Life is Not Fair

Just spent two weeks in the Middle East helping a Giga company to enhance the partnership between senior line managers and their HR departments. What I observed through my interactions with these senior managers was their fascination with fairness. Nothing got them in more of an uproar than an HR policy committing an act of perceived unfairness. I have noticed that in the Middle East, fairness is a topic that gets hearts beating significantly faster than in many other parts of the world.

When I talked to them about what they mean with “that is not being fair” I always got very contradicting answers. It is clear that the concept of what is fair, means a lot of different things to different people. However, digging deeper I noticed three different threads emerging; fairness on procedures, fairness in how you distribute resources and fairness in relations.

A process is perceived fair if it does what it says it intends to, is not used for any other purposes that its intended purpose, is documented, has been developed taking input from stakeholders, has room for people to complain (and deal with complaints), is clear and understood by all, is applied throughout the organization and in which line managers and employees have been trained on how to use the process effectively.

However, a fair process doesn’t always guarantee a perceived fair outcome. How many times have you heard from your employees that it is not fair that his/her colleague is getting ‘outstanding’ ratings whereas he/she is only getting a ‘good’ rating? Or where your colleague compares their career progression with that of their university batch and claims it is not fair that “he is now the CEO and I am only a departmental manager?”

I will dedicate a future blog on the concept of distributive fairness, as there are many different options. Depending on your point of view, you would think that people are treated fairly if:

  • Their receives are in proportion to their contribution (equity) or
  • They receive the same as others (equality) or
  • They get what they need (necessity)
  • They should get more than someone else because he / she is a… (origin).

The most tense conversations are with those people who believe that something should be distributed on the basis of different principles. Try to get a communist and a capitalist in the same room and share a bonus pool among their staff! (But as mentioned, more on this in a future…)

Having an employee who thinks a process is fair and who agrees with the outcome of his/her performance assessment still has one fairness hurdle to go, dependent on the way you interact with the individual. Whether you treat him/her with respect, dignity and politeness and whether you have been transparent in sharing all the required information.

So all in all, ensuring employees are treated fairly is far more complicated and treacherous than appears on the surface. This is probably the reason that line managers just give up on trying to treat people fairly and try to wiggle out of it by proclaiming that ‘Life is Not Fair’.

– Paul Keijzer

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2012 Talent Barometer

Welcome to the second issue of the Talent Barometer. A barometer gauges the pressure of the atmosphere, indicating an area of high or low pressure, allowing us to forecast changes in the weather. The Talent Barometer aims to measure the pressure of the current talent market in Pakistan. It measures whether the opportunities for talent are entering a period of high pressure (more career opportunities) or low pressure (less career opportunities), as well as the confidence level of managers to obtain better career opportunities in the future.

Close to 500 managers from across all industries, functions and levels responded to our invitation to participate in the survey. They have given their opinion on personal career intentions, the available opportunities in the market and their confidence to find better jobs in the future.

The data collected also gives us insights into the ‘pressure levels’ in the talent market allowing us to determine which industries, functions and executive levels are ‘heating up’ or ‘cooling down’. This helps companies anticipate and plan their engagement and talent management strategies.

Engage Consulting is committed to supporting leaders and HR professionals with local talent and leadership related research data, whether it is through our Employee Engagement Surveys, Best Place to Work and Most Preferred Employer Study or through the Talent Barometer. Engage Consulting believes that we can add value to you and your company if we base our advice on genuine insights and research based facts.

I am confident that you will find the findings in this year’s issue of the Talent Barometer insightful and appreciate your continued support and participation in future issues of the Talent Barometer.

Click here to get the full 2012 Talent Barometer Highlights Report.

– Paul Keijzer

Do What You Love Or Love What You Do

A recent article by Cal Newport in the New York Times stirred up the debate on how people should choose their career path. The mantra of ‘life coaches’, self-help literature and career counselors alike is to ‘find’ your passion and “Do What You Love And Never Work Another Day In Your Life!” Some know early on that they want to become, doctors, entrepreneurs, scientist or even ballerina’s and are lucky enough to identify and live out their passion.

However in my experience most people are aware of what they don’t want to do rather then knowing what they want to do, or they don’t get the opportunity to do what they want because of what life throws at them. In my view it is more likely for people to follow a career choice that is (a) familiar to them (your grandfather and mother were both doctors so that is what you wanted to do) or (b) an opportunity that was presented to them and they pounced on it (who would have imagined that I would set up a successful consultancy firm in Asia).

I have a slightly more pragmatic approach. My advice to people looking for career guidance is to look for the sweet spot of three intersecting spheres: What are you interested in? What can you be the best in the world in?  What lifestyle is important for you?

What Are You Interested In?

Obviously work would be a lot easier if you could do stuff that you are interested in and that drives you. If incentives and money are your overriding motivators than maybe an investment banking career is the route for you. If your interests have to do with impacting the community, then find a career with an NGO, the government or teaching. If you are looking for development and opportunities to learn and work across the globe then maybe a large cooperation is the right choice for you.

Make sure to understand whether the career you are interested in is indeed fulfilling your interests. Over my career I have had thousands of interviews of people that wanted to join HR. Upon the question “why do you think you would be a great HR manager” invariably their answer was that they want to work with and help people. My standard reply to this answer was ‘fantastic, I would suggest you become a hair dresser or taxi driver’.

What You Can Be The Best In The World In?

Being interested or passionate in something is not the only thing that should drive your career choices. I am very interested in playing the Cello, but can I become the world’s next Yo-Yo Ma; probably not. However, I am pretty sure that you know what you are the best in. What are the things that people praise you about, which work activities do you like and don’t mind spending hours and hours on. Those are the ones that you “Can Be The Best In The World In” and those activities are the ones you should continue to develop (In his book Outliers, Gladwell suggests that you can be the best in the world if you spend about 5,000 hours honing and perfecting a skill).

Remember being the best in the world has nothing to do with level or seniority. You should have the ambition to be the best nurse, teacher, astronaut, carpenter, musician or president of the world.

What Lifestyle Is Important For You?

So if you have figured out something that you can be good at and interested in, then the last step is to see whether this fits with the lifestyle you want to live. You have to ask yourself the questions that determine your future. Are you willing to give up your personal life in search for that stellar career? Are you willing / able to move out of your hometown in search of that perfect opportunity? What income do you need to support your lifestyle? How important is work versus family?

My friend and colleague Nate Thompson has a wonderful example of this. He tells me; “Paul, my family is full of dentists and do you really think that they are really passionate about sticking their fingers in others people mouths the whole day? Of course not! They are dentist because it gives them a four day work-week, have no over-time, don’t have to answer emails 24×7 nor have a ‘crappy’ boss that they have to please. So they do it cause it gives them a great lifestyle and that is most important for them”.

If you want to get your career to take off, find that sweet spot. Find that job that interests you, you know you will be good at and fits with the life style you are looking for. Love What You Do and I am pretty sure you will have a prosperous life.

– Paul Keijzer

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In China The Disagreement Is In The Details

I am currently on my way back home from my third visit to China in just 6 weeks. I love working there, as it epitomizes my reason for making Asia my home: opportunities and growth. I have been working with the leadership team of a USD 1.3 billion company on their transformation and business agenda. Despite the fact that I lived and worked in China for two years, its size and scale continues to surprise me.

Being in Beijing brought back all kind of memories of working in Shanghai. At that time, I was the HR counterpart of a number of local HR directors of different Unilever joint ventures in China. My mandate was to implement the Unilever global HR policies and systems and to accelerate the development of Chinese managers.

I still remember that one of my biggest challenges was to introduce a performance based bonus system for one of the Chinese joint ventures. Most Chinese managers were positive towards the idea, but my biggest hurdle was to convince the local Chinese HR Director, who was also the Chairman of the companies Trade Union and the General Secretary of the Communist Party for that working unit. In other words – this man had by far the most power in the whole company. Can you imagine convincing a communist leader in the mid nineties on the benefits of performance-based pay!

I had mentally prepared myself that this would take quite some effort, and had set up a two day meeting to discuss the pros and cons with the Chinese HR Director. At that time, discussions had to be simultaneously translated, and after exchanging all the pleasantries I was starting to explain the purpose of the meeting. I had to slowly build up to my argument on the benefits of the new pay system.  After about an hour of my trumpeting the benefits of performance based merit system, along with a few questions and answers, I was completely taken aback when my translator told me that the HR Director had agreed with my proposal.

There I was, prepared for the argument of my life, and I was done in under 2 hours. I was over the moon and couldn’t wait to let my boss know the scoop that I scored. But, little did I know…

Over the next few weeks we started talking about how we would implement the new system, asking key questions like who was eligible, how it would work, who would get what and who was in control. It was only then that I realized that the agreement on implementing the new system meant nothing to my Chinese HR partner. It was all about the details. What mattered was the who, what, when, where and how. At the end (after about a year) we were able to agree and administer a significantly watered down version of the Unilever performance based policy.

So, what is the moral of the story? With my western education and ancient Greek inspired rational thought, I had assumed that if you agree on the concept the details would fall into place automatically. How naïve. In the Chinese way of thinking, you can get an agreement on the concept within minutes but it are the details that count and where the ‘rubber hits the road’.

Don’t spend too much time on the conceptual framework of your change proposal. Focus on how it will work, what the consequences are, what are implementation challenges, how do we get people on board and of course for the big ‘What Is In It For Me’ question for the people participating in the change.

-Paul Keijzer

The Engagement Flywheel

Last Friday, Engage Consulting recognized the winners of the Best Place to Work Awards during an intimate lunch at a local restaurant. Winners DHL and Runners up P&G and ICI were all in attendance to receive their awards. When getting leaders together from three companies that are recognized for their ability to create a great place to work, it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to their work experiences in engaging people.

While sharing their success stories we learned that all three companies had one thing in common: engaging their people has been the most important factor in the recent success of their businesses.

Asif Malik, VP Life Sciences and HR from ICI, shared that when he was appointed as VP for Life Sciences he had no experience in the Pharma and animal healthcare trading business. He found himself part of a team that was not clear about the future, not connected with each other and had little confidence in their abilities. In his words: “I only focused on getting the team connected, use the expertise in the team to co-create a future strategy together and gave people the freedom to deliver on the commitments that they had made themselves. The results were astonishing as the company has doubled its size over the last few years.

Ahson Nasim, Head of HR at DHL, shared a similar experience. In 2008 when the new CEO of DHL Pakistan, Safaraz Siddiqui, was appointed, he made a commitment to all employees in the company: “if you look after the customer I will look after you”. This was not a hollow statement, as at the end of 2008 DHL Express globally was severely hit by the economic crisis. As a result of the crisis, DHL imposed a freeze, on any salary increase worldwide. However, Safaraz took initiative to fight to get his team in Pakistan the salary increase they deserved. His team had made a significant turnaround and delivered never-before-seen-results’. The salary increase was implemented and as they say, the rest is history. And the result are there for all to see, by 2011 DHL Pakistan rose from rank #207 (out of 220 territories where DHL is present) to #1 in employee engagement.

The biggest question we had to ask was, what comes first? Engaging employees that then drive business results or business results that drive employee engagement? Najia Amin, Head of HR of P&G, was very clear as she says it all starts with your people. Engaged employees drive improved business results, which in return enhance the motivating levels of your employees creating a flywheel that will feed on each other.

The one thing that I have learned from these Best Places to Work organizations is that every leader can create an Engagement Flywheel. It is a combination of an unwavering belief that your business results are all about your people, and translating that belief by consistently and credibly implementing a million small actions that help create a sense of belonging to the company, aligns team members behind the company’s direction and gives employees an opportunity to develop and grow. Business results will follow and when they do and you continue your people agenda and see that your engagement levels will keep on improving.

And who knows… maybe one day your company will be the Best Place to Work!

– Paul Keijzer