How to improve the executive recruitment process

Accountability is one of those buzzwords that is often tossed about as essential in the business environment.

However, in many cases only lip service is paid to an ideal that few companies actually meet. The fact is that accountability must be top-down; regardless of the company’s size, industry or ownership structure, the board must assess its own performance in meeting the company’s goals.

Over the last two decades, oversight failures have been seen literally “across the board” – in listed companies, state-owned enterprises and third-generation family businesses. Board evaluation therefore needs to be more than a mere box-ticking exercise.

Many national corporate governance codes include a recommendation to conduct an annual assessment, and an external evaluation every two to three years. Directors should not approach this as a burden but as an opportunity to assess the risks to the Board in key areas in order to conduct the necessary changes.

Accountability and board evaluation are best-practice concepts that are recognised around the world in the national corporate governance codes of OECD and Non-OECD economies alike. We analysed the national corporate governance codes of 46 countries OECD Corporate Governance Factbook 2017 and found that in every case except one, there was an explicit reference to the importance of the board evaluation, whether through regulations, private initiatives or consensus between stakeholders. Goshen Report from Israel. (English available translation)

A considerable number of these national corporate governance codes embrace the importance of “Diversity” in board composition. This is a key factor for effective decision-making, and contrary to popular belief is not limited to gender. Critical aspects such as skills, knowledge and executive expertise must be assessed to ensure that the board has a true balance. The importance of board evaluation is partly due to its function in helping governing bodies to assess whether there is any excess or shortage of certain profiles to fulfil the company’s strategy and challenges.

In 2016, the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University and The Miles Group published a nationwide (US) survey of 187 board directors of public and private companies. Most of the key findings are valid for emerging markets in which board evaluation practices are not yet universal.

The skills which were rated most favourably in the survey were: 1) Financial skills (85%); 2) Management experience (82%); 3) Industry experience (81%) and 4) Audit/Accounting (81%).

Conversely, directors gave the lowest ratings for:

1) Technical knowledge (47%);
2) Cybersecurity (18%); and
3) Social media (16%).

These numbers are shockingly low if we consider the increasing importance of digitalisation and cybersecurity, and the dangers of failing to meet these challenges.   

The board evaluation process should not be intended as a witch-hunt, but to enable companies to readjust their board matrix and refine the nomination and appointment processes.

Once the company defines its goals, a series of new questions are raised. Who should conduct the board evaluation? How should the evaluation take place? Who is qualified and able to make decisions? In order to implement an effective system of evaluation, several questions need to be answered before any steps are actually taken.

Frequency of the evaluation cycle

There must be a set evaluation period; although an annual cycle seems the most obvious and ubiquitous, it may not be the best for every enterprise.

Governance codes often suggest that boards should carry out self-assessment at least once a year. Moreover, investors’ guidelines and proxy advisors’ voting policies frequently expect companies to bring in an independent advisor to assist or conduct an external board evaluation at least every two or three years.

Fifty per cent of the national corporate governance codes suggest an annual evaluation, often referred as self-assessment, while 38% are more vague and state that the evaluation should be “periodic,” while not giving a specific timeline. For example the codes in France, Russia and Slovenia combine an annual assessment with a triennial evaluation, often suggesting that a third party be involved for the latter.

The board should set out the process in a formal manner, establishing the timetable, methodology and level of disclosure.

As previously stated, some flexibility must be provided. If the purpose of the evaluation is to offer information to make suitable adjustments, it seems only natural that when the company or the business faces geopolitical, strategic or risk changes, the board should dedicate sufficient time to considering whether they need to adapt the director profiles, create new committees or enhance communication with management, eventually setting up a one-off evaluation process.

Some businesses may find it better to evaluate the core goals over a longer period of time, setting medium-term milestones for its decision-makers and key executives, with long-term compensation policy and incentive plans where appropriate. On the other hand, smaller companies and businesses in fast-changing industries may need a shorter period to react flexibly. However, the most common system is for the board to be regularly evaluated in order to update the performance plans and adjust as needed.

The strategic pipeline may also impact the board evaluation cycle. For example, PwC conducted a survey Governance Insights Center PwC’s 2016 Annual Corporate Directors Survey. in 2016 among 884 public company directors, who were asked: “When the board is discussing company strategy, what time horizon is primarily used?” The response was: 41% one to five years; 43% one to three years; 10% one to more than five, but less than ten years; 5% one year and 1% one to ten years or more.

Individual members or the board as a whole?

This is a key aspect going back to the basic idea of accountability. Is the board as a whole responsible for fulfilling its goals, or are individual members responsible for specific enumerated areas and tasks? Many factors can play into this decision, including the size of the company and the regulatory requirements. However, this question does not require a binary answer. Some goals could be left to individual directors; some could be tasked to the board as a whole, and others could be assigned to groups of directors. We must never ignore that the board as a whole will be accountable, not only by law but in the eye of shareholders and moreover, the media.  A board that allows individuals to underperform or mismanage will be perceived as one that failed in its oversight duties.

Both of the surveys quoted here seem to show a perception from directors that the evaluation has a relatively small impact on the board. In the Rock Center for Corporate Governance Survey, we saw that 80% of the companies conducted a formal evaluation process, but that only 55% of these companies performed an individual evaluation on directors.  Only one-third of the directors believed their company did a very good job of accurately assessing individual performance. It is also worth mentioning that in the same survey, 62% of directors said they believed that their peers allow personal or past experiences to dominate their perspectives.

Although we find similar figures in the PwC Survey, where only 49% of directors stated that their board made changes as a direct result of their self-evaluations, it should be highlighted that 8% of directors say they have decided not to nominate a director due to the assessment results. This is important because the evaluation is not intended to annihilate the work of the board as a whole, its committees or individual directors, but to find eventual hindrances and take the necessary actions for contingencies. For example 26% of the changes in the board as a result of the evaluation were adjustment in the Board Committees.  

Undoubtedly, the most challenging evaluation of the board comes in the form of the annual elections of directors, as the shareholders are the ones who call the shots when it comes to assessing the performance of the Board by supporting or opposing the re-election of a director. At least 90% of the S&P 500 The EY Center for Board Matters: Governance in Numbers have annual elections. Conversely, in some European jurisdictions like Spain, we find that directors can be appointed for four-year terms, although some companies have internal regulations stipulating a shorter term.

In the national corporate governance codes, we searched for specific mentions and suggestions regarding the assessment of the performance of the whole board, individual members and/or committees, which can be seen in the chart below. Note that the main issue dealt with by the majority of the codes is the importance of assessing the whole board.

Internal or external?

We finally come to the question of who is qualified to help the board of directors assess its performance, composition and structure. In terms of good governance, the lead independent director or the chairperson may conduct the process, but nevertheless, companies need to take a step back and look closely at the nomination and appointments committees. These committees should be composed primarily and chaired by directors with proven proficiency and skills in talent management, assessment and leadership. The committee must propose the best procedure to the board for conducting the assessment of the governing bodies, the individuals and (as a separate issue) the chairperson.

According to the E&Y Idem. numbers, 29% of the S&P 500 have an independent chair, while 59% of the companies have appointed a lead independent director. As an alternative, the procedure can be triggered or led by the chair of the nominations committee or the board secretary. For family-owned companies, our experience is that a shareholder who is a family member will usually start the evaluation process. In order to avoid future or current tensions an external advisor is generally used, in order to objectively address any potentially disruptive family issues.

Companies often need both an internal and an external methodology to assess the board’s performance. The external part of the question is simple: an outside entity is invited in to assist with the evaluation, bringing expertise, objectivity and fresh air to the process, while serving as a catalyst to facilitate dialogue and add value to the conclusions of the evaluation. Some may argue that the extra costs incurred by the external party are unnecessary, however an appropriate and well-chosen external advisor should be considered as an investment, especially if the external advisory team has experience in these assessments, the company’s sector and corporate governance in general.  
The self-assessment is very important for large companies and should be an on-going process, understanding and quantifying the soft skills and relationships that each director has cultivated in their role. Internal evaluations are extremely helpful in a system that fosters constant improvements to processes, and it is highly recommended to use the evidence from both going forward.

58% of national corporate governance codes suggest or recognise the value of an external independent party to help the boards conduct their evaluations.

Methodology, metrics, and evaluation

This may be the most straightforward aspect of implementing a board evaluation. When the board’s goals are laid out, the corresponding KPIs must be set in order to determine relative success and achievement levels.

The goals must be set within a strategic plan with short-term and long-term targets, combined with an action plan. The assessment must not only evaluate whether the boards are working towards the goals in the best interests of the company and shareholders, but also to establish whether the established strategy still makes sense over time. The board must also assess that proper checks and balances are being put into place and working effectively, by reviewing on-going bases with sufficient time and dedication, internal controls, interaction with the external auditing, compliance and managing potential conflicts of interests.

Moreover, it is important to assess board dynamics, essentially based on the perception by board members of whether each one of their peers exhibits good or poor behaviour, goes prepared to the meetings, asks appropriate and challenging questions and enriches the culture of debate. The evaluation must assess the directors’ ability to access, process and discuss information thoroughly, Directors’ level of attendance is also key.

Compliance with the standards of governance shall be measured according to the shareholders’ structure and expectations, as well as those of the board members’ peers. If there is any deviation from a particular standard, the board should take the risks and benefits into account, and take measures that mitigate such risks.

Depending on the area to be assessed, the best metric to use may be satisfaction levels, agreement or compliance, but this will be up to the advisor to decide.

Most methodologies consist in very specific steps, but ultimately leadership on the process and cooperation of Directors will make the evaluation a successful tool.

Although questionnaires are very useful and provide confidentiality, they do not always allow a broad picture to be seen. They should therefore not be the only tool which is used to assess the board’s performance, and even though the use of a questionnaire helps to provide standardised answers, the questions should be tailored to fit the specific company.

Follow-up interviews and discussions with directors must then be used to explore and expand the answers from the questionnaires.

The evaluation topics are key to understand the current position of the board, and should include many new aspects which were not taken into account in recent years:

· Shareholder engagement
· Usage of social and regular media
· Compliance
· Recruitment and compensation policies
· Adjustment in corporate government policies
· Corporate social responsibility, e.g. environmental and social issues. Boards cannot afford to dismiss topics such as gender equality and equal pay, anti-bribery measures and whistleblowing procedures.

Results, consequences, and further Steps

This is where accountability comes into play. The process needs to be a positive one – both when highlighting successes, and identifying areas of improvement.  It’s very important for directors to embrace the evaluation methodology, so that they accept and have confidence in the results. In the Rock Center for Corporate Governance Survey, we saw that only 78% of directors seemed to be satisfied with the evaluation process. If the methodology is accepted with confidence, so will the results. The next step is to draft an action plan, which will execute the necessary adjustments needed to build on the recommendations of the evaluation, always with the goal of reaching a better balance, and achieving the targets set in the strategy. The action plan must highlight areas for improvement, the leaders responsible, the level of priority and the timetable.

If the evaluation shows a lack of experience and skills in a particular area such as Technology or Governance, one suggested action could be to revisit the board’s skills matrix, and take this into consideration for the next appointment. If the board does not appear to be dealing effectively with under-performing directors, an array of potential actions can be suggested, including training, the readjustment of specific committees, or ultimately the removal of the director.

In terms of disclosure, it seems only natural for privately-held companies to keep their evaluations in-house and confidential in order to conduct the changes necessary. Nonetheless, it is highly recommended for these companies to conduct board evaluations on a regular basis, as owners should be prepared for the day that a private equity firm asks for this data before it makes a decision on whether to inject capital. For listed companies, investors often welcome efforts at corporate openness and good disclosure. In 2014, the Council of Institutional Investors published: “Best Disclosure: Board Evaluation” and in 2016 LGIM (one of the most significant institutional investors in the UK) published the Active Ownership Report, which praised the evaluation reports of several companies.

Alberto Bocchieri is a Partner, Co-Head of Iberia & Latin America at Pedersen & Partners.


What are the consequences of flexible working hours?

Suggesting flexible working hours to alleviate traffic congestion as suggested by City Officials could have a serious impact on employees and company productivity. Telecommuting employees are less engaged and often feel quite alienated from the organisation. Research shows that on average a maximum of 20% of working time should be flexible.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is the manager’s fear that s/he cannot manage employees if s/he cannot see them.

Monitoring of performance becomes a key requirement of a manager of virtual workers. Yet, many South African managers are not so well attuned to output and performance targets and the out-of-sight-out-of-mind mantra sadly become all too evident come performance appraisal time.

The nature of the job is central to whether flexible scheduling can occur.

Pertinent questions to consider are whether the position is client facing, if clients visit the office or the option of employees delivering the service off-site, the hours within clients expect service and the hour’s clients become accustomed to and whether the job relates to a specific process or outcome which is attached to specific hours and a place of work.

Companies should be well aware of the mechanisms they ought to have in place to ensure that productivity does not decline and that work remains at the same level of performance, or even better, that performance increases in comparison to when people are working from the office.

Companies considering flexible work arrangements are at liberty to request that employees can guarantee that they can deliver work at the same standard to which they would had they been at the office.

Once jobs have been identified as having potential for flexi hours those positions not suitable to such an arrangement should also be examined. However the introduction of flexible work hours to some but not all employees is hardly an easy sell.

Perhaps work hour flexibility may not be possible for certain positions but working from a remote location might be an option. Virtual working has been heralded as the panacea to many employment frustrations such as wasting time in rush-hour traffic.

Gathering data regarding the design of jobs throughout the organisation is crucial before communicating intentions. Perceptions of fairness should be managed by explicating the criteria for the participation in flexible work practices.

The introduction of workplace policies to improve traffic congestion may be a collective approach to destigmatise the use of family friendly policies.

Employees that take up flexitime or utilise telecommuting arrangements are often regarded as less committed to their jobs and as such may experience career penalties. If these policies are associated with positive collective outcomes such as the creation of a greener city through the reduction of carbon emissions, a better quality of life for citizens of a metropolitan area, or associated with better financial outcomes based on living in affordable areas that may be far from the place of work, then alleviating traffic congestion may very well be the elixir to the adoption of policies aimed at balance in the work context.

Professor Anita Bosch is an Associate Professor at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

Is South Africa at risk of falling behind Digital IQ?

Despite 10 years of continued investment and commitment from top executives, PwC’s Global Digital IQ results show enterprises struggling to return value, overlooking fundamental integration of technology with the human experience.

Most organisations around the world have not done enough to keep up with the digital era – and leadership is falling short, with many chief executives not yet fully engaged in the initiatives of digital transformation. African companies match their global peers in many measures of Digital IQ: just over half (52%) rate their organisation’s Digital IQ as strong – a score of 70% or greater. However, South African companies stand at risk, with less than half (47%) rating their organisation’s IQ over 70%.

These are some of the highlights from the 10th edition of PwC’s Global Digital IQ survey, with a focus on Africa. Digital IQ has a different meaning today than it had a decade ago. Today, the scope and scale of digital-driven change has grown significantly, and organisations have invested a lot of time and money to keep up.

Despite notable advances in technology, company leaders are no better equipped to handle the changes coming their way than they were in 2007, according to the survey results.

In fact, Digital IQ – the measurement of an organisation’s ability to harness and profit from technology has actually declined since we began asking executives to self-assess their own organisations. As this year’s survey shows, many companies are grappling with raising their Digital IQ. There is awareness that digital capabilities are a critical component to success, and that emerging technologies have to be explored. But leaders remain challenged by the need to transform their organisations to truly integrate digital into the company’s culture.

Digital IQ, leadership, and goals

C-suite engagement in digital investment has grown in the past decade, but a large portion of chief executives are still behind when it comes to being the change agents. In 2007, one-third of companies said their CEO was a champion for digital, but that number remains surprisingly low when CEOs are responsible for staving off disruptors and driving transformation – even in 2017 only 68% of respondents (Africa: 65%; South Africa: 50%) stated their CEO championed digital. On top of that, many respondents said other senior executives remain disengaged from digital transformations. CEO and CIO support is critical to developing successful digital initiatives, along with attention to human factors.

The survey, now in its 10th year of identifying trends in technology and business adoption, examines just how organisations maximise returns on their digital technology investments, or not.

Over the past decade, PwC has used this survey to ask corporate leaders a critical question – how are organisations maximising and profiting from their digital investments? Companies are faced with an ever-growing list of options for technology investment, but whether or not those investments are being put to good use remains an omnipresent problem – that has not been alleviated in the last decade.

This year’s survey results, gathered from the perspectives of 2,216 business and technology executives, provides insight into the challenges corporate leaders continue to face.

Business-model innovation and technology platform integration are considered the top digital initiatives for African organisations over the next three years: South African companies are more likely to cite technology platform integration (50%, vs. 40% of others in Africa).

Emerging technology: next generation digital

A decade ago, technologies like social media, mobile, Cloud and analytics were still entering into the mainstream. Today a new wave of technologies, including what are known as the essential eight, is emerging: the Internet of Things (IOT) and artificial intelligence (AI), the foundational elements for the next generation of digital; robotics, drones and 3D printing, machines that extend the realm of computing power into the material world; augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), which merge physical and digital realms; and block chain, a new approach to the basic bookkeeping behind commercial transactions.

However, most companies are not better prepared in 2017 to adopt emerging technologies than they were a decade ago. African executives are focused on digital innovation, but may not have the processes in place to execute on strategy: 87% say identifying opportunities to digitise their enterprise is a critical part of their innovation process (vs. 79% of others), but only 63% take a systematic approach to evaluating emerging technology (vs. 76% of others).

Similar to organisations in other parts of the world, investments in Africa are focused on the IoT and AI (69% and 42% are investing heavily today, respectively), and are expected to continue over the next three years (63% and 60%). African firms are more focused than their global peers on virtual reality, with 21% investing significantly compared to 7% of others.

African executives tend to take a different approach to exploring emerging technologies than their peers, including collaboration with other companies. They are also more likely to network with other industry leaders (54% vs. 27%) or with vendors (40% vs. 31%). Meanwhile, they are somewhat less likely to use industry analysts (66% vs. 78%) or competitive intelligence (56% vs. 69%).

The human experience

While tech is important, the role of customers and employees (including employees like the CDO and CIO) and their ability to adapt to change and utilise digital and emerging tech are critical in advancing transformation. However, addressing the full spectrum of human experience remains a serious challenge for most organisations. Like their peers around the globe, African companies lack many necessary digital skills, particularly in user experience and human-centered design (40% say this skill is well-developed in the workforce vs. 38% globally). Further, they could do more to close these skills gaps: currently, just 65% regularly update their talent model to address changing digital skills, compared with 72% of others.

It is vital that companies invest in digital solutions if they want to be successful. It is even more important that they think through how their investment in digital can drive new business models and financial results.

Having a high Digital IQ is about integration, and requires fitting together the pieces of the puzzle – the business, the customer and employee experience and the technology – to build one cohesive and transformative solution. This is what will give a company the competitive edge.

Tielman Botha is the Digital Lead for PwC South Africa.

Is an open plan office the suboptimal office?

Although the current work zeitgeist is for open plan offices, further thought is needed to keep different types of office workers happy throughout the workday. The open plan office has been around since the 1960s when it was first introduced in Germany to boost communication and de-emphasise status.

As the idea took hold in North America in the decades that followed, employers switched from traditional offices with one or two people per room to large, open spaces.

Right now, it is estimated that roughly two-thirds of U.S. workers spent their days in open-plan offices. South Africa has a similar experience.

But as the layout became commonplace, problems emerged.

A 2002 study of Canadian oil-and-gas-company employees who moved from a traditional office to an open one found that on every aspect measured, from feelings about the work environment to co-worker relationships to self-reported performance, employees were significantly less satisfied in the open office.

One explanation for why this might be is that open offices prioritise communication and collaboration but sacrifice privacy.

A reason for this is that ‘architectural privacy’ (the ability to close one’s door) went hand in hand with a sense of ‘psychological privacy’. And a healthy dose of psychological privacy correlates with greater job satisfaction and performance.

With a lack of privacy comes noise – the talking, typing, and even chewing co-workers.

A 1998 study found that background noise, whether or not it included speech, impaired both memory and the ability to do mental arithmetic, while another study found that even music hindered performance. There’s also the question of lighting. Open offices tend to cluster cubicles away from windows, relying more on artificial light. Research has shown that bright, overhead light intensifies emotions, enhancing perceptions of aggression which could lead to a lack of focus during meetings if arguments get heated.

Another under-appreciated twist is that different personality types respond differently to office conditions. For example, a study on background music found its negative effects to be much more pronounced for introverts than for extroverts.

Even the office coffee machine could be hurting some employees. Although a moderate dose of caffeine was found to enhance long-term information retention and was ranked as the most important thing in the workplace by an Inspiration Office survey in 2016, caffeine has previously been shown to hinder introverts’ cognitive performance during the workday.

A recent craze is the standing desk, inspired by the widely reported health risks of sitting all day. One study found that people who sat at least six hours a day had a higher risk of premature death than those who sat three hours or fewer, regardless of physical-activity level. But being on one’s feet presents its own health risks: standing for more than eight hours a day has been tied to back and foot pain.

So what’s a company to do?

Give employees their own private offices, with plenty of sun, and turn off the overhead lights.

Supply the introverts with noise-canceling headphones and decaf, but pump the extroverts full of caffeine and even let them listen to music now and then.

And don’t let anyone sit too much – or stand too much.

Linda Trim is the Director at Giant Leap.

Making the shift from transactional to transformational HR

South African businesses must embrace a more agile and efficient approach to their people.

In an environment fraught with uncertainty and change, business leaders are faced with a mammoth task. In addition to navigating through widespread industry disruption, it is becoming more and more difficult to attract relevant talent and to retain staff.

Locally, businesses are suffering from high churn rates, low employee engagement and high levels of stress and burnout. Clearly, something is amiss within HR departments and in the broader approach to managing people in the workplace.

It is evident that local businesses are still using legacy HR systems and are mired in old and outdated ways of managing their people.

This staid approach to HR is preventing South African businesses from making the shift towards a more agile, lean and innovative approach to their daily operations. As a result, local businesses of all sizes and across sectors are simply not able to stay relevant in a fast changing world.

Leaders need to become far more proactive, instead of reactive. To make the shift, local businesses should be adopting the technology tools, platforms and processes that will enable them to become more streamlined, efficient and agile with regards to their people.

The first step is to harness the wealth of data and information that leaders now have at their fingertips. By using data to drive decision-making at the highest level, leaders can ensure that every resource and skill within the organisation is being leveraged. This requires leadership to remain very close and in touch with employees and what is actually happening on the ground – whether it be through meetings and team builds, or surveys and reports.

Cost saving opportunity for HR operational cost

According to PwC, on average, direct HR costs account for 28% of overall operating expenses. The same research found that for the majority of PwC clients, an investment into effective HR technology will result in savings of 15% – 25% of HR operational cost.

From the ground up

In addition, employees should have direct access to leadership, and should be involved in ongoing innovation, change and business development. As Google Inc. has demonstrated, and locally FNB, employees should be given the freedom and the opportunities to add their own voice and input. They can often be incredible sources of innovation and instigators of true disruption.

When implementing new systems, apps or platforms within an organisation, leaders make the mistake of building the system around the company – instead of around what employees actually need and want. This results in low take-up and low engagement. Yet when companies implement systems that are built around genuine user feedback and input from staff, take-up skyrockets from between 20% to 30% to as high as 90%.

Its noted that HR needs to become a “simplified, de-cluttered profit centre that walks its organisation’s corridors with power”.

Local business leaders need to start by streamlining their processes, outsourcing where they can, and investing in an HR leadership development programme that has hands-on training across functional disciplines.

They need to be bold. We’ve got about 70% to go – South Africa wants to change but struggles with getting the buy-in it needs within businesses, as well as getting budget to make these changes. HR has been transactional for so long, that it is hard to make a shift to transformational HR. It needs buy-in at executive level.

In essence, HR is being “captured” by technology. In his view, companies are having conversations about the future of work that are too one-dimensional – coupled with the belief that “software will eat the world”.

This will stop HR from having any impact by enriching a much-needed innovation effort – we need a whole new mindset that taps into the right [creative] side of the brain to have a more balanced view. South African businesses are much better suited to thrive in this way of people-centered thinking as we have an important humanist mindset based on the spirit of *Ubuntu. We need to stop looking at places like Silicon Valley and paying the same school fees by copying a misguided tech utopian perspective.

*Ubuntu: I am because we are

Gary Willmott is the Founder of Urbian and Hi5, Alexia Cox (PhD), Director of Merging Minds and Ulrich Meyer-Höllings, Joint Managing Partner at Future by Design.

What are the negative effects of multitasking in the workplace?

With the constant flood of emails, phone calls and social media alert notifications, for most of us it seems almost impossible not to multitask on the average workday. Although multitasking may make us feel like we are being more productive, we may in fact be holding back our own performance ability and lowering the quality of our work.

Research suggests that individuals can improve their overall work performance, the ability to complete tasks quickly and ability to retain information when focusing on one task at a time. Molecular biologist John Medina, author of Brain Rules (2008), notes that “individuals that multitask experience a 40% drop in productivity and they take 50% longer to accomplish a single task whist making up to 50% more errors than workers who focus on a single task at a time.”

In today’s evolving business landscape, many employers require their employees to adopt more than one duty within a job role, which requires juggling several high priority tasks throughout the day.

The rise of multitasking is also fuelled by the constant development of technology, which has assisted businesses in improving communication, productivity and output. Employers have long been encouraging multitasking as a way of increasing employee productivity, however, research shows it may do more harm than good. A research study by workplace design firm Tower Bridge (2016), found that South African employees are interrupted or distracted at the office around 30 – 40 times per day. The research found that a company loses about 330 hours of productive time per 100 employees every day. At an average cost of R120 an hour per employee – which translates into approximately R8000 wasted per employee, per month.

As companies strive to maximise productivity with limited resources, it has become increasingly important for professionals to handle several responsibilities simultaneously. However, multitasking individuals tend to experience a more negative effect regarding important and complicated tasks. The negative effects of multitasking not only affect the individual and the business but the economy as well, especially when employees are constantly interrupted with unnecessary distractions and businesses are unable to deliver services on time resulting in profit losses. This means that while employees are pushing hard to complete multiple tasks at once, their effort is actually counter productive.

A study by Clifford Nass, Stanford University, (2009) reveals that participants who multitask the most are distracted by unimportant information that is stored in their short-term memory. Therefore, multitasking can lead to over-stimulation of ones brain function and this could adversely increase an individuals stress levels. The constant high stress level can cause employees to become more sick, missing days of work, and decreasing their overall work productivity.

To minimise the need, and therefore the negative effects of multitasking it is important that management works together with employees to strategically plan and implement goals in terms of productivity. Tasks should be prioritised and goals should be set out for each day, week or month – to ensure that employees have a clear view of their most important tasks and deadlines. This will allow them to prioritise and feel more comfortable about reaching their goals.

Employers and employees are reminded to be wary of the negative effects of multitasking on productivity, and therefore, business output.

Here are five simple tips to help you remain focused and minimise distraction:

1. Work offline: Disconnect from the internet. This will help you to stop checking social media and news feeds every five minutes.
2. Make a realistic “to do” list: A to do list is great, but a list of 20 items can be demotivating. Rather list the top five things that are most urgent. When these are done, move on to the next.
3. Minimise multitasking: Pick one thing and finish it. Don’t try and do multiple items simultaneously, moving from one to the next every 10 minutes.  
4. Time block: Dedicate certain times to certain tasks. This will help in managing your time, and lead to tasks being completed faster and better.  
5. Make a quiet space: In the open office plan age, ambient noise can stimulate the release of cortisol (stress hormone). This leads to reduced brain function, and higher distraction.   

Lyndy van den Barselaar is the Managing Director at Manpower South Africa.

Why business growth remains high on the African boardroom agenda

Africa’s CEOs are confident that the outlook for business on the continent remains positive notwithstanding the unpredictable economic and socio-political climate.

PwC’s Africa Business Agenda report shows that 85% of African CEOs (Global: 85%) are confident in their own company’s prospects for revenue growth over the next 12 months. Despite the fact that only 30% of CEOs in Africa (Global: 29%) believe the global economy will improve in the next year, no less than 97% (Global: 91%) are confident about the prospects for their own company’s growth in the medium term.

This level of optimism is the highest recorded since we started our research on Africa CEOs in 2012. However, in the past year we have seen a change in the outlook for some countries as external developments impact many of the drivers of Africa’s growth.

As countries around the globe try to make sense of the increased levels of risk and uncertainty that have gripped the world, Africa needs to continue rising by capitalising on all the opportunities that lie ahead.

The report suggests that one of the reasons for such optimism on the Africa continent is that CEOs have learned to look for the upside and seize on opportunities that may arise in the face of uncertainty. In the wake of climate of muted growth, CEOs have also acknowledged that while they focus on organic growth and cost reductions, they also need to prioritise investment in new strategic alliances and joint ventures to expand their markets and grow their customer bases. According to the survey, organic growth (Africa: 80%; Global: 79%) and new alliances (Africa: 69%; Global: 48%) are the top activities CEOs are planning in order to drive corporate growth or profitability.

The Agenda compiles results from 80 interviews with CEOs across 11 countries in Africa and includes insights from business. The results are benchmarked against the findings of PwC’s 20th Annual Global CEO survey of 1 379 CEOs in 79 countries conducted during the 4th quarter of 2016. The Agenda provides an in-depth analysis and insights into how businesses are adopting to meet the challenges of operating in Africa.  

Notwithstanding the current climate and challenges, it is notable that there remains a significant amount of potential to unlock more growth on the continent. African CEOs are looking to international markets for opportunities, with the US (31%), China (28%) and the UK (24%) considered the top three countries for growth. Johannesburg (36%), Lagos (16%) and Cape Town (14%) are considered the top three African cities for growth opportunities.

Main risks to doing business in Africa

Although the returns for doing business on the continent can be high, so too can the risks. Africa’s CEOs are working in difficult times – finding the right talent for their business, dealing with hurdles that come with working with governments, and managing expansion plans across the continent.

In addition, infrastructure remains a challenge as it lags well behind that of the rest of the world. More than two-thirds of African CEOs (69%) are concerned about inadequate basic infrastructure (Global: 54%) and a stronger focus on expanding power supply is required to solve one of the biggest challenges in the business environment.

Other clouds on the business horizon include exchange rate volatility (Africa: 90%; Global: 70%); social instability (Africa: 85%; Global: 68%); geopolitical instability (Africa: 79%; Global: 74%); unemployment (Africa: 79%; Global: 45%); and climate change and environmental damage (Africa: 64%; Global: 50%). For most of these factors, the level of concern among African CEOs is higher than the global average. In addition, over-regulation features on the list of concerns this year, with almost half (46%) (Global: 42%) of African CEOs saying they are “extremely concerned”.

CEOs also believe social instability resulting from inequality, an increasing tax burden, a lack of economic diversity with an overdependence on natural resources, and corruption remain problems in many countries.


Overall, globalisation has benefitted connectivity, trade and mobility. However, just over half of African business leaders say globalisation has done nothing to promote equality, in particular in closing the gap between rich and poor – in fact, this gap may well be widening.

A number of CEOs think it is vital to address social challenges. CEOs believe the corporate community can assist in spreading the benefits of globalisation more widely. The majority say the best way is to collaborate, particularly with government. While Africa’s potential is undoubted, its achievement remains in question. Business, government and civil society will need to work harder to turn potential into tangible gains against the backdrop of a rapidly changing world.

Talent and technology

The forces of globalisation and technology are increasingly transforming the workplace. Over half of African CEOs (53%) are exploring the benefits of humans and machines working together in the workplace. Over a third of African CEOs (36%) are considering the impact of artificial intelligence on future skills needs.

In some sectors, automation has already replaced some jobs entirely. As automation takes deeper root in the workplace, companies in Africa will have to increasingly focus on achieving the right cognitive re-apportionment between man and machine.

However, as CEOs develop their services, they are finding that human interaction in the workplace is still important and place the investment in talent as a top business priority. Just over half of African CEOs (51%) plan to increase their headcount in the next 12 months. Conversely, 23% plan to cut their company’s headcount over the coming year, with more than two-thirds of expected reductions being attributed to automation and other technologies.

According to the survey results, no less than 80% of African CEOs (Global: 77%) see the availability of key skills as the biggest threat to growth (ahead of volatile energy costs and cyber threats). They are finding it particularly difficult to source soft skills – adaptability, problem solving, creativity and leadership.

Technology & trust

Technology has brought about a number of advancements in efficiency and the ease of doing business in Africa. No less than 91% of African respondents (Global: 90%) believe technology has changed competition in their industry in the past five years.

While the digital era offers a host of opportunities, it also creates significant challenges and constraints in the arena of privacy and security. Organisations are holding increasingly large volumes of personal data about their customers, suppliers and employees. According to the survey results, 71% of African CEOs (Global: 61%) say they are concerned about cyber threats. Furthermore, the vast majority of African CEOs (93%) (Global: 91%) believe that cybersecurity breaches affecting personal information or critical systems will negatively impact stakeholder trust levels in their organisations in the next five years. A high 96% of business leaders are also concerned that IT outages and disruptions could impair trust in their respective industries over the next five years.

As disruptions gain more speed, the ability to ensure trust, security and privacy across all interactions will become critical to businesses’ competitiveness. But almost two-thirds of African CEOs (61%) (Global: 59%) are concerned that they are not prepared to respond to a crisis in their business, should one arise.

In the face of economic and socio-political uncertainty, we remain confident that the outlook for business in Africa remains positive. But to succeed, businesses need to adapt swiftly to change.

Hein Boegman is the CEO for PwC Africa and Dion Shango is the CEO of PwC Southern Africa.

Why women’s economic inclusion could turbocharge global GDP and development

The advancement of women in business improves bottom-line performance and strengthens corporate culture, which ultimately drives GDP and socio-economic development.

Women must be allowed to assume positions where they can unleash their transformational power in business and society. There’s still an enduring view that women have a collateral and auxiliary role, rather than reflecting the 52% of the society which they make up.

The Women Matter Africa McKinsey Global Institute report is referred to, which found that African companies with a greater share of women on their boards of directors and executive committees perform better than their male-dominated counterparts.

Specifically, the earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) margin of companies with at least 25% of women on their boards was on average 20% higher than the industry average.

The report also found that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 simply by advancing women’s equality. I’m no mathematician, but the calculation is simple, without women participating in the formal economy, our economies do not grow to the extent they could or need to grow. There are untold benefits for our continent should we really begin to seriously invest in our female employees and women entrepreneurs.

Empowering and educating women is a critical driver to social and economic development on the continent. There is untold benefit for employers to bringing on more women as a part of their workforce. Studies have shown greater access to education and participation by women in male-dominated occupations in Africa could increase worker productivity by up to 25%.

However, when women don’t earn to their potential, development suffers and that hamstrings GDP, which in turn hinders social development. There is a growing body of evidence which demonstrates that when women do not reach their full economic potential, the economies of their countries suffer.

The first step towards placing women on an equal footing to men, is to address disparities in remuneration. Women still earn around 10% less than their male counterparts. Beyond that, is the challenge faced by many women in work/life balance. Information technology presents a powerful opportunity through accelerating womens’ career trajectories by enabling telecommuting and remote access, for example.

In societies with high percentages of female participation in the economy, the more influence women hold in the workplace and the more authority their voices hold, the more esteem and respect women tend to be given as a collective beyond the boardroom as well. When women’s contributions are recognised and valued from an economic perspective, a profound social shift and elevation of their status often transpires as a result.

Empowering and educating women is a critical driver to social and economic development on the continent. There is untold benefit for employers to bringing on more women as a part of their workforce. Studies have shown greater access to education and participation by women in male-dominated occupations in Africa could increase worker productivity by up to 25%.

Graça Machel is the founder of the Graça Machel Trust.

Why you shouldn’t let low self-confidence hinder your career prospects

While not everyone is innately confident in the workplace, recent research shows a strong correlation between confidence and occupational success.

Considering the competitive nature of the job market, working on improving your confidence levels can go a long way in boosting your career prospects and helping you stand out from the crowd.

Exuding confidence in a job interview often seals the deal when comparing a group of candidates with similar levels of skill and experience.

The reality is that many employers regard self-confidence as a strength. This is especially the case when the prospective role is a client facing one. Candidates who come across as unsure of themselves or who are extremely shy are often at a disadvantage.

Research conducted by 3GEM Research and Insights, on behalf of Feel Good Contact Lenses, indicates that one in five (20%) employees consider themselves as ‘a push-over’ and a further 20% have missed out on a promotion because of their lack of self-belief.

This emphasises that confident employees are ultimately more likely to be recognised and remembered, increasing their chances of securing a job, nabbing a promotion and increasing their earning potential.

When it comes to confidence levels, stress can undermine an employee’s ability to perform their duties with assurance.

There are a number of situations in the workplace that can impact one’s self-confidence. New and unfamiliar tasks are often met with a certain amount of anxiety, which may translate into uncertainty and lack of confidence when attempting to complete them.

Critical comments and negative feedback from colleagues or managers can play a role in making or breaking confidence levels, along with the way in which an employee processes such criticism.

Employees may struggle with tackling tasks they may have previously attempted, and failed at in the past.

We all have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to performing our roles in the workplace and being tasked with something we may deem a weakness is bound to have an impact on our confidence levels. The truth is, that these are often our own perceptions and may not be accurate.

Unexpected disruptions are another factor employees respond adversely to.

While some people can quickly change focus and direction when something unexpected crops up, it may completely derail other employees, leaving them unsettled and unproductive.

With these scenarios in mind, it is important for job-seekers and employees who battle with self-confidence to look for productive ways to deal with stressful situations that can impact their confidence and perceptions of self-worth, and could ultimately determine their long-term career success.

When feeling insecure or unsure in the work environment:

Ask for help

If you feel like you are not in control, don’t be shy or embarrassed to ask a manager or co-worker for help.

Don’t overthink things

Although this can be challenging, try to think and react to workplace situations rationally and not emotionally.

Practice makes perfect

Try and avoid feeling negative or incompetent when completing a task you have previously struggled with. Make it a priority to overcome any fear or mental block which may be holding you back in this regard.


Always stay mindful of the five Ps – prior preparation prevents poor performance. Knowing that you are always ready and prepared can be a massive confidence booster.

The good news is that confidence can be created and nurtured over time. The key is to identify ways to tackle your workplace confidence pitfalls and promote long-term career advancement and overall job satisfaction.

Kay Vittee is the CEO of 3GEM Research and Insights.

How predicting trends enables better decision-making

Predicting future trends in order to cultivate continued growth and success is not a new practice.

Many organisations conduct extensive research, often for years, using the knowledge to make informed business decisions. However, technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data, coupled with fast and available connectivity solutions, mean that we have access to a lot more information and a lot more accurate information – than ever before.

Managing, storing and processing the vast quantity of incoming information is a costly exercise. However, weighed against the returns that proper analysis of that data can bring makes it a worthwhile investment. Through analytics, organisations can get to know and understand their customers. They can predict the next big thing and prepare for it. Businesses can therefore determine where inefficiencies are within the organisation or industry and set up counter measures to mitigate them. In a nutshell, the organisation can stay ahead and on top of the market, which is exactly where they want to be.

Data analytics makes business sense

South African businesses are in an era of data, with information being considered the new currency. Data is valuable and in demand. Any organisation who can effectively mine data should be able to gather sufficient insights to make the right decisions at the appropriate times. This, in turn, can have a positive effect on their processes, product or service offerings and, ultimately, on their profits. Proper data analytics is, therefore, quite critical for the success of South African business, especially in today’s volatile market.

While much of the telecommunications and technology industries are using data analytics to their advantage, and most retailers and marketers are leveraging the massive insights that data gives them into the mind of the customer, government and manufacturing industries have yet to discover the full potential of data analytics, and all the benefits it can bring. Not only can data be mined to give organisations a better understating of their customers and help to improve operations but also, on a government and parastatal layer, to better manage utility supplies, plan ahead for resource scarcity and predict many other behavioural and utilisation trends.

Understand and combat the challenges

Implementing a data analysis process requires both financial and resource investment, and the Return on Investment (ROI) is often long term. Analytics is based on the input of information, and currently only structured information is being fully analysed and utilised. However, IoT and Big Data are starting to change how analytics is being perceived, highlighting many previously unconsidered advantages.

Unstructured information like emails, documents, web pages and social media, is starting to be considered in South Africa, but the main challenge will be how to ask right questions to get the right analytics completed, for the right purpose. It is critical that organisations understand what they want to achieve from data analytics to ensure the right data is being taken from the correct sources and analysed in a manner suited to the requirement, or the endeavour is not likely to produce the desired results.

Implement a data analytics strategy

Organisations who are not yet taking advantage of proper data analytics, that is analytics which are effective and provide the desired answers to key questions, should start implementing a data analytics strategy to stay ahead of their competition.

Here are a few things organisations should address to guarantee proper data analytics takes place:  

1. Organisations should establish an information strategy and governance policy to give assurance that they focus on their information goals and that all personnel act in accordance with these.
2. Businesses need to start managing their information in order to maintain their processes. It helps to have an information management department in place to ensure this happens.  
3. To enable organisations to link and categorise all of their critical data, they should implement Master Data Management (MDM), including data cleansing.
4. Organisations should select the right tool for analytics, preferably one which integrates with existing applications and can work with data coming in from multiple channels.
5. Organisations should plan for the future of data analytics at least for 3 to 5 year in advance, ensuring they have no lag.
6. Organisations should start small, growing their data analysis requirements organically. They can begin by running individual projects based on the organisation’s strategic information needs.

With these practices, processes and strategies in place, and working with an IT partner who understands a business’s specific requirements and mode of business, organisations can start to leverage the benefits of data analysis. It is imperative that they start now however, to reap the rewards sooner rather than later and reduce the risk of falling behind.

Saurabh Kumar is the CEO of In2IT Pty Ltd.

5 tips to having fewer, more effective meetings

According to a survey of time use conducted by Stats SA, South Africans spend roughly 121 minutes per day participating in meetings, which amounts to over 10 hours a week – a quarter of the average 40 hour work week.

This wouldn’t be a problem if all these hours spent in meetings were somewhat productive or resulted in billable action down the line. However, due to vague agendas, misaligned objectives or a general lack of focus among attendees, this is seldom the case.

While meetings will always have their place, business owners need to actively identify which of these meetings are effective in their purpose and minimise those which tend to be counterproductive. Meetings have become prevalent fixtures in today’s organisational culture, particularly within client service and project-driven business models. However, when teams are calling meetings to prep and plan for future meetings, something needs to give.

The following five tips may be helpful to having fewer, more effective meetings and arriving at better, more informed decisions:

1. Stick to the agenda

A prerequisite for any meeting, an agenda sets out clear expectations and objectives for what the meeting will entail, including time allotments for how long each of these objectives should take. The agenda should be sent out to attendees before the meeting, along with any preparation materials and should contain a finite number of items to be discussed and resolved. At the beginning of the meeting, the facilitator can then briefly outline the main goal of the meeting to ensure that it is achieved.

2. Keep it short

The most common meeting length is between 30 minutes and an hour, which is likely due to the fact that 30 and 60 minute time slots are suggested on most calendar apps. However, Parkinson’s Law is interesting in this regard as it suggests that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. This means that if a full hour has been allotted to a meeting, it is likely to take up the full hour, regardless of whether it could be completed in a shorter amount of time.

A helpful strategy to avoiding this trap is to determine how much time a meeting will take, and then cutting 5-10 minutes off the allotted time. During the meeting, it can be helpful to display a timer for everyone to see to ensure agenda points are kept on track and within their allotted times.

3. Limit attendee numbers when possible

Unless a meeting involves an entire staff or team, there is no need to include everybody. The inclusion of unnecessary attendees often results in a meeting being lead off-track and can actually prove to be a greater distraction to those who really need to be there. When facilitating a meeting, it can be helpful to differentiate between required and optional participants, so that optional participants will only attend if they have an active interest in what’s on the agenda.

4. Inhibit multitasking

When participants are checking their email, playing on their phones or attempting to do other work, it is very unlikely that a meeting will achieve its desired objectives. Where possible, prevent employees from multitasking during meetings by having a “no electronics” and opt for video conferences over telecoms to improve accountability.

5. Implement an effective work flow management system

Implementing an all-in-one agency management system that is built specifically for productivity will drastically reduce a business’ reliance on meetings. With an effective management system, every project can be efficiently monitored, managed and delivered, eliminating the need for constant status meetings.

Daniel Marcus is the CEO of Magnetic Software.

Why has the risk of sexual harassment increased in the workplace?

International research points to an alarming consequence of spiralling economic conditions: an increase in sexual harassment in the workplace.

Not surprisingly, during such tough financial times sexual-harassment victims worry about job security, resulting in severe underreporting.

In the wake of South Africa’s two recent ratings downgrades to junk status and the prospect of a recession in the future, the country faces a real risk of increased workplace abuses of this nature. Anticipating this, employers and HR departments need to take action to limit the effect that this extremely damaging behaviour has on their employees, organisations and reputations.

Though South Africa has stringent employment legislation to protect workers from unfair labour practices, such incidents have the potential to cause immense damage. As such, employers should adopt a pre-emptive rather than reactive approach. Companies and their HR departments need to educate staff around this prevalent issue, protect employees from falling victim to such behaviour, empower victims by explaining their rights and create safe spaces for such victims.

The difference between officially reported figures of sexual harassment and the reality in workplaces is staggering: about half of women and 10-20% of men are sexually harassed at work whereas only 6% of those who face harassment actually lodge a complaint. No doubt a lot fewer go on to file a legal charge.

With the economy under strain, these already-shocking trends are likely to worsen. One of the reasons sexual harassment spikes during tough economic times is that such downturns threaten gender identities. While some cases fall outside of the usual narrative, in general, challenges to a harasser’s status as the prototypical male results in them dominating others to compensate for their own insecurities.

The detrimental effects of sexual harassment do not end at the victims of such abuses. Organisations take a knock too. The consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace include lower levels of work satisfaction, stagnating productivity, decreased staff morale leading to increased absenteeism and high labour turnover. These repercussions once again emphasise that HR practitioners and company leadership can no longer afford to adopt a reactive approach to sexual harassment. Ultimately, an organisation’s entire culture needs to drive home the message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in any form.

This begs the question: What practical steps can HR departments and employers take to improve victims’ reporting behaviour and generally make themselves more accessible to victims?

Firstly, employers and HR departments must strengthen workplace sexual harassment policies, and tailor interventions to address and bring to light under-the-surface harassment. HR departments also need to be more receptive and accessible. Other key combating strategies include raising awareness about what constitutes sexual harassment and educating employees about their rights and recourses. Due to the emotional nature of this particular workplace challenge, access to counselling services must form an integral part of any solution.

South Africa has progressive labour legislation to protect sexual harassment victims but this can only be set in motion if victims are able to step forward and be heard. To give employees that essential voice, employers must create safe and open workplace environments.

Aadil Patel, Fatima Moosa and Mariella Noriega Del Valle, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr.

5 types of workplace bullying and how to deal with it

Workplace bullying is widespread, that is very clear from research, reading and conversations I have had over the past few years.

I have also received mails and responses to articles, which indicate bullying in the workplace is ongoing. While there are many, many definitions, case studies and examples, Tim Field’s (footnote) is a very clear one.

Being bullied is not about one isolated incident, it is about consistent negative behaviour that damages self-image to a point where the bullied leaves, and the bully remains, sometimes with greater status.

South African business writer, Ian Mann, in his book “Managing with Intent” covers self-image and how to manage people more effectively by taking their self-image into account. In a bullying situation, the opposite is often true.

If you have seen the Meryl Streep/Anne Hathaway movie “The Devil wears Prada” or the TV show “Ugly Betty”, you will have seen workplace bullying entrenched into the business model. Funny, but very frightening. In both of these, the bullied person rises to the top, and the soft underbelly of the bullies is shown, but in real life that doesn’t always happen.

Reading and personal experience indicate to me that there are many different types of bullying, but they can be broken down into five main categories:

1. Exclusion
2. Overwork
3. Damage to personal brand image
4. Damage to professional brand image
5. Damage to self-image

Feeling excluded

It is possible to create a situation in the workplace where an employee literally feels they have no one to talk to, and nobody will assist them. Exclusion covers not sharing information, ignoring or excluding somebody from meetings, not telling them about potential opportunities or risks, not including them in briefings or emails and socially excluding them. For example, not inviting them to lunch or to social occasions.

Personal experience

When I started at a company some years ago as the Sales Director, I couldn’t understand why there was no history of information, no files, etc. I was told everything must have been stored as soft copies, but it was nowhere to be found. There was a cupboard in my office with a few brochures and that was it. After three months, I happened to be looking for a pen, went into the sales office, and opened one of the cupboards.

All the history, including newsletters and marketing collateral was there! Fortunately, by that time, I had built up some strong relationships with colleagues, as well as being in the more senior position, so felt able to handle a very negative situation.

The denial was absolute, comments like “we thought you knew it was here” and “we didn’t know you needed this” came forth, and might have been believed if I hadn’t found out who had instructed the move into the sales office from the sales manager’s office, the day before I started work, and if I hadn’t asked where the historical information was.

Social exclusion at work

There are also social events that naturally exclude colleagues. As a woman, it is easy to feel excluded when all the guys go off to play golf, or for drinks after work, and don’t include their female colleagues in the invitation. Of course, it helps if you do play golf! but most of us will have a drink.

Unintentional exclusion

While exclusion can be deliberate, it may also be unintentional, and it is important to try and figure out which it is. A simple question might resolve the unintentional exclusion. Deliberate exclusion is much harder to manage, typically because it is so easy to make the excluded person look and feel paranoid. The excluded person also can be seen as a whiner and complainer which makes them seem dis-empowered. And that can slow down the promotion track, too.

Situational exclusion

It is also important to note that being excluded might be situation related, and for it to be considered bullying, it needs to be happening consistently and with deliberate malice. It is also important to be aware that there are those that simply are not interested in anybody other than themselves and their own career path, and, in their single-minded approach, they exclude anybody that is either competition or not able to assist them to get to where they want to go.

How to handle being excluded

Management needs to be made aware if there is systemic bullying happening, but anecdotal evidence indicates that people who are being bullied are unable to effectively communicate the problems, and are left feeling petty and generally in a worse position after raising their concerns.

An HR department that is seen as objective is able to make a difference by implementing programs that address bullying at source, rather than after the fact. This is not always available in smaller companies, and one solution is to document incidents both in writing and on camera (if possible and legal). Documented evidence with dates, times and exactly what was said should help to focus the right kind of attention and is much more effective than a verbal complaint.

Exclusion is one of the more difficult types of bullying to address because it is not easy to prove. However, if you know who the source is, let them know you are aware of what they are doing. If you have been excluded from a meeting or social arrangement that you should have been part of, query the organiser, and find out why your name was not on the list. A quiet, but firm, approach without involving anybody but the two of you, might work, but it must be in writing. If not, the next step should be formal process.

Definition of workplace bullying by Tim Field:

“Bullying is a compulsive need to displace aggression and is achieved by the expression of inadequacy (social, personal, interpersonal, behavioural, professional) by projection of that inadequacy onto others through control and subjugation (criticism, exclusion, isolation etc). Bullying is sustained by abdication of responsibility (denial, counter-accusation, pretence of victimhood) and perpetuated by a climate of fear, ignorance, indifference, silence, denial, disbelief, deception, evasion of accountability, tolerance and reward (eg. promotion) for the bully.”

Teryl Schroenn is the CEO at Accsys (Pty) Ltd.

Why women at the top still face prejudices

A new gender revolution is becoming the trending topic of this decade.

After many predictions giving women hope that there is an end to the diminished value of women in leadership positions, the right of women to expect equal consideration for equal work is at the forefront of the new gender revolution.

According to Carol Sankar, founder of The Confidence Factor for Women in Leadership, the women’s movement must be a collective movement. It should not focus on the select few women to advance and enter the holy portals of the “club” while others are left behind. The restraining factors must be identified for these issues to be addressed in any meaningful way.

Women now make up nearly 60% of the graduates in the United States and more than 50% of the lecture classes in many traditionally male fields such as medicine and law. Despite these gains, equality has not been reached in business — especially at the most executive levels. Sally Blount, the only female heading up a “Top 10” business school says that past data predicts that at least 50% of women who graduate from top MBA programmes in 2017 will leave full-time work within 10 years of graduating — either by choice or because they have been “forced” out. If we understand why women of high potential choose not to enter business in the same numbers as their male peers and why those that do, leave at greater rates than men do, more insight is undoubtedly needed to create much-needed support programmes for women across all stages of their careers. This is urgent if we are not to continue to lose a large portion of employment potential.

According to Sankar the main factors holding women back are:

Self-bias: The belief that you are not qualified enough to try.
A seat at the table: Vacant seats at the table are often filled within the association and alignment of the male” club”— this can lead to the feeling that a seat at the table for women is a myth.
Competing instead of collaborating: Women who work together will win together.
Lack of mentorship and meaningful professional advocacy: The much-discussed importance of gaining access to professional mentor’s neglects to address the fear of seeking mentorship outside one’s comfort zone.
Loneliness: There is a high level of mistrust and gender bias between women affecting the value of professional relationships and advocacy.
Fear of asking: Women do not know what to ask for, who to ask and the appropriate time to ask. Equal consideration for equal effort must be rewarded not ignored.  

However, to continue in their fight for equal rights, women need equal access.

A growing body of evidence suggests that there are three pivot points in a woman’s career at which she faces unique biological and cultural issues. These decision points introduce predictable stressors into the lives of adult women and mean that, on average, women of high potential with similar education and experience to high potential men experience goals, career choices and trade-offs differently. If we continue to overlook or only partially address these unique needs, large portions of highly talented women will never get near the C-suite.

Career launch

Data from elite institutions like North-Western, Princeton and Harvard indicate that women starting their careers earn on average about 80% of what their male peers do. Lack of parity appears right at the start of these women’s careers. How can we hope to achieve parity in the later stages?

A broad class of entry-level positions at consulting firms, investment banks and certain Fortune 500 companies offer upward mobility for leaders across all sectors. Women do not gain the benefit of these early career accelerators because they do not feel qualified enough to apply for them.

Young women tend to hold more negative stereotypes about working in business than do men. They encounter relatively few female role models who can demonstrate why working in business is a meaningful career choice.


The second critical pivot point occurs when women face greater demands at work at the same time as greater demands at home. Stress levels rise when aging relatives become frailer and children’s schedules more and more packed. Many well-educated career women decide at this stage that economically or emotionally it is just not worth it to stay in the game.

Part of the solutions clearly lies in our ability to improve the availability, affordability and quality of child and old-age care — as in the Scandinavian countries where this is the norm.  Another part also relies on more flexible work hours and career paths.

High potential women need to be coached to prepare for and bridge the Mid-career years. They face the added issue of implicit and explicit bias at work — in ways that men still don’t see. Furthermore, because of this, they are less likely to ask for help or pursue new opportunities.

Executive transition

The shift from running a section of the organisation to running the whole of it, or being in the C-suite means more responsibility, more meetings, more travel, more politics and broader scope. Many women never make it past this hurdle — by choice or chance.  

After years of sitting in limbo with no chance of filling the C-suite jobs, some women opt out by choice because the potential benefit no longer seems worth the personal cost.

Annual strategic talent reviews belong at the highest levels — a key aspect of best practice succession planning. They should include executives of diverse backgrounds, including women, and should not be delegated to Human Resources.

We must also recognise the unique challenges faced by professional women. If we can support them through the critical pivot points in their careers, the number of women in the pipeline to the C-suite will increase. We may finally begin to realise our full potential as a society that espouses equal rights for all.

Susi Astengo is the Managing Director of CoachMatching.

Preventing economic upheaval from damaging employee engagement

Employee engagement is a buzz word. Everybody knows it. However, few people know that employee engagement means money.

Research shows that companies in the US with engaged employees can outperform those without by up to 202% and have 6% higher net profit margins. And although such South African statistics are lacking, they are sure to look very similar.

Unfortunately, the same research shows that only 29% of the American workforce is engaged – and this is without the added stress of economic uncertainty. Today, as South Africa faces an uphill battle out of junk status and faces the impact of the downgrade on business and budgets, employee engagement is at risk and businesses must find ways to address it.

When people are unhappy or insecure or worried, engagement drops immediately. Any change plays a role on engagement. A look at the ANC right now – the impact of recent events has left it a disengaged party. In business, the same thing happens – people get nervous, they disengage and they worry about their jobs.

Maintaining employee engagement in complex economic times is an ongoing process, not an event. It has never been more important to have open lines of communication, to build relationships and to ensure employees feel safe. It is a tight rope to walk, especially if the business has been affected and retrenchments are in the pipeline.

An active role

Economic difficulty usually translates to corporate belt tightening and employees know it. It is vital that communication is honest and that management works behind the scenes to mitigate the risk as much as they can. It is hard to get the balance right, but it is vital for the long-term success of the business.

Often a dramatic announcement such as South Africa’s plummet to junk, sees people run in different directions, panicking in their attempt to protect themselves and their futures. It’s a fair response, but in the business context, a damaging one. At this time it has never been more important for the business to achieve engagement and unity across all employees.

If everybody is working in the same direction and staying in line with the company goals, then the business will be more capable of sailing the choppy seas that lie ahead. Train people, empower them to do their jobs well, and engage with them on corporate policy and strategy. Build positive relationships and make engagement personal. The smaller business will find it easier to do the latter than the large corporate, but there are ways of driving engagement and providing employees with support.

Dangerous disengagement

The problem is that if employee engagement is not given the priority it needs, then it can foster a toxic environment. Disengaged employees can be dangerous – spreading dissent, eroding trust and damaging morale.

Put a structure in place that makes people feel they are being told what is going on, and spend time with individuals to ensure they are on board. Empower your managers to build engagement, reassure staff and ensure everyone is working towards the company goals together. This commitment will build a sustainable culture that gives people ownership and makes them feel like they are part of something bigger, regardless of what politicians and the economy are doing.

Teryl Schroenn is the Chief Executive Officer at Accsys.


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