Productive Kindness and Resourcefulness

So this seems to be my new “thing”. I am totally obsessed with finding the sweet spot between “ensuring performance and results” and “being human” in business.

The COVID pandemic has highlighted one of the biggest dilemmas in our modern world of work, how do we find the balance between showing empathy at work while not dropping the ball on productivity and performance.

I read an article by my good friend and business associate @RenateJute in which she speaks of the difference between having resources and being resourceful. Her article’s concept is that we will never necessarily have enough resources but being resourceful means that we can optimize our resources, which sometimes negates the need for more resources.

For me, that sums up the essence of making Productive Kindness work in the business context. What impacts most on managers’ and business owners’ ability to empathize with employees is the fear that either their kindness will be taken advantage of, or that challenges may last indefinitely and the team member will become a drain on the business. As with all things, fear is a pretty powerful motivator, and with (predominantly big business) not being geared toward meeting out huge heaps of kindness, it is easier to stick with a norm where humanity and empathy are side-lined for the sake of policies and procedures which apparently have fairness as their guidepost.

Where does that fear come from? I believe it has two origins. The first is a lack of trust. Organizations that practice strict control over their employees show a lack of trust in their employees. If employees are trusted, they are allowed more autonomy and freedom; therefore, they can use more discretion in their work. A common response to this kind of statement is that things need to be done to a certain standard, or within certain regulatory guidelines, etc. I don’t doubt that, but even within such constraints, the question can be asked, “do you trust your employees to do it well?” or “must your force them to do their jobs well?”. As I have had this conversation often in the business context, I know that the answer is the latter, often followed by “but they simply cannot be trusted because [fill in any of clichéd beliefs about employees]”. Setting aside the obvious question around hiring practices, if the business consistently hires individuals who are not trustworthy, the answer I never hear is, “they cannot be trusted because I don’t know how to teach them to trust me”. That’s right. You heard it here first. The problem with trust is that leaders do not model it by giving trust. This is a clear indicator of an organization that does not deal with employees as humans. 

The second source of fear is, in my view, inequality in levels of respect between employees and their managers. We most often feel fear when we do not feel empowered in our interactions with each other. Oddly, I believe this comes from paternalistic business models, specifically across levels of the hierarchy. Traditionally managers have been seen as “benevolent parents” or “critical parents” and employees as the “family” they need to take care of. As anyone with a background in psychology and, specifically, Transactional Analysis will tell you, that is never the most productive situation. In this case, especially with benevolent managers, you land up in a situation where you are taking responsibility for another person’s life situation. Being a critical manager points us back to the organization that is more driven towards productivity and business. As per the Transactional Analysis model, if instead, everyone treated each other as adults that were accustomed to taking responsibility for their own lives, we could work with each other to devise a support structure that meets the productivity and human needs and also removes the possibility of the manager being taken advantage of. 

By becoming self-aware of our interactions with others, it becomes possible to identify areas where support can be provided without putting the business at risk. It also will make it easier to empower those around us and value their contribution. 

Congratulations, you have started on the path to Productive Kindness already, just by paying a little more attention to the individuals around you. 

COVID and Productive Kindness

In the past year I have often made reference to the fact that we cannot underestimate the impact of COVID on our emotional lives. I never highlighted the importance of the indirect impact of COVID.

As I write this I am at the beside of my father who fell and is now being admitted to hospital with broken ribs and a broken wrist. My father is in his eighties and is frail both mentally and physically and I am responsible for his day-to-day care. Typically when I say I have this I covered, I mean really covered, from meds, to finances to small rituals and routines. This is not the first hospital visit and normally I would be able to take this in my stride, I’ve so got this. Except I don’t…..

With COVID I will shortly have to leave him alone in the hospital and I will not be able to see him for a few days, even if he has surgery. Even though his ailment is unrelated to COVID it touched our lives. As I sit here a thousand scenarios are playing out in my mind and I feel really vulnerable – vulnerable for him, vulnerable for me and vulnerable for feeling vulnerable.

This makes me wonder how many people in the past year have been overlooked? How many people have been impacted indirectly by COVID? How often have people complained about illness or mental health issues to be told “at least it is not COVID”. It may not be COVID but it is still real, still scary, and it still impacts our sense of general safety and well-being.

Now before I fall into a level of self-pity that requires at least one container of Häagen-Dazs, it is important to reflect on a few important points.

  1. I work for myself, there is no foot-tapping, timesheet watching boss to appease.
  2. I have a wonderful tribe of associates who are helping me postpone meetings, taking over for me where they can, and who are sending paired down to-do lists so I only need to focus on the most essential work.
  3. I have a bunch of friends who stop at nothing to help me keep my household going.
  4. I have long-standing and generous clients who are willing to be kind at this moment.
  5. I have a job and business I adore and which leaves me energised.

I wonder how many other people feel the same? Probably not many. In a time of such vulnerability, I wonder if there is more we can do in business to create productive kindness. Can we:

  1. Use smart collaboration to provide the support team members and colleagues need while still meeting business expectations. 
    Think of multi skilling and cross skilling as a staple along with proper succession planning.

  1. Create a company culture that is as employee-focussed as it is client-focussed.
    Think of personal and professional development and coaching – specifically around wellbeing and resilience during these challenging times. This will not only create a support network now, but create a resilient company culture to manage future challenges.

  1. Accept that work needs to be purposeful and meaningful and that team-members would like to show-up, be present and perform.
    Think of ways to link business strategy to team member performance at their level. Be clear about linking expectations to team member contribution and strengths. What do they do, why is it meaningful to the business and why they are the best person to do it. Use recognition, work and job satisfaction to re-energize team members.

For too long it has been okay in the business world that team members are treated as mere resources. Right now organizations that can rise to the challenge of productive kindess are going to become key players in the search and retention of the best skills and talents. They will also show the best of what humanity has to offer, when the bottom line is not only measured in currency, but also in team member growth and engagement.

Becoming More Tolerant

Last week I was presenting a mentoring session focused on human-centered change management. While the focus of the session was on change within the business context the question was asked how we change people’s minds to accept vaccination. Given the recent emphasis of vaccination against COVID-19 and its strains, and the strong response from anti-vaxxers, the question drew more questions around how to address racism, patronage and so on. I jokingly replied that I would solve world peace shortly. Earnestly though my advice was to have the tough conversations. It takes education to change minds – education that actually focusses on taking abroad range of perspectives into account.  And that I think is the downfall of how we communicate.

For too long we have been taught that there is a binary approach to life. That there is only one correct way, that there is a mould to fit into, or that by poor luck no matter what one does there no way you can ever fit into the mould. As a Strengths coach and avid follower of positive psychology, I believe in leveraging diversity, and not just the gender, race, creed, colour or religion version, but all diversity. When we disagree it means there are multiple perspectives to celebrate, when there is more than one opinion, it provides us with options.  In a world full of complexity, is this not the time to break away from the binary and embrace variety and diversity? But what does it take to make this move?

  1. Identify your tolerance levels
    The first step is to understand your own levels of tolerance. Now, before you go all binary, it is important not to judge yourself. Consider life as a ladder, there will always be people below you on the ladder and people above you on the ladder there is no reason to judge. However, it is important to understand to what degree you are open to new and different concepts. You may find you are on different places on the ladder depending on the topic.

  1. Inspect your values
    Our values are the most basic building blocks of our thoughts, feelings and behaviour – they are the guardians of who we are. Given that, it is important to understand your values and how they influence you. Values that are inadvertently triggered can derail any attempt to remain tolerant, so be aware of what and where those triggers are.

  1. Avoid getting offended
    Being offended can be a lovely sensation. Think about it, when we feel offended we are filled with some righteous thought that we are perfect, that we have it all together and the other person (normally the word person is replaced by many less agreeable terms) is entirely wrong. Not a little wrong, but a lot wrong and that gives us license to stop listening. That path however does not lead to our goal of being accepting of diversity. Work hard at not being offended, try to understand where others are coming from. Forgive them for not having the right words to make the communication easy maybe no-one before has been prepared to listen to them.

  1. Choose understanding
    From the above we can see that being open to alternatives is a process guided by discipline. We can choose to try and understand others, we can choose to be open to alternative perspectives. We can choose to listen for understanding… not just to toss back another clever quip. I am not saying we always have to agree, but I think it is great when we disagree intelligently. This means we disagree with a variety of facts in hand, from a variety of perspectives. But at least along the way we learned a few things, that will help us be better informed next time around.
Motivating & managing WFH teams in 2021 – Part 2

Practical tips to tackle the 2 most pressing business issues created by work-from-home

As discussed last week, the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity to extend the company’s role from simply building a better employee experience to supporting a better life experience.

In part 2 of this topic, I discuss the 2 most pressing business issues created by the WFH situation and give suggestions on how to ensure company needs are aligned with the all-important experience we need our team to have to ensure peak performance in the workplace.

Accept that the company culture has evolved

A company’s culture is created through years of operation, setting a baseline of how managers and teams are expected to interact – both with each other as well as the customers they serve.  Healthy cultures make allowances for evolution, shedding outdated habits and adopting new ones as fresh trends and strategies emerge.

With the sudden implementation of a strict lockdown, many companies suffered something of a culture shock, realising that their culture didn’t necessarily align with the digital world we inhabit.  Perhaps it’s time for a good look at whether your culture fits this “next normal”?  For example, what is the management style in the organization? Do managers manage activity or outcomes? Do they clearly communicate expectations to team members?

“WFH is simply the next step in company culture evolution.”

Perform Forward tip:  Don’t resist change; it can be a force for good for both the individual and the company as a whole.  If the company had a solid culture before the lockdown, chances are only minor refinements are required to absorb and accommodate WHF.

Make amendments to company policy

Last, but not least, we need to consider how any adjusted approaches may conflict with existing company policies.  Everything from the dress code policy to employment contracts needs to be revised to ensure that outdated documents and procedures accommodate changes.

A company’s workforce is bound by the legal documentation they’re required to sign, and it is our responsibility as leaders and managers to ensure that what we say, do, expect and enforce are in alignment.

Perform Forward tip:  Review any changes relating to WFH and associated policies that have occurred.  Clarity goes a long way to creating a well-functioning work environment, so revise current documents, make the necessary amendments and communicate the changes with your team through official channels. 


To reiterate last week’s conclusion, the employment landscape is going through a rapid evolution.  By ensuring that our culture and documentation are in alignment, and by making sure that communication of any changes is transparent, we can effectively manage the transition from outdated to current, and in so doing, create an environment that fosters a feeling of safety and fulfillment.

Motivating, managing WFH teams in 2021 – Part 1

Practical tips to tackle the 3 most pressing human issues created by work-from-home

With more teams spending time working remotely in the last 12 months, leadership has been given the proverbial “peek behind the curtain” into their personal lives.  This has created an opportunity to extend the company’s role from simply building a better employee experience to supporting a better life experience.

In part 1 of this topic, I’ll be looking at 3 of the most pressing human issues created by the new WFH culture, and give you some pro-tips on how to handle each situation.

Be aware of daily routines

In the not-so-distant past, employees were expected to be at the office at set times.  During that period, they were expected to give 100% focus and effort to their assigned tasks, while dealing with personal issues in non-work hours. 

In the last 12 months, the flexibility provided by working from home (WHF) has created a unique set of challenges for employers, as team members juggle business and personal responsibilities simultaneously.

As the saying goes, “life happens”, and to get the best out of our teams, we need to accept that if they’re working from home, personal issues may need to be handled swiftly to create the necessary space to give full attention to business-related matters.

Perform Forward tip:  Having an awareness of each team member’s personal life should be a priority. Include the “biggies” (e.g. relationship status, living arrangements, kids, and pets) as well as smaller, seemingly insignificant points (e.g. an employee deals with work stress by hitting the gym every day at lunchtime).  This will help you provide a better framework for interacting on a human level.

Create and respect “time boundaries”

As the focus has shifted from the office to remote locations, it’s tempting to erase the line separating work hours and non-work hours.  While WFH has increased the ability for everyone to follow their unique rhythm, tackling tasks when their focus and energy is at its peak it has blurred the line between work and home. 

This has created a scenario where team members are expected to be “always-on” simply because the office is now the dining room table, kitchen counter or spare bedroom.  This, in turn, leads to unrealistic expectations regarding turn-around times on replies and projects.  To make matters the situation more complicated, it is usually a gradual process that leads to work creeping into traditional non-working hours. 

Perform Forward tip:  Remember that WFH doesn’t mean “available 24/7”.  Creating a framework that regulates expectations around responsiveness will go a long way to ensuring individuals are maintaining a healthy work/life balance. 

Take mental well-being seriously

While the last decade has seen an increase in soft-skills and well-being workshops, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought mental health in the workplace to the fore.

Managers now face a complicated challenge when it comes to keeping in touch with individual team members’ mental states.  No longer can we rely on a glance around the office to see that “Kim is drowning” and “Thabo hasn’t been himself the last few days”. 

Feelings of isolation and fear are just 2 of the concerning effects of the extended lockdown.  The neglected mental well-being of a single team member can have devastating effects on the team as a whole, so it is vitally important to connect with each individual on a human level.

Perform Forward tip:  A combination of quick check-ins and in-depth one-on-ones will help managers stay on top of potential issues.  I suggest keeping your finger on the pulse of the latest research, surveys and trends on mental health in the workplace, and use them to formulate a strategy (e.g. daily check-ins and providing resources) to help team members who appear to be struggling.


The employment landscape is going through a rapid, albeit overdue, evolution.  Effective change management is required to help our teams navigate from “the way we always did things” to a new, better way of interacting with our teams.

Wrapping up or Setting up for Success

As I sit to write this blog, probably my last or second last for the year,  I’m feeling kind of checked out. And I think part of the problem is that after the year 2020, everyone, including myself is looking forward to the Festive Season, and time with friends and family. To add insult to injury, instead of writing my blog I found a new app that was interesting, and very distracting.

While I was about to judge myself, I realised that at the end of the year we are so focused on wrapping up that we’re not thinking about anything new, and that is part of the problem. When in that survival mode new is challenging, new may even be scary. Instead, it is easier to looking forward to anything and everything that’s not related to work.

I found myself wondering, for those of us who still have another week or two left before the holidays, how do we go about changing that? Maybe the focus should be less on the finality of wrapping up for the year, and more about creating momentum for the new year. This is something that many people suffer from, while they enjoy a good break when they’re back at the office, they find it really tough to get the momentum going again.

And so I have decided today (after I’ve written this blog because it does need to get done) to sit down and plan the first week or two for 2021. These simple questions could help me get started:

1.     I think it’s about answering “What is 2021 about?”, “What’s the vision?” and “Where do we want to go?”.

2.     I think it’s always important to understand why we want to go there. “Why is this important?”, because the why is really going to tell us how much energy we prepared to put into this.

3.     Then we would need to understand at the “How”, how do we intend to fulfil this vision? What are the actions needed to get this done?

4.     Now we can ask “Who do we need?”. This includes all the individuals that we need in order to make this happen and could include a business associate, a supplier, etc.

5.     The last step is to look at the “What we need?” in terms of other resources needed. Do we need money, facilities, tools, techniques, training?

Now that I know what the plan is I can start pulling together what I need in these next two weeks to set myself up for the first two weeks in January 2021 so I can hit the ground running. As much fun as the festive season is I know that work is satisfying and fulfilling and so when I come back to it I want to make a difference from day one.

I hope that this quick little tool will help you shape will help keep you focused for the next two weeks and set you up for success in 2021.

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.

The People-impact Balance Sheet

There is currently a lot of focus from businesses looking at their finances and working out how the rest of the year will unfold. Do they have enough cashflow to carry them to 2021, where hopefully they will be able to have a better year? If they don’t, how do they manage their rapidly reducing cashflow to last to the end of the year? And of course, what can they do with the rest of the year to set them up for a better 2021. It is all balance sheets and income statements.

An interesting perspective to this for me is that while everyone is focused on running the numbers, they overlook the largest contributor to both success or failure in their organization, and that is their team members. I love doing the following exercise at the start of workshops. I ask participants (normally business owners) to complete the following exercise:

  • What are your top three business problems?
  • What is your business’s annual revenue?
  • What percentage of the annual revenue depends on your team members?
  • What impact can your team members have, both positively and negatively, on the three problems above?
  • What does your lack of attention to team members cost you?

As with any income statement there are two ways to approach understanding our people-impact. The first is the revenue section. Here, instead of asking how much revenue we have brought in, we should be asking how much engagement we have extracted from our team members.  How do we do this?

  • We know that training and development is a big motivator for team members.
  • Creating a welcoming and collaborative working environment has a positive effect on productivity.
  • Allowing for role-appropriate autonomy and some self-determination in completing tasks go a long way to motivation teams.

This form of engagement is good for team members as it increases productivity, performance and leverages intrinsic motivation. It is also good for business as it increases revenue and profits while reducing management overheads.

The second part of our people impact balance sheet is that of expenses. And this speaks to where we are spending our energy as leaders. Are we spending it on:

  1. Micromanaging teams and reducing their motivation to excel?
  2. Fighting fires and being reactive?
  3. Doing the work that team members are meant to do “so that it gets done right the first time”?
  4. Avoiding difficult discussions … again.
  5. Doing routine work that can be delegated or automated?
  6. Using remote work as an excuse for a lack of connection with team members.

If the expenses part of our people-impact balance sheet is not in the form of investments that are meant to increase our revenues section then we are failing the business, the team members and ourselves. We all know what the cost is of wasteful expenditure on a regular balance sheet.

As we head into roughly the three last months of 2020, I would like to ask you to evaluate your people-impact balance sheet and see where you can improve your return on investment by using your leadership skills.

Roping Options In.

Last week I wrote about making the best of the challenges that 2020 has brought across our paths and reiterated the well-known saying “There is no growth in your comfort zone”. People responded that as there is so much pain and suffering right now that it is difficult to know where to start looking for the positives. Predictably this is to be expected as most people feel worn down by the rigours of Lockdown and the unfortunate run of negative news that accompanies it.

This week I prepared a social media post for Facebook. In this post I was speaking of individual versus team strengths. The challenge was for everyone to try and understand each other’s strengths as a way to understand their perspective. I used the metaphor of a rope and showed that each person’s rope is different. A rope can either provide security or it can be constricting. So, in effect the same tool can have two very different uses.

I feel the same about challenging situations. While we can say that, in general, the challenge itself is uncomfortable the growth is what is important. Does the growth give you knowledge and wisdom which provides security and confidence or does it confine you and make you feel restricted? Often we are so focused on the discomfort of the change process that we underestimate the value of the final product of the change journey.

During the lockdown I wrote a blog, Managing the COVID-19 Blues, containing a tool to evaluate and triage the challenges being faced during lockdown. This tool is as useful now to find the positives and opportunities. 

Step 1:

Set up a table containing a few rows. Plot all the areas of your life that are important to you. To make this exercise easier you can use the basic outline of a life wheel which may include areas such as work, personal development, money, home, health, friends, community, spirituality, recreation and so on.

Personal Development  

Step 2:

Write down all the perceived opportunities in each of these areas.

WorkIn having to rethink my business I have found a new services I can add to replace less viable services. 
Personal DevelopmentSome of the services I want to add to my business take more research and thought. This will mean I can develop my own skillset to incorporate these.  
MoneyMoney has been tight so I have had to rethink my spending and I can use this to better manage my money (and my businesses) going forward. 
HomeI have made deeper connections with friends and family over this period. We have a solid relationship and we will support each other during these times. 

Step 3:

If you can, it is also a good idea to write down if you have a concept of the time when this might happen.

WorkIn having to rethink my business I have found a new services I can add to replace less viable services.Current as this is happening now.
Personal DevelopmentSome of the services I want to add to my business take more research and thought. This will mean I can develop my own skillset to incorporate these. This may take 6 months or more.
MoneyMoney has been tight so I have had to rethink my spending and I can use this to better manage my money (and my businesses) going forward.It could take up to a year to use these learnings and the new services to recoup some of the lost income.   
HomeI have made deeper connections with friends and family over this period. We have a solid relationship and we will support each other during these times.This is current and I will need to take everybody’s plans into account as we get back on our feet.

Step 4:

Next categorize each entry as follows: Green (immediate), yellow (medium term) and red (longer term).

WorkIn having to rethink my business I have found a new services I can add to replace less viable services.Current as this is happening now.
Personal DevelopmentSome of the services I want to add to my business take more research and thought. This will mean I can develop my own skillset to incorporate these. This may take 6 months or more.
MoneyMoney has been tight so I have had to rethink my spending and I can use this to better manage my money (and my businesses) going forward.It could take up to a year to use these learnings and the new services to recoup some of the lost income.   
HomeI have made deeper connections with friends and family over this period. We have a solid relationship and we will support each other during these times.This is current and I will need to take everybody’s plans into account as we get back on our feet.

Step 5:

I hope that this tool helps by giving you information that will make you feel secure and unrestricted.  With the ability to plan and prioritise the actions that will get you quick wins, as well as adequately plan for the longer-term goals. It is important to keep in mind all the areas in your lives that you need to pay attention too.

To end off I would like to leave you with a final thought on the rope I mentioned earlier. Rope is only as strong as it is comprised of a lot of thinner ropes that are wound together to create a larger, and stronger, rope. In the same way we can be stronger by being part of a support group, where we are not only getting but giving support as well. Together is truly better.  

If such support is not available from your immediate environment then feel free to reach out to someone in the professional helping services to be your support during this time, or reach out to be a support to someone else.

Butterflies and Transformation

In the last episode of my 21 day challenge recording for my YouTube channel Performance Cafe I looked back on the challenge of starting Performance Cafe.  This comes very timeously as South Africa is coming out of lockdown and has been upgraded to level 2.

As a sense of coming back to life, so to speak, starts infusing the country now is an opportune moment to reflect on the learnings and opportunities that this presents. I realized that despite the challenges, it was a very rewarding experience which taught me much and also created new opportunities. As the saying goes, there is no growth in your comfort zone.

Much like the butterfly, who needs to force his way out of the pupae, we have had to force our way through the COVID epidemic, lockdown and all the related trials we have faced, not only as a country but globally. Just like that butterfly, I would like to challenge everyone to take the ugly and the awful and see how we turn it into something beautiful and majestic.

It is very easy to get sucked into the negativity of the lockdown and become incapacitated by the negativity that is all around. And in some ways maybe we even feel guilty for being able to see the positives in this situation, but it is important to celebrate the wins and see the positives as we need to look at rebuilding what was torn down. The only way to do this is by seeing the opportunities.

I love the quote attributed to Nelson Mandela, which says: “There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” I love quoting the airline safety briefing to clients who lack self-care, especially the piece that says that should cabin pressure drop one should first put on one’s own mask before assisting others. In this case the example takes on new meaning. If we can find opportunities, if we can learn and grow through this pain, then we can find ways to help others and hopefully start mitigating some of the losses others incurred during the lockdown. By playing small, not only do you therefore hurt yourself and risk your own future, but you also risk the future of others.

As I have often mentioned before, this has been an enormously trying time for many people and I do not want to disrespect that. However, I do believe at the same time we have a choice, we can sit in discomfort, while staying in our comfort zone, or we can push though the discomfort of change and find something better. Not just for us, but for many people around us.

COVID BLUES – Values in Action

As we near the end of the lockdown in South Africa I wanted to leave you with a final article on dealing with the pressures of lockdown. Recovery will no doubt take a while for most and I wanted to share with you a piece on values as, sometimes counterintuitively, they can be a source of procrastination. We associate values with our true north, our guiding principles. They are something to be proud of and are a large part of who we are. And that is exactly the point. If we set targets or goals that do not align with our values then we are unlikely to work towards them.

A fairly frequent example is someone who goes through a health scare and despite the doctor’s advice does not make the necessary lifestyle changes. This does not seem rational looking from the outside in, however, it is important to understand that there is a difference between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards come from the outside and while they can work they are short-lived. Intrinsic rewards come from our internal processes, such as values, and last longer. To follow the example above, if the individual is overeating it would be obvious that the individual needs to control their weight and should diet and exercise. However, if that person was raised in poverty where they did not know where the next meal would come from, they may place a high value on having food around, or eating whenever they have access to food. That is a value-driven behaviour and the value, and the cause of it, needs to be addressed to adjust to a new value.

While most people feel they “have values” not very many people have a good idea of what they are, and what their effect is in their lives and therefore cannot plan with them in mind. The easiest way to start identifying your values is to check your “should haves”, “would haves” and “could haves”. These words indicate a lack of action even though the apparent rational course of action would have been to do as you intended. The reason is that what you intended to do did not align with your values and it is important to investigate these. For example if you know there is a room in your house that needs to be cleared out and cleaned out but you never get around to it. You can ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What about dealing with this challenging activity do you find demotivating?
    What is it about the activity that presents so much pressure?
    How will this activity make you feel while you are doing it?

  2. What pleasant activity would you rather be doing?
    Is this activity something that you would repeatedly be doing instead?
    Do you have something new you would rather be focussing on?
    How does this activity feed you?

Reflecting on these questions will show you what you consider to be important in life. The ideal solution is to find a way that you can reframe your values to include the activity. So in the example of the room, the work may be boring and overwhelming and therefore not align with your need for diverse and interesting activities. However, if you have a value on family and you know the family needs the extra space you may be able to find the intrinsic motivation to clear the room.

While aligning goals to our values sets us up for success, we may not always be able to do so. In those cases, here are some alternatives to try:

  1. Is there a way that you can use other mechanisms to get the challenging activity done?
  2. Can the assistance of a friend make the challenging task easier?
  3. Can you outsource the task to someone else (remember self-care)?
  4. Is there a way that you can break up the activity over a couple of sessions so that you conquer it bit-by-bit?
  5. Is there any subpart of the activity that you will find rewarding and can use as motivation to keep going?

Understanding our values and the way they affect our thoughts, decisions and actions are very important in understanding our levels of motivation. I hope these pointers help get you closer to achieving your goals to recover from the impact of the lockdown.

Covid blues – Ooops, you procrastinated!

I am hoping that about a week ago I had you all motivated and ready to roll on conquering your fears and the dangers you had identified from my earlier posts. There is nothing like that feeling is there? When you are feeling motivated to do something. That you are going to take control of a situation. That the sheer strength of your will is going to carry you to success. And then it doesn’t, and procrastination sets in…..

Along with procrastination we also fall into a judgement-infused guilt fugue which further breaks down our self-esteem, motivation and general ability to even try and move forward. Now I have already said my bit around these emotions in my blog “Managing the COVID Blues – Looking at Emotions” so I will say no more. But I am sending you a virtual (and suitably social distanced) hug and again reminding you as I did in the first blog in this series, “Covid-19 – Why we Feel so Bad” that we are under extraordinary pressure right now in a world that is fairly unsure of itself. So it is time to exercise some self-care again.

This week I want to look at one way that you can increase your self-care by being aware of your gifts and what you bring to the world.

What makes difficult tasks even more challenging is when we don’t have the skills to complete them. Logical, right? Then why is it that when things get difficult we try and take on more, and do more without evaluating whether we are the best person for the job? Why would someone want to build a wood cabinet, having no tools or skills to do so, when they can have one built for them? Now, if the person had an interest in learning, that would be a different kettle of fish, but they are unlikely to take on such a huge task under pressure.

This is where gifts come into the way we plan to address issues or achieve goals in our lives. So often during coaching, where clients are assisted in setting and achieving goals, there is the need to stop and ask ourselves whether the action steps are practical and viable in this person’s life? For example when someone who has a spontaneous nature and enjoys arts, creativity and constant interactions with others want to become an accountant in a small business then we have to ask whether this is feasible? I am not saying it is not possible but it simply does not seem to align with the person’s strengths, and therefore is not setting them up for success.

As a bit of background, research has shown that when we work within our strengths, we enjoy the tasks more, find it easier to learn about what needs doing, can be energized by the tasks – instead of drained, remain happier and more productive because of it. You can see therefore why we would be concerned about the example above.

This is why it is important to ask, as we set out dealing with COVID-stressors, what strengths we have that can be used to achieve our goals. According to the CliftonStrengths profiling tool, from Gallup, there are four major domains that strengths fall into and while it is possible to have a strong preference for one of the domains, it is also possible to tend to more than one of them. These domains are:

  • Executing Domain – “How do you make things happen?”
    These strengths may help you turn ideas into reality.
  • Influencing Domain – “How do you influence others?” 
    These strengths may help you take charge, speak up and make sure others are heard.
  • Relationship Building Domain – “How do you build and nurture strong relationships?”  
    These strengths may help you hold a team together.
  • Strategic Thinking Domain –  “How do you absorb, think about and analyze information and situations?” 
    These strengths may help you make better decisions and create better outcomes.

When planning your goals you can do the following to find ways in which your strengths can be used to make achieving your goals easier. Reflect on the following:

  1. Which of these four domains do you enjoy being in the most. Think of previous successes and see if there are any clues in there. Be honest, it does not help choosing a domain in which you have no strengths, you are setting yourself up for failure.
  2. Take one or two of your biggest goals, as defined previously if you were following this blog series, and see which goals, and subsequent actions, align to these strengths.
  3. For the same goals see where you have actions that do not align to your strengths. Notice how those are the areas you managed to procrastinate on?
  4. In order to set yourself up for success, see whether you can apply some of your strengths, in different ways to make the actions you didn’t take align more with your strengths.
  5. “Call a friend” as they say in the game shows. You may have a domain that you do not have any strengths in and that is when you find support and ask for assistance from someone who does enjoy those tasks. Remember, in my previous post I pointed out that asking for help is one of the least used tactics at this time. Much to everybody’s detriment.

As a Strengths coach I realize that the list below is an extremely simplified approach to strengths work but at the same time, I do hope that it takes you one step in the right direction so that you can use the best of you to succeed in these challenging times.

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