Yeah! The comfort zone is back

comfortzoneOver the last decennia, corporate organisations have tried to increase their business performance through stretching their employees. This strategy has given rise to views and practices that worked for some people and didn’t for many others. And these practices also gave birth to the popular management buzz like: raise the bar – leverage competencies – bigger, better, faster – advanced growth. It all goes hand in hand with an endless drive for change. It seems another older buzz has completely been forgotten; i.e. the Peter-principle whereby people get over-stretched and over-promoted up to their level of incompetency.

Where this has delivered great career opportunities to some, it resulted for many others in burn-out, in severance and in some extreme situations even into suicide.

Slowly but steadily, we see progress. “Let’s take her out of her comfort zone” slowly makes place for the view that “the comfort zone” isn’t a bad place to be. Companies start to understand that continuous and speeded-up stretching of their staff isn’t the best strategy for ultimate profit delivery. Also the most ambitious managers start to re-enjoy and to understand the benefits of working for a while in their comfort zone. They experience that the comfort zone is not their enemy. On the contrary, it’s a great place for reflection, for stress reduction, for reloading the batteries and a lever for next steps.

“Stepping out of your comfort zone” is such a big buzz, so big that we forget the real meaning and value of your comfort zone. It’s your body and mind that tells you that this is the place where you feel at ease; the place where we have access to what we are looking for. By recognising that the comfort zone is an acceptable place to be, people –in business as well as in private life- will also experience that this place itself is continuously on the move. You may move a bit slower than when you are pushed out of it or when you are stretched to the limits but it delivers authentic and lower risk growth. And much more sustainable.

The internet is full of pictograms indicating that it is outside of your comfort zone where “magic happens”. Some of the managers that I have been coaching had been –violently- pulled out of their comfort zone, but didn’t experience any magic. Frustration, doubt and a lower self-esteem were the results. Getting these people re-engaged with their comfort zone, that is what delivered the magic and the subsequent great opportunities.

So for all those fast-paced goal-getters, sit back, relax and breathe normally –yep I know where this comes from- and take a while to enjoy your comfort zone. Add a bit of self-reflection and you’ll land on great new avenues.

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Leadership – and captain’s culpability

germanwingsIt is 2015, March 24th , 10.40 a.m. when allegedly co-pilot Andreas Lubitz decides to deliberately crash his Airbus into the French Alps. In the hours and days following this tragedy, public opinion is pointing at hundreds of culprits.

His ex-girlfriend, the medical doctor, his parents,…they all should have flagged potential issues. And of course left-wing Europe blames all at the Germanwings (Lufthansa) employing company; the management first and utmost. But also the company doctors, recruiters, instructors at the aviation school,…and all of his crew colleagues who demonstrated that social peer control doesn’t work.

So, what will you do when such a tragedy –perish the thought- would happen in your company? As a leader, I am sure you have implemented strong disaster and recovery plans. As well as a solid risk management policy. Fine, but how will these help you to ensure that public opinion is not targeting you and your colleagues as the prime culprits? Because don’t forget, it’s you chasing continuously for efficiency, productivity and profit while stretching your staff. So you are guilty, aren’t you?

Here, there are things to do and things not to do. The “do’s” are simple and not complex at all. Show trust! Trust in all your colleagues and staff for what they have contributed in the past and what they will be contributing in the disaster investigation and conclusion stage. The “don’t do” is the chasing for culprits; it doesn’t help you nor the victims of the disaster. Because once you offer an offender, the ball keeps running. As it will be the offender’s boss who failed…and at the end it is you as a leader becoming the guilty party. It is your job to support all your staff up to the stage where legally appointed prosecutors will take final decisions.

Now of course you will learn from the disaster and do the utmost to avoid repetition. But, yes but, not everything in life can be avoided. And not everything should be regulated; certainly not over-regulated. Let’s not forget, the locked cockpit door is only resulting from the September 11 tragedies. Only days after Lubitz’ malicious act, countries implement laws and companies regulations to ensure a minimum of two crew members in the cockpit. So what, and what about conspiracy. Should we go to three or four crew members in the cockpit? And five security guys in the cabin; an all flights? Should we stop flying because one pilot concealed sick notes?

Should you stop doing business because there is a risk that one day you may be blamed for a serious disaster? Should you stop doing business because –that’s a fact- you cannot foresee everything? Because you are not the Almighty?  As a leader – as a captain- you may be politely pleading to open the door, next shouting ‘open the damn door’, and next trying to smash the door; if the door doesn’t open you have nevertheless done the utmost to safeguard your company, your staff and your customers. That’s your job.

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Change? Not everything is really change.

 A Saturday night pop-up shop or weekend restaurant is very much the same as 30 years ago when a local farmer was getting his urban food stall mounted on the market.change It was a temporary event and the purpose was to sell as much as possible. And what about social media and Facebook’s Like. Previously we went to the pub, had a few good chats –and drinks- and laughed or authentically smiled when we liked something. What’s the difference? Where today the Transformation Manager drafts us a change development plan and organises meetings to get our buy-in; in the past it was: ‘the boss wants it differently’.  Full stop; and back to work now. Luckily there is these days more employee involvement with for instance the HR Manager launching this years’ Employee Engagement Survey. In the past, we only had the factory boss saying ‘Goodmorning. How are you?” That was too simplistic, too straightforward. Too basic; isn’t it?

So we got in business life all kinds of new stuff; SAP, GMP, Prince2, SixSigma and so on. Last year, I visited a 3-day Competitive Pricing Strategy workshop. At school I learned in 1 hour that if demand is low, prices have to lower. And now I also learned about Consumer Centricity. In the late 19th Century, Marshall Field lead his successful department stores through the motto ‘Give the Lady what she wants’. What’s the difference?

A lot of what we call ‘innovation’ or ‘new’ or ‘change’ isn’t really that new. Old wine in buzzy bottles. But just the mere fact that we call it ‘change’ generates with many people a feeling of imposed –and thus unwelcomed- transformation; even if it’s not such a big thing at all. However, it generates anxiety, demotivation and burn-out. Because with that pace of change –we think-, we believe that we won’t be able to cope. It’s massive these days; everything changes. Everything and every-day. For us employees, customers, citizens,… it’s always change. The world has never seen such a pace of change. Is it?

A few years ago, Forbes published a list of the top30 biggest and life-changing innovations over the last 30 years. Heading that list is: 1 Internet, 2 PC/laptop, 3 Mobile phones, 4 Email and 5 DNA testing. Gosh, that’s impressive. Compare that to the list of innovations and changes in the late 19th Century: Telephone, Radio, X-rays, Light bulb, Pasteurization, Vacuum cleaner, Dynamite. And also: Fountain pen, Zipper, Hot dogs, Blue jeans, Kindergarten. And Toiler paper.  And soon after -in 1903- came the first ‘flying machine’!

While going through this list, you may wonder who is/was faced with the most change ever. Us or our great-grandparents? So let’s not exaggerate. The basics are still the same. Not everything is really change. And rest assured, we’ll all survive it. As our great-grandparents did. And as our kids will do.


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Stuck in your career? You can solve it. Here is the plan.

business-man-worriedAll of us encounter a stage -or stages- in our career whereby we ask ourselves: ‘Is this it? Really?’ When you doubt about that what you are daily doing. Where you are worried about your future prospects in the job, company or industry. Because ‘it doesn’t thrill me anymore’. Where you have concerns about the work-life balance. Where in fact –simply said- you aren’t happy anymore’.

No worries; you can get out of it. It’s simple and it’s basic. Indeed, many have been there before you and many will follow. During a career, everyone encounters (one or more times) a stage where he/she needs personal reflection on next steps. Successful managers do not only question the current status but also work on future options and take decisions to solve the issue.

Here is the plan, in 5 simple steps.

1. Write down the ‘current’

Take time for reflection and make a bullet list of current job issues and blockings. Don’t do this in the office; a Saturday in your private home office is perfect. Or have a walk in the park, let your mind wander over the past months, find a bench and note your list. Make it an all-inclusive list. You probably won’t need a life changing move for just one issue. Your exhaustive list can of course be anything and is very personal. I in fact hate to give you some examples -so don’t copy/paste- but here are some current trends that many coaches come across. ‘I have lost trust in the current leaders. I don’t feel engaged anymore. I want to get out of this corporate world and start my own business. I was promised a promotion but it doesn’t materialise. I can’t combine this pressure with my private life. I feel exhausted. I am sick of all the reporting requirements. My team doesn’t follow me anymore.’

As said, reflect deeply on it. Then put your list aside and forget it for the full next week; then revisit it (add/delete) next weekend. Again put it aside and forget it for the coming work-week.

2. The ‘why’

This step is the most difficult but it’s the foundation for your solution. Here you go back to your issues-list and for each of them you consider why it is so hindering; so frustrating. Why do these issues bring me emotional (and perhaps physical) discomfort? Why do these undermine my performance and happiness? Put the ‘why-s’ on paper.

3. Share

No, this step is not suggesting you share all of this on Facebook. Now it’s time to find you a trusted adviser. It doesn’t matter how you label that person: buddy, mentor, coach, adviser,… . (I’ll further call him/her coach – just for easiness.) Most important is your trust in the individual to help you walk through your thought process. Ideally this person is an excellent listener and a professional to bring focus to you on you solving your issues. You have read that right; he/she is not going to resolve it –it’s you at the steering wheel of your future. The coach will guide you to your own decision; and where you want gives expert advice.

I suggest to find support outside the company; the strength of a trusted outsider is to bring a fresh –and objective- look at your situation. Now this can go very well alongside a formal career development path that might be offered by the company. It’s even an excellent add-on but it will focus on you –and not necessarily attempt to match your needs with the company needs. It’s about you and your future (and the impact it may have on your private life). By the way, more and more business leaders understand and support this approach. They understand that through some –call it- selfish reflection, you will gain more clarity. This will ultimately also be to the benefit of the company.

4. Triggers of happiness

In this step, you together with your coach will be looking at what really triggers you. What makes me hot (in a decent context)? What makes me go the extra mile? What am I really passionate about? What makes my dopamine levels rocket? Basic -but so important-, what makes me smile? Yes, here you’ll be talking to your emotional drivers. That’s not a soft thing; it’s difficult but crucial. Don’t forget: “In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels” (Dr. Daniel Goleman)

Take time for this; make time for your feelings. If you do this just as a tick-in-the-box exercise, than please stop here. Your issues are not serious enough. But if you really want to bring change to the current situation, then dig deeply. A professional coach will help you here to bring structure in this step.

5. Into solution and decision mode

In this final step, you’ll go into decision mode. This can be a minor thing or a life-changing decision; whatever brings you most satisfaction and triggers you. It should bring you regained trust in the ‘current’ or trust to go on a complete new journey; or anything in between. Anyway, it’ll bring clarity and trust.

Here your coach -if you want- can challenge your thoughts. Why would this bring a solution? Does it really? How does it? What are the pitfalls? This all helps you to double check your intentions so that you’ll feel that you are walking the right way. To ensure the envisaged changes will bring you where you want to be. To get you closer to the fulfilment of your personal ambitions.

Only 5 structured steps; it’s all simple and basic, isn’t it? The major value sits in the sharing that forces you to focus on your deeply rooted performance and happiness drivers. This shared focus will guide you; towards your solutions.

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Find the 3 differences -clear communication

3differLanguage is one of the most powerful communication tools; mostly when it is used in a clear, authentic and informative way. Whether it comes out of the brain of a lunatic, a horny seducer or a highly regarded senior executive.

Here we go. Find the 3 differences.

All senior shepherds acknowledged the importance of a chocolate driven plantation alongside the distracted railroad. The ceramic tables will have enough blue mustard to accommodate the bikes; all stolen by the intangible Oxford Street absentees.  And more importantly, the culinary crocks will have an executive summary of Google’s views on the outskirts of the square buttons. Research has also shown that the contamination of the Fabergé islands will gain 5%; this to underline the weakness of the invoicing process. And of the inner fear. There isn’t more in it; there are no free lunches. However, chestnut is geared up to electrify the talented beachboy and will lead to the pragmatic ironing of the cloud. This will be evidenced by the cat litter on the third infographic of Saint-Paul’s purple template.

While crying and tears will not be part of our relationship, I’ll be there for you whenever you’ll need a strong shoulder. I’ll listen to you while softly stroking your hair and dropping soft and warm kisses on the back of your neck and in your cosy and homely ears.  It’ll feel like a warm and slow wind caressing your most private and intimate parts. This will feel different than any other time—so carnal, so … necessary. I’ll caress your behind with my long-fingered hands, and you’ll feel helpless, trussed up and pressed into the mattress, at my mercy, but of your own free will. I’ll hit you slightly to the side, and again, the other side, then pause slowly and peel your panties down and pull them off. I’ll play more than words to seduce you; to give you anything you have ever dreamed of.  (OK, I admit. This is largely stolen from that 50 shades thing.)

These are exiting yet challenging times for our leading-edge operations. Our newly launched next-generation marketing strategy and enhanced focus on Big Data will guarantee the ubiquity of our products through a multi-channel and well-organised global distribution network. Together with our proven cost efficiency strategy and our ongoing LEAN management practices, we’ll ensure boosted shareholder returns. The challenging external business environment drives our November’s revised forecast downwardly. However, our first quarter results demonstrate strong net earnings growth through our successful penetration in the Middle-East and ongoing market leadership in Germany, Poland and the Baltics. The Executive Committee will also augment their support to agile programmes on diversity, inclusion and corporate social responsibility; confident that it will deliver sustainable wealth to our talented workforce, to our current and prospective clients and to all stakeholders.The-single-biggest-problem-in__quotes-by-George-Bernard-Shaw-21

Spotted the 3 differences? It’s all clear, authentic and informative, isn’t it?

Liked it? Here is another witty corporate buzzwords story.


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Trust…it saves so much trouble.


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When enough isn’t enough. More Stella, more Zalando, more share, more profit.

anygivensundayWe have all been raised to grow; in good health.  Most of us have also been developed to perform well at school, to find a great job, to excel in a professional career, to make nice money and to have a great family life. In that order.

Aiming for growth, setting goals and having specific desires are very natural and healthy things. The human kind needs to aspire. It is also generally accepted that we all perform better when we have clear goals and targets. And in general, we are happy when we achieve our personal and professional goals. Happiness is the reward.

Though not always. So when is it getting wrong?

In business life, the commonly practiced terms of ‘stretching goals’ and ‘stretching people’ is close to entering the danger zone. Same for ‘raising the bar’ and many other buzzwords. ‘Bigger, better, faster’ is red alert. So are ‘double digit EPS growth’ and the desire from a Chairman for a short term share price move from $20 to $25, to $35. Or from the CEO to increase this years’ productivity by 30%.

But also in private life it becomes unhealthy when enough isn’t enough. Like the guy in the pup asking for –yet another- last Stella. Five isn’t enough. Nor is six or seven. He wants more. And more. A once-a-month visit from the Amazon or Zalando man isn’t enough. One week on the beach is too short. It should be two weeks and not with the old smartphone. I need to order the newest iPhone6.

And does that make us happier? Does it bring more enjoyment?  Dr. Jeniffer L. Patterson is questioning this in Psychology Today: “it is not inherently problematic to freely choose to aspire for “more” of certain objects, outcomes, and events. On the other hand, immoderation, compulsion, and addiction are highly likely to lead to trouble. As clinical psychologists, we have seen the wreckage in the wake of an inflexible pursuit of “more.” Rigidly chasing “more” can lead to missing out on enjoying what is already sufficient. Greedily amassing “more” can lead to the decay of what is already abundant”.

It looks that we –in private and in business life- have somewhat forgotten the enjoyment of attaining goals. Short-termism has replaced the enjoyment of achieving something by setting yet other and higher goals and desires. We have turned life into a permanent fight. Look at most inspirational or leadership speeches; all talking about winning the game, moving from ‘good to great’, fighting for the last inch, etc. Because enough isn’t enough.

aspiresDon’t get me wrong; personal growth is a very healthy aspire; so is growing business performance. But very few things grow endlessly. Trees don’t reach to the moon; nor does the man-made Burj Khalifa. We don’t get 10 feet tall. No –decent- companies have 100% market share.

For many aspires, it’s not bad to ‘think inside the box’; to enjoy the happiness in what is already sufficient. And, to sometimes ‘let go’ instead of pursuing excessive, greedy and unfulfilling desires.

It’s already proven that happiness is a lever for growth, performance and success. We probably just need to wait a few more years for further research to demonstrate that accepting and enjoying the ‘enough’, is a key driver for happiness.

Picture credits (top picture): Any given Sunday.
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Ram Charan provokes the HR world.

C-suiteIn their July/Aug issue, Harvard Business Review gives the floor to Ram Charan to have a go at all HR leaders. That was an excellent idea from HBR; Ram is the perfect coach to stimulate ‘rethinking’. A few years ago, I had to honour to work with Ram on a development faculty. It was clear from the onset that he wanted the audience to challenge the status-quo.

Ram Charan -bestselling author, leadership guru and advisor to Chief Executives-, has been many years the trusted coach to Jack Welsh (General Electric); the respected –but oh so figures hungry- Chairman and CEO. You will also recall that it was at GE where the rule ‘to get rid of the bottom 10%’ was introduced; to boost general performance figures. Figures –so not people- driven leadership and HR.

So no surprise that in the latest HBR issue, Ram Charan is suggesting to

  1. get rid of HR Directors / Chief Human Resources Officers (CHRO),
  2. put the HR admin and Comp&Ben under the Finance structure,
  3. create a role for Leadership & Organization to focus on the people’s capabilities, and
  4. for this role to be taken by line-managers (i.e. nor HR generalists) .

In his mind this would be the most practical solution to solve the disappointment many CEOs seem to have on their CHRO. They would like to be able to use their chief human resource officers (CHROs) the way they use their CFOs—as sounding boards and trusted partners—and rely on their skills in linking people and numbers to diagnose weaknesses and strengths in the organization, find the right fit between employees and jobs, and advise on the talent implications of the company’s strategy. But it’s a rare CHRO who can serve in such an active role. Most of them are process-oriented generalists who have expertise in personnel benefits, compensation, and labor relations. They are focused on internal matters such as engagement, empowerment, and managing cultural issues. What they can’t do very well is relate HR to real-world business needs.” (HBR, July/August 2014)

Personally I am not so convinced that moving part of the HR role to the CFO is such an innovative thought. That’s just back to more than 30 years ago where ‘Personnel Management’ was part of a Finance structure. It was then recognised by business leaders that ‘our most important asset’ needed dedicated and specialised leadership.

By the way, that CEOs love their CFOs is also not such a surprise. A recent study from Executive Grapevine says that “There are too many CEOs with finance background …and they are there to deliver short term margin improvement very quickly”. And that’s exactly the point; HR frequently adds value through longer term impact – but sustainable.

But Ram’s prime intention has been achieved; in full. The article created a massive debate in the HR community whereby most HR people are going into self-defence mode.

One of the comments I like –and support- comes from Eugene Chang (HayGroup Singapore): Leaders today heading any key function from Finance (CFO) to IT (CIO) to Operations (COO) to HR (CHRO) all need to be able to orientate themselves to look beyond their function to add value to the executive team.”

Indeed, Ram could have written just the same story about executives in Marketing, Finance, Operations, etc. It’s so basic; it’s the capability to look beyond your function, to have that broader view and understanding of the total business picture.  Only then you can be that ‘trusted partner’ in the C-suite. And yes, some HR Directors are lacking that capability. As others do.

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3 unique holiday vacancies !!!

Applications open now – hurry!

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3 most amazing vacancies (week31)

Applications open now!












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