Reema, a senior banking executive with 14 years of work experience, took 3 years off to take care of her son. Trying to return to work was stressful, to say the least!
“I bought into the rhetoric about diversity and helping working mothers! There is so much hype in the online media and the companies all say the right things, but on the ground, I had to endure some very personal comments from HR. I was a bit taken aback and then realised that the attitude that women returnees can be paid less and that they should be glad of whatever profile they get, is widespread.
“Personally, I also realised that my options are seriously limited and that I need to tone down my expectations – at least for the first year. Which is OK, I was expecting that; what’s not OK is the attitude.”
Reema’s experience was not exceptional.
While at senior policy level there is an evolved awareness of the benefits skilled women workforce bring to the table, and the need to create a supportive work culture for returnees, the finer nuances and details of the policies have yet to trickle down to the rest of the organisation.
A wide-ranging survey of publicly traded companies across 91 countries reported that “the presence of more female leaders in top positions of corporate management correlates with increased profitability of these companies.”
A women-inclusive board brings balance to company decisions as a diverse set of opinions lead to more innovative and effective problem-solving. Women have also proved to be better collaborators and mentors.
Stephen Mayne, a director of the Australian Shareholders Association, has spoken about leveraging women’s sensible and grounded approach in business as a way to improve corporate governance.
"Shareholders lose money in over-priced takeovers, and it's often the aggressive men [on the board] who want to dominate their opponent, and who are prepared to take bigger risks."
According to him, men are driven by their egos in the middle of a corporate raid, while women think more strategically and objectively.
For companies to unlock these women-centric benefits at the top, they have to make sure women remain at work at all levels of the organisation. Because the only way you will have women leaders is by creating an environment that nurtures them throughout their careers.
The latest report highlighting India’s poor record of female participation in the workforce – we are ranked 121 out of 131 countries by the International Labour Organisation – has set ablaze many online social forums.
While there is a wide range of complex motives that are at play around the country, no one can deny the biggest reason for women dropping out of the workforce has always been motherhood and marital pressures – whether she is in a village or in a corporate boardroom.
For women coming back to work after a few years, adding company policies such as flexible time management and on-site child care facilities are just the first step.
What is needed is long-term, organisation-wide strategy to uncover talent and make the workplace attractive to women returnees.
Developing effective strategies for attracting women returning to the workforce begins with understanding what motivates them to return, what women look for in a job and what they want from an employer after a career break.
With only around 24% of women returning to the same employer after a career break, employers that understand what women in this situation are looking for are positioned to attract the best talent.
The unspoken and passive bias against women – especially mothers – must be the first cultural shift that needs to be tackled.
Women across the world undertake more than their fair share of caregiving and child-rearing responsibilities. And unfortunately, somewhere along the way, it has become the norm for bosses to question a woman’s dedication to the job.
Changing this mindset will take generations, but maybe corporate India can become the flagbearer of this cultural change. One small way to aid this transition would be to ensure that fathers get some time off too.
Majority of women returning after a break, face decreased opportunity. A few years of a gap on their resume usually amounts to playing catch-up for years just to get to a position where the career break stops mattering.
An open-minded and transparent hiring policy would go a long way in ensuring that women are judged purely on their expertise and experience. There is also a need to ensure that fair salary structures are put into place that doesn’t end up indirectly penalising women returnees or taking advantage of their desire to restart their careers.
A transparent appraisal system that equates both male and female employees on common goals and KPIs is also needed to create an organisation that is perceived as fair to women.
A company with family-friendly policies is not just great for women but for all employees. Flexible work schedules, office crèche facilities, and maternity, as well as paternity leave, can go a long way in making the organisation an attractive place for all.
Corporates are taking the right path – from the generous maternity leave, and baby bonding bucks at Google to Accenture’s recognition of the needs of breastfeeding mothers to Mondelez’s women-only mentoring programmes – the biggest organisations across the globe have taken the lead. Our hope is that this trickles down and pushes corporate India to walk the talk on women’s issues as well.
There is no doubt that women returning from a career break remain ambitious and committed to developing their career; managers just need to see this potential and develop it for the long-term benefit of the organisation.
If your organisation is trying to improve its diversity ratio, then we can certainly help.
As a women-led team with hands-on experience working with returnees, we know what you need to do to motivate and attract the right talent for your company from this vast pool of skilled women. Click on the Request Consultation button above.
Your team is the same but has had to suddenly get used to working remotely due to COVID. Many of you may never have thought that one day you will be leading your entire team virtually – not just for a few days but for months at a stretch with no clear end in sight.
So how have you flexed your leadership style to suit this now virtual team? Or should I ask, have you flexed your style?
Virtual teams have been around for a while and there has been a lot of research as to how effective virtual teams are vis-à-vis collocated teams. Researchers have found that there is no difference in terms of productivity, quality and successful outcomes between co-located teams and virtual teams provided that there are 4 factors in play. These are:
Team size matters whether or not co-located – smaller teams work better than larger teams on various dimensions such as trust, productivity, and knowledge sharing.
Management style matters – if teams are to be dispersed or virtual then you need to select team members for their ability to build relationships over distance and for managing working well alone. Leaders of virtual teams need to have the ability to build trust, respect and empower others. So 'good' management is more important in virtual teams than co-located ones.
Social and community spirit matters – whether dispersed or co-located teams that have a sense of team identity, trust each other and get on well socially perform better than teams without any one of these. In part this is factor is related to management style.
Technology matters – where communication is facilitated through various forms of technology – collaborative platforms, webchats, SMS, phone, etc then the virtual team members must have excellent skills in using it and the technology needs to be effective and reliable. Face to face is easiest for communication as you are picking up nuanced non-verbal signals among other things.
What the research shows is that for virtual teams to work well there has to be a conscious and ongoing intentionality to make them work well.
It is easy for team members to feel isolated and anxious and so as a leader you need to actively address this challenge. The leadership skills required to succeed remain the same in a virtual scenario but they have to be executed differently in a virtual environment. You need to continue being authentic, connecting with others, promoting inclusiveness, networking, and build relationships and trust as always, but the actions associated with these skills must be deliberate and intentional. You as a leader at a distance need to work harder at relating to your team members’ needs and aspirations to have the same level of positive impact that you would have had in a collocated scenario.
This may require you to check in more frequently with the team. I am not talking about work reviews. I’m talking about the casual conversations that you would have had in meetings, in the corridors, at the coffee station or even the parking lot. These personal connections build trust and relationships - but these do not just happen. You need to deliberately put a system in place for you to be able to do it consistently. The challenges for you is to create a sense of connectedness in a distributed work environment. The good thing is, as you do more of it, it becomes easier over time.
Some key areas for you to focus on are:
How well do you use technological tools to communicate and also the frequency of your communication? Also, how well do you listen? Your team follows your lead so if you want the team to listen to each other, you need to listen deeply and ask questions to increase understanding, given the lack of visual information.
An understanding of virtual team dynamics is critical for leaders and team members to be effective. As a leader, you need to be listening hard to identify signs of low trust in virtual environments. Successful leaders use strategies like regularly scheduled celebrations, fun, and creative reconnecting activities as part of scheduled meetings.
The goal of any team is the work product, not the time spent at the desk working on a project. Leaders who are more adept at keeping teams focused on business goals generally demonstrate a higher level of success. It also means that clear metrics, roles and responsibilities, and feedback are critical to producing high-quality deliverables.
So there you have it – what’s needed for you to succeed with virtual teams. We didn’t plan for it but it has happened and now that some months have gone by, it would help for you to reflect on how you’ve been approaching this and how you might want to approach it better. If you want to discuss further, just schedule a complimentary consultation by clicking this link above.
Do you have days when you feel that your thoughts are rushing in many different directions and you’re not able to focus on anything? Does it feel like you have to pull the entire weight of the business on your shoulders alone? Our work lives have become increasingly demanding, with many complex challenges thrown at us at a relentless pace. Add in personal or family needs, and it’s easy to feel constantly overwhelmed.
Some of my coaching clients come with the complaint that their days get caught up in routine activities rather than focusing on strategic ideas and initiatives. They try to make up for this by adding extra time may be early in the morning or late at night when they can get some quiet time. But despite all this, they still feel that they are not on top of things.
This feeling of perpetual overwhelm leads to a racing mind with impaired ability to problem solve. It leads to mental slowness, forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating or thinking logically. Any of these effects, alone, can make us less effective and leave us feeling even more overwhelmed.
So how can you snap out of this vicious cycle? The most important thing is to reflect on and identify patterns of behaviour which might be exacerbating the problem.
For example, one of the business leaders I was coaching found himself constantly stepping in to resolve conflicts between his team members. This was not only an unproductive use of his time; it was also encouraging the team members to run to him with all their problems. Once he recognized this, he was able to create some breathing space for himself to focus on his own priorities with fewer distractions.
Some other reasons for experiencing overwhelm are things like wanting everything to be perfect, or wanting to stay in control and not delegate. It’s important to identify the main stressors which might actually be contributing to 80% of the overwhelm. Identifying and resolving these can help you feel more in control of your time and your life.
I help my clients de-clutter their minds and focus on what’s important for them. This helps them get to their goals faster. Want to explore more, just click on the Request Consultation button above for a complimentary session. Talk soon!
I talked about leadership credibility in the previous blog and in this blog post, I will talk about being adaptive.
Being adaptive means having an ability to change to suit different conditions.
I use the term adaptive to describe people or leaders who are flexible — they don't lose their cool when plans change quickly and they are always willing to learn new ways to do things. Being adaptive helps you as a leader to sail along in today's ever-changing world.
Charles Darwin had famously said - “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”
While he was talking about evolution, the same applies to the business world. An organization that does not respond to changes in the market will not survive in the medium to long term. The organization’s responsiveness in turn depends on the leader’s adaptability.
One of the key roles of a leader is to define the strategy for the organization. The traditional approach to strategy, however, actually assumes a relatively stable and predictable world. The goal of most strategies is to build a lasting competitive advantage by establishing clever market positioning or assembling the right capabilities for making or delivering an offering. Companies undertake periodic strategy reviews and set direction and organizational structure on the basis of an analysis of their industry and some forecast of how it will evolve.
But given the VUCA world that we operate in now, companies and leaders are grappling with issues like:
What companies are realizing is that sustainable competitive advantage does not arise exclusively from position, scale, or just technical superiority but it stems from organizational capabilities that foster rapid adaptation. Instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things.
What will help companies survive and thrive in this VUCA world is the ability to read and act on signals of change. The ability to experiment rapidly, frequently, and economically—not only with products and services but also with business models, processes, and strategies. Most importantly, the ability of the company and its leaders to unlock their greatest resources—the people who work for them.
I believe it is how we think. Our behaviour is a manifestation of our thinking. When faced with unpredictable change, how do you think? Are you afraid of losing what you have? This is called being prevention-focused. Or are you excited by new possibilities of positive outcomes? This is called being promotion-focused.
We tend to be either prevention-focused or promotion-focused.
Prevention-focused people see their goals as responsibilities, and they concentrate on staying safe, protecting what they have, and avoiding mistakes.
Promotion-focused people, on the other hand, see their goals as creating a path for growth or advancement and concentrate on the rewards that will accrue when they achieve them.
So you see, when we are prevention-focused, we’re afraid to make mistakes and this makes us reluctant to step out of our comfort zone and it keeps us stuck. When faced with change, it makes us focus on the potential obstacles and raise objections such as
All these reactions are reasons we give ourselves for not moving forward. Moreover, how we react to failure says a lot about our approach to the rest of the team. Do we look for who’s responsible for the failure or do we look for the lessons learned from the failure? If we look for who to punish then we are encouraging people to stay safe and not make mistakes – thus making them more prevention-focused.
On the other hand, if we focus on what lessons can we draw out from the experience and then come up with a better solution, we will encourage innovation in the organization. For this to happen, you as a leader also need to be willing to talk about your missteps and the lessons you have learned. By focusing on what opportunities are emerging out of the changing scenario and how to make the most of it, we will be energized to move ahead.
So that brings us to the question of what can help up become promotion-focused.
To my mind what can help us deal with change and uncertainty successfully and become promotion-focused is adaptive thinking.
It is the ability to “recognize unexpected situations, quickly consider various possible responses, and decide on the best one.”
So first, it means that you should be able to recognize the signals of change. Also, you need to develop a way of thinking that enables you to pause before you react, consider all possible options, evaluate these options and then choose the best possible way to act, and do all of this very quickly.
If you have well developed adaptive thinking, you will not be overwhelmed by all the information overload that comes with uncertainty and change. You’ll have curiosity about your environment and will be able to make sense of disparate data, see patterns, experiment and deduce the possible direction of the trend.
Firstly, learn to scan your environment constantly, build networks across different domains, understand what’s happening in different markets and regions and be really curious about the emerging developments.
It is no wonder that successful leaders are well read and well networked. They’ve figured out how they learn best and apply that to make the most of the time they set aside for learning. Whether it is through books or podcast or videos or talking to a mentor or coach, they know what works for them and use it to learn rapidly and continuously. They also use their networks to gather information and then connect people across networks thereby increasing their influence. By developing this curiosity and willingness to learn, you will be able to strengthen your ability to gather signals from the market proactively and hence be better prepared to deal with the changes.
The next thing is to develop divergent thinking that will enable you to come up with various options for the same problem. Divergent thinking is the capacity to find relationships between ideas, concepts, and processes that, at first glance, don’t appear to be connected. You can use tools like brainstorming and Edward De Bono’s six thinking hats to practice coming up with multiple out-of-the box ideas. Being in a positive frame of mind can help you get more creative ideas. Also, encourage people around you to think creatively and laterally, thus creating an environment where new and innovative ideas are stimulated.
The third step is to evaluate the options that you generate to pick the one that you think will give the best outcome. This requires critically examining the underlying assumptions and careful reflection and probing of the problem through many lenses before taking decisive action. Avoid getting prematurely locked into simplistic go/no-go choices. Force yourself to zoom in on the details and zoom out to see the big picture. What can help you further is to invite perspectives from diverse stakeholders. If you use these techniques, you are bound to get better and better at strategic decision-making. It’s important to have patience, courage, and an open mind.
So, to develop an adaptive mindset, simply do these three things regularly – scan your environment, encourage divergent thinking and evaluate options critically. This kind of thinking is a mental muscle that gets stronger as you practice more.
In an increasingly turbulent environment, business models, strategies, and routines can become obsolete quickly and unpredictably. As a leader, you need to be able to experiment quickly and economically. To do this, you need to create an environment that encourages knowledge flow, diversity, autonomy, risk taking, sharing, and flexibility as this is where adaptation thrives. In your organisation, encourage coming together of modular units that freely communicate and recombine according to the situation at hand rather than have permanent silos. Create a culture in which inquiry is valued and mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities – and this needs to start from you before it trickles down to the rest of your organisation. The success of your organisation depends on your ability to be adaptive.
In an earlier post, I had introduced the CARES model of leadership development that I have designed for preparing leaders for success in this VUCA world. Being Adaptive is an essential part of leadership for the VUCA world.
Being adaptive means having an ability to change to suit different conditions. I use the term adaptive to describe people or leaders who are flexible — they don't lose their cool when plans change quickly and they are always willing to learn new ways to do things. Being adaptive helps you as a leader to sail along in today's ever-changing world.
In an increasingly turbulent environment, business models, strategies, and routines can become obsolete quickly and unpredictably. As a leader, you need to be able to experiment quickly and economically. To do this, you need to create an environment that encourages knowledge flow, diversity, autonomy, risk taking, sharing, and flexibility as this is where adaptation thrives.
The success of your organisation depends on your ability to be adaptive.
To experience a complimentary coaching session to explore how you can develop adaptive thinking, click on the Request Consultation button above.
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