Top 5 Morning Activities that Successful Leaders Do While Still in Bed

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Do you reach for your smart phone as soon as you wake up? If you answered ‘yes’, you’re not alone. According to a 2013 study by IDC and Facebook, 4 out of 5 people reach for their smartphones within 15 minutes of waking up. However, most of the world’s successful leaders are not just waking up super-early, but are spending their time on very different morning rituals.

Successful leaders, such as Tim Cook (Apple), Bob Iger (Disney), David Cush (Virgin) and plenty of others are all up and ready to go by 4:30 in the morning! So just what morning activities do successful leaders do during the pre-dawn hours that provides them with such pep? Here are my favorite top 5 morning rituals to do before you even get out of bed:

1.    Center your Thoughts
The power and benefits of meditation (or prayer or affirmations) have been promulgated extensively. Spend a few minutes to quieting your brain chatter and then visualize how you want to feel. Take this time to consciously feel grateful, blessed, empowered, confident and at peace. End with focusing on what success might look like for you today – I promise you that your day will rock!

2. Start your Day with a Dopamine Rush
Exercising early in the morning gives you a sense of achievement, gets the ‘be happy’ hormones (endorphin and dopamine) in your system, and readies you to conquer anything that life can throw at you. But wait, are you wondering what exercises you can do without even getting up from bed? Look no further than yoga! Some basic yoga stretches are all you need to build strength, relieve stress and have a happier disposition. Try out these yoga in bed poses for inspiration.

3. Wipe the Slate Clean
Your REM sleep is essential in restoring mental functions. The information consolidation theory of sleep is based on cognitive research that people sleep in order to process information that has been acquired during the day.  Sufficient sleep cleans your slate and allows you to start the day generally mentally sharper and gives you an opportunity to plan your day with greater clarity. And the good thing is that you get to wipe the slate and start anew every day!

4. Slay your Big Fear
One of the benefits of waking up early is that you have undisturbed quality time to slay your biggest fears and insecurities. We all have concerns that hold us back and make us procrastinate and doubt ourselves. Can you imagine how good your day is going to be if in those first few minutes of wake time you can conquer your fear and start your day with a firm resolve? Your day is already a success before it has even started for your colleagues!

5. Spend Time with Whoever or Whatever is Important to You
The best thing about being an early riser is that you get some quality time to be with someone important or spend time on something that is important for you. Starting early, visualizing and planning your day will give you tons of reward time. It will allow you to connect with your loved ones or take the time to leisurely think about all the stuff that keeps you charged.

Of course all of this only works if you still make your sleeping hours. Waking up early also means going to bed early. Do clock your 7 – 8 hours of sleep, as lack of sleep will reduce your emotional intelligence, increase cortisol levels, reduce your ability to learn and deal with stress and therefore, reduce your ability to lead. Successful leaders wake up early and then use that time to gain an advantage!

Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do share your morning ritual in the comments below and tell me what works for you and why.

– Paul Keijzer

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How To Become A Female Friendly Workplace

Today is the third blog of the Women @ Work series. We spoke about how Pakistan has a long way to go in driving gender diversity, what women are looking for and how Pakistani companies are scoring against these expectations. Today, it is all about how organizations can create a Female Friendly Workplace, a workplace that genuinely believes in the value of a more gender diverse workforce and is committed towards creating it. Our research, backed by findings from all over the world, has provided us with a clear 5 step recipe:

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Step 1: Visible and Genuine Executive Commitment
The first step is for the organization’s leadership team to be convinced that having a more gender-balanced organization is simply smart business. It is not about being politically correct, or morally doing the right thing. It gives better returns.

In doing so the executive team has to be able to focus on the long-term benefits and not be swayed by the ‘naysayers’ that focus on short term issues such as maternity leaves and all kind of other gender related performance biases. The stronger position it takes on this the more successful any gender diversity initiative will have.

The executive team has to build a business case for gender diversity, set themselves an audacious goal (like doubling the number of women in 3 years at management level), come up with a solid actionable plan with key performance indicators and then go public. The last element is important as public commitment increases personal commitment levels, as well as it creates a platform for change in the organization.

Step 2: Setting the Foundation
As soon as the executive team has made a public and genuine commitment to enhance the participation of women in their organization, the company has to set its foundations. This includes:

  • Creating policies on matters such as equal opportunities, reward and sexual harassment to solidify their commitment
  • Adjusting HR processes on hiring, development, promotions and succession planning to ensure at a minimum that gender bias is reduced and possibly that women candidates are at least included in people decisions
  • Creating a safe and female friend work place by providing facilities that ensure the safety of female staff at all times and enables them to perform to their ability
  • Helping male colleagues and specifically male line managers to become aware of specific gender related barriers and how to create a supportive and female friendly work place

Step 3: Enabling Female Employees to Combine Work and Home
Pakistani society has not progressed to a point where it is acceptable for a woman not to be a home maker. As a result she always has to be able to manage the pressures that come with managing both home and work. For companies in Pakistan to be successful in their gender diversity initiatives it is important for them to extend their support in enabling women to do so and not make it a reason for women to leave after they have gotten married or have had children.

Companies should as much as possible create flexible work arrangements and allow, if required, employees to work from home allowing them to fulfill personal commitments. This flexibility should not only be offered to women but to all employees alike as to not create a visible distinction between gender in the organisation.

This approach also applies for the matter of maternity. The more a company is able to support women during their maternity leave and upon their return to the workplace the more women will stay. Providing child care facilities will not only support women in focusing on their work and therefore be more productive upon their return it will also create a tremendous loyalty from working mothers and be a ‘attraction magnet for other working mums.

Step 4: Maximizing potential
With the foundations and enablers in place it is time to focus on providing high performing women with specific support and opportunities. This can be done in the form of:

  • Assigning executive mentors and coaches
  • Nominating women for specific training and development opportunities
  • Creating networking occasions (with other women) in the company
  • Omen talent review sessions in which the senior leadership team reviews and agrees development interventions for high performing female talent

Step 5: Influencing the Outside World
The final step is to come out in the open and use the traction and success that you have generated inside the company to influence other companies and society. This can be done through:

  • Sponsoring of gender diversity initiatives and events,
  • Specific female candidate outreach and sponsoring programs,
  • Taking ownership of specific female friendly initiatives such as:
    o– Supporting women to came back to work after a long maternity break
    o– Launching part-time work or job-sharing initiatives

By publically supporting gender diversity initiatives you will not only position yourselves as the employer of choice for female talent and positively influence your company’s reputation, but you will also be able to influence society and more specifically spouses whose support is essential for any talented woman to go out there and join the workforce.

However, be aware, you can only do this if your house is in order and females in your company are indeed recognizing you as a female friendly workplace. Based on our survey of 14 leading companies in Pakistan only two companies would be able to do that at the moment. Others still have some way to go in creating the environment where women unequivocally will recommend their company as a female friendly workplace.

Read more about our Women @ Work Study 2013 or watch the 4 minute summary presentation.

Next week is the last blog in our Women @ Work series. In this we will focus on how women can drive their own success in managing their career. Keep on sharing your views and comments!

– Paul Keijzer

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Only 2 Out Of 14 Leading Pakistani Companies Are A Female Friendly Workplace

BusinessPeopleSilhouetteWomanLast week we launched our Women @ Work Pakistan 2013 report. We had some great responses and would like to thank you for your interest and support in moving the gender diversity agenda in Pakistan forward.

One of the key objectives was to find out what women in Pakistan are expecting from their employers and how some of Pakistan’s leading companies do against these expectations. The answer was almost a Maslowian pyramid of needs, with more than 50% of all women indicating that their first and foremost concern was a safe work environment and a strict enforced sexual harassment policy. Followed by the ability to look after personal and work commitments and being given equal career and development opportunities. 

More so, than in many other societies around the world, Pakistani women are supposed to be the homemakers. No matter whether she works or not this expectation doesn’t change. Due to these expectations she is looking for an employer who can provide flexible work arrangements. This doesn’t only include the possibility to have flexible start and end timings, but also the opportunity to fulfill personal commitments during the day and maybe work in the evenings or work from home. 

So how are Pakistan’s leading companies doing? First of all, female employees of the different participating companies gave their own employer significantly different score cards with the difference between the best and the least female friendly workplace a whopping 35%. Only 2 out of the 14 leading companies in Pakistan can be described as female friendly workplaces. 

Guess which element was the largest difference between the best and the worst…guess again…No, it was commitment from their leadership team in driving gender diversity. The best company got an A+ with 87% of the female participants agreeing and the worst scoring company got an E grade with only 27% of their female employees stating their leadership visibly supports gender diversity. 

The good news was that all female employees indicated that they were happy with the safe and secure work environment their companies provided them. They were significantly less positive about their employers’ ability to provide flexible work arrangements (only 50% have some sort of flexible work arrangements, mostly flexible office hours). Another issue raised by female employees was the lack of support from companies to help women transition back to the workplace after their maternity leave. This did not only focus on the absence of physical facilities (i.e. child care facilities close to the office) but also on more subtle attitude shifts towards returning women from the line managers and employers.  

I will be back next week sharing some best practices and insights in what Pakistani companies can do to become a female friendly workplace. If you don’t want to wait till then you can read the Women @ Work Report 2013 and watch a 4 minute summary presentation

See you next week and do share what you have done this week to advance the role of female leaders in your organisation

– Paul Keijzer

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Women @ Work in Pakistan : A Long Way To Go!

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Seven months ago we started on our journey to find out where gender diversity stands in Pakistan. The objective of this study was to gain insight into factors that are important to working women, to identify the best practices in place to support gender diversity and also to capture statistics on female participation in leading companies in Pakistan. We had a fantastic response and over 1000 females from 14 corporations across Pakistan participated.

Our Women @ Work 2013 report is now available. We will share with you the highlights through my blog posts over the next four weeks, but if you don’t want to wait you can read it now by downloading the full report or watch the 4 minute Women @ Work Presentation by clicking here

Many executives both men and women ask me: Paul is it really necessary to focus on bringing in more women, is it not about who is best suited for the job.  And of course the answer is that you should not appoint women if they don’t have the right skill set, knowledge, experience and attitude to perform in a role. However, in a situation where both a male and female candidate are equally qualified, our research shows that women are 8% more energized to go the extra mile, 7% more likely to stay with the organization and 10% more female employees would recommend their organization as a place to work for their friends, than their male colleagues.

So where does corporate Pakistan stand on gender diversity? The picture currently is bleak at its best. According to the World Bank, Pakistan falls in the bottom ten countries with regard to women in the workforce. Our study showed that only 10% of the employees in participating companies are females and only 5% of them are in leadership roles as opposed to the 25% recommended by gender diversity advocates and governments alike. 

But not all hope is lost! With increasing realization of importance of gender diversity, multinationals have started putting pressure on their Pakistani operations to improve gender balance and are setting an example for local companies too. Progressive Pakistani companies are also taking the lead in creating opportunities for and facilitating women to progress in their careers. Companies just need to remember that hiring and nurturing the best is the only key to success!

Next week I will be sharing what women expect from their employers and how Pakistani companies are living up to their expectations.

You can download our Women @ Work 2013 report or watch our 4 minute presentation here.

– Paul Keijzer

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Moving Your Mentoring Relationship To A Whole New Level

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Having spoken about how to choose a mentor, why somebody should become a mentor and meeting your mentor for the first time, it’s now time to move your mentoring relation to a whole new level.

Your relation with your mentor or mentee is like any other important relationship. It’s built on trust, shared experiences, reciprocity, respecting boundaries and being genuinely interested in the other person. Eric Barker from Barking Up The Wrong Tree made some great suggestions on how to build trust in a relationship:

  • Act with discretion. Keep secrets secret.
  • Communicate often and well. The more you know about each other, the more you are willing to help each other.
  • Match words and deeds. Remember all the promises you make and set realistic expectations so you can meet all of your commitments.
  • Highlight knowledge domain boundaries. If you don’t know something, be willing to admit your lack of knowledge.
  • Hold people accountable for trustworthy behavior. If someone does well, let them know. If they disappoint you, let them know because they will not respect you if you let them walk over you.

For a mentoring relationship to really blossom it has to evolve into an intimate relationship. It is a relation in which both parties are able to disclose their inner most thoughts and concerns, and where both mentor and mentee become interdependent. This of course can’t be hurried, although specific defining moments can certainly accelerate this process. Who doesn’t remember the bond that was created with your best friend when both of you went through that ‘once in a life time experience’.

Ellen Esher and Susan Murphy in their book: Power Mentoring, mention that to deepen the mentoring relationship you need to:

  • Develop a deep understanding of each other’s work and issues
  • Develop a mutual admiration
  • Treat each others as confidants
  • Be open to ideas
  • Help each other focus on solving issues you can influence
  • Create mutual wins

Not all mentoring relations end up in a powerful and highly successful partnership. Sometimes the chemistry or the intent is not there or simply the circumstances are not right. In those cases you have to have the guts to call it a day and move on. Maybe find another moment or maybe find another mentor. Don’t give up, the support you can get from a mentor makes it a worthwhile pursuit and hopefully at some time you can turn the tables and mentor others.

– Paul Keijzer

P.S. If you are interested in being mentored by me, send me a short email (paulkeijzer@engageconsulting.biz) with the reasons why I should chose you as my mentee. I can’t promise I will choose you but I do promise I will respond! 

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Meeting Your Mentor For The First Time

Mentor meetingSo now you have identified your mentor, he or she has said yes and you have agreed to meet for the first time. Now 5 minutes before the first meeting you are getting a bit nervous as you know how important this first meeting is going to be. You ask yourself how do I make sure I set a good foundation for this relationship to flourish. A great question and the simple fact that you ask this question means that you are on the right track.

The most important step in making your first mentor session the start of a powerful relationship is to be clear in your own mind on the following questions:

  • What do I want to get out of this relationship?
  • What can I bring to this meeting that is of value to my mentor?
  • Am I coach-able?
  • Can I take the responsibility for this mentoring relationship? and
  • What can I do to cultivate this relationship?

Don’t expect to get big revelations from your first interaction with your mentor. The first meeting is all about setting the tone and spending the majority of your time at your first meeting in getting to know each other, align expectations and setting the ‘ground rules’ for an effective mentoring relationship.

Getting to know each other
I am sure that when you look at any of the important relations you have in your life, one of the biggest similarities across all these relations is that you know a great deal about this individual and that this individual knows a lot about you. To establish a strong mentoring bond you have to create the same foundation. Be as open as you can, share experiences, look for commonalities and build rapport by asking questions, be humble, listen intently, learn and be appreciative.

Align expectations
Explore, share, discuss and agree what you are looking to get out of this relationship and of course make sure you understand and commit to the mentor getting his share out of the relation. In addition there are many other areas that you need to align yourselves on:

  • What are the boundaries of the relation?
  • What topics are off-limits?
  • Confidentiality of the discussions
  • What behavioral standards you expect from each other?
  • How can you contact each other outside the formal meetings?
  • How long you can commit yourself to the relationship and when it will end?
  • How you will evaluate the relationship?
  • What are the ways out of the relationship if it is not working out?
  • Any possible conflicts of interest?

Meeting practicalities
Then of course there are the logistics you need to agree on:

  • How often do you meet?
  • Who takes responsibility for setting up the meeting?
  • Where will you meet?
  • How long can you meet for?

If you are able to cover all the above you have had a tremendous first meeting and you can be proud that you have set the right foundation for an impactful follow up conversation. Do make sure that at the end of the conversation of course you agree when the next meeting is and that you appreciate the mentor for his/her time, effort and guidance. A sincere thank you always goes a long way!

Enjoy your first mentor meeting and let me know how it went!

– Paul Keijzer

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How Do I Find A Mentor?

mentorA couple of weeks ago, a friend came up to me and said Paul I really want to find a mentor. I need someone, whom I can trust and help me navigate through the organizational politics, put a perspective on the challenges and opportunities I am facing and help connect me to other people inside and outside the organization. He asked me how to go about this.

A great question, as I have met many people who had similar needs but didn’t know whom to or how to approach a potential mentor due to the fear of being rejected. Whatever the reason here are a number of steps for getting a mentor:

Step 1: Know What You Want
My favorite Stephen Covey habit is “Start with The End In Mind”. The same applies when finding a mentor. Know yourself and know what you are looking for. What do you want a mentor to help you with? Is it networking, office politics, feedback, new ideas on that project you are working on, work – life balance questions, career  counseling or all of those above. The more specific you are, the easier it is to identify an individual that can help you. 

Health warning: only use a mentor for personal learning, growth and reflection. Don’t use a mentor as a shortcut for promotion, as it will surely come back flying in your face. 

Step 2: Go Outside Your Comfort Zone
Knowing what you want from the mentor relation will help you identify the expertise, relations and experiences you are looking for in a mentor. If for example you are a mechanical engineer working in a fertilizer plant who has the ambition and skill to move to general management but you lack specific financial or business-2-business experience, you should find a person in the company who can guide you and give you insight in your area of interest , how to move in that role and aspects to consider when trying to transit.

Don’t restrict yourself to your own department/company. Look outside, who are role models in your field of work, who are the leading experts. Check your LinkedIn network, talk to friends, senior colleagues, executives in your company. Ask them who they think could be the best person to help you in your quest to become better and grow. Or better yet approach the person who you have always looked up to.

Be bold go outside your comfort zone and pick the best there is. 

Step 3: Get Introduced
If you have zeroed in on a potential mentor who you don’t know yourself then the best way to get connected is by being introduced. Approach someone who can help you get introduced to the individual you are inclined towards speaking with. The change of getting a positive answer by cold calling in my experience is close to ‘zero’. I personally have never ever been successful in pitching to a person who I have not been introduced to, or who has heard about me. I also don’t react on any approaches I get from people that I don’t know. 

Work the network and get people to introduce you to your ideal mentor. 

Step 4: Be Interesting and Give Back
As much as you want to learn from a mentor, you have to make it worthwhile for the mentor to be willing to invest in the relation. I personally would never be able to mentor a person who is mundane and dull. Make it interesting, give back to the mentor, and help him with experiences or skills that he doesn’t have. You have to create a relationship that is worthwhile for both. 

In the late 90’s the CEO of a global company took it upon himself to mentor a number of young trainees who recently joined the company. Of course the trainees were delighted to be mentored by the global CEO, but it was not his altruistic motives that were at play here. He had a clear intention to gain as well from the relationship as he wanted to understand how young people interacted and used new technology (this was the height of the dotcom area for those of you who remember). 

Step 5: You Are Responsible
Finally don’t forget the number one rule of the mentor – mentee relationship: the mentee is responsible! He/she is responsible for making sure the meetings are organized and taking place, actions are being followed up and in general make sure the relation continues to flourish. If you do this well the relationship will surely last a career and be ‘priceless’. 

Next week: Why Should You Become A Mentor?

– Paul Keijzer

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How HSBC Middle East Forces SME’s Out Of Business

HSBC

No this is not a bank bashing story. This is simply a personal experience on how my (ex-) bank, HSBC Middle East, treats its customers.

As a customer, banks are not my favorite destination. Luckily they have over the last decade tried to limit my personal exposure of having to deal with them directly (ATM’s, internet banking, phone banking, and mobile banking). Although at the end we are still dependent on them as we give them control over something that is very important and dear to us, our money!

My aversion towards banks reached a new peak last month, when upon checking my account information online, I was confronted with the fact that my account balance of my company account was zero and the notification read “account closed as per August 25”. My 2 years of company savings had magically disappeared in thin air. A strange sensation crept down my spine realizing that my money was gone.

To give you a bit of a background I have been a happy HSBC customer for the past 10 years with a number of personal and company accounts in a number of different countries. When I opened my company in Dubai I had no second thoughts other than to open my company account with HSBC expecting that my being a premier customer in other parts of the world it would help them in their ‘Know Your Customer’ requirements to facilitate the relation. How wrong could I have been? Yes pretty wrong!

I run a small consultancy firm in the UAE and my banking needs are very limited, I only require basic checking account transactions and online access. All my interactions with the bank were channeled through an anonymous customer service email account that responded generally within 48 hours to my questions. Interesting thing was that at no point would an employee of HSBC identify himself as the responses were always signed ‘yours sincerely HSBC Bank Middle East’. This was never an issue as the queries were always small. But as all my money had suddenly disappeared this became a huge issue because I had no one to turn to.

So the only option I had was to write an emergency email on August 26 to the anonymous email address and ask what has happened to my money. I received the following email response the next day:

“Dear Sir,
We thank you for your email.
We hereby take this opportunity to advise that we have sent you the attached important and official communication by registered post with regards to your account held with us.
In accordance with the attached communication, we advise that your account remains closed as of 25 August 2013 and the final balances shall be dispatched by way of a Managers Cheque to the company’s registered address as held in our records.
Should you have any queries or need assistance feel free to contact us.
Assuring you of our best services at all times.

Yours Sincerely,
HSBC Bank Middle East Limited
Corporate Services”

With this mail was the attachment that was sent on June 2 by Mr Rana El-Emam, Head of Business Banking U.A.E. that read:

“Following a strategic review of our business customers, we will now be providing a personal relationship manager in all cases but subject to qualifying criteria…..based on the above, I am sorry to advise that you will no longer qualify for business banking services from HSBC and we will need to close your account with us”

Despite the fact that the bank was instructed and till then had always sent all documents, cheque books and other stuff to my home address, they sent the most important document to my company licensed office address that they knew I only visited once a year. Completely unaware of this notification I continued using my account, intimating the details to my clients for payments and using it to pay my suppliers. The simple fact that I had not approached the bank to move my account  should have lit up warning signals triggering someone to think that ‘hey maybe this client is not aware of our decision to close his account, let me call him’. None of this happened and HSBC continued to close my account.

Let me be clear. I have no problem in the decision that HSBC has made, that is their prerogative. They can decide whom they want as a client and whom they don’t. I can certainly be disappointed about their decision in the light of all my other banking relations with HSBC, but that is not the point.

What completely baffles me is how they went about executing this decision with no respect to their clients and just shutting down accounts. They completely ignored my pleas to either speak to a human (other than the anonymous email) or to re-open my account for a short period so I could continue my business and move my account to another bank. Basically leaving me with no bank account for my business and thereby shutting down my business.

To be honest the customer service I have received from HSBC Singapore has been outstanding. It shows that customer service is personal, no matter how hard you try to institutionalize it.  It differs from one person to another, from one leader to another and proves how difficult it is for a global concern to make sure that each and every operation in every part of the world lives their self proclaimed values (taking directly from HSBC website):

“Our values describe the character of HSBC and reflect the best aspects of our heritage. They define who we are as an organization and what makes us distinctive. By operating in accordance with our values we are: Connected to customers, communities, regulators and each other, caring about individuals and their progress, showing respect, being supportive and responsive”.

HSBC Middle East should read up on that statement again if they want to retain customers as I am moving on, taking my banking business somewhere else.

– Paul Keijzer

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Love Diversity!

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Photo credits: Chris Luttrel

Just back from Toronto. Had a great time taking a group of 25 sales and marketing team members out on a Leadership Outbreak journey. The most fascinating element was that these 25 individuals consisted of 8 different nationalities and were from 4 different continents. Woah now that is a diverse group! What fascinated me even more was how this group got along. Specific cultural idiosyncrasies were taken for granted and laughed upon whereas when the going got tough the group really gelled together and delivered results.

Research shows that multi-cultural groups perform when:

  • There is a long-term commitment
  • There is a focus on a range of issues of shared concern
  • They share core values of mutual respect, valuing of difference, and a high level of trust.

All elements were present in this team and it was beautiful to see it working together.

So how do you lead diverse teams? It might sound a bit counterintuitive but research shows that to successfully lead diverse teams you have to focus on task orientation when a team is newly formed to ensure all members are clear about what is expected of them, the roles they have and the structure in which they operate. When this is established the leader can switch to relationship orientation and focus on building trust, commitment to the team and shared values.

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Couple of tips on how to lead diverse teams:

Misconceptions and Misunderstandings
Language is essential to communication yet it can cause many misunderstandings. There are thousands of differences in how people might interpret American and UK English. Just because people speak the same language doesn’t mean that it’s as easy for them to communicate as it is for native speakers.

Behaving Differently
Understand, be considerate and tolerant of cultural differences. These can be habits, or beliefs, body language, ways of speaking or the amount of personal space that people want. What may seem strange in South Asia is totally normal in China and completely unacceptable in the United States of America.

Be Self Aware
Think about how your own background, education, upbringing clouds your way of thinking and working style: what you consider normal may not seem normal to others.

Appreciate People as Individuals
The worse you can do is to treat everybody the same. People want to be recognized as individuals, who they are, what they stand for and what they have achieved. Don’t fall into the stereotyping trap.

Leading teams of people that are like you is so much easier. It takes an effort to get out of your comfort zone and make a diverse team work. The advantages however are bountiful. For me the single most advantage is that working in diverse and multi cultural teams is that they make you so much richer.

– Paul Keijzer

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Can You Change Behaviors By Following Others?

iStock_000014793457SmallI am sure many of you have come across these omnipresent cards in hotel rooms that request you to re-use your towels to save water and protect the environment. Personally, I think these “suggestions” are just about saving costs for the hotel. I just paid a couple hundred dollars for a room and now you want me to save a few dollars for you by not drying myself in a nice, clean, freshly washed towel? Doesn’t seem right…

Despite the fact that 83% of hotels have a linen re-use policy in place, apparently only about 17% of guests actually re-use their towels. It looks like I am not alone!

So how do hotels get guests to re-use their linens? For that matter, how are people convinced to change any of their behaviors? For example; getting people to save energy at home or to wear their safety belts and goggles. How are employees encouraged to fill in an important survey or comply with organizational policies?

Our knee-jerk reaction is the carrot and stick approach (or stick and carrot depending on your humanistic view). We either ‘bribe and/or push’ people to display a desired behavior or implement processes or policies that force people to work in a certain manner. Both ways can be effective, however they are costly (incentives) and often not liked as they constrain (regulation) people.

Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the university of Arizona, has studied what influences and persuades us to do or accept something. He has identified 6 universal principles (check out the YouTube video: Secrets of the Science of Persuasion) that persuade people to change their behavior:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Scarcity
  3. Authority
  4. Consistency
  5. Liking and
  6. Consensus

The last principle shows that people like to do what many other people have done before. This is nothing new, of course, because we do this all the time. We want to buy a phone in a price range similar to what our friends have, we agree to join in a karaoke contest if all our other colleagues are also participating, or we are willing to try a new dish on the menu if we are told it is the restaurants best selling item (even when we have no clue what it is).

So how can you use this idea to influence people’s behaviors? Cialdini himself gave an example in which a utility company not only provided its customers with information over their personal electricity usage, but on a monthly basis, gave their customers an invoice in which they could compare their electricity usage with that of their neighbors. Over a 3-year period this led to energy savings of 1.3 billion kw/h.

Now, coming back to the re-use towel example… Cialdini experimented with different messages to persuade people to re-use their towels. Nothing had a significant impact except telling people that 75% of the guests (which was a credible and true statistic) in the hotel during their stay re-used their towels. Sharing a factual, statistical piece of information on what others are doing, prompted 30% more people to re-use their towels. And the funny part is, it didn’t cost the hotel a dime.

I am going to try to use these principles in persuading employees of a large organization to change their behavior. How? I don’t know yet, but if I am able to share in a credible manner with employees what other similar employees have done, I am sure they will follow and change their behavior.

Will keep you posted!

– Paul Keijzer

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