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Nov 24
Stress: Is It All Too Much

stressed-young-man-with-migraine-2021-08-28-05-58-19-utc.jpgAuthor: Georgina Barrick

'Don't stress over what you can't control'. 'Keep Calm and …'

We've all heard the trite memes. I even seen t-shirts emblazoned with 'If your dreams don't scare you, they aren't big enough'. While these sayings are meant to motivate, it's difficult to live the sentiments when you're feeling overwhelmed.

Rather than encouraging and giving us hope, these memes can paralyse us, as we try to rationalise how we're really feeling against what we believe is expected of us.

The last 18months has added enormous stress on all levels – salary cuts, job losses, home schooling, dodging the virus and keeping our families safe, rebuilding our companies and offerings in this new digital world. 

Speaking to colleagues and friends, it seems that many around us are overloaded and feeling overwhelmed by the demands of life. Some have to balance the needs of elderly parents, alongside managing a young family. Others cope with ill health – our own or those closest to us. South Africa's declining economic growth – the latest petrol price hike being just one consequence – affects us all.

We feel like frogs desperately swimming in an increasingly warm pot.

As leaders, we have the added stress of always needing to push the envelope. In corporate companies, meeting shareholder expectations means that each year has to be better than the last.

And, while we sign up for this race when we take on a leadership role, it's a challenge to constantly be reaching, chasing and improving.

But, is stress necessarily a bad thing? We know that it's essential for survival.

The body's natural defence against danger – the 'fight or flight' mechanism – releases cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. This prepares our bodies to respond to dangerous situations by slowing normal bodily functions (like digestion) and increasing heart rate, heightening muscle preparedness and raising alertness.

However, when the 'fight or flight' mechanism is triggered too often, too easily or if there are too many stressors at one time, our physical, mental and emotional health suffers.

Too much stress can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, lowered immunity, issues with sleep and can put us at a greater risk of developing cancer. Emotionally, it makes us more prone to angry outbursts, at greater risk of developing drug or alcohol problems, impacts appetite (either by making us eat more or less) and affects our relationships.

Undoubtedly, too much stress is debilitating and should be avoided.

In the right and appropriate dosage, stress can be a motivator.

If managed properly, it can make us more resilient. South Africans, who have long lived in a constant state of uncertainty around our political and economic future, have become used to stress and, rather than hindering us, it has propelled us forward, to a certain extent.

The secret is to find a balance - as my 88 year old mother always says 'everything in moderation'.

Today, we're all more focused on our heath and on being mindful and more present in our lives. Most of us try to achieve work/ life balance and know, as I explored in last month's blog, that sleep is key.  But, how do we guard against these concepts becoming like wallpaper – there, but not seen? How do we manage our stress so that it helps, and doesn't hurt, us?

Learn to accept where you are right now.

As I've mentioned before, I'm a great fan of Oprah's SuperSoul Sundays and listen to her podcasts whenever I can. Recently, I heard her speak to spiritual teacher, Eckhardt Tolle, about how to live a stress-free life. Tolle's message – that stress is about wanting something to be the way it isn't – really resonated with me. Too often, when we find ourselves in a difficult situation, we immediately jump into worst-case scenarios, using negative mind talk. 

Instead, he believes that, when we find ourselves in a stressful situation, we should accept it – look at the situation without labelling it and understand (and accept) that this is what our life looks like for now. He calls this accepting the 'is-ness' of life.

Tolle also believes that even negative situations can have a positive outcome.

When Arianna Huffington collapsed in her office from lack of sleep and used the experience to turn her life around, she found the positive in the negative. When things don't look good at first glance, acceptance can turn a negative situation around. If we can learn to 'lean away' from the noise that our minds make, we're more able to relax and go with the moment – or to accept the moment as though we had chosen it for ourselves and let it bring on a new consciousness.

Until we accept our current state and stop fighting it, we remain 'stuck in the mud'. Or, rather, what we resist, persists.


Stop 'multi-tasking'…

Often, we take on too much and then 'multitask' to get it all delivered.

We've all done this – checking mail, while meeting with colleagues, or taking important business calls while driving. I call it the 'myth of multi-tasking' because the truth is that none of the activities we're engaged in is getting our full attention – and none are being executed with excellence. 

One of the simplest ways to reduce stress is to focus, as much as possible, on doing only one thing at a time. Pick one thing to work on, remove all distractions and focus on it until it's done.

You'll find it liberating – I certainly did.

Simplify your schedule…

Overscheduling is a major source of stress.

We're all constantly on the run – to the next meeting, event or situation. Try to schedule only a few essential commitments (or those that are beneficial to you or feed your soul) into each day and learn to say 'no' to the rest. If meetings aren't essential, decline the meeting invite. Schedule time for fun and relaxation.

In time, you'll get over your FOMO.


Do something that gets you moving every day.

It's doesn't have to be formal – walk your dog, dance with your children – as long as it happens.

Get moving – it helps.

Be early – always…

Constantly being late is very stressful. Try to be realistic about how long it really takes to get ready, commute, prepare or run errands so that you can space out your meetings to give you more time.

If you're able to manage your stress so that it becomes a positive force, you'll understand – as Bill Phillips said that 'stress should be a powerful driving force, not an obstacle'.

Go forth and conquer (your stress).

Sep 21
Should I Stay or Should I Go?


Author: Georgina Barrick

A number of JSE listed companies have recently made changes to their senior leadership teams- the new world of work has forced boards and organisations to think very carefully about the skills needed to drive growth in a post covid world.

This has got me thinking about how, and when, leaders should grapple with the idea of letting go of the reins to make way for a leadership refresh most especially in a world of such high change …

Very few leaders (beyond presidents and others in public office) serve for a fixed term.

For many of us, knowing when we've served our time and need to move on is entirely our own decision – there is no blueprint, but, the time comes (and it's different for every company and individual) when making way for fresh blood with new ways of thinking is both inevitable and necessary.

It's up to us to be alert to the signs. It could be that we've achieved all that we set out to achieve and are feeling stale or that we've seen the organisation through a difficult transition, or (even) acknowledge that a different skill set is now required.

Regardless of the reason, as leaders, we're expected to know when to bow out gracefully.

The truth is that, even good leaders, who have achieved a lot during their tenure, can outstay their welcome.

Some leaders believe that leaders should be 'systematically replaced to allow for a regular refresh' – meaning that the best leaders don't stay too long. Others believe in long term continuity and stability – being able to stabilise, evolve and grow a business, while seeing medium to long term projects through.  Although, this train of thought can sometimes backfire if the leader becomes the company and any indication that he or she might step down leads to volatility.

So, how do we recognise the signs that we've served for long enough and that the time is right (both personally and for the companies that we run) to step aside? For that matter, how do we time any organisational change correctly so that it's good for all?

You've become complacent…

You've always been bursting with energy and ideas, but start to feel that the well has run dry.

You realise that you haven't done anything new or evolved – or encouraged any new ideas from your staff – in a long time. The world has changed significantly and maybe you are still stuck in old ways trying to retrofit them in the this new world. While you might not yet be in 'we've always done it this way' territory, you've certainly become way too comfortable with the status quo, and perhaps even feel a little stuck.

If you're feeling this way, you can bet that your team do too – which means that an organisational shake up is probably needed and that you might need to step aside to make way for new thinking.

You no longer feel valued…

Where once you were a vital part of the leadership team, you're now feeling like an outsider.

Decisions that you would once have been a big part of are made without your input, meetings that couldn't happen without you now take place in your absence or senior leadership/ the board fails to support you on important issues.

The signs are there that your opinion no longer carries the weight that it used to – which means that it's time to move on.

You can't do what needs to be done…

You've put your heart and soul into your start up and it now needs to grow to reach the next level – but you don't have the skills needed to take it there. Or, it's time for your company to make a significant (but much needed) change in direction – and you know that you may not be the right person to lead the charge. You could also come to realise that the vision that has sustained you no longer aligns with that of your organisation. Often, the skills required to turn a business around or get a new project off the ground are not the same skills required for the day-to-day running of a business.

It can be difficult for leaders, who feel irreplaceable, to acknowledge that the best course of action is to make way for a new generation of talent with fresh perspectives and skills.

You know that it's time to play to your strengths…

Microsoft's Bill Gates was 45 years old when he shocked the business world by stepping down as CEO to resume a tech role. And, while he'd made his fortune and could afford to take a back seat, Gates also understood that the skillset that had helped him to found Microsoft could be put to better use in another role, allowing him to stay in touch with what really excited him and devote time to building his foundation (another passion) - all while being in the best interests of Microsoft.

As leaders, we spend the first years of our careers honing skills that we lose touch with once the day-to-day intricacies of management take over. And, sometimes it's best – for us and the teams that we run – to step down and return to what excites us.

You know it's time…

Leadership is a high-pressure job. Few people can handle the long hours, stress and responsibility needed. Managing competing stakeholder demands through a pandemic is a delicate balancing act that requires sustained energy, innovation and stamina.

Sometimes, leaders just come to realise that it's time. Perhaps it's because their health starts to suffer or because the talent that they've developed has more energy or fresher ideas.

Regardless, sometimes they just know.

As Eckhart Tolle said 'sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on'. As leaders, we need to be alert and open to the need for organisational change – even if it means that we leave a job or company that we have sweated blood to build, to make way for fresh ideas, new d irections and growth.

May we all recognise the signs in our own lives, when they come…

Aug 12
To Be Challenged to Change

puzzle-pieces-with-word-change-P785TN5.JPGAuthor: GeorginaBarrick 

In South Africa, we've just passed the 500-day mark into a pandemic (and ensuing lockdown of various levels) that has fundamentally shifted how we, as human beings, live, work, school our children, shop, entertain and interact with the world around us.

While we may have initially hoped that the disruption caused by hard lockdown would be momentary, we have to accept that some of the things that we thought would only be temporary changes and adaptations to lockdown are now here to stay.


Our lives have changed and so has the world of work. There is no longer talk of 'when things go back to normal' as we now understand that there is no going back to the way we were.

While these radical, dynamic and ongoing changes create daily challenges for leadership, it's also true that they present unique opportunities to reset, recalibrate and move forward.

As Darwin is quoted as saying: 'It's never the strongest of the species that survive, but rather the most adaptable to change.' Resilient and change-fit leaders will emerge victorious and those trying to turn back the clock to the way that things were will undoubtedly flounder.


What disruptive leadership trends will emerge as a result of this accelerated change? How do we ensure that we're challenged (and not overwhelmed) by these changes and that we emerge successful, thriving and able to capitalise on the opportunities that they present?


Trend 1: A Hybrid Work Model as the 'New Usual':

2020's remote work is slowly being replaced by a hybrid home/ office work model that represents the best of both worlds. But challenges remain for leaders, particularly in accepting hybrid as the 'new norm' and not just as an easy stopgap solution.

To make hybrid really work, the first step is for leaders to set clear, consistent boundaries that apply to all in order to avoid inequality, exclusion or unconscious bias.

Work also needs to be done on building (and embedding) the right culture for hybrid teams. A culture that uses technology and positive internal communication to align all team members and bring them together, irrespective of where they may be based.

Finally, thought needs to go into creating 'pull factors' for office space. How can leaders encourage social interaction and active engagement so that time spent in-office is about collaboration on team-based projects, while solo tasks that require more introspection or quiet time are done at home?

Ultimately, hybrid work is about holding people accountable, without the need to micromanage.


Trend 2: The Shift Towards a Flatter Organisational Structure:

Spurred on by how technology has improved information flow, more companies are adopting flatter organisational structures and are enjoying the benefits of lower operational costs, improved communication and increased motivation.

The role of the leader is also changing. The idea of a 'hero leader' who holds all expertise and single-handedly leads the company is outdated. Successful leaders of the future are collaborative, agile, adaptable and, instead of leading from the front, they believe that their role is to articulate vision and inspire their teams to achieve.


Trend 3: The Rise of Continuous Development (for All)

Post-COVID, ongoing and rapid change, evolving technology and ever-increasing information will make continuous development a must, not only to outsmart the competition but also to fill inevitable skills gaps. To be properly agile and adaptable, we need to gear continuous learning towards the right blend of hard and soft skills, developing traditional left-brained thinking (quantitative analysis and logic), while supporting and promoting right-brained thinking (like design, creativity and empathy). To succeed, we will need people who view the world differently and can see what others can't imagine.


Trend 4: Be Prepared for High Employee Turnover:

Short term, we need to brace for high turnover.

As the pandemic wanes, pent up lag in the system will see many people quit, move jobs or emigrate.

Events of the past 18 months have forced us all to rethink our futures – from what we want to do, to where we want to live and how we want to live our lives. In South Africa, the added worry of recent unrest is going to push some of our brightest talent to seek out opportunities offshore as the world reopens.

It's vital that we start to think outside the box about talent. From how we can nurture our teams and make them feel valued right now to changing our thinking about how (and from where) we access talent. As an example, changing cities or countries doesn't have to mean changing jobs.


Trend 5: The Importance of a Non-Permanent Workforce

As turnover rises and the skills gap widens further, non-permanent workforces will become central to company talent strategies. Specialists who are able to deliver on short-term projects, deal with the issues of today or supplement talent gaps (outside of the traditional permanent payroll) are in demand.

Recently, we have seen an increase in requests from offshore companies looking to set up contracting teams in South Africa to deliver on global projects. We predict that the need for 'on-demand' talent will continue to rise over coming years as some companies expect that up to 40% of their total workforce could be non-permanent.   


Trend 6: A Sustainable Pace is Non-Negotiable:

The hard truth is that the relentless challenges of the past 18 months have worn us all down. 

We've all had to gear up to cope and steer our business' through recent storms, working long hours at a brutal pace. And, in the post-pandemic world, things are likely to be unstable and unpredictable for a while yet. Leading through a prolonged crisis is exhausting.


Time off isn't really going to take the edge of pandemic stress. The only real long-term cure for an unsustainable pace is to create a sustainable pace. This means picking projects carefully, mastering the art of saying no, building time into your diary for downtime and quitting things that aren't working early. Remember that the price of an unsustainable pace is burnout and no-one can really afford that.


As we gradually emerge from this awful pandemic, my wish is that we will use the lessons that we have learned to build a brighter, more sustainable and successful world, one where we can all thrive.

To paraphrase Eisenhower, we need to see COVID as an opportunity to reset. It bought us time, so that we can do better than we've done before.

I believe that it's possible – and so should you.

Go well…

Jun 14
Rule Breakers: Anarchists or Creative Trend Setters?

download.pngAuthor: Georgina Barrick

On a flight to Cape Town recently, I was forced to ponder the psychology behind those who choose to follow 'rules' (or norms) and those who don't. Things like wearing a mask for the duration of the flight, switching your cell phone to flight mode or not standing up until your row is called to exit the plane. Naturally, if you are largely a 'rule follower', when those around you do not comply with a rule that you have chosen to follow, you tend to have a very negative reaction to the 'rule breaker'.

But, should this be the case? Or, do we all (on some level) have an element of 'rule breaker' within us? Anyone paid e-tolls lately? 


Ask yourself whether you often resist rules or procedures? Do you welcome opportunities to break the status quo and create new stuff or innovate? Do you consider yourself a change agent? If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, then you are probably a 'rule breaker' in some way, shape or form.

Becoming a 'rule breaker' doesn't happen overnight. Our attitude to risk develops from early childhood and, by the time we reach adulthood, these attitudes are often our natural coping responses to adversity or conflict.

Fortunately, 'rule breaker' tendencies are sometimes tempered by a need to succeed, to be perceived positively or to be liked. Most 'rule breakers' have some boundaries that stop them from going too far (unlike Bernie Madoff, Billy McFarland et al)

There is no doubt that breaking a rule and getting away with it triggers brain chemicals that help us to rationalise the transgression. Being able to rationalise allows us to make exceptions of ourselves when it comes to abiding by the law, which is reinforced each time we get away with a transgression. So, while we all might agree that laws are required to keep order in society, we might come to believe that these same laws apply don't apply to us if we feel that they're unreasonable, inconvenient, go unpunished or have no real consequences.


As an example think of it like this…

When you get onto a plane, the rule is that you have to switch off your mobile phone (technically so that your mobile signal doesn't interfere with the operation of the plane and potentially cause a crash). However, over years, the lines have become blurred.

Firstly, mobile operators created 'flight mode', so you can switch your phone into this mode, instead of switching it off completely which, bizarrely, is allowed by some airlines and not others. As far as I'm aware, few (if any) commercial air crashes have been attributed to a mobile phone being left on, in-flight. So, because the potential risk seems exaggerated (and, therefore, unreasonable) and because there is a reasonable alternative (flight mode), we often ignore the 'phones off' or 'phones on flight mode' rule now.


Looking at the research, it seems that we break rules for the following reasons:


  • The number one reason that we break rules is because rule-breaking is rewarding. Instead of feeling guilty or remorseful, we feel smarter and more capable when we break a rule, which gives us an endorphin high (which becomes addictive).
  • Defying authority gives us a sense of freedom and makes us feel like we are able to make associations that aren't apparent to people who obey the rules – the 'I don't need anyone to tell me what to do' school of thought (and more endorphins).
  • The reason could be situational. Breaking rules can be less about our innate character and more to do with the situation that we find themselves in. Some of us may be more willing to break a rule under certain conditions or mindsets – e-tolls being a good example.
  • When Apple talked about the 'crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in square holes, the ones who see things differently' not being 'fond of rules', it highlighted the fact that rule-breakers are creative, divergent thinkers. Supporting this, a study by Francesca Gino and Dan Ariely (I'm a huge fan) found that breaking the rules is associated with creativity - being able to think outside of the box to see non-visible solutions and make them reality.  
  • Finally, rule-breaking is associated with perceptions of power – we break rules because we need to feel (or be seen) as powerful (those endorphins again).


So, if the high that we get from breaking a rule is rewarding and reinforces our belief that we are special, why can't we just let rule-breaking be?


I believe that there are two issues with 'rules don't apply to me' thinking, particularly in our working environments. Firstly, if left unchecked, 'non-compliant' behaviour can generate resentment in a team. If one employee is allowed to bend the rules persistently or is given liberties that other members are not, the team will eventually start to dislike the status quo. Over time, the behaviour escalates, which can have long-term consequences for team cohesion, motivation and engagement. Secondly, allowing 'bad' behaviour from one person opens the flood gates to rule-breaking from the rest of the team – or 'if they're able to break rules and get away with it, why can't I' thinking. So, how do we, as leaders, manage this more effectively?


Set clear rules – and apply them consistently…

I'm not a great believer in too many rules and would rather have a few clear, precise rules that work (and can be applied consistently) than reams of vague rules that are difficult to implement. This is because too many rules create homogenised behaviour, which stifles creativity and innovation.

To avoid hidden grey areas, be careful of setting rules that are open to interpretation. Clearly state what conduct is unacceptable and let your team know how transgressions will be handled.

In other words, as Dan Ariely suggests, set rules that clearly show people when they are in the right (or wrong) and offer examples of alternative behaviours that are acceptable.


Understand 'friction' and 'motivation'…

Dan Ariely's research has shown that, even when we know that behaviour is dangerous (like smoking), we still don't give it up. To change behaviour, understanding 'friction' (whether easy-to-action behaviour is aligned with the right behaviour and, if it is not, finding ways to make it so) and 'motivation' (what truly motivates people to follow the rules) is key.


Portray consensus.

When we know that an attitude is shared (or not) by others, we're more likely to adopt (or reject) it. If the majority of people diligently wear masks correctly, it's more likely that more will adopt this approach. And, while this might not work for all, it will work for most.


As leaders, we need to set rules that are reasonable, clear and precise. Rules that don't create friction in application – then we need to understand the motivation needed to follow them.

As Wallace Stegner said: 'It is the beginning of wisdom when you recognize that the best you can do is choose which rules you want to live by, and it's persistent and aggravated imbecility to pretend you can live without any.'


And, to the guy in 11C: You are not Elon Musk or Steve Jobs! Please wear your mask for the protection of everyone or else drive, don't fly!

May 04
Is Work from Home Working?

105783687-1552080443844laptopwhileworkingfromhome.jpgAuthor: Georgina Barrick

When lockdown hit in March 2020, working from home allowed many companies to continue operating remotely, saving jobs and livelihoods. As the weeks and months passed, you couldn't open an online news site without seeing articles extolling the virtues of remote work. It started to look like lockdown had accelerated the 'work from home' revolution and that working from a home office would be our new post-pandemic normal.


However, fourteen months in, it appears that working from home is starting to lose its shine.

Recent announcements by global companies who are fast tracking 'return to office' plans would indicate that employers haven't fully embraced remote work.

'Work from home' movement leader, Google has done an about-face, accelerating reopening plans and announcing a hybrid model that includes a blend of both remote and in-office work. Employees have been asked to return voluntarily before the 1 September 2021 deadline and are expected to live within commuting distance of the office. Other employers, like Goldman Sachs, Ernst & Young, WeWork, Apple and Facebook will be back to in-office work from as early as April 2021.


So, why is working from home not working?

As a start, it's important to note that there are many benefits to home working. Many of them are what we, as leaders, chase on a daily basis – like increased retention, productivity, motivation and well-being. Employees report that the flexibility of working at home allows them to fit their personal lives around work, giving them time to meet childcare and other caring needs, improve their health and reduce stress, all of which improves overall wellbeing. Dropping the commute saves time (and money) and most employees say that they are working longer hours as a result. With children back in school, working in a quieter environment, with fewer disruptions, has improved productivity for many. Finally, the autonomy that comes with working alone (along with feeling trusted to get work done) has increased motivation. For employers, savings on office space, supplies and utility bills has reaped significant financial benefits.


So far, so good for the 'working from home' team.

Yet, as the months have passed, the negatives of home working have started to emerge, demonstrating clearly that that WFH doesn't necessarily suit everyone.


Firstly, we're all finding it hard to 'unplug' from work. Without a clear-cut change in location and defined office hours (combined with the technology that enables remote work), many of us are finding it hard to separate personal and professional time. For some, this feeling is exacerbated by things like the MS Teams status, which shows colleagues whether we're available, offline or away (and for how many minutes). Many report feeling pressured to be 'at desk' more so that their status stays 'green'. Those who experience difficulty switching off from work are likely to suffer from increased stress and inevitable burnout.


Secondly, we're missing out on collaboration and easy opportunities to communicate.

As Google CEO, Sundar Pichai said recently 'we firmly believe that in-person, being together, having a sense of community is super important when you have to solve hard problems and create something new – so we don't see that changing.' The lack of in-person 'water-cooler moments' is a challenge for many, leading to a feeling that we're missing out on the opportunities that these moments present to collaborate informally and build better working relationships. Working remotely also means that there is a chance that the full extent of our efforts won't be seen and appreciated, which could affect our career prospects in the long term – the 'out of sight and out of mind' scenario. And, for interns, lack of face-to-face guidance from managers and colleagues could slow down their learning, making it harder to develop new talent.


Thirdly, we're feeling isolated, which is negatively impacting our mental health.

Working remotely (particularly if we're spending hours daily working, with little to no interaction with the outside world) can make us feel disconnected from colleagues (and, often, from the company itself). Coupled with a lack of office routine and the struggle to separate work and home life, this can negatively impact our mental health, making us feel lonely, demotivated, unfocused and unproductive.  


Fourthly, our employers are struggling with bloated leave provisions, which isn't great for the bottom line. Greater flexibility and being home more means that we're using any free time that we have during the week (like extended lunch hours) to get personal tasks done. So, we're no longer taking regular 'personal days' to run errands, which also means that we're taking less annual leave. This is great for employees, but a real headache for employers.


Finally, the high cost of data (and relatively low speed) of South Africa's connectivity offering is taking its toll. Data costs more in South Africa than in many other countries, a fact which severely limits access for the average South African. If you're unable to get online cost-effectively, you simply can't do your job remotely – which is the reality for many.


If working from home isn't working for all, what is the solution?

Google (along with many other employers) believes that the future of work lies in a hybrid working model. As CEO, Sundar Pichai said 'We do think we need to create more flexibility and more hybrid models'. 

A hybrid model means that employees have the opportunity to work in different spaces, with the majority of time (up to 3 days per week) spent in the office, alongside working from home or from coworking or public spaces.

WeWork (a company that provides flexible shared workspaces), recently conducted a survey of flexible working thinking, which concluded that, post-pandemic, while most employees expect to continue working from home for at least a few days a week, they desperately want to work in a collaborative office environment again. Employee's desire for greater control over their working destiny translates into a desire for flexibility – which is actually beneficial for the bottom line, through greater productivity, engagement, loyalty and well-being.


Given that Google and other American companies have taken this leap of faith, it remains to be seen whether their South African counterparts will follow suit.

Apr 01
Get What You Want: Create Value through Negotiation

1.jpgSiya Kholisi's recent move to the Sharks has certainly shaken up South African rugby.

But, behind the scenes, it appears to be part of a well-thought out strategy to bring international investment into rugby, while keeping the superstar South African player on our shores.

As a career headhunter, I have been involved in many job change and salary negotiations and the most startling part of this deal is how quickly it all seemed to take shape (even though, I'm sure, not without many late night conversations).


In this economic climate, negotiations (which are never easy at the best of times) can be very stressful for all parties involved. Whether you've reached final round interviews and are being asked if you would accept a competitive offer or have been offered a role you'd enjoy, at a salary lower than you think you deserve, the truth about negotiation is that it is always about navigating perceived value in the context of supply and demand.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't negotiate, if you feel it's necessary and will protect your lifelong earning potential. But, it does mean that you need to tread carefully.


So, how do you successfully negotiate a holistic package that recognizes your value?

The first step is to consider the whole deal.

Remember that money is only one aspect (albeit important) of any offer. There are many other factors that will directly influence your job satisfaction, including your responsibilities, growth/ promotion opportunities, flexibility, location, long term earning potential, support for continued education and technologies used. These factors all add value to the deal – and could possibly be easier to negotiate (with greater impact on your overall happiness and long-term prospects) than money.


Also, bear in mind that you don't have to negotiate. This is not the time to try to prove that you're a great negotiator by haggling over things that really don't mean that much to you. My advice is that you should only negotiate if something is really important to you or when you feel (and can prove) that you deserve more or something different. If this is not the case (and you really want the job), rather accept upfront and keep your powder dry for later in your career with the company, when you really might need it.


Once you've made the decision to negotiate the deal, your next step is to prepare.

If you want a prospective employer to seriously consider adjusting an offer, you need to give them real reasons to do so.

  • Research the average market salaries for your job type: Knowing what the competition is paying for people with your skills will give you a good baseline to work from, while acting as justification for your requested salary.
  • Understand your value proposition: Spend time mapping out the value that you will add to the role. Look at how the results that you've achieved in previous roles (goals met/ revenue earned/ awards won) will set you up for success in this one. Or how your prior experience is valuable now. Prepare talking points so that you can detail this for your new employer as justification for your ask.
  • Prepare for tough questions: Prepare for questions that may make you uncomfortable, put you on the defensive or expose a weakness so that you can answer honestly without reducing your attractiveness as a candidate or giving away bargaining power.
  • Decide where you're willing to be flexible: If your prospective employer is constrained and can't negotiate on money, be ready to ask for alternative forms of compensation – like stock options, extra leave, bonuses or more 'work-from-home' days to combat a lengthy commute.


Add rehearsal time into your preparation so that you can build confidence. Once you're ready, schedule a call to discuss what's bothering you as direct contact allows less room for misinterpretation.


Finally, if you're going to negotiate an offer, remember the following 'golden rules':


  • Likeability is key:

It's simple, but true – potential employers will only go to bat for you if they like you. Anything that you do during negotiation that makes you less likable will reduce your chances of getting a better offer. It's all about reading the situation correctly and managing the negotiation well so that you don't come across as greedy, petty or overly persistent.

This is also why you should only ever negotiate a better package if you are serious about taking the job. No-one wants to waste political capital to get an increased offer approved, only to have the candidate turn it down.


  • Negotiate your issues concurrently:

    If you negotiate your issues piecemeal, you run the risk of seriously annoying your negotiating partner (and potentially losing the offer outright). There's nothing more irritating (or time-consuming) than someone who keeps coming back with 'just one more thing'. Rather, set out your list of issues and rank them in order of importance so that your counterpart understands the full picture and can get approval for changes, en masse, without wasting time (or capital).

  • Always maintain perspective:

    Remember that the outcome of a successful negotiation is a job that you love and that will love you back – it's not all about the money. To achieve this, it's best to keep reminding yourself that nothing is personal and that no-one is out to get the better of you.

Ignore ultimatums and stay at the table – but, if it doesn't feel right, be brave and walk away. This should ensure that the path you're on will take you where you want to end up.


No matter whether you're a Siya Kholisi at the top of your game, a graduate starting out or somewhere in the middle of your career, effective negotiation, used carefully, can be a game changer.

Make sure it's the right type of game changer, though! Good luck! 

Feb 25
COVID-19 is Changing How We View Leadership

top-view-of-notebooks-with-leadership-ideas-on-woo-736RT4Q.jpgAuthor: Georgina Barrick

‘While the world has been distracted by the noise of those resistant to change, change has been happening anyway’. These are the words that start a video about women in power that was sent to me recently. The video, which has gone viral, goes on to list all the current female heads of state, from Germany to Finland, New Zealand and Singapore. It’s truly inspiring, particularly as leadership has historically been (and, in most cases, continues to be) defined in terms of male stereotypes.
Power is still more associated with men, than women.

Which makes a recent study, that shows that countries with female leaders have suffered 6 times fewer confirmed COVID-19 deaths than those with governments led by men, so interesting. 
It seems that female leaders have been far more effective at managing this unprecedented crisis than their male counterparts, ‘flattening the curve’ more successfully and reducing the number of days with ‘confirmed deaths’. As a real-time leadership test, played out in front of a global audience, COVID has rendered traditional experience and expertise ineffective, driving change in ways that we could not easily have imagined.

So, what does this mean for leadership?

It would be easy to claim that women make better leaders than men. 
Women are socialized from a young age to be more empathetic than men. We’ve had to develop resilience, pragmatism and resourcefulness as we’ve had to work harder, longer and smarter to overcome broad cultural bias and prove that we’re capable. 
Compelling evidence from the Harvard Business Review shows that women in leadership roles are perceived to be slightly more effective than men across almost every functional business area. Women excel in taking initiative, self-development, driving results and displaying integrity. One of the unintended consequences of sexism is that it elevates the quality of female leaders, who often end up being more qualified and talented than their male counterparts by the time they’re selected for leadership roles. 

But I believe that this is only part of the story. 
Countries (and companies) who elect female leaders tend to have a more balanced representation of both sexes (or greater gender parity) across all levels than those with a predominance of male leaders. Instead of the traditional ‘command and control’ approach, more ‘gender-balanced’ societies support greater diversity in thinking and are more likely to have leadership driven by ostensibly ‘feminine’ qualities – like empathy, compassion, communication and collaboration. 
When leaders are more empathetic, they have a broader understanding of the issues faced by all – which leads to more robust decision-making and the adoption of more inclusive, innovative and courageous solutions and policies. This, in turn, makes people feel supported and heard, making them more likely to be productive and satisfied with life (and more accepting of the hard decisions that have needed to be taken in this pandemic).

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we need a new type of leadership to face down our many challenges. Our pressing issues - climate change, poverty, inequality, scarcity of resources and lack of affordable healthcare – are not going to be solved with old-style homogenous leadership. 
We’re also not going to get anywhere if we continue to reject (either consciously or unconsciously) 50% of our available talent for leadership roles. 

If watching strong female leaders navigate successfully through this crisis leads to a change in the narrative of what a ‘strong’ leader looks like and qualities like empathy, intelligence, humility and integrity become important benchmarks for leadership, we will elevate the overall quality of our leaders, moving them from ‘leaders’ to ‘great leaders’ because, as Rosalynn Carter said, ‘a leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be’. 
Let’s work together to get where we ought to be. 

Oct 06
Building a Flexible Workforce

freelancer-concept-illustration_114360-928.jpgAuthor: Georgina Barrick


There's no doubt that COVID-19 has changed how we work.

And, while there have been many negatives to this pandemic, it presents a unique opportunity to shape the world of work in a way that benefits all. In many countries, we're set to see a large uptick in the use of contract or non-permanent staff, post-COVID.

There are benefits to this for both workers and employers. For contractors or temporary workers, there is the opportunity to chase technology, to hone skills (or upskill between projects) or the freedom to schedule breaks between projects to enhance work/ life balance. For employers, the rise of an agile, flexible, contract-based workforce offers the prospect of managing critical projects without the risk (or cost) of hiring skills permanently.


For the past two decades, the International Labour Organisation has been reporting on the rise of the 'flexible workforce' – or a workforce that 'grows in number to meet business needs at any given time and falls back to a baseline number when the increased size is no longer necessary'.

Companies that embrace the use of flexible workers keep their number of full-time, permanent employees to a minimum, while hiring more temporary, part-time or contract employees to meet demand during busier periods or for specific projects.

The concept isn't new. We only need to look at retail or agriculture, where seasonal workers have always been brought in to meet demand in busy periods. However, what is new is the dramatic increase (over the past decade) in the use of highly skilled contractors to deliver on specific projects or work.    


For employers, the benefits are numerous and include reduced payroll costs, greater talent diversity, access to expert skills that might not otherwise be affordable (or available locally) and greater employee engagement. For employees, working flexibly is part of the trend towards a gig economy – or the move towards temporary, flexible jobs and away from permanent employment. In an ideal world, this move is powered by independent workers, who select work contracts based on interest and how the work offered can grow their skills and expertise.


As our economy starts the slow journey to recovery, many leaders have had to reduce their permanent staff complement as a result of the effects of COVID and lockdown on business.

However, this has not removed the need to deliver on outstanding projects. Expanding the flexible workforce to support business and project needs is the obvious answer.


In my experience, effectively managing a large non-permanent workforce is not without its challenges. While your flexible contract workers aren't employees (in the traditional sense), they (and the work that they do) still needs to be tracked. It is important to establish a flexible workforce programme to ensure that you have the right tools in place to manage this type of work effectively. As part of this process, you need to consider:


  • Deemed Employment: South African law makes provision for temporary or contract workers to be deemed 'employed' if temporary or contract employment persists beyond a certain period.
  • 3rd Party Tax and Statutory Exposure:  If exposed, it's likely that you will be pursued and not the contractor/ temp worker.
  • Worker Misclassification: Incorrect classification of your freelancers could mean that you become liable for minimum wages, pension contributions, holiday and sick pay.
  • IP Leakage: If your contract doesn't make provision for IP ownership, you may have no claim over valuable IP when the contract ends.
  • Data and insight on costs, hourly rate benchmarking and the effective onboarding/ offboarding of contractors
  • Payroll Implications:  What, if anything, do you need to consider around payroll? 



If you're interested in scaling up your non-permanent workforce, how do you navigate these complexities? The first step is to determine when (and if) you need a flexible workforce programme. Businesses should be thinking about:


  • If you currently have any flexible workers in your business, were they onboarded into the business in a way that reduces your risk?
  • Who do these contractors report to? Are they being effectively managed on a day-to-day basis? Who has sight of them and their output?
  • What are they doing for your business? Do they touch customers or work on any mission-critical systems?
  • Is your business exposed to any legislative, tax or statutory risks as a result of these flexible workers? Do you think that you have any business risk exposure as a result?


A properly managed flexible workforce can significantly positively influence business success and, with the right amount of visibility over your contractors, you can experience a better outcome. There is no doubt that, in uncertain times, talent agility is critical to organizational success. Using flexible, non-permanent talent can give you the skills that you need to get urgent work done immediately. It can also help you to build a talent pipeline to support future growth.


I believe, as John Wooden said that, today, 'flexibility is the key to stability' – and that, going forward, companies and individuals who embrace it will come out on top. Good luck.

Sep 02
Is WFH Eroding Your Company Culture?


Author: Georgina Barrick

Still be doing so 5 months later. Like most, I prepared for an initial 3-week stretch and, while I knew that it might be wishful thinking (given what was happening in Europe at the time), I hoped to be back in the office by the end of April. Looking back, I can only chuckle at my naivete.


Five months in, the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally shifted the way we work.

In our new reality, those of us who are fortunate to be employed are mostly working a hybrid of in-office and at-home work that we've started calling 'blended' working. Some are still working full time from home very productively and may never return to the 'office', except for meetings.

Work, as we know it, has changed, perhaps forever.


While this new reality has shown us that we can adapt and thrive on many levels, it also presents a challenge to the corporate cultures that we've spent so much time building and that we use to attract potential employees to our companies.

Culture is the character and personality of your company. It's what makes your business unique and is the sum of its values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, attitudes and, most importantly, behaviours. It's an important competitive differentiator. And, it has a big impact on morale and productivity and, in a crisis, can either see your company through or lead to its demise.

Culture is built through shared experiences, beliefs and values. It grows when people spend time together in person. So, what happens to it when we don't meet 'around the water cooler' much anymore?


As leaders, I believe that COVID-19 has presented us with a unique opportunity to shape, cement and leverage our company cultures for greater impact.

I believe that it's still possible to manage culture 'by design' (and not 'by default') even if we don't meet in-person regularly. By finding new ways to engage, we can nurture (or create) strategically aligned, strong and adaptable cultures that will see us through this difficult time.

It's hard, but it's not impossible.


How do we manage culture 'by design' when our teams are working remotely?


Hire the Right Talent

This should be our lodestar - and not just something that we consider in times of crisis.

Hire resilient, adaptable people who work smart, use ingenuity to navigate uncertainty and embrace (and leverage) difference. In uncertain times, we need people who 'can keep their heads' and forge ahead to find solutions.


Nurture Your People

Engaged employees are your company's greatest assets, as their passion, commitment and discretionary effort drive business success, growth and culture – whether they are working in-office or remotely.

Stay attuned to your team's 'temperature'. Connect regularly so that you can identify those who need support but go easy on supervision and evaluation. Instead, focus on mentorship, goals and opportunities for development – and trust them to get the job done.

Culture is defined and shaped by behaviour, so continue to encourage, cultivate and highlight behaviour that demonstrates the beliefs and values that you want to reinforce. Hold people accountable for behaviour that doesn't. 

Lead from the front. Leaders significantly influence culture, particularly in times of stress. When the future is uncertain, leaders become the 'single source of truth'. Educate and develop the leaders in your company so that they manage by objective, show empathy and build trust. Hold regular online conversations with your leaders to add value and connect in a meaningful way. This is fundamental if you want to hold onto your engaged employees (crisis or not).



Articulate, validate and reinforce your culture. The more your talk about your culture, the more you bring what you value into the open, making it more visible and making your employees more conscious of what is acceptable or unacceptable. Culture is ultimately defined by behavior, so make sure that you reinforce behaviour that supports a positive culture. Clarity about culture and expectations is more important when people can't gather as they did before.  

Try to replicate and replace in-office interactions with easy-to-use virtual substitutes. Set up video conferences on Skype, Zoom or MS Teams to replace team meetings. Use the chat function on MS Teams for the team talk that would normally take place over coffee or at the water cooler.

Try to foster a sense of normality and familiarity online – it goes a long way towards assuring your people that the company's culture hasn't been eroded.


Find Creative Ways to Maintain 'Esprit de Corps'

Sharing personal experiences – through team building, over coffee or through office parties – shapes culture. Find creative ways to get your team together online. Team Zoom quizzes, virtual Friday night drinks and online games can break the ice, build rapport and help with the isolation that some team members may be feeling.


Whether you started Lockdown with a strong, clearly defined and adaptable culture that has supported and sustained you and your team over the past 5 months or are struggling to overcome managing culture 'by default', there is still a lot that you can do shape, cement and leverage a culture that works for your new reality. It's all about managing behaviour or, as Michael Kouly believes 'the culture of a company is the sum of the behaviours of all of its people'.

May you find your sweet spot!

Jul 29
The Sounds of Silence: When Good People Go Quiet

meditation-concept-with-flat-character_23-2147862428.jpgAuthor: Georgina Barrick


Like Tim McClure, I believe that 'the biggest concern for any organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet.'
Passionate people are highly motivated. They are outspoken, they share and are full of ideas. Their passion drives your company, culture and success.

They work hard, participate, get involved (and get others involved) and show up enthusiastically. Their voice helps shape a culture. They face issues head-on, challenge thinking, find alternative solutions and drive change.

And, in doing so, they stimulate growth, performance and success.

I've heard them described as 'a necessary internal energy force that moves the business forward'.


But, sometimes, they go quiet. They stop speaking out, stop driving the conversation, stop pushing for change. Usually, this is because they've been worn down. Perhaps the ideas that they've been pushing to implement (the change that they're driving) has been rejected and it seems like there is no way forward. Perhaps they've given up because fighting for change or a new vision because they just don't feel heard.

Whatever it is that causes them to go quiet, if you are not paying attention, you have a problem.

Because, like Tim McClure also said: 'Passion is contagious… so is not having it'. In the same way that passion becomes an internal energy force, lack of it affects performance, drives distrust, raises insecurity and opens the door to dysfunction. Good people who go quiet will, ultimately, vote with their feet and quit. In a nutshell, if your good people go quiet, you need to take action.


As leaders, I believe that we need to listen for this silence, particularly now when there is so much other noise to contend with. When our attention is focused elsewhere, we risk missing the warning signs (the 'organisational alarm') that sounds when good people have disengaged.


Good people go quiet because they feel unheard, unappreciated or under-valued. It can take time for these emotions to build, but they generally start because of:


  • Breach of Trust:

    Leadership integrity is an intrinsic part of the employment relationship. 

    When people don't know if they can trust you (or if you have breached trust in the past), they'll become reluctant to share problems or speak out. Often our actions speak louder than our words. The people we lead watch what we do more than what we say.

    Build trust through leadership consistency, clear communication and fairness.

    If your people know that you will always speak the truth, behave predictably, be fair and won't play favourites, you'll breed trust.

    People who feel confident and secure under your leadership are more likely to speak out.

  • Unapproachable Leaders:

    Effective leaders are approachable and sympathetic – but can be firm when the situation warrants it. Unapproachable leaders veer towards intimidating, unsympathetic and prickly – often in the mistaken belief that this makes them appear 'strong'.

    Unapproachable leaders effectively stifle passion and silence employees because there is nowhere – or no-one – to talk to.

    Companies where unapproachable leaders thrive also often exhibit 'leadership selfishness' – where benefits, bonuses and anything fun is reserved for leaders, to the detriment of employees. It's no secret which approach is more likely to make good people go quiet.

  • Just Not Listening:

    Employees who are ignored, overlooked or go unrecognized become silent.

    Think about how you would feel if your ideas or input went unheard. Would you feel relevant or like you were making a difference?

    Leaders who master the skill of 'leading with listening' are more likely to pick up on any employee issues early, fostering an environment where people feel heard – and make noise as a result. 

  • Lack of Vision:

    If you hear yourself saying 'but we've always done it this way' or 'This is our recipe – it works and we're sticking to it', check yourself.

    Good leadership requires vision – and encouraging new ideas and new thinking is the first step towards always staying relevant. Best practice often comes from collaboration and this requires people to participate and speak up.


  • Lack of Flexibility:

    Good people follow their passions. They're often brimming with ideas that can make processes, policies or procedures better. They find ways to take the company forward.

    But, if they're boxed in, given no flexibility and made to follow a myriad of silly rules, they will get worn down. Companies like Google recognize this and mandate that employees spend some of their time at work working on projects that will benefit themselves and the company.


We're all going through a tough time economically, socially and psychologically. 

We're in survival mode – which means that we're more focused on staying alive, than staying acute.

Now is the time to listen for the silence – and, if you hear it in your own company, take time to find out why. Your good people (and your company's longevity) will thank you.

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