Tag Archives: Development

CORPORATE LESSON

22 Jan

A crow was sitting on a tree, doing nothing all day

A small rabbit saw the crow, and asked him, “Can I also sit like you and do nothing all day long?”

The crow answered: “Sure, why not.”

So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the  crow, and rested.

All of a sudden, a fox appeared….

Jumped on the rabbit… and ate it.

Moral of the story is….

To be sitting and doing nothing

you must be sitting very, very high up.

Inspirational 3 Minute Speech by Stacy Kramer at TED

12 Dec

HR Article :- 9 Qualities that will Rock your career

7 Dec

Qualities of the employeeSuccess in life is always relative. Some people are happy with small achievements while there are others who won’t be satisfied until mountains are moved.

Regardless of our ambitions, our career spans through a series of jobs and experiences that truly polish our personality and will. While we all have defining moments that will determine our core beliefs around hard work, persistence, determination, etc., these are all simply components of a greater foundation that defines ‘you’. A rocking rise through corporate ranks involves a radical understanding and possible change in your attitude and behaviors.

There are millions of brilliant people who pursue aggressive career paths and have their sights set on great achievement. While their ability is nothing short of genius, many lack the soft skills that could put them over the top. These are the traits, qualities and understandings are what make good people great. Practical and time tested, mastering and practicing the following qualities will make if difficult for success to elude you.

  1. Out of Box Thinking
    Many dislike this term but the concept is for real. All it requires is thinking of problems though a different set of eyes, or different dimension. This is why many brainstorming sessions fail; most people sit and think of work problems in the context of what it means to the company, not the user, not the environment, etc. Sit back and try to solve the problem from the eyes of a 6 year old, turn things upside down, and absolutely challenge the norm. Go outside and sit in a subway station (or somewhere you generally don’t sit to work) and think about why other solutions not worked? What has worked?

    Remember the best ideas come from people who are hands-on with their work. When everyone thinks and recommends a lackluster way, lackluster results will follow. Change your surroundings, change your views, change your thought process and come up with a killer idea!

  2. Taking Ownership
    When no one is willing to own it, be the first to grab the opportunity. A process involving various stakeholders normally loses vision and momentum. A process with a good leader, input from others, and true direction, has a much better chance of success. Be the person that jumps in and takes on a new project (just don’t over-commit). An ability to own and work towards success is a skill which gives long lasting returns.
  3. Eagerness to Learn
    After a certain period, a job becomes monotonous and people become bored and eventually even lazy. They lose all the zeal to learn new things and although they won’t admit this, their actions would make you believe they have thrown in the towel and are satisfied with a status quo life and career. If you really want to move ahead, don’t get into this rut. Don’t tune out.

    Always remain eager to learn; you never know what knowledge or capability will push you up in your career. Remember, you need an open mindset and positive attitude to approach work. If you are constantly learning, it will be tough to be or appear to be interested in mediocrity.

  4. An Eye for Detail
    If you are hands on with your work there is no reason why you won’t know the intricacies involved. Therefore, have the confidence needed to make difficult choices. When you master something and know the minute details, your logic and ideas will be highly regarded. While people love to argue, they get easily impressed by intelligent reasoning too.
  5. Willingness to Help
    Much of life is give and take. Work is no exception. If you are the person that is constantly stepping out of your comfort zone in order to help others, people (most) will return the favor when you ask. That’s the key though, you have to be willing to help someone and not too proud to ask them for help when you need it.
  6. Networking
    Your network should never be restricted to people in your domain but it should span other departments too. Again, break away from comfort and get engaged with someone from a different department. When you sell yourself in the market, you need people who can vouch for you and the broader the network, the better. A strong network always gives you an upper hand, not only to receive but also influence the information flow.
  7. Solution Seeking Mindset
    People love to mention and talk about problems. However, when you ask for their solutions to those problems, they aren’t willing to go on record with sweeping changes. The majority of employees lack an attitude to solve issues and love to keep them burning for long time, almost to encourage sympathy. It is these times that a positive mindset can send the right vibes across and can really give you a lot of attention. Don’t avoid complainers, listen to them just long enough to hear the problem, then try to come up with a solution.
  8. Humility
    Arrogance has its own advantages but it never attracts more people than the magic done by humility. When you know your work and are humble about it than there is no reason that you would not get the desired appreciation. Humility needs to be pitched with much care lest it lets people take undue advantage of you. Strike the right balance and you would see its real magic.
  9. Being Practical
    Human beings are emotional and many fall for popular decisions. A practical decision made at right time with right attitude has the ability to shower you with long lasting fame. Remember, the people who are at the top are nothing but practical.

It is a jungle out there where you not only need to survive but flourish too. Develop the killer attitude for success and no one would ever dare to stop you.

Always

  1. Work Hard, Work Smart
  2. Make sure the world knows about it
  3. Make sure to sell it in right manner to right people

Go, Get Success

 

Regards,

Pinal Mehta

HR CaseStudy:- When Grapevines are Good (Gossip’s @ Workplaces)

3 Dec

Gossip, just like social media, is an exchange of information between two or more people typically about a third, absent party. Managers may view their lack of control in such a democratic environment as a threat. Instead, they should look at the positive powers of gossip as a tool to diagnose or influence workforce issues.
 
Call it whatever you like, the grapevine, water cooler, gossip or the rumor mill. Conversations among co-workers happen. As human beings, we are social creatures who crave community, engagement and interaction.
 
Whether it’s talking shop about the boss, layoff rumors after a less-than-satisfying quarterly earnings report or gossip about Susie in Accounting and her supposed office extra-curriculars, conversations among co-workers are a guarantee.
 
Management has battled with gossip and the grapevine since the beginning of time. Supervisors are quick to lay blame to wildfire rumors, half truths and innuendos at the office as being detrimental to workplace productivity and undermining management authority. However, a recent study by two doctoral candidates at the University of Kentucky sheds some light on the positive power of gossip in the workplace.
 
Some Points to Ponder:
 
1. Gossip improves an employee’s social understanding of his or her environment.
This concept is the basis of cultural anthropology and the concept of micro-cultures. Workplace cultures are no different.
 
2. Gossip is natural.
According to the University of Kentucky study, 96 percent of employees admit to engaging in gossip at work.
 
3. It’s not all negative.
Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of gossip was an even blend of both positive and negative. Only 7 percent of gossip was largely negative.
 
4. Negative gossip
Negative gossip is a symptom of a larger organizational problem.
Just like a fever or runny nose alerts an individual to an infection, negative gossip is no different.
 
5. Perception is Reality.
Prior to the written word, the grapevine was a form of historical storytelling and news distribution. Sometimes, the spoken word is more reliable than the written word in the workplace. Visit any break room or smoking section as a covert HR operation and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
 
Just as social media is about engagement and influence outside of a brand’s scope of control, so, too, is the workplace grapevine outside of a manager’s control. Gossip, just like social media, is an exchange of information between two or more people typically about a third, absent party.
 
And managers view their lack of control and that democratic environment as a threat, instead of a tool or channel in which to diagnose or influence a situation or scenario. There is no silver bullet to managing gossip in the workplace or via the Internet. One size does not fit all, but here is some food for thought:
 
1. Conversations require at least two people.
Managers should be talking to their teams just as companies should be talking to their customers. After all, employees are our biggest asset and advocate for our companies and brands.
 
2. Don’t bribe or threaten the workforce.
Just as in branding, you must be authentic. People are smart, cynical and suspicious. Have conversations, mean what you say and keep your promises.
 
3. Don’t be afraid of the negative.
Hearing negative feedback about our style as a manager is hard, but if we fail to listen to our audience (our consumers), we risk feeding the best.
 
With the Internet, nothing is secure. Your team is not only gossiping at work but also on social-media platforms and forums, not just Facebook. Glassdoor.com and forums on Indeed.com are common sites where employees go to let off steam squarely within the public eye and with open access.
 
4. Survey the troops.
If you don’t already, facilitate an employee-engagement survey. Use tools such as exit interviews and other employee surveys for feedback. It doesn’t have to cost anything; they can be created for free by using online tools such as Survey Monkey.
 
For thousands of years, the workplace grapevine has been a social and cultural case study in action. Rumor mills, shared assumptions and opinions have long been a part of what makes our place of work interesting, enjoyable, intolerable or entertaining.
 
Social-media experts are quick to segment the social audience when working on marketing or public-relations campaigns. Managers and human resource professionals should do the same.
 
In Groundswell, authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff identify six groups who can be found in social media. While these profiles were created for social-media purposes, I believe they can be used in a workplace context.
 
The profiles can help identify the different types of workplace influencers and their involvement in what makes the community flow and how thoughts and ideas are influenced.
 
a) Creators.
These individuals are extremely socially active and are enthusiastic about their hobbies, passions, dislikes or love of a product, brand, company or service.
 
They are connected and have an established and strong community, and are seen as an authority because of their extensive research and ability to vet information to others.
 
b) Critics.
These individuals are extremely vocal and use either online or word-of-mouth to rate and critique products and services.
 
These individuals can be your best allies, especially if you have a great customer-service department, stellar management team or new program you are rolling out to the staff. Don’t be misled by word “critic” as having a negative connotation. These team members can be an evangelist for your organization and culture.
 
c) Collectors.
These individuals have a great deal of influence and can generate a great deal of chatter in a short amount of time because of their extensive network and passion for sharing information.
 
These team members focus on collecting information and content for sharing with other members of their active community.
 
d) Joiners.
These individuals want to feel like they belong to something. If online, they are very active on community sites like Facebook and are extremely engaged in places that involve a sense of community such as churches and professional organizations.
 
Their ability to connect with many individuals and persons is a draw for team members. They often join for the sake of joining — to belong.
 
e) Spectators.
These individuals love to sit back, watch and enjoy taking in the environment and situation to soak up all information.
 
Online, these individuals are focused on using ratings and reviews to draw conclusions. Don’t be surprised if they use these same methods of surveying and gathering data when engaging and influencing your organization.
 
f) Inactives.
These are those individuals who are present and listening but not participating and engaging. They have one ear to the wall but have not made an effort to actively participate within the organization or culture. Just as they would do online.
 
 
[About the Author: Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker and consultant. She is a leader in the HR social-media community and her book, Tweet This! Twitter for Business, was released in February. Her company, Xceptional HR provides businesses with social-media and recruitment strategies, and human resources consulting.]

HR Article :- 7 Effective Ways to recognize your People

1 Dec

Employee recognition is a much talked about, but often overlooked part of the workplace. Recognizing and rewarding your employees can be a slippery slope to navigate and sometimes it seems that managers either get it, or they don’t. If recognition is not sincere and genuine, your employees will know it.

 

 

7 Tips for Recognizing Your Peeps – this list isn’t about expensive ways to reward your employees because we know you can figure that out, but more subtle no-cost ideas that educate, motivate and inspire your team because a happy, invested team will always outperform a bunch of bitter Betty’s!

7 Tips for Recognizing Your Peeps

  1. Give ‘Em the 411: Informed peeps are empowered. Many managers make the mistake of keeping all the information to themselves. Instead, share information with your team. Fill them in on how your organization is doing, what the future holds and how they play a part in it. By giving your peeps information, you empower them to make informed, confident decisions and choices, which not only benefit them, but your organization.
  2. Miss (or Mr.) Independent: How many people like being micromanaged? Not too many! Employees value independence, so give it to them. When you work with your peeps to tell them what needs to be done and then give them the ability to decide how to do it, you increase their independence and ability to take more ownership of their role.
  3. Be Gumby: Everyone appreciates flexibility in their work whether it’s working flex hours, working from home or something else. This can be very motivating and shows you trust your peeps. In workplaces where this may not be possible, find ways to be flexible and your employees will respond.
  4. Give Me More: We all know training and development happen in real-time, on the job. Provide your peeps lots of opportunities to grow and learn by investing in their development and provide them stretch goals. It shows your peeps that you trust, respect and want the best for them. You’ll be rewarded when they perform at higher levels with each opportunity.
  5. Decisions, Decisions: How does it feel when all the decisions are made for you? Not so much eh? Well, your peeps are closer than anyone to the work they do so they are really the best decision makers. Sometimes as managers we make the mistake of deciding for our employees. Take a step back and ask them what they think and what they recommend. They’ll be more involved in the process and therefore more invested in the outcome.
  6. How Am I Doing? Everyone wants to know how they are doing at any time so hold frequent check-ins throughout the year so you can have honest conversations about your peeps performance. Take the time to share what they are doing well and what could use some work. Also, remember to share great feedback with the leadership team of your company so they’re aware of the contributions your peeps are making. The more feedback you give your employees, the more they will be equipped to respond to the needs of your organization.
  7. Celebrate! Often we are so busy strategizing, working and executing that we cruise through the year without taking the time to celebrate all the success along the way. Remember, if you celebrate often you’ll get more back in return and you’ll foster a culture of recognition.

How are you recognizing your peeps? I’d love to hear.

Regards,

Pinal Mehta

HR Articles – Belbin’s Team Roles

19 Nov

Belbin’s Team Roles

How understanding team roles can improve team performance . . .

When a team is performing at its best, you’ll usually find that each team member has clear responsibilities. Just as importantly, you’ll normally see that every role needed to achieve the team’s goal is being performed fully and well.

But often, despite clear roles and responsibilities, a team will fall short of its full potential.

How often does this happen in the teams you work with? Perhaps some team members don’t complete what you expect them to do. Perhaps some team members are not quite flexible enough, so things ‘fall between the cracks’. Maybe someone who is valued for their expert input fails to see the wider picture, and so misses out tasks or steps that others would expect. Or perhaps one team member become frustrated because he or she disagrees with the approach of another team members.

Dr. Meredith Belbin studied team-work for many years, and he famously observed that people in teams tend to assume different “team roles”. He defines a “team role” as “a tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way” and named nine such team roles that underlie team success.

Creating More Balanced Teams

Belbin suggests that, by understanding your team role within a particular team, you can develop your strengths and manage your weaknesses as a team member, and so improve how you contribute to the team.

Team leaders and team development practitioners often use the Belbin model to help create more balanced teams. Teams can become unbalanced if all team members have similar styles of behavior or team roles.

If team members have similar weakness, the team as a whole may tend to have that weakness. If team members have similar team-work strengths, they may tend to compete (rather than co-operate) for the team tasks and responsibilities that best suit their natural styles. So you can use the model with your team to help ensure that necessary team roles are covered, and that potential behavioral tensions or weaknesses among the team member are addressed.

Tip 1:

Belbin’s “team-roles” are based on observed behavior and interpersonal styles.

Whilst Belbin suggests that people tend to adopt a particular team-role, bear in mind that your behavior and interpersonal style within a team is to some extent dependent on the situation: It relates not only to your own natural working style, but also to your interrelationships with others, and the work being done.

Be careful: You, and the people you work with, may behave and interact quite differently in different teams or when the membership or work of the team changes.

Also, be aware that there are other approaches in use, some of which complement this model, some of which conflict with it. By all means use this approach as a guide, however do not put too much reliance on it, and temper any conclusions with common sense.

Understanding Belbin’s Team Roles Model

Belbin identified nine team roles and he categorized those roles into three groups: Action Oriented, People Oriented, and Thought Oriented. Each team role is associated with typical behavioral and interpersonal strengths.

Belbin also defined characteristic weaknesses that tend to accompany the team-role. He called the characteristic weaknesses of team-roles the “allowable” weaknesses; as for any behavioral weakness, these are areas to be aware of and potentially improve.

The nine team-roles are:

  1. Action Oriented Roles:

Shapers (SH)

Shapers are people who challenge the team to improve. They are dynamic and usually extroverted people who enjoy stimulating others, questioning norms, and finding the best approaches to problems. The Shaper is the one who shakes things up to make sure that all possibilities are considered and that the team does not become complacent.

Shapers often see obstacles as exciting challenges and they tend to have the courage to push on when others feel like quitting.

Their potential weaknesses may be that they’re argumentative, and that they may offend people’s feelings.

Implementer (IMP)

Implementers are the people who get things done. They turn the team’s ideas and concepts into practical actions and plans. They are typically conservative, disciplined people who work systematically and efficiently and are very well organized. These are the people who you can count on to get the job done.

On the downside, Implementers may be inflexible and somewhat resistant to change.

Completer – Finisher (CF)

Completer–Finishers are the people who see that projects are completed thoroughly. They ensure there have been no errors or omissions and they pay attention to the smallest of details. They are very concerned with deadlines and will push the team to make sure the job is completed on time. They are described as perfectionists who are orderly, conscientious, and anxious.

However, a Completer-Finisher may worry unnecessarily and find it hard to delegate.

  1. People Oriented Roles:

Coordinator (CO)

Coordinators are the ones who take on the traditional team–leader role and have also been referred to as the chairmen. They guide the team to what they perceive are the objectives. They are often excellent listeners and they are naturally able to recognize the value that each team members brings to the table. They are calm and good-natured and delegate tasks very effectively.

Their potential weaknesses are that they may delegate away too much personal responsibility, and may tend to be manipulative.

Team Worker (TW)

Team Workers are the people who provide support and make sure the team is working together. These people fill the role of negotiators within the team and they are flexible, diplomatic, and perceptive. These tend to be popular people who are very capable in their own right but who prioritize team cohesion and helping people getting along.

Their weaknesses may be a tendency to be indecisive, and maintain uncommitted positions during discussions and decision-making.

Resource Investigator (RI)

Resource Investigators are innovative and curious. They explore available options, develop contacts, and negotiate for resources on behalf of the team. They are enthusiastic team members, who identify and work with external stakeholders to help the team accomplish its objective. They are outgoing and are often extroverted, meaning that others are often receptive to them and their ideas.

On the downside, they may lose enthusiasm quickly, and are often overly optimistic.

  1. Thought Oriented Roles:

Plant (PL)

The Plant is the creative innovator who comes up with new ideas and approaches. They thrive on praise but criticism is especially hard for them to deal with. Plants are often introverted and prefer to work apart from the team. Because their ideas are so novel, they can be impractical at times. They may also be poor communicators and can tend to ignore given parameters and constraints.

Monitor – Evaluator (ME)

Monitor-Evaluators are best at analyzing and evaluating ideas that other people (often Plants) come up with. These people are shrewd and objective and they carefully weigh the pros and cons of all the options before coming to a decision.

Monitor-Evaluators are critical thinkers and very strategic in their approach. They are often perceived as detached or unemotional. Sometimes they are poor motivators who react to events rather than instigating them.

Specialist (SP)

Specialists are people who have specialized knowledge that is needed to get the job done. They pride themselves on their skills and abilities, and they work to maintain their professional status. Their job within the team is to be an expert in the area, and they commit themselves fully to their field of expertise. This may limit their contribution, and lead to a preoccupation with technicalities at the expense of the bigger picture.

Figure 1: Belbin’s Team Roles

Action Oriented Roles

Shaper

Challenges the team to improve.

Implementer

Puts ideas into action.

Completer – Finisher

Ensures thorough, timely completion.

People Oriented Roles

Coordinator

Acts as a chairperson.

Team Worker

Encourages cooperation.

Resource Investigator

Explores outside opportunities.

Thought Oriented Roles

Plant

Presents new ideas and approaches.

Monitor – Evaluator

Analyzes the options.

Specialist

Provides specialized skills.

How to Use the Tool:

The Belbin Team Roles Model can be used in several ways: You can use it to think about team balance before a project starts, you can use it to highlight and so manage interpersonal differences within an existing team, and you can use it to develop yourself as a team player.

The tool below helps you analyze team membership, using the Belbin team roles as checks for potential strengths and weakness.

Use Belbin’s model to analyze your team, and as a guide as you develop your team’s strengths, and manage its weaknesses:

1. Over a period of time, observe the individual members of your team, and see how they behave, contribute and behave within the team.

2. Now list the members of the team, and for each person write down the key strengths and characteristics you have observed. (You may also want to note down any observed weaknesses).

3. Compare each person’s listed strengths and weakness with the Belbin’s descriptions of team-roles, and note the one that most accurately describes that person.

4. Once you have done this for each team member, consider the following questions:

· Which team roles are missing from your team? And from this, ask yourself which strengths are likely to be missing from the team overall?

· Is there are prevalent team role that many of the team members share?

Tip 2 – Prevalent team roles:

Among teams of people that do the same job, a few team roles often prevail. For example, within a research department, the team roles of Specialist and Plant may prevail. A team of business consultants may mainly comprise Team Workers and Shapers. Such teams may be unbalanced, in that they may be missing key approaches and outlooks.

If the team is unbalanced, first identify any team weakness that is not naturally covered by any of the team members. Then identify any potential areas of conflict. For example, too many Shapers can weaken a team if each Shaper wants to pull the team in a different direction.

5. Once you have identified potential weakness, areas of conflict and missing strengths, consider the options you have to improve and change this.

Consider:

· Whether an existing team member could compensate by purposefully adopting a different team role. With awareness and intention, this is sometimes possible.

· Whether one or more team members could improve how they work together and with others to avoid potential conflict of their natural styles.

· Whether new skills need to brought onto the team to cover weaknesses.

Tip 3:

Remember not to depend too heavily on this idea when structuring your team – this is only one of many, many factors that are important in getting a team to perform at its best.

That said, just knowing about the Belbin Team Roles model can bring more harmony to your team, as team members learn that there are different approaches that are important in different circumstances and that no one approach is best all of the time.

Regards,

Pinal Mehta

HR Article :- Promote From Within to Create Employees Loyalty

15 Nov

A company can generate increased employee loyalty by always looking first to promoting from within, rather than hiring from the outside. The advantages are clear: when employees realize that they are valued, and that they have long-term potential for advancement within their company, their loyalty and commitment will be strengthened.

In many small businesses, a few key employees keep the ball rolling. These individuals are usually highly dedicated, intelligent and experts at their jobs. But human nature is such that few people remain comfortable doing the same thing repeatedly. Dedicated employees often feel the need to expand their scope of responsibility. They want to learn new skills. And they want to feel that they are growing. One of the best ways to meet these needs is to give employees the opportunity to move upward in the company, achieving greater respect, increased salary and expanded responsibility.

Consider these tips before placing a want ad:

When a new position opens up, always evaluate in-house talent first before looking outside. Seldom will a current employee fully possess the experience and qualifications that could be found in a new hire. But by closely examining the abilities and desire of current employees, you may find someone who can be trained easily for the new position. This will save you time and money — and you’ll end up with an employee who already knows the ins and outs of the company. When you can promote in this way, you’ll create an exceptionally dedicated employee — and send a ripple of dedication through all other employees as well.

Establish pre-designated career paths. When employees know from their first days of interviewing with the company that they can achieve their career goals without changing jobs, you’ll have loyal workers.

When searching for people to promote, take suggestions from other employees. You may not be able to spot the hidden talent under your nose, but employees in the trenches know who has what it takes to move upward in the company.

Create relationships with trade groups, seminar companies, local schools and colleges, and other educational organizations to provide ongoing training for your employees. Offer to pay, or at least partially pay, for this training. Successful small businesses usually have employees who are able to multi-task.

If you contract work to outside vendors, see if these tasks can be assigned to current employees. This will help them expand their responsibilities, and could provide an avenue for in-house career advancement.

During routine employee performance evaluations, ask employees if they are interested in taking on additional responsibility. Doing this makes it easy for employees to discuss their goals.

Stick with your career-path commitments. If you waver, hiring from outside when a qualified employee was already on staff, you’ll undo all your efforts along this line. Exceptions are, of course, when a highly specialized or top executive position needs to be filled. Even so, explanations should be given to current employees so they understand and accept the decision to hire from outside.

Regards,

Pinal Mehta

HR Tool :- Six Exercises to Sharpen your Focus

20 Oct

One reason many people have trouble remembering something is that they don’t make a clear picture of what they want to remember, because they don’t pay enough attention in the beginning. The crucial first step to remembering anything is to PAY ATTENTION. You have to first take in the information in order to put it in your short-term or working memory and later transfer it to your long-term memory.

Naturally, you can remember all sorts of things without being particularly attentive, as unconsciously you are absorbing information all the time and much of this stays with you, even if you are unaware of it. But, this casual absorption of information can be a hit-or-miss proposition. While you may take in much of this information unconsciously and may later remember things you didn’t realize you had even learned, to improve your memory you have to consciously pay attention. This approach is sometimes referred to as being “mindful” as opposed to operating on automatic.

Certainly, you want to continue to keep most everyday processes in your life automatic, since you need to do this to move through everyday life; you can’t try to pay close attention to everything you do, since this will slow you down. Yet at the same time, you can become more aware of what you are doing on automatic and you can focus more closely on some usually automatic activities. Then, you can better remember what you want to remember, such as the names of people you meet at a business mixer or trade show.

Learning to Pay Attention

The following exercises are designed to help you pay closer attention to what you do.

Creating a Memory Trigger to Increase Your Ability to Focus

When you’re in a situation where it’s particularly important to remember something, you can remind yourself to pay close attention by using a “memory trigger.” This trigger can be almost any type of gesture or physical sign—such as bringing your thumb and forefinger together, clasping your hands so your thumbs and index finger create a spire, or raising your thumb. Or you could use a mental statement to remind yourself to pay attention. Whatever signal you choose, it’s designed to remind you that it’s now time to be especially alert and listen or watch closely, so you’ll remember all you can. If you already have a signal you like, use that, or use the following exercise to create this trigger.

Get relaxed, perhaps close your eyes. Then, ask yourself this question: “What mental trigger would I like to use to remind myself to pay attention?” Notice what comes into your mind. It may be a gesture, a physical movement, a mental image, or a word or phrase you say to yourself. Choose that as your trigger.

Now, to give power to this trigger, make the gesture or movement or let this image or word appear in your mind. Then, as you make this gesture or observe the image or word, repeatedly use this gesture for a minute or two, and as you do, say to yourself with increasing intensity: “I will pay attention now. I will be very alert and aware, and I will lock this information in my memory so I can recall it later.” This process of using the gesture and paying attention will associate the act of paying attention with the gesture.

Later (either the same day or the following day if you are beginning this exercise at night), practice using this trigger in some real-life situations. Find three or more times when you are especially interested in remembering something, and use your trigger to make yourself more alert. For example, when you see something you would especially like to remember (such as someone on the street, a car on the road, etc.), use your trigger to remind you to pay attention to it. Afterward, when whatever you have seen is gone, replay it mentally in as much detail as possible to illustrate how much you can remember when you really pay attention.

Initially, to reinforce the association with the sign you have created, as you make this gesture, repeat the same words to yourself as in your concentration exercises: “I will pay attention now. I will be very alert and aware, and I will lock this information in my memory so I can recall it later.” Then, look or listen attentively to whatever it is you want to remember.

Repeat both the meditation and the real-life practice for a week to condition yourself to associate the action you want to perform (paying attention) with the trigger (raising your thumb, etc.). Once this association is locked in, continue to use the trigger in real life. As long as you continue to regularly use the trigger, you don’t need to continue practicing the exercise, since each time you use the trigger, your attention will be on high alert.

Then, any time you are in an important situation where you want to pay especially careful attention (such as a staff meeting or a cocktail party with prospective clients), use your trigger, and you’ll become more attentive and alert.

Using a Physical Trigger or Motion to Keep Your Attention Focused

To keep yourself from drifting off while you are listening to something or to keep your mind from wandering while you are observing or experiencing something, you can use the trigger you have created or any gesture or physical signal to remind yourself to pay attention to what you are hearing or seeing.

For example, every 20 or 30 seconds, click your fingers softly, move a toe, or move another part of your body as a reminder. Once you decide on the trigger, practice this signal to make the association with paying attention by repeatedly making this gesture and after that focus your attention on something. Then, that gesture or motion will become your trigger to pay attention.

After a while, should your attention drift away, simply repeat the trigger to bring you back to attention again.

Using Clear Memory Pictures or Recordings to Improve Your Memory

Another way to pay closer attention is to make a sharp mental picture or recording of the person, place, or event you want to remember. This process will also help you with the second phase of the memory retention process, where you encode this information using visual imagery or sounds. But this first phase is what picks up the information in the first place, much like using a camera or a cassette.

A major factor in poor remembering is that often we don’t make this picture or recording very well. As a result, we may think we remember what we have seen, but we don’t. Courtroom witnesses, for example, often recall an event inaccurately, although they may be positive they are correct. Accordingly, before you can recall or recognize something properly in the retrieval stage of the process, you first must have a clear impression of it.

One way to do this, once you are paying careful attention, is to think of yourself as a camera or cassette recorder, taking in completely accurate pictures or recordings of what you are experiencing. As you observe and listen, make your impressions like pictures or tape recordings in your mind.

It takes practice to develop this ability, and the following exercises are designed to help you do this. At first, use these exercises to get a sense of how well you already remember what you see. Then, as you practice, you’ll find you can remember more and more details.

The underlying principle of these exercises is to observe some object, person, event, or setting to take a picture, or listen to a conversation or other sounds around you. Then, turn away from what you are observing or stop listening and recall what you can. Perhaps write down what you recall. Finally, look back and ask yourself: “How much did I remember? What did I forget? What did I recall that wasn’t there?”

At first, you may be surprised at how bad an observer or listener you are. But as you practice, you’ll improve—and your skill at remembering will carry over into other situations, because you’ll automatically start making more accurate memory pictures or recordings in your mind.

An ideal way to use these techniques is with a mental awareness trigger. Whenever you use that trigger, you will immediately imagine yourself as a camera or recorder and indelibly impress that scene on your mind for later recall.

The next three exercises are designed to give you some practice in perceiving like a camera or cassette recorder in a private, controlled setting. The fourth exercise is one you can use in any situation to perceive more effectively.

Looking at Things More Accurately

This exercise will help increase your powers of observation.

Look at something in front of you that has a lot of different things in it. These can be different objects, people who are mostly stationery (i.e., sitting down, not a bustling crowd), scenery, and so forth. Or use a picture of such a scene. Then, stare at this scene for about a minute, and as you do, imagine you are taking a picture of it, as if your mind is a camera taking a snapshot. As you do so, notice as many things about the scene as you can. Pay attention to forms, colors, the number of objects or people there, the relationship between things, and so on.

Then, look away from that scene, and try to recreate it as accurately as possible in your mind’s eye. As when you looked at the scene, notice the forms, colors, number of objects or people, and the relationship between things.

Next, to check your accuracy, without looking back, write down a list of what you saw in as much detail as possible.

Finally, rate your accuracy and your completeness by rating your observations. To score your level of accuracy, designate each accurate observation with a +2. Score each inaccurate observation with a -1. Score each invented observation with a -2. Then, tally up your score and note the result. To score your level of completeness, estimate the total number of observations you think were possible in the scene and divide by the number of observations you made, to get your completeness score.

As you continue to practice with this exercise, you’ll find your score for both accuracy and completeness should go up.

Listening to What You Hear

This exercise will help you become more aware of what you hear and help you listen more completely and correctly.

Tape a short segment of conversation or some sounds on a tape cassette. You can record this from an ongoing conversation, from a television or radio program, or from ambient sounds on the street around you. Tape for 2 to 3 minutes.

Then, while you are taping or later when you play back the recording, concentrate on listening as intently and carefully as possible. Imagine you are a tape recorder that is recording every bit of conversation clearly and accurately. Either way, as you are taping or playing back the recording, really listen. Perhaps form images in your mind as you do.

At the end of the recording, try to recall the conversation or sounds in as much detail as possible. Perhaps imagine yourself as a tape recorder playing this back. Additionally, try to remember what you heard in sequence as best you can.

To check your accuracy, write down a list of what you heard in as much detail as possible. You needn’t write everything down word for word, but write down enough to indicate the gist of each thought or statement. Then, play back the tape, and review how complete and accurate you were.

Finally, rate your accuracy and completeness by rating your recall of the conversation. To score your level of accuracy, designate each accurate recollection with a +2. Score each inaccurate recollection with a -1. Score each invented recollection with a -2. Then, tally up your score and note the result. To score your level of completeness, estimate the total number of recollections you think were possible in what you heard and divide by the number of recollections you made, to get your completeness score. Give yourself 10 bonus points if you got everything in sequence; 5 bonus points if you got most things in sequence. Finally, total and divide this result by your estimated number of total sounds, statements, or phrases for your percentage rating.

As you continue to practice with this exercise, you’ll find your score for both accuracy and completeness should go up.

Seeing Like a Camera; Listening Like a Cassette Recorder

This exercise will help you observe or listen more accurately and completely in everyday situations.

You can use this technique wherever you are—it’s especially ideal for parties, business networking meetings, and other important occasions where you want to be sure to remember things accurately. Also, you can use this technique to practice and sharpen your skills when you’re waiting in line, traveling in a bus, in a theater lobby at intermission, and in places where you are waiting for something to happen.

Simply imagine you are a camera and snap a picture of what you see. Or imagine you are a cassette recorder picking up a conversation. Or be a sound film camera and pick up both.

Afterward, turn away or close your eyes if convenient, and for a few seconds, focus on what you have just seen or heard. If you have taken a picture, visualize it intently in your mind’s eye and concentrate. What objects or people do you see? What colors or details do you notice? What furniture is in the room? What are the people wearing?

Then, look at the scene and compare your picture with what you see now. What did you leave out? What did you add that wasn’t there? What details did you observe incorrectly? The more you do this, the more complete and accurate your picture will be.

If you have tried to listen like a cassette recorder, replay what you have heard in your mind. What did people say? What sounds did you hear around you? You won’t be able to actually hear these conversations or sounds again, but you can get a sense of how much detail you were able to pick up. The more you practice, the more fully you will hear.

If you have imagined yourself as a sound film camera, review both the pictures and sounds.

Experiencing an Object

This exercise will help you become more aware of what you see and help you perceive more completely and correctly.

Place a common object or group of objects in front of you (such as a collection of objects from your desk, a painting on your wall, an advertisement or picture from a magazine, a flower arrangement in a vase). Stare at the object or group of objects for about a minute, and notice as many things about it as you can, such as its form, texture, color, design, pattern, and so on. Be aware of how many objects there are, and catalog the names of all the objects in your mind.

Then, remove the object, or groups of objects, so it is out of sight, but continue looking at the spot where it was, and imagine the object(s) as still there. Try to recreate what you saw with as much detail as you can.

To check your accuracy, write down a list of what you saw. Then, look at what you observed again and see how accurate you were.

To chart your progress each time, score the total number of observations you think were possible (this will vary with each observer), and score each of your accurate observations with a +2. Score each of your inaccurate observations with a -1, and your invented observations with a -2. Finally, total and divide by your estimated number of total observations for your percentage rating.

As you continue to practice with this exercise, you’ll find your rating will go up.

By Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D