Merge's Blog

Yearly Archives: 2019

Use the Zeigarnik Effect to overcome procrastination

procrastinationAre you guilty of procrastination?  If so, you’re not alone.  As a leader, you’re constantly juggling many priorities, and there are always a few items on the to-do list that seem to slip from one list to the next.  Usually, the procrastination is either because the task is so large that the even the thought of tackling it is overwhelming.  Or it’s because the task is just something that you don’t really want to do.  Either way, the end result of procrastination is that the task gets pushed further out into the future.  And sometimes it simply just doesn’t get done.

If you think it’s time for the procrastination to end, then consider how you can use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage.  So called because it was observed by Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, the Zeigarnik Effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks.

Use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage

To better understand the connection between procrastination and the Zeigarnik Effect, some background information about Zeigarnik’s research is useful.  In a series of experiments, she asked individuals to do several simple tasks such as solving puzzles and stringing beads.  For some of the tasks, the participants were allowed to complete them, and for others, they were interrupted about half-way through.  Interestingly, she discovered that people were twice as likely to recall the tasks during which they’d been interrupted than those they completed.

So …. if you want to overcome procrastination, the best thing to do is to get started.  If you just initiate the task and get it underway, the Zeigarnik Effect will kick in.  Because the project will now be incomplete, you won’t be able to forget about it.  And you will seek to relieve the tension by bringing closure.  Ergo, getting the job done!  Item checked off the to-do list!

So … I’m curious to know.  Have you used the Zeigarnik Effect to your benefit?  Perhaps you’ve been using it all along, but you just didn’t know that it had a name!  Do share your experiences by commenting below.

P.S.  If you want even more insights into to how to overcome procrastination, then you may find this helpful: A 9-point plan for overcoming procrastination, which I wrote as one of my regular columns for ProfitGuide, the online portal for Profit Magazine.

Six steps you can take today to work towards a leadership role tomorrow

If you aspire to be a manager or supervisor, your success in a future leadership role will depend significantly on making a critical mental shift from task management to people leadership. Let’s be clear – the two are not the same. In fact, the skills that lead to accomplishment as a “doer” of tasks are the very ones that will cause you to fail as “leader” of people. Because in a leadership role, your success no longer rests on just you; your success now depends on how well you can get things done through others.

So what do you need to do to position yourself for a future leadership role?

While still delivering results as an individual contributor, there are things you can do today to position yourself as a future leader, in the eyes of those who can help get you there.  And in my latest column for The Globe and Mail, I lay out six specific steps you can take.

Six steps to take today, toward a leadership role tomorrow

leadership role

If you get the print version of The Globe, you would have seen it on page B10 in Monday’s edition.

So these are top six ideas I share with my young (to leadership) clients.  But I’d love to hear your input.  If you’re a veteran leader, what advice would you offer?  And if you’re relatively new to leadership, what have been your experiences?  Please share by either commenting below, or if you wish, you can comment directly on The Globe’s site.

Boost employee development by asking further questions in response to an employee’s query

In last week’s video instalment in our ongoing series on specific ideas for employee development and growth, I told you that getting your staff to train others is a very powerful way to improve their skill level.  Here is another.  Answer questions with another question.

Answer questions with another question

As leaders, employees often come to us with questions, and our natural instinct is to answer.  After all, we’re the leaders, right?  But in fact, we can significantly boost employee development simply by choosing to instead ASK questions of our employees instead of just answering them.  Let me explain.

When an employee comes to you with an issue or challenge, just giving them an answer may seem like the most expedient approach, particularly if you happen to know the answer.  But you will be losing out on a perfect opportunity for employee development.  Instead, if you make it a point to ask open-ended questions, you will actually help the employee think through the situation and arrive at an acceptable solution, all the while, helping them grow in skill and confidence.

So what are open-ended questions?  Continue reading

A unique employee team-building idea from one of my client organizations

Three weeks ago, I shared a fantastic idea from a client organization about a unique way to acknowledge and motivate employees – to hold “fake” retirement parties.  Well, today I’m thrilled to tell you about another great example of employee team-building and motivation from another client organization.

Monthly culture “moments”

employee team-buildingThis particular company has a very diverse workforce with people from a variety of different ethnicities and cultures.  So as a way to build understanding, to strengthen teamwork, and to have fun, their Corporate Finance team created monthly culture moments.  At their monthly team meetings, over a period of several months, they’ve showcased the different cultures and nationalities represented in their department.  Even though they’ve called it culture “moments”, it is in fact the theme for the entire meeting.

One or two employees (who are from that culture) make a short presentation sharing the background and history of their heritage countries.  They also tell the rest of the team about a core societal value and a common workplace behaviour.  Continue reading

One of the best ways to develop your staff? Let them train others!

Last week, in our series on specific actions you can take to grow and develop your staff, I said that you should thoughtfully communicate your long-term goals and plans to them.  Today’s idea: Let them teach others.

Let them teach others

This one is so brilliant that I am always astonished when people seem surprised to hear this!  For thousands of years, people have known that the best way to understand a concept is to explain it to someone else. In fact, the Roman philosopher Seneca is credited with saying “While we teach, we learn,” in the 1st century AD.  And this notion is absolutely applicable in the workplace, to great advantage.

If you want to grow and develop your staff, get them to train others.  Sure, the obvious benefit is that it will help them develop greater depth in whatever their area of expertise is, but the advantages go far beyond that.  Continue reading

When it comes to managing the rumour mill, partial information is better than no information

rumour millThe ancient philosopher Aristotle said Horror vacui, or “Nature abhors a vacuum.” His point was that if a vacuum exists in the physical world, it is only momentary, as it immediately fills with the material surrounding it, without any regard as to what the substance is.  It doesn’t matter if the neighbouring material is similar, or of the needed quality, or even if it is suitable for the purpose, it immediately moves to fill the vacuum.  The same principle is at work in organizations, specifically to do with communication and more specifically, the organization’s rumour mill.  In fact, I wrote about using the company grapevine to your advantage in one of my regular columns in The Globe and Mail, back in March 2015!

Just as nature abhors a vacuum, people in organizations also abhor vacuums … in information. When there is a lack of knowledge – about people, about processes, about upcoming plans and changes – information, accurate or not, immediately moves in to fill the vacuum.  And ironically, the larger the vacuum, the more incorrect and outlandish is what moves in to fill it.

Managing the rumour mill

Which leads me to the point of this article.  The best way to combat rumours, misinformation, and the general distortions and fabrications that seem to take hold in just about every organization is to continually and deliberately offer correct, quality information to fill the void.  Even if it is incomplete!  Continue reading

Enhance leadership development by thoughtfully communicating long-term plans

In my last instalment in this video series on employee leadership development, I explained how showing your people that you’re vulnerable will create an atmosphere in which continuous learning is encouraged and supported.  Today’s strategy is to regularly share information with your employees on your organization’s long-term goals and plans.

Let your employees know about long-term goals and plans

There is an old saying – “If you don’t know where you’re going, don’t be surprised if you don’t get there.”  And it certainly applies here.  If your employees don’t know what your goals and intentions are for the long-term, then they will not be in any position to help you get there.  In fact, they may inadvertently work at cross-purposes to your plans, simply because they don’t know any better.

But … if you share this information with them frequently and regularly, then the opposite will happen.  Continue reading

Three open-enrollment training events in Alberta coming up at the end of the month

CPALast fall, I was excited to tell you that we were beginning our fourth year of partnership with the Chartered Professional Accountants of Alberta (CPA Alberta) to deliver a series of open-enrollment training events – full-day leadership and workplace communication training programs in Edmonton and Calgary. Well, the last three events in this series are coming up at the end of the month!  If you live in or near Calgary and Edmonton, don’t miss this opportunity to invest in yourself and your leaders’ competency and skill development at a very reasonable cost (which includes breakfast and lunch!), and a fraction of what it can cost through some commercial vendors.  And … if you register early enough (two weeks out), you can take advantage of early bird discounts!

Calgary:

Edmonton:

Open-enrollment means “open to the public”

Because these are open-enrollment training courses, you DO NOT have to be a member of CPA Alberta to register.   Which is a great advantage if you happen to work in a smaller organization that doesn’t normally have the budget to bring in onsite leadership training programs.   Do not miss out on this cost-effective opportunity to get the leadership skill development you need! Click on any program link above for further information or to register directly at the CPA Alberta site. You will need to create a secure account on their system in order to register, a very quick and easy process.

And please, let me know if you’re planning on joining me for any of these upcoming events. That way I know to look forward to seeing you there!

Take charge of your professional development

Your professional development is something that you need to own and champion for yourself.  Sure, good leaders should offer their employees support and direction, setting clear goals and targets, giving regular feedback, and offering concrete tools and suggestions for future growth and development.  But unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  Usually citing lack of time and other resources, the one piece that tends to slip most often is advice and emphasis on continued learning and professional development.

It’s up to you to take the wheel of your professional development

So it’s worth remembering that while your immediate manager and organization can certainly support you by providing feedback, advice, tools and resources, you are the only one behind the wheel of your future.  It’s up to you to jump in the driver’s seat and start steering for yourself.  It was with this in mind that I wrote my latest column in The Globe and Mail which published yesterday morning.

Nine easy ways to take charge of your professional development

professional development

If you get the print version of The Globe, you would have seen it on page B10.

Note: if you are a subscriber to The Globe and Mail, you can also read the column directly at their website at this link: https://tgam.ca/2VhfJMb

So I’ve put forward my top nine ideas in this column.  But I’d love to know what specific actions you are taking to take control of your own continuing professional development.  Please share by commenting below.

Acknowledge employees by holding “fake” retirement parties

In 2018, I did an entire series of  video blogs (33 in fact!) that focused on specific ideas to motivate employees.  But the fortunate reality is that the possibilities are endless.  Which is why I was so excited to learn about yet another tip just last week.  I was working with a group of leaders in a client organization, and one of them told me about this absolutely fantastic idea to acknowledge employees: “Hold “fake” retirement parties,” he said.  I was so intrigued, I had to ask him to explain further.

Hold “fake” retirement parties

Once a month or so, perhaps at your regular department meeting, set aside 15 or more minutes for a “fake” retirement party.  To understand what a fake retirement party is, you have to first ask yourself what usually happens at a retirement party.  Well, there are speeches about the departing person honouring and highlighting his or her strengths, accomplishments, and legacy to the organization.  Well, the fake retirement party is exactly the same thing, but it’s “fake” because the person isn’t actually leaving.  Instead, it’s an opportunity to acknowledge employees – their worth, their value, and their lasting legacy to your department or your company. Continue reading