees to be 3 times more creative, 31% more productive, and generate 37% more sales.

Knowing its value, how can you encourage happiness in the workplace?

Keeping Yourself Joyful

Start with yourself. There are three reasons for this:

  • If you’re happier you’ll be more productive, and a more productive leader means a more productive business.
  • You’ll set a great example to employees, and encourage them with your positive energy.
  • Your happiness is just as important as everyone else’s – happiness for happiness’s sake is reason enough.

How to go about it? That’s going to depend a bit on what makes you happy, but certain things are universal.

Celebrate Victories

When you succeed, don’t rush straight on to the next problem. Take five minutes to look at the implications of what you’ve achieved, and to bask in the mental glow. For landmark moments, go out and celebrate with the others involved. Prove to your brain that all this work was worthwhile.

Positive Thinking

It might sound absurd, but you can train your brain to be happier. Concentrate mentally on the positives of your work – the parts you enjoy, the people you work with, the good you do. When you get angry, annoyed or disappointed, shift back to the positives. Keep doing it until you can get through a day and then a week without lingering on the negative thoughts. Your mood around the office will improve.

Mindfulness

If you struggle to let go of the negative thoughts then try a mindfulness exercise. There are plenty of them on YouTube. It will help you to let go of any thoughts, positive or negative, to identify what’s bothering you and to clear the pathway for positivity.

And yes, I know how new age this sounds. But the brain is like a muscle – if you exercise it in a particular way then you’ll get better at that thing – even being happy.

Keeping Your Employees Joyful

Having made yourself happy, how do you spread this among your employees?

Positive Reinforcement

The first point is the most obvious one – provide plenty of positive feedback for good work and behavior, whether it’s something above and beyond the call of duty or simply getting the daily job done. Praise positive attitudes as well as good work. Make people feel good about feeling good.

As far as possible, avoid focusing on the negatives. Make negative feedback and disciplinary processes quick rather than drawn out. This way you avoid emotionally validating human tendencies to focus on the bad.

Foster Engagement

There are a host of tips for this across the internet, including in my book on using marketing techniques in HR. The important thing is that you reduce people’s detachment from their work, creating a real emotional connection. If they aren’t positively engaged in what they’re doing then they’ll be watching the clock.

Listen

Open your ears and your mind. People love talking about themselves and their work, and if given the time to talk about them then they’ll feel happier. Make a note of any problems, making clear you won’t ignore them, but try to bring the focus onto positives and achievements, bringing happiness to the forefront of employees’ minds.

Ask Why

Don’t ignore the problems that have been pointed out to you, or the people who are constantly unhappy. When you get back to your desk, take the time to dig into why those problems are arising, and what you can do about them. Then make the change and celebrate it, smoothing out the pathway to happiness for others even as you reinforce it in yourself.

You Can Make Happiness

Happiness doesn’t just happen, it’s something you can produce. So focus on that, and make a happier, more productive workforce.

Even the most useful ideas sometimes cause problems. Work life balance, which has been crucial in re-evaluating our attitudes towards work, is one of those ideas. By drawing a line between the parts of our lives that are work and those that exist outside it, “balance” treats people as collections of separate components, rather than the fuzzy messes of intersecting issues that are real human lives. Work is affected by what happens outside, and vice versa. Not just accepting this but embracing it can allow us to lead our organizations towards something better.

It’s time to stop balancing the separate parts and consider the whole employee. To let the parts of their lives be intertwined, and to make the most of the benefit this brings.

Letting in the Outside Life

The first step towards dealing with employees as whole people is to consider communication. We often treat large parts of people’s lives as neither relevant nor appropriate to the workplace. A gay employee may remain uncomfortably closeted because they are not sure how colleagues will respond. Employees with unusual hobbies may keep quiet about their passions for fear of mockery, and so never tap into their enthusiasm in the workplace, treating it as a space in which they don’t get fun or satisfaction. Employees going through turmoil at home may alienate those around them with an unexplained short temper or erratic behavior, when feeling they could speak up, even just a sentence to explain their circumstances, would make everything clear to their colleagues, who would then be able to make allowances.

If you want to encourage a more open atmosphere then, as with work related communication, the key is to be more positive than negative. Don’t judge people for what they say. Encourage them to be themselves. Set appropriate boundaries to ensure that the work still gets done, but try to make boundary setting a minority of communications.

The aim is to let employees be themselves, to make them more comfortable at work and so more engaged and energized.

Risks

As with any shift in practice, there are risks in letting employees be their whole selves. Personality clashes may come up. A less formal atmosphere means that the boundaries have to be reinforced differently, and this may at first be uncomfortable for more conservative leaders.

To some, the relaxed atmosphere, openness about feelings and identity, and talk of home life looks like a lack of professionalism. This is an old-fashioned view, one that goes back to the Victorian era. That was the first time that most people developed working lives away from the home, and society was learning how to cope with that change. But centuries have passed. We’ve adjusted. Professionalism can look different now.

Behaving professionally doesn’t mean shutting down the part of you that exists outside of work. It means getting the work done to the best of your ability and taking account of how you affect your colleagues and customers. Everything beyond that, all the rules and the uniforms, it’s just a means to an end. So find new means.

Use the Opportunities

Once you start letting people be their whole selves in the workplace, you’ll see a change in how they behave. Talking about the things we love energizes us and puts us in a positive mood. Repressing our true selves has the opposite effect. So by letting employees be themselves, you’ll allow that positive energy out to fuel your organization.

More directly, you’ll get a better idea of what unusual knowledge and skills your employees have. These could provide different ways of tackling problems. Whether they spend their spare time programming computers, leading a scout troop or running marathons, everyone has skills and perspectives that can be relevant in work.

Knowing what excites your employees allows you to make better use of fun learning activities to improve training, as you’ll know what counts as fun for those involved, not just inflict your own tastes upon them.

Integrating home and work lives is particularly vital for large international companies. To compete in the modern world, these companies will increasingly want to manage talent on a global scale, moving skilled employees around the country or even the world to work in different locations. This is a huge personal upheaval, forcing home and work life to intersect. If you’re already treating employees as whole people, you’ll know how viable it is, and have opened up the gate to conversations about such changes.

The Whole You

As a leader, this isn’t just about how you treat other people. Treat yourself as a whole person too, letting your personal life show at work, integrating the two to make life comfortable. It’ll reduce the stress of managing the two separately, and increase engagement around you as employees get to see and appreciate the real boss.

You can even look outside of professional life for work role models. Someone in another sphere may provide a better inspiration or even mentor than a leader in a similar business, encouraging you to bring a fresh approach to your work.

By treating yourself and your employees as whole people you can reduce the strains of keeping two separate lives, increase engagement and bring new ideas and energy into your business. Why balance two halves when you can enjoy working with the whole?

Social business isn’t just about creating more ethical products. It isn’t about small tweaks that make a business less ugly. It’s about addressing the fundamentals of society and of a business within society. And nothing is more fundamental to business than pay. After all, nobody would go to the office without it.

So what are the problems with the current approach to pay? And what might we change to make pay work better for society?

Letting Go of Entitlement

There’s a reason why we’ve heard so much talk about entitlement in recent social debates. Arguments ranging from political engagement to the plots of computer games often boil down to attempts by one side to create greater equality, while the other side defends the status quo, feeling they are entitled to what they have simply because that’s how things have been.

Like the angry voices of “Gamergate,” many in business feel entitled to ever-rising pay. In this view, doing well entitles us to ever higher wages. Our pay should never drop unless we make a cataclysmic error. And it indulges those at the top to massive sums, with CEO’s receiving 300 times as much as average workers.

But this approach to pay is not set in stone. As recently as the 1970s, the pay ratio between CEOs and average workers was only twenty-five to one. Ever-rising wages are connected to the dangers of inflation.

If we let go of our entitled assumptions, what models could we adopt instead?

Leaving Behind Performance-related Pay

One model we certainly shouldn’t expand is performance-related pay. The example of high-powered sales forces, and the obvious appeal of a chance for more money, have led to performance-related pay increasing dominance of leadership compensation.

But a large number of psychological studies have shown that performance-related pay is not only less effective than its advocates believe – it can actually be harmful. In a similar way to having an audience, performance-related pay adds psychological pressure. This can increase productivity in jobs that require little mental engagement. When complex thinking is required, however, it gets in the way, leading to worse performance when high pay is at stake. Competition for these rewards crowds out beneficial cooperation, and the mechanisms of performance-related pay create complications, frustrations and extra work.

In short, the high flyers of the 1980s were wrong – greed isn’t good, and tapping into it is harmful.

Making Pay Levels Relative

Letting go of performance-related pay and entitlement to endless growth creates new possibilities. If we want to be socially responsible then we should build pay around the whole social unit of a business, not just its individual parts.

The Israeli government may have the solution.

A recent law passed 56-0 in the Israeli parliament has capped the salary of top banking and insurance executives. But this is not a simple maximum payment – it is tied to the salaries of employees, with leaders in these businesses unable to earn more than 44 times the salary of their lowest paid employees.

Think for a minute about what that means. If pay is a ratio then executives at the top have an interest in improving pay for everyone in the company, not just themselves. The interests of those at the top of this part of society are now tied to those at the bottom. There will doubtless be loopholes, and for such a measure to be truly effective it needs to cover contractors as well as employees. But as a way to make those at the top of a business help those at the bottom, it’s a powerful measure.

The implication for creating a real living wage is obvious. To be meaningful and resistant to inflation, that wage has to be connected to the highest wages in society. Wealth, after all, is a relative rather than an absolute measure.

And for those of us running socially responsible businesses, the time is ripe to consider applying similar measures to ourselves. 44 times as much income as the lowest paid employee is still a staggering gap, though less than in the largest US businesses. Consider what ratio you think is reasonable, and apply it within your own organization. Give everyone an interest in raising everyone else’s income.

Letting Pay Drop

Another recent example of how we can change attitudes toward pay comes from Richard Pennycook, the head of the UK’s Co-op Group. This Co-op, Britain’s largest ethically run business, has been struggling in recent years, and Pennycook has helped right the sinking ship. Most executives in his position would have asked for more pay based on their success, but not Pennycook. Instead, he has publicly asked for a drop in his pay because of the reduced workload his success has created for him.

It’s an example to us all. It’s not unreasonable for top executives to ask for more pay when putting in the work on tough situations. But increased pay should not continue indefinitely. When the time comes, and the work is done, perhaps we could all seek less pay, in proportion with a changing role. Perhaps high pay could be constantly assessed against the reasons for which it was initially given.

There are doubtless other ways to rethink pay. What’s important is that we start by throwing out our assumptions and trying something new.

Communicating in depth

How authentic is your approach to communication?

It can be a difficult question to ask ourselves. In the age of Twitter and corporate spin, a lot of the communication around us can seem shallow and devoid of meaning. A lot of it is.

It’s easy to slip into the habit of communicating in bulk rather than in depth, running around expressing frequent messages rather than deep, well-considered ones. But think about how you respond to that clutter of communications noise. Do you take more in because there’s more out there? Of course not. What works is communication that shows quality and depth.

So how can you cut through the noise? How do you achieve that sort of communication?

Balance

There is a balance to be struck here. You don’t want to become so afraid of over-reaching or creating noise that you recede into quiet passivity, your message all but forgotten. Equally, you don’t want to become ‘that guy’, the aggressive communicator who’s so busy putting his message out that he never stops to listen to others.

The balancing place in the middle, the spot where successful communication lies, is assertiveness – not letting your views be drowned out but not drowning others out either.

Part of this balance is in how much you communicate and how hard you think about it. Pushing too far into high quality can mean spending hours over every single sentence, hardly ever getting your message out. In an ideal world every message would be top quality, but this is not an ideal world. Think about where the balance lies for you between quality and quantity, and how far you can move towards quality without your beautifully crafted message going unheard.

Substance

A lack of substance will always show. No amount of jargon or empty ad copy will hide the hollowness of your message. So make sure that you have something real to say, something that is of value to your audience, something they will want to hear rather than just something you want them to know.

Anyone can share a set of facts or data. What makes substantial communication is the ability to look in depth at the facts and draw new conclusions. Show people the meaning behind the facts. Share wisdom, not just data.

A week from now no-one will remember the figures that you provided to the monthly sales meeting. But if you can demonstrate what those figures mean, how they create an opportunity for action, then your colleagues will remember it for months to come.

Storytelling

One of the most powerful ways to communicate that meaning is through stories. Stories let us shape people’s feelings, not just their thoughts. The art of storytelling has evolved down the centuries from tales around the campfire to the latest primetime adverts. At every stage in that evolution it has been about stirring our emotions.

Our minds are built not just to take in stories but also to turn events into them. You don’t remember the cold facts of your grandmother’s 80th birthday party, you remember the hilarious chain of events that led to her chasing a guinea pig around the living room. Stories give us structure and emotion in which to ground messages, and so they make them memorable.

Give your communications that structure, that connecting together of events, that stirring of emotions, and the message will stick.

Deep and memorable

If you make your message more substantial then it immediately has depth. Building a story around it provides emotional depth and make it memorable. Balancing quality and quantity of message, passivity and assertiveness, makes people receptive to that depth. Apply these lessons together and see your impact grow.

The fundamentals of running a business are the most important parts, and often the most neglected by leaders looking to improve. So much is taken for granted that we forget to consider why we do what we do.

One of those fundamentals is recruitment, and you can improve it by focusing on the three “P”s – purpose, process and performance.

Purpose

Improvement of an area of your business should always stem from the root purpose of that area. If you don’t keep its purpose constantly in mind, instead following the well trodden paths of habit and of others’ ideas, then you will never make something great.

So consider the purpose of your recruitment process – to recruit the best possible employees for your business. That means that the process should be unique to you. If your culture is built around good communication then build recruitment around that. If you place great emphasis on social responsibility, or want to draw in recruits who care about the world around them, then make that part of your system. Whatever sort of candidates you want, keep that purpose in mind throughout the other steps.

Process

To be fit for purpose, any process should be up to date. Don’t slavishly follow the latest trends and technological options, but consider whether they are for you. 43% of candidate aged under 45 consider texting a professional way to update them on the recruitment process. Social networks such as LinkedIn are often good for finding candidates who are enthusiastic for your business, and about whom you are well informed in advance.

It’s easy for recruitment processes to end up stuck in the past. This isn’t just wasteful for you, it’s also alienating for candidates.

One of the best ways to find innovative processes is to look at other areas of business and see what you can apply to recruitment. As I’ve discussed in my book Nothing Short of a Necessity…, lessons from marketing can successfully be applied to all areas of HR. But that needn’t be your only source of inspiration. Information systems teams have developed all sorts of tools for managing work flow. PR may have useful ideas about communication. Even lowly admin teams may have insights into how to make the paperwork and administration of recruitment go smoothly.

Keeping your purpose in mind, think carefully about the best process you could create.

Performance

The best driver to maintain performance and encourage improvement is a good set of metrics. Only by measuring, analyzing and discussing performance can you keep a process on track.

Ian Cook’s article on recruitment metrics provides an excellent starting point, guiding you through applying five key measures. If you think something is missing then add it, and if you don’t have the data then consider how you can capture it.

For recruitment, assessing performance means looking beyond the end of the process. Take the time to look at retention rates, morale and performance years after recruitment, and whether your recruitment process is affecting these. A higher retention rate in finance than facilities could have many causes, and when looking at them make sure to consider recruitment – is one department selecting staff better, or setting more realistic expectations for them in job descriptions?

Measures should fit your overall goals. Having achieved such measures and analyzed their results, go back to the beginning of the “P”s. Is your performance suitable for the purpose you have in mind? Are you meeting your aims? If not, look at where in the process the results falter and find ways to improve it. By keeping in mind the three “P”s you can ensure effective recruitment.