Cosmogenesis and Organisational Development

OD in a collaborative and disruptive world is no longer planned project management. The principle of cosmogenesis is that everything in the universe is constantly evolving into something more complex. If we understand organisations as living systems, how does this principle of cosmogenesis inform OD practice in the domains of change management and organisation design?

OD as planned change

My earliest introduction to Organisation Development was through the lens of French and Bell: “Organisational development is a long range effort to improve an organisation’s problem-solving and renewal processes, particularly, through a more effective and collaborative management of organisation culture with special emphasis on the culture of formal work teams with the assistance of a change agent or catalyst and the use of the theory and technology of applied behaviour science, including action research” Burke defined OD as ‘planned change’. Most of the traditional approaches to OD viewed the organisation as a stable and closed system seeking equilibrium in an input-change-output model. Based on a lab model, OD drawing from behavioural science brought a new understanding to human behaviour and organisational change in controlled environments. The realities of organisations are far removed from this clinical model.

Disruptive change

Change today is less planned, more disruptive and happening largely outside the OD organisational lab. The relevance of OD practice today is in our understanding of the complex system dynamics arising in the socio-political, environmental and economic domains. Change inside organisations is related to change outside organisations. Only managing change internally plays into the Newtonian paradigm of command and control – the OD lab approach. This is no more than effective project management. Change in social movements, who appear to be less organised and chaotic is possibly the new ‘lab’ for OD learning. These are much more adaptive, agile, purpose driven ‘organisations’. The traditional ‘planned change’ approaches of OD cannot work for these organisations coming morphing together in mission-led movements. What can corporates learn from social movements about responding to disruptive change?

Self-organising systems

Leadership expert, Margaret Wheatley, drawing from new physics and chaos theory challenges us to think of organisations as continuously changing and self-organising systems (cosmogenesis). “In a self-organising world, we see change as a power, a presence, a capacity that is available. It’s part of the way the world works – a spontaneous movement toward new forms of order, new patterns of creativity. We live in a world that is self-organising. Life is capable of creating patterns and structures and organisation all the time, without conscious rational direction, planning, or control.”

New OD

Our models of OD need to change to embrace a new form (or forms) of organisation that moves from a surety of planned predictability in change management and organisational development most of which is plain project management. A new OD requires us to be humble in our recognition that we do not control the world or people in our organisations; we take seriously people’s agency for change; we recognise that behavioural science is not the sole domain of knowledge of human change; that resistance to change might need to be worked with instead of managed out. OD is perhaps less about planned change interventions and more about facilitating spaces for consciousness raising through respectful dialogue, meaningful diagnostics, and equality in co-creation, radical experimentation; inclusive and collective action to a meaningful purpose and a shared vision for the organisation, its people and society at large.

Organisation Design Thinking

Most restructures and organisational designs include the ambition of collaboration. “New ways of working” becomes the mantra of modern organisations. Sadly, another restructure later and consultants are saying what organisational leaders already know. Why can’t we move from the rhetoric of collaboration to the practice of collaboration? What can we learn from the principle of cosmogenesis?

Organising for collaboration

Most restructures and redesigns paradoxically design for silo working. We follow the mantra ‘Structure follows strategy’. This suggests that organisation design thinking has to be embedded in strategy and not come as an afterthought. Unless organisational strategy is intentionally collaborative – the design of the structure tends to default to ‘old ways’ prescribed by the design rules of hierarchical organisations. Structures that have collaboration in their DNA are more like living organisms rather than architectural masterpieces. The structure of the cell, in its simplicity demonstrates organic collaboration. Cells do not survive on their own. Interestingly, liberation, terrorist and church groups organise in ‘cells’. Their survival and growth is genetically embedded in their collaborative design. Matrix organisations, self-directed teams and swarms are examples of collaborative design. The thing that drives their effectiveness is common purpose.

Common purpose

The Bible says, “Where there is no vision (shared) the people perish.” Unless the organisation as a whole, through its composition of teams shares a clear compelling common purpose, the temptation and reward for independent, ego driven agendas becomes a challenge. Teams do not automatically come together in a collaborative spirit of common
purpose. They are often driven by functional/departmental/unit/directorate/divisional/regional interest and purpose. Organisations have to be intentional in aligning team and organisational purpose at all levels. This is not done by quick fix OD interventions but through intentional design.

Interdependent systems

Organisations want collaborative behaviour and paradoxically design systems and processes that reward unitary capability and competence. Business process mapping should show strong cross functional webs where organisational talent and resources come together ‘just in time’ to respond to new challenges. Agile organisations also ensure that their metasystems are fit for purpose: HR, Finance, IT, Safety etc. These metasystems are not an end in themselves but serve the mission objectives of the organisation. Unless these systems are interdependent, the unintended functional silos becomes the system default. Agile organisations need more general managers, facilitators and systems thought leaders and less dependence on Taylorist management roles and functions.

Senior leaders role model collaboration

Even the smartest design stands and falls by the extent to which the senior team models collaboration. They become the design champions for the rest of the organisation and it starts with them having a common team purpose. This is further manifested in formal practices such as common agendas, shared performance goals and interdependent team performance assessment. The team is as strong as its weakest member. Informal practices in the symbolic space shows how the team works together, loves one another and is genuinely interested in common success. How power is manifested and managed is also a potent expression of team collaboration signalling the desired organisational ethos.

Dr Stanley Arumugam focuses on leadership development and coaching.


Margaret Wheatley (1996). The Unplanned Organization: Learning From Nature’s Emergent Creativity
French, W.L. & Bell, C.H. (1995). Organization Development: Behavioral Science Interventions for Organization Improvement. Pearson

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of HR Future magazine.

Break out and get your passion back!

Why are we losing passion in the workplace? The majority of people only do the job just to earn money. Some have become accustomed to doing things for the sake of doing it, and end up giving only a portion of what they can really do.¹ Others slowly conform to the setbacks, frustrations, and even boredom, until they surrender to a routine that is incongruent with who they are and what they truly want.² A job that was once fulfilling now progressively becomes less significant, gradually dissolving the excitement and spirit until one no longer finds much purpose in the work.³ Individuals stall out in comfort zones and would favour not being stretched beyond them. It is easy to do what you are accustomed to doing and remain inside the bounds of least resistance. Residing in your comfort zone is all about doing what is safe, and it’s impossible to develop and learn while stuck inside your usual range of familiarity.⁴

In our always-on-never-stopping, busy culture, our work can rapidly expend us, and our time. On the off-chance that we generally believe we’re excessively occupied with our jobs and daily routines to seek after anything we’re passionate about, then feeling unfathomably insipid, if not lost, is unavoidable.⁵

What is passion?

Passion is all about being eager or excited for something or about doing something.⁵ It is closely associated with drive, enthusiasm, infinite energy, inspiration or motivation.⁶ It is an emotion that originates from inside you, that’s engrained in your body and soul, and it cannot be taught. At times, it is an effect of what you do, by investing your time, effort and costs, and to weather the storm regardless of how trying it is.⁶

Why is passion important in the workplace?

“The importance of passion in the workplace cannot be overstated.”⁷ At work, it opens the best approach to positive experiences that excite and uplift us, but also challenge us to the core. Passion without some test may not be passion worth chasing. In other words, it should be about work that matters, that makes us battle through things, and that lifts us past our individual interest.⁸

Having passion brings energy to work and tends to give us a sense of purpose.⁹ It creates a zeal for the end result and the conclusive outcome, and gives you the drive to continue trying until you achieve your objectives. Your energy levels increase rapidly compared to the amount of excitement you convey to work every day.¹⁰ It helps heighten concentration and therefore you turn out to be more alert and focused.¹⁰ It also improves your mental state and, in this manner, you invent more creative and dynamic thoughts. Passion at work is a remarkable way to diminish work stress. This is on account of having fun when you’re undertaking something that you’re passionate about. Your bliss additionally is infectious, creating a more pleasant work environment and happy coworkers. You have a tendency to show signs of improvement and create less turmoil, pressure and stress when you’re having a great time. ¹¹

Those who are passionate, often work harder, and working more hours does not seem a burden because it matters to them.¹² Regardless of the type of job, bringing passion to work can establish a foundation for success, and often our success comes not so much from what is done, but how it is done.¹³ People tend to take note of passionate workers, and will observe their drive and motivation in performing a task, and their attitude towards it. When time comes for promotions, management often turns to those with a passion for the work and a desire for more challenge.¹³

It is time for a re-assessment! We need to get our passion back!

Gaining new skills or useful knowledge lights up our brains, engages our senses and can effectively reignite our passion at work.¹⁴

For some people, taking time off is the ideal approach to make sense of what they actually want to do and others might need to change course by doing something different that gives peace of mind.¹⁵ Keep in mind passion is a feeling, a state of mind, so the principle thing to do is to motivate one self. Go somewhere else and try something that you always wanted to do, or perhaps simply set aside more time for yourself to slow down and smell the roses.¹⁴ Referring to what Brian Fulginiti said, you need to challenge yourself daily to leave your comfort zone behind, on the grounds that the more you do that is not so comfortable or convenient, the more you will accomplish, as you continue hoisting your life to more elevated amounts of significance.

In the end, it is all about our attitude. When we change our perspective and attitude towards our jobs, we will discover more happiness and fulfillment in the workplace.¹⁶

Break out of your rut and challenge the status quo. Motivate yourself! Once you have the inspiration you can reignite the passion!

Elize Fisher is a Senior Admin Officer in the Human Resources Department at the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality,


1 Williams, DK. 2016. Lost your passion for work? It’s your fault (and how to get out of your rut) [online]. Available from: [accessed 21 June 2017].
2 Boyatzis, RE, Mckee, A & Goleman, D. 2002. Reawakening your passion for work [online]. Available from: [accessed 21 June 2017].
3 Boyatzis, RE, Mckee, A & Goleman, D. 2002. Reawakening your passion for work [online]. Available from:[accessed 21 June 2017].
4 Psychology for Business. 2017. Do you have passion for your work? [online]. Available from: [accessed 22 June 2017]. [accessed 20 July 2017].
5 DiSalvo, D. 2012. 8 Reasons why people feel lost in their lives. [online]. Available from:
in-their-lives/ [accessed 19July 2017].
6 Merriam Webster. 2017. Passion [online]. Available from: [accessed 10 June 2017].
7 Lee S. No date. 10 Things you should know about passion (and how to find yours) [online]. Available from: [accessed 22 June 2017].
8 Rosen, A. 2010. Column 6: The importance of passion in the workplace [online]. Available from:
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9 Habridge, R. 2016. Being passionate about your work doesn’t always mean being happy with your work [online]. Available from: [accessed 12 June 2017].
10 Change Factory. 2014. What is passion at work? [online]. Available from: [12 June 2017].
11 Ray, L. 2016. Importance of bringing passion to your job [online]. Available from: [accessed 24 June 2017].
12 Sravani No date. Top 15 reasons why passion at work is important [online]. Available from: [27 June 2017].
13 Habridge, R. 2016. Being passionate about your work doesn’t always mean being happy with your work [online]. Available from: [12 June 2017].
14 Psychology for Business. 2017. Do you have passion for your work? [online]. Available from:[accessed 22 June 2017].
15 Tate, C. 2013. Reignite your passion at work in 5 simple steps [online]. Available from: [accessed 24 June 2017].
16 Webb, M. 2015. How to find passion in your work [online]. Available from:[accessed 10 June 2017].

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of HR Future magazine.

Take off your Leadership Mask

Authenticity is one of the key leadership requirements in the modern world.

I have spent several years facilitating Emotional Intelligence (EQi) workshops. In each of the workshops I ask delegates to bring along a mask that personifies the character they bring to work. Through the activity we unpack many elements, from why they believe the mask they have bought along personifies a characteristic of them at work, to why they feel they need to wear a different persona at work to that which they are at home. We go further in discussion to understand which of the two is their true selves. What often results is the confusion and battle as some delegates cannot decide. They have worn these “masks” for so many hours each day that they have disconnected from who they truly are.

The question I always end with is: “Do you think the mask you wear at work is effective?” Eventually, true colours reveal themselves and people will perceive you the way they experience you.

Leadership is not an ‘act’. It is not a theatre production where ‘masks’ can be changed according to the scene and audience. If leaders are ‘acting’ they should not be surprised when their people don’t trust them, don’t buy into them and can’t really wait to work for someone else. I don’t believe that leadership in the twenty-first century requires you to be born with particular traits to lead and neither do you need to be seated at the top of the corporate ladder to lead. Leadership today is about authenticity.

Authentic leaders have a story to tell. Their stories speak to the hearts and minds of their people as these stories often begin with a personal reference that people can identify with; the stories ‘talk to people’ and not ‘pass people’. The story leads to a climax where often a decision needs to be made and the ‘right’ decision at the ‘right’ time for that situation determines success. The stories demonstrate vision and foresight, initiative rather than complacency, integrity, influence and impact.

In the words of Michael Hyatt, “Influence and influenza come from the same root word. Real leaders are contagious.” They can mobilise and energise people in a certain direction, toward a common vision without coercion and promised rewards. It is their belief in the purpose of what they are trying to achieve that captures people. They are so influential that unconsciously they set the tone for the day, if they are serious, the business around them seem to echo the same sentiments.

These leaders are self-aware and genuine, willing to acknowledge their limitations and surround themselves with individuals who can create the strength where they fall short. For them, diversity is a non-negotiable as there is no room for groupthink. Authentic leaders are confident and do not get threatened by the prospect of employing individuals that are more seasoned then themselves. Likewise, they do not feel that sharing and empowering others threaten their positions. For them, strength is determined by the people who surround them. They work for something bigger than themselves.

Their pursuit is not just for personal gain but rather results that touch the lives of others. They invest themselves in a cause that impacts the community and society at large, willing to scarify personal time in pursuit of success. The need for exposure, growth and impact drive them more strongly than the financial gain of an opportunity.

They lead with heart, unafraid to express their emotions. People can relate to them as ‘human’, with feelings, dreams and faults. This by no means makes them “soft” leaders. Instead, they can be assertive without “breaking” the spirit of people. By breaking a person’s self-worth, you fail to mobilise a person into becoming the best version of themselves.

Authentic leaders are long-term focused. They work with the understanding that people, as with an organisation, need to be nurtured over time, through hard work and patience. Feeding a child non-stop for a day will not make them an adult the next day. This does not mean that they will be willing to stay in a position for more than five years. It means that they are willing to invest themselves and resources that are required in a strategic manner with focussed milestones to achieve the success they have set out. Once this is achieved, others that they have empowered need to take the reins.

Leaders today need to strive to become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily, with or without a title. The greatest act of courage that a leader can take is to be and own all that they are, without apology and excuses and without any masks to cover the truth of who they truly are. Set your own standards to being a leader, your own measures of success and be true to them. There is no need to live in the shadows of other leaders. Be authentically you.

Anisha Patel is the Chief Human Capital Officer at Fundi.

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of HR Future magazine.

Secret language of highly successful people

Build relationships of trust with these practical body language tips. Have you ever wished that you had a more commanding presence, an arresting stare or a disarming smile? Have you ever wondered what it might be like to walk into a room full of people and immediately captivate everyone’s attention? Have you thought about what it takes to tell a story in a manner so compelling that your audience hangs breathlessly on your every word? A knowledge and understanding of body language is the key.

In the workplace, succession management is about building strong leaders from within the organisation. In order to better motivate your employees to grow into their full potential, model leadership through your actions; this includes body language. The following tips will help you to use nonverbal communication to appear open and confident.

Use open body language

Let’s start with the word “open”. If you are meeting someone for the first time and wish to make a good impression, use open body language to convey that you are happy to be there and excited to meet this person. By smiling genuinely and making eye contact, you will project confidence. When in a board meeting or giving a presentation, make sure to keep your hands in between your chest and waist, and shoulders squared. This will show that you not only are confident in what you are speaking about, but are open to comments and questions. This is also helpful in discussions where you are not the main speaker as well.

Examples of open body language include standing up straight (just like your grandma always told you to do) chest out and open, and arms hanging comfortably at your sides with your hands visible. According to Business Insider, not being able to see your hands can cause the other person to wonder what you might be hiding. Eye contact is also important, as “the ability to gaze at another while speaking denotes authority, confidence and presence.”

Mirror the other person’s body language

Mirroring the body language of the person with whom you are communicating is another way to build rapport. An article published in the WSJ in September 2016 recommends subtly mimicking the body language and energy of the person with whom you are networking.

Make direct eye contact

It is important to elaborate on the importance of eye contact in the workplace. You will never see Bill Gates with wondering eyes; checking the clock and his phone in the middle of a conversation. This is because Bill Gates knows the importance of being present in a conversation, and showing the person he is talking to that they are his main focus.

Show interest

Keeping interest in a drawn out conversation can be one of the biggest challenges in life. Remember the conversations you used to have with your mother, where you would nod your head over and over, saying, “Mmmm …” after each pause. While in reality you were daydreaming about the newest toy in the market. Though this may have worked with your mother, this is the kind of body language that successful business men and women avoid. We’ve been told to nod and answer questions our whole life, but this advice means nothing if it is not genuine. It is obvious when someone is truly involved in a conversation, and in order to really be successful, you have to give every conversation your all.

Live in the moment

Successful business men and women treat every conversation like it is the most important thing in that moment. Having this kind of mindset helps us focus only on the present and have meaningful conversations.

Putting it all together

It is important to follow the simple business tactics we were taught from the beginning. Smile often, shake hands firmly, show your hands, square your body towards the person, and keep good posture. These seem like obvious tips, but it is surprising how many people walk into a room and forget everything they were taught in a simple Business 101 class. Though body language may change slightly in different parts of the globe, many gestures stay the same. If traveling, it is recommended to look into the cultural gestures that a specific country has, so you do not accidentally disrespect someone.

In “The Human Evolution Blog”, Nathan H. Lents, professor of molecular biology at John Jay College of the City University of New York, presents a study on the body language of chimpanzees and bonobos. Both species of hominid use specific body language to communicate. In contrast, the sounds that they make are much less distinct.

Similarly, human beings speak hundreds of languages, yet the gestures used across continents to punctuate speech are universal. Gestural communication is the most natural form there is and, if used well, can be instrumental in your personal and professional success.

Garrett Penn is a freelance writer based in Utah in the USA. He has a passion for everything business and writes to help others succeed.

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of HR Future magazine.

Followership made simple

Why would anyone want to follow you? We know that, in the most part, people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses. Leaders who care about followership make people WANT to see them, rather than DREAD seeing them.

It is very easy to demonstrate what makes people WANT to follow you. Everyone has had an experience of what it is to be well led or poorly led. When I engage with audiences we conduct an exercise where people vocalise their own experiences. We ask them, “Describe the BEST boss you have ever worked with,” and, “Describe the WORST boss you have ever worked with.” The feedback is unanimous and the same the world over. It all comes down to character and how leaders make their people feel. Character can be simply defined as “the moral qualities distinctive of an individual”. I have gathered this feedback from around the world, with multi-functional, cross- hierarchical, culturally diverse groups and consistently this is what is evidenced.

Best bosses and worst bosses display these distinct qualities in Figure 1.

Fellowership Figure 1

Nearly always, leaders are promoted because of their technical expertise. Always, this gets in the way of their doing the leadership stuff. A few years back, I worked with an executive on her leadership priorities. She was clinging on to her technical expertise. She said, “This leadership stuff is very interesting, but is getting in the way of my day job.” I replied, “The leadership stuff is your day job.”

11 “day job” behaviours for leaders who want to retain high performing effective followers and get people to do more together with a high morale.

1. Display selfless commitment. Support rather than direct.
2. Show up with confidence. When people to the left and right of you are struggling, confidence is reduced.
3. Keep calm. Always. “Officers don’t run because it frightens the troops.”
4. Give people a sense of purpose. Every day.
5. Catch people doing something right.
6. Display moral courage. Do what is right.
7. Practise self-discipline. Best described as doing what you don’t want to do when no one is looking.
8. Seek opportunities to be visible. Make sure people see you give a damn.
9. Let go of your technical competence. Make leadership your day job.
10. Demonstrate random acts of kindness. Welfare towards even a few rubs off on the others.
11. Fairness is your trump card. It is not about being, absolutely equal but rather about treating your people without favouritism or discrimination.

When applied these simple essentials produce better results … measurably. Absenteeism is reduced. Costs are reduced. Sales increase. People are retained and you get people to do more together. It is not what is “new” but what is “true” that unlocks the potential within your organisation.

Craig Preston is the Managing Director of Inspirational Development Group (IDG) based in London.

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of HR Future magazine.

Blockchain for small business

Small business will benefit from Blockchain technology. Small businesses nowadays can gain a lot to benefit from new ideas and technology that are being introduced as of late. One such idea is the blockchain technology that keeps bitcoin records and ledger, offering a transparent system and distributed database running on millions of devices. Blockchain offers small businesses great opportunity to transform their payment systems, deliver better customer service, improve Cloud storage, and provide better digital identity authentication.


One of the most common benefits of blockchain technology is the ability to use it for payments and money transfers. Small businesses deal with clients from different parts of the world on a daily basis. Traditional money exchange systems can be expensive and time-consuming.

With blockchain, they can make payment in seconds and receive money from any part of the world. This feature is more advantageous for people who operate their businesses in the global marketplace and have to pay employees, suppliers and merchants in different parts of the world. Offering a quick and easy payment system can potentially increase business transactions, attract more customers and help businesses grow beyond imagination.

Smart contracts

Internet transactions have always had the issue of trust as a diminishing factor. With the smart contract technology integrated into the blockchain, that will soon be a thing of the past. Small businesses can grow their sales and profit by providing a system where customers trust they will always get a fair deal. The smart contract is a computer programme designed with certain codes that define the terms of a transaction by unlocking a smart lock after both parties have agreed to the terms. The system cannot be rigged or manipulated and is free from third party interference, downtime and fraud.

Digital identity

Small businesses are often the target of Internet fraud and security breaches, largely because of the lack of resources to set up expensive security programmes. Blockchain makes use of authentication systems, instead of the porous password-based system that stores data in an unsecured system, to track and manage digital identities. These signatures can never be compromised because they are based on public key cryptography, and there is no other way to validate identity unless through the use of the correct private key. Blockchain technology will also benefit small businesses by providing efficient compliance management and monitoring, offering rapid onboarding, improving customer experience, and encouraging standardised process.

Commercial insurance for small businesses

Every small business needs insurance to gain the trust of customers, provide services without fear, and create a backup plan. But insurance can be expensive due to its unpredictability, which is caused by human errors. Blockchain technology is being integrated into the insurance industry and its processes and products offering because of its ability to reduce risk and human errors, and at the same time provide a safe and efficient platform for business insurance quotes contracts.

Blockchain brings efficiency, trust, and security to the Internet, and the insurance sector is making every effort to take advantage of these factors to improve commercial insurance delivery to small businesses.

Raising capital for business

Crowdfunding is used all over the world by startups to raise funds and offer loyalists perks once their product is released. Blockchain helps to take this concept further by providing a means by which people can support your crowdfunding campaign without paying fees. You can also raise funds locked into contracts regarding profit-sharing or funding-based revenue sharing, without employing traditional financiers. Blockchain technology is a revolutionary system that has come to stay. By providing an efficient and safe system to make transactions, small businesses can reduce costs, provide better customer service, and offer smart contracts that can be trusted by all parties.

Jenn Livingston is a US-based freelance writer who works primarily with small businesses. She loves to help other people solve problems in the workplace, and enjoys reading and exercising in her spare time.

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of HR Future magazine.

Honesty is the only policy

How undervaluing honesty has become a culture-wide problem. Most of us have been in a professional situation in which we had to decide whether or not to be completely honest. For some, there’s no question; an innate authenticity kicks in and they have no qualms delivering the whole truth, warts and all.

For others however, it can be less black and white, particularly during the implementation of a business-critical programme. When reporting back to senior colleagues or stakeholders, some find it incredibly tempting to leave out or gloss over aspects of a project which may not be going completely to plan, especially if they find themselves in a working environment in which the unvarnished truth is seen as less than welcome.

But why should this be? Why do some companies seem to view honesty as a barrier to, rather than a facilitator of, success? We’ve taken a closer look at the systematic undervaluing of honesty in the workplace, and how you can make sure your business doesn’t fall into the trap.

Sugar coating the truth

Where there are pervasive misconceptions of honesty within a company, it tends to be a culture-wide issue. Some businesses, however subconsciously, are based on cultures of fear or blame, in which admitting to a less than perfect performance could result in serious repercussions. Can you really blame someone for sugar coating the truth if their job is on the line?

Strategy execution specialists Mentor Europe have a different name for sugar coating – they call it ‘green-shifting’. The company assists its clients in carrying out important business programmes and transformations and, as such, categorises any obstacles as green, amber and red.

Within a culture where honesty is undervalued, programme managers may deliberately underestimate the severity of problems they’ve come across in order to avoid reprisals – making red issues amber, and amber issues green. They tell themselves and their fellow programme deliverers that they’ll rectify the issues before the next meeting, so there’s no need to let on and risk the wrath of their managers.

In most cases, all this does is make matters worse; by the time the red problems can no longer be swept under the carpet, they can be serious enough to jeopardise the entire project.

The ‘ostrich’ effect

But it’s not just blame or fear-based cultures that can stop people in business being honest. Companies that promote positivity and optimism can be just as down on someone who ventures an honest, but less than rosy, projection.

If, in the name of a ‘can-do’ approach, even the most outlandish plans and programmes are seen as viable, a team member who offers a more realistic point of view can be dismissed as cynical, pessimistic and/or unsupportive.

Just like a proverbial ostrich, senior managers bury their heads in the sand and refuse to listen to a voice that could help to shape a more practical and sustainable project.

Honesty must start at the top

In the majority of cases, if a company culture has a tendency to reject honesty, the problem will have originated at the top and trickled down.

When leaders and CEOs are not completely honest with themselves about the feasibility of their own ideas, or about the reasons behind the need for a business-critical programme, a skewed version of events can become the norm.

Often, the director of a company envisages a grand plan and asks his or her teams to deliver it, without first stopping to ask themselves if it’s achievable, or possible to give the project the necessary time or resources.

As David Hillard, Chief Executive of Mentor Europe, says, “Targets are not plans”. Without the means in place to successfully bring the idea to fruition, the programme delivery team can end up on the back foot from the very beginning.

Things can be made even worse if the director will not (or cannot) honestly accept why the business needs the critical programme or transformation in the first place. If those at the top do not recognise their, or other people’s, previous decisions or actions that have contributed to the current state of play, the critical programme is unlikely to bring about its intended results and may even repeat the same mistakes.

With such a foundation, it’s not surprising that a programme delivery team can feel pressure to not be completely honest when reporting on progress, and the chances of an effective project are reduced even further. Business leaders must lead by example when it comes to honesty, particularly when embarking on an important programme.

How to give honesty its dues

So, with all this evidence of the value of honesty, how can you ensure your company culture encourages it?

We’ve already made the point that much of it lies in a top-down approach; a business leader’s own attitude to honesty will influence how the company as a whole views openness and sincerity.

The other vital element is trust, or the reassurance that there will be no blame or penalty simply for offering an honest opinion, and that it won’t be ignored. This open culture, in turn, fosters trust amongst team members and senior executives, resulting in better cohesion and productivity.

In the case of a business-critical programme, it’s vital that everyone involved trusts each other to give and receive honest feedback without fear of rebuke or disregard. For this to happen, there must be an understanding that everybody can speak openly when they need to, and that there is no blame culture in effect. Every project encounters problems, but in an open company culture, they can be met and solved head on.

Of course, no company has to face transforming culture or carrying out an important project singlehandedly; there’s expert guidance available.

Liz Parsons is a brand journalist working with Mentor Europe.

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of HR Future magazine.

Do you pay attention?

Paying attention is more important than thinking. Dr Jordan Peterson, a leading Canadian psychologist, says, “Paying attention is more important than thinking”. For a person who makes their living thinking, it’s an odd thing to say. However, it immediately brings to mind the work of another great Canadian thinker: Dr Henry Mintzberg. Mintzberg launched his career as a management expert when his studies showed that managers did not sit in their office thinking deeply about strategy; instead they spent their days running about dealing with short-term issues. He didn’t reach that conclusion by thinking; he reached it by paying attention to what was actually happening.

This claim that paying attention matters more than thinking is important because we live in a culture that glamourises thinking. We presume that the person who gives an effective presentation is the one who has brilliantly thought out what they will say. In truth, it may be the person who is paying close attention to the audience who will be most effective. I recall the former Managing Director of Hay Malaysia, Farouk Ahmed, telling me that, when giving presentations, he was always looking around the room, person to person; to see what was going on. Paying attention to each individual was, in his experience, more important than concentrating on the next thing you wanted to say.

The neuroscience of attention

My favourite book on neuroscience is Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary. He describes the right brain as constantly observing the broader world, while the left brain narrowly focused on a logical task. In a pigeon, the left brain might be pecking at seeds and to it the world is comprised of only two things “seeds” and “not seeds”. At the same time the pigeon’s right brain would not be so obsessed with simple categories. It would be broadly paying attention to patterns in the world and if something seemed important (such as a sound and shadow that might indicate a hawk) it would tell the left brain to stop thinking in terms of “seeds” and see if there really was a danger.

The two sides of the brain work well together. The risk is that the logical left side of the brain, the thinking side, one might say, can only see the world in terms of narrow categories; it can completely miss what’s going on because the focus is so limited. To effectively pay attention, we must allow the right brain to do its thing, to let it share its moods, its intuitions, its hunches and then turn to the narrow attentive power of the left brain to dig into the clues the right brain has given us.

Lack of attending to reality in business

Over-valuing the logical thinking brain can lead to problems in business. For example, we may be swayed by what people say (language is a left brain function) when we should be paying attention to what they do. We may see the world through a certain management theory (“there are three types of customers”) when we should be paying attention to the fact that our actual customers don’t map into that framework.

McGilchrist also points out that the left brain tends to be over optimistic, as well as being openly hostile to the fuzzy suggestions from the right brain. I think we’ve all seen the numbers-driven left-brain thinker in love with a theory while being contemptuous towards the fuzzy right-brain observer who says his “sense” of things is at odds with the theory. The two sides of the brain are meant to complement each other, but they can often get locked in battle. In fact, that’s where the rather odd title of McGilchrist’s book comes from – a parable (which the author attributes, probably incorrectly, to Nietzsche) about how a Master gives a task to an Emissary, who then oversteps his authority, which leads to ruin. McGilchrist warns that the right brain may pass something it has observed to the left brain, which then goes too far in ‘thinking’ and stops paying attention to the world.

Wrapping up

How we think things are is often different from how things really are. Paying attention is what keeps us on the right track. There is great power in the humility of simply trying to see the world as it is without trying to fit it into your preconceptions. Jordan Peterson is right, paying attention is more important than thinking.

David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research. He is best known for his workshops on Agile Analytics, Evidence-based Management and the Future of Work.

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of HR Future magazine.

Happy employees = productive employees

Royston Guest explains to Alan Hosking why staff happiness is crucial to business growth.

Why is it important to have happy employees?

One of the greatest assets of your business walks out the door every night. What are you doing to get them to return next day inspired, motivated, and enthused to be the best they can be?

What is the role of the BIG Idea: Your Employee Value Proposition?

A Compelling Value Proposition (CVP) is a key differentiator for your business in achieving competitive advantage. Similarly, your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is a key differentiator in your People Strategy. Your EVP is critical in helping you achieve Employer of Choice status and, put simply, it’s the balance of the rewards and benefits received by your employees in return for the skills, capabilities, experiences, and performance they bring to your organisation.

Your EVP should be employee-centred and designed based on a deep understanding of what is important to your existing and potential employees.

What three key considerations will help when drafting one’s EVP?

Firstly, understand your people’s WHY. One of the keys to unlocking a motivational environment is to clearly understand your people’s personal goals and how being successful at work can be one of the vehicles and enablers in helping them realise their goals. The moment we create the bridge in their mind – the link between their personal goals, business goals and what they do daily during work – self-motivation kicks in.

This is the defining moment a person changes from someone with a job to someone with a purpose. Whilst the motivation to do so must come from within, the triggers that compel them to make the switch are ones an organisation and its leaders can create. Do you understand your people’s personal WHY?

Secondly, acknowledge your people’s emotional wellbeing on an equal footing to their physical wellbeing. I often encounter stressed managers in the hospitality trade, despairing bankers who don’t see their children and pressured recruitment consultants trying to seal the deal.

Their emotional well being is not a luxury; it’s the energy source powering their performance. When it’s low, their performance is low, which has both a short and long-term impact on the business for which they work. Their well being is measurable beyond business performance too; their lack of happiness has an impact on their health.

A recent study by economists at the University of Warwick, England, found that happiness in the workplace led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10% less productive. Thirdly, set your people up for success. Do your people know what great performance looks like, feels like and acts like in their role from both a behavioral and numerical/KPI perspective?

If you asked your people this question how aligned would their answer be with your version? There should be one version of the truth – in my experience perception and reality are often misaligned. If you haven’t created absolute clarity about what the expectations are for their role, explained and demonstrated what “great” looks like, and set them up for success, it’s almost predictable that you and your people will be working to different models and interpretations of what great looks like.

This is not good for productivity and it certainly isn’t good for their wellbeing and happiness.

Any final thoughts?

Create clarity of purpose for your people. Enable them with the mindset (attitude, determination, will), the skillset (technical or soft skills) and the toolset (tools to do their job) to truly unlock their potential and deliver excellence within their role fueling their inner self worth, igniting their self-motivation, building their confidence and their happiness will be inevitable.


Royston Guest is a global authority on growing businesses and unlocking people potential. He is CEO of Pti-Worldwide in Warwickshire, United Kingdom, author of the number one best-selling business growth book, Built to Grow and founder of livingyourfuture™. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. Connect with him on LinkedIn or check out his weekly blog.

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of HR Future magazine.

Trying to practise what we preach

How a company built itself up during a period of immense change.

During May 2015, Thomas decided to set up its own operating entity in South Africa, after being represented through various distributors for more than 20 years. What followed was a period of immense change, which resulted in a blueprint of how disruption can be harnessed to grow and improve a business. My mission as Managing Director was to support an existing client base of more than 500 clients and to grow the business exponentially over the next five years. Highlights of the journey included:

• Team grown from zero to a fully operational team with staff based in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban;
• Employee turnover below 5%;
• Employee engagement consistently above 70th percentile; and
• Business grown by 40% above the best efforts of previous distributors.

But how did a business grow from having nobody on the ground in SA to achieving these results?

Building a team from scratch is both challenging and extremely rewarding. The challenge is that there is no benchmark for what the ideal person would look like in every role, while the exciting part is that you have the privilege of creating culture from scratch as you go along. We use our own PPA (Behaviour), TEIQue (Emotional Intelligence) and GIA (Cognitive) assessments as a standard part of our recruitment process. Trusting our instruments more than my own subjective gutfeel has helped me to gather an extraordinary group of people together.

One of the first things we learned when we set up the business is that clients do not want to be “sold to”. We therefore started building a team of Client Development
Consultants, all registered psychologists and psychometrists, to build relationships with our clients. These are not your typical sales people, but are dependable, thorough, methodical, good listeners, kind, precise, accurate and logical in their approach. The result is that this group has become trusted advisers to our clients, who consult them in all areas of people management.

New staff members receive in-depth feedback on the assessments completed during the recruitment process. This is the first step in creating a culture of self-awareness, enabling team members to optimally manage themselves, as well as their relationships with others in the team through adapting their behaviour. We truly love our assessments, and we are able to use them in the team without fear of judgment, since everybody is transparent, open and honest about their areas of strength and those that need development.

Getting to know our products intimately requires an extremely steep learning curve for new employees, even those that have substantial experience in the assessment industry. New joiners are mentored by more experienced colleagues to ensure that best practice is illustrated practically, while keeping an open mind on new ways of doing things.

Mpho Nchabaleng joined the Thomas team in May 2017 from a competitor. A registered psychometrist, she was surprised to see the extent to which we actually practise what we preach to our customers, using our own instruments as part of our peoplemanagement process. Mpho remarks, “I have come to understand my colleagues quickly through using their individual assessment reports, which allows for conversations regarding our own behaviours and preferences. I have learned that it is important to be aware and understand myself and others’ behaviours, which makes it easier to modify my own behaviour in order to have effective relationships.”

Our management team is a young, dynamic group, most coming into the company with little or no management experience, and given an opportunity to prove themselves in this new environment. Caitlin Meyer, Client Development Manager, says that the company’s philosophy is to manage people according to their profiles: “Gone are the days where you manage everyone in the same way. We are encouraged to use Thomas tools within our teams which adds immense value and has supported me in understanding each of my team members’ strengths, development areas and how best to manage each individual.”

Managers go through an annual Thomas 360 process, where they are rated by their peers on competencies applicable to their respective roles. Feedback is discussed with each manager and then collated with the management team, to ensure areas for improvement are addressed both on a personal and a team level.

The past few years have shown clearly the link between Emotional Intelligence, Employee Engagement and Staff Turnover within the company. We run our own Thomas Engage instrument twice per year to identify specific areas for improvement. A team of Engage Champions nominated by staff then work with management on an ongoing basis to address the issues identified during the process. My belief is that Employee Engagement is an emotional, rather than a cognitive, connection with the company. The ability of each manager and employee to use their own EQ in making the changes needed to improve Engagement is therefore of paramount importance in maintaining a high level of Engagement and a low level of staff turnover.

Andries Keun is the Managing Director, Africa and Australia, of Thomas SA.

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of HR Future magazine.

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