COMPANY CULTURE STARTS WITH YOU

Ask a person the reason they love to travel, and often they say to experience different cultures. Human beings seem to be intrigued by the social norms and ways of living of their fellow man in different cities and villages around the world. Having the experience and exposure to other cultures somehow adds colour to our own lives, a certain richness.

What we are less aware of perhaps are the unique cultures we create in these environments called workplaces. Just as a travel brochure is not the same as visiting a country, company culture is not what it says in a company handbook or website. It is the experience.

But how can we translate something seemingly ethereal into something more tangible and why is it even necessary?

The ‘spirit’ of a company

Just as any culture around the world is formed over time through traditions, cultural norms, societal needs, forms of communication, behaviours and attitudes, so too is corporate culture.

Through a combination of day-to-day interactions, we create the environments we work in, and those environments come with particular qualities regarding desired and accepted behaviours, attitudes, principles and modes of communication.

There is one main difference though – I am not aware of any society in the world that set out to create a particular culture intentionally, consciously. Instead, the culture morphed through the ages. It could be said some companies morphed in the same way, directed mainly through the attitude and conduct of the board, leaders and managers, and the behaviours that were tolerated.

But if you stop to think about it for a moment, corporate culture gives us a fantastic opportunity. Through our actions, we can shape and form a mini-society that lends itself to our highest ideals. We can enable others to step up to the plate and be their best. We can focus on and achieve a unified purpose and direction.

And quite scary in the wrong hands.

So how do we get it right?

Setting the Tone

If you want to establish the ‘right’ culture – start with yourself. Whether you are aware of it or not, your character, your conduct, value system and manner of treating others is akin to a metronome, the timekeeping device used in music to keep everyone in sync. So ask yourself some key questions:

Who are you, what do you stand for, what drives you? How do you treat others? Are you a person of your word? Can you be trusted? How do you come across – friendly, approachable, aloof, firm but fair?

How do you communicate, what is your preference – formal, structured, agenda-led, walk around the floor? How do people interact with you and react to you?

What is your business ethos and how does it translate into practice?

Your people

The people you surround yourself with and the manner in which you interact with them speaks volumes. If for instance, you are smart enough (and humble enough) to realise that you are not great at everything and surround yourself with people who are ‘better’ than you, you have set the scene for greatness. That is of course if you also create the environment for them to speak their mind and you are open-minded enough to listen.

Measuring success

What does success look like for you and your company? Is it just about profit at all costs? What milestones do you measure and reward? Does the manner in which people reach objectives matter and are they taken into account? Are certain behaviours tolerated, just as long as there are results?

Aligning vision with practice

A lofty and noble vision is all well and good, but it’s what you do in practice that counts.

Do not underestimate the impact that your actions and conduct have in setting the standards and the cultural tone. So ask yourself: Do you want to create an environment in which compromising behaviours are tolerated in the name of profit? Or, do you want to generate an environment that nurtures, develops and engages competence and character, to build great companies that add value to more than just their profit margins?

 

As featured in WorkLab

Rethinking Startup Success

We often hear ‘it’s a great company, they’ve raised $x’. This is the wrong metric, and recent disasters (e.g. WeWork, Uber and Theranos) have confirmed this. Thought it was time to peel back the layers on what we should be looking at. Here’s the article featured in Entrepreneur Middle East. read more

Discussion on AI & Intellectual Property

A recent article in Technology Review posed the question of whether AI can be an inventor. In principle, it’s a debate around IP law and whether AI can own ideas it generates. Check out the debate generated on LinkedIn. It’s worth a read. Additional views always welcome. read more

State of MENA Startups 2019

Following on from the recent report on the startup scene in the MENA Region (well done to MAGNiTT and 500 Startups for putting this together), here we peel back the layers on some of the issues raised. read more

WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP – A MIDDLE EASTERN PERSPECTIVE

There is a general look of surprise, even bewilderment when people hear I love working in the Middle East, for the simple reason that I’m a woman.

I understand how there is a perception that women are not respected or highly regarded in the Middle East, therefore making it difficult to fathom how a woman could have a successful business. However, in my experience, there is a chasm between perception and reality, especially since the traits that seem to be more abundant amongst women, such as insight, intuition and inclusion, seem to be trusted and appreciated in the Middle East, enabling us to not only contribute but also play our role in business.

What I find strange and perplexing is some of the rhetoric around women and leadership. A case in point is an article that said 15% of Senior Leadership roles in the City of London were held by women and the majority of those by foreigners. The article went further by attributing this ‘fact’ to the foreign women’s swagger. The truth of the matter is, given London is a global financial centre, there is a strong likelihood that a senior leadership role will have a regional or global focus. If the potential candidates haven’t had any international experience, they don’t qualify, swagger or not.

That said, the ‘swagger’ comment got me thinking, and led me to reflect on the great Arab women I have had the privilege of interviewing and working with. They are highly intelligent, very well-educated and incredibly insightful – ingredients which are prevalent amongst many women around the world. They don’t seek to be liked but rather have the courage of their convictions. They don’t have to speak loudly or demand to be listened to, but they still have their views be known and considered. They tend to talk less and act more. They are compassionate and kind but don’t tolerate fools. Above all else, there is a particular ingredient in their presence and demeanour, described perfectly by a dear friend from the region – “we are salty, not sweet”.

 

From Segregation to Sisterhood

It’s fascinating when you think about it. Yes, women in the region tend to live more segregated lives. Instead of competing with men, they understand and nurture the concept of sisterhood, encouraging and supporting each other. When they get older and enter the corporate realm, government or family business, they are purposeful and have a quiet self-confidence, an inner strength which is ready to come out and be deployed in a broader spectrum. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, they are welcomed in the workplace and encouraged to grow and rise through the ranks. Have they had challenges to overcome? Absolutely. Challenges have shaped their character, balancing their resilience, perseverance and determination, together with their faith, patience and belief in a higher power. Formidable indeed.

So what are some of the ingredients that help foster women’s capabilities that we could use to make our companies more balanced, diverse and better equipped to handle the changing times?

 

Vision & Purpose

If you want to attract, nurture and keep the best women, consider what difference your business makes, why it matters. Frankly, if your business isn’t concerned with anything other than profit, you are going to face challenges in finding and keeping people with character and competence – women or men.

 

Interview From the Inside Out

If you are using an interview only as a checkbox exercise to see if the person has the skills for a particular job, you are missing out on a great opportunity. A person’s CV is merely a scratch on the surface of not only who this person is, but also how far their capabilities can extend. Context is key.

As a starter, why don’t you put the CV aside and get them to tell you their story? Adopt a curious mind, seeking to learn about the person’s experiences that have brought them to the present day. This approach can open up an individual’s character, their way of thinking, approach to challenges, and the environment and factors needed to bring out their best. You never know – you could even learn something along the way.

 

Don’t Hire What You Don’t Appreciate

If you don’t see how someone adds value to your organisation, why hire them? If the person is on board, why aren’t you listening to their viewpoint and perspective? If you want yes people who go along with what you say, you are wasting your money hiring great people. A recorded message to yourself telling you “you’re doing a good job” will suffice. However, if you hire us, listen to us. We have a different perspective. It may not be what you want to hear, but we are here to add value. Allow us – there are skills, traits and natural capabilities just waiting to be engaged. If you don’t appreciate us, we’ll find or create companies that will.

As featured in Women’s Prospects 

AMBITION, ATTITUDE AND ACTION

Ideas are great, but it’s action that turns them into reality. So do you know what you’re creating? Do you know for what purpose? Or are you in danger of getting there at a cost you hadn’t envisaged?

Here are some tips to help you achieve what you truly want – not just what you think you may want.

What is your Ambition?

Nelson Mandela had said: “In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education…but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being”.

So in your defining your ambition, consider and factor in:

  • The type of person you want to become
  • The values and principles you believe in and are committed to
  • The accompanying behaviours and actions that reflect the above
  • Keep Your Attitude in Check

It is pressure and time that develops diamonds, and so it is with character. As lofty and beneficial as your ambition may be, the likelihood is there will be challenges along the way. Integrate them into your plan and have a strategy on what to do if and when the chips are down. Here are some suggestions:

  • Pick a mentor or support team
  • Find an activity that picks up your spirits
  • Adopt principles from martial arts, yoga and other practices
  • Write a letter to yourself from a position of clarity and strength to provide yourself with the courage and insight you need to pull yourself through.
  • Learn to breathe ? – we tend to panic or get stressed when things aren’t working out according to our plan, resulting in a lack of oxygen to the brain, further compounding matters.
  • Build the capacity to identify lessons and opportunities – turning lemons into lemonade
  • Have the wisdom to readjust and fine-tune along the way
  • If you see challenges as rough seas and waves – learn to surf!
  • See how you can harness the circumstances to your advantage.
  • Take Action!

All the ideas and ideals in the world are no good if you don’t act upon them. Imagine your outcome and break it down into the steps you need to take to reach it and turn these into daily do-ables. Here are some suggestions:

  • Include the action in your daily to-do-list
  • Review your actions at the end of every day
  • What went well?
  • Where can you do/be better?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What are you going to integrate into the next day?
  • Set milestones
  • Create celebrations
  • Enjoy the process!

You will be amazed what you can achieve when you set your mind (and heart) on a focal point. So take the first step towards realising your ambitions, the rest is there waiting for you to step up.

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STEWARDSHIP, EDUCATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP

 

Family wealth fails to make it beyond the third generation in 90 per cent of cases. This failure isn’t due to poor investment decisions, but rather a lack of cohesion and communication between family members, where the family fragments, and with it the wealth.

Some members of the next generation attend the best schools and universities across the world. However, they are still not adequately prepared for the responsibilities that face them when they return home. Each phase of life presents its own unique set of challenges. Families need to ensure they are doing their best to equip themselves and the next generation with the skills and knowledge they need to move forward in their professional and personal lives.

So how can a family increase the chances of success? Let’s take a closer look at the issues, and some critical stages and situations families and individual family members need to be aware of and consider.

 

Challenges Facing Young People

Imagine a young person getting ready to embark on higher education, perhaps abroad. Youngsters can face pressure from peers or from a desire to fit in and make friends. These can be more pronounced for someone from the Middle East. Sadly, it is common to hear of individuals bragging about their family’s wealth as a way to gain acceptance in a new environment, or of people making assumptions based on origin. If a young person is not adequately grounded and prepared, this can make them easy prey to be taken advantage of by supposed friends.

In such cases, there are two typical outcomes. The first is the young person becomes surrounded by parasites, taking advantage of their wealth. The second is the young person succumbing to peer pressure, taking on harmful behaviours or habits. Although both examples are factors every family, regardless of origin, needs to be aware of, these two scenarios seem to be more pronounced for families from the region, due to the perception of wealth, and the differences in culture and traditions between the Middle East and non-Islamic societies.

 

Who Should Succeed?

Succession does not guarantee success, and being the oldest does not make a person best suited to take over the family business. Families in the region, have traditionally seen the eldest son as the natural successor. However, history and excellent examples of female leadership have shown this is not necessarily what is best for the family or the business. The Middle East is experiencing a cultural shift, with women playing a more significant role in business and society. It would be wise for families to not overlook the women in the family and to capitalise on their capabilities.

The transition from one generation to the next can be challenging at the best of times, but the speed at which society is changing in the Middle East can add a different dynamic to succession. Alignment between personal and family values can be perplexing, but adding traditional, cultural and religious values can add further complexity, especially in times of societal change. Ultimately, the person who succeeds should be the best equipped to ensure the long-term sustainability and longevity of the family wealth, to support current and future generations.

 

Shared Vision

The need to create value to support a growing family is not the sole responsibility of the patriarch. Every member of the family needs to move forward together towards a shared vision. Each member of the family must also take personal responsibility in ensuring they work in the family enterprise only if they add value. Failure to do so jeopardises the well-being of the family enterprise and the family system. No two people have the same combination of skills, talents, interests and aptitudes. So each needs to hone their skills to make them fit for whichever role best suits them – if any.

Consider the Olympics: being the son or daughter of a great athlete doesn’t make you a great athlete. You need to have a particular aptitude, talent and interest. You must also have the resilience, tenacity, passion and stamina to stay the course and win. It is imperative for families in the region to go beyond the default ‘eldest son’ and pass the baton to the family member(s) best equipped to carry forward the legacy and provide the support necessary.

 

Ensuring Sufficient Value and Growth

How does a family provide sufficient value and growth of the family’s wealth to sustain a growing family? With increased longevity, there are now more family members across generations alive at any given time. In the Middle East, this figure is amplified by cultural traditions, creating larger families than other societies. Some families have around 30 family members across three generations. In addition to needing more significant financial resources, larger families can also find it more challenging to create cohesion and shared values among family members, further increasing the potential threat of wealth dissipation.

 

Investments

As wealth transitions to the next generation, so does the investment focus. For instance, Morgan Stanley’s sustainable investing institute found Millennials (broadly defined as those born between the early 1980s and 2000) are more likely to align their investment choices with their personal values and are twice as likely as the overall investor population to invest in companies targeting social or environmental goals. The research also found Millennials purchased from a sustainable brand twice more often than the average investor population and were three times more likely to seek employment with a sustainably-minded company. Given the size of the Millennial generation, these are factors worth considering when choosing where to invest the family’s capital – be it the investment portfolio, family business or new enterprises the next-generation want to start. Smart families would seize the opportunity by exploring and aligning the family philosophy and its investment principles.

 

Value-creating Enterprises

One way to provide sustainability is through value-creating enterprises. However, with the advancement of technology, businesses in the region are in danger of being disrupted, making innovation, tech-savviness, agility and sharpened entrepreneurial skills even more essential. It is also where the shifting traditions mentioned previously can be a positive influence. With more Arab women tapping into their entrepreneurial capabilities, families have greater potential in wealth creation, further safeguarding the family’s legacy and wealth for future generations. A proactive approach to disruption, embracing the shift in traditional views, and supporting the role of women in business, is a way to benefit all parties.

 

Managing Transition

Transitions are never smooth and for the patriarch, handing over while finding new direction and purpose can be challenging. Over the years patriarchs have gained precious experience and wisdom, and often still want to feel needed and useful. That said, the transition offers an opportunity for patriarchs to harness their knowledge, experience and interests into a new chapter, exploring and undertaking new ways to continue their legacy. As with all change, this has its challenges. Entrusting someone with your life’s work is no mean feat. The region has changed so much over the years this can add an extra layer of difficulty for patriarchs from the Middle East.

Patriarchs have also seen a shift in the values of the next generation and society. The next generation, coming on board with a fresh pair of eyes, is eager to take on new frontiers. Managing succession requires all parties to understand the two perspectives, and finding the balance between them is vital. Passing on the legacy is a gradual process that comes over time, but eventually, there is a need to let go. Leaving the transition to the last minute is likely to leave the next generation ill-prepared, and higher risk for the dissipation of the wealth and legacy.

 

The Process of Succession

Ninety per cent of wealth, globally, does not go beyond the third generation, and the dynamics of families in the Middle East could increase that number even further. The unfortunate statistics demonstrate the intricacies of navigating the phases of a succession process.

Succession is not merely about setting up structures to ensure wealth is passed on. It is an intricate process through which the next generation is equipped with the skills, tools and aptitude to succeed for generations to come. The better-prepared families and family members are, the higher the chance of success.

 

Rethinking Startup Success

We often hear ‘it’s a great company, they’ve raised $x’. This is the wrong metric, and recent disasters (e.g. WeWork, Uber and Theranos) have confirmed this. Thought it was time to peel back the layers on what we should be looking at. Here’s the article featured in Entrepreneur Middle East. read more

Discussion on AI & Intellectual Property

A recent article in Technology Review posed the question of whether AI can be an inventor. In principle, it’s a debate around IP law and whether AI can own ideas it generates. Check out the debate generated on LinkedIn. It’s worth a read. Additional views always welcome. read more

State of MENA Startups 2019

Following on from the recent report on the startup scene in the MENA Region (well done to MAGNiTT and 500 Startups for putting this together), here we peel back the layers on some of the issues raised. read more

Get in Touch

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You can unsubscribe at any time. More about our Privacy Policy here.

ALL INFORMATION YOU SHARE IS CONFIDENTIAL.

FIND YOUR HARMONY – UNLOCK YOUR POTENTIAL

finding your inner harmony

Imagine a violin – its beautiful lines, the warmth of its colour, the depth of its lacquer, the tactile feel of the wood. Such a work of craftsmanship, and yet, the beauty of the violin is wasted if hidden, nestling in its velvet lined case. Its true beauty comes when it is picked up, brought in to the light, balanced in hand, tuned and the bow kisses the strings creating pure harmonies. An exquisite amplification and showcase of the player’s unique skill and technique.

This is a simple allegory for human potential, looking at our talents that, like the violin, are hidden until we pick them up and employ them. Talents need to be tuned, artfully brought out and harmonised for the myriad of possible repertoires and circumstances.

The other beautiful analogy of the violin, or any other musical instrument, is it can play many tunes, many harmonies, in solo, as a duet or leading an orchestra, both syncing and syncopating the melody and harmony to the others. The same is true of us, applying our talents to personal goals, relationships, team environments and wider organisational missions, listening to the music and tuning in.

Some pieces of music are better suited to some instruments than others – and that’s ok. You don’t see a violinist or flautist upset because a part of the composition doesn’t include their instrument at that moment. Musicians understand and love the beauty and harmony of the piece, and are happy to play their role in weaving it together. They trust the conductor, each other and themselves to do the piece justice, to woo the audience and transcend them to another place, filling them with the emotions the composer intended.

Now consider an organisation, built on great values, with a shared mission and goals. Each team member needs to play in harmony for the organisation to achieve. An environment where each person is knowing, confident and passionate about their particular talents and how they mesh with others to create beauty and harmony. Unusual words in an organisational framework, and yet, it is music to our ears when we hear positive feedback on our work, when we satisfy our customers, when we have content employees, when our shareholders are happy.

So be like the great conductors and get your orchestra to play in harmony. Lead the way in doing things differently.

Did this resonate and you’d like to know more? Please get in touch for your confidential one-to-one.

inSight - Salty not Sweet

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IN SEARCH OF WEALTH

I recall being at dinner with the Chinese Ambassador in Malta some years ago. My boss and mentor had invited me, so as they were in the throws of a discussion about power and money, I sat listening.

The conversation was leading down a path where there was no delineation between power and money. That money gives you power and being in a position of power brings you money.  I still recall the unease within me – the restlessness that comes with knowing there is another truth.

Not being able to hold my tongue any longer, I posed a question “Did Mother Teresa have power?”

They looked at me stunned, and then smiling, the Chinese Ambassador nodded at my boss.

I don’t know about you but discussions of this nature have always intrigued me, and how we all too simply assume that one brings the other. Of course, this is very much the truth in some cases, as can be seen amongst some of the regimes and heads of state that exist around the world. But it is not the whole truth.

A similar debate ensued with a group of Russians, some of which were sons and daughters of oligarchs. This time the discussion was around the difference between being rich and being wealthy. If a person is rich, are they necessarily wealthy? If you have lots of money but are not happy, are you wealthy? If you don’t feel free to do or be what and who you are, would you feel wealthy?

In my opinion, wealth goes deeper than the number of digits behind a dollar sign and is more closely linked with the quality and richness of life. By this I do not mean just about how we create a quality of life for ourselves by buying things. Rather how our character, way of being and manner of doing things impact the quality of our experiences internally and externally. In a way, wealth is more closely linked to legacy, purpose and our role as members of the human race – humanity.

Nelson Mandela had once said, “In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education…but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being; humility, purity, generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve your fellow men – qualities within the reach of every human soul.”

In doing your own search for what is important to you, here are some things for you to think about and consider:

  • If you were to find out a product you buy was produced in a way that conflicts with what you deem to be moral, fair and ethical, would you still buy it?
  • Do you care enough to ask the extra question and find out?
  • Do you consider and understand the ripple effects of your decisions and the impact they have?
  • Do you have the courage to speak your truth and not follow the status quo?
  • Do the means justify the ends, and how do you balance these?
  • Where do you draw the line about what and who you care about and what you are willing to do about it
  • In the final count, is wealth perhaps about our ability to enrich the lives of others?

 


 

Deborah has the ability to sense the underlying potential of people and their ideas. Previously a successful headhunter, she is a catalyst for business as a force for good, and works with founders, entrepreneurs, successors and innovators in building businesses with purpose and profit.

Did this resonate and you’d like to know more? Please get in touch for your confidential one-to-one.

inSight - Salty not Sweet

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