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 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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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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How To Avoid Procrastination

procrastination2I just completed the procrastination survey and according to the outcome I rank in the bottom 10% of the population in terms of my level of procrastination. According to the procrastination equation website, (at least) 95% of each one of us sometimes procrastinate and for 15-20% of us it is consistent and problematic. These figures have significantly gone up since the 70’s, where there were only 5% of self-proclaimed procrastinators.

Despite the low survey score (explains how anyone can cheat with personality tests) of course I also do procrastinate and sometimes finish a movie, play that game on my phone, check my emails, go for lunch with my wife; postponing all my work to the latest possible moment. The excuse that I always use is that I work better under pressure and an even better excuse I tell myself is that I am subconsciously preparing myself the whole time. So far it has worked and I have (almost) never missed a client deadline!

According to Dr. Ferrari in Psychology Today “Procrastination: 10 Things To Know”, procrastination is not a problem of time management or of planning. Procrastinators are not different in their ability to estimate time…”Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up.”

So how are the people who have been studying the topic of motivation and procrastination and are self-proclaimed sufferers dealing with it? Professor John Perry, an emeritus professor of philosophy from Stanford University, has written a wonderful essay on how he deals with procrastination. He calls it Structured Procrastination and it “requires a certain amount of self-deception, because one is (in effect) constantly perpetrating a pyramid scheme on oneself,” he writes. “One needs to be able to recognize and commit oneself to tasks with inflated importance and unreal deadlines while making oneself feel that these tasks are important and urgent.”

While reading 59 Seconds: Think A Little, Change A Lot, I came across the topic of procrastination once again and found the “just a few minutes” rule to be helpful. According to psychology graduate Bluma Zeigarnik, who first experimented with this idea in the 1920’s, this rule is a highly effective way of overcoming procrastination. The idea here is to work on an activity for “just a few minutes” which leaves the procrastinator with the urge to see it through to completion. This creates an “anxious brain” which makes you want to see the job finished!

I am trying to deal with my procrastination bouts by trying to create new habits, habits in which I force myself to do things and hope that over time they become automatic. Luckily for me my guilt kicks in if I am not able to do stuff as planned (must be the Dutch work ethic that my parents have pumped into me) and this pushes me to get things done.

How do you deal with procrastination?

– Paul Keijzer

Managing Office Gossip

gossip-webAs an HR Director I was once the gatekeeper for a lot of sensitive information and was always amazed at how fast, widespread and accurately gossip spreads. Studies from the 60s (although I don’t know whether this is still relevant as that sounds like a lifetime ago) show that more than 75% of the details in gossip are correct.

Why People Love To Gossip
According to Frederick Koenig, a sociologist and author of Rumor in the Marketplace: The Social Psychology of Commercial Hearsay, people listen to and pass on a rumor because it satisfies an inner need. This is why understanding the nature of the people involved is key. According to Koenig, different people have different needs that lead to their reasons behind passing along gossip.
Rumors …

  1. … can circulate because the topic is interesting or a source of diversion.
  2. … can pull together events and fill in the gaps to make sense and provide explanations for what is going on.
  3. … can validate and support a point of view.
  4. …can reconcile one’s psychological state with what one sees as actually going on. (Studies show people who have high anxiety frequently participate more in the rumor process and groups in stressful situations have more rumor activity.)
  5. … are a means of getting attention.
  6. … are ways of manipulating situations. The idea of individuals or groups deliberately starting a rumor to serve selfish ends is frequently suggested.

The Grapevine Is On 24/7
It is the informal communication highway and it works 24/7; in company buses, cafeterias, hallways, meeting rooms, bathrooms and water coolers. But don’t think it stops when the office closes down. Nowadays, more often than not the grapevine really comes to life through Facebook, Twitter, or any other social network platform. It never stops and most of the time it is much faster and more direct than the organized formal communication methods that companies rely on. (You won’t see anything scandalous written in an office memo, but what employees communicate from desk to desk would shock you.)

Benefits of Gossip
Of course gossip and the infamous grapevine that carries the gossip can have both positive and negative consequences for the organization. The negative is that the grapevine can carry all kinds of misinformation and create insecurity in individuals. There are, however, also a number of benefits. The simple fact that people are talking about the organization shows that they are interested in what is going on with the company (as a leader you should get worried if employees stop discussing the company as it shows that they are not engaged). The benefit is that gossiping allows employees to express their feelings (both positive and negative) rather than keeping it bottled up.

How to Manage the Downside of Gossip
Of course, when the going gets tough and difficult messages have to be communicated (for example: downsizing, re-locations, or organizational changes) the grapevine works at its best and the consequences are most likely the most detrimental. In these cases as a leader you have two options (1) share as much as possible as soon as possible, even if not everything is clear and decided or (2) share information once when everything is decided and clear. The advantage of the “ASAP approach’ is that you let people in on what is happening with the downside being that things can change over time and you might be increasing their insecurities (as not everything is clear). Telling people when everything is clear is of course the flip side of the same coin. Although here, the biggest negative is that you are unable to formally influence the grapevine as you have not communicated anything and have left it up to others to exaggerate or downplay (as any piece of gossip can turn). Both approaches have their time and place.

How To Manage The Grapevine
First and foremost is accepting that the grapevine is always on and can’t be stopped. You can try to ‘kill’ it in one situation, but I bet you it pops its head into another soon. The best way to manage the grapevine is to:

  1. Make sure you inform employees as quickly and fully as possible of what is going on in the company. Use social media and the formal communication channels available to you. Remember the key mantra in communicating to employees is: Communicate, then communicate more and if you think that you have communicated enough, double your efforts.
  2. Listen to the rumors and decide what are facts and what is biases. If, as a leader, you are in tune with the grapevine you get a feel of what is really happening in the company and you can use this as influence.
  3. Act fast. If rumors are wildly incorrect then make sure you come out ASAP to set the record straight by proactively communicating to all employees. Otherwise, distorted half-truths will make the rounds — so nip these destructive rumors in the bud.

Learn to love the grapevine. Don’t get jumpy if ‘secret’ information is out there. Simply accept and try to use it to your benefit.

– Paul Keijzer

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Follow Your Heart And Do What You Want

k4604027One of my favorite questions to ask participants in a team session is “What is the one thing you would do with your life if you didn’t have any other commitments?” The answers people give are very interesting as many say they want to give back. Recognizing that they are ‘privileged’ these individuals would want to use their skills, resources and time to give back to their community by helping educate children, helping poor women develop skills to build a livelihood or supporting hospitals in impoverished areas. Others have long standing dreams they were never able to fulfill. I met a Managing Director who always wanted to be a pilot, an HR Director who dreamed of being a pediatric doctor, a CEO who wanted to write a cookbook and a Finance Manager who wanted to be an anthropologist and publish his own coffee-table-photo-books that would cover his journeys.

These are all fantastic dreams and amazing insights into the souls of individuals. Of course the next tough question is always: If that is your dream, then why are you not pursuing it?

The reasons I get for not following ones dreams range from:

  • I don’t have the time
  • I am scared
  • I don’t know how to do it
  • I need to have a stable income to look after my financial commitments
  • My daughter is getting married in 5 years
  • It is too late now
  • I don’t know where to start
  • I can’t take the risk
  • It’s too difficult to do
  • What if I fail
  • I would let my parents down if I make this change and throw away the important position that I have created

All true. All these are good enough reasons not to follow your dreams…right?
So what to do? How can you follow your dreams right now without giving up everything you have worked for? I would suggest you:

1. Start By Taking Small Steps
As Dr. Gregory House, from the TV shows says; “Doing things changes things. Not doing things leaves things exactly as they were”. It is all about starting to approach things differently. So if you want to become a writer, start a blog or publish an e-book. If you want to become a musician, upload a video on YouTube and shamelessly promote it as much as you can. If you want to help educate people, associate yourself with an NGO and on Saturdays you can give back to the community by teaching underprivileged kids to read and write. If you always wanted to be a doctor, then take a first aid or CPR training class.

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

2. Stay focused
Look at all the people that you admire in this world. What is the one thing they have in common? It’s their laser like clarity and focus on achieving their dream. Steve Jobs was not distracted by the million other things he could have sold, Mandela’s only focus was to bring down apartheid, Jake Welch’s sole aim was to make GE number 1 or 2 in every market.

It is all about knowing what you want and staying away from distractions. As they say, you know a company’s (or person’s) strategy on the basis of what they spend their time on. The same applies for achieving your dream. Spend time on one specific goal and stay away from the numerous distractions that come your way.

3. Persevere
The definition of perseverance is “to continue in a course of action, even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.” Some steps in achieving your dream will lead to dead ends while others will get you closer to your goal. The only option you don’t have is to stop trying and give up. Don’t give up too easy…it’s your dream we are talking about!

– Paul Keijzer

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How To Make Brainstorming Much More Effective

brainstormingRecently I tried out a new approach to brainstorming. A couple of weeks ago I read an article discussing what is wrong with brainstorming, on Eric Barker’s blog; Barking Up The Wrong Tree. I adopted some of the learnings, experimented with them and found that it really worked! While no single method of approach is perfect, the results were significantly better than what I had seen before.

The way I implemented brainstorming techniques in the past was similar to the way Alex F. Osborn, known as the “father of brainstorming” invented it in 1958. Put people in a group together and collectively write as many individual ideas down as possible, whether they are crazy, funny, ridiculous, innovative or clever. Don’t criticize anything and allow people to make links and associations as they go along. When you have all the ideas on one list, bring them down to the best few and then expand on them. Sounds familiar?

More often than not, the problem with this approach is that the ideas that you get are either ‘spiked up’ versions of ideas that have gone around for ages or ideas so wild that they will never see the light of day.

So I decided to experiment and organized a brainstorming activity for a client in which they wanted to come up with new initiatives to grow their business, taking into account the new research findings that:

  • Smaller teams are more effective than larger teams (also see this article in HBR explaining that smaller, more homogenous, research groups are more effective per researcher)
  • Less is More
  • Criticizing and debating ideas will improve the quality of the idea

The brainstorming session was not only aimed at coming up with new ideas but also to translate those ideas into initial action plans. To do this we used the following 5 steps:

1. Individual Ideas
The night before the brainstorming session, every participant was briefed on the objective of the next day (to come up with innovative ideas to grow business). Each individual was requested to come up with one, two or maximum three ideas that he / she thought would grow their business. The next day each participant was given a flip chart in which they had to put down their ideas by answering three questions (1) What is the problem you are trying to solve? (2) What is your proposed solution? and (3) How will it work?

2. Share Judge and Select
Then, seated in groups of 5, each individual was asked to present his/her ideas to the other members of their group. During the presentation other members were encouraged to ask questions for clarification, make suggestions on how to improve the idea or use the idea in a different context. Next, the group was asked to rate all of the presented ideas on the criteria of uniqueness and potential value. All ideas were plotted on a matrix and the groups were asked to select their top three concepts.

3. Present and Pick
Each group then presented their top 3 ideas in a standardized format to the larger group (50 people in this case). The groups were then asked to give three votes to three ideas that according to them was the most unique and had the most value for the company. A ranking of ideas emerged and the top 10 of these ideas were taken into the next round.

4. Praise and Criticize
Having selected the 10 innovative ideas that were both unique and had significant value to the organization, it was then time to start moving into action. But, before I asked individual groups to start writing action plans, i wanted to galvanize the collective wisdom of all 50 people in the room to improve the idea. The concept that we used was “Praise and Criticize.” Each group was given a random idea and had 5 minutes to list as many reasons why this was a great idea along with why this idea was not going to work. After 5 minutes the list of praises and critiques was moved to the next group and they are asked to do the same. If you do this 4/5 times you get a pretty exhaustive list of good and bad qualities for every idea.

5. Action!
The list of praise and criticism was then given to the group that originally came up with the idea, so that they could take their colleagues comments into account when they started working on their action plan. You can imagine that the action plan that was created was significantly richer in content as already 50 people had been able to review it and make suggestions.

The end result for the team I worked with was 8 fantastic ideas that already had a meaty action plan linked to them. A project lead was appointed and a first review date was set. And the amazing thing is it only took 4 hours to go through this session. 4 hours with 50 people leading to 8 brilliant business innovation ideas. Not a bad investment in my book!

So, whenever you are planning to do your next brainstorming session, let people come up with their own ideas first. Let them share their ideas, fight over what the best ideas are and then use the collective wisdom of the group to praise and criticize those ideas to strengthen their overall action plan.

– Paul Keijzer

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If You Want People To Collaborate – Put Them Next To Each Other!

collaboration“Change is the only constant” is a mantra that has been engrained in almost every professional I have met. However, when you ask a leader how to help employees change, the response is often pin drop silence, but after some time, people often refer to the tested ‘carrot or stick’ approach. Reward the people that change and ignore or kick out the people that don’t. Philip Kotler, the change management guru, famously stated that only 30% of all change initiatives succeed. Few betting men would take these odds…

Almost all change initiatives require people to alter their behaviors. Taking action is the most difficult as we all know from our experience in trying to lose weight, exercise regularly, influence our teenagers to clean their rooms or even change the shopping habits of our spouse. Research into people trying to quit smoking, shows that only 17% are successful and never smoke again. And to prove that old habits die hard: even if people are confronted with a major physical crisis (e.g. a heart attack) less than one out of two are able to kick the habit.

We are creatures of habit. It gives us comfort, confidence and much needed stability to make sense of this fast changing world. Two books I recently read have helped me become better in advising companies on how to change behaviors. The most recent book “The Power of Habit” is written by New York Times business writer Charles Duhigg. He helps you understand how habits work and how you can change them, not only at an individual level but also on an organizational and societal level. So far, it is Amazon’s book of the year, so check it out.

However, my current favorite read is “Influencer: The Power To Change Anything” from Kerry Patterson. In this Patterson shares a very simple model on how you can influence behavior. Firstly. Patterson distinguishes two components that stop people from changing. They either don’t want it (motivation) or they don’t know how to (ability). Through powerful real life examples, Patterson helps you understand how you can influence behavior on a personal, social and structural level.

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My personal favorite insight is the impact of distance on collaboration and where by changing the environment in which people operate you ‘force’ them to change their behavior. Bell Labs was interested in understanding what was the best predictor for scientist to work effectively and collectively, smash ideas together and build on each others concepts. The answer? Distance. Scientist who worked next to each other where 3 times more likely to discuss technical topics that lead to collaboration versus scientists sitting only 30 feet from one another. With a distance of only 90 feet, the collaboration dropped to levels similar as if they were working several miles away.

Many clients often complain about different functions within the company that don’t work well enough together. Using Patterson’s example I always advise them to make people, who need to accomplish something together, simply sit together. Companies like P&G and Unilever have taken this concept even further by making their cross-functional teams sit at their client premises. If you want to change behavior, don’t forget to think about changing your physical environment.

– Paul Keijzer

Three Reasons Why, In Pakistan, We Want Everything Now!

The Time is Now - ClockAfter people learn that I worked in China and Vietnam before coming to Pakistan, they often ask me ‘what are some of the differences between the Chinese and Pakistani’s’. The big difference, I always say, is long-term vs short-term. In China the focus is on the long term. They set themselves a goal and no matter how long it takes, with utter dedication and conviction, they reach that goal. In the late 70’s under Deng Xiao Ping’s leadership, the Chinese set on a road to introduce ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’. Now 40 years later they are the second largest economy in the world and will over the next 50 years challenge the US for that crown.

On the other hand, in Pakistan it is all about the today. We will take whatever shortcut is possible in order to get an immediate benefit. This applies to all levels of society. Pakistani’s are generally more interested in maximizing their opportunities and earnings today, than waiting to get something significantly better in the future (I would love to see a comparison between Pakistan and other countries on the result of the infamous Stanford Marshmallow Test)

Why I asked myself is this the case, three reasons:

1. You Don’t Know What Tomorrow Will Bring
Uncertainty is so high that you never know what tomorrow will bring. Many people take life day by day, questioning: why try to build something that will only reap its benefits at some time in the far uncertain future? In Pakistan, a strike can be called in a matter of minutes, causing the whole city to shut down and the workday to go to waste. With such erratic conditions, sometimes living in the moment is what works best.

2. You Can’t Depend on Institutes
Our governance is still under constructions. Institutes have made modest progress in ensuring that its people can depend on a fair, transparent and a just rule of law. Apart from a few exceptions, government offices are not known for their ability to deliver quick, consistent and high quality services. You never know whether you can pick up your passport whenever they promised it, or whether the electricity that is there today will be there tomorrow.

3. You Can’t Afford To Wait
With inflation high and incomes at sustenance levels, people need to ensure that they look after their families today. With such a large population of individuals willing to work (especially in the middle and lower class), there is always someone ready to take your place. You can’t afford to wait till tomorrow to grab the opportunity you have at hand.

All these things combined make it almost utterly impossible to predict and therefor plan for the future. This can be said about many countries, but Pakistani’s will agree that our country can sometimes feel like a light switch, with tensions arising and calming down at any instant. We have adapted to this “you never know what will happen tomorrow” motto. Apart from the obvious drawbacks there are of course numerous good things about this motto. Our turnaround time is significantly faster than any other place I have ever lived and we have become much more flexible and agile as a result of it. For us it is all about Now!

– Paul Keijzer

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Myanmar’s Talent Gold Rush

title-Gold-RushI got to spend a fantastic couple of days in Myanmar last week and had a really wonderful experience. Having been isolated by economic sanctions for more than a decade, Myanmar is shaking off its shackles, focusing on the future and booming. The international business world is descending on Myanmar, as it is one of the last white spaces, and is hungry to capitalize on the desire of 55 million people who rightfully believe their time has come.

Infrastructure, FMCG, Automotive, Pharma, Energy Companies and recently, Telecom Operators, are all knocking on Myanmar’s door. Some companies had come prepared, moved in the moment the sanctions were removed and now have a significantly successful head start in running their businesses.

Setting up shop in Myanmar is not for the faint hearted. It has many challenges, but probably the most difficult is finding, developing and retaining Burmese talent. Myanmar’s underinvestment in education, its isolation and the brain drain of Burmese talent to other part of the world has created a super storm, almost wiping out the availability of Burmese talent capable of running an international business.

This high demand and low supply of talent has created a Talent Gold Rush (like the situation I witnessed in China in the 90’s and Vietnam in the early 00’s) where new entrants are going all out to spot talent and are trying to lure them away from existing companies. Existing businesses are introducing all kinds of golden handcuffs in order to retain their staff. The few Burmese who are lucky enough to have the required skill set, fare well by this situation, as their salaries are destined to multiply of the next years. But, an ever-increasing salary spiral for the happy few is not a solution for Myanmar and those companies that are trying to build a successful and sustainable business.

For companies to succeed and for the government to ensure the economic boom trickles down to other parts of the society, both need to design a creative and holistic talent strategy. This strategy should combine casting the recruitment net wide and far, an all out effort to bring people up the skill curve in the shortest possible time and creating a heartfelt connection that binds people with the company.

The companies that prevail in Myanmar will be those that make the achievements of the country and its people their success. That success needs to be earned “Inch-by-Inch” through hard work, being smart, moving fast and a long-term focus.

The enthusiasm, energy and excitement in Myanmar is palpable; It is their time and I am sure they will capitalize on this to the fullest. Lets hope it lifts as many boats as possible and that the past decade has not created a lost generation.

– Paul Keijzer

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