Tag Archives: #leadership

Some unique interview questions to find the best people (and keep them)

Every organisation is unique, so you want to find team members that are the right fit. Each business has its own company culture, team dynamics, and ways of doing things, so you want to find staff that will onboard fast, get on well, and play their part in steering the business towards success.

It goes without saying that the interview stage is a key moment to identify whether or not someone is going to be a good fit. Sure, we all know the old interview cliches: What are your weaknesses? Where do you see yourself in five years? And perhaps the biggest eye-roll of them all, why do you want to work here?

So how can you ask creative questions that give you a real insight into how someone will operate within your team? Here, we make a few suggestions.

Ideas for unusual interview questions

Before we share some ideas, it’s important to highlight how you should go about sprinkling in a few left-field questions. First, you shouldn’t blindside people if they’re expecting a more traditional format. Clearly introduce the “fun”, “creative” or “ice breaker” questions, so the candidate can mentally prepare.

Equally, these questions should always have a purpose. What are you testing for? Is it their people skills, their creativity, or other interests, or if you’re just trying to help them to relax? That way, you can make an objective evaluation instead of losing sight of why you’re taking this non-traditional approach in the first place.

Here are a few ideas, starting with the more conservative and moving into some more creative or surprising questions:

  • What inspired you to work in this industry?
  • Tell me about a time when a role or company felt like a bad fit for your personality.
  • How would you pitch this company to a friend?
  • If you were interviewing me for my job, what would you want to know about me?
  • How could AI change the industry? Do you think your job will exist in 10 years?
  • Would you rather commute to work on an elephant or a giraffe? What are the advantages and disadvantages of your preferred method of transportation?

The final question may seem absurd, but questions of this style are designed to check reasoning skills in situations outside of the norm – and of course, a sense of humour!

Getting the best talent and holding on to it

Identifying the best person for the job is one thing, but making sure they stay in the organisation is quite another. A creative interview format will help you identify quick-thinking, good-humoured and resourceful candidates, but how can you make sure they always do their best work? This is, in many ways, an impossible task; we all have our ups and downs, and can’t always perform at our peak.

This is why much like the interview itself, good management is all about empathy. During the interview, you’re trying to relate to the candidate and bring out the best in them, and you should maintain this throughout their tenure. This is something we reflected on in a previous article, so for more about empathy as an essential management skill, click here.

The perks and pitfalls of a hybrid working model

The COVID lockdowns completely changed our relationship with how we work. Remote working ushered in a new era for many organisations, many of which were surprised by its efficacy. Now, some are toying with moving to a hybrid model permanently. But what are the implications of this move?

If you’re not familiar with the term, hybrid working is when staff work partly from home and partly on-site. This arrangement gives employees greater flexibility; according to a recent Salesforce survey, at least 64% of workers would like to work from home occasionally. A further 37% said they would like to work remotely permanently.

So, if employees are so open to the idea, why aren’t we all packing up and moving to hybrid now? In reality, the issue is a little more complex, which we’ll discuss here.

Productivity vs. efficiency vs. attention

The hybrid model has the potential to redefine how we measure performance. Traditionally, employers wanted to keep an eye on their staff to guarantee the hours worked. Achievement was measured by hours put in, over and above everything. However, if a staff member is working from home, how can you ever really know?

This, instead, shifts the emphasis to results over hours spent at the desk. Many argue that this is a very positive development; staff are more motivated to do their best work as they know managers are concerned with the output, not how it’s achieved.

However, the hybrid model does have the potential to create an over politicised workforce. In a hybrid model, the office is likely to remain the nerve centre of the operation. Those that spend more time there are likely to get more attention and air time, while those at home get sidelined, no matter the quality of their work.

Reducing rents – but at what cost?

It’s a simple sum – fewer employees means you need less space. This could save companies a substantial amount in rent and supplies. It also works the other way; employees can work in more affordable locales away from city centres and spend less on commuting.

But what about the psychological cost of being away from your colleagues? Without the opportunity for so-called “water cooler moments” and face-to-face discussions, communication has become much more intentional. Sometimes, this can stymie ideas, slow down decision making, and even have a negative impact on employee mental health.

Where should your priorities lie?

The reason many people like working from home is it enables them to have a better work-life balance. Without the commute or fixed hours, workers have more time to spend with their families or do the things they love. This prioritisation of their needs will generally cultivate more positive feelings towards their bosses.

Employee prioritisation may sound nice, but is this really what a business should be focussing on right now? Cyber-attacks and data loss, for example, are more likely when communicating from changing locations. Companies need to have a carefully formulated cybersecurity plan to ensure safety or risk major financial or customer data-related blunders.

These are critical questions for modern business. It seems like the hybrid model is going to become an increasingly common arrangement, but companies need to consider how to make it work for them. With a clearer picture of some of the pros and cons, management can think about how to start planning.



How can we preserve “water cooler moments” when face-to-face isn’t possible?

Most restrictions have now been lifted in the UK but many companies are still choosing to hold onto flexible or working from home options.  There are a variety of reasons why. Some businesses have found that it’s more efficient for them to run without the need for property to pay rent or rising energy bills. Across the country there is still an air of uncertainty with regards to virus transmission and many employees have now become so used to working from home that the thought of going back into the office can cause health problems.

That being said, some of the world’s biggest businesses, including banks stated that they want their employees back in the office back in February. Goldman Sachs, for example announced that they want to put an end to all remote work, while JPMorgan has also expressed their desire to get people back at their desks.

Jamie Dimon, the chief executive officer of JPMorgan, said that working from home “does not work for younger people, it doesn’t work for those who want to hustle, [and] it doesn’t work in terms of spontaneous idea generation.” These spontaneous ideas – sparked by conversations by the watercooler or in the breakroom – are the lifeblood of a dynamic company.

But over the past two years, hybrid or remote working has become a more common business model so what can we do to preserve these “watercooler moments” when face-to-face isn’t possible?

Is productivity really all that counts?

Although these chance encounters were certainly lost during the pandemic, remote working hasn’t caused a fall in productivity. Despite the anxieties of many bosses in the first round of lockdowns, many saw a rise in productivity. This is now well-reported; according to statistics published by Stanford University of 16,000 workers over 9 months found that working from home actually increased productivity by 13%.

But work isn’t just about productivity. Ultimately, we’re social animals and it can affect our performance and overall happiness in the long term. A study of UK workers by Indeed reported that 73% of employees miss socialising in person and 46% of respondents specifically said they missed the work-related side conversations that happen in the office. These unofficial encounters are fertile ground for ideas and knowledge sharing, so we need to think about how they can be maintained.

Going beyond the Zoom happy hour

Much like lockdown productivity stats, advice pieces about how to maintain a social workplace online are now all too common. However, many of us are now a little jaded by the suggestion of a Zoom happy hour – which often just ends in an awkward live stream of people sipping from beer bottles.

Thankfully, more well-thought-through ideas are starting to emerge. One school of thought is that these unstructured moments are, in fact, about structure. Chance encounters happen in the office when you’re getting set up, making an afternoon snack, or debriefing after a meeting. Therefore, being aware of everyone’s schedules is important to make time for each other.

The next step is actually nurturing relationships. Group calls can be clunky; there’s lag, people talking over each other, “you’re on mute” and so forth. Scheduling time to do one-on-one calls creates more meaningful, easier interactions. You can schedule these while doing the more menial tasks that are an inevitable part of the working day, like doing the washing up. If you struggle with conversation topics, activities like online gaming or a virtual book club are good ice breakers.

Despite the protests of some business leaders, it seems that remote working will be here to stay, at least for some businesses, whether compelled by the pandemic or not. It’s important to be creative and nurture these chance encounters to preserve the dynamism of workplaces and boost morale – or else we may see those productivity stats slip.



Does happiness give you the edge professionally?

Why do so many of us equate happiness with success? This is the subject of a (frankly hilarious) TED talk by psychologist Shawn Achor, that makes the astute assessment that as long as we do this, we’ll never be satisfied. Effectively, it’s because we keep moving the goalposts. If you get an amazing job, you’ll want an even better one. If you’re promoted, you want to move up again, and so on.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is, it’s unlikely to make you happy. However, the reality is that happy people are more motivated and productive. This touches on issues we’ve discussed in previous articles; for example, the notion that an understanding boss is a better manager. Often, positivity breeds productivity and happy staff are a more effective team. 

Therefore, happiness and success have a connection, but perhaps we need to reorient our perspective in order to maximise this effect. This is what Shawn calls the “happiness advantage”.

The moving goal post phenomenon

Today’s mindset is that we should be a human doing, not a human being. Persistence, tenacity and motivation are the keys to success and as long as we’re doing things, we’ll succeed. But the problem with this philosophy is that success is a constantly evolving idea, not a set goal. Therefore, the goalposts are always moving and we’re never really satisfied. 

Shawn uses an example. He applied to Harvard on a dare, and to his surprise, got in. Once he was there, he felt overwhelmed by the sense of privilege to have been accepted to such a prestigious school. However, he noticed a phenomenon around him; his fellow students also felt privileged to begin with, thus soon wore off. Instead, they were overwhelmed by the pressure to get good grades, graduate with the highest possible honours, and get the best possible job. Before they knew it, they were very stressed and certainly not happy.

So, we assume that success is the key to happiness. But our perceptions of success are always changing, so we can never reach happiness. This, Shawn says, is a problem – because happiness precedes success. In his experience, he estimates that 75% of professional successes are dictated by your optimism, social support, and your ability to see stress as a challenge, not a threat. This is because happy people are productive people – his analysis suggests that ​​your brain at “positive” is 31% more productive. Herein lies the happiness advantage.

Boosting the positive to be more productive  

Shawn goes on to explain that there are simple things you can do to flip your perception of happiness and success, and gain the happiness advantage. He suggests spending two minutes a day for three weeks thinking about optimism and success. Every day, write down three new things you are grateful for. After a while, the effects will be long term.

This is something we can do personally; but, as mentioned, optimism is also about social support. As leaders, we can do more to support our teams and make them happier. This links back to our discussion about empathy in the workplace. If we can be more encouraging, empathetic and supportive of our teams, we can gain the happiness advantage for everyone – and reap the benefits in regard to productivity.   




Engineering is problem-solving, but being a leader is more

Engineering is, in essence, problem-solving. A good engineer will be excited by an un-fixed problem because it provides opportunity to use techniques they’ve honed during their career, which are applicable to anyone’s own life or job. This is because as with any problem-solving conundrum, they’ll have an aim and limitations. These could include supplies, tools, budget and a timeframe, and from here, they’ll have to create a solution.

The solution is often reached via reverse engineering. For example, an engineer may take things apart to determine the problem and discover the solution by putting the object or system back together again. This type of problem-solving is a process that anyone can learn. Anyone can implement the steps an engineer takes to learn how to problem solve in an efficient and effective way – generally speaking, it’s down to logic.

However, some skills can’t be taught. Usually, these are labelled as “soft skills”, but they’re just as important as this problem-solving aptitude to be a leader in engineering. Leading a team to success takes technical knowledge and strategy, but it also requires adaptation and understanding. Let’s look closer.

Problem-solving requires a creative and curious mind

Problem-solving demands creativity. Many engineers will view creativity as part of problem-solving instead of defining it as a unique trait. Ultimately, finding solutions requires thinking outside of the box and using never-before-used methods, which is an inherently creative process.

Creativity is powered by curiosity. Staying up-to-date with the latest research, asking questions, and being open-minded is essential to being an innovative leader. This mindset will enable leaders to be collaborative and forward-thinking, sharing ideas with their team as much as taking their own ideas forward.

Open lines of communication and emotional intelligence

In a cold, hard facts STEM subject like engineering empathy might not be at the top of the list of expected qualities. Yet, it is vital to be able to engage with those who will be affected by your work, whether those are the members of your team or the end-user. Engineering is about making things work for people, and without empathy, your capacity to deliver on this imperative is fairly limited.

Empathy also leads to the importance of you being able to communicate well with your team. Communication isn’t just about transmitting; it’s also about receiving. Active listening can help your team be more motivated and empowered, knowing that their day-to-day successes and long-term goals are cared about can have a hugely positive impact.

Blending hard skills with soft to power problem solving

Problem-solving isn’t only about hard skills. It’s also about having the creativity and can-do mindset to arrive at new solutions. These innovative solutions should be underpinned by empathy and fostered by productive communication amongst a team. If problem-solving is indeed the essence of engineering, it’s as much about soft skills as it is any technical know-how. Skills can be taught – but attitude is inherent. It’ll be those with the right ones that become the leaders of the future.



Why we need more women in boardrooms, now more than ever

Over the last couple of weeks, the UK government announced there will be a new push to get more women in boardrooms. This five-year plan will attempt to improve gender diversity in senior leadership, with fresh targets to make at least 40% of every FTSE 100 board female. This directive couldn’t come a moment too soon, as reports suggest that women bore much of the brunt of pandemic family responsibilities and job losses.

Picking up the slack

A recent US-focussed study from management consultants McKinsey and the World Economic Forum found that women were disproportionately affected by the changes the pandemic brought. In the report, they describe the story of Farida Mercedes, an HR executive at a global cosmetics brand. After 17 years at the company, she was on the cusp of a promotion, but when the pandemic hit, her young sons needed support with homeschooling.

She and her husband never discussed who would sacrifice their job to care for their children. Although she states it’s a burden she took on willingly, leaving her job was a hard choice – and she wasn’t alone. She was just one of the 2.3 million women who left the US workforce in 2020, accounting for 53% of US labour-force exits. The following April, a report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a concerning trend: of the 328,000 jobs gained that month, 102% of new positions belonged to men.

Returning more resilient and determined

Certainly, the effects of the pandemic have the potential to turn back the clock on decades of progress. If the statistics from the World Economic Forum are anything to go by, decisive action needs to be taken to recover gains. This is crucial to the success of businesses going forward, as if anything, women have shown remarkable resilience and determination throughout the pandemic.

This dynamism should be translated into boardrooms to help UK businesses bounce back. Northern Irish entrepreneur and renowned businesswoman, Mairead Mackle, agrees that there are important and inherent qualities that female leadership brings. At the launch of her new book “Voices of Leadership”, which profiles 16 unique female leaders across industries around the world, Mairead outlined what she thinks makes female leaders exceptional:

“I have always believed in the power of female leadership and been inspired by the fact that women lead with purpose, courage, and conviction. As a female entrepreneur, I love to champion and support female representation at every opportunity, acutely aware of how much women contribute both to the economy and within their communities.”

Looking to the future

Overcoming the challenges the pandemic brought will be a long-term project. This international crisis has created many setbacks economically and socially, and the impact on women in the workforce is a particular obstacle. It’s encouraging that the UK government is taking measures to ensure there are more women in boardrooms, as we’ll need their unique leadership qualities now more than ever.



Starting a new job in the post-pandemic landscape

Recently, it’s been all about change for DJHC. We’ve moved to our new premises and we’re starting some exciting new projects, plus there are new members of the leadership team. Emerging from the lockdown has been a big shift for many, and for others (like us), it’s been a time for a change. The lockdown prompted many people to reappraise their careers and lifestyle choices and some have taken the plunge.

But as many of us continue to work from home – which, considering the infection rates going into winter, may continue – starting a new job has completely changed. Now, there’s no anxious first day meeting your colleagues face-to-face. Instead, there’s merely a switch of email address that’ll happen from your home office or kitchen table. Under these conditions, how can people acclimatise and feel part of a team? We’d argue it’s down to managers, which we’ll delve a bit deeper into here.

It’s down to management

Remote team building has been a conundrum for business leaders since the beginning of the pandemic. As the crisis wears on, new challenges are emerging; this is especially the case as it becomes increasingly clear that we have to live with the virus. Therefore, life is continuing to a certain extent and people are changing jobs. So managing a remote team was one thing – but how do we integrate new members into a remote team?

We would argue that it’s key to maintain the lessons we’ve learnt during the lockdowns. During the pandemic, there was a much greater emphasis on pastoral care and mental health, and looking to the future, this should be maintained. Leadership should ensure there is a digital open-door policy so that new recruits feel that they can come and have a chat should they need to. Equally, managers should take a proactive approach and have regular check-ins with their team.

Could greater flexibility lead to greater productivity?

There’s also the question of on what terms you hire new recruits. Remote working has shown that perhaps the 9–5 is dead. During the pandemic, some managers feared that going fully remote would lead to a dramatic slump in productivity. In fact, many found the exact opposite. According to an ONS report, output per job (excluding furloughed workers) was 9.2% higher on average in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period the year before.

Experts suggest that this could be as a result of employees feeling more empowered to organise their own schedules. Potentially, this strategy could address the very modern issue of burnout and excessive stress. Therefore, when taking on new team members, there’s certainly something to be said for discussing more flexible hours to maintain this productivity boost.

Now’s the time to experiment

Undoubtedly, we’re entering into a new phase of the coronavirus era. Progress is happening but it looks like we’re in it for the long haul. As people carry on with their lives and switch jobs, we need to make sure that we apply the lessons from the pandemic. With an increased emphasis on mental health in the workplace, there’s potential to make the best of a bad situation – it’ll just take a bit of flexibility.



How to keep the social element of your working life alive as remote working becomes the norm

The average workday is normally peppered with social interactions. In the average office, you didn’t really need to try too hard to build relationships with your colleagues. This is because you’d see them in social spaces like the kitchen, by the coffee machine, during meetings, or going for the occasional pint after work.

However, when the pandemic hit, this all changed. As remote working became the norm, we had fewer opportunities to socialise with colleagues – and this is important. The Society for Human Resource Management’s Employee Job Satisfaction and Employee Report revealed that morale and retention rates all improve when employees feel connected to one another.

As we mentioned in our previous article on increased productivity while remote working, all this progress will be undermined if we can’t sustain a positive working environment. This means staying social – here are some tips on how.

Make yourself available

Like many people who began working from home during the pandemic, you might be finding it challenging to balance home and work life. Alternatively, you might be enjoying the flexibility that allows you to go for long walks or jogs during the day. This time to yourself is important, but you also need to make time for your colleagues. It’s not to suggest that you have to be at your desk or on the phone all day, but it’s good to share your schedule so colleagues know when they can contact you. This will stop you from slipping off the grid.

Be visible

Where possible, seeing each other fosters a greater connection than hearing each other. This means opting for video conferencing where possible and make sure cameras are on. Being able to interpret facial expressions and body language will make all the difference, and plus, it prevents you from getting distracted. However, you can still feel distant on a video call, particularly in large groups. A good strategy to get everyone engaged is to kick off with an ice-breaker question – something silly like, what’s your favourite animal or ice cream flavour. The key is to keep it light.

Have a bit of fun

The ice-breaker tip brings us onto perhaps the most important point – which is to remember to have a bit of fun. Endless video conferencing can feel a bit stilted, so make the effort to ensure not every interaction is formal. Organising morning or afternoon online coffee breaks can give you the chance to talk about things non-work related, or equally, an online after-work happy hour. Zoom birthday drinks will also help remind staff they’re part of a team that values them.

Keep looking out for each other

The pandemic has been challenging – and it’s going to affect our lives for a long time to come. Changes in our working environment, like remote working, are set to continue. A recent report from Buffer and AngelList found that 20% of remote workers feel lonely, and ultimately, this will knock productivity. In light of this, we need to be mindful of how best to support each other and stay connected.

The techniques are simple, it just requires a little extra effort. Often, it’ll be down to leaders to facilitate this new working environment, but the benefits will quickly become clear. According to research by the World Economic Forum, sociable workplaces are productive workplaces – so it’s time to nurture this environment in our new context.



The final stretch: Tips to keep productivity up post easing of restrictions

When we first moved to remote working during the first COVID lockdown, many bosses were surprised by the uptick in productivity. Tasks that used to be months worth of work were suddenly achieved in a matter of weeks; employees problem-solving capabilities increased, and delivery times have been cut. Some might say the crisis created a sense of urgency or direction.

As we emerge from the third round of restrictions, most companies are looking at how they can sustain these gains and come out of the pandemic fighting. In addition to operational resilience, we need to think about how to maintain employee morale. With the right strategy, we can continue to drive the transformative power of this newfound productivity. Here are three ways how.

1. Restructure the working environment

From streamlining finances to meeting new consumer demands, the COVID-19 crisis has forced us to reappraise what work adds value. These actions were critical to survival – in essence, the pandemic has compelled us to ‘trim the fat’ off the working day. To maintain these lessons moving forward, we need to assess what work is essential and what is, to put it bluntly, a waste of time.

To illustrate: management should strive for absolute clarity in terms of communicating strategy. This will enable employees to efficiently glean the “must-have” outcomes, alongside a compelling reason as to why they’re essential and the value they’ll create. Equally, this notion of the trimming of the fat could be extended to how we structure the workday; if staff might work better from home or with a flexi-time structure, fine. Give them what they need to flourish.

2. Empower employees

Productivity also rocketed during lockdown because the relationship between staff and management shifted. In the confines of their own home workers were, by nature, more independent. This enabled them to make bold decisions on the fly, whereas before, they would have felt they had to seek permission. If the wisdom of the Agile methodology is anything to go by, the benefits of autonomous, enterprising employees far outweigh the risks.

Naturally, this speed – agility if you will – boosted productivity during the lockdown. To maintain this, leaders need to think about how their management style can facilitate this independent thought. Meanwhile, the clear, goal-oriented communication mentioned in our first point will support this hands-off approach, while keeping the team on course.

3. Develop resilience

Resilience is certainly a positive trait – however, constantly testing resilience can have serious implications for team morale. Remember when we all thought the first lockdown would only last three weeks or so? The fact is, many people are jaded, which is fair enough. Finding a sustainable cadence is difficult, especially in the face of so much adversity.

However, the upshot is that resilience isn’t a fundamental trait, it’s something that can be taught. Resilience is a skill, which means it can be developed, strengthened, and maintained. Via self-awareness and motivation, teams can keep going. Therefore, it’s vital that management invests in developing these skills, even if it’s through simple morale-boosting activities like team meetings or socials.

Creating positivity out of a crisis

Once we fully emerge from the pandemic, hard times will still be ahead. Although many European economies are enjoying a better bounce-back than forecast, the next 12 to 24 months will be challenging. This means that focussing on tangible goals – like targets, structures, and processes – will help focus our minds.

Equally, this approach will enable us to maintain some of the productivity gains we discovered during the lockdowns. By focussing on the things we can control and measure, we can maintain resilience during the years to come – while developing this essential skill.