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Author: Franc Godri

Walk the Talk

     When someone says “Walk the Talk”, what does that mean to you?  For most individuals, it means backing your words with the action to accomplish whatever the goal/task you said you’d hit.

 

     However, many of us have opened our mouths, talked a mean game, and never finished what we said we were going to.  So, it might make more sense to ask ourselves:  When you consider all the “goals” you have set for yourself in life, why have so many fallen by the wayside?

 

    First, let’s look at the 3 pound lump of neurons, glial cells, neural stem cells, and blood vessels we call our brain. At its core, the brain’s primary function is self-preservation.  Once it knows you have everything in place to live, then you can accomplish everything else… 

 

     What can happen when the brain finds itself in a new situation where it does not know the outcome, is it can assume the worst-case scenario for the outcome.  Our brain does not like bad so it will find ways to avoid it. 

 

     This self-preservation wiring makes “thinking” about achieving a goal difficult. We must assign a meaning that will move the brain from “new is bad” to “this is bad and so I need to change it”. Famed psychologist Louis Cozolino, said it best: “thinking serves at the pleasure of emotion”. It is emotions that drive behavior and it’s our behavior that drives outcomes. The right emotion/meaning drives good outcomes. The wrong emotion/meaning will drive bad outcomes.

 

     So how do we resolve this?  My first suggestion might seem counterintuitive…at a personal level.  

 

  • Do NOT share your goals with others. 

 

    The more committed to your goals, the more secretive you should be about them. Dr. Marwa Azab posits that we must close the gap between intention (thinking about it) and implementation (finding meaning and doing it). Her research shows that when we publicize our goal intentions and others acknowledge the awesomeness of such “potential” changes, we get a dopamine reward all at once. The more others admire our goal, the more dopamine we get, so the less likely we are to implement the actions needed to reach those goals. Instead of getting the dopamine from achieving the goal, we get it from others’ admiration of our goals…before we achieve it. 

 

Now, let’s look at walk the talk as it relates to you, your teams, and your organization.

 

    In their 2015 survey of 2200 executives in over 900 companies, McKinsey & Company identified what good implementers do differently organizationally than other companies. “The most crucial factors when it comes to success or failure, according to survey respondents, are organization-wide ownership of and commitment to change, prioritization, and sufficient resources.

As you can see, the requirements to successfully implement any kind of change is not complicated: 

 

So…

 

Next time you have a goal that you or your team are looking to hit:

 

1- Identify what this means to you

2- Think through what you need for success

3- Plan each step and be accountable for achieving them

4- Celebrate with others AFTER you have achieved your goals

 

Simple…really!

“Is All Feedback Relevant?”

      A beloved mentor of mine once asked me, “Franc, is all feedback relevant?”. My initial answer was “I think some is and some isn’t”. He then challenged me on my answer… “Why is some feedback not relevant?” he asked. “Some feedback is not always given with full context or might not be right” I answered.

 

     He then clarified one of the most misunderstood elements and goals of feedback: “Franc, I did not ask you if all feedback is TRUE, I asked if all feedback is RELEVANT.

 

     The goal of feedback is to receive data and observations from someone other than ourselves. All of it is RELEVANT, especially if it’s not true. This means the giver of feedback may have a gap between their perspective and actual reality… or maybe we do!

 

     Our brain attaches meaning to everything we experience so we generally filter our feedback to others through our own biased points of view based on those experiences.  In other words, when an event happens to us, our memories influence how we react. Memories have emotions attached to them, and it’s those emotions that create meaning and consequently drive the corresponding behavior. It’s how we make sense of the world and interact with it. 

 

  • Good memory – Good emotion – Good meaning – Good behavior
  • Bad memory – Negative emotion – Negative meaning – Negative behavior. 

(You can thank the limbic system for all of that processing, and research has shown that it can do all of that in as little as 0.085 seconds…)

 

     For example: If I say the name “Mother Teresa”, most of us will recall good memories and thoughts about her name which leads to positive emotions.  Now if I say the name “Charles Mason” this will bring very different memories and experiences and consequently very different emotions. It is those emotions and the meaning we assign to them, that helps drive our actions.

 

    My personal relationship with feedback could be characterized as “strained”. You might know of individuals who have great difficulty receiving feedback. You know the ones… To be honest, I was/am one of those individuals. Now let’s be clear, I am mostly talking about negative feedback as I do really enjoy positive feedback (more on that in a bit). 

 

      Long story short, when I receive feedback, my limbic system gets triggered because for my brain, negative feedback means I am not good enough and if I am not good enough, I will not belong…my deep-seated big trigger.  Here’s why, growing up I changed schools every year between grade 2 and grade 7 and language of instruction three times (French to English and back to French). This gave me great skills, but also some deep-rooted issues.

 

Why is any of this important for you to understand about yourselves and your teams?

 

     As leaders and managers, we need to give feedback as part of our responsibilities. How often we do it and what we say is critically important. University of Akron researchers (Medvedeff, Gregory & Levy, 2008) found that feedback involves more than a simple evaluation of whether someone performed poorly or well. They found there are 4 general categories of feedback:

 

Positive Outcome Feedback – “Good Work”

Negative Outcome Feedback – “This work is unacceptable”

Positive Process Feedback – “Great work, you built a great team”

Negative Process Feedback -“This work is unacceptable, your team was dysfunctional”

 

     The Centre of Creative Leadership published a white paper in 2017 (Busting Myths about Feedback) and found that the proper ratio of positive to negative should be at a minimum of 3:1 positive to negative and ideally 5:1. They also found that when these ratios were maintained, employees wanted more negative process feedback over negative outcome feedback. 

 

     If we look back at our brain discussions from earlier, the negative process feedback provides specific context and content to improve.  This forces the brain to focus on the specific skill or process to improve vs negative outcome feedback that does not provide context. This process also happens when positive feedback is given. Positive outcome feedback provides context and content to the feedback that is more valued than positive outcome feedback.

 

    Over all, we as leaders must understand that all feedback will create emotion in the person receiving it. We must be intentional in how and at what frequency we deliver that feedback so we can accomplish the ultimate goal of bettering performance and engagement from those we lead.

 

So, is all feedback relevant…YES…and how we give it and receive it matters.

Checklists – A Powerful Tool for Change and Execution

       “Boost – Check – Change – Check – Rich – Hot – Both – Try Start – No Start – Mayday – Mayday – Mayday – Land The Plane”. 

 

      For those of you that have taken flying lessons, you will fondly recognize this or some form of it. It is what we, in the Canadian Military, called a Red-Page Emergency…Engine Failure After Take-off.  This was taken directly from our airplane checklist.

 

     I first learned this emergency checklist when I was going through basic flight school in 1986 and I still remember it to this day. This emergency checklist (and the ability to execute it) along with landings were the two most common reasons students would fail flight training (over 50% failure rate in my class). As a pilot, we live and sometimes die by our ability to properly use and execute a checklist.

 

      Since the 1930s, the aviation industry has adopted an almost zealous approach to checklists because it acknowledged the complexity of aircraft and the ability to fly them safely. This discipline has made a very complex industry one of the safest in the world because, according to US Census data, the risk of dying as a plane passenger is 1 in 205,152 versus dying in a car at 1 in 102.

 

What is it about checklists that make them such a powerful tool?

 

      First, it’s how our brain works. In 2003, MIT Neuroscientists reported that the brain’s “checklist’ is in the prefrontal cortex, known for its ability to keep memories ready to use.

 

      “The neurons whose activity they recorded responded faithfully with each movement but also had an “extra” response when the monkeys finished the entire sequence of movements. The experiments described in the report point to the extra response as being the checkmark — the brain’s way of noting that the behavior has been done.”

 

      We also know that individuals who have impairments in that region of the brain will have   difficulty in doing tasks (no checklist items) or repeating tasks over and over (no ability to mark it complete).

 

     Another reason checklists are so powerful is when we are trying to change or simply performing complex tasks.  They basically provide a cognitive safety net. As humans, we are flawed and we make mistakes! Sometimes these mistakes have very real consequences. 

 

     In his book “The Checklist Manifesto”, Dr. Atul Gawande had noted that over half of surgery deaths at the time were due to human error. After implementing checklists in surgery protocols at his hospital, complications dropped by 36% and deaths dropped 47% after the first three months! 

 

Remember, when we want to change or “do” anything, the order in our brains is as follows – 

  1. A memory or thought is recalled 
  2. An emotion (meaning) is attached to that memory or thought 
  3. We move to action. 

 

     However, we still need to have an emotional anchor to drive any behavior we have. I practiced those red page emergencies during my flight training because it would mean I could survive the emergency AND I could pass my course to become an airforce pilot.  I practiced and ran through my checklists because becoming a pilot was important to me. What checklists are you reviewing each and every day because it’s important to you? 

 

     Finally, the following is another powerful story from Dr. Gawande’s book:  When the band Van Halen toured, they had a checklist for the venues they were playing that needed to be followed to the letter. David Lee Roth would include one weird “step” within this checklist where he’d ask for a bowl of M&M’s in his dressing room; however, he wanted all the brown M&M’s removed. He explains his reasoning below:

 

      “So just as a little test, buried somewhere in the middle of the “checklist”, would be article 126, the no-brown-M&M’s clause. ‘When I would walk backstage if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl,’ he wrote, ‘well, we’d line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error…guaranteed you’d run into a problem.’ These weren’t trifles, the radio story pointed out. The mistakes could be life-threatening. In Colorado, the band found the local promoters had failed to read the weight requirements and the staging would have fallen through the arena floor.”

 

Simply put – checklist drives consistent performance which leads to excellence.

 

Coaches Corner

 

     Like a good coach, you need to build checklists for yourself and for those you coach so that everyone executes consistently.  Remember, a good checklist has the following components: 

 

  • Clear pause point – natural breakpoints
  • Speedy – takes less than 60 seconds – has 5-7 critical items
  • It a supplement to existing knowledge – the key critical highlights for execution
  • Field tested and improves, through change, over time

 

     Keep the ego in check and rigorously use checklists as a part of your coaching arsenal for yourself and your teams.

Why Repetition Improves Performance

 

      As a college athlete, I played football (for my European friends, the American version of football) at the position of cornerback. My job was to defend against some of the fastest players on the opposing team – the wide receivers. 

 

     Back in the day, a cornerback was one of the positions called a “Hero or Zero” position. If you execute by preventing the late game, long pass for a touchdown to win the game…Hero… OR… if you don’t execute, they make the touchdown and they win the game…Zero.

 

    I still clearly remember my very first game as a starter because I had the opportunity to experience both the Hero and the Zero outcomes:

 

  • Hero – Early in the game, I covered my opponent perfectly and was able to not only intercept the pass but run it back for a pick-6 touchdown. 
  • Zero – Then in the second half, that fast wide receiver was able to run a half step ahead of me, where I made a critical mistake, and he scored his 60-yard touchdown.  

 

We still won the game though…

 

So what was the critical mistake during my Zero moment? 

 

     In football, when you defend against a wide receiver, if you look back to see the ball you must turn towards him, not the main field so that you can see both him AND the ball.  Rookies tend to make this mistake quite often and so did I.  I turned away and could not see him when he changed angles to catch the ball, hence the touchdown!

 

     So after that game, we decided as a team to practice “long bomb drills” (turning our heads towards the player) at every practice for the rest of the season.  We ran this drill so many times throughout our season, it became muscle memory for me to execute this fundamental. I broke the habit that did not work because we chose to practice it over and over and over.

 

      Fortunately that year, we made it to the championship game.  There were two minutes left in the game and we were leading by 10. Guess what play was called by our opponents? My wide receiver takes off at a full sprint toward his end zone! 

 

      I follow… I fall behind… I turn … towards him?  I was able to punch the ball out of his hands for an incompletion because I could see him and the ball. We won the game…Hero.

 

      Neuroscience now understands why repetition improves performance. You are familiar with the saying “practice makes perfect”. With neuroscience, we now know that “practice makes permanent”. Neuroscience also knows why, when we are under stress, we perform to our highest level of knowledge or habit.  Unfortunately, it’s not always the knowledge or habit we want to use. 

 

      The key to understanding this paradox is to know how our neurons are developed when we learn a new skill. The best analogy for neurons is a power cord and inside the cord, you have a copper wire that transmits the electricity (in the brain this wire is called the axon.) Outside the power cord, you have a rubber wrap that insulates the wire so that outside forces cannot affect the transmission of electricity (in the brain this is called the myelin.)  The better insulated the axon, the faster and more reliably the signal can travel from one neuron to the next.

 

     We now understand that practice and repetition (muscle memory)  increases the myelin so that the signal can move more rapidly and consistently. The other benefit of strong myelin is when you become stressed, the synapses are “protected” from the stressor hormones, which means the brain will execute the most “protected” habit. 

 

     As a rookie, I had formed a stronger habit of turning away from the receiver than towards him, so when I was under stress I would go to the stronger habit. I needed to strengthen the myelin on the “turn towards him” habit so that when the stress was on I could execute, especially for the big game.

 

So the key takeaway…practice to make permanent.

 

Coaches Corner

 

     As a coach, you need to coach yourselves (or find someone) to develop new and improved skills to assist your players in improving their playing skills. You need to create context, skills, and execution for both yourself and your players.

 

     Take the time to learn about brain science, and how it controls all human behavior and change (context). Then translate that science into applicable knowledge and training (skills) that will result in new or better actions as a coach (execution). How you communicate and run your “practices” will be the new behavior you need so that your players can change. Once you have your stuff in order, then you coach your player… that part is a bit easier as it is built into the system (practice/training, monitoring, feedback, adjust).

 

So practice makes permanent … for your coaching skills.

 

 

 

 

 

Reflection that Fuels Direction

     It is March 23rd, 2020 and this morning I was reflecting on the last 10 days and the incredible range of emotions being felt since the Covid-19 virus really started taking hold here in North America. Here are a few of them so let me know if you can relate…

 

  • The calm resolve of first hearing that cases had arrived in our community and thinking “just go with the flow and keep calm”. 
  • The sadness as one of my son’s friend who owns a small business that will probably not make it due to a lack of sales combined with supplier debt and pain of having to lay off his employees.  This is all the while having a wife and a newborn at home and very little money in the bank. (more on him later…)
  • The fear setting into my psyche as I start running scenarios (all bad) in my head on the prospect of my business and how we can generate more revenue in these conditions. 

 

     However, I finally experienced a deep sense of peace this morning by appreciating the many blessings I actually have and knowing “this too shall pass”.

 

     The interesting aspect in all this is that I teach on the neuroscience of how the brain works when it is asked to change. As I attempt to observe these emotions happening to us, it’s somewhat of an “out-of-body” experience. 

 

     Here’s what we know to be true:  All decisions we make are initiated and executed emotionally first, and only after that “meaning” is decided, that any rational thought comes into the mix.

 

     In other words, how we feel about a situation will drive what we do.  Our limbic systems (feeling brain) will always be the core decision-maker, and the neocortex (thinking brain) will then justify or shame us in the observed behavior.  What’s interesting is that it has no capacity to stop it…until the feeling brain assigns new meaning to the situation. Dr. Antonio Damasio, a world leader in limbic system research explains it this way: “Yes, rational thought and logical reasoning do exist… but they cannot be recruited appropriately and usefully in the real world without emotion.”

 

     The meaning we assign to a situation will drive the emotion and subsequently, the behavior. So, how do we change behavior? You need to change the emotion by changing the meaning (thought) behind the emotion which will then lead to a new behavior. Simple…but not easy!

 

     Now the rest of the story on my son’s friend…after he told us the story of his friend, my wife asked a simple question – How can you help? This question changed everything (as most good questions do). The short version, he decided to get his friend a grocery store gift card (for diapers) and managed to convince 2 others to match his gift…A little hope in dark times.

 

     “How can you help?” completely changed the meaning of the situation for my son from being sad and mad (previous behavior) to involving others in helping his friend (new behavior) which leads to happiness and joy.  I strongly encourage all of us in these trying times to really change the meaning of the pandemic reality from a crisis to be feared (which it is, but it shouldn’t be the only feeling!) to an opportunity to do well by others in need…even when you yourself may also be in need.