Author: 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.
Author: 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.
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!
Author: 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.
Author: Georgina Barrick
Sometimes, I feel like we live in a world gone mad.
We are a world divided on so many important issues. Whether it's climate change, racism, gender-based violence, gender bias, bullying and, now more recently, COVID-19, you'll find people with wildly opposing beliefs about whether the problem even exists and how it should be handled.
This is nothing new. Debate, along with freedom of thought, belief and speech, is integral to a healthy democracy and strong civil society.
Yet, what seems to have changed (or perhaps just become more acute), is how unkind and polarizing the conversation around our issues seems to have become. Healthy debate should not include words that exclude, hurt or divide. It shouldn't allow one voice or set of voices to dominate and it shouldn't dismiss the feelings of others. It shouldn't hide behind the anonymity that the internet provides to say or share untruths. And, while debate should provoke change, it shouldn't incite or ignite unlawful, destructive behavior.
There is no doubt that, in this time of anger and of fear, we are all more prone to lash out and defend the views and opinions we hold so dear.
In the blur of everything that is now unusual around us, in the 'fight or flight' world, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that kindness really matters. Kindness is such a powerful tool. It fosters empathy, acceptance and tolerance, de-escalates tension and improves co-operation. Research has shown that kindness increases happiness, improves our connection to others, raises satisfaction and promotes lasting physical and mental wellbeing (for the giver and recipient). It is an interpersonal skill that, rather than demonstrating weakness, takes courage and strength to regularly practice.
And, while we may have been conditioned into believing in the 'survival of the fittest', it's worth remembering that humans are a social species who have lived in social groups and relied on one another to survive and thrive for millennia.
Simply put, kindness matters.
Our 'Arch' Desmond Tutu once said, 'Do your little bit of good where you are. It's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world'. I believe that the solution to some of the madness that currently pervades our discourse lies with each of us and the small acts of kindness that we can make happen daily.
As a start, kindness can make a real difference in the workplace.
A study conducted by the University of California found that small kindnesses don't go unnoticed and tend to grow across an organization. Workers at Coco Cola's Madrid headquarters were secretly divided into groups – 'Givers' were instructed to do small favours (called prosocial behaviour) for Receivers over a 4 week period. Results revealed that practicing prosocial behaviour is mutually emotionally reinforcing – both Givers and Receivers reported being happier, less depressed and more satisfied with their lives and job. It's also contagious as Receivers began to 'pay it forward', doing small acts of kindness for others, which spread across the company creating a virtuous circle.
As a practice, kindness grows when we remember the following:
As a child, I remember being told that 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me'. As an adult, I've realized, through sometimes bitter experience, that this old adage is untrue. Words do matter. They can build – through praise, encouragement or thanks. And, words can also divide, hurt, separate and make people feel different and isolated.
Choose your words carefully – particularly when the way that you speak can affect other's attitudes and beliefs.
Check Your Attitude and Behavior
Be aware of your own attitudes and behavior.
Sometimes, unconsciously, we speak or act in ways that may hurt others. I witnessed an incident in Woolworths recently that perfectly demonstrates this. A customer insisted on re-sanitising the checkout counter after the Cashier had already done so. Speaking to her afterwards, the Cashier explained that this action had made her feel dirty (which was most likely not the nervous customer's intention). If the customer had been kind and explained why they wanted to sanitize the counter again, it could have had a completely different outcome. Seek first to understand before being understood. Strive to be less judgmental. Don't retaliate. Bite your tongue – the need to be right or have the last word drives conflict and separation.
Kindness can take many forms, but it's really, at its root, about altruism – the selfless concern for the wellbeing of others.
Find something that you're passionate about – be it humans, animals or nature – and get involved.
If you cannot spare any time, perhaps make a financial contribution (or vice versa).
Research has shown that being kind, even when there seems to be nothing in it for us, activates endorphin release to make us feel rewarded.
Be Kind to Yourself
Kindness includes being kind to yourself.
Speak gently to yourself. Take good care of yourself, through diet, exercise, sleep and a lovely candlelight bubble bath (if that is your thing).
Treating yourself kindly is the first step towards treating others kindly.
Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics, David W. Orr said: 'The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.'
I'm going to work harder to be a peacemaker, healer, restorer and lover in my own environment; to not always need to have the last word and to be more open minded about ideas that oppose my own. I wish the same for you .
Author: Georgina Barrick
In March, lockdown instantly shifted us all into 'business unusual'.
Overnight, we moved from office-based work to work from home, leaving little time for anyone to find their feet and putting us all under extraordinary pressure. For those without a home office, Level 5 Lockdown even prevented purchasing a suitable desk and chair.
Aside from the worry about how COVID-19 could impact our health (and that of our families), we've had to adjust to new ways of working and meeting new demands around clients, logistics and delivery. All while trying to deal with parenting, managing our home environments and worrying about how lockdown could affect our job security and careers. This pandemic has been, perhaps, the biggest disruptor in our lives, to date.
Nearly 60 days in, some have innovated and thrived, while others are still struggling to adapt to our new reality.
During lockdown, I've been following (among others) the Business Results Group's free webinars for insight into leadership practice in our 'new' world. This has got me thinking about how leaders have had to change behaviour in our now virtual world. I believe that some of the challenges facing leaders today include:
How do we effectively manage and motivate people remotely when we're not able to physically 'see' them daily? How to we help our employees return to site in Level 3 (and beyond) and manage 'survivors' guilt – where they are employed and compensated, while others aren't? How do we reconnect our company vision to adapt and thrive in this 'new normal', where many things will not be as they were before? And, how do we get everyone to buy into this new vision so that we can move forward instead of trying to cling to our old ways of doing things?
Nearly a decade ago, when I wrote an article on how consciousness positively influences business success, I referenced research by Bob Anderson from the Leadership Circle which still resonates clearly today (and could help to answer some of these questions). In a study about the correlation between consciousness and corporate success, Anderson found that high-performance companies are most often led by leaders with a 'Creative' orientation (and related behaviours), while companies dominated by 'Reactive' leaders performed more poorly. He believes that as reactive behaviour grows, creative behaviour diminishes – along with performance.
This thinking is supported by Liz Wiseman's work on 'Multipliers' – people whose behaviour multiplies or facilitates effectiveness. The traits of a Multiplier include that they are 'Talent Magnets', attracting and optimising talent. These people are also 'Liberators' who unlock and require everyone's best thinking, 'Challengers' who extend challenges to the people that they identify as talented geniuses, 'Debate Makers' who see that important decisions are debated robustly before implementation and 'Investors' who instil accountability.
So, how does all of this help leaders to motivate their teams to perform optimally while working remotely, while still maintaining a semblance of balance in their lives?
1. Focus on Outcome:
Start by letting your employees work out how to work effectively themselves.
Resist the temptation to focus on making work tactical by setting strict processes, rules and procedures. It might make you feel that work is being done but being micro-managed can be very demotivating for your employees. Instead, set clear goals, some boundaries and offer guidelines – and then allow your team to exercise their creativity and work flexibly to get the job done. You can check in with them, but don't check up. Remember that, as long as you get the outcome you expect, they should be allowed creative freedom around how the outcome is achieved.
2. Identify Stress Triggers:
The first step towards identifying what positively motivates your team is to help them identify their unique stress triggers. There are a lot of potential culprits right now - COVID-19, the resulting economic fallout, increased (or decreased) workload and home environments that are not conducive to productivity. Sometimes, just acknowledging that we're living in difficult times and talking through stressors is helpful.
3. Up Your Online Meeting Game:
Personally, I'm mourning the loss of small 'water cooler moments', where I could interact with my team on a more personal level, allowing me to gauge mood and who might need more attention. Working – and meeting – virtually means that these opportunities are more limited and have to be created, rather than occurring spontaneously.
Daily check-in video calls can help you to pick up changes in behaviour or mood that can signal larger issues – and identify high risk employees who may need more intervention.
Remember that it's also easy to slip into 'tactical' mode in daily check-ins, focusing on tasks only. While this might work face-to-face, it can further isolate and demotivate employees who are struggling with remote work.
Foster connection by creating a space at the start and end of every check-in where people can share how they are feeling today and what they're doing to look after themselves.
Don't expect a detailed answer – some employees may prefer to rate how they're feeling out of 10. The important thing is to create the space and set boundaries so that the check-in remains positive. If you do pick up negative responses, cycle back to the affected employee after the meeting to discuss how they're feeling and offer additional help, if needed.
4. Be Human:
The truth is that, even if we're superstars, we're feeling stretched and stressed right now.
These are unusual times, over which we have little control and, in the case of Lockdown, are actively being controlled.
Now, more than ever, leaders need to be available and need to be human.
Focus on how you communicate with your team. Be transparent and share as much information – particularly around company and job stability – as you can.
Encourage them to take breaks and observe weekends. Set up events to help them blow off steam – like exercise challenges, virtual Friday drinks or games evenings.
Either make your calendar transparent or to set up times for 'drop ins' (the new 'open door') when you're online and available to chat, outside of set meeting times.
Understand their personal circumstances and give leeway, where needed.
Communicate, communicate and then, communicate some more.
In an ongoing crisis, clear communication is more important (and more difficult) than in times of calm. As leaders, our communication needs to address the core questions of what, how and why. If we don't get this right, we end up confusing people even more. So much communication addresses 'what' needs to happen and even 'how' it needs to do so. But, too often, 'why' isn't effectively communicated. This is a problem because 'why' gives the audience deeper understanding and allows them to align with the 'how' and 'what. In times of crisis, our teams need insight into our thinking and wisdom.
We're living in uncharted territory at the moment and are all suffering the consequences, to varying degrees, of this pandemic and it's resulting economic fallout.
But, as neuroscientist and author Abhijt Naskar says: 'The world is going through a period of crisis, but whether we look at it as a crisis or as an opportunity to reshape our thinking depends on us.'
Business Results Group - https://www.brg.co.za/
Author: Georgina Barrick
Pandemics – like any great shock to the global system – bring great change.
Already, we're feeling the effects of this 'black swan' event. Life is unpredictable, consequences (both human and economic) are devastating and everywhere we turn, the news is unprecedented.
Many of us are so confused and battered by our new reality that it's hard to imagine what 'normal' will look like on the other side. Like it or not, we will be dragged along into this new reality. We are not going back to 'normal', no matter how much we try to cling to it. As businesses, we need to start asking the sobering question: 'What are we going back to?'
Everything is changing and I'm of the view that we haven't even begun to comprehend the extent of these changes yet.
Yet, while the COVID-19 epidemic is undoubtedly one of the most globally overwhelming events we've faced in generations, it also presents a unique opportunity.
As we live through this crisis, we have the chance to reimagine our world, to reconsider what it is we truly value and create a new, improved 'normal'. One that acknowledges, as this disease has shown us, that our fates are linked and that our interdependence means that we all need a seat at the table. So, rather than just focusing on the fact that COVID is a catastrophe from which some may never recover, also look at the opportunity to engineer our rebirth and lead to a brighter future
Undoubtedly, this is history in the making.
No one knows what our post-COVID world will look like. But, we can all start to give some thought to what sort of collective reality we would like to create. I know that I would like our world to look more like this…
COVID has provided us with a common enemy, increasing our solidarity, even as it forces us apart.
This virus has reminded us that we are one people and that, if one of us is sick, we all are. I hope that this newfound spirit of unity moves us to find ways to take care of one another, for the betterment of all – whether it be in finding a way to provide sustainable healthcare for all, caring for our most vulnerable or strengthening our economy by creating stronger domestic supply chains.
The conversation around producing and buying local has already started and is likely to become more predominant in coming months and years. Our reliance on the global supply chain has impacted our economy – and a renewed focus on 'local is lekker' could help to stimulate it.
More real and truthful…
For too long, 'fake news' has dominated our discourse.
But, I'm encouraged to see the rise of the expert over the party loyalist, with people like Professor Salim Abdool Karim (a world-renowned infectious diseases expert) taking us through government's COVID response. It's also clear that decisions are being made based on evidence and facts and that co-operation (which builds trust and supports truth) is at an all-time high.
What is also interesting is that, with government making anyone who creates or spreads fake COVID news liable to prosecution, we've witnessing a shift towards a focus on verifying the source of information. We're all questioning more and accepting less at face value – unless the news is from a credible source. This can only be good for us all in the long run.
More focus on what really matters…
COVID has suddenly made the impossible, possible.
A few weeks ago, it seemed impossible that SAA's funding would be stopped, that the price of crude oil would be less than $0 a barrel, that we would ever consider approaching the World Bank or IMF for help (for fear of losing our 'sovereignty') and that celebrities who are famous for 'being famous' would suddenly become less relevant. Yet, all of these things happened recently, with little fanfare. On a personal level, isolation has forced us to stand still, to stop constantly seeking the next big thing and focus, instead, on what really matters. We're baking with our children, connecting over Zoom with friends and family and taking care of one another. I hope that this ushers in a new age of realism, where we begin to focus on the core values that really matter.
Outside of what I would like to see change in our 'new normal', I believe that we're already witnessing a revolution in how we work as a result of this pandemic.
Lockdown has forced the issue of remote work. For a while now, I've been watching this trend. It's always seemed like a good idea but has never really been widely adopted – until now.
It's clear that, despite the stress and anxiety that we feel about the impact of COVID, many of us are discovering new levels of productivity and efficiency as we work from home. We're enjoying the lack of commute, the clearer skies and the pace. With time, employers may start to see the benefits of not having to fund and manage extensive office space. I believe that remote work is here to stay and that we're going to find new ways to create connection online and to grow and build sustainable businesses.
In terms of which 'ism' emerges as the dominant economic system, post-COVID, no-one can yet tell. I know that there are many conversations taking place about the fact that none of our current 'isms' will be appropriate in their current form. For capitalism to re-emerge, it will have to evolve significantly. As a fundamental driver of consumerism, the narrative around redefining what success looks like in our new world is taking shape and, as ethical consumption takes hold, our world will no longer be about having more 'stuff', but rather, more about community, giving back, sharing and collaborating.
As we live through the 'Age of COVID' I, like our President, believe that we can look forward to a better future and – as he said on Tuesday night – I 'have faith in the strength and resilience of ordinary South Africans who have proven, time and time again throughout our history, that they can rise to any challenge that is presented to our country'.
May we rise together…
Georgina Barrick, MD of TWE and Network Contracting Solutions, all divisions of ADvTECH Resourcing (Pty) Ltd. Georgina has over 25 years of recruitment and executive search experience.
With the arrival of
Coronavirus on South African shores, panic appears to have set in. While our
President showed great leadership on Sunday night, it very quickly brought the
reality of the virus right to our doorstep.
The JSE has lost value. Shelves in Clicks and Dischem have been stripped
of hand sanitizer, toilet paper and immune boosters and people are wearing
masks and gloves in the supermarket – if they’re even venturing out.
While there is no
question that the spread of Coronavirus is scary, doctors are clear that up to
80% of people infected will experience mild flu-like symptoms, feel unwell – but
will recover – as my New York-based friend, who is infected, reports.
As I write, China (the
epicenter of the outbreak, with over 81 000 cases and 3200 deaths) seems
to be getting a handle on the disease, as is South Korea.
Yet, the uncertainty
around how COVID-19 will impact growth and, most importantly, when it will end,
is bringing the global economy to its knees, sending stock markets reeling on
the back of fears of a prolonged economic slowdown.
It’s important to
remember that Coronavirus is not the first event to spark widespread panic and,
given human nature, it won’t be the last. Remember the scaremongering and
stockpiling that took place both before South Africa’s first democratic
election in 1994 and again around the Millennium, when many were worried that
Y2K would bring the world to a grinding halt? Or, the SARS outbreak that was
touted as the next ‘Spanish Flu’? We know that the world lived to tell the tale
then – and will again now.
Yet, still we panic,
driving our anxiety to unmanageable levels – and impacting our ability to make
clear, focused (and often much-needed) decisions.
It is this aspect of
the Coronavirus epidemic that, as a self-professed student of human behavior,
has sparked my interest – the question of what drives normally sane, rational and
measured humans to panic at the first sign of trouble and start fear-mongering
and making uninformed decisions.
We know that it
happens to the best of us. Some years ago, when my then-business was going
through a rough patch, I tried to set up an emergency strategy session with my
partner. His response was a firm ‘No’ – that he wasn’t available. Yet, 6 weeks
later when things were going a lot better, he suddenly was. When I asked why
the change, he told me that he’d declined the session earlier because I’d been
in a state of fear, which would have negatively influenced my ability to put a
plan in place. I’ve never forgotten the lesson that, when we plan from a place
of abundance and love, our plans are much more open, encompassing, innovative
and usually successful... In other words, when anxiety overrides thinking, our
ability to make clear decisions is negatively influenced.
This is backed up by
New research suggests
that anxiety impacts our brains by disengaging the pre-frontal cortex – the
part of the brain that is essential for good decision-making (where we weigh up
consequences, plan and process thoughts in a logical, rational way and screen
out distractions or irrelevant information). When this happens, we become
overwhelmed, distracted and stop thinking. Emotion takes over and logic is set
aside. Bad news is magnified and any positive signs are largely ignored.
At this point, we
either make the ‘safe’ choice or a quick rash decision that we’re likely to
regret later. Either way, with our minds racing at a million miles an hour,
we’re unable to settle on a thought easily – and, when we do, that thought is
most often negative, further fueling our anxiety.
So, in times of great
stress (COVID-19 and beyond), how can we override our anxiety to make better
Firstly, slow down…
Take a breath and slow
down your thinking.
Very few decisions need
to be made in that instant. Often, if we rush a decision, we’re doing so
because we’re driven by sensationalist news, herd mentality or the belief that
our thoughts, feelings and behavior are a single package. Just because we feel
a certain way doesn’t mean that we have to act a certain way. Instead, we need
to push against the habitual response and break the cycle by slowing the
process down, being mindful and, in doing so, moving away from automatic
thoughts and responses towards focusing on what is really happening and how we
can best respond.
Then, take action…
Problems often seem
insurmountable. When this happens, start small by working on one part of the
problem first. Ask questions about your concerns. Find a good sounding board.
Taking action can also
mean taking care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Exercise.
Remember that you
don’t need news on a continuous loop – stop reading the (negative) news. Those
who get this right say that ignorance truly is bliss.
There’s no doubt that
we’re living through one of the most uncertain (and unnerving) periods in human
history. And, where in times of uncertainty, we would normally seek comfort
from one another, we’re being driven apart by a virus that no-one (yet) fully
Truly, this is a
reminder that the illusion of control we think we have is just that – an
However, what is
certain is that this too shall pass. And, when it does, we will be changed and
redefined in ways that we can’t yet imagine.
I believe that the
secret to coming through this time positively lies in reframing our thinking.
Keep anxiety under
control. Make clear, thoughtful decisions, with the emphasis on long term strategy.
Regroup, reprioritize, recharge and innovate.
I always remind myself
that it is not necessarily the strongest of the species that survives, but
rather, the most adaptable to change.
As leaders, our teams look
to us for confidence and for honest, clear communication.
And, while they don’t
necessarily expect us to have all the answers, they do expect us to be working
on a plan for the benefit of everyone. Showing fear and despair is not going to
inspire our people to be extraordinary – and now, more so than ever, we need extraordinary.
Our belief in a shared vision for the benefit of humanity is critical to our
Above all, remember
that, as Stephen King said, ‘Panic is highly contagious, especially in
situation when nothing is known and everything is in flux’
Peace and love to us
Be the Solution
Author: Georgina Barrick
A few weeks ago, I was driving to work during morning rush hour traffic.
Loadshedding had affected robots, so traffic was heavy and very slow. Tempers were frayed and drivers were becoming inconsiderate - not a great way to start the day. Along my route, I needed to cross an intersection on William Nicol Drive where 16 lanes converge – which, even on good days can take time. Yet, cars were moving because a young girl in running gear was doing a sterling job of directing traffic. She had obviously been out on her morning run, seen the traffic snarling and stepped in to help. She did this for no benefit, at considerable risk to herself and, in doing so, became part of the solution.
Lately, I have also noticed unemployed people taking responsibility for keeping intersections clean and car guards attempting to fill potholes. Someone in my area has even put up a warning sign near a huge hole that formed after heavy rains.
For me, this is the interesting thing about South Africans. We mutter and complain but, when the chips are down, we jump in.
It's easy to find fault. To see problems and focus on the negative.
There's a lot of negativity, stress and pressure everywhere. It's tempting to dive right in, claim the victim role and let yourself off the hook.
It's harder to roll up your sleeves and fix the problem. To actively choose to take ownership and do something about it. To become part of the solution – and not the problem.
I firmly believe that the 'solution' space is the one that we all need to work hard to inhabit. After all, I think it's in our DNA to attitude shift, when needed, and to look at situations through a different lens.
So, how do we do this?
Accept responsibility and become a solution provider.
The first step in making a real difference is to move away from thinking that issues are 'someone else's problem'. Problems often arise that are not of our making, but they still affect us. And, when they do, we have a choice: Sit back and complain - or look at what action can be taken to help solve the problem.
Recently, I was chatting to one of our candidates who was complaining that her employer had no systems or processes in place in her department. I challenged her as she had not suggested, or attempted to implement, any solutions. We need to start taking responsibility and owning the solutions that we can be a part of.
Accepting responsibility opens up opportunity and creates a better future for all.
Take time to know what you want – and then take steps to get it.
Speak up. Whether you've witnessed an injustice, are annoyed about poor service or feel that a bad decision should be challenged, don't angrily mutter about it quietly. Speak out.
Share ideas. If you believe that a process could be improved or have a solution to a tough business issue, give your feedback or input to the right people.
Volunteer. As Margaret Mead said, 'never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has'.
Change your mindset.
It's tough out there. But, approaching every issue as a passive bystander isn't going to make it any easier.
Negativity blocks clear thinking – which affects the quality of our decision-making. If we concentrate on being part of the solution, we open ourselves up to the positive and can access decision-making skills that aren't available when we're living in a negative state.
Simply put, focusing on the positive – on what's going right and how we can find solutions – gives us space to breathe.
Look at the big picture.
When we're deep-diving into negative territory, we stop seeing the wood for the trees. Our world view becomes limited and solutions seem impossible.
However, when we become future-focused, with a clear sense of where we're going, others start to buy into the big picture – and we all start moving in forward.
As I said at the start of this piece, it's harder to be part of the solution, to stand your ground and get your hands dirty making things right. However, I believe that it's the only way to navigate challenges – if it causes you discomfort, get involved to fix it.
It's also a lot more rewarding when you do. I'm quite sure that the young girl directing traffic had more endorphins from the experience than she would have gained on her run, knowing how many lives she touched with her solution-orientated attitude.
Strength to us all…
Author: Georgina Barrick
For the first time ever, I ended the year feeling slightly negative.
This is unusual for me as I generally don't do negativity. As the year turns, I'm normally upbeat and looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that a new year brings.
I even chuckled wryly at a meme that I saw which read:
Jan 1st: New decade going fairly well (all things considered)
Jan 2nd: Australia appears to be on fire
Jan 3rd: World War 3 announced
As we enter the 2020's, the news is so full of disaster and gloom that it's hard not to feel a bit anxious...
The global economy is at risk. Our planet is under severe strain (fires, flooding, plastic in our seas).
In South Africa, our flagging economy (hampered by a bloated public sector, struggling SOE's, loadshedding, the threat of land redistribution and a looming downgrade), youth unemployment, the effects of state capture, the dire state of our Education system and food security – the list seems endless.
No matter where you look, things appear getting worse. At face value, we're in rapid decline, leaving many feeling that we're definitely worse off than we've been before.
Or are we?
Yes, globally and locally, we face severe challenges. And, yes, these challenges need to be acknowledged so that solutions can be found. Many will require sustained change (and bravery) to overcome. We know that we have a long road ahead of us.
And yet, herein lies the paradox…
In reality, we are currently living through the greatest improvement in human living standards in history. We're better off than we've ever been – not worse.
Take a moment to think about the following:
- South Africa's GDP is 2.5 times the size it was in 1994.
- Stock markets boomed in 2019 – with the S&P500 delivering gains of 28%. In the nearly 60 years between 1960 and 2019, South African markets delivered real returns of 8% - while US markets delivered 7%.
- South African banks ranks 37th (out of 137 countries) in the World Economic Forum's Soundness of Banks index.
- Formal housing increased by 131% between 1997 and 2016 (albeit, I acknowledge, off a low base).
- Between 1999 and 2016, new HIV infection rates dropped by 60%. South Africa has the largest ARV programme in the world, which has contributed to an increase in life expectancy (61.5 years (men) and 67.7 years (women) - up from 56.5 and 61.2 years in 2010).
- According to the United Nations, an unprecedented number of people are escaping poverty, hunger and disease. In fact, the number of people globally who are living in extreme poverty fell from 18.2% to 8.6% between 2008 and 2018.
- Incidences of malaria in Africa declined by almost 60% between 2007 and 2017.
- A vaccine for Alzheimer's is almost ready for human trials.
- Thanks to efforts by conservationists, the population of wild tigers in Nepal has almost doubled in the last 9 years.
- In California, the world's smallest fox has been removed from the Endangered Species list
- In Germany, recent figures show that more than 300 000 refuges have now found jobs.
- The Humpback whale population is now around 25 000 (which is almost 93% of the population size before they were hunted to the brink of extinction).
- Dolphins are breeding in the Potomac river for the first time since the 1800's.
- In Ethiopia, 353 million trees were planted in a 12-hour period to claim a Guinness World Record.
I could go on …….
Of course, not everything is going in the right direction - but I'm a 'glass half full' kind of person.
So, how is it, with so many advances, we are fed only bad news stories?
Firstly, bad things will still happen - even as we progress globally.
Then, there's is the human phenomenon of Declinism – the belief that society/ our country/ the world is in decline, that we're 'worse off than we've ever been' and that things are unlikely to get any better (even in the face of evidence to the contrary).
Declinism brings interesting psychological factors into play, like.
- The 'Reminiscence Bump': As we age, we tend to remember our strong, vibrant youth with fondness and nostalgia, leading to a belief that the world was a better place (particularly in contrast to later life).
- The Positivity Effect: As we get older, we remember and place more emphasis on positive emotions, over negative – the 'rose-tinted glasses' effect.
- Negativity Bias: When our survival feels under threat in the present, we start to give more weight to negative events, overestimating current threats, while undervaluing opportunity and resources (which is why we perceive things to be worse than they've ever been).
- Confirmation Bias: When we only seek out facts that support our preset world view, leading us to reject anything that casts doubt on our belief and focus only on what we want the truth to be, we're guilty of confirmation bias (aka 'wishful thinking').
We have experienced declinism before.
Remember South Africa prior to the 1994 elections, when many were stockpiling food or packing for Perth. In America in the 1950's, the success of the Soviet's Sputnik space programme had Americans feeling that they were falling behind and currently in the UK, a belief that the UK was being held back by Europe, led many Britons to vote for Brexit.
The antidote to declinism is cold hard fact, truth and making space for alternative viewpoints.
This year, I'm going to work hard to seek out alternative views, look beyond the headlines and shore up my curiosity, pragmatism and hope. I'm also going to focus on being positive because as Professor Tom Lodge once said, 'One has to be optimistic about South Africa because to be pessimistic does not bear thinking about'.
May this be a year of positive growth for us all.