Tag Archives: culture

Arianna Huffington: No More Brilliant Jerks In the Workplace

#ISM2018 keynote Arianna Huffington is on a mission to end the collective delusion that burnout is the price we pay for success.

In 2007, Arianna Huffington collapsed in her office. “I hit my head on my desk, broke my cheekbone, and came to in a pool of blood. I asked myself the question: is this what success looks like?”

By any of the usual metrics, Huffington is an undeniably successful businesswoman and a role model for many. The Greek-American author and syndicated columnist has written 15 books and is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, later acquired by AOL for US$315 million. She is a regular inclusion in lists such as Forbes’ Most Influential Women in Media, The Guardian’s Top 100 in Media, and Forbes’ Most Powerful Women in the World.

But, as Huffington tells the audience at #ISM2018, having money and power as your only metrics of success is like trying to sit on a two-legged stool. A third leg is required if you’re going to attain balance – and that’s where the concept of “Thrive” comes in.

The size of the prize

We’re currently operating in the midst of a global epidemic of burnout and stress. “What’s sad is that it’s completely unnecessary,” says Huffington. “When we take care of ourselves, we’re more effective in what we’re doing.”

Issues which used to be the province of health magazines are now entering the mainstream. Businesses are increasingly recognising that performance improves when employees take care of themselves. The three pillars of self-care are nutrition, movement and – Huffington’s favourite topic – sleep.

Sleep is the best performance-enhancing drug

Ever heard the phrase “we can sleep when we’re dead”? That kind of attitude, according to Huffington, only brings forward the time when we’ll actually be dead. Sleep affects your well-being, your cognitive performance, and subsequently your company’s bottom line. Not long ago it was common to see business leaders competing in terms of who can operate on the least amount of sleep. U.S. President Donald Trump, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi and television personality Martha Stewart all reportedly operate on 4 hours of sleep or less.

Huffington knows that when she’s exhausted, she is “the least good version of herself”. Lack of sleep translates into lower creativity, a lack of empathy, more reactive behaviour, a greater likelihood that she’ll take things personally and miss red flags. Similarly, former President Bill Clinton famously said that every one of his major mistakes was made when he was tired.

Here’s the good news. High-profile CEOs are “coming out” as champions of a good nights’ sleep, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Bezos wrote a piece about why getting eight hours of sleep is a top priority not only for him personally, but for Amazon’s shareholders, as a well-rested CEO is much more likely to make good-quality decisions.

Fix your culture to reduce attrition

“Taking care of your employees is no longer just a ‘nice’ benefit,” says Huffington. “It directly affects the business metrics.” Burnt out employees are highly likely to change jobs, with their companies bearing the brunt of attrition costs. Lower engagement, reduced productivity and higher healthcare costs are the other risks faced by companies that run on burnout.

When we prioritise a healthy culture, says Huffington, we’re much more able to deal with problems as they emerge, and respond to crises quickly. “A thriving culture means that everybody knows you cannot sacrifice empathy and caring on the altar of hyper-growth”, she says.

Huffington uses Uber as an example, where from her position on the Board she has seen first-hand the negative effects of a hyper-growth culture that is fuelled by burnout. “The idea that everything will be forgiven if you’re a top performer is no longer sustainable. I promised Uber that going forward, no more ‘brilliant jerks’ will be allowed in the organisation. The truth is that no matter how brilliant you are, if you’re not there to support colleagues, be empathetic, and be humane, in the long term you’ll have a deleterious impact on the business.”

Why do people become jerks? “When employees are burnt out,” says Huffington, “they act out.”

Thrive

In the age of machine-learning, artificial intelligence and continuous disruption, it’s more important than ever to protect and project our uniquely human qualities – namely, empathy and creativity. Huffington singles out these two qualities as they cannot be replaced by AI. She notes that although we regularly celebrate advances in the field of augmented reality, we need to prioritise and cultivate “augmented humanity”.

Alibaba Founder Jack Ma spoke in Davos recently where he introduced the concept of LQ (Loving Quotient), or how people treat one another. In business this will become increasingly important as maturity develops beyond IQ, through EQ, and finally to LQ.

Put the smartphone down

“The next stage of technological disruption will involve technology that will help you disconnect from technology,” says Huffington. She speaks persuasively about the negative effect devices have on people’s wellbeing, and the importance of taking the phone out of the bedroom to ensure a proper night’s sleep. “Your phone is the repository of every problem that you’re dealing with,” she says. It certainly shouldn’t be the last thing you see before sleeping, or the first thing you see when you wake in the morning.

“Learning to manage relationships with our phones is key, but putting boundaries on technology doesn’t mean we don’t love technology. At present our culture values people who are always on, always texting back,” she says. “Where we put our attention determines our lives.”

Huffington leaves the audience at ISM2018 with the image of the three-legged stool. The third leg – the Thrive leg, is built from a sense of well-being, connectivity with your own wisdom, giving back, and feeling a sense of wonder about life, she says. “So often, we don’t even look up.”


Are you at ISM2018? Visit Procurious in the Exhibitor Hall – Booth #207!

Don’t miss out on Procurious Founder Tania Seary’s inspirational & informative ISM2018 Session titled “From The Amazon to The Moon: The Possibilities for Procurement” on Tuesday 8th May, 3.45-4.45.

Different Country, Same Procurement Culture?

Heading off to begin a new procurement chapter abroad? Make sure you’re preparedto accommodate, and adapt to, a new culture.

Have you ever wondered what courage it would  take to pack your bags and set off across the globe in order to start an entirely new chapter?

Juggling a new home, new job and a new life isn’t a challenge for the faint-hearted but it’s one you’re unlikely to regret and something that ISM board member, Kim Brown, knows all about!

Throughout her impressive procurement career, Kim has enjoyed roles at Reynolds and Reynolds Company, General Electric, Toys R Us and, most recently, at Dell, Inc as Vice President, Global Materials.

Kim’s lengthy career has taken her around the world so it’s unsurprising that she’s honed and developed her cultural intelligence (CQ) over the years. When we interviewed Kim, we were interested to hear about her global experiences, both what she’s learnt and how she’s adapted to different circumstances, and gain some advice on what it takes to hold a position on a board as noteworthy as ISM.

Procurement around the world

“I’ve lived in quite a few places, four or five US states and two countries,” explains Kim. ” I also did a stint as an ex-pat in Mexico city for a year and spent on year in Singapore.”

Was she able to observe distinct differences in working cultures  during her time abroad? “Very much so, particularly at the beginning of my time in Mexico, which has a very, verY different culture. I was working for General Electric at the time and accustomed to the direct and process-driven culture in the US. In Mexico, the conversations with suppliers, local people and colleagues were very family-based. They wanted to know about me, and understand what my family life was like before doing business with me.”

In Singapore, Kim faced the challenge of managing a widely dispersed and culturally diverse team. “I had team members in 26 or 27 different countries, all of which had cultural nuances.”

Pulling together a strategy for a large team is challenging at the best of times but it becomes even more so when you must be cognisant of how different cultures are motivated by different things. “Something that someone in the US would regard as a very small factor might mean a lot to someone in India, for example.

“Singapore itself was a very different culture.  It seemed at times cautious and a little shyer than in some other parts of the world. I’m the kind of person who says hello to a lot of people, and in Singapore they would look at the floor in response! However, once you get to know them and they get to know you I found the community to be friendly and outgoing.”

This, in a way, is the motto of Kim’s story. Working across cultures and borders requires patience, tolerance, compromise and understanding from both sides.

“As long as you go about making a change in the right way, it will work. When I first started in a global role I tried to supplement it with videoconferencing. I quickly found I was questioned “When are you coming, when will we see you?”  And there is no substitute for that. Employees are often very excited by and enthusiastic about a visit from the regional office – I’d arrive in Malaysia, for example, and find that the room was packed with people who wanted to see me, listen and ask lots of questions.”

What a board wants

If anyone knows the answer to the question “what does a board want?” it’s Kim Brown. As well as being treasurer for ISM, she’s held positions on two additional NFP boards, one of which had 70 board members. “When I went on [the board with 70 people], I wanted to be really involved, to be on the executive committee and be a decision maker, not just a voter. These roles are extracurricular but if you’re going to do it, do it!

“At ISM, we have very robust conversations, which is fun! I learn a lot and have the opportunity to interact with a whole bunch of new network contacts. I try to look positively upon any experience where I can learn something new.”

Kim’s top tips for procurement when presenting to the board:

  • Keep your strategy clear and concise and ensure you know how to sell it!
  • You need goals and objectives; lay out the salient points and present them in a way that makes sense
  • Get your act together! When you’re presenting, make sure it’s in an understandable manner.
  • Do your homework and always  look at alternatives and contingencies.
  • Use your  junior team members! I really like it when CEOs do this. It gives your team an opportunity to showcase the work they’re capable of doing, and allows us, as the board, to show your team that we’ve got confidence in them!

Smashing through the bamboo ceiling

You’ve heard of the glass ceiling – the male privilege which has historically prevented women from rising to the top of their organisations. Less well-known, however, is the concept of the “bamboo ceiling”.

It refers to the processes and barriers that serve to exclude Asians or people of Asian descent from executive positions in Western-run organisations. The term was coined by Jane Hyun in her book focusing on Asians in American workplaces, Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians.

We’ve recently witnessed a cultural shift in our most progressive organisations wherein gender equality in the workplace is now firmly on the agenda. There are a host of agencies such as Catalyst and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency that are working to address the imbalance, although there is a long way to go.

The difference between the glass and bamboo ceilings, however, lies in the fact that while a company may admit to historic gender bias and pro-actively work to address the problem, racial bias remains in the shadows. Cultural diversity quotas and programs do exist, but the statistics at the executive level are particularly damning. In the US, for example, Asian-Americans hold only 1% of board seats. Australia shares this problem: a recent report by Diversity Council Australia revealed that while 9.3% of the Australian labour force is Asian-born, only 4.9% make it to the senior executive level. Similarly, only 1.9% of ASX 200 senior executives are Asian born, despite 84% of surveyed Asian talent saying they plan to advance to very senior roles. There’s a huge disconnect here – if you are Asian in Australia, chances are very slim that you will make it to the top, no matter how ambitious you are.

The consequences are alarming. 30% of Asian talent have said they were likely, or very likely, to leave their organisation within the next year. For one in four, negative cultural diversity factors significantly influenced their decision.

Tony Megally, General Manager of specialist procurement recruitment and search firm The Source, says that while Australian organisations are hiring more Asian-born talent than ever before, there are still significant cultural barriers to overcome.

“We’re seeing a trend where talented Asian professionals feel they have to change, or Westernise, their names in order to make sure their resumes aren’t passed over”, Megally says. “This shows that there’s still significant cultural bias in Australian organisations, although no recruiter would be willing to admit they passed over a candidate due to a hard-to-pronounce name.”

Bias holding back Asians in business – even in Asia
Even more alarming is the existence of the bamboo ceiling in Asia itself. According to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal, locals rise only so far at Western firms, with multinationals still relying on ex-pats to fill top jobs decades after expanding into the region. Tellingly, 40% more Westerners are placed in CEO-type roles in the region compared with other roles.

Dr Tom Verghese, author and founder of Cultural Synergies, says there’s a real lack of Asian leaders in the top echelons of business. “I’ve been working on developing Asian leaders in the market for 12 years”, says Verghese, “but multinationals do have some understandable reasons for using expatriates in Asia. All global companies inevitably have their organisational culture rooted to their country of origin. There is something in having a person familiar with your language and culture as that link with head office. A very human tendency that we need to be conscious of is our sense of comfort – or bias – that ‘same is safe, and different is dangerous’. Companies want one of their own ‘guarding the store’, and there can be advantages to having an outsider in the top job because they can make changes that an insider would hesitate to make.”

Bad for business
Having less diversity at the top can be bad for business. Companies need to reign in their use of ex-pats, in part because they are expensive hires, and having white-majority executives means a lack of understanding of consumer needs, trends, purchasing power and brand positioning. In short, organisations are excluding the very people who know Asia best.

Multinational organisations in Asia need to focus on the following ways to shatter the bamboo ceiling:

  • phasing out the reliance on expatriates for top roles
  • actively developing and grooming local talent for leadership positions
  • training local talent to fill perceived capability gaps rather than looking elsewhere
  • seeking out talent that knows the local market and understands cultural hierarchies
  • setting quotas for local representation in executive teams
  • understanding the difference in what a good leader looks like across different cultures.

“Multinationals need to embrace cultural intelligence and develop a much broader context around what global leadership looks like”, says Verghese. “A facilitative leadership style may be effective in Australia, for example, but a directive style works better in Asia”.

The Faculty Asia Roundtable hosts quarterly meetings in Singapore, where CPOs from the region’s leading organisation meet to share learnings and best-practice. Please contact [email protected] for more information.