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Great Managers are People Farmers

Are you a people farmer? You need to be if you want to be a great manager.

Bertie du Plessis

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If you are not a people farmer, then you are not a manager. If you are a manager you are in the people farming profession.

As a manager you might check Excel spreadsheets, monitor process and put systems in place, but that’s not the subject of your management. People is the stuff your management is made of. If you are a potato farmer, you should know potatoes. If you are pig farmer you should know pigs. A dairy farmer should understand cows. And if you are a manager, you better know people. If you don’t, poor harvests and bankruptcy lead to the final unhappy end. So, how well do you understand what makes human beings tick?

Learning to put people first

Very few entrepreneurs and SME owners I know began their ventures one bright morning, drawing the curtains aside with: “Oh, I want to work with people, what business can I start so that I can fulfil my lifelong ambition to work with people?”  No, we usually begin because we have no other option than working for ourselves – or because we have a bright idea that we believe will change the world.

In the first case, we usually fall back on a skill we have and for a very long time we must keep on practicing that skill in our SME, while doing a host of other things, invoicing, chasing debtors, marketing, managing the people we acquire along the way to help us with the work load… Managing is a struggle to create some order from the day to day chaos. Thinking about people, what they are, what makes them tick, comes as an after thought, if at all. To get people to do what we want, we mostly fall back on anecdotes, fragments of our own experience, how people treated us, what we want and don’t want. If you wanted do potato farming with such little anecdotal knowledge you would have been doomed to subsistence farming at best.

Those entrepreneurs that begin with an idea are no different from those that had to jump the ship and begin their own business. They too are not primarily interested in people and what makes them tick. It’s the idea that drives them, not the love of people. “People” is an after thought. Those business owners/managers with a formal education in business will have a smattering of “Maslow,” often the only bit of knowledge I find among them.

Of course, our book shops are awash with books on the status term for management, “leadership,” mostly purely motivational and with no real substance. It’s about as good as if you want to do potato farming believing that talking to the plants will help them grow better!

So, now what do you really think about the people and about the human race as such?

Understanding people

Let me give you four options and then you choose (these were originally prepared by Matthew Stewart in an article in Strategy + Business).

  1. Do you believe human beings are self-cantered, not innovative and lazy; left to their own devices they will do the minimum and be prone to theft?
  2. Do you believe that human beings are like machines, they don’t know what they want, and you must lead them to achieve goals through a scientifically designed system of rewards and punishments?
  3. Do you believe that all people are creative by nature, love to work and will perform to the best of their abilities – if only management would get out of the way?
  4. Human beings thrive on freedom, however, they are also power hungry and they need a system of checks and balances to prevent rogue individuals from seizing absolute power?

Let’s do a quick check.

If you chose option A: People by nature stupid? Have you given thought to the ingenuity of prisoners? Want to know about innovation, go to prisons and get wise!  Now these guys are not known for their high educational achievements, but hey, if it is in their self-interest they are on a par with top class engineers.  The operative word is of course self-interest. If it is in our own interest, we are all hugely innovative.  The question is how to harness self-interest in the workplace to bring innovation to the business.

If you chose option B: If this were true about humanity, it is inconceivable how the species could have survived for close on 200,000 years.  And if you wanted to see this fail big way, just think Stalin and Mao. That was what communists really believed. But, oh, I think you forgot about freedom. Human beings want freedom, and if you imprison them, they will use their ingenuity to sabotage you – exactly what happened in communists countries! Same holds true for business.

If you chose option C: You have read far too many syrupy books by New Age management gurus. Probably you have a whole library of Tom Peters books.  Sorry I can’t help you. We are freedom loving, ingenious when it serves our self-interest, but if management were so bad, why don’t you try and win the next soccer or rugby world cup without a management team. After all, we call an outfit without management amateurs!

If you chose option D: Pity you couldn’t travel back in time. You would have made great friends with the authors of the American Constitution, Thomas Jefferson and his friends.  Now, we are close to the truth, freedom is important, so we are optimistic about human nature, but we are also pessimists enough to understand that you can’t win the World Cup in whatever sport without a management team to nudge self-interest and group interest to converge.

Farming with people needs both pruning and fertilising!

In my next article I will look in more detail at what we can really know about human nature, the stuff our management is made of.

Bertie du Plessis founded his successful consultancy firm, MindPilot, 17 years ago. He names several of South Africa’s blue chip corporations among his client list and has taught as a lecturer and guest lecturer in six different disciplines at tertiary institutions. His fin24.com blog is the most read business blog on the 24.com domain. Visit Bertie Du Plessis's website for more information.

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Want To Achieve Greatness? Force Everyone Out Of Their Comfort Zones

Diverse teams are better performing teams, but only when they are inclusive.

Rob Jardine

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Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance.

Diverse teams are smarter teams. They have higher rates of innovation, error detection and creative problem solving. In environments that possess diverse stakeholders, being able to have different perspectives in the room may even enable more alignment with varied customer needs.

Being able to think from different perspectives actually lights up areas of the brain, such as the emotional centres needed for perspective taking that would previously not be activated in similar or non-diverse groups.

In a nutshell, you use more of your brain when you encourage different perspectives by including different views in the room. However, work done at the NeuroLeadership Institute has proven that this only works when diverse teams are inclusive, and this still remains a key challenge in business today.

When we consider the amount of diversity present in the modern workplace and the addition of more diverse thinking as a result of globalisation and the use of virtual work teams, it’s clear that the ability to unlock the power of diversity is just waiting to be unleashed.

Here’s how you can unlock this powerful performance driver.

The Social Brain

Despite the rich sources of diversity present in most workplaces, companies are still often unable to leverage the different perspectives available to them in driving business goals. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have enabled us to understand why. The major breakthrough has centred around the basic needs of the social brain.

We have an instinctual need to continually define whether we are within an in-group or an out-group. This is an evolutionary remnant of the brain that enabled us to strive to remain within a herd or group where we had access to social support structures, food and potential mates. If we were part of the out-group it could literally have meant life or death. We are therefore hypersensitive to feelings of exclusion as it affected our survival.

The brain is further hardwired for threat and unconsciously scans our environments for threats five times a second. This means, coupled with our life or death need for group affiliation, we are hypersensitive to finding sameness and a need for in-group inclusion.

When we heard a rustle in a bush it was safer to assume that it may be a lion than a gust of wind. It is this threat detection network that has kept us alive until today. The challenge is that society has developed faster than our brains. In times of uncertainty we often jump to what is more threatening.

Some of the ways that this plays out is when we leave someone out of an email and they begin to wonder why they were left out. The problem is that it’s easy to unconsciously exclude someone if we are not actively including. The trouble occurs when we incorrectly use physical proxies to define in-group and out-group, as this is the most readily available evidence used unconsciously by the brain.

Barriers to Inclusion

A study done between a diverse group and non-diverse group demonstrates how this plays out in the work place. Both groups completed a challenging task and were asked how they felt they did as a team after the exercise.

The effectiveness of the team and how they perceived effectiveness were both measured in the study. It’s no surprise that the diverse team did better in the completion of the problem-solving task, but what is surprising is that they felt they did not do well. In contrast, the non-diverse team did worse, but felt that they had done well.

Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance. It feels easier to work in a team where we feel at ease in sameness, but in that environment we are more prone to groupthink and are less effective.

Creating Inclusion

We can’t assume that when we place diverse teams together we will automatically reap the rewards of higher team performance. As discussed, we’re hardwired for sameness and if we’re not actively including, we may be unconsciously excluding.

If we want diversity to become a silver bullet, we need to actively make efforts to find common ground amongst disparate team members. This in turn will build team cohesion and create a sense of unity, including reminders of a shared purpose and shared goals. Many global businesses put an emphasis on a shared corporate culture that supersedes individual difference.

It’s the same mechanism that is used in science fiction films that bond individuals together against a common alien invasion. It can also be used to describe why we felt such a great sense of accomplishment during the 2010 World Cup as we banded together as a nation.

We must also make sure we uplift all team members by sharing credit widely when available and recognising performance. The last thing we can do to further inclusion is to create clarity for teams. By removing ambiguity, we allow individuals to not jump to conclusions about their membership within groups and calm their minds so they can use their mental capacity to focus on the task at hand.

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To Get A Job Or Not Get A Job. What Are We Teaching Our Children?

Remember the days where if you went to school and studied a degree, you got a job and built a career that enabled you to retire comfortably? I don’t, in fact I’m not sure those days ever really existed. If they did, they are long gone.

David Wilson

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Today STATS SA tells us only 1 in 3 of the youth in South Africa have a job, even worse still – 34% of graduates aged 15-24 are unemployed1. The bottom line is that there are not enough jobs to cater for every child that finishes school. Our children need to learn entrepreneurship. If we want a brighter future for them, we need to nurture, teach and develop the skills and behaviours required to create jobs of their own.

With no intention of knocking the school system it would seem for the most part it discourages entrepreneurial thinking on a fundamental level; it prepares students to become good employees. Tuck your shirt in, sit still, stand in line, do your homework, focus on the task, check this box, you get the picture. Three decades ago this may have worked but it won’t work when we are trying to teach our children to survive the forth industrial revolution and prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist!

It may sound like a cliché, but kids are our future. As a parent I believe one of the most important duties we have is to give our children the best possible start. We need to prepare them on how to live, survive and thrive in a world that is rapidly changing, mostly unpredictable and often unforgiving. This starts by identifying the skills and nurturing the behaviours that will give them the best chance for success.

Related: Watch List: 11 Teen Entrepreneurs Who Have Launched Successful Businesses

Teaching entrepreneurship prepares our children for the future

Entrepreneurship encompasses so much more than starting and running a business. It’s a shift in mindset, a different way of thinking. Entrepreneurship views problems as opportunities and fuels creativity in the pursuit of solutions. All these skills can be applied to life.

Successful entrepreneurs are resourceful, self-confident and tenacious. They are great communicators and marketers, good at identifying and understanding risk. They have learnt from failure and made mistakes. Entrepreneurs are financially literate, understand cash flow and how to manage money. Again, these are skills that every child and student can benefit from.

To make it in the workplace of the future you will need to be self-confident, innovative, creative, motivated and curious.

Employers will need to hire staff that have the creative ability to innovate and ensure the longevity of their organisations. Those people that show entrepreneurial flair will be in demand in a world that is ever and more rapidly changing.

Exposing our children to entrepreneurship, teaching them the fundamental skills and behaviours required to start a business, and letting them know it is a career choice should be a requirement in all schools and endorsed and supported by all parents.

References:

  1. Youth unemployment still high in Q1: 2018 http://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=11129

Read next: Kid Entrepreneurs Who Have Already Built Successful Businesses (And How You Can Too)

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How To, In Practice, Distinguish Between Executive, Non-Executive And Independent Directors And Their Functions

Learn more about the differences in executive and non-executive directors.

RSM

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Definition of a director in terms of the Companies Act

Section 1 of the Companies Act 71 of 2008 (Companies Act) defines a Director as “a member of the board of a company, as contemplated in section 66, or an alternate director of a company and includes any person occupying the position of director or alternate director, by whatever name designated”.

Powers of directors

Section 66 of the Companies Act determines that the business and affairs of the company must be managed by or under the direction of its board and that the board has the authority to exercise all of the power and perform any of the functions of the company, except to the extent that the Companies Act or the Company’s Memorandum of Incorporation provides otherwise.

The board of directors, for the first time in our current Companies Act has been assigned the legal duty and responsibility and play a very important role in managing the affairs of the company and making vital decisions on behalf of the company.

Related: What You Need To Know Before Transitioning From Business Owner To Director

Number of directors required on a board

In the case of a private company, or a personal liability company, the board must consist of at least one director and the case of a public company, or non-profit company, the board must consist of at least three directors. A JSE listed company requires at least four directors. The company’s Memorandum of Incorporation may however specify a higher number, substituting the minimum number of directors required.

How to distinguish between executive, non-executive and independent directors and their functions

A clear distinction is noticeable between the different types of directors in practice, even though the Act does not distinguish between executive, non-executive and independent directors.

The below table gives a clear understanding of the differences between executive and non-executive directors:

Executive directors

Non-executive directors

Member of the board of directors with directors’ duties.

Part of the executive team, as an employee of the company and generally under a service contract with the company. Not an employee of the company.
Involved in the day-to-day management of the company. Not involved in the day-to-day management of the company.
In addition to a salary, does not receive directors’ fees. May receive Directors’ fees, but does not receive a salary.
Shareholders are not involved in approving their salary packages. Shareholders must approve their fees by way of special resolution, in advance.
Employee entitlements apply, such as annual and sick leave. No entitlements apply.
Has an intimate knowledge of the workings of the company. They contribute to the development of management strategies and monitor the activities of the executive directors.
They carry an added responsibility. Entrusted with ensuring that the information laid before the board by management is an accurate reflection of their understanding of the affairs of the company. Plays an important role in providing objective judgement, independent of management on issues the company are facing.

 

Independent, non-executive director

An independent, non-executive director does not have a relationship, directly or indirectly with the company other than his or her directorship. They should be free of any relationship that could materially interfere with the independence process of his or her judgement and they do not represent the shareholders of the company.

An independent, non-executive director should be evaluated on an annual basis to determine if they are still considered independent.

Related: The Role, Responsibilities and Liabilities Facing Non-Executive Directors

The role of these directors

All directors should apply objective judgment and an independent state of mind, regardless of the classification as an executive, non-executive or independent non-executive director.

Executive directors may be appointed as non-executive directors on other boards if this does not influence their current position and is in accordance with company policy.

Before a director accepts the appointment, they should be familiar with their duties and responsibilities and be provided with the necessary training and advice.

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