Upcoming webinar: How to build an inclusive culture that drives business success

How can you achieve peak performance? The answer is in your ability to reach a “Deep Work” state.

The concept of “Deep Work”, sometimes also referred to as the “flow” state, was introduced by Georgetown professor Cal Newport in 2016(1). Deep Work is about getting into a state where you can reach peak performance levels to deliver your best work, in the least amount of time.

To get to this state, it is important to create a distraction-free environment. This can seem unrealistic given the busy world we live in and constant distractions we are exposed to, but getting to a Deep Work state can be developed through practicing techniques that sharpen your concentration.

Identify your “peak” time of day
Each person has a period during the day when they are most productive. According to research 10% of people feel they do their best work in the morning, and 20% at night(2). Know what your peak time of day is and do the work that is most demanding during that time.

Set some time aside
Deep Work is not about working tediously long hours, but rather making your working hours more effective and productive. Pick a period for your Deep Work session and set an alarm to mark its end. Hours of relentless focus and effort can be demotivating and, quite frankly, exhausting.

Set objectives
Research shows we lose 20% of our productivity when we keep switching context(3). Identifying the desired outcomes of your Deep Work sessions can help bring clarity and focus to ensure that the time spent is productive. This also helps focus on only the specific tasks we need to complete and avoids jumping between different tasks and projects.

Have a location for your Deep Work
Having a specific location only for focused work can help. If you work remotely, try a different room for different tasks. If you work in the office, you should find your go-to distraction free area for when you want maximum concentration. Let your colleagues know this too so you can avoid being interrupted!

Minimise interruptions
You should have all the materials necessary at hand for your Deep Work session. Before starting, put away anything that may interrupt you, such as your phone or your pet. The latter may be a bit trickier of course! Make sure that you are well hydrated, fed, and have had your bathroom break.

In an increasingly competitive world, Deep Work is like a super-power that helps us focus our attention to make the best use of our time and productivity. Making Deep Work an integral part of our day-to-day professional activities can help us produce outstanding work that adds value by unleashing our intelligence and creativity.

1. Newport, C., Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, 2016, (1st ed.). Grand Central Publishing.
2. Geddes, L., First physical evidence of why you’re an owl or a lark, 2013, New Scientist, 220 (2937).
3. Weinberg, G. M., Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking, 1991, Dorset House.

When we think of a leader, we usually think of a CEO, founder, political or religious figure.

These are all familiar images of what we think constitutes a “leader”, but they reflect roles instead of behaviours. Leadership doesn’t start when we acquire a certain position; it starts when we have the ability to influence, deal with challenges effectively and stay ahead of the curve.

Anyone with the right mindset can be a leader.

Leadership development programs fail when they overlook the fundamental role of mindset, and that leadership can come from anywhere and not only the top. Mindset is how we see ourselves in our professional and personal life, it’s what we believe about who we are.

When we start to shift our mindset to that of a leader, we start to behave, and be seen, as a leader.

Organisations and senior management can expand their impact when they inspire others to think and act as leaders. An important first step is to cultivate a “leadership mindset” within your team.

Here is how you can work towards this:

1. Embrace discomfort
Korn Ferry’s 2018 study on thought leadership and mindset shows that those who have a “specialist mindset” and believe that their success largely depends on their technical expertise, have narrow career paths and hit a plateau early on in their careers.

In contrast, those who believe that their success depends more on functional and social skills, tend to be more open to a wider range of opportunities, and reach senior roles more frequently.

Allow your people to work outside their expertise and experiment with new roles and skills to help develop changes in their mindset. For instance, organisations can encourage employees to take short assignments in new functions, where they don’t rely on prior experience.

They can pick up new skills and understand that they don’t necessarily have to rely on their core expertise to contribute effectively.

2. Create opportunities for cross-team interactions
A critical part of developing new mindsets is to give people opportunities to work with different teams and find role models outside of their current professional circle.

This can be done by opening up virtual communication channels for team bonding and discussion opportunities. When employees are given the opportunity to share their ideas and perspectives, they feel like a valued and empowered part of their organisation.

3. Delegate to develop
Managers often end up delegating tasks and responsibilities to their employees to help reduce their own work-load. This can lead to missed opportunities to truly strengthen and empower your teams and employees. Instead, delegate tasks and responsibilities to grow and strengthen the capabilities of your employees.

This might be difficult at first for those who are used to overseeing everything, but trust in the abilities of your colleagues and you will benefit from the power of teamwork!

4. Commit to a coaching culture
Helping employees create a positive narrative about themselves is essential to develop a leadership mindset. A coach can help employees find meaning in their work. Research by Theeboom et.al. (2013) shows that coaching can boost critical leadership capabilities by 20-30%. Coaching is personalised to every employee’s unique needs.

By listening, asking questions and creating accountability, coaches empower employees to take ownership, make effective decisions and use their strengths to make successful contributions at work.

We can empower individuals and teams to achieve great things. Shared leadership allows people to work together on a common ground for a common goal. True leadership is multidimensional, and anyone who is committed to making a positive difference, irrespective of their role, is a leader.

Individuals who believe that their skills, abilities and talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies and positive relationships have a growth mindset.

Teams and employees with a growth mindset are able to thrive when faced with obstacles, and bounce back quickly after challenges and failures.

The growth mindset concept was introduced by Carol Dweck. Dweck’s research found that when teams and companies have a growth mindset their people are 34% more likely to feel committed to the joint mission, and 47% more likely to trust their colleagues.

In contrast to this, employees and teams with a fixed mindset believe that no amount of effort can help them improve their skills and talent.

This is why, not surprisingly, employees with a growth mindset regularly outperform their peers with a fixed mindset.

There are ways to encourage your people to develop a growth mindset:

  1. Walk the talk
    This is probably my favourite value – have integrity! Developing a growth mindset is not solely in the hands of individual employees.

    Leaders must have a personal commitment towards modeling a growth mindset. They must recognise the untapped potential of team members and, most importantly, their own growth potential.
  2. Reward efforts
    It is common for organisations to emphasize a performance driven culture where desirable outcomes and results are celebrated.

    Dweck’s research shows that this leads to employees avoiding challenges and difficulties altogether, as they only go after goals that can be easily achieved. This slows down productivity and innovation as teams fall into a fixed mindset.

    To help develop a growth mindset, spend time brainstorming, praise efforts, acknowledge steps taken towards a goal, and give regular feedback.
  3. Seize failure
    Organisations and leaders should create a safe space where team members can experiment, acquire new skills and learn from their failures.

    This decreases fear and encourages them to take on ambitious tasks and continuously improve, which fuels creativity and innovation.

    Challenges and limitations should be looked at as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than obstacles that should be avoided.
  4. Commit to an “always learning” mindset
    Teams with a growth mindset enjoy challenges, and strive to learn and develop new skills.

    Provide employees with learning and networking opportunities to build new skills and get out of their comfort zone. This will help them evolve, and commit to achieving their goals.

When leaders and organisations support and empower their team by focusing on their growth and continuous learning, employees are more motivated and find meaning in their work.

As a result they are more engaged. This not only has a positive impact on organisations, but also allows every employee to reach their full potential.

An engaged team adds significant value to a company’s performance, allowing organisations to be more agile and create a competitive advantage.

Introducing coaching in organisations is a powerful strategy to elevate employee engagement and develop employees across a wide range of needs and skills. Coaching promotes a process of ongoing development and learning that can help each employee make the best use of their talents, strengths, time and energy. To quote Bill Gates – “Everybody needs a coach.”

However, professional coaching is generally viewed as a development resource reserved for leaders and senior management. There is an assumption that the learnings at the top will filter through the organisation and that culture is driven primarily by those leaders. According to the Human Capital Institute report, only 23% of employees feel that everyone has equal opportunity to receive coaching in their organisation. This, when studies show that coaching high performing employees only has marginal benefits, while coaching average performing employees has the highest impact.

Wouldn’t it be better to provide teams, at every level, the tools to perform at their best, and look at individuals as the true contributors that they are?

Why should coaching be available to all?

Research shows that employees’ first few years in their career is critical in shaping them as professionals and to gain transferable skills that can have a significant impact on the pace of their growth. While the benefits of coaching senior managers and leadership has been well documented, it can also be vital for the development of employees who are starting out in their professional journeys.

Research by the International Coaching Federation reveals that 80% of employees who have been coached report increased self-confidence and over 70%  benefited from improved work performance, relationship and communication skills.

By creating a dialogue that leads to awareness and action, coaching helps employees become strategic thinkers, chart their courses within the organisation and navigate politics and personalities successfully. By making executive coaching available across the organisation as a development tool, every employee can have the opportunity to engage in their professional development from the very beginning and supercharge their contribution to their organisation.

Why should organisations care?

Organisations often struggle to maintain a high performing and engaged workforce. An agile organisation is one where leaders and employees can work together in the face of uncertainty, build competencies such as resilience, communication, emotional intelligence and collaboration to make the most of opportunities to adapt quickly and thrive.

Coaching focuses on active learning, developing strengths and remaining agile to equip employees and leaders with these skills. Gallup’s research shows that employees who are coached to use their strengths are able to contribute to 14-29% increase in overall business profits.

By offering coaching as a company wide benefit, organisations show employees that they care and have a vested interest in their personal and professional growth. When employees are given the tools to perform at their best, they are happier, confident and more engaged members of their organisation.