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It’s not just WHAT you do, but HOW you do it

11 September 2018


Understanding the ways in which we interact with each other is considered an essential part of career development at Octopus. We asked Amira Mansour of the Learning & Development team to explain why improving how you do things is just as important as working on what you do.

Describe what the Learning & Development team does

At Octopus, we want people to own their career development, and to make sure they devote enough time to focus on it. We offer a range of internal and external training courses that cover a wide range of subjects – everything from technical and product knowledge, managerial and leadership coaching, through to exams and professional qualifications.

We offer all of this because we want to drive a high-performance culture at Octopus, by creating trusted learning environments where everyone feels empowered to push themselves further, both in terms of personal and professional growth.

Are there any particular challenges that come with the role?

Octopus is a very fast-growing group of businesses, and it benefits from a very entrepreneurial and dynamic company culture. One of the great strengths of Octopus as a business is that it keeps evolving in new and exciting ways.

But, as with any fast-growing business, some people can find the pace hard to maintain. There’s a constant pressure to do more, to push further and to always be working at full capacity. We’re very mindful of that, and we work hard to develop people’s skills. We want to give people the tools they need to assess their own skills and qualities, because unlocking them effectively will help people to get the most out of their careers.

Can you explain the ‘What’ and ‘How’ concept?

As a business, Octopus has always been good at delivering on its objectives, whether that involves delivering good fund performance, developing new products, our increasing the number of customers we have.

Historically, people within Octopus set themselves personal objectives that were closely aligned with the goals the business was trying to achieve. While we’re really keen for this to be maintained, we also wanted to ensure that everyone’s performance was also more aligned with the Octopus values of being straightforward, helpful and bold.

And to help us achieve this, we introduced a way to make sure that people were evaluating themselves not just ‘what’ they did, but ‘how’ they did it. So now, everyone at Octopus is expected to give a 50/50 weighting to their ‘what’ and ‘how’ performance objectives, and to demonstrate evidence that they are looking to improve how they interact with the people around them.

To help everyone who works at Octopus to understand this approach, we’ve been holding a number of workshops for people across the different Octopus businesses. We’ve been asking them to define what ‘how’ behaviour means to them, talking to them about the importance of setting themselves meaningful ‘how’ objectives and working out ways to gather feedback and make improvements.

What you do and how you do it should be equally important

The first challenge with understanding the ‘how’ of what someone does may not be as tangible as the ‘what’. The ‘what’ objectives you set for yourself are usually very easy to define. They focus on the results you deliver, the tasks you complete, the projects you work on and are by and large, very fact-based.

The ‘how’ element focuses more on people’s personal behaviour, and can cover a wide range of different areas. Sometimes we will find it harder to measure because it’s less tangible and focuses on what we think of as our ‘soft’ skills, for example:

  • Interactions with colleagues and customers, and how you ‘come across’ to others
  • Being able to adapt your communication style to suit the needs of others
  • Making offers of help, and regularly giving and receiving feedback
  • Coaching and mentoring others
  • Adding to the Octopus culture
  • Working closely with other teams or Octopus businesses
  • Developing or motivating teams
  • Showing support to others
  • Dealing with conflict

As you can imagine, both verbal and non-verbal communication play a huge part in this. For example, a study by Professor Albert Mehrabian revealed that tone of voice and facial expression can have a huge influence on whether someone speaking is trusted by their audience. Or in other words, if we want people to trust us, it’s not just about what we say, but how we say it.

It’s all about gathering feedback

Everyone at Octopus is expected to regularly give (not ask) colleagues for feedback. And you can also ask for feedback from the people you work with, too. For new Octopus employees, this can feel uncomfortable, but it has enormous benefits for the business as a whole. And the feedback you give doesn’t have to be negative! Research from OfficeVibe shows that:

  • 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognised
  • 4 out of 10 workers felt actively disengaged when they get little or no feedback
  • 65% of employees said they wanted more feedback
  • Only 58% of managers think they give enough feedback
  • 92% of people think developmental feedback is effective at improving performance

Getting feedback from colleagues can really help you to identify behaviours to improve on. If you start finding consistency in some of the things that are raised, you’ll know these are areas where you can start to make noticeable changes that benefit the people around you.

For example, here are some of my own personal ‘how’ objectives:

  • To improve my verbal communication when I’m nervous, to ensure the language I use is clear and succinct for my audience and stakeholders. To gather feedback from these stakeholders and to share these examples and observations with my manager.
  • To be more confident in my interactions with senior management, and to feel more comfortable expressing my ideas and presenting on new topics. I’ll gather feedback from these stakeholders and to share these examples and observations with my manager.
  • To adapt my mentoring techniques when sharing technical knowledge and insight with both my peers and junior members of the team. I’ll gather feedback from these stakeholders and to share these examples and observations with my manager.

As you can see, these objectives require me to not only to ask for feedback from the colleagues I interact with, but I am also required to share these findings with my manager. That way, when the time comes to review my progress in a more formal setting (for example in my performance appraisal), I’ve got plenty of examples to talk through that demonstrate the progress I’ve been making.

Some words of advice…

Remember, trying to change a behaviour takes time! One of the things I talk about a lot in my workshops with Octopus people is to consider the value of making marginal gains. For example, saying you want to be assertive is really broad and vague. When do you want to be more assertive? Make it really specific to a situation and then once you achieve this regularly then move onto something else. Be patient and remember that it could take a while before you feel like you’re starting to get it right.

In 2009, Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at UCL, wrote a study called ‘How long does it take to form a habit’. She found that on average it takes 66 days for a habit to become ingrained and take over from the previously embedded behaviour. The more ingrained the previous behaviour was, the longer it took – with some taking up to 254 days for a new habit to become second nature.

Watch out for blind spots

In addition to this, look for potential blind spots in the way you work that could make life more difficult for others. For example, do you make decisions really quickly but could benefit from stopping and pausing to explain your thinking to other people who haven’t reached the same conclusion?

Again, in a fast-paced work environment, the simple act of identifying something and writing it down will make you more self-aware, and give you more of an incentive to change it.

Why is Octopus so invested in this?

We think one of the reasons that Octopus stands out as a company is because the people here behave in the right ways. But we never want to be complacent or to lose this from our culture. As we grow as an organisation, we need to continue to make sure these values are embedded in the DNA of the people who work here.

We want Octopus to be a place where everyone looks out for one another, and does whatever they can to help people be their very best selves. We think this is the right way to operate, and that to be a successful company isn’t just about hitting sales or growth targets. We want to be a company filled with people that live and breathe the Octopus values in a way that’s personal to them, that believe in behaving the right way to the people around them, and are constantly looking to learn and develop life skills.

We’re always looking for people who share our values to join us. Visit our Careers section to find out how to apply for roles within Octopus.