Why watching this movie can help solve your staffing problems…

Like many millions of others, this weekend was planned around a cinema trip to see Avengers: Endgame – the latest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But as well as the usual dose of superhero satisfaction, I came away thinking how Kevin Feige could teach us more than a thing or two about how to build and retain successful teams.

Feige is the President of Marvel Studios, who in the last 10 years has released 22 hit films grossing over $16billion – the highest grossing film series of all time[1].  This, from a franchise that spent previous decades hovering on the brink between limited success and failure.  Who recalls the 1986 Marvel ‘classic’ Howard the Duck which lost $21m after being panned by the people that mattered, the fans, despite being produced by a living film legend – George Lucas! Or 2003’s Daredevil which was considered so disappointing, its leading star Ben Affleck said: “[Batman’s] the movie I want to do. I want to be a part of that…I hate Daredevil so much”[2]

So from a struggling company, to a stellar performer: what on earth (or if we are seriously embracing the MCU), what on the ‘multi-verse’ has Feige done to drive this sort of turnaround, that we too can learn from?

Plan ahead…

Back in 2007, when my daughter was still trying to choose between Tinky-Winky and La-La and hadn’t even heard of superhero’s, Kevin Feige had a plan for how exactly she (and millions of other teens) were going to spend this weekend. Before the first Iron Man film had made a penny, Feige had planned out not just the next two or three movies, but a decade of interwoven narrative across all 22 films and hit TV series. His plan embraced the existing cohort of superhero movie watchers from 2007, and the future generations of film goers who could be tempted into to MCU.

And isn’t this the job of every great manager? You are employed to see the bigger picture, to know where you’re going, to plan the staffing and skills you’ll need not just now, but for the organisation you want to become.  I’ve seen plenty of organisations with a three-year or five-year plan, but how many organisations do you know with a ten-year plan?  Not many.  And of these forward looking few, how many have a clearly defined staffing plan built into this vision of the future?  Well, I’m struggling to think of one (though excited to talk to you if this is how you are planning!).  Yet, we all accept that our staff are usually our most expensive asset, and the defining difference between success and failure.  And still we tend to have better long-term plans for the office furniture than we do for staff development.

So isn’t it time to learn from Feige, to start planning 10 years out for what we think our people will be doing.  And of course the plan will flex and change along the way, but that doesn’t change the need for a long-term vision. If you are just focussed on your staffing needs today, you’ll never be ready to deliver a future vision.

Be a superfan…

Yes we all know it is possible to just turn up and do the job: no heart, soul or passion required…but why would you want to? If you aren’t invested in what you do emotionally then why would your staff be! Kevin Feige has made no secret that he is a HUGE fanboy. He has been preparing to be President of Marvel Studios from the moment he first sneaked his torch into bed to read comics after lights out. This is a man who still collects the ticket stubs from every film he goes to. He LOVES what he does and this passion is infectious. Many of the A-listers who have become part of the MCU reference Feige’s passion for the project as a key draw:

“When I found that out about him, and seeing the familiar excitement and inner light that comes from a huge fan speaking about how much they love the whole magical world…that really speaks a lot to who he is…I was like YES!” – Scarlett Johansson[3]

Those of us lucky enough to have experienced being led by someone with passion have seen how it injects energy in a team and motivates everyone to be their best.  And with staff identifying ‘belief in what we do’ as a key management skill; it isn’t just about getting the right people, it’s about getting them to stay.  It’s said that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bad bosses and the research backs this up: 61% of those defining their relationship with their boss as ‘bad’ are actively looking to leave this year[4].  So, if you want to attract and keep the top talent in your industry, then try communicating your passion for what you do. If some of your staff don’t share it, fine, these are the ones who are likely to move on anyway.

Don’t plan around the hero’s you don’t have…

By the time Feige started to design the MCU many of the rights to its key characters had been sold off years before when Marvel was in financial trouble. So he faced the prospect of trying to build the most successful movie franchise ever, with a load of second tier characters. But rather than focus on what he didn’t have, Feige put his energy into those he did:

“Yeah, the “B-list characters”… I never really thought that because I knew that Iron Man was really cool and Hulk was arguably, next to Spider-Man, the biggest character we had. The goal was…to make the best Iron Man film we could, and make the best version of Hulk.” Feige [5]

Feige is sharing with us one of the most important lessons here: whatever the quality of the team you have, these are the people you’ve got. Moaning about needing great staff in order to make your targets isn’t going to help. Instead focus on how to make your team great. So, your task as a manager is to work out where to put your energy. Which team members may not be at the top right now but have the potential, or the right attitude, and with training and effort could be your superstars? Investing your time in them now can give you an extraordinary return down the line. And if there are people in the team who are never going to deliver then don’t ignore it.  Do something about it, because whilst performance management is no one’s idea of fun, moving on might be their opportunity to find a role they love and your chance to recruit a new star.

Focus on the individual 

All MCU fans have a favourite ‘origin story’, the films where we are introduced to a character and watch them develop their superpowers.  For Feige it’s Black Panther, but the point is he puts time, love and attention into every origin story.  This is no mean feat when you remember he has been holding that ten-year plan in his head throughout.  He knows where the whole over-arching story is going, yet he has time to focus on each individual character’s storyline, and how they develop over time.  And this is the point; each character is allowed to individually develop within the Marvel universe.  They make mistakes.  They learn. They become better superheros. As Feige says: “I was never cynical about sequels…I was always excited to see how characters I loved would grow and change”[6]

Feige knows it’s important because fans care about this sort of detail.  The little things matter.  And that’s just as true for our staff.  Yes, they want to be part of a great team and contribute to a massive organisational vision.  But they also want to know you can pick them out in a line-up.  So make sure you know the detail; remember to praise individually, comment if they’ve tried to do something new – even if it’s not been successful or everyone else finds it easy – recognise the effort of the individual.  And invest in each person, don’t try and squeeze them into some HR driven organisational development plan that sets out what and when they can learn.  Work out what works for them…and remember it.

A team is stronger together…

Embedded within the MCU are the much-loved ensemble films: the Avenger series where characters across the MCU come together to fight a common enemy.  Those new to the franchise might struggle to keep up when viewing one of these ensemble movies.  They are fast paced with a cast of (what seems like) thousands all of whom seem to be leads and have story arcs that impact on the final resolution.  But what might seem confusing from the outside is actually a team effectively integrating under pressure to deliver a positive outcome.

One of my bosses (a huge Marvel fan) would often call an: “Avengers Assemble”. This was our organisational shorthand for the need for the team to come together to jointly tackle an urgent situation. Sometimes this was a real organisational crisis, sometimes it was when one team member needed the support of others. But it was a recognition of the strength of bringing the team together; uniting the individual skills and talents that each member of your team has into a superhero problem solving squad.  So whether you see yourself as a Kevin Feige or a Nick Fury[7], what are you doing to get your staff to pull together towards a common goal?

And accept the Endgame…

So Feige’s plan always includes an ending, and Avengers: Endgame is it (though for hardcore MCU fans I’m aware this is actually the end of phase three). The end of a 10-year journey, and saying goodbye to some much-loved characters (can’t say who as Thanos has demanded my silence!). Like all great managers, Feige knows that the strongest teams have change and growth built into them. When you are surrounded by fantastic high performing staff you should be planning what happens next – ensure successions plans are in place for everyone.  So if a key staff member is ready to leave you can afford to be gracious. Accept this phase has come to an end and help them move on successfully – if you do they will become advocates for you and your organisation, making the next round of recruitment tons easier.

But it’s never really over…

Feige has already started to reveal highlights from his next five-year plan. It includes new superheros, plenty more special effects and probably many more box-office breaking films. This type of long-term success doesn’t happen by chance. It comes from long-term thinking and planning, staff investment and development, doing the day-job but never forgetting that your team are looking to you to help them see (and be inspired) by the future.

So if you are looking for some help with your staffing issues, why not channel a bit of Marvel this week?  There are 22 good films I could recommend…

 

Vanessa Longley has worked in Fundraising and Communications for over 20 years and is currently researching creative leadership in the charity sector. Her favourite Marvel movie is Doctor Strange.

 


[1] Williams, Trey (6 May 2018). “How Marvel Became a $16 Billion Franchise: Fandom, Cribbing From Comics and Kevin Feige. TheWrap.

[2] Mccluskey, Megan (14 December, 2016). “Ben Affleck on hating Daredevil”. Time Magazine

[3] Joanna Robinson (6th December, 2017). “An extended conversation with Kevin Feige” Vanity Fair.

[4] Barna Group (18th February, 2015).  “The different impact of good and bad leadership”.

[5] Joanna Robinson (6th December, 2017). “An extended conversation with Kevin Feige” Vanity Fair.

[6] Rianne Houghton (12th June, 2018). “Marvel Studio boss reveals best MCU films”. DigitalSpy

[7] For non MCU nerds, Fury is the head of a secretive government sanctioned organisation SHIELD forming strategic alliances with superheros to protect the planet and our current existence.  I could go on…but it’s probably best I don’t!

Is it time to pay attention to your leaky bucket?

leaky bucket

When did the standard response of ‘fine thanks’ get replaced by ‘busy’ or ‘really busy’ or soooo busy’? If you don’t say that you’re busy do people think you’re lazy? Or boring? Or both?!

Everyone is busy. It’s like a rite of passage. But why? Hasn’t life got easier, more automated? What are we all so busy doing?

Are we busy photographing our lunch for social media? Or multi-tasking across multiple apps and web platforms to stay up to date with the latest news and trends? Or are we just expected to live at a faster pace – to achieve more?

Where are you on your ‘to-do’ list? Is it growing rather than shrinking? You are not alone. In the Lucidity Innovation Leadership Launchpad report, the top reasons that people didn’t do ‘innovation’, or any kind of strategic thinking was because they were too busy, too stressed and they just don’t have enough time.

Is stress catching?

If everyone you surround yourself with is in a state of stress it becomes a problem. It begins to self-perpetuate, we start to feel that we have to be busier or achieving more than our stressed-out friend’s family and colleagues.

Tim Ferris author of The 4-hour work week claims that, ‘you are the average of the 5 people you most associate with’. Think about who those 5 people are. If what Tim says is true, what does this mean for you stress levels?

The problem is, if we spend our time being too busy to look after ourselves our stress levels increase to such a level that we reach burn out. A physician called Hans Selye defined a three-stage reaction to stress called General Adaption Syndrome or GAS. In stage three he said:

The body’s resistance to the stress may gradually be reduced, or may collapse quickly. Generally, this means the immune system, and the body’s ability to resist disease, may be almost totally eliminated. Patients who experience long-term stress may succumb to heart attacks or severe infection due to their reduced immunity.’

This is serious stuff. To live healthy lives, we must learn to reduce our levels of stress. When we are striving to do our best, to deliver work for other people, to look after our family and to climb a career ladder we often forget that in order to do all these things we must be OK.

I heard a quote recently ‘You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm’

To get the results we want, it’s important to take a step back and recharge, otherwise we’re just like a leaky bucket, constantly on the go, our energy draining out through the holes. We need to do two things.

  1. Plug the holes – get the root cause of the stress
  2. Refill the bucket – replenish our energy

Tips to help you keep your bucket full

  • Reframe your thinking – stop telling people you’re busy as your default. When you tell people you’re busy, it often makes you feel more stressed.
  • Take time every day to prioritise. It might just be 10 minutes, for example, at the end of the day to plan your priorities for the following day.
  • Take time every day to list and then reflect on what you’ve achieved that day. Write them down.
  • Get a mentor or a coach; a trusted person to help you focus on what’s important and make progress and help you to manage the feelings of being really busy.
  • Start to notice what triggers your stress, is it a person, a situation? What physically happens to you when you are experiencing stress? Feeling hot or cold, like you can’t think straight, agitated? Start to notice your stress triggers and your response.
  • Next time you feel your stress triggered, try and manage it, for example, go for a walk or phone a friend.
  • Say ‘no’ more often. If you are really busy and taking on something else is too much, then say so. You could offer a different solution, e.g. is there someone else that could help, or negotiate deadlines, could it be done next month when you have more time rather than immediately?
  • Make time to do the things that you love, whether that’s spending time with friends and family, the movies, theatre, reading a book or going for a run. All these things are your fuel – they refill your bucket. Don’t wait until your bucket is empty before you do them. Do them regularly and keep your bucket full.

Let me know how you get on.

If you’d like some help with making time to think, upping your productivity and reclaiming your ‘me-time’ you might benefit from joining the Lucidity Network. It’s a pick and mix of online and offline learning and connection to a dynamic network of people that can help you. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results and be the first to hear when the Lucidity Network is open for members.

Five ways to thrive in 2019

5 ways to thrive in 2019

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, January and February can feel like a bit of a slog.  It’s cold. We leave the house in the dark and come home in the dark. That flu virus that sprang up in October is still doing the rounds. We’re still secretly recovering from the overindulgence of Christmas and thriving can feel like the last thing we’re doing.

That’s why last month it was such a breath of fresh air to interview Colette Heneghan of Optimum Living about how to thrive. Colette specialises in helping people working in high-pressured corporate environments as she puts it ‘to be the architect of your own day and not the victim of it.’

If you’ve never felt stressed out by your working day or never felt like you’re stapled to the mattress when the alarm clock goes off in the morning then stop reading. This blog will be a waste of your time.

If, however, you’ve ever felt just tired all the time and overwhelmed by juggling lots of different tasks and priorities. Or if you’ve ever had a day when it gets to 4 pm and you realise you’ve not eaten, or been to the toilet and your feet are like ice blocks because you’ve not moved for six hours then read on.

Colette helps people because she’s been the ambitious burnt-out person and so has a stack of practical tips and tools to turn you from a victim to an architect.

Colette’s advice is to first know the signs that you are not thriving. We’re all different but the most common ‘red flags’ are cancelling social plans because you’re too tired because of work. A one-off is nothing to worry about but if it becomes ‘normal’ to choose catching up on work over friends and family then it’s time to take a step back.

The second common ‘red flag’ is how you feel when your alarm clock goes off in the morning. If more often than not you feel dreadful, like you have to drag yourself out of bed, or for example you have to roll onto the floor so you are so uncomfortable you have to get up (which of course I’ve never done) then that’s bad too.

And if you often feel overwhelmed that you can’t get everything done and end up jumping from one thing to the next, working through lunch and not getting through your list that’s a ‘red flag’ too.

Colette’s first piece of advice is to take a step back give yourself a break. Then start with a blank screen or a blank notebook and write down everything you’re working on and everything that is stressing you out. Get it all in one place so you can see what you’re dealing with. Then she advises not to make big radical changes all in one go, but to make small changes and ‘Never underestimate the power of quiet consistency’.

Colette suggests five things to prioritise in order to thrive:

Seek out daylight early on

Daylight sets our energy dial-up high and helps us sleep later on by regulating our sleep/wake cycle. Also known as your circadian rhythm, the sleep/wake cycle is a 24-hour internal clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. Start to notice what times of day you feel more awake. For example, most people have a slump in the afternoon. Work with your natural cycle and do the hard work, the things that you have to really focus on either earlier or later in the day when you are in the alert part of your cycle.

Eat the rainbow every day

We mean fresh fruit and vegetables and the more brightly coloured the better. Different coloured foods play different roles in the body. Eating a variety of colourful food provides vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to nourish your body that can’t be replicated in a supplement. Aim for at least three colours at every meal and two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables over the course of the day. (Skittles or the cherry on your Tequila Sunrise don’t count here).

Move more

Our bodies were designed for motion not for sitting behind a desk for hours on end. You don’t have to fork out for a gym membership or a new personal trainer. It’s the small things that add up every day, for example, get off the tube or bus one stop early, take the stairs instead of the lift, set an alarm during the day to get up and have a walk and a stretch every hour, or you might even start your day with a 20-minute workout fresh from YouTube.

Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep can affect your immune system, making you more likely to get sick with colds, flus and other illnesses. Set yourself up to have the best nights sleep. Get into a pattern to go to sleep at the same time each night, switch of screens, make the room dark, control the temperature – on the cool side is better than too warm and make it a comfortable place with good pillows and duvets, an environment that you look forward to being in.

Hydrate

Get into the habit of carrying water with you in a reusable bottle. Remember to sip from it regularly throughout the day. It’s a simple ritual to top up energy and daily focus, but because it’s so obvious we often overlook it.

I suspect that the tips above aren’t new news. Think about how you are working right now? What things can you, and want to work on from the list above to help you thrive?

There’s often a gap between what we know we should do and what we actually do. So plan your day to close that knowing-doing gap. For example, if you want to be better hydrated, carry a water bottle, if you want to eat the rainbow stock your fridge and cupboards with fruit and veg. You know it. Now do it and make the small changes that will make a big impact on your ability to thrive.

If you’d like more tips and tools to thrive then check out Colette’s latest book Work Fuel available in March 2019 and pre-order here.

The ‘How to thrive in 2019 webinar with Colette Heneghan is part of the exclusive content available to Lucidity Network members.

The Lucidity Network is a professional development network that combines a mix of face-to-face meet-ups, online toolkits and access to a community that supports you in getting the results you want. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open for new members. In the meantime, you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group for clearer thinking and better results.  

The difference between failure and success is confidence

Dice represent success, failure and confidence

Innovation is (in my view) a buzzword. It can mean different things to different people. For example, you or your organisation might want to be disruptive and develop brand new ideas that change current thinking and business models, or you might opt to make incremental changes or you may choose to focus on product development. They are not mutually exclusive; you might opt to do them all. There is not single right or wrong approach to innovation. And, sadly, there is no silver bullet.

In my experience whether innovation is disruptive, radical, marginal, incremental or whatever the next buzzword prefix is; the best innovation happens when people work together, build on each other’s ideas, add new elements, develop new perspectives, understand audiences and focus on how to make the idea a reality.

I think the biggest barrier to delivering innovation (of which there are many lets face it, fear of failure, fear of success, internal politics, external politics, no budget, too busy, too many deadlines, wanting immediate results, the list goes on) is lack of confidence.

Lack of confidence, which is incubated by all the blockers and barriers that we battle with on a day-to-day basis when we try to create any sort of change.

I think it all starts in school.

Think back to showing your parents or your teacher your math homework. There were 20 questions. You got 18 right. Yet rather than getting a ‘well done’ for the 18 right answers, the focus from your parents and teachers was on the two answers you got wrong.

And as we grow older we learn in school that we get rewarded for getting things right and following instruction and not for inquisitive enquiry, experimenting or ideas, being different or asking questions and certainly not for getting things wrong.

The impact is that we feel safer sticking with what we know, we prefer not to take risks, and we like to be rewarded for getting things right. We conform. We prefer not to challenge or test new ideas that may fail, or be marked wrong.

The only people with objectives around thinking differently or (dare I say it) failure are the innovation managers. Organisations talk about innovation, but their structures and processes do not encourage any different or creative thinking. Innovation is often blocked (see blockers above) or fails to gain traction because insufficient time and resource are invested into helping it succeed.

Layer on top that most of us (I have one too) have an inner voice that nags away at us, telling us we’ll get found out, or we’ll fail or that we’re not good enough.

The little voice nags away, and especially when we are doing something new or different (innovating) becomes louder, more insistent, more toxic until you just want to stick firmly with what you know because then you are safe and nothing bad will happen.

That’s why at Lucidity when we help individuals and organisation to innovate we work with people to help them build both their confidence and their capacity for innovation. Because we’ve learned from our own hard-fought failures that without confidence even the best ideas die on the vine.

When it comes to getting the best results, confidence is a big deal. That’s one of the reasons that I set up the Lucidity Network – a combination of resources, inspiration and connections to people that can help you. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open for new members. In the meantime you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for clearer thinking and better results.