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.

%d bloggers like this: