Author Archives: valerie

About valerie

I work with business owners to help them reinforce their business sustainability . I coach and train professionals working in an international environment or being part of a multinational team.

The End Of A Culture Of Entitlement And The Beginnings Of Self Accountability.

Looking back at the history of the global economy, most nations have experienced a series of economic growth alternated with periods of economic slumps. There are a few exceptions. South Korea is the most well known amongst them.  In his book, “Breakout Nations In Pursuit of the New Economic Miracles”, Ruchir Sharma related how South Korea strove as a nation to recover from the 1998 crisis. The country was forced to contract a record loan of US$58 billion from IMF, at that time. This triggered a nationwide solidarity amongst the Koreans.  Koreans began mobilizing to pay the national debt, waiting in long lines to donate their gold jewellery to the cause.  How many nations have had such similar experiences?

We have also witnessed that size does not always provide the necessary cushion from the aftermath of natural catastrophes. Whatever the size and wealth of the country, only those with well organised logistics and strong human solidarity amongst its population stand better chances of a rapid recovery. It goes without saying that financial wealth does make a huge difference. However, money without the proper channels ends up wasted.

It can be observed that only those nations who are engaged with the world such as South Korea can continue on with their economic development and prosperity. The complexity of achieving economic progress has always been and is still the main challenge of most nations. High increase in GDP per capita does not automatically translate into continued economic growth for the future. The BRIC nations are good examples whereby their economic momentum has not turned them into strong economic powerhouses– China being the only exception, one could say

The same goes for an individual’s personal success. One is expected to regularly re invent oneself, continue on acquiring new skills and certainly not rest on one’s laurels. Attitudes such as “fake it till you make it” tend to drive people overlooking their personal flaws. Many rags to riches success stories are not achievable without their quotas of personal hurdles.

The motivation to avoid failure represses the courage needed for exploration. Boosting one’s self esteem is not the panacea to addressing all personal issues. It sometimes turns people into narcissists: people who look upon themselves as fundamentally “special, entitled and unique”. A family of successful entrepreneurs does not necessarily imply that the following generations are deemed to continue on as successful business owners.

The culture of entitlement has permeated all aspects of today’s society. It is especially true in communities which believe deeply in tradition and history. It is even more of a challenge to stand out when one lives in homogenous communities with widespread normalised behaviours. Walking one’s own path, irrespective of the family background and of societal norms, can be lonely and challenging. People imagine that there is safety in numbers. Unfortunately, people surrounded by pleasers who would never pose a challenge or a threat, does not always evolve to their full potential.

It is generally the case that, people/nations/communities undergo huge transformation when their backs are against the wall. There is also a tendency for people to defend their existing status, rank or title. It does demand a lot of courage to give it up and rebuild it differently. When one is on a winning streak, one would hardly be motivated to slow down and think ahead. Complacency gradually sets in and reduces further the motivation to think outside the box.

However, examples abound to demonstrate that living off the dividends of past successes is not an option anymore. The emergence of new political parties has disrupted the political establishment of many countries.  Iphone and Ipad came at a time when there was a need in the market for something more user friendly.  The same goes for AirBnb, Uber and their likes….

What would be most important to someone: is it about having a title or is it about the long term recognition and respect from your peers or at large, society? How can one remain loyal both to one’s roots and at the same time, be open to other possibilities? Keeping one’s balance is a centuries old universal message.

Follow The Pack Or Lead The Pack?

For every hype, there would be those who would jump in the bandwagon at first sight and those who would wait and see whether this fad is worth their attention. There is also another category: those who would start the hype. People in need of novelty would always find someone who is willing to give them what they want. Because it is out of place, “unique” and makes them stand out of the crowd, novelty lovers would fall for it. Whether this hype is a fad or is powerfully disruptive to create jobs, generate income, it would largely depend on the factors that have created the hype in the first place.

Most new trends tend to collapse once the novelty factor dies out. They disappear as fast as they came. They took shape because there were “easy money” to be made: banks giving cheap loans and people looking for the next big thing, aiming to become the next “millionaire”, like their neighbours, a few blocks down the road – showing off their new car or pictures of their new property bought in some exotic place. If your new investment depends on market values to pursue a never ending rise then prepare for the pain of the downfall. For everything that goes up must come down.

When it requires you to be part of a “select” group of people to take advantage of this “new innovative idea”, I would stay away from it… “Cozy” relationships require long term investment of one’s own energy and time. Being well connected is not about being seen with the right crowd. Joining an “in” group makes you vulnerable as you are subject to “peer pressure” and the need to feed your sense of pride that you have made the right choice.

Creative disruption comes from making wise and challenging choices that would have a long term positive impact on the future. These choices are not dictated by what the rest of the herd is doing. People’s lives and success can bring inspiration and kick start your own creative sense. Emulating them can bring you some dividends. As there is no real ownership from you and no strong personal commitment of using your own strengths, you remain in your “comfort zone” and tend to refrain from going the “extra mile”. Whatever popular idea that you borrowed loses its momentum and its value to you.

The most unfortunate denominator for all those “financial soufflé”: memories of the collapse fade over time. Also, people tend to cling to dated ideas and rules for too long, particularly notions that minimize or explain away potential risks. Generally speaking, it always painful to recount your mistakes and learn where you went wrong. It is easier to put the blame on “bad timing” or on receiving bad advice as long as your sense of pride does not take the hit. Playing “the victim” won’t help restore your self confidence.

To be a serious trend setter requires that you are able to bounce back from all previous failures and embrace the lessons learnt.  To leave the past where it is and focus on what matters in the present requires personal resilience and pragmatism. When things start to go badly, keeping your own inner compass intact is necessary if you want to come out in one single piece.

Most well known trend setters went through a major personal ordeal before raising from the “ashes” to make a stronger comeback. Their personal fortitude makes them all the more determined to strive. A few well known examples are Maya Angelou and Steve Jobs.  It does take a lot to be a trend setter and what matters to most people is to have their own place in the sunshine, at the end of the day.

Whether you are a trend setter or a follower actually does not matter as long as you are aware of your core assets and mindful of your personal challenges. Everyone has the right to one’s own place in the sunshine. Taking a consistent approach of understanding whether the hype is moving in a productive direction is most important. The “herdlike” mentality of having to catch up to the Joneses can be highly risky and lead to nowhere other than pain, disappointment and loss in self confidence.

Stability in growing your own wealth is what makes your life enjoyable. It helps you to focus on the essentials – investing your resources in productive assets, setting the right priorities, managing your sense of pride so that it does not cloud your judgment, hanging out with people who inspires you, stands up to you when there is need to and truly supports you. It is all about balance: a strength taken too far can become a liability or ignoring your personal challenges is a huge risk.

To follow your own path to success is doing what is necessary: engaging deeply with yourself so as to learn how to deal with your personal challenges. Exploiting your strengths is easier as people tend to be more at ease with themselves in times of success. No one can hope to succeed as a free rider on the tailwinds of fortuitous circumstances. Complacency in dealing with yourself can only lead to stagnation. No one can continue on to be successful by using their sense of pride to mask their personal challenges. Living beyond one’s means intellectually or financially is the fast express route to doom! “If there is no wind, row”.

Checklist, Priorities and Time

Time management has always been the subject of many books, studies and talks.  One of the most well known is the book:“The 7 habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. In short, there will always be urgent things amongst which are stuff that you definitely need to respond to and those that you would probably respond at some point in time.

With experience, you have learnt not to allow yourself to be dictated by the tyranny of the urgent. Each person views the world differently and, therefore, what is considered as urgent varies according to each person. Your boundaries have sometimes been “invaded” by people who have tried to forge bonds to create a sense of solidarity in an effort to gain your support for their personal challenges. Attempts at highlighting what you both have in common: shared ethnic identities or common passions have been used to encourage you to view the world from their point of view. Your strong sense of self have finally helped you regain control of your boundaries and push back any further attempt of influencing your agenda for today’s work.

On the other hand, developing your own list of priorities at work is actually not only about your own sense of urgency. It also needs to take into account the diverse expectations of the people making up your working environment.  Decoding what would actually work for you and for your colleagues/team members sometimes require that you probe further to develop a better understanding of the inner workings of your environment. Asking the right questions, using the right approach to enquire and probably verifying that you have well understood takes valuable time but worth you putting the effort.  Making a checklist for today that is actually very different from the expectations of your team members or co workers may be sending the wrong message – “I want to be left alone and I don’t need you…”. You may be reminded of that single mindedness at a time when it matters for you to rely on the valuable contributions of your colleagues.

Determining your work priorities correctly require a working understanding of the different boundaries which permeates your workplace.  These boundaries can only be determined through your various interactions with your co workers.  Respecting those boundaries sometimes lead to vain efforts of complying to conflicting priorities. Your efforts to perform at your best are completely undermined by the dynamic power structures at work. Maneuvering the margins of your workplace require you to take an active role. Choosing to negotiate the boundaries would actually add value to your work brand. It is through these social negotiations that your work brand is constantly being moulded giving you opportunities to grow professionally and personally. Your ability to deal with both complexity and ambiguity and at the same time, managing your sense of confusion is crucial for you to successfully navigate your workplace.

There are times when you will feel trapped by those same boundaries that you are trying to redefine. You may then feel a looming sense of frustration and you tend to become very self conscious.  It is at this very moment that your resilience needs to kick in. Resilience is not about continued success but more about your ability to cope with crises, failures. It is an enduring process where at times you will feel vulnerable and lost but you will ultimately emerge stronger over time.

In the end, your approach to managing your priorities and defining your daily checklist is not linear. It does not necessarily follow the construct of any recommended framework. It is in constant flux imbued by the various experiences that act to enrich your time management skills.

Swapping Identities As You Journey Through Life.

Each person has multiple identities: as a sister/brother, daughter/son, colleague/boss, neighbour, alumni/teacher, friend. With globalization, the flow of people crossing borders is increasing and our interactions are not only an emotional experience. It is also about having new cultural experience shaping our view of the world. As a result, most people have “fluid” identities – moulded by life experiences, interactions with a variety of people, overseas travelling, job changes, amongst others. You also would tend to tweak your “personal brand” to fit your new personal and professional goals as you go into a new phase of your life.

Every industry or workplace or country has its own norms and values which must be understood and embraced if you hope to be considered as being “one of them”. It does not necessarily mean that you have to be a completely new person.  Remaining true to your core values and at the same time being open to new possibilities is a century old challenge to anyone who embraces change.

In integrating a new environment, you will probably choose those elements that enable you to “fit in” and that are, at the same time, aligned with your core “self”. Keeping your own sense of “balance” requires a constant management of uncomfortable emotions coming from a sense of confusion, being misunderstood, harbouring contradictory beliefs and a feeling of being “out of place”. In those times, it is important to have access to some kind of social support where you can voice out your anxieties and feel heard. This is also where your problem solving skills can help you to directly address the sources of your discomfort. Remaining open to suggestions made by people who have been in your shoes is another means to successfully achieve this transition.

As you constantly renegotiate your identity over time, your relationships tend to change as well. Most people would use their own personal experiences to make assumptions and behave accordingly. As a result, you will sometimes be perceived differently from your own self image. It is important to bear in mind that no matter how much efforts you put into setting things right, the outcome is largely to the discretion of the other person.

Using an approach characterized by dialogue can sometimes dissolve the misunderstandings. Dialogue is not about having a number of conversations. It is about being fully conscious of your own personal bias and having an understanding of what it is like to be in the other person’s shoes at the same time. It is creating the necessary space so that the parties involved can freely express themselves and be “seen” in their own personalities. Such engagement would become possible when the parties involved perceive that “the stakes are high”. Engaging into this “dance” to reach common ground requires personal commitment and a level of self confidence. Only then, the relationship can continue to flourish and evolve in a way that is both mutually beneficial to both parties.

There is always an element of risk when you go into a new career/country/workplace.  You can actually end up valuing more what you have lost. However, being curious about other people’s views and experiences can only broaden your vision and improve your interactive skills. Going out of your comfort zone is actually healthy because it is good to know what lies beyond and to test your own sense of self. No matter the age gap or difference in cultural background and/or in their career path, people, having experienced similar life situations, have much more in common. You will eventually make new friends and widen your network.

It is important to be bear in mind that each encounter in your new environment is only a snapshot. People make up the very fabric of any environment and because people’s identities evolve,  making hasty conclusions can only validate your self doubts, strengthen your resistance to change and lead to self marginalization.

In the end, navigating through the twists and turns of your journey can only provide you with opportunities for personal growth and can help you develop a stronger sense of self.

Strong Resilience Equates Strong Self Worth.

As 2017 comes to an end in almost six weeks, some of you will be expected to make a review of your performance during your appraisal session by your team or by your superiors. There is nothing more exhilarating to remind yourself of all the goals you have achieved for this year. It would be perfect if you have been able to achieve 100% of the targets that you have set yourself to for 2017.

As perfection is a myth, there will be a few goals that are still not within your reach and you wonder whether you were too ambitious, not enough prepared or unforeseen circumstances turned them into moving targets. If these goals happen to have high stakes involved, this is where your resilience will be tested to the core.

Beating yourself up or blaming “others” and/or unexpected circumstances will not undo the fact that you have not achieved what mattered most: that 20% that would have made an 80% impact on your career. For some people, they will shrug it off and continue on with their lives. For others, they will mull it over and over and feel miserable. Alternatively, some people find it useful to discuss it with their friends, family members and mentors to find solace in the comforting words of the people they trust most.

Your approach to tackling challenges will largely depend upon the different “role models” you had, your underlying principles and values and what you have learnt from your past experiences. Shrugging it off is not the right approach and mulling it over is also counter productive. Any challenge has the potential for potential growth and development if you are ready to let go of false pride and learn from it. Sometimes, because of the complexity involved, it is easier to ignore it and convince yourself that this is just a streak of bad luck.

If you happen to be one of those professionals who self manage themselves, you will take this performance appraisal as an opportunity to carry out a critical self analysis. This personal review can act as a stimulus to bring about desired changes so that you are better equipped for 2018. You will allow yourself to question your existing values, beliefs and behaviour. You may initially experience mental discomfort as your commitment to your personal growth conflicts with your false pride.  True resilience is the ability to develop a productive dialogue during that performance appraisal with your superiors or team members.  A productive dialogue is when both parties are empathetic towards each other, are conscious of their personal assumptions of each other and are able to express their opinions in an equitable manner. It is also important to bear in mind that such efforts on your part is rewarded if the counter party is ready to listen and is able to create a safe zone where you feel heard and seen.

Such dialogue is facilitated if both parties consider themselves as being on the same side of the fence. If you always have that feeling of “me” and “them”, then it will be nearly impossible to create a productive dialogue. How you perceive yourself and how your superiors or your team members perceive you need to be similar for you to create strong rapport and turn this performance appraisal into a productive session for both parties. There are times when their perception of you differs from your own as relationships are fluid and evolve constantly. However, if this gap constantly exists, it implies that your values and theirs are not aligned and being part of a team who have not much in common with you is a waste of your time and energy.

Being unable to connect with your team mates or your superiors can be distressing. Such emotional stress can affect your communicative behaviours and you may perceive a lack of control which can severely undermine your performance at work. If this is the case, then your best option will be to look for another job or ask for your transfer to another team. Working for an organization or team that values your contribution is most rewarding, leads to a better atmosphere at work and reduces work related stress.

Your inability to achieve pre agreed targets does not necessarily imply lack of skills or knowledge from you. It does signal that there is a missing piece in the puzzle and it is best to identify this missing piece as part of your personal commitment to yourself. Your self worth will largely benefit from this critical self analysis.

Managing Your Personal Career Transitions

Most people have changed jobs at least once and for some, they have even changed career to start afresh in an entirely new role. For example, a number of ex military people have joined the financial services industry.  Change implies experiencing a certain level of discomfort and confusion, even though you have a successful track record in your past work experiences.

Working for a new company means meeting new faces and being part of a new team. Though you may know some of your team members professionally or personally, working with them on an almost daily basis would imply an adaptation period and learning curve to go through.  The novelty of the new workplace can be exciting and stressful at the same time. Coping with stress successfully depends on whether adequate resources are available and your coping style suits the needs of the situation.

Each company has its own culture with implied set of rules and behavioural norms. At the start, you may feel like “a stranger” learning to “fit in” with your co workers. You are hoping that, after a few months, it will no longer be “me” and “them”. It will simply be “us”. This period of adaptation comes with moments of discomfort at times when you ask yourself: “Have I made the right choice?” There are also moments of satisfaction when your personal contribution to the team is largely appreciated.

Some corporate cultures facilitate the integration of newcomers by allowing organizational boundaries to be permeable. Businesses add new people to their team in the hope that they will induce changes to the existing corporate culture. Such changes can be positive as it can lead to the emergence of new perspectives on existing challenges or innovative ideas about the business.  In this scenario, newcomers, in building rapport and trust with their fellow co workers, will perceive themselves as core organizational members over time.

At other times, you still feel like “an outsider” even after a year in the job. It may not be necessarily your lack of skills.  It can be your personal perception of things. It is also sometimes due to the corporate culture of the business that does not provide for the integration of new members.

A more challenging move for progressing your career is making a career shift.  Skills and knowledge are transferable so making career changes is doable. The perceived level of difficulty is higher as there may be no existing comparative framework in your existing repertoire of past work/life experiences. You may find many things to be challenging such as the “ways of doing things” and the “language used” in the new career you have chosen. Each industry has its own “jargon” or technical terms used.

As a result, you feel like a “Newbie” even though you have been working for a number of years. Having the status of a “beginner” can actually be an opportunity for you to bring a fresh approach and allow you to stand out. It is your choice of whether you would like to be “one of them” or being “you” and still be part of the industry community.

Perception with your set of beliefs and values sometimes determine how far you can go in your new career or in a new job.  In both cases, your successful integration relies on your behavioural flexibility, level of critical thinking, humility and openness. Your level of emotional intelligence is another determining factor. Reaching out to people who have had similar experiences or working with a mentor, whose career you would like to emulate, can help you assess whether you are on the right track or not.

It is also important to bear in mind that every culture is dynamic whether it is corporate culture or that of the industry at large. So, timing is sometimes critical and making the wrong choice once does not mean that you won’t be able to carry out the desired changes. It means that you would need to continue on looking for the opportunities that allow you to progress your career.

Gender Diversity – No Hard And Fast Rules.

Gender Diversity has been a hot topic for decades and being a woman, I must admit that I have not given much thought to it until recently. Gender biases have existed for centuries when it comes to involving more women in the workplace, in politics, in leadership roles, etc. Over the past few decades, gender diversity has taken on a new meaning. LGBTQ community, an acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer are now voicing out their concerns of being not properly integrated into our society.

The reason why I have not often considered the issues surrounding gender diversity is because I think there needs to be a profound change in societal norms – something that can only be dealt with through lobbying/campaigning, changes in national policies and more importantly changes in how we raise our kids.

Issuing and endorsing gender diversity policies at work or enacting laws that promotes gender diversity is rarely going to be enough to make the necessary for attitudes at work and amongst society at large to transform itself so that everybody feels a sense of belonging. There is also the fact that each individual has her/his own life experiences influencing personal life choices. Individual A can feel that he is respectful towards others whist Individual B believes that A does not have the right attitude. In other words, getting the right balance is complex. Bearing in mind that our laws and national policies tend to lag behind societal changes, there will always be room for improvement.

I believe that any changes start with our own personal journey. Teaching the next generation at home to be respectful of others is my personal contribution to the gender diversity agenda. The formation of the beliefs and values of an adult starts early. It has been proven that “a child’s perception of the world is directly downloaded into the subconscious during the first six years of life. The fundamental behaviours, beliefs, attitudes we observe in our parents, teachers: people in our immediate surroundings becomes hardwired as synaptic pathways in our subconscious minds.”(c.f The Biology of Belief : Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles by Bruce H Lipton). The subconscious mind always operates in the “now” whilst the conscious mind can travel in time: past, present and future.

In other words, the subconscious mind is the one who is in control. Positive affirmation can influence our behaviour and genes but only when they are in harmony with our subconscious programming. To change someone’s attitudes, there needs to be a reprogramming of the unconscious. According to Bruce Lipton, thoughts consume energy as surely as does marathon running. Rewriting programs in the subconscious mind can be achieved through the help of a number of modalities known as “energy psychology”. Some well-known modalities are hypnotherapy and body centered therapies.

However, whenever there is an opportunity to bring my personal contribution to promoting gender diversity, I would not hesitate to do so. The thing is that no matter how many policies are endorsed, it all starts with us making a conscious effort to change our social norms. Our social culture is dynamic with people continuously making their own contributions. If we want to give a gift to our daughters or sons for Christmas 2017, we may want to give them something that will encourage less gender biases. Giving a boy something that will raise his awareness that “nurture” is as important as “winning” can make a difference in how he views the world in the next 10 – 20 years. Allowing a girl to choose her own career gives her the self worth she needs to succeed later in life.

There are no hard and fast rules as to how we can ensure that no matter who we are, we all feel that we belong to this current world. Inclusion and belonging is important for better social cohesion as past research have proven that they are critical for a human being to function optimally in terms of health, adjustment and well being implying less costs to society in terms of health care and social welfare benefits.

RACE TO THE BOTTOM OR TO THE MOON?

Businesses thrive when they are able to provide something not easily replicable by other players in the same industry or the same market segment. There are different sources of competitive advantage: cost savings, access to a critical source of raw material, first mover advantage, etc. These competitive advantages do not last forever. They have to be renewed over time. Though, the weakest source of competitive advantage is cost savings, it is the one that is the most popular in many industries.

Cost savings do not imply that costs disappear.  They are actually transferred from people who have power and money to those who have nothing.  Operating a business based on cost savings actually signals, most of the time, the loss or a lack of creativity.  No business can be sustained over the long term by continuous cost cutting. Such strategy will eventually lead to the build-up of unseen risks that will arise unexpectedly, leading to more value destruction and thus to the closing down of the business activities. So, cost savings is more a race to the bottom rather than to the moon!

The recent fire at Grenfell Tower is an example of the race to drive down costs which led to huge loss of lives. It is important to bear in mind that organisations operate within a society, the impact of their race may spread far beyond their immediate operations.  Outsourcing activities to third parties in an effort to cut costs is another strategy that can lead to potential collateral damage.  It is true that outsourcing is a major source of employment in some countries which are known to provide excellent levels of service. It is unfortunately not always the case. It is the responsibility of business owners to ensure that any outsourced activity is being carried out with the same ethos as theirs because collateral damages to their business brand can be irrecoverable.

When activities are being outsourced hastily in an effort to generate “quick wins” without any attention given to risk management, it can be disastrous. It is to the long term advantage of any business not to get cheaper but to get smarter about what consumers really wants and how to make it well. According to Ray Henderson from Interface, “Sustainability is all about coming up with ways to meet our needs (not wants) today without undermining the ability of other folks to meet their needs tomorrow.” See his TED Talk.

Instead of seeing Interface as being separate from society, he viewed it as being integrally connected to the entire world. According to Ray Anderson, businesses need to identify all of their costs and then had to find or invent ways to eliminate them completely and permanently – not just pass them along.

In the extensive research carried out by Margaret Heffernan, “innovative institutions and organizations thrive not because they pick and breed superstars but because they cherish, nurture and support the vast range of talents, personalities and skills that true creativity requires”. A collaborative culture requires continued commitment from all parties involved and can be achieved with a genuine effort to communicate without status, awe or intimidation. Part of this collaborative culture is the permission to fail and to learn from those mistakes made. This is necessary if employees are meant to add value, give useful feedback and go the extra mile to make things work.

For decades, the theory of Darwin prevailed. It emphasized life’s competitive nature leading to a dog eat dog attitude in many spheres of life: business, social, political etc.  We now know the results: the emergence of systemic risks, the breakdown of conventional systems and regulations in various industries.

In Bruce Lipton’s book, “The Biology of Belief”, he explains that in the past few years, research in the field of epigenetics have determined that environmental influences, including nutrition, stress and emotions can modify our genes without changing their basic blueprint. In other words, if someone tends to live in a certain environment where certain core values prevail, over time that person will inevitably be influenced by those same set of values unconsciously. As a result, asking a group of people to team up and collaborate genuinely is not going to happen overnight. .

For a group of people to endorse values such as cooperation, professionalism, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the culture prevailing in the workplace. The business needs to operate on an operational model where people are encouraged to be supportive and failures are viewed as opportunities to create something new. For a few to be rewarded whilst the rest of the team are considered as “ordinary” or “losers” sends the wrong message that there are winners and losers. For outstanding performance to take place, there has been the correct flow of information, the right kind of infrastructure and the right sort of training. All this is the outcome of good collaboration between multiple parties who are “unsung” heroes in the unfolding of events.

Racing to the moon requires more than replicating successful business models or cutting costs. It is the result of a rigorous commitment to taking a long term view of encouraging a thriving collaborative culture.

 

The  following books have been used as reference for the write up of this post.

  1.  A Bigger Prize by Margaret Heffernan
  2. The Biology of Belief : Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles by Bruce H Lipton

Creating Value Within Your Organisation.

The Value Of Any Organisation Is In Its Sustainability. A business that cannot survive over the long term has no value.  There are very few organisations which can boast continued success from the day it was launched to the present date. Most organisations had to go through a number of transformations over time to survive. Those who failed to review and adapt, were either bought out or shut down. The most well-known example is Lehman Brothers. The main lesson learnt is size does not matter when it comes to survival.  Economies of scale if they can be achieved, eventually reach a point where they become counterproductive. According to Margaret Heffernan, “we need organisations that are robust, that can survive the vicissitudes of political, social and economic change. Expecting any organisation to be infallible is madness. What we want are organisations that are functional – but can fail safely.”

The belief that size makes you invincible has been disproved again and again. Yet, people continue to believe that there is safety in numbers and that scale commands respect.  Large organisations lead to organisational complexity which makes it difficult for the company to fix itself. The voice of those involved in the operations or having proximity to the market is not heard and they are sometimes discouraged to provide feedback due to the steep hierarchies involved in those organisations.  As a result, changes in the trends of the market are not taken into account in time so that the organisation adopts more of a reactive attitude rather than a proactive attitude.

For smaller organisations, succession planning is a typical challenge faced by most founders. Tackling succession planning at an early stage is recommended if you are looking to leave your business/organisation as part of the legacy for future generations or for society at large. It is challenging to create the right blend of people to succeed to the founder(s). Most owners of SME’s or of small charities would rather continue on their own than invest time, energy and money to building a team that will end up leaving them after a few years or that may not live up to their expectations.

According to Margaret Heffernan, collaboration is hard because so little in our culture trains, rewards or even seems to notice great collaboration. True collaboration is characterized by passionate curiosity, modest confidence and mild obsession. Creativity and innovation is derived from the careful nurturing of relationships and a commitment to the long term. Trust requires constant communication. There is a lot of give and take.  The more power you delegate the more people feel they are empowered and as a result, they take ownership and will not let you down. What we need is to build the structures and processes, the habits and relationships that draw it out and make it grow.

Creativity clearly challenges the status quo and this is how new ideas and concepts emerge. You don’t learn when people tend to agree with you. You actually grow and learn when people challenge your beliefs and your way of doing things. It is then an opportunity for you to make your self assessment and learn from their point of view.  Great leadership is not the result of the efforts of one single individual. It is the ability to acknowledge and integrate the contribution that each person brings to the team.

It is also important to bear in mind that the success enjoyed by most organisations is the result of inspired teams made up of highly collaborative and creative individuals. The CEO or leader of any organisation can be a great visionary and highly charismatic individual but it takes more than that to materialise the inspired vision into a positive contribution to the performance of the organisation or to society at large. The idea that only a great leader can lead an organisation to success is not realistic. There is neither a single hero who can master the complexity of the economic environment nor one single brain who can comprehend the amount of data required to be analysed to make the right strategic decision.

As Margaret Heffernan explains in her book, A Bigger Prize, managing an organisation is not the same as running the 100m sprint where athletes can focus on short term goals to achieve perfection. “A competitive mindset may help you hit achieve tomorrow’s sales target or get through the week’s call sheet but it is a terrible way to manage complex projects over the lifetime of a business”.

Organisations are set up to implement a series of ideas be it for profit or for the greater good of society. Ideas come from people and people provide ideas when they are inspired. People are inspired when they are able to mix work with pleasure. 100% focus on work only creates a tunnel vision that does not have the necessary diversity needed for a human brain to think outside the box. Corporate cultures that encourages their workforce to stay long hours – exceeding 40 hours a week are actually putting a limit to productivity, Research has shown that working long hours for a number of years tend to lead to more mistakes and therefore, more resources spent to clean up the mess.

When the workplace is all about individual performances – the heroic soloist, the team is focused on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies. People are encouraged to “play safe” leading to “people pleasing” attitudes rather than striving for excellence and creativity, stifling innovation – much needed for the sustainability of any organisation. Every person craves for a sense of belonging and connectedness and an environment conducive to collaboration fulfils this very need. Employee loyalty and commitment is not solely linked to financial remuneration but also to the desire to belong to a group which personifies the values that they cherish and uphold as part of their overall identity.

The bigger prize is a creative activity that everyone in the organisation can own. People tend to focus on the bottom line when in truth; it is the implementation of a series of winning ideas that make an organisation thrive. Also, the most successful organisation has an inclusive approach when it comes to ownership. Employees, who have proved their commitment, are invited to be part of the shareholding of the organisation. When you own part of the organisation, you want everyone to be at their best. “When anyone wins, everyone wins”.

The book: “A Bigger Prize by Margaret Heffernan” has been used as reference for the write up of this post.

Managing Your Learning Curve

For the past few decades, the economic landscape has changed with the automation of many manufacturing processes. Online shopping, e books and internet banking has led to the closing of many high street shops/bookshops. Banks have cut down their number of retail outlets. Jobs such as running a printing press and shorthand are obsolete. Concepts such as digital marketing, tech entrepreneurship have emerged and their corresponding skills set are now “in demand”.

To survive in this new world, you cannot possibly be expected to have all the skills and knowledge needed throughout your entire career. Most people have had to adapt to the continuous change in their job requirements over the years. For one to have a successful career, you need to have retained the love of learning and exploration. Progress depends on new ideas and challenging the status quo. Having a creative and courageous mindset and being resilient when making mistakes are important. The ability to accept the unknown and to remember that we always have a choice of turning back and choose another route facilitates your learning curve. Being in touch your emotions allows you to check in with yourself and understand what your learning style is. Learning by doing is one approach. Mind mapping or listening to podcasts are other strategies used for learning.

As part of a team, you can leverage the collective wisdom of the team for your professional development. It is sometimes a good way to fast track your learning curve as each team member can contribute to the pool of knowledge and skills. This is why it is critical to acquire the skill to work within teams. A group of people with different skills set, personality types and life experiences working together allows for divergent thinking – generating as many solutions as possible.

However, not everyone enjoys working in teams and it takes a lot of hard work to be a great team player.  Collaborative skills can be challenging to acquire for a number of people. Groups of people may start as equals at first. Over time, a drift towards inequality of participation emerges with people segmented into roles and ranks: leader, moderator, chronic objector, advancing ideas, etc.

For some people, winning at all costs is what matters. They seek to dominate others and they fail to learn by experience. They are “sociopaths”. Unfortunately winning means that there are losers and focusing on winning dampens creativity as trust, safety and fairness is not part of the equation. An obsession with score keeping constrains thinking and undermines the very innovation it hopes to spark. Sociopaths are unable to change as they don’t see the need to and they tend to have poor judgement of wrongdoing.

People with Asperger Syndrome also have persistent difficulties with social interaction and communication. They process information differently from the “mainstream”. There are a number of strategies that they can use to communicate better. Contrary to a sociopath, someone with Asperger Syndrome can add huge value to a team if they are aware of their personality and have received training to make up for their lack of social skills.

Your learning curve can be fun if you are able to continuously fuel your internal motivation. For example: the energetic desire to make a great contribution or to make the most of what is given to you can facilitate your professional development.

This post has been inspired from the book: “A Bigger Prize” by Margaret Hefferman.