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.
Saturday, 21 September, the Springboks played their first pool stage game of
the Rugby World Cup 2019 against New Zealand in Yokohama – and lost. Watching
them play that critical first game, it was hard not to get despondent about
their chances in the competition.
weeks to the day later, the Springboks powered home to beat England and lift
the William Webb Ellis trophy. In doing so, they made history as the first team
ever to win a Rugby World Cup after losing a pool stage game. They are also the
only team to have won every final they’ve played, without conceding a try.
Journalists called this ‘one of the most astonishing records in sport’…
that, after that first loss, I was very worried about the inevitable negativity
that was starting to make its way into conversation.
to beat prevailing stats. In the 11 tournaments that have taken place since
1987, no team had ever turned it around after losing in the first rounds and
taken the trophy. There was nothing to suggest that the Springboks would be any
giving up, the team refused to let the fact that others had written them off
Led by a true
servant leader, this diverse group of men had a strong desire to win. They
truly believed that, if they worked together, they could be victorious.
wasn’t an option. So, after that first loss, they took time to reframe the
pressure they were under to achieve – and, rather, began to focus on how
playing a good game of rugby could bring hope to South Africa
(#StrongerTogether). They found purpose - and it was bigger than the task at
so, the Springboks turned what should have been an ending into an amazing
beginning. They fought back – and won (to the delight of all South Africans).
already been written about the leadership lessons that can be learned from a
win like this. About how finding a shared purpose can unite a team (and a
nation) and how, to win, you often have to fail first.
For me, though,
what really stands out is the importance of finishing strong.
heading into the final stretch of what has (for many of us) been a really challenging
has been tough, the political landscape unnerving and the sword of downgrade remains
hanging firmly over our heads.
it’s tempting to throw in the towel and start planning for 2020, the Springboks
have made me realise that, even at this late stage, there is still time to
The race is
always won, not by those who try or mean well, but by those who finish.
that building and sustaining momentum now is the smarter way to give 2020 a
So, how do
we finish 2019 strong?
(to One Goal)…
You may have started the year with many goals. Or, you may
be one of those people who don’t believe in ‘goal-setting’. Regardless, pick
one thing to do and see it through. Decide what you need to do to achieve this
goal and give it your all.
Self-awareness can help us move from being eager starters to
consistent, strong finishers.
Being self-aware allows us to identify (and focus on) our
strengths, while acknowledging (and accepting) our weaknesses. Which is how
goals are achieved.
To reach this point, you may need to have an honest
conversation with yourself about what you have done well this year and what has
been in your blind spot.
Take Action (Daily)…
Do something each day which moves your closer to your goal. Move faster. Create urgency.
Make your action steps effort-driven (I will answer all
email requests within an hour) rather than outcome-driven (I will improve
Evaluate how you’ve approached your goals in 2019. Explore
what you’ve been doing and decide what you need to stop doing, keep doing or
start doing – and implement this immediately.
If you’re anything like me, nothing gets done without a
deadline as more important things always seem to crop up. So, if the work that
you’re doing hasn’t been set a deadline, set an artificial one for yourself.
Deadlines get you moving.
Renegotiate Your Relationship with Perfect…
If you’re a Type A personality, you’ll understand the battle
If you constantly value work that is perfectly presented
over work that is done, it might be time to move your boundaries on perfect.
Remember that the pursuit of perfection (where it takes time to tweak, change
and make things perfect) is at odds with the need to get it done and delivered.
At this point in the year, finding the delicate balance
between perfection and delivery is important.
Manage Energy – not Time…
Energy levels fluctuate throughout the day. Early risers
might find that they’re at their most productive and alert early in the
morning. For night owls, the opposite is true.
Regardless of when you’re most productive, always choose to
do your most important tasks when your energy levels are at their best. Your
productivity should rise, as a result.
It’s late in the year and we’re all weary.
I’m choosing to take strength from the Springboks recent
World Cup win and I’m not giving up until the finish line is crossed.
Join me in ending 2019 with a strong sprint – not a slow
walk (into oblivion).
Good luck! #FinishStrong
Author: Georgina Barrick
My maternity leave is coming to an end.
And, even though I've (mostly) worked through it, making myself available for key meetings and calls, I admit to being a little daunted at the prospect of juggling full-time work and full-time mothering.
Work is a necessity. As a single parent and the only bread winner in our little family, I don't have the luxury of staying at home. But, like for many of us, work is also one of my happy places, where I feel valued, contribute and make a difference. Work is a large part of my identity, shaping how I view myself and my place in the world. And I really enjoy it.
But, there's now a tiny human in my life, who has completely taken over my heart. A human who needs time, love and nurturing to unlock his true potential. And I love that too.
So, how do I balance two competing forces that both demand my all? How do I continue to give my best to my work and my family? And, how do I ensure that I don't fail anyone – my team, my son or myself?
Speaking to other working parents, I'm know I'm not alone.
Many have shared their stories, from dealing with tiny, crestfallen faces when they miss dinner/ sports days or the school play (again!) to tales of missed deadlines and Skype calls that go awry when children intervene. Who can forget the sight of Professor Robert Kelly's wife scrambling to remove their children from the room where his BBC interview was taking place?
The dilemma of how to give your best in both spaces is a challenge that we all face – and, luckily, one that many are willing to share insight on.
As I return to full-time work, I'm trying to incorporate these sage bits of advice into my own life…
Imbalance is unavoidable…
I've been told that one of the ways to deal with it effectively is to shift your mindset away from 'all or nothing'. Understand that achieving balance isn't about keeping all aspects of your life in equal proportion – like a tightrope. It's more like a see-saw – when one end is up, the other is down. So, rather than trying to balance my life daily, I'm going to try to ensure that, in the longer term, each part of my life gets a turn to be 'up' for a bit.
Focus on what's important…
While many things will compete for my time, I should only do those that are important to me. This means that I will have to track my time – and edit, delegate or discard the extraneous.
Get up early. Do more in a lunch hour. Work after the children are in bed. There are many ways to squeeze productive time into a day. Learn to say 'no'. Don't volunteer for the PTA or serve on a(nother) work committee. I know that, if I stop doing things out of guilt, I will open up opportunities for activities that bring me joy.
Ditch the guilt…
No-one is perfect. I know that I can't do it all. Something has to give. I will miss soccer games, meetings or deadlines. As long as I've chosen to do the most important thing in that moment, I'm going to try to ditch the guilt.
Rely on others..
Build teams at home and at work.
At work, lighten your workload by giving others the opportunity to be successful. Delegate – and, if you can't – collaborate. You'll still get credit, but won't have to work as hard.
Build your support structure at home. Find a good nanny, let grandparents help out (if possible) and rope in friends (if you can). I know that it's important to feel comfortable that my child is well-cared for while I'm working – and good support is the only way to achieve this.
Some of my friends set up weekly or monthly meal plans. Many fill 'gift drawers' so that they don't have to rush out to buy last minute party gifts. Most use online shopping for basics. The common thread in all of these life hacks is planning. As a working parent, I know that I need to plan my time like a military operation – so that I can show up and be present to my team, even when I have a sick child at home or have had no sleep.
Aim for work/ life satisfaction…
Perhaps the most powerful insight that I've received is that, if we really explore what makes us happy, we often realise that it's not about finding balance. Rather, we're looking to be satisfied in both our personal and professional lives. Satisfaction comes from finding a way to shift the balance from work to home (and back) seamlessly.
For some, that might mean negotiating flexibility at work to spend more time at home. For others, it could mean setting boundaries and learning to say no. For most, it's about prioritizing self-care. I'm taking time to find out what work/ life satisfaction means to me – and am hoping that, if I know what it is, I'll be more likely to spot the red flags and readjust, when necessary.
And so, I'm heading back to work. I'm hoping that, with time, I will find my own personal work/ life satisfaction. I wish it for you too.
'It's not wrong to be passionate about your career. When you love what you do, you bring that stimulation back to your family.'