Should Everyone be Treated Equally or Fairly?



If a store has a policy of ‘no returns,’ treating everyone equally will suggest that they will be unwavering on that rule.  But what if you regularly shop at this store and have shown continued support over the years?  You’d probably think that it’s not fair.  In Banking, customers with larger balances deserve to enjoy lower fees.  Few might argue that everyone should pay equal fees – the wealthy paying lower fees does not seem fair.  If a senior employee gets the corner office it is fair, but if his queries gets priority over those who were first in line, is it still fair?  Here, you might vote for ‘equal treatment.’  To be equal or fair is one of the decisions in business that leaves you perplexed as to which side of the fence you find yourself.

In a free economy, fairness, ceteris paribus, motivates the behavior of  consumers and employees.  In Sales, you might win a holiday if you produce the highest figures.  That is pretty fair: the employee has pulled his weight and deserves an accolade.  As long as all players were given equal opportunities to prosper.  It is not fair and certainly not equal for any individual to benefit from an unfair advantage.

When business policies, new rules and decisions are not well received by employees, it is almost always due to one of these 2 principles.  Well…that and the sensitivity to change but that’s another blog post!

So it seems simple enough – make sure everyone gets a fair deal, right?

Not quite so easy….because the concept of fairness is subjective and everyone’s idea of fair differs significantly.  Try having a conversation about it – I’d say it falls in the same category as religion and politics.  Paradoxically we are all bias in our perception of what is fair; bias is to be unfair in its definition.  Perhaps we can deduce that fairness is what people feel they deserve – and everyone feels differently about what they deserve.  If you feel something is unfair, you are actually saying ‘I deserved better’.  This is why people with an undeserving personality are more complacent whereas arrogant types would readily put up a fight.  They feel they deserve a lot more than others.  Nobody ever agrees with an egotistical person’s notion of fair.

As a leader and a decision maker, it is undeniably a curve ball when dealing with people who believe they deserve more than others.  And it takes careful consideration because if you are perceived to be unfair or unequal, you will lose credibility and it will be an agonizing recovery, if ever.  It is your responsibility to have a full understanding of a situation before a decision is made and a moral obligation to consider all stakeholders.

I recently observed a dispute that was so poorly mediated, not equality nor was fairness taken into consideration.  The decision simply swayed towards the one who made the most noise.  Now both parties have lost respect for their superior – even the one who was rewarded.  His behavior was simply reinforced that manipulation techniques gets the desired outcome and consequently continues to exert control while the other feels unheard and betrayed.

Instead of defending a decision after you have offended half the office (this has become too prevalent), why not take a preemptive approach and explain the measurements you are considering before a decision is made?  Communicate that all stakeholders were considered and actually consider everyone involved.  Make sure that the decision is progressive from all viewpoints.  Predict a difficult person’s opinion and actions and plan your move ahead.

Among other things, it takes a high level of emotional intelligence to make the right decision that satisfies the triple bottom line.  And until you consider yourself a leader who possesses these soft skills, the most basic and safest benchmark to use is equality and fairness.


Stakeonomics: The Power of Stakeholders on your business


Who has the most power over your business?  In a quick exercise, place the following people/groups in order of revenue influence: Board of directors, largest client, production team, media, sales team, competitors.

Not an easy task, I suspect.   These groups are referred to as stakeholders:  people and organisations who directly or indirectly affect a company’s performance and who are in turn affected by a company’s activities.  As the business world moves from a shareholder-centric towards a stakeholder-centric style, we see the definition broaden.  The natural environment has, in recent years, been classified as a stakeholder as more and more organisations adopt environmentally friendly choices and increase social responsibility.

Are all stakeholders equally important or do they act as links in the economic chain?  It is a natural inclination to spend most of your resources on your largest client.  Imagine for a moment losing that client to a competitor, leaving behind a considerable loss and a string of likely unsatisfied smaller clients (who rapidly become more significant than they used to be).  Conversely, can you really afford to draw your attention away from such a large client?  Consider the power that human resources have during a labour strike, the impact of the media after a bad report on your company, or the sway of a supplier who has reached a monopolising status in the market.

As these examples reveal, stakeholders can be volatile, their power is ever-changing, and managing them is more challenging in practice.  We can also deduce that the behaviour of stakeholders at a given time is paramount to your success.

I introduce to you the concept of Stakeonomics: ‘The factors and effects of stakeholders’ behaviour on the performance of a business’.  Adopt these proactive practices to forecast stakeholder behavior so you don’t get caught off-guard:

Identify your Stakeholders

Create a list.  Include their needs (past & present) as well as previous incidents that resulted in a behaviour change.  Make a concerted effort to research their needs.  Are you in a position to meet those needs? Take into account that needs do not remain constant.  Review what events or movements triggered certain reactions in the past to mitigate future risks.  At what times are they most influential?  Are your interests sincerely aligned with theirs?

In the age of perfect knowledge, external stakeholders know what they want and from whom they want it.  Corny advertisements, crafty salesmen and the likes will no longer cut it.  The bottom line is this:  if a need is met, everyone wins.

Be Ahead of your Game.

  • Embrace technology.
  • Foster virtual relationships. Social media is a powerful tool today, people are quick to take to social sites to voice their opinions.  It can work in your favour or against you.  Positive comments about your business are always welcome but do not ignore comments and posts that are negative.  Responding to complaints shows transparency and consideration.
  • Invest in research and development.
  • Keep a close eye on competitors. What are their recent developments? Do you have a defense plan to win the market share?   It should be noted that while a defense plan is good, innovation is the best brand publicity.

Be Consistent in your Efforts:

Stakeholder mapping is a popular analysis conducted during startups or a project launch.  However, this is not adequate.  You can disengage stakeholders through your daily operations and not just during a significant event.  It should be a regular activity.

Ethics at All Costs:

Consumers are more loyal to ethics than to price or convenience.  Recent research from Mintel has shown that 56% of American consumers will not support a business that they believe to be unethical.  Furthermore, 35% of them will not buy these products or services even if no substitute exists! (  Trust is one of the main motivations for employee retention, content clients, strong supplier relationships and credibility with industry related professional bodies.  Plus ethical companies are environmentally and socially responsible and this attracts all stakeholders.

From small businesses to large enterprises, Stakeonomics is relevant.  Determining future needs and behaviour of your stakeholders is critical to shaping a sustainable operation or advancing to the next level.


Break Through That Glass Ceiling Like a Boss



(Pic courtesy of

Today is National Women’s Day in beautiful South Africa.  A day in which we commemorate more than 20 000 brave women who, in 1956, staged a march to protest against the apartheid government’s ‘pass laws’ which legislated that citizens defined as ‘black’ carry a type of a passport in order to control and further segregate the population.  This was especially phenomenal because women from all race groups united for a common cause in a country where people of different races were not even allowed to live side by side.

It is not remarkable that women have contributed to Science, Business, The Performing Arts and every other ambit of the world as we know it.  Men and women have the same brain.  What is remarkable is that women have made these contributions despite the history of not enjoying the same opportunities as their counterparts, excluded wholly or partly from political participation and being restricted or denied educational and social rights, amongst others.  To this day women are still demeaned in certain tribes, cultures and yes, even in the modern corporate world.

Off course, in the corporate world it is more subtle.  The skepticism that women are met with whenever they propose a new strategy or about to deliver a speech/presentation, nibbles away at one’s dignity until one day, somewhere between pouring coffee for your peers in the boardroom and being kindly asked to type a document because the secretary is off sick, a woman becomes bitter.  I have met a great deal of people who unapologetically believe that reporting to a female boss is a nightmare.  I happen to know some of these women and I am also aware that behind many a woman occupying a senior position, lies a fighter that made a conscious decision to push past the challenges: disregard for their abilities, being overlooked for promotions, bullied, not being taken seriously, phones and iPads appearing on laps as you are about to take the podium etc.  Does this explain the relentless attitudes of certain women in power?  Has their past experiences shaped the commanding manner in which some women conduct business?  Perhaps it does, the jury is still out on that…(I welcome your thoughts on the subject matter)

So how do you attempt to shatter that glass ceiling (the invisible barrier that prevents women from career advancement) without having to bring out the worst in you?  Here are 6 hints that I hope you will find useful.

A Firm Handshake: Yes, it is unisex.  A limp hand denotes self-doubt which means every word you say after the handshake does not sound as credible as you would have liked it to be.

Do not play the Gender Card Unreasonably:  While it is a fantastic achievement to have succeeded in construction or a traditionally male-dominated industry, it is not professional to throw it around.  You should be proud, but the achievement will sell itself.  Don’t be on the fence between a gender battle and a show-off as it might limit you from further growth.

Live the Values of Your Organisation:  Above all else, this is the core of the organisation and living it fully and sincerely will begin to see cracks in the ceiling.  Great leaders, male or female, embrace and stand for the values of their organisation.

Get A Mentor:  Mentors give you the extra nudge when you feel like you want to quit.  My mentors are beacons in my life.  I would not have accomplished nearly half of what I have without them.

Debunk Perceptions:  A feminist would proudly sing the praises of Mary Anderson, a woman from Alabama, who invented the vehicle’s windshield wiper blade in 1903 – in a predominantly man’s world.  A male chauvinist might claim that it still falls within the parameters of ‘washing/cleaning.’  Same fact, different perceptions.  In business, take the time to explain your view on a matter instead of immediately dismissing someone as prejudiced and walking away.  Perceptions are often built on ignorance.  Helping someone understand your reasoning debunks perceptions and mends the gender gap.  The take home point here is that if you do not confront each situation as it happens, you might be left with an ingrained bitterness that will be much harder to shake off at a later stage.

Dress for Success:  Bernie Mac in the movie ‘Heads of State’ puts it perfectly:  ‘You got to dress for the job you want, not the job you got.’ The story line is fittingly about an African American man trying to shatter a glass ceiling of his own as he runs for President of the US.  In a work environment, dress in a way that commands respect and makes you feel confident.  If you feel it on the inside, you will be it on the outside.  Invest in a power suit and wear it when you need uplifting.  In a separate article, I will go into more detail on corporate dressing.

I salute the female camaraderie and strength displayed in the march of 1956.  Their protest song was clear and powerful, “Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo” (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock).  I share this day with women all over the world.  You are rocks designed to withstand anything that life throws at you….and glass ceilings got nothing on rocks!

When & How to Say ‘No’ in The Workplace


(Pic Courtesy of

Over pleasing is as much an unfruitful attribute as idleness. Wherever you lie on the scale between these two extremes, you would have found yourself in the dreaded situation where you would need to cough up the word ‘no’.  In an office situation, the dilemma becomes a lot more complicated.

Are you committing a corporate crime by turning down a supervisor?  And what is the most non-offensive way to do it?  Why would someone rather work themselves to the bone than declining more work?  Some are afraid of disappointing colleagues or becoming unpopular.  Many say ‘yes’ to avoid potential conflict.  The key is not to perceive it as conflict.  It’s not necessary to send yourself on a guilt-trip either.  It is perfectly fine to turn someone down as long as it is gracious.  Take time, consider the request and how it would affect your current workload, and if you cannot commit to anything additional, inform the requestor that the proposed project would negatively impact the quality of your current work.

An accommodating way to say ‘no’ is to follow it with an alternative.  In the end, you have been asked because there is a problem that requires solving.  It does not revolve around your ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  All that matters is a solution.  If you provide that, the ‘no’ will be long forgotten.

‘I am overloaded currently, however I can assist you with a system that will cut your resolution time by half’

‘I do not have time to assist but I can help you find someone who does.’

To a client:  ‘Unfortunately, I have prior commitments today however I can clear my diary tomorrow to suit you.’

So when is it wise to say yes? 

When you do have the time and the means to assist a colleague.  We do not exist in a vacuum – we need each other’s help and the favour will be returned when you need it someday….and that someday is always sooner than you expected.

When your manager asks you to complete an assignment that would inevitably be a huge notch in your belt.  Work additional hours to complete it if it will assist you to be recognised in your field or create growth opportunities.

When the job entails you learning something new or becoming proficient in another area/department.  Knowledge is always a good idea!

Never turn down a junior employee who asks you to be their mentor.  It is a huge compliment and the time you invest in developing an individual is invaluable.

Eradicate these reactions that people replace ‘no’ with:

The Over-justification: Don’t say no, then follow with a long account of why you cannot do it.  Unconsciously, you are inviting the person to find a loophole in your argument and if successful, you would have no option but to accept anyway.  Give a brief explanation that the time is not right or your present duties do not allow for it and spend more time finding a solution rather than relating excuses.

Beater-about-the-bush:  Say ‘no’ firmly and assertively.  ‘Naaah, I doubt it, I don’t think it’s possible, maybe, that is going to be difficult’ are phrases that give hope.  This type will eventually lead to the push-over status.

The Push-Over:  Recognise those who use flattery, over persistency, excessive smiley faces etc. to attempt to convert you. If you are currently saying ‘yes’ to everything, prepare to be over-worked, abused and irreplaceable.  Sadly, irreplaceable means never progressing in your career.  The ‘yes’ employee is easily spotted from a mile away and these people, as obliging as they are, will be mistreated.

The Cold Shoulder:  It will not go away if you ignore it.  A persistent person will just keep returning and others will be offended that you did not afford them the respect of giving them an answer.  Send an email if you are uncomfortable with the art of declining however do learn how to face a conflicting situation head on for future.  Depending on the request, it is advisable to decline in person.

The Offensive Colleague:  Always be polite about it.  ‘Unfortunately I cannot assist at this time,’ is a lot less offensive than ‘Forget it! NO!  Absolutely Not!’ Don’t transform aggression into sarcasm either.  Sarcasm only sounds witty to the sender, never the receiver.  Non-verbal communication is as significant as your words.  Be careful of eye-rolling, shaking your head and other gestures that suggest arrogance.

How to handle Money Loaners:

In and out of the office, this is arguably the worst request of all.  The lending and borrowing of money amongst colleagues should be avoided at all costs.  Your work (and other) relationships should be treated like fine china.  It can easily be permanently damaged due to a conflict over money.  This is an easy ‘no’.  ‘I value our relationship too much to lend you money.’ Or ‘As a rule, I do not lend or borrow money’.  If someone is in dire straits, assist them to loan money from a financial credit provider or an advance on salary.  As a manager or supervisor, recommend extra overtime to enable your employee to earn more or offer advice if the person has a history of poor money management.  If a salary advance is granted, it should be stated that this will not be commonplace in future to discourage comebacks.

Setting boundaries is a reflection of strength and self-respect and the first step is saying ‘no’ and prioritising.  Ensuring you do not have too much on your plate starts with assessing the size of your plate. After that, ‘no’ will sound a lot sweeter!

“It’s only by saying ‘no’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” Steve Jobs


Ways to Work Smarter

hard work(Pic courtesy of

There was a time when buried nose deep in a stacked pile of papers classified you as a ‘hard worker’.  Include an irritable attitude and an occasional under-your-breath mumble and you might have been up for a promotion.  That, we have now discovered, is as unhealthy for you as starting each day with pizza. While it is true that hard work never killed anybody, working smart gives you more of your life back and decreases work stress. 

Managers must understand that smart work does not replace hard work – they go together.  Let us not succumb to the mistaken belief that employees should be remunerated on hours worked: Pay for Productivity and Productivity Pays. Overworking an employee leads to anxiety and burnout and this will hurt the business in the long run.  Yes, the job must get done but there are many ways to get it done and why shouldn’t you opt for the smarter way?

Release some of your work pressure with these seven tips:

  1. Make use of electronic reminders for appointments, birthdays, and to do lists instead of writing it down.
  2. Learn to delegate.  Seems simple enough but people struggle with delegation – some believe that you are giving away your power or worse still, ‘if you want something done right, do it yourself.’  Steer away from this antiquated thought.  The reality is that we cannot do everything ourselves and there are others that can perform certain tasks better than you can.  Focus your energy on the tasks that you can do well.
  3. Need to prepare for a presentation, study product upgrades or learn industry related information? The trick to committing anything to memory is repetition, repetition, repetition!  Read your material out loud, record it on your smartphone and listen to it on the way to work or play it to yourself whenever you have a moment.  Be sure to add inflections, emphasize key words and even use a strange accent.  Anything to make it interesting and entertaining and easier to remember.  If it is a presentation you are rehearsing, listening to a recording of yourself (as torturous as that may be) is a great way to correct and improve your speaking skills.
  4. If information does not need to have a written trail, rather make a phone call. In this digital age, there is a tendency to lose the personal touch and if all your communication in a day is written, you would be working a lot harder than you need to.
  5. Combine brainstorming sessions with breakfast or a round of golf with a business meeting. It builds great relationships and kills 2 birds!
  6. Ask for help. If you cannot find the answers after a fair amount of time spent on it, get help.  Suffering in silence will lead to frustration and eventually disillusionment and detachment.
  7. Take a look at my previous article on time management for more suggestions.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas to becoming a smarter worker, please take a moment to comment.

Manage Your Time and Increase Productivity



Time control is directly related to goal setting.  I love Lewis Carroll’s quote, ‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.’  It is essential to identify what you wish to achieve (both professionally and personally) and document it.  Once this is established, you will subconsciously utilise your time towards achieving it.  Time wasters typically do not have clear and structured goals.

Now that the stage is set, use the following pointers to knuckle down on managing your daily clock.

  • Be conscious of your time. Even the smartest among us are guilty of occasionally saying ‘I don’t know where the time went.’ If you are conscious of the degree of time spent on each activity, you will always know where the time went.
  • Plan your day the evening before so you begin the day with a purpose. You are more likely to sleep in late, have an extra cup of coffee or be idle if you do not wake up with a determination to achieve the measurable goals already set out for the day.  During your evening ritual, ask yourself what you have accomplished today and how has it moved you closer to your goals before preparing for the next day.  Questioning yourself forces you to be accountable for your actions.
  • De-clutter your workspace.  A cluttered desk produces a cluttered, slow thinking mind which extends the time spent on each task.
  • Making a ‘To Do’ list is a routine part of one’s day, but how many of us are making a ‘Don’t Do’ list? It is often the little things that steal time.  What fruitless activities are the thief of your time?  Is it social networking, crushing candy, watching amusing video clips online? Note your thieves down and chances are probable that you will fall less victim to these weaknesses.
  • Allocate a strict time limit to unimportant tasks.
  • Don’t fool yourself with activities that are work related but not productive, like constantly checking if an email was answered or spending an hour exploring different colour combinations for a spreadsheet. Become results oriented.
  • Take regular breaks. Did you ever work tirelessly on a project without success and the minute you gave up and removed yourself from the situation, swiftly came up with a solution?  Overworking exhausts the brain and it will essentially take longer to complete a task. Ensure that your breaks are relaxing and rejuvenating.  Switching from a work task to a social networking site does not constitute a break.  Do some of your best ideas originate in the bath or shower?  Research has not been conclusive as to what motivates ‘brilliant shower brain’ however one of the assumptions is that water relaxes a person.   Now I do not suggest taking regular baths during the course of your day but opt for calming ‘no screen’ breaks like taking a walk, having a snack (away from your work space), taking deep breaths, catching up with a friend or getting a dose of sunlight.  Restrict it to 10 minutes every 2 hours.
  • Do not multitask. Dividing your energy in the workplace is a recipe for disaster.  Moreover, multitasking is a myth.  Recent neuroscience research has shown that the brain cannot perform several tasks simultaneously.  The truth is that the brain constantly shifts to and from each task.  The time that it takes for the brain to transition to the new task adds unnecessary minutes, depletes energy and results in more errors being made.  So while you may think you are ticking several items off your ‘to do list’, it is proved to be quicker to concentrate on one thing at a time.  Returning to correct mistakes will cost you even further.

Having just returned from a funeral service, I am reminded of the most valuable commodity that we have.  Our lives are made up of years.  Dissected still, a year comprises seconds.  Use those seconds wisely and have the time of your life!

Change Management: A Proactive Approach


Everyone wants to progress but no one wants to change.  People inherently choose comfort over risk and this makes for an uphill battle for any organisation in a transitional phase.  The reality is that growth depends on continual change.  Thought leaders know this but how do you get the others on board?

Change models are a useful technique when followed accurately.  Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is a comprehensive step by step process to effect a successful change.    You can plan all you want though, change agents are hitting brick walls, grappling at every turn and having to return to step 1.  Perhaps we should take a step back and review our strategies.  Here is what we know:  Change is continual, change is inevitable.  For this reason, it makes perfect sense to prepare your human resources well before the time comes.

Organisational Development (OD) is a theory with its foundations in behavioural science.  It aims to increase organisational effectiveness through long term training programs that develops people.    Borrowing from the fundamentals of OD, here are ways to sustain evolutionary change within your organisation with what I call Change Culture Cultivation:

  1. Get employees accustomed to an ever evolving environment. Begin with subtle changes that will be accepted with ease.  Employees should come to expect that operational procedures are not cemented.
  2. Become renowned for innovation by habitually launching new products or if costly, adding services to customers.
  3. Introduce new systems and challenge employees by offering diverse tasks and letting their talents emerge.
  4. Encourage workers to propose changes as well. Brilliant ideas emerge from people when the environment is conducive.  It empowers people and creates a synergy for change.  More importantly, they will feel a larger sense of purpose.
  5. Attributes such as Versatility and Flexibility should be dominant criteria in your recruitment selection processes. A workforce that is easily adaptable are Change Champions.
  6. Adopt a flexible approach to management. People hate to be coerced into anything.  Think ‘Wet Paint. Don’t touch!’ theory on a larger scale.  Rigidity will only succeed in driving the opposite effect.
  7. Transparency.  If stakeholders are left in the dark regarding company activities, a change will be unforeseen, and they are more likely to resist.
  8. Communication is the key. It is the master key!  It builds trust and employees who trust will engage with employers.  When a major revolutionary change is upon you, amidst the fear of the unknown, people will still embrace it because they believe in you.  Seize every opportunity to communicate the values and vision of the company.  Strategic communication is the basis of lasting relationships and this cannot be emphasized enough.
  9. Change Your Mind before changing others’ – it makes all the difference!