Well-being is key in this era of stressed-out remote working access

What is your main focus with leadership these days, given all the changes in the global climate, such as the pandemic and protests?

This was the question I received this past week from a new connection on LinkedIn. The writer is the senior HR director for a multibillion-dollar software company headquartered in California. I can’t share any more specifics than that, but I’m giving you this background to help us together consider the impact of his question.

The writer is based in a state experiencing its largest wildfire season on record. Flames have ravaged over a million hectares or more than 3pc of all land in the state. Black Lives Matter protests are still being held while smoke hangs in the air.

Precautions vary by county, so you must check which businesses are open. Across the state, most schools, as well as universities, are not conducting in-person classes.

Amidst this stark and uncertain backdrop, my new American connection looked to me in Ireland for perspective. My response aligned with what I’m sure is the focus of his own local team.

“The number one thing I’m being asked about right now is how to promote remote well-being,” I replied.

As it happened, the day before I received that inquiry from California, I had interviewed another Californian on the very topic of wellness.

Author and mindset coach JM Ryerson has been building companies and leading sales teams for 20 years. I spoke to him via Zoom from his home outside Sacramento.

He agreed this is what is clearly at the top of everyone’s mind. Across the globe, we are suffering from increased levels of stress.

“Right now, there’s so much fear and anxiety. There’s too much negativity swirling around and it’s because of the unknown. I set personal goals in seven major areas: personal, work, family, spiritual, financial and mental health and physical health.

“Each of us needs a process to feed our body, mind and soul to attain our goals and maintain balance. My overall philosophy is to make this process really simple.”

1) Feed your mind

“Remember,” JM begins, “our mind is the area that most of us do not discipline enough. We allow it to wander to whatever news station we’re watching or radio talk show we’re listening to. What comes out from there begins to influence us.  We’re not making a conscious decision to fill our minds with something positive.”

JM encourages his clients to take control by creating a plan to keep minds active. “Consider how you want to show up and make real effort to feed your brain good food like intellectually challenging games and puzzles or reading critical thinking articles.” I agree. As with any machine or process, the input affects the output.

2) Move your body

I’ve written many times before right here in this column about the irrefutable connection between a healthy mind and a healthy body. Keeping physically fit increases the proportion of endorphins in our mind which, in turn, acts to reduce mental stress. But many of us, especially during times of great stress, feel much more inclined to hit the fridge than to hit the workout mat. How much exercise must we do?

JM explains his approach to being active.  “When I was in college, I was an athlete. I worked out two hours a day. But now, I simply don’t have the time to do that. Some people will stop working out altogether because they can’t or don’t do as much as they did before. But just because you’re not doing the same things you did 15 years ago or even a week ago, spending 20 minutes exercising in some form is better than doing nothing. Just make sure you move your body. As I say, ‘Sweat daily!’”

3) Nourish your soul

While much is written about connections between activating our minds and our bodies, we shouldn’t overlook our souls.

“All three of these are related,” says JM, “and if you’re not taking care of one, you’re out of balance. But the truth is a lot of people are not making plans to enrich their spirits.

“It doesn’t matter if what you do is taking a hike in nature or attending church, you need to give yourself a purpose and through that find a way to respond and not react to things happening in the world.”

JM finds his soul refreshed and refocused through meditation. I asked him about this.

“I used to say, ‘I will do 10 minutes daily’ and if I didn’t do it for that long (like his exercise issue), I wouldn’t do it at all. But now I can do 30-second set of box breathing — in which you inhale and exhale at the rate of four seconds for each — and it immediately puts me in a more balanced state.

“I believe there are really only two things we can control in this world: attitude and activity,” he adds.

 

Write to Gina in care of:

[email protected]

 

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


A great employee engagement starts with the first interview

When Madonna sang "We are living in a material world" I bet she could not imagine the kind of brand immersion world we find ourselves living in today.

From sponsored ads on Instagram and Facebook to those pesky pop-ups on YouTube, it sings to us. It plays games with us. Chat-bots seem to actually "converse" with us.

We don't talk about the buying and selling process as simple transactions anymore. Because it's not only the sale that matters. Everything that leads to the purchase and the follow-up is now taken into consideration. Marketers refer to this holistic approach of engaging, nurturing and retaining customers as "customer experience".

This multi-channel marketing experience is offered by a variety of companies. Xtremepush, here in Ireland, claims to do it better than everyone else and last week I spoke with its co-founder and CEO, Tommy Kearns.

"We go to the heart of it. We collect the data and unify it and then we get an understanding of the customer. We have purpose-built data management and take in data from other parties. We use push notifications and email and social messengers and chatbots and live chats. We do it better because we have three channels within one platform. We're a one-stop shop," he said.

Despite its seemingly ubiquitous presence, marketers have also felt the belt-tightening squeeze of Covid. Research giant Gartner reported in its 2020 survey of marketing strategies that: "Marketers have faced some unique economic challenges in 2020 that have impacted their businesses."

During my talk with Tommy, we agreed that like marketers, employers and people managers need to adopt new ways to communicate and interact with their teams. Hence the emerging field of employee experience or EX.

A personalised journey of engagement for your teams marked by a mixture of technology and human-connections is essential at all times to provide support, care and value.

1) Building personal trust

The life cycle of EX doesn't start the day someone is hired, it begins with that ritual of introduction to a company: the interview.

As with multi-channel marketing, multi-faceted EX requires attention to detail from the very start. Tommy of Xtremepush puts it this way: "Personalisation is huge. There's a lot of talk about personalisation that's a load of codswallop. It only comes from an understanding of someone's past and present. We need to understand that if you say you like something, have you purchased it? That's how we begin to create our customer data. We are constantly analysing profiles and behaviour to make sure there's no codswallop."

Besides the fact that this is the first time I've written 'codswallop', I love the imagery. Much of what is delivered by a potential employer in the name of interviewing is just that.

Ridiculous questions like "How would you solve problems if you were from Mars" (reportedly used by Amazon) are gimmicky and more off-putting than trust-building.

Read, don't skim, the candidate's CV. During this time of Zoom interviews, make them feel comfortable. Demonstrate active interest to their answers. Ask relevant follow-up questions and don't just move robotically down a list of questions.

Research shows that establishing and maintaining trust is one of the strongest bonds which prolong employee retention. I urge you to spend more time asking relevant and thoughtful questions of prospective employees. From the first day at work, throughout the on-boarding process and beyond continue to find ways to personalise their experience.

2) No more siloed teams

Remote working has put gatherings at the office water cooler on hold. Smaller department teams may be meeting regularly online, but cross-functional interactions are sharply reduced.

Xtremepush is using its multi-channel approach to ensure everyone stays connected. More structure, not less is required.

Tommy says: "At 10:35 to 10:55, there's a Zoom coffee in the diary and the only rule of that game is don't start asking me about a project. We have people in nine countries and we created a convivial atmosphere to get all of our people from every department and region together as we continue to go through this period of unease and unrest. As with our marketing, we need employee feedback loops."

3) You're not hearing it all

I wrote on LinkedIn this week where I am running a video series entitled "Thirty Thoughts for Thirty Days" that silence from an audience does not always indicate approval.

Likewise, with caring customer or employee experiences, it's essential to, as Tommy told me, listen to what you're not hearing.

"We can get lazy in how we understand each other - from employees and leaders in business. We need to understand what our employees are worrying about. Then I can understand how to help them perform much better and the only way to do that is to get a better understanding of them. The only way to do that is to listen to what I am hearing and what I am not."

Today, as we inhabit a virtual world, the importance of creating and curating meaningful, trust-building experiences for employees is essential.


Putting your best face forward

I want to be comfortable, but I still want to appear like a leader, my client told me during our weekly Zoom coaching session, I need your advice, she said.

Despite being the CEO of a large organisation, my client is a female in a largely male-dominated sector. She was determined to hit that leadership balance I keep talking about between credibility and warmth.

So, she emailed me a series of photos of various outfits. I guided her through a series of questions designed to help her develop a more strategic eye to quickly determine how the cut, fabric and colour of any dress or separate set combine to create an impression.

Every day, each of us makes choices that impact the way we are perceived by others. I divide the range of our choices into three main categories: Appearance, Behaviour and Communications.

Now, as more of us are beginning to emerge from behind our webcams and make the occasional socially distanced, yet, in-person business meeting, it's time for a quick refresher on that all-important first aspect of making an impression, your appearance.

I know what you're thinking. We should judge each other on what's on the inside, not the outside. I agree. But according to the Association for Psychological Science, attractive people are treated more favourably in nearly every area of life, from dating to employment to criminal trials.

Attaining a professional business appearance is not the same as entering a beauty contest, obviously, but, for women and men, it is about making an effort to take control of the things you can, to put your best image forward.

1) Curate your clothing

Men, your suit jacket should fit you properly. Jackets sleeves should let about a quarter-to a half an inch of the shirt peek from underneath. Not much more or less. Cut off any manufacturer label on the sleeve and don't forget to snip the threads on the vents of your jacket if it has vents.

Trousers, assuming you plan to put on trousers again someday and not continue wearing a jacket with pyjama pants in video calls forever, should properly fit as well. Considering length, whether you go for no break, light break or medium break, the point is you should understand and take ownership for the message each style says about you.

Ladies, let's face it, we're judged more harshly than our male counterparts when it comes to business attire.

As First Lady Melania Trump approached the podium in the newly remodelled White House rose garden this past Tuesday to give her Republican Convention address, commentators couldn't help but remark on her military-style, olive green dress.

"Dressed for battle," stated Vanity Fair.

"Dictator cosplay," snarked New York Magazine.

Make no mistake, your clothing speaks for you.

2) Put on a little make up

Whether web-cam, or in-person, achieving a polished look might also require a little serum to smooth fly-away hair, a dash of concealer to cover dark circles or blemishes, or a bit of powder to reduce forehead or chin shine that can shimmer and distract from your on-screen message. Again, for both women and men.

"It's about simple products used in a simple way to give confidence," Danny Gray, CEO of War Paint for Men told me by phone. The London-based founder of the first men's makeup brand to have a counter in a main street retail store, Danny founded the line to break the stigma associated with professional men choosing to wear makeup.

"Thirty-two percent of our customer base is over 50. I don't care if you're 7 or 70 years old, confidence is always a thing," said Danny.

He first discovered confidence through a cover-up stick he borrowed from his sister as a teen.

"I was 15 years old and I got spots like most young men do and it really affected me. I turned to my sister and she gave me a concealer. I couldn't believe the power of products and what they could do."

In our largely conservative business world, we are still living in a time where natural-looking makeup is key.

For men, it should look like you've not applied anything. For women, your foundation should match your skin-tone and don't forget to smoothly blend across your jawline into your neckline. If you opt for a brighter lip colour, it's a safe bet to go for more natural eye makeup and if you do love a smoky eye, please save those enormous lash-extensions and HD eyebrows for the weekend if clubs ever open again.

Makeup application can be daunting. I've always enjoyed painting as a hobby and perhaps by extension, the art of makeup. Back in the day, the gals at CNN's makeup department would even hand me a small brush to perfect my lipliner myself. But it's not everyone's forte.

Since Covid is preventing makeup counters from demonstrations, men can turn to War Paint's website and ladies can choose among about a zillion tutorial sites on YouTube for tips.

It's important to remember that our business interactions are not solely dependent on our appearance. But the more we learn, the more we can take charge and feel confident.


Taking responsibility for diversity and equality in our own workplaces

After months of speculation, one of the biggest anticipated news stories arrived last week with the nomination of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden's running mate. Loyal readers know that while I'm your devoted business leadership and communications columnist, I'm also a former CNN Washington reporter and still a political junkie. So, you won't be surprised that this historic announcement has me going just a little bit.

Let me set the probably pre-produced, but nevertheless impactful, scene: The video embedded in Biden's Twitter announcement shows the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee removing his face mask and leaning into his laptop. He addresses the screen, which is not facing us but we're to imagine he's looking at Harris, and he asks this question: "Are you ready to go to work?"

"Oh my god, I'm ready to go to work," the voice of Harris is heard to answer.

She's already a California Senator, former state Attorney General, former District Attorney and even a short-term presidential candidate. She clearly knows how to work. And now with Biden's invitation, Kamala Harris notably becomes the first Black woman vice-presidential candidate in US history.

Her father was a Jamaican immigrant and her mother immigrated to the US from India. Both grad students at Berkeley in the 60s, they met as they became involved in the civil rights movement there and the first of their two daughters, Kamala, was born just a few miles away from the progressive campus in Oakland. Her parents divorced when she was young, and Harris credits her mother with teaching her early on that hard work would be expected of her.

Referring to her sister Maya and herself, Harris said, "My mother knew that she was raising two Black daughters who would be treated differently because of how they looked".

How we look. There are a lot of things we might be able to change about our appearance, but setting aside Ireland's love of fake tan, the colour of our skin is one thing we cannot. As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to grow, so too does the need for broad-based support and awareness in the workplace.

Throughout August, it's Black Business Month in the United States, recognising Black-owned businesses and dedicating 31 days to boosting their entrepreneurial efforts, innovations and achievements.

Here in Ireland, there are hundreds of Black-owned businesses in a range of fields as diverse as food, fashion, tech and beauty. Whether or not Black-owned, there are people of colour in businesses and organisations everywhere. Together we are colleagues, managers, team-mates. While many workplaces remain virtual, there are still many ways to promote, establish or maintain an inclusive and supportive environment.

And while the ideas here today are geared toward bridging racial equality gaps in your organisation, they can be applied toward better connecting any groups or individuals.

1) Raise your awareness

In business or otherwise, complacency in relationships can foster resentment, or worse. The first step toward moving closer is acknowledging steps can be taken. In most cases, something more can always be done.

Examine your mission and values statements. Is the language clear about what constitutes inclusivity or discrimination? Do you actively recruit and promote a diverse team of competent employees? Further, do you and your other leaders consciously provide inclusive modelling behaviours? Pay attention to a culture that allows or ignores off-hand racist remarks, seemingly subtle comments, or out-right jokes. Don't let anyone brush this kind of behaviour off as being "overly politically correct" either. That's often a defensive excuse.

2) Start conversations

If you're confused between what someone might be reasonably offended by or what someone might be overly sensitive to, have a calm and guided conversation about it.

The Black Women's Agenda (BWA) based in Washington, DC, describes itself as promoting "greater understanding and co-operation while searching for new knowledge and new conceptualisations about said problems". Not a bad starting place for any business to launch a conversation.

The BWA goes on to write that "bringing our country (or business) together starts with a meaningful conversation to reduce polarisation and social bias, to increase the willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue and create an increased understanding and appreciation for our differences and similarities. Relatedness is a basic psychological experience. We all need to feel connected to other human beings; to care and be cared for, and to belong".

Hold regular, facilitated conversations and make sure every voice is heard. As I tell my own daughter, almost any question can be asked of someone else - if it's asked politely and respectfully.

3) Take responsibility

One of my new clients - head of a large UK-based organisation - said this after our first virtual session together this past week: "It's so important to learn how to develop positive leadership communications because I realise it's my responsibility to my family, my employees and myself."

Who is responsible for your professional and personal growth? As Johnny C Taylor, Jr, CEO of the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM), who happens to be Black, says: "At the end of the day, if professional development is not available or supported, you have choices, including looking for an employer that does believe in and is committed to professional development or developing your own plan at your expense".

As Kamala Harris says: "Whenever I got upset about something, my mother would look me in the eye and ask, 'So what are you going to do about it?".

No matter what area, developing yourself is up to you.

Write to Gina at [email protected] With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Recalibrating to Brave

“I need to recalibrate,” the health care executive reflected this past week. The discussion was part of my live, virtual (of course, what else?) seminar on acquiring new communications strategies and behavior modifications to better connect in our increasingly tricky, combined world of supporting both in-office and remote working teams.
She has been with her organization for nearly ten years and yet this was the first time she had truly considered how she could move from being a communicator by default to a communicator by design and purpose. “We’re meeting unmet needs,” the sponsor for the webinar pointedly summed up as I explained my incremental and revolutionary approach to leadership and communications which requires active mindfulness, humility and willingness to relearn all underpinned by a growth mindset.
Another participant remarked that she would add the attribute of “courage and bravery” to the list of requirements necessary to begin adapting to and applying this new approach. I agree. So, for today, I’d like to spend a few minutes examining these concepts. As my participants’ identities must remain anonymous due to the proprietary nature of my corporate seminar, I am going to share the unfolding story of my former mentee and coaching client Irene Ubani to illustrate each of the points.

1) Be humble and cultivate a desire to relearn

I’ve written about Irene before in a previous column, but for a quick refresher, I met her in 2014 during my first of many training visits in and throughout Nigeria. She was in college, studying business and communications. She confided she wanted to become a “TV presenter” as I had been and implored me to mentor her. Over the next couple of years, Irene regularly emailed me clip after video clip delivering mock reports that I responded to with guidance, correction and advice. I watched her diligently apply my suggestions and develop poise, confidence and clarity presenting that is a pleasure to behold. To this day, I consider her one of my best “students” and Irene describes me as her “first and best coach.”
But, as with my recalibrating executive, we learners don’t have to be in college. Are you humble enough today to acknowledge there is more you can learn?

2) Adopt a growth mindset

At 73 years young, Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck remains active as the premier expert on mindset theory examining why some people succeed and others don’t.
She emphasizes, “My research looks at the origins of the mindsets people use to structure self and guide their behaviour. I look at motivation, self-regulation, achievement and interpersonal processes.”
If, for example, you are the type of person who tells yourself things like, “Well, that’s just the way I am,” you’re demonstrating a tendency toward a limiting mindset. But, if you consistently tell yourself you can positively change and develop your emotional intelligence and other aspects of your character, you are demonstrating the mindset of openness or “growth”.
Let’s bring back in Irene. You won’t be surprised to learn she’s been working as a business journalist at Nigeria-based television network, Plus TV Africa, broadcasting to more than thirty countries across the continent. Since our first encounter, she has continued to cultivate her skills and growth mindset. It’s what propelled her to make a dramatic decision amidst the backdrop of the pandemic as she quit her secure fulltime job to pursue a new passion, training others.
“I carried on reporting from home during shutdown, but I knew I could use this time to explore something else,” she told me over Whatsapp this past Tuesday. “Some people are scared, thinking, ‘It’s Covid-19, I can’t get another job’ but I told myself I will not be trapped in this mindset. I will not remain in this job because I am afraid of what might come next. I needed to act.”

3) Be brave

This brings me to our third and perhaps most important belief that can either propel or prevent you from acting out: bravery. The participant in my seminar this past week who identified bravery as being an important attribute was recalling a time when she was a young child and, “wasn’t afraid of anything.”
Are you still brave? If so, excellent. If not, you must take steps to restore your inner courage. Consciously or subconsciously, what we think we understand of ourselves comes from the words we tell ourselves. I was impressed when I asked Irene to describe herself to me during our recent call.
“The hardest thing was hitting the send button on my resignation email,” Irene said. “But I know everything is possible and I refuse to let myself be stopped by self-doubt.”
Since hitting that send button, she has set up a “Beginner’s Guide to Public Speaking” course on the Udemy learning platform and already has more than 100 students.
“What do you recommend for someone who might be feeling less than brave?” I asked.
“Be careful what you watch, what you listen to and who you give your time to. If someone transfers bad energy to you, cut them off. Block them from your social media,” Irene sagely suggests. “Be cautious of these things, it is what grooms you as a person.”
For today, then, be brave and hit the send button on recalibrating yourself. Let me know what happens next.

Write to Gina in care of [email protected]
With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Your new productive three-hour workday

I ran up the stairs with about five minutes to go before show-time.

Door opened, I stepped into my studio.  Curtains closed to shut out the unpredictable natural light, I switched on the two lamps set to frame either side of my face. I turned toward the camera and smiled. Not a memory from my CNN reporting days, this is a scene many of you are now familiar with.  It’s time for another working from home “live-shot.”

Over the past eight weeks or so, (I’ve lost count), my bedroom has transformed into a broadcast center. Yes, there’s still a bed, but it’s positioned out of web-camera range. What is in the “shot” behind me as I stand, not sit, in front of the screen facing “my audience,” is my wooden dresser. But now the jumble of assorted framed family photos once scattered on top of it, has been removed.  Instead, there’s a crystal vase full of flowers which I refresh every week. On the wall above the dresser, where the vase now rests, there used to hang a large round mirror. That’s been replaced by a large round, orange foamboard logo of my company, the Language of Leadership. You see, as much as I could manage during this ongoing time of working from home, I’ve gone professional. I’ve got staging. I’ve got branding.

But don’t let my sentimental harkening back to my days as an intrepid TV correspondent, fool you. I don’t have a producer helping me get organised. There’s no director in a gallery or control room counting down time in my earpiece.  There’s no live-shot tech-engineer ensuring the link to “the bird” (aka the satellite) is connected. While we’ve all become broadcasters now in the time of Zoom, Google Meet, WebX and Whathaveyou, we are largely doing this on our own. From our homes.

For all those reasons and more, I freely confess, I get distracted. When standing in my “studio,” for instance, I glance down and notice the carpet could use vacuuming.  Between my live-shots, I know I should do important follow-up work. Client reports and proposals should be written. Presentation decks should be created or revised.  Invoices should be reviewed. The list is always endless.  But instead of attending to the list, I impulsively decide to grab that vacuum or shove a load of laundry in the wash.  Or maybe I go check in on my preteen daughter who’s been ensconced in her own bedroom studio entirely too long making a seemingly endless stream of TikTok videos.

I end up putting off paperwork until late in the evening or setting the alarm and working extremely early in the morning. My workday seems meandering and disjointed. I need professional help!

Enter Niamh Brady, mother of one-year-old Emily, recovering workaholic and productivity coach.

“Covid 19 has given workaholics the perfect place to hide and people who aren’t motivated an excuse to not do anything,” Niamh tells me. “Productivity paralysis can set in. Either you’re overwhelmed with too much to do and not enough time or you’re underwhelmed with not enough to do and plenty of options. I help people have better workdays,” Niamh tells me.

“Yes, please,” I implore. “So, what do we need to do?”

1) Understand your number one priority

“Really knowing what your job is, is what it comes down to,” Niamh says. “The first thing in time management is to know who you are and what you have to do. Whether you manage time broadly or in 15-minute increments, I create a weekly outcome matrix. Put three outcomes at the top and the three things you need to do to get that result. This helps focus.”

2) Understand how much time you really spend on work

“Research shows we only spend about three hours a day in ‘deep work.’ The rest is meetings and checking e-mail. You can accomplish a lot in three hours,” advises Niamh. “Don’t hide in your laptop until you burn yourself out. Do work for three hours. But set your timer for 25 minutes, then go make a cup of coffee. We’re not robots, give your brain time to relax and have fun. Check your Facebook. Then go back for another 25 minutes. If you know what your job is and you have your three hours, you can still get your job done and put in your wash.”

3) Arrive at and depart from your “office”

For those of us still working from home, Niamh recommends the power of ritual to better define your workday. “Come into your office in the morning,” Niamh says, meaning literally go outside and enter through your front door. “At the end of the day, do something similar. Leave your ‘office’ and come back into your ‘home.’ Put a pillowcase over your computer so you don’t see ‘work’. You have to or work can seep in.”

Separating home from work these days is a challenge. But necessary. Maybe I’ll move my bed from my “studio” to the garage.

 

Write to Gina in care of [email protected]

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Advice for Graduates

Well, we’re nearly rounding month four of virtual world, my friends, and this past week my daughter marked one of life’s little milestones - virtually.  She and her other classmates celebrated their graduation from primary school on Thursday. On Zoom. Of course.

At this point, it’s become commonplace to conduct nearly everything in the virtual world.  Team meetings for colleagues, networking events for professionals, graduation ceremonies for students. Throughout these nearly four months, I’ve written extensively about the many adjustments business professionals and organisations are making to try to thrive in work, but I haven’t yet focused on the recent graduates.

Okay, not the sixth-graders out there. Kids, go put down your books (presuming you didn’t long ago), pick up your video game devices and enjoy summer. I’d simply urge you to go outside and play but if you’re like my daughter, that still involves video games. Curse you, portable Nintendo Switch.

Instead, I’m zeroing in today on the graduates from university. The ones, like my friend’s daughter in the US, who thought she had a job to look forward to, only to be told back in March at the start of Covid lockdowns, the offer was rescinded. Or the ones, like the UCC grad, who wrote to me on LinkedIn of how she is actively searching for jobs but receiving chilly receptions due to the cold realities of hiring freezes.

Even for the few jobs that are out there, the competition is fierce.  A friend of mine in the UK shared a screen shot with me this week of a Customer Service position being advertised.  At only £9 an hour, more than 800 people had applied for the role within moments of it being posted.

No matter what your age, if you’re feeling frozen out this summer, while I can’t offer you a job, I can offer you this advice.

1) Develop yourself

If you’re not actively working, perhaps you can actively expand your professional skills by taking an on-line course. At our home, for instance, we host a UCD economics master’s student visiting from India. Rather than return home during lockdown, Aishwarya (Aish) Patil chose to stay with us. Now that her course work has been completed – online, naturally – she has also chosen to enrol in University of  Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson’s five-hour, on-line lecture series, “Author Your Future,” designed to “help you understand your personality and what role you might want to have within your career.”

Earlier this month, I proudly launched my own online platform, “Language of Leadership,” which combines micro-videos with exercises that apply your knowledge to help you incrementally develop your abilities as an intentional communicator.

Each of these examples is affordable, which is an important consideration as you’re trying to expand yourself during this tightened economic time.

 

2) Network

There’s never been a better time to ask everyone, anyone, to connect. “We’re all in this together” as the lockdown saying goes, so leverage the inherent good will and reach out.  LinkedIn can be a gold mine, if you, like a miner, remain diligent and patient as you sift the sand for those glittering nuggets.

Target professionals in companies and areas of interest. Message them with thoughtful requests that demonstrate you’ve done your homework on them and their interests and make sure to also explain what makes you stand out.  Then, after someone connects with you, don’t go immediately in for the big request of an introduction or referral or, egads, some sort of job.  No. No.

If you want to ask someone for a virtual coffee for some “advice,” give it a go. But I suggest you tell them you’d only like 15 to 20 minutes and again, do your homework. Don’t just chat. Come prepared with a specific goal in mind and solid questions.

 

3) Be flexible

It may not be your dream job, but there are benefits to taking a part-time job that isn’t even close to your area of study.  Aish, who just agreed to tutor the three young children of a remote-working couple who live on our street, tells me plenty of her friends from her economics cohort are now working this way. “When you’re a student you’re protected by the system of college, but when you’re out in the job market you have to find a new way to be active,” Aish explains. “There are no more classes, no new homework submission. You need to get going and add structure to your day.”

She says some friends are at Amazon warehouses, sanitising and moving boxes.  Another friend is stocking at a Centra.  Remember, the fact that you landed any kind of job during this crazy time will not only give you a great story as you go on in your career, but it can also serve to demonstrate your flexibility and willingness to work to a future employer.

4) Pay attention to your mental and physical health

Along with the rest of us, the pressures associated with job search during a pandemic are intense. As much as possible, get regular exercise, keep a routine, eat healthy food and try to keep calm. Remain focused but also give yourself a break. This process will take time.

 

Write to Gina in care of [email protected]

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Reentering our recreated workplaces

Late last month, after successfully launching astronauts into orbit, Elon Musk, company founder of SpaceX which manufactured the spacecraft propelling the two men upward to dock with the International Space Station, admitted a concern.

“The part I worry most about,” Musk told a reporter, “would be reentry.”

The astronauts are not set to return until the end of July at the earliest. Which makes me wonder on behalf of many of you, my dear readers, “When are you planning to return to your offices and are you worried?”

For months now, orbiting around new, unfamiliar work environments, we’ve been in similar situations, haven’t we? We’ve been at risk of floating aimlessly, so we needed to craft new ways of engaging, communicating, interviewing, motivating and, yes, parenting.  To keep us tethered. Grounded. Together.

Now that we are readying ourselves for reentry, what are we considering? How are we preparing? What are we feeling? From an employee perspective, our emotional coronacoaster likely careens from exhilaration at the thought of seeing colleagues again to anxiety around a virus that is still not contained. For a management point of view, it’s an interesting mixture of a desire to regain control combined with an understanding for flexibility.

1) Considering everything and everyone = more flexibility

“We have a once in a generational opportunity to design our new normal,” Amanda Zahringer told me as we recently Zoomed. As head of learning and development for one of Ireland’s largest law firms, ByrneWallace, she said she’s not surprised employees are responding to reentry in different ways.

“Some are really ready to move back into the office because they crave the social interaction or perhaps their workspace is more conducive for their work – like an animator who prefers a darkened studio with three screens,” Amanda explained. “Others are highly concerned, uncertain and not ready and that can be for any number of reasons: health, nerves, a parental responsibility or they may have discovered they thrive better from home.  We are reaching out to employees to find their preferences and align them with our legal requirements. We’ve expanded our mentoring and coaching programmes to a wider group of people because it moves them from being overwhelmed to overcoming. Communication is critical.”

In organisations with a combined workforce of essential employees and home workers, sensitivity to emotions is also important.  Liza O’Brien, HR Director of multi-national pharmaceutical company Ipsen, reminded me that their manufacturing facilities never closed. “We produce medicine in the supply chain and many of our employees got a great sense of pride from going to work every day knowing they were helping people.”

Managers will want to also help provide a sense of reassurance that the same level of safety precautions applied for manufacturing teams will be put in place in the office. Floor plans, desk configurations and other logistics need sorted.  “Because of social distancing, we won’t have the capacity to bring everyone else back in immediately,” Liza said. “Fortunately, flexibility is working and mental health remains a top priority.  We’re not monitoring hours. We’re seeing that working from home works. People are being trusted to do their workload. Now as we prepare to invite some team members back, we’re encouraging everyone to come forward and share. From every disaster there is opportunity.”

With a team of 150, Cubic Telecom’s Chief People Officer Gillian French echoed Liza and Amanda’s call for surveying every employee. “There’s a minute amount of details,” Gillian began, “We have a comprehensive plan with 75 steps to take before we get back into the office.  We are personally checking on everyone’s individual circumstances.”

 

2) People-first leadership approach = accelerated innovation and change

While companies juggle complexities of personal preferences, government policies and social safety protection, the result is a rapidly evolving post-pandemic workplace.

Avinash Nair, Learning Head for Lenovo’s Asia Pacific divisions who spoke to me from India last week, credits their leaders for setting cultures that encourage accelerated change. “It’s significantly different when you have managers who put people first, who are committed to making their lives better and keeping them engaged. Developing people to help them gain knowledge, build skills and modify behaviours is a part of Lenovo’s culture and that foundation accelerates change and improves margins. We did not lay anyone off during shutdowns, and in most regions, we are still paying bonuses.”

Next Tuesday, I will facilitate a virtual “Idea-fest” hosted by a large multi-national. Among the questions the six teams will be asked to tackle will be the return-to-work challenge. Each team will have two rounds of twenty-minutes each to suggest preliminary solutions.  We’re intentionally condensing the exploration times to put accelerated innovation to the test.

3) Embracing flexibility and people-led innovation = Galvanisation of new models

Adapting a more people-first approach is what many companies long talked about but now exponentially more of them are putting words into real action. As Amanda pointed out, “We can’t go back. We are different people now.  When in our lifetimes have we had such time to reflect in such a way? People and mental health have been on the agenda for 15-20 years, and now we can all put it at the top where they have belonged.”

One step into the office for man, one giant leap into a new way of working for mankind.

Write to Gina in care of [email protected]

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Thank you for your patronage, and your patience

“Attention, Kmart shoppers,”

was ubiquitous from my childhood.  The loud-speaker announcement is familiar to any American grown-up of a certain vintage – simultaneously heralding another opportunity for customers and the impressive dominance of the chain which was the nation’s 2nd largest retailer during the 1980s.

 

From more than 2,500 stores across 50 states in its heyday, to just 34 stores operating today – which remained open despite pandemic shutdown as “essential businesses” due to pharmacies and grocery offerings inside – the once powerful department store is on its knees.  Covid19 didn’t cripple it.  Kmart has been struggling for years to adapt to shoppers’ changing expectations, industry developments and technological advancements.

 

And in just one week from now, here in Ireland, many retailers will be allowed to re-open their long-closed doors.  David Fitzsimons, the Group Chief Executive of industry group Retail Excellence, is looking forward to the impact with mixed emotions.

 

“It’s heartwarming that on the 8th of June, we’ll see the largest jolt in the economy as 18,000 small stores will re-open across the country. But obviously, the largest stories and the shopping centres will look on with envy,” David points out explaining that Ireland’s Phase 2 reopening only provides for: “small retail outlets to reopen with a small number of staff on the basis that the retailer can control the number of individuals that staff and customers interact with at any one time.”

 

This distinction is frustrating to Retail Excellence. “The phasing is contrary to public health service advice,” David maintains.  “If, for instance, Zara can open its smaller high street store in Dublin, but not its larger store in Cork and you see it open in Dublin, you might jump in your car and drive all the way from Cork to Dublin. The smaller stores will have massive queues. If they’re bigger, they can social distance easier. Let all the big stores open all their stores at the same time.”

 

Regardless of which shops open or when, as with the adaptations we are already experiencing with chemists and grocery stores, retailers must make a range of adjustments and find effective ways to communicate them.

 

1) Communicate gratitude

“We need to have clear messages welcoming people back,” David says as he outlines the number one message on behalf of retailers.  The Harvard Medical School publication, Heartbeat, reminds us that gratitude helps us to connect to something beyond ourselves, improves our health and strengthens relationships, so clearly expressing gratitude tops today’s list for any employer or employee, regardless of whether you’re in retail or not.

 

As a shopper, being grateful for the reopening of some shops to provide some in-person retail therapy also means being respectful and kind toward fellow-shoppers.  This past week, a startling video went viral of shoppers berating a woman in a New York store for not wearing a face mask. We can continue to wear masks, of course, and David also reminds us to browse quickly once inside the newly opened shops to reduce the time people spend waiting outside.

 

2) Educate and encourage your teams

Next up for retailers, according to David, is the need to make sure employees understand and contribute to the modified experiences. “We need to reassure colleagues the same way we reassure customers. From parking lots to canteens to the spaces behind the counter, there will be new ways of working,” David describes.

 

While we may already be reluctantly but understandably adjusted to social distancing and queuing, get ready for formerly tactile experiences like trying on jewellery, sunglasses, clothing and makeup to all be different in the new abnormal.

 

“If Gina comes out of a dressing room and doesn’t buy three of the four outfits she tried on, we’ll set them on a rail and steam clean them and put them back on the floor for tomorrow,” outlines David.  Jewellery and sunglasses can be placed on trays, sprayed and sterilized. Makeup demonstrations will be over for the moment. Thank you for your patronage.  And your patience.

 

3) Lean into your people and culture

Ronn Cort, President and COO of Sekisui Kydex, says, “For every crisis, there’s an opportunity.”  Before Covid, the performance plastics company made products like interlayer films for glass and double-face tape. Now they make parts for ventilators.

“We reached out to our own network, our people. They might disappoint you, but they also might surprise and delight you,” Ronn recommends.  “Sometimes people have a hard time changing quickly, but especially during times of crisis and reinvention, don’t go it alone. Explore how you can become more collaborative using technology.”

Great ideas can come from any place in an organisation. As Ronn reminds us, “Managers are not the only leaders. Leaders come from anywhere. What is knitting you together during this time?  Help your employees grow and become problem solvers and remember that good questions are often better than good answers.”

Undoubtedly, this a challenging time with fundamental changes in store. The challenge and lesson for stores and the rest of us is to learn from Sekisui’s success and Kmart’s cautionary tale - to embrace the new and find ways to put the fun in fundamental change.

 

Write to Gina in care of [email protected]

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon

 


How to Focus on Your Post-Pandemic Growth

One of the top movies this past week on Netflix is Becoming, the documentary following Michelle Obama’s book tour.  Her unabashed quote describing her roots and origin sets the scene for today’s column: “I’m from the South Side of Chicago, that tells you as much about me as you need to know.”

Where did you start?

Unlike the former US First Lady’s reference, I am not asking where you were born or from what side of the tracks you grew up.  Instead, I’m asking you to think back to that not so long time ago before Covid19 shutdown began.  Where were you then? What kind of work did you do? Who were you?

I ask because now that we are rounding the first week of Ireland’s Phase 1 of the Roadmap to Reopening, it’s a good time to reflect. Who you are…becoming?

Dr Mark Rowe, a medical doctor, author and vitality expert, has spoken across the globe on the importance of adopting a holistic approach to wellness. We met a few years ago when we both spoke at the same conference and last week it was wonderful to reconnect as we spoke together once again through Whatsapp.

  1. Take stock and take control

Mark says it is high time to take control of ourselves.

“Whenever we get a vaccine,” he explained to me, “whether it be one year or three years or whatever, we will have gone through a grand disruption and hopefully we will have grown. I call it ‘post-pandemic growth.’ It might mean you will have developed a new sense of meaning, a new sense of purpose or become more resilient.”

  1. Commit to turning your corner

While we might be able to go to a few more shops now and see three friends in-person in a socially-distanced, out-of-doors meet-up, we’re largely still confined with our families. So, what if you are someone who has had it up to your facemask with words like “resilience” and “compassion”?  I ask, because I freely confess that although I write this column and preach the gospel of positivity, there are moments I struggle with this feeling and I take comfort I’m not alone in this.

For instance, the same day last week when I spoke with Mark, I also held a remote coaching session with one of my executive clients. The multi-national tech company he works for had just announced it was “letting” employees continue to work from home for the rest of the year.  (The news report I had already read about the announcement made it sound like a privilege – and to still have secure job and paycheck through all this certainly is.) But for my client, who can’t go back to his office for months and whose wife is also a remote worker and who shares his home with their four-year-old son, it felt like an extension of a prison sentence. He was struggling too.

I shared this with the good doctor who sympathized. “Many of us are not working from home,” Mark pointed out. “We’re ‘parenting from work.’”

“This is difficult,” Mark said. “We are not hardwired for compassion and resilience. We are hardwired for fear and anxiety and survival and there’s no doubt that people have lost a huge amount. They are feeling isolated from co-workers, or have lost jobs, love ones, financial security and human connections.  The stress is having a detrimental impact on their thinking. The brain only takes two pc of the body’s size but 25pc of the body’s energy. So, when you’re living in stress, the brain is depleting your energy, draining your willpower and your impulse control.  Therefore, you have more desires to soothe. You might eat or drink more and even engage in risky behaviour or negative thoughts.”

But instead of wallowing in the ‘what have I lost or what am I losing’ place, Mark reminds us to continue walking into acceptance. To actively turn the corner and move forward.

“Emotion needs motion. The typical response to stress is to suppress it, resist it or deny it. But it needs to flow through you. Take positive little steps to change your mind and body,” Mark advises.

  1. Remember how ‘contagious’ emotion is

Amidst the barrage of concern about catching Covid19, Doctor Mark reminds us that positive (and negative) emotions are contagious too.

“From the time we are small children, we pick up on the messages we get from other human beings.  We don’t just see them and observe them, we act upon their behaviours or words and we pass that on to others who also act out. It’s quite contagious.”

She was the “Southside of Chicago” girl who studies at Harvard, practiced at a top law firm and married the 44th president of the United States.  Becoming teaches us we can develop ourselves from wherever we start. Reinforcing that, Doctor Mark offers this positive prescription as we continue navigating this unfolding disruption: “Accept what you can’t change, be grateful for the present moment and stay hopeful for the future.”

There’s nothing like a little wisdom that comes from life’s experiences.

 

Write to Gina in care of [email protected]

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon