Thursday, 31 March 2011

This month we won an award and have been entered for another!

The award was for marketing consistently and effectively using our newsletter and building our database via Constant Contact.

Constant Contact chooses small businesses and organizations from different industries for their All Stars award. Criteria for success includes:

• Communicating with customers and members for all four quarters of the year
• Updating mailing lists often and obtaining permission from all their subscribers to contact them
• High open and click-through rates, and low bounce rates
• Using mailing list sign-up tools like "Join My Mailing List" on a website or Facebook page
• Using reports to gain insights about their contact list and online marketing activities
• Using social media tools and online surveys and event marketing with a high ratio of respondents

CIPR awards

Karen is delighted to announce that our recent successful leadership communication project has been entered for a CIPR award by our client, a fast growing, industry leading international investment house.

Karen originally helped develop the model with colleagues at Item as a result of research they carried out on behalf of the International Association of Communicators (IABC).

Leadership communication is consistently the lowest scoring area in our communication research. Whilst there are many leadership development models there are few that specialise in improving leadership communication capability like 'The Engaging Leader' programme below.

Depression - a private torment

This was the title of a recent talk about depression by Dr Bev Daily, Trustee of the Burnham Health Promotion Trust. He talked about the classic symptoms of depression that can often become apparent at this time of year, and can be evident due to seasonal affective disorder syndrome (SADS).

It seems our brains can be resilient for a certain period of time and when the winter has done its worst some people succumb to the illness, known as 'the black dog' by Sir Winston Churchill.

Many well known, high profile people suffer with depression but it still has a stigma attached and is not commonly known as an illness. If it was called 'brain flu' or 'mind sickness' would people perhaps be more accepting and open to talking about it?

The typical symptoms are:
• Early morning awakening
• Seeing the negative side of everything
• Feelings of guilt and unworthiness
• Loss of libido
• Loss of interest in activities or hobbies

However, some people often conceal it very well and may do so by throwing themselves into lots of activities to distract themselves.

What causes it?

Our complex brain has millions of nerve cells that communicate with each other across junctions called synapses. The transmission of nerve impulses through the brain is part electrical along the cells, and part chemical across the synapses, by neuro-transmitters such as serotonin, which is thought to make us happy.

Depression can be regarded as physical illness and is caused when there is inefficient chemical activity in the brain.

Your brain is like a TV set

The circuits in the brain become faulty just like the circuits in a television set. Whereas people are quite willing to have a TV set repaired there is often a reluctance to seek treatment for depression, even when anti-depressants can have a remarkably successful and rapid effect in as little as 1-2 weeks.

The use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is also known as a successful treatment for anxiety and depression and can help change negative thought patterns.

Outside factors can trigger an attack or worsen a condition, including breaks in routine and holidays. Inactivity can also trigger depression and exercise can help alleviate it. Change of job, or loss of status, are also known to be factors.

One in five people are known to suffer from depression at some point in their life so it is highly likely you will know someone affected.

What can you do to help?

Take care as people may get cross if asked if they are depressed and especially if they are patronised:
'I expect it's her depression again'
'He needs to just pull himself together'.

With gentle encouragement a visit to the doctor is the first step to getting well, especially if insomnia is very bad and prolonged.

Upbeat music, reading, light exercise, some activity, plenty of water, sunlight, smiling, practicing CBT and eating healthy food can all help. There are plenty of books with good advice - Dr Windy Dryden is a particular authority on the subject of depression and anxiety.

If you would like a more detailed article posted to you about depression or a conversation in confidence please contact Karen for more information.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

How does your brain work?

David Rock's book 'The Brain at Work' shows how critical different brain functions are.It debunks one of the NLP tenets that we can hold up to seven pieces of information in our brain at one time (plus or minus two pieces of information.)

David shares research that says we can only hold four pieces of information in our brain at one time. We can only do a job really well by focusing on one thing at a time. So have multi-tasking women been getting it all wrong?

How many actors on your stage?

He describes the pre-frontal cortex where we hold and process information consciously, as a stage. He compares the information we receive to actors getting on and off the stage and describes how our brain has a 'director' that controls how we process the information. If too many actors get on the stage at once the 'director' gets overloaded and we get stressed.

So keeping our stage free of too many distractions is essential to get our brains to work most effectively. One suggestion is that when we get to work and open our emails first we are deluged with too many distracting actors that send us off in too many directions. The best way to be most effective is to focus on the one main priority first, and then review your emails when that task is completed.

Putting on a SCARF

When we feel threatened or unhappy David Rock explains that there are several social qualities that impact on our responses to threats, and he uses the mnemonic SCARF to describe them.

Status - where you feel you fit in the pecking order
Certainty - how certain you are about what is happening
Autonomy - how in control you feel at work
Relatedness - who connects with you on a human level?
Fairness - who treats you fairly?

This model seems to make particular sense when you consider what people experience and how people feel when going through change.

Fair's fair

Rock then highlights another interesting piece of research about a human being's intrinsic need for fairness.

Stephen Pinker in How the Mind Works thinks that the need for fairness derived from the need to trade efficiently in the past. "In the distant past, when you couldn't store food in the refrigerator, the best place to store resources would have been by giving 'favours' to others. Resources were stored in others people's brains, as potential reciprocal snacks down the road."

This was especially important in hunter-gatherer days when food supply was intermittent. To be good at this kind of trading you needed to be able to detect 'cheaters', people who promise but don't deliver. And so it became important to be able to detect fairness.

Fairness - a vital factor for engagement

So Rock says: "Workplaces that truly allow employees to experience an increasing perception of fairness might be intrinsically rewarding. Organisations trying to increase a sense of engagement could do well to recognise that people experiencing a sense of unfairness may get as upset as being told they won't get to eat for a day."

More research in the Harvard Business review around corporate restructuring found that when people understood that decisions were made fairly, the impact of the downsizing was dramatically less. If not and people feel they have been treated unfairly by an organisation there can be no end of complaints. This explains why communicating the reasons for decisions about change is so critical.

And isn't it interesting how the coalition has been playing on our sense of fairness in their communication about the need for cuts...?