Working from Home, why your professional brand is so important

With the rapid transition from co-located work to remote work during lockdown it has become the norm that certain standards have slipped. This is only reasonable, and I applaud businesses who have shown empathy with team members working from home under the difficult conditions brought on by lockdown. There is no way anyone could function at 100 percent capacity while working from home with little to no support services like schools, day-care, laundries, helpers, car washes – the list is endless.

Not only is there the loss of these services but also the sudden transition to using collaboration technologies for the first time. I have attended many meetings where meeting hosts were uncertain how to use the programs. Of course, this is entirely acceptable as we all went through a learning phase. However, I am reminded of the Stephen Covey’s principle of starting with the end in mind. And this is where a professional brand is so important.

What is a professional brand?

Although we know better than to judge a book by its cover, studies show that individuals will make up their minds about each other in 7 seconds. This influences their ability to trust and therefore connect with each other. Even the most egoless individuals want to be known for something, even if it is only their humility. This is called positioning in branding parlance. This means that when Person A sees Person B, or an image of them, Person A will get a particular impression which positions Person B in his/her perceptions. Therefore, it is important to understand what your professional brand is. If you worked from an office before you would already have an idea of how that brand merges with your own personal brand. Professional brands can also sometimes be influenced by the standards or expectations of an industry and we need to be aware of how that affects our personal brand. Consider how it would look if an investment manager came to work in board shorts and flip flops.

Why is a brand important when working from home?

All transactions in life are based on trust and that is why companies invest enormous sums of money into establishing a brand based on experience, expertise, competencies, and/or achievements. This is why a huge inhibitor for companies around introducing working from home is the lowering of brand standards. This could be from multiple perspectives as team members, especially those who have contact with clients, vendors and other stakeholders are representatives of the organization.

In essence, the business is asking whether the team member working from home is an appropriate extension of their brand investment. Does the team member show their individual experience, expertise, competencies, actions and achievements related to their industry through their professional brand? Do they engender trust with the business’s clients?

As you can see, especially in the current scenario where working from home seems to be the norm for the future, your ability to create trust and build relationships virtually depends on your professional brand. In the next post we are going to take a look at some of the factors that come into play when expressing your personal brand.

Replacing Normal with a Next Normal

As lockdown has started lifting here in South Africa, I have heard people talking about going back to normal. On one hand it is wonderful to see how people anticipate increased social interaction, especially with friends and family – which has been severely impacted by the lockdown regulations. However, hearing this is sad as so many people have found inner strength, a realignment of values and a better understanding of what they cherish in life during such a difficult time. It would be a loss if these learnings were to be folded away and deposited with yoga pants and sweatshirts in the cupboard – discarded for the return to normal.

 One of the unexpected places we see this growth is in business. So many businesses have done so much to secure the health and safety of their employees. Reports in the media have shown how employees felt valued and cared-for as their employers take all the measures necessary to protect them from the COVID virus. The purchasing of PPE safety gear, the routine of having it washed at the end of each day and knowing that the next morning it is ready to continue protecting them has been received as a caring gesture. That along with other safety protocols such as regular disinfecting of workplaces and health and safety protocols posted to walls seem fairly mundane. However, employees are accepting that as caring behavior even if employers have no option but to comply. One cashier in a local store told me that she is proud that her PPE bears her name. Not only does she know that every morning she gets her own gear back, but that each piece (mask and face shield) is for her personal protection. Without these measures the employees would be without jobs, money and whatever limited security there is to be had at this point. Again, it would be a huge loss to ignore the learnings, and gains made during the crisis which has created social cohesion in the most unexpected of ways.

What if these learnings could be leveraged to move forward and instead of going back to normal, a place to shape a next normal? A next normal is not simply going back to a new normal where the old and new are haphazardly tossed together in a pot. A next normal asks that we consciously shape a normal that takes the best of all worlds and uses it to forge an even better path.

 The following three steps explain how to shape the next normal. You can do this exercise on your own, with your family or with a team or entire business. The process stays the same and there are no wrong answers.

 1.    Reflect

The normal expectation would be that everything about lockdown was detrimental. I would like to suggest though that it is easy to find times of love, purpose, meaning, connectedness, maybe even success and rebirth. Make a list of these.

For example, a younger team member may have learned that they are capable of independent working than they thought.

 2.    Review

Work through the list carefully considering what each item means and what was positive about it. The idea here is to get a concrete understanding of what improved or worked and why it worked and how that can be measured?

In our example our team member above may find that given clear and unambiguous goals with specific timelines it is possible to self-manage smaller elements of projects. It may also be important that the team member has the necessary project management tools to increase transparency on task progress.

3.    Reinvent

Consolidate the items above and see how these learnings can be applied in the next normal. What do we need to achieve as a family, business, personally, etc? Which of the learnings above can be used to improve on our processes and results from the past? Design the new process around these.

To end off with our example it may be a good idea to incorporate these learnings into remote work practices so that more employees can work from home during the lockdown. However, the process can further be adjusted so that once lockdown is lifted the remote working policy can become a flexible work policy where team members can work from home one or two days a week. This is a low risk, low cost way to provide a benefit to employees. Thereby an emergency measure is converted to a win-win situation in the businesses next normal. 

 I would like to hear any learnings you would like to share and am happy to answer any questions on the process. I can be found at innocente@performforward.com, or follow me on FaceBook @innocenteburgerspeaker or on LinkedIn.

Getting the most “bang for your buck” from continuous learning

 

An investment in knowledge pays the best returns – Benjamin Franklin.

As a past learning and development manager I have a particular passion for the importance of continuous learning and believe the quote above says it best. 

Think about it, how many companies are considered financially successful, but anyone in the know will tell you that the company does not develop its employees. What does that say about the company? How do you respond to this? Is that company not similar to an individual successfully investing, and making, money but never spending any of it on their own personal development? It is easy for us to criticize but maybe our first response would be to look at whether we are developing ourselves. 

The exciting thing about this is that the advent of digital communication has provided us with an enormous mix of channels to receive training. No more do we have to sit through boring presentations, write an exam or study for four years to start building expertise in any number of topics. Now the thought leaders are within reach and we, as learners, have access to a variety of platforms and perspectives around their chosen topics. Continuous self-improvement is now, more than ever, easier and mandatory as everyone has more access to a once limited resource.  

The only restriction is the amount of time and money that you would like to invest in your future. In order to help you make the best choice I have compiled a few pointers on choosing the right initiatives to support your journey of continuous improvement. Remember you can use this to evaluate all of the initiatives you are interested in. Continuous improvement is not about doing a one day course once a year. 

Tips for choosing a tool to support your continuous improvement:

  1. Communication channels are important as they keep the course interesting. Ensure that there is a mix of how the content is communicated. Some of these channels could include webinars or video calls, podcasts or recorded content, manuals or training notes. 
  2. Make sure that there is enough overlap between your learning style and the channels used in the training. Whether you are an auditory, visual, social or any other form of learner, always ensure that the course is well suited to your preferred ways of learning. 
  3. Make sure that the content is stretched over a period of time. In order to really absorb the content it is often best to learn a few details and practice them before moving onto the next lesson. This modular approach also facilitates using the training as reference material. 
  4. Social learning is important. Learning from others, whether commenting on a blog or sharing learnings on Facebook groups or even being on a shared WhatsApp group, there should be more than one voice. Ensure that you have an opportunity to soundboard with others or have access to questions other individuals have asked. 
  5. Be sure that you have a firm grasp on your training requirements. While training is always valuable, it can get a bit pricey so be sure that you attend the right training for the right reasons. Also, be sure to see where you can leverage training that will count towards CPD points. That way you not only be developing yourself but will be doing it in alignment with the relevant professional bodies.  
  6. Learn from a credible and listen-worthy facilitator. Before choosing training do check out the facilitator(s). Be sure you understand their background and their credentials. You want to be sure they are worth listening to and will have a lot of knowledge and experience to share. 

I hope that the list assists you on making some great selections to start, or continue, you on your development journey. Please feel free to reach out and let me know if you have other pointers on how to choose personal development initiatives. I can be found at innocente@performforward.com, or follow me on LinkedIn

For small business owners one such source of training is the Business Solutions Simplified course which is presented by Noble Group’s founder Renate Jute.

 

Part 2: How larger organizations detract from employee passion and purpose

I recently presented a workshop on passion and productivity (see video here) where I explored what happens to employees’ purpose when businesses scale headcount but not “heart count”.

In my previous post, I challenged business leaders to rethink how they approach human performance by creating a synergy between business objectives and productivity – and I argued that purpose should be the core driver of both. But what happens to this sense of purpose in larger and highly regulated companies?

Background: Transactional Analysis

To understand how employees respond in the workplace, one can apply Eric Berne’s theory of Transactional Analysis to the employee experience.

Dr Berne theorised that in any human interaction there are three main ego states at play in each participant: the parent, the adult, and the child. Each individual has the capacity to access any of these three states during an interaction and their choice dictates how the other person(s) will respond. So for example if someone felt they were being scolded they would respond from the child ego state. Or, if they felt they were not being listened to they would respond like a frustrated parent. For a more detailed understanding of the theory watch this video.

But what does this mean for us as in business?

Dynamic in larger companies

The responses of these ego states can explain why employees respond in different ways. When we position messages in a way that takes away people’s freedom to perform; when we take away their power and their purpose and leave them with the ‘thou shalts’ we are treating them like children. It is then that we elicit behaviour that reflects that of a rebellious child.

Imagine for a moment that you work at a company where suddenly one day, without too much notice, you are told that it is mandatory to wear a uniform. You never wore one before and the nature of your work doesn’t require you to do so. What would happen? Research suggests people will slowly start to come up with creative ways to break the rule and get out of wearing a uniform.

This parent vs child pattern is often seen in large companies which are highly regulated and where employee’s individual freedoms are curtailed without much consideration of the individuals. Normally the pattern of communication is top-down, and reminiscent of “parental”.  Passion and purpose is sacrificed in the process as employees move to child mode.

The ego states and small business

In contrast, when we look at a small business, we see a lot of the spontaneous child and adult at play. In a small business, you can do what you are good at; you can focus on your strengths and your natural talents. That’s why small businesses work so well – people are in love with what they are doing and free to perform according to their strengths. And because they are left to do what they’re good at, they automatically take responsibility for themselves and they don’t need supervision.

Now, I am not saying that there should be neither rules nor structure in business. I am saying though that if we could understand how we as individuals relate to each other and drive the behaviour of others, we can learn how to get the best out of every communication. We can learn to bring about adult-to-adult conversations. Once you understand how and why people respond to the same communication in different ways, you can start to play with your modes of communication to get the most out of your workforce. Understanding behaviour is of the utmost importance when it comes to building a company based on passion and purpose.

Have you had a similar experience in your workplace? Let me know via email or in the comments below. To learn more, visit www.performforward.com.

Sign up for the Passion to Productivity workshop.

Learn More about Transactional Analysis with this article.

Feedback Under Pressure: A Great Example of how it is Not Done

The whole Bosasa flame was fanned further last week when News24 posted a video, and matching article, of Gavin Watson CEO of Bosasa. During the video he was energetically deriding his employees for poor performance in what was almost the loss of an R800m tender. This took place during an off-site “imbizo” held in March 2016.

Now I know that the Bosasa story has become a major talking point in our lives, and justly so, but for a moment I would like to look past the scandal itself and focus on the video and lessons that can be learned around providing tough feedback to employees. Admittedly the loss of R800m is likely to get most CEO’s a little hot under the collar.

These are the lessons I believe we can learn from this video.

1. Keep negative feedback private

Unless poor performance has been briefed in private it should never become public. There are two very good reasons for this. Firstly, to save your own reputation. Leaders who discuss such situations where they do not have all the facts can come across as playing favourites or being reactionary. And yes, the employee in question may also have relevant information. Secondly, besides saving your own bacon, it is respectful to first discuss this with the employee and provide them with an opportunity and support to improve their performance.

2. Do not name and shame publicly

Only once feedback has been debriefed in private can lessons learned be shared. Even then it should only be done with the employee’s knowledge and in a way that does not place that employee in a poor light. Creativity and innovation in business cannot thrive without employees being permitted to take risks. Risks are, well, risky and therefore clever companies find positive ways of debriefing learning points to reduce further risk. Never in the entire process is it acceptable to point out particular individuals and interrogate them on their poor performance in public.
There are two inherent risks for leaders who behave in this manner. The first is that they are seen as abdicating responsibility. The moment there is a culture of blame in an organization, there is also a matching lack of ownership and this will spread across all levels of the business. The second risk is that you are seen as a bully, and bullying is not seen as a strength in leadership. Not even the most glaring crisis in business could justify bullying. It also does little to inspire trust and loyalty in employees, suppliers or clients.

3. Do not play favourites

When providing someone with feedback, it is not appropriate to create comparisons or play favourites. The sentence “Why can’t you be more like [fill in the name]?” does not work on children and will not work on adults. By comparing employees with each other you rob both employees of their unique talents. Speak to the employee’s performance and find out what the employee can do to improve and how you can assist in the process. Set measureable expectations then move on.

4. Individual versus team feedback

I often find that in companies there is the need to place blame for poor performance with one individual or one team. That seems ironic when organizations are built from separate but interdependent units that all form part of the same workflow. It is actually impossible for one unit to fail entirely unless they work 100% in isolation. Surely, if the business unit does not perform well then other units who feed work into or receive output from this unit will notice any problems. Such problems, if raised through appropriate processes, enable organizations to take corrective action.

5. Human beings not human doings

We hire employees because they add value to our organizations, that value is a product of everything they are. An employee is more than their skillset. They add value by being of a certain mindset, culture, having certain life experiences and so on. If we are happy to make money mining that potential, then we also need to be prepared to support the whole individual. One way to do this is by not dismissing employees’ emotions, to do so is to also deprive them of their humanity. Invalidating someone’s emotions, or even asking them to not exhibit them is in no way going to increase their need to perform well.

A final thought

As we only have access to a few minutes of video footage and therefore do not have the full context of what had, and was, happening this piece is not meant as a judgement or a commentary of the larger Bosasa storyline. Furthermore I think that we should acknowledge the impact of the video and that not every leader in business would have this same energetic approach, but it does provide a powerful reflection point. It does provide all individuals in leadership positions an opportunity to look in the mirror and ask how do I deal with feedback under pressure?

Have you had a similar experience in your workplace? Is this example reflective of South African leadership? Let me know via email or in the comments below. To learn more, visit www.performforward.com or follow me on Linkedin.

Part 1: When great performers go bad

In my previous post I relayed the story of the business owner who was lamenting the lack of passion and purpose among his employees. He couldn’t understand the drop-off in productivity and performance from employees who had previously been super-stars. This is the true nemesis of the business owner. Poor performance is poor performance and there are mechanisms to deal with that but what happens when great performers go bad? Why does it happen? How long does it last? How do you fix it?

In my day-to-day consulting activities a substantial part of my discussions with business owners, CEO’s and HR managers focus on people performance issues. Most often these focus around a few common themes which, along with the example above, include the following:

·     Why is there so much politics? When we were a smaller group we had less and accomplished more.

·     I don’t understand why [insert employee name] is so difficult to get along with. It was easier when we could all make decisions together.

·     We made more money and we were much more innovative when we were smaller and less of a “business”.

·     When we were a smaller group everyone just worked well together, we were going to take over the industry and reshape it. Now we battle to get everyone to work together even if we have the skills.

·     Why is everyone waiting for a handout? What happened to everyone’s sense of ownership?

My personal feeling is that as business people we are very good at scaling businesses and ensuring the basics are covered. We make certain that there is enough cashflow, the correct infrastructure is in place, we have enough employees to cover the increased workload. In common parlance the latter can be referred to as appropriately scaling headcount. My sense is that we are failing at scaling “heart count”. We are good at ensuring that we have employees available to do the work but we don’t scale companies in a way that ensures that those employees can bring their hearts and minds along for the journey.

If the above sounds familiar I would like to ask you to think of a time before things changed. A time when everyone was optimally productive. Was it a time before rapid growth in the business? Was it a time before a major shift occurred in the business’s offerings? Was a new management structure coming into place? If so, could that have been the cause of the change? My workshop focusses on what goes wrong when we don’t scale “heart count” along with businesses, but simultaneously I can tell you that some of these issues occur at other phases of growth as well.

This is what my Passion and Productivity workshop is about. It asks how we can ensure that great performers don’t go bad. How do we ensure that they have purpose and passion as well as productivity while we continually scale our businesses in a variety of ways. View the short introductory video. (A shout-out to Urvesh Rama from www.urphotography.co.za for the video footage.)

Over the next few weeks I will continue posting snippets from the workshop, both in video and in blogs, to help you find out how you can address this issue in your organization.

Have you had a similar experience in your workplace? Let me know via email or in the comments below. To learn more, visit www.performforward.com.

 

Unlocking potential and productivity

Are you ready to boost productivity, unlock your employees’ potential, and increase workplace performance? Then, read on …

I once spoke to a business owner who was lamenting the lack of passion among his employees. He couldn’t understand it, he told me, when they were just a handful of people in the business they had boundless energy and enthusiasm. They were going to change the world – they had a strong sense of purpose. But now that they had just under a 100 people, the client saw a dramatic decrease in productivity and profit. He knew that he had good people – so what was causing the decline? What happened to the passion that drove them when they were starting out?

Why I started PerformForward

I’ve come across this scenario countless times in my work as an HR transformation consultant. I must admit, at first I couldn’t understand why people sometimes don’t enjoy their jobs. I’ve always loved work; I was 14 years old when I started my first casual job and I never looked back.

So, I decided to share my love of work with other people. My passion – my “Why?” with apologies and great thanks to Simon Sinek – is helping people find a sense of purpose and fulfilment in their work. That is why I started my company – PerformForward.

What is PerformForward?

At its core, PerformForward is a company that helps business owners understand how they can unlock their employees’ potential. We look beyond traditional HR approaches to the heart of your business – your employees.

“To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.” – Doug Conant

Our mission is to help companies improve employee experience, unlock employee potential and increase performance capability. Our approach is based on a three-pronged philosophy: engage, focus, and perform.

What do we do?

We know that there are many aspects to motivating employees to do their best, which is why we look at five critical factors in your business:

  • Strategy
  • Culture
  • Leadership
  • Performance management
  • Employee engagement

These factors are inextricably linked and need to be given equal attention if you want to grow your business and its workers.

How can we help your business?

At PerformForward, we are passionate about working with companies that appreciate their employees and the value they add. Our forward-focused approach is based on over 20 years of business experience in various disciplines, including psychology, human resources, organizational development, internal communications, project management and marketing.

This allows us to create bespoke solutions tailored to each company’s unique needs. We provide business leaders with feedback based on current trends and empower them with strategies to overcome challenges in the workplace.

It is time to reinvent how we approach human performance by creating a synergy between business objectives and productivity. Purpose should be the core driver of each and the common denominator across the board.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing videos and stories from a recent workshop that I presented on the link between passion and productivity. I’ll share valuable insights and advice on how to reignite your employees’ passion and productivity and how you can find your business purpose – and help your employees find theirs.

Until then, get in touch with me on LinkedIn or via email to learn more.