The Why, the Strategy and the Culture

Hardly an article is written, or a conversation is started, without a mention of the terrible trials we have endured during 2020. Motivation and engagement seems to be at an all-time low and leaders and business owners are concerned about how to approach planning for 2021. They appear to be stuck between the proverbial rock and the hard place. 2020 was challenging enough but 2021 seems be shrouded in mystery as the way forward feels more and more uncertain as we prepare to enter 2021 with COVID in tandem. How does one create forward momentum during such uncertainty? How do you motivate team members, or even yourself, when the goal-post keeps moving?

At the end of last year, I read the book The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. In the novel, the Tattooist Lale Solokov is a Slovakian Jew who is judged by his peers for being prepared to tattoo the symbols of the Nazi oppression on his fellow Jews – specifically on young girls, women and children. In Lale’s mind though he was doing this so that he could make sure that the tattoos hurt as little as possible. In his own way, the character of Lale teaches us the lesson that Viktor Frankl vividly portrayed in Man’s Search for Meaning. When we understand our purpose, when we know where we make meaning of life, then we can doggedly follow that path. Even under the harshest conditions.

The way to start preparing for 2021 is to understand the Why, or purpose of the organization, teams and individual employees. Asking the following questions can help you get there.

For the organization:
What is the Why of the business?
Why is that significant?
What value does it add to society?
What value does it add for its employees?
Given the rapid changes that have taken place, is this why still relevant?

For a team (or business unit):
What is the Why for the team?
How does the team fulfill the Why of the business?
How have changes over the last year changed the Why for the team?
Has there been a shift in process, procedure, and systems to support the Why of the team?
Can the team still deliver on its Why?

For the individual employee?
What is the Why for each individual employee?
Are there employees that share a Why?
Are these connections being used to create engagement?
Does the Why of the employee dovetail with the Why of the business?
Has there been a disruption to the employees Why this year? How has this been dealt with?

By answering these questions managers, and team members alike, will get a better understanding of what is driving each level of the business and whether there is sufficient overlap to create a cohesive network of motivation. These overlaps will be the super power of the organization and should align to the strategy and culture of the organization.

Where there are gaps, however, these are areas in which work is needed. Once the gaps have been identified it is best to see how the gaps relate to the strategy and culture of the organization. If the gaps negatively impact either, or both, of these they need to be eliminated. If the gaps do not related to the above, then performance will not be impacted. It is therefore best to prioritize closing the gaps that can have an impact on the strategy and the culture.

Creating a shared purpose will help in setting up more sustainable motivation that can drive one employee, one team or one business.

The clever thing about clever people

I love getting older! I am fascinated by all the people I have connected with over the years, the guidance and mentorship I received, and how that has impacted my life. I am going through an incredible journey of reconnecting with ex-colleagues and clients at the moment and it is lovely to reflect on what I have learned from them.

In this week’s Performance Cafe I am joined by Caryn Schalit, she was my HR lead when I was a training and development manager. We had a blast working together as she has an openness to new ideas, while at the same time never dropping her standards and keeping an eye in the bigger picture.

Caryn taught me many things, but three things stand out for me:

  1. There is always time to innovate and do things even better. I remember us hashing out a Performance Management System that was so innovative at the time. And my ultimate reward was when, after the implementation was completed, an employee thanked me for the clarity and purpose the system created. That would not have happened had we rushed the process.
  1. Caryn also always said that if two people always agree, one of them is redundant. I believe this is a Ben Bernanke quote. To me it will always be a “Carynism”. On the back of that belief, she always took the time to listen to ideas, to provide feedback and to help evolve ideas to next level of thinking. Essentially, she did this by challenging me, but not once do I remember us arguing. To this day I wonder how she managed that.
  1. My last lesson, for the purposes of this post, was that Caryn always claimed that she only brought people into her team who are cleverer than she is. While I strongly doubt the statement, as she has clever to spare, it made me feel that my ideas where always appreciated and she never expected anyone to kowtow to her. The interesting part about this is that it was invaluable when I started my own business. I have been able to collaborate with some very clever people who do amazing work and outshine me by far. Without Caryn’s view on this I would have felt insecure and my ego would have spun about like the Tazmanian Devil. Now, I use my energy building more connections with exceptional individuals in order to provide my clients with the best solutions possible.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to present a webinar on Employee Engagement to the Enshrine Placements team’s community. The majority of the focus was on Employee Engagement and how to create that in a business context. The message was clear (i) win over hearts and minds and ensure people feel they belong, (ii) allow employees to have some autonomy in their role and (iii) allow employees to feel appreciated and respected in their role which will motivate them to higher levels of mastery. This creates engagement which will see employees rise to achieve and do more than is asked in most cases… Oh wait! Caryn taught me that too!

And so, that is the clever thing about clever people like Caryn. They allow you to shine, while challenging you and making you feel valuable. What an amazing journey.

Caryn grew up in HR & Talent Acquisition and more recently, managed the global People function of a growing mid-size enterprise for 7 years. She embraces non-traditional HR thinking and believes passionately in helping shape people practices, talent acquisition and talent management to ensure they are relevant and designed with the future of work in mind.

The exotic vs building bridges

Many people realize the value of travel as a self-development tool. I couldn’t agree more. Visiting a different country, especially one where the norms, culture, food and language are very different can really open one’s eyes and that encourages a respect for diversity. Visiting America, India, Tanzania, Lesotho and Namibia certainly left me with new perspectives.

With COVID and lockdown reducing our ability to travel many individuals have been eagerly awaiting news of a return of international travel. Their need for their travel-fix has been building for the last few months and the call of the exotic is becoming stronger by the day.

George A. Moore is credited as having said “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” As humans it in our natures to explore and push boundaries, especially as teenagers who are wanting to roam outside the influence of family ties. I believe that this leads to the need to move away from home in order to test the waters of freedom and independence.

However, I believe that we have overlooked an important learning opportunity during this difficult time. I wonder if we could encourage a trend to explore local cultures, norms and attitudes in order to grow our respect and tolerance of diversity. I live in a country where we have the ideal opportunity to do so because of the sheer diversity in the country. We have 11 official languages and more than one ethnic group related to each language, in fact Africa is credited as have close to 3000 ethnic groups.

That level of diversity is a key influencer of how people relate to each other, and yet everyday in the media, and in the manager’s office we hear about how one or another person or team is being “difficult”. What if they are not being “difficult“ but “different”. How much time, energy, money and stress can be saved by being open to the differences and finding a way to help those views and perspectives find purpose in our businesses?

How do we do this? I prefer using the wheel-of-life, which is a coaching tool that focusses on challenges from a wholistic approach.

From this image we can see the fundamental aspects that affect each of our lives, irrespective of the culture we hail from. So when feeling challenged in an interaction I try and remember that people are “different” in each of these areas, not “difficult” in each of them. In fact, to the other person in the conversation, you are being “different”.

The way to get around this? Genuine non-judgemental curiosity. Ask questions and learn about how the individual thinks and feels and work from there. This reminds me of the concept of non-violent communication that was taught to me by Sylvia Lohr, an ex-colleague and friend.

Yes, it most certainly is a longer route to take, but building bridges are worth the effort. And when those bridges are in your neighbourhood (so to speak) they serve both you and your community, whether at home or at work.

My guest this week in the Performance Café Coffee Companions series is Sylvia Lohr. Sylvia is Principal Marketing Manager at Nuance Communications (DACH & CEE) who has worked in a multitude of global team. She has a  passion for holistic and integrated B2B Marketing Strategy. Agile and lean methodologies, along with a healthy dose of teamwork are her cornerstones.

Remote work
Remote Working 2.0

At the beginning of Lockdown I wrote a blog called “Dear Manager this is not remote work this is work from home” which led to me being interviewed for a LinkedIn Live show called Virtual Coffee with Francois. I had just completed two on-demand courses about setting up remote workers and managing remote workers and the topic was red hot at the time.

Now I find the conversation becoming relevant again. Firstly as lockdown has eased up some of the challenges faced by employees, and by extension businesses as well, are easing up. An example of this is children returning to school so parents do not need to split their time between work and homeschooling. So the viability of remote working is improving and companies are weighing up the positives and negatives of making this a permanent change.

The second driving factor for continued remote working is that, even as lockdown is lifting in South Africa and infection and death rates have slowed down, society at large has realized that we will not be out of social distancing, the wearing of masks and washing our hands at every turn for a long while. Given the cost of office space and an inability to cram people into every nook and cranny, it becomes a very expensive exercise to maintain vast amounts of office space.

At this point, I believe we are closer to the remote work environment than a few months ago as the reduction of isolation of individuals, the lessening of fear for self and others, the return of lifestyle services and routines, and the normalizing of health measures has reduced the pressure on society in general. So what does that mean for businesses who are trying to decide on the viability of remote work?

In my previous article I highlighted aspects of business that need to be taken into account when implementing remote work, this included:

1. Remote work should be appropriate to the vision of the organization.
2. Remote work should reflect the organizational culture.
3. Implementing remote work should be well planned from a systems and a process perspective.
4. Employees should be supported in creating a remote work location.
5. Employees should be given time to adjust to remote work.

I stand by these as pivotal factors in setting up businesses for successful remote working. I feel especially strong about the last point. Understandably businesses have taken massive strain under lockdown and expected more than ever from employees to perform. A lack of employee performance, however damaging to the business, was understandable to a point, given the challenges mentioned above.

It is more important to evaluate employees on how they approached the challenges during lockdown, rather than do a straight comparison of work-from-office performance vs work-from-home performance. The reason for this is that a major contributor to having remote employees is that of trust. This thought occurred to me when I was interviewing Maureen Baird yesterday for our Performance Cafe Coffee Companions series. Maureen implemented her first remote work project in the 1980s and she shared so many valuable lessons with me. The most important for me was trust. Not just trust in employees to do what is expected of them, but also trust in managers that they will provide leadership appropriate so this style of work. Maureen also shared that a spin-off of this is was creativity and innovation. As people who feel trusted are more likely to take appropriate risks to find better ways of doing the same work.

So when we try and measure performance for the last few, insane, months the question is not whether the employee maintained the same level of work, but rather:

1. Did they innovate?
2. Were they creative?
3. Were they resilient?
4. Were they adaptable?
5. Were they relentless about improvement?

The reason to ask these questions, and ignore more traditional measures, is that these are the key characteristics of mature employees who do well at remote working. Remote workers are not just good at getting the job done. They show tenacity and self-leadership instead of waiting to be micromanaged.

So if you feel despondent about the results of your business and are uncertain about the approach you need to take then consider whether:

1. You have employees described above.
2. You have your all the areas of your business setup for remote working.

If you answer yes to either of these it is important to be strategic in your approach to the other.
If you answered no to both above, then it is important to evaluate whether remote work is appropriate for your industry, your business, and your clients.
If you answered yes to both then stop reading this article and get back to work!

Maureen Baird is our guest on our 40th Performance Café Coffee Companions series. Maureen spent a major part her career working for a large international IT company, holding a variety of positions which included executive and senior sales, business operations and technical management. Her industry expertise includes the mining and financial services. In 2011 Maureen decided to make a radical career change. Maureen now owns and runs a successful bespoke ceramics & pottery business. Maureen designs and produces her own range of ceramics and is an accredited ceramics and glass conservator / restorer

The blog mentioned above was one in a series of three articles, they include:
Dear Manager, this is not remote work, it is work from home
Working from Home: why your professional brand is so important
Working from Home: securing your professional brand

The Risk and Reward of Your Employee Spend

Would you ever buy a thoroughbred and expect no return on your investment? What would be the logic of spending time looking for the best breed, with the best breeding lines, the best muscle tone, and the best character and then putting it in a field where it does not have place to run? Surely at the cost of buying the most capable animal you can find there is a sense that this is a resource that can be utilized to make money?

In a recent conversation with Junita van der Colff, who specializes in Risk Management, she mentioned that risk is only one side of the coin – the flip side is opportunity. Hence the analogy of the horse. Why take on the risk of owning the animal if you don’t make use of the opportunities created by the ownership.

The Risk

This got me thinking that one of the biggest risks companies are facing now is their employee spend. Let us first get a good perspective on what the cost is of employing staff. Often times we think of it as just another salary bill at the end of the month, but actually it includes the following: 

  1. Recruiting expenses
  2. Monthly salary, bonuses, incentives
  3. Office space allocation
  4. Employee administration costs such as Finance and HR
  5. Tech and equipment costs
  6. Leave
  7. Training and development
  8. Meeting times (unless billed to a client) and Manager inputs.

Generally, depending on business size and industry, it is accepted that up to 30% of a company’s revenue goes straight into employee salaries. If that covers point two above, it still leaves seven other areas of business where money and time are being spent on employees which is unaccounted for.

A lot of businesses, especially with the effects of COVID-19 and Lockdown, are having to take a long hard look at their employee spend as one of their biggest risk factors. At the same time they are dependent on their employees to provide the services and products they sell. It is an enormous Catch 22.

The Reward

While retrenchments are the order of the day, I believe that businesses are missing an important step here. Instead of getting rid of people, they should do more with the employees available to mitigate this risk.

It is interesting that employers often prefer a plug and play model of management. They want to hire the best people, match them to a job profile and then they want them to “get on with it”. This approach reduces real connection between the manager and the employee. It does not take into account the employee’s unique skills, abilities and strengths, and in essence relegates the employee to a machine.

I believe that when we connect with team members we can unlock more potential and by seeing and getting to know them as individuals we learn what motivates and inspires them. This process is good for business as more value is gained from the same individual, while simultaneously rewarding the individual for what they are good at. This creates a win-win loop of positivity and engagement from the employee, as managers provide them with interesting challenges relevant to them as employees. This then solves the problems the manager is coming across and removing stress from their environment.

The “How”:

  • Constantly review conventional norms.
    Often employees are under-utillized because they aren’t allowed to act outside of their job profile.
  • Be open to ideas from team members.
    I have seen too many businesses hire the best and most talented people just to force them into the mould of “that’s how we do things here”.
  • When there is a problem to be solved ask around.
    Sometimes people with the least knowledge of a problem have the best solutions because they can provide a fresh perspective.
  • Acknowledge all contributions.
    Employees are being asked for their inputs, they are not sitting an exam. There is no such thing as failure in thoughts. The moment people’s contribution in solution crafting is judged harshly you remove their future ability to speak up.

In essence, show trust and create a safe environment for brainstorming. Then see how you can further leverage team members to bring the plan to action. This way you will get a great return on your employee spend. Both from a financial but also a psychological level. This allows you to do more with less.

This week my Coffee Companion on @Performance Café is Junita van der Colff, MD of Protean Business Solutions and host of the Risk Revue podcast. We talk about Risk Management and how to be properly pro-active as well as constructively reactive, to ensure that employee performance is at minimum risk during challenging times.

Busyness over business

This week my guest at the Performance Cafe is Employee Experience Specialist Andy Golding. During our chat, Andy mentioned the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, and a principle he shares around Motion vs Action. The concept is that while the two words are sometimes used interchangeably they indicate two very different activities. Motion is about the start of something, for example when we plan, strategize or learn about something. An example from the book is talking to a personal trainer about an exercise regime. Action, in contrast, is about executing those plans. To carry the example above, actually signing up and starting training is then the Action. Clear goes on to say that Motion by itself does not produce an Action but that it is needed in order to create the basis for Action. However only Action can create an outcome.

In a related article (please see the reference below) Clear writes “When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something. You don’t want to merely be planning. You want to be practicing.”

And here I want to drag out my soapbox on a familiar topic that I feel speaks to the same logic and is so pertinent in the remote work and WFH age we find ourselves in. That is the concept of task management over outcome management and how managers feel the need to have employees in the office for 8 hours a day in order to prove that they are actually working. Firstly, and here Andy would back me up, where is the trust in that? Secondly, this leads to micromanagement where employees complete tasks (Motion), to satisfy the manager, but do not necessarily achieve outcomes (Action).

Outcome-based management not only is more empowering to employees, it is also a lot less time consuming for managers. If team members can be managed by the outcomes they achieve, where they work, or how they get this done is immaterial. The only requirement is that they provide work to the organizational standard.

To check if outcomes-based management is happening in your business ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do my team members have a high level of activity and great performance?
2. Do I talk to them about outcomes and not tasks
3. Do I know them as individuals and understand how they prefer to work?
4. Do I understand how they collaborate as a team to get things done?
5. Do I know what obstacles they tend to come across in getting their work done?

If you have answered no to any of these then you may be micromanaging for Motion instead of managing for Action. This is what creates busyness instead of business. As a manager you can decide which of these will provide you with the best results, and also as an aside, improve the Employee Experience in your organization.

Here’s to more Action in the last few weeks of 2020 so we can set ourselves up for a great 2021.

This week my guest at the @Performance Cafe is Andy Golding from Still Human. As an Employee Experience Specialist her message is that work should not suck, and I back her 100 percent. Think about it, 8 hours is a third of a day. Therefore if someone goes their entire working life without enjoying their work they have wasted, and been in distress, for a third of their working lives. Work stress and burnout lead to many ravages if our society such as alcohol and drug addictions, broken and neglectful relationships, chemical imbalances including depression and anxiety disorders. This means that work-related stress is not only bad for a single employee but also for their family, friends, and the community around them. This also bleeds into their work performance, in the long run, therefore unhappy employees are bad for business, no matter how you look at it.


The Mistake Smart People Make: Being In Motion vs. Taking Action

Achieving the Impossible in 2020

The return of Spring in South Africa during September brings about a sense of renewal and optimism. Sun-loving South Africans pack away winter clothes and spend long days enjoying the great weather the country has to offer. By October the focus moves to the final weeks of the year. A sense of exhaustion sets in with days being counted until the start of the Summer holidays. This seems to be the time when innovation and creativity take a back seat, and it is easier to manage the structured and routine tasks that keeps everything afloat.

This year more than most, it appears that this exhaustion, which has been made worse by COVID and the Lockdown, is much more palpable. The difference is that this exhaustion arrived earlier than expected. By June, with COVID reaching its peak, people already wished away the year.

So how do we approach the last few weeks of 2020, when energy is at an all-time low?

1. Mindset Shift

Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it is done”. Many factors impact persistence and dedication, but most of all it is a matter of mindset. Believing nothing can be achieved or that no effort is valuable at this time of the year is a sure-fire way of ensuring nothing happens. It is also a way of sucking energy from any initiative. Right now is the time to plan how to exceed your goals, not shy away from them.

Tip: Identify the top three goals that have not been achieved this year and re-look how you can reach them given the current situation. They need not look exactly the same, and the approach may be different. Don’t hang onto the irrelevant. If the situation has changed, change the plan.

2. Plan and Measure.

With so much to do, in such a short time, it is crucial to have a finger on the pulse. Knowing when a task is lagging, or something is about to fail is vital. There is no “later” to deal with issues that arise. If you depend on a team, it is also demotivating for them to feel their efforts are at risk because of a breakdown somewhere else in the system.

Tip: make detailed plans and link them to short timelines. Then review and measure these almost daily.

3. Keep communication lines open.

Legacy thinking in businesses dictates that (a) spending time with employees is a waste of time and (b) that employees are wind-up toys that need no guidance and support to achieve their goals. Both of these assumptions are incorrect and detrimental to good leadership practice.

Tip: Have frequent shorter meetings with team members both on an individual and team basis to help resolve issues they cannot clear themselves. Use these to listen and support and avoid telling them what to do. Empower the team to help and support each other as well. There may be a valuable transfer of skills that can take place as well as an improvement in team dynamics.

4. Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate

It is easy to get fixated on a goal, but as the saying goes nothing succeeds like success. Celebrate the small wins to provide continuous energy for the work needed to achieve the final destination.

Tip: Break goals down into milestones and celebrate the success of each of these. This can be done by sending a congratulatory mail or mentioning the achievement in a meeting.

These steps could start turning the tide on a challenging year and help set you up for a much improved 2021. If you don’t quite achieve the impossible by the end of 2020, you may get there in 2021.

This brings to mind David Houle who is my Coffee Companion on Performance Cafe this Friday. David is a well-known futurist who has through his life had a natural tendency to achieve the out-of-the-ordinary. Listen to the full discussion to hear what he has to say about performance in uncertain times.

Two ears one mouth

There is a quote attributed to Epictetus, which states “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” This quote came to mind when I was chatting with Paul Ruinaard about his experiences with the Enneagram and how he and his sales team use it to ensure that they become more attuned to clients’ needs and perspectives. Their use of the Enneagram helps them to better shape solutions to fit client needs.

The reason I found this so interesting is that in many western societies, sales is the domain of fast-talking individuals who focus their personal development more around skills of assertiveness and persuasion than of on client-centricity. This is often true in business where telling is a preferred method of management.

Contrast that to our society where digital technology is creating an environment where consumers are dictating what they want, how they want it, where they want it, and even in some cases, how much they are willing to pay for it. This trend leads me to beg the question, would this work when managing employees? Would we get more done if we stopped allocating tasks and instead provided team members with required outcomes and listened to their solutions? This lets them decide the tasks that are needed to achieve the results.

My feeling would be that it would be more effective. There are a few reasons for this:

1. Despite years in business, managers often lose touch with the day-to-day tasks of team members. This could lead to managers who are unaware of the latest and newest technologies and techniques available to teams. They not only impose their preferences on the team but also negatively impact the development of the team members.

2. Autonomy is one of the major contributors to work satisfaction and improved engagement. Team members have a higher level of responsibility in their work and feel more pride in the outcome if they can determine the approach to take.

3. Managers easily complain about team members who need excessive guidance to get work completed. This neediness could be caused by managers not trusting team members and not allowing them to determine their approach. It breeds a culture of dependence on the manager instead of letting the team members deliver outcomes independently.

It would appear therefore that deciding outcomes, discussing those with team members, finding out how they would shape the solution and provide results within the allotted time is a good a way to provide them with the clarity that they need while leaving the results up to them. It also is a great way to measure the problem-solving capabilities of team members while encouraging their development beyond the managers experience.

A cautionary point though is to never confuse autonomy for team members with abdication as a manager. Although team members get to decide the steps to results, the manager is still required to check that they are on track and that there are no obstacles that they cannot overcome. This is specifically true for more inexperienced teams or team members who may need a little more guidance initially until they have adjusted to the expectations placed on them. Maybe I could edit Epictetus’ quote by adding that there should be two ears, one mouth and two supportive and trusting hands.

Paul Ruinaard ( if our Performance Café, Coffee Companion for this week. Look out for the interview on our YouTube channel, LinkedIn or Facebook page.


Paul Ruinaard ( if our Performance Café, Coffee Companion for this week. Look out for the interview on our YouTube channel, LinkedIn or Facebook page.

Start Dating your Business.

In an earlier blog, I wrote about the importance of leveraging challenges in pursuit of growth – the blog was called “Butterflies and Transformation“. I wrote this at the lifting of lockdown levels in South Africa focussing on the need for so many business people to return to business life at a more regular pace but needing to take the “next” normal into account.

The saying “Don’t waste a good crisis.” has become well worn as everyone tries to manage the impact of the lockdown and COVID. Here I must also lean on this advice, but as the crisis seems to be lessening in intensity, I want to focus on the learnings from this period.

Most businesses, whether small or large, have a form of organizational culture. In the absence of a pre-defined culture, there will still be an unofficial culture, i.e. a general sense of “this is the way we do things here”. As organizational culture relates to an agreement of shared values and norms it can also overflow into areas such as rituals and habits, even influencing process and procedure. It is therefore essential to have an official culture – without it, an informal one will develop, and it may be counter to what is best for the organization.

In her blog, @Zanele Njapha wrote a two-part series called “Three Ways your Business has Changed”. In this, she highlights that both workforces and clients’ needs and expectations have changed. I agree entirely and think that it is a wasted opportunity not to review how this not only impacts the strategy and services of our organizations but also how it impacts the culture.

The most obvious example is remote working which, although not foreign, has become the primary mode for most businesses. Now I can see that generalization landing with a thud. It has not become the norm for many companies where it does not suit the operating model, for example, mining where you need to be in the mine to extract the resource. I hear you, but with COVID and the national call to work from home as far as possible, many more businesses have found ways to make remote work possible. Ways that they would not have thought possible.

And that is the point. The more COVID, the lockdown and remote work have impacted your business, the bigger the imperative to review “how we do things around here”. Your organizational culture and values need to be adjusted to align with the next normal. In relooking and redefining your culture now, you make the best use of the crisis and start laying strong foundations for the future. The impact of the past few months have been so widespread and now we have a rare opportunity to sit back and get re-acquainted with our clients, businesses, products and services and get a fresh view on them.

And so I want to invite you to go on a first date with your business. On first dates we:

1. tend to be curious of the person we are dating.

2. ask a lot of questions and try to put the pieces of the puzzle together with the advantage of a fresh perspective.

3. are open to new knowledge and going down different paths to create a connection with the other person.

4. tend to be less judgemental than of people we have known for a long time.

5. tend to be interested in having fun

6. are not yet leaning on ego to prop us up.   

Go on a date and find out what your business is now and then grow it in this next normal without ego or sentiment about what came before. It will stand you in good stead. And as you do so you will not only reinvent your business but you will learn to unlearn and relearn which will make you change resilient. Just ask @Zanele Njapha who is called the UnLearning Lady.


Zanele Njapha is one of Performance Cafe’s Coffee Companions for September. Look out for the interview on our YouTube channel, LinkedIn or Facebook pages.

Managing like a (Human) Boss

This week @Herman Singh, CEO and Founder of Future Advisory, is my Coffee Companion for my vlog @Performance Café. Herman published his book Di-Volution earlier this year which looks at the Digital Revolution, where we are at and where we will be going.

During the recording session, one of the questions we covered was whether machines are about to take over the world – his answer was not yet. He explained that most computers only work from a deterministic point. This is similar to doing if/then statements in Excel. For example, if a self-driving car approaches a traffic light it is simple enough to see what the color of the light is and respond accordingly. If the light is red it will stop. That means that they are not yet equipped to deal with humans, who do can deal with any number of variations within seconds. To continue the example, when the self-driving vehicle sees an amber light it is likely to slow down in preparation to stop. By comparison a human driver may time the changing of the light to see if they can clear the intersection before the light changes to red. Here the human is calculating the probability. This is something that “the machines” cannot do yet.

The other interesting titbit from the interview was that by 2030 the ability to connect with humans or using interpersonal skills will be a significant advantage. These are often referred to as soft skills when actually they are the most difficult. Ask any manager who has had to mediate conflict between two employees whether it was easy and they will probably agree that soft skills is a misnomer. I would like to replace it with the term interpersonal adaptive mastery. Why? Because we each create our own realities based on our own characteristics, skills, strengths, beliefs, values, abilities, and so on. Our reality is not the cookie cutter replication that our schooling systems seem to try and create and larger corporates also tend to maintain.

To go back to our example of the manager mediating between employees. Our traditional view would be that there are three individuals taking part in the process and while that is correct, the reality is that the following aspects may not be shared by all three individuals: 

  1. They may not all be of the same gender.
  2. They may not be of the same culture.
  3. They may not have grown up in the same area.
  4. They may not have studied at the same schools.
  5. They may not have the same level of tertiary education.
  6. They may not have the same relationship status.
  7. They may not have the same number of dependents.  
  8. They may not travel to work in the same way.
  9. They may not have grown up speaking the same language.
  10. They may not have the same belief systems.

The list carries on….

Given that these individuals are exactly that – individual – and given that we acknowledge that humans can respond probabilistically. It is important to understand that all management, whether in a small business or a large corporation is in essence dealing with complexity and that the best way to manage humans is by taking their differences into account instead of trying to be too deterministic.

Another aspect to take into mind is sentience. Computers are not self-aware, therefore they are impervious of their effect on others. Through our self-awareness as humans we are able to understand that we bring our own dynamic into interactions. Therefore the manager who is mediating understands that he or she is contributing to the discussion as well and therefore has to be very wary of influencing instead of mediating.

In conclusion to lead like a human boss you should:

  1. Treat team members as individuals and take into account their unique contributions.
  2. Understand that differences create opportunity and new perspectives. This is particularly important for innovation and creativity.
  3. Understand that every person in an interaction contributes to the dynamic.
  4. Embrace the complexity and don’t expect interpersonal adaptive skills to be automatic and perfect. They grow the more they are used.

I hope to see you at our Coffee Companions chat on Friday as we take a deeper dive into our conversation on the Digital Revolution and Man’s search for meaning.