Sunday, November 16, 2014

Inclusion Starts with Me

The most amazing thing happened to me this week. On the scale of world peace or global warming it would fall into decimals, of course, but personally for me it was a serendipitous revelation.

I was typing away an invitation brief for guest speakers for a global Diversity & Inclusion event that we organise in December, when the autocorrect function all of a sudden decided to give me a lesson in personal accountability. For some (only Microsoft known) reason, Word started changing "D&I", typically standing for "Diversity & Inclusion", to "D&me", a grammatically correct but somewhat corporate-lingo-awkward coinage. This got me thinking...

Inclusion cannot be forced onto you. It's either you make a point of stopping by everyone's office in the morning saying "hi" or not. It's either you eat on your own or you invite everyone to join in. It's either you pause and ask if everyone understands or keep going just to get to the end of your presentation in time. Small things matter a great deal.

The times when corporate policies were rife with non-D&I clauses and restrictions are drifting away: most of big firms now have their people guidelines checked and D&I-proofed, and here's where it really comes to me, as an individual: diversity is easier to promote and check, while inclusion is a mindset that must be shared by everyone, otherwise it won't work. What I mean by that is that you can get together the most diverse team possible, ticking off all the boxes on your Diversity dashboard, but until those people respect each other, consider each other's opinions on their merit and without prejudice and account for individual differences in every smallest way, true inclusion would be out of sight. It is as small as a micro-inequity or comment in passing. It is as big as including someone from communication or a social routine.

I've reinforced something in my own mind this week, thanks to Word and Bill Gates. Diversity is everybody's business, but Inclusion starts with me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Smart Creatives and 5 Ways to Keep Them

Earlier this month, Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman at Google, published something on Slideshare that made my heart beat faster than usual. It was not a research report, nor a business education book, but something much more powerful --- an insight into how Google ensures its profitability and sustainability for the future. Acknowledging the fast pace of the modern-day world, instability and dependency on human capital, Eric explains how "smart creatives" bring innovation and fluidity into the organization. Go ahead and check his presentation:

So, here's Eric's formula:




I have come up with 5 ideas on helping the smart creatives thrive and stay with the company longer.

1. Cross-pollinate.
  • Innovation comes from combination. Instead of encouraging silos, make sure that employees from different departments, geographies, business units, etc. share openly and try things out together. Make diversity work. Collaboration should not be a value on the wall but a way that the organization thinks and lives.

2. Do not underestimate deep expertise.
  • It is a natural tendency to spend money and other resources on developing broad professionals (think MBAs). Fair enough: growing general managers for your business is a dire need and it will be even more acute in the future. Yet, balance investment into Hi-Potentials with that into High-Professionals. Technical knowledge does not appear out of thin air: it needs to be cultivated, retained, transferred, taught. You need it to create really great products (think Apple). 

3. Reward honest mistakes.
  • Honest mistake does not equal failure. It means that you have tried and learnt. It means that your brain has worked in a new way, since, had you been following the instructions, you would not have made that mistake. Yes, well-done, you have tried novel methods! One never knows which idea will be the next Uber or Netflix

4. Teach coping with failure.
  • Success lies not in avoiding failures, but in quick recovery after something bad has happened. Encourage people to try. Make sure they learn the lessons and move on. See the previous point. 

5. Change the business for the talent you need, not vice versa.
  • As Daniel Pink said in his book A Whole New Mind, unless you work with the right side of your brain, soon your job will not only be outsourced, it will be automated. Computers can follow algorithms, but true creativity and innovation comes from humans. Those skills will become more and more valuable. Those professionals will be less and less loyal. So, don't try to hold them to fit your company, as they'll flee places where they don't feel at home, but rather change your workplace to attract and keep the smart creatives.

Monday, October 13, 2014

5 Songs to Boost Your Resilience

Stress is a natural part of our lives, just like sleeping, breathing and wasting time in traffic. It's even good in small doses, as it increases our performance. When there is too much stress, there is anxiety, burnout and problems. That's bad stress. There is also a ton of information on the internet of how to recognise when you are stressed and what to do to avoid and/or cope with it. I will talk only about one small but powerful technique: music.

Music engages the right-hand side of your brain and works on levels that we do not consciously control or maybe even have awareness of. Right now, there is a lot of neuroscience research coming out about the different chemicals that get released when certain things happen. I am certain there is a paper somewhere proving that listening to some type of music releases those chemicals that help you cope with stress and boost your resilience.
Resilience - the ability to bounce off, not to give in to your stressors, overcome difficulties without overspending your emotional resources.
Those of you who are familiar with the concept of anchoring in NLP, may see these songs as powerful anchors: they activate the same brain areas as when you felt on top of the world, loved, strong, resilient - and make you re-live those moments, giving you the boost that you need.

Music is a very intimate experience. So, the list below is only me sharing with you a few songs that mean something to me personally: take it as an idea, but for everyone this list will be different.

Here we go, starting from number 5 on the list...

#5 Alaska (Fangoria) - A Quien Le Importa

Not very well-known outside of Spain and sung only in Spanish, this is basically a version of "I Am What I Am" (from the great La Cage Aux Folles), and if we translate the title literally, it would be something along the lines of "Who cares?" A celebration of individuality and beating your own drum.

#4 Bon Jovi - Livin' On A Prayer

An all-time karaoke favourite, this is a rock answer by John Bon Jovi to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and similar we'll-make-it-happen hit songs.

#3 Shirley Bassey - This Is My Life

Of course, it's Dame Shirley Bassey. The unmistakable voice of so many James Bond soundtracks, this is one of her earlier songs, the one that she Shirley brought along with her through her entire stage life.

#2 David Guetta - Titanium

It just gives you that extra kick in your step when you need it. A presentation? A tough conversation? First date? A must-have on your playlist.

#1 Cher - You Haven't Seen the Last of Me

The epitome of resilience... coming from the latest movie with Cher "Burlesque":

Now it's your turn. Post your top resilience song in the comments ---------->

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Forget a Mentor?

Sylvia Ann Hewlett has kindly posed the question about the critical role that mentors play in our life right on the cover page of her book. OK, it's in brackets and shaded, but it's there. The key area she focuses on is, of course, sponsorship and tactics to land and leverage a powerful sponsor. But is the era of mentoring over?

Mrs. Hewlett argues that careers depend on sponsors, and surrounding oneself with mentors, who give advice and groom you but don't have the power over your promotions or plum assignments, is a losing strategy. She does point out the benefits of mentoring, while writing it off as an asymmetrical, one-way type of relationship, where the energy and benefits flow only towards the mentee. Sponsorship, says Hewlett, is a balanced relationship where the "protégée" pays back with loyalty and stellar performance. I wish to settle somewhere in the middle. The idea of seeking someone mighty to advance one's career means that you actually care about your career more than your own development. The book is full of real stories and practical advice --- my only question is what's the key audience.

My biggest frustration with the book was that I cannot buy x number of copies of "Forget a Mentor. Find a Sponsor" and bring it to a general training on personal branding, career management or organizational behavior. It's too heavily skewed towards women, and I am afraid it won't talk to men. It does include a few stories about men, racial and LGBT minorities, but it more feels like cole slaw next to a burger: you haven't asked for it, but look - there it is. On the other hand, next time I am organizing a female issues event, I am definitely using it as a resource: easy-to-read, actual, witty, lots of reflection questions and tools. But back to the matter of mentoring.

I was lucky to have a few really great mentors in my life. I was not looking for them - it sort of happened naturally. That's the best - when mentors come into your life when you need them and leave when the relationship is organically over. My first serious mentor was a social affairs officer at the regional administration office; a woman who knew how to leverage relationships, had an extensive network of outrageously useful contacts, loved guitar ballads over a camp fire and took an interest in my development. There was very little I could offer in return - we did not even work for the same organizations: actually, I was a student. What I could offer was my personality and enthusiasm.

While working at Shell, I got my first official mentor. It was sort of match-making: one day my big VP boss came to me and said that she'd found me a great mentor: a business development director, in charge of joint venture relations at the time. A jovial guy, he told me a lot about the business side of what we were doing, but the relationship never developed: we were too different and there was little that bound us together.

My personal relations with my mentors made me squint when I read "Forget the Mentor" in the title. The author says that affinity is not really required in your sponsorship relations. Then it starts feeling a bit too manipulative and calculative for my liking. Maybe it's just me not being so career-oriented. Or me having had sponsors who were my mentors at the same time? I have to agree that corporate-sponsored mentoring programs don't work but natural mentors have your best interests in mind and can bat for you when needed. Isn't that what we should be striving for?

Resume: a nice-to-read book, I stick to my opinion of the value of natural mentors that I would prefer to the over-engineered tactics of landing a sponsor. Some good ideas on personal branding, and a really nice collection of personal career stories. Not something I would re-read, but might be good to jot down a few key ideas and questions. For instance, the personal brand questionnaire - have a go at it!

  • How am I innately different from my peers?
  • What about my background, experience, or schooling makes me unique?
  • What do I do exceptionally well? In what skill sets do I have the black belt?
  • What is my currency? What skill sets do I have that set me apart?
  • What experiences distinguish me?
  • How does my perspective differ from that of others? What informs my perspective that does not inform theirs?
  • What approach do I bring to solving thorny problems? How might this approach distinguish me from my peers?
  • What accomplishment has given me joy and won me accolades? What gives me satisfaction so that I want to do more of it?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

We may not have a vision, but we have a process for that.

A few days ago someone asked me, "What are the similarities between the two large employers you have worked for - Shell and Philip Morris?" I contemplated for a second. The answer was there instantly. Process.

I'm being facetious here. There are many other things in common: large blue chip companies, both in Fortune 100, both mammothy in decisions, both take good care of people, both with global footprint, both... The list can go on for a while. Yet. The processes that are in place in these two companies take the policy book writing to a totally different level. I guess that any organisation larger than 3 people need to have a process to function (think about toilet paper replenishment in your own family), and processes are the inevitable evil that haunts thousands of corporate workers worldwide.

Processes are not necessarily bad. In the HR field especially. You know how merit increases work, you know how to calculate your annual bonus, you know how learning course registrations get processes and you know what and when will happen if you move house to another country, dragging your expatriate life along. Processes make it easy to Automate/Standardise/Simplify/Eliminate a piece of work that has become a commodity. Processes eliminate the necessity of taking decisions every time something happens: you just know that you need to follow what the manual tells you. And here comes the rub...

Hmmm, the rub comes every time people stop to think. It's easy to hide behind the book and resort to the algorithm of flowcharts and swim lanes that the consultancies pepper so generously the wall space of large corporates (I think it's some sort of morbid pleasure for them to create a flowchart or two in a spare moment between lunch and trip to the airport). These process flows kill the human touch and turn workplace into a machine. Bad. Daniel Pink in Whole New Mind told us about the danger of living by the process and how those process-driven job travel East. This week's editorial in The Economist added technology into the swirl (Coming to an office near you), basically saying: it's not even shipping your jobs East, it's giving it to the machine:

"The effect of today’s technology on tomorrow’s jobs will be immense—and no country is ready for it"

Luckily, the same Economist offers the solution: competitiveness and survival will be dependent on managerial effectiveness and innovation. Music for the ears of any corporate learning officer with a budget. Nightmare for the CEO. Why? Because there is no process for resolving an interpersonal conflict in your team and the best innovative ideas defy flowcharts and occur against all odds in the most unexpected places. Not every company can afford to be a Google or an Apple. Every company can try though. Large organisations with strong and unique corporate cultures are hard to change, but change is there. I see the drive towards collaboration (no process), greater authenticity in leaders (no process) and social learning (no process).

There is a fine line between processes and technocracy. As long they do not weaken your credibility as a strong leader and a thinking human being, they are a great thing. Otherwise - detrimental.


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