The employee of the future – think big…start small!


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Image credit: Brandlove Customer Experience (Pty) Ltd.

As an introduction at all of our workshops, we ask delegates to tell us their name and how they feel in that specific moment in time. We get many different reactions. We regularly see nervous giggles, confusion and irritation. To show emotion and speak about it, especially in business, is prohibited. Emotions are like ‘Valdimor’ – the one not to be named. People seem disconnected from themselves and others as it seems to be easier that way.

In today’s world, we’ve created working environments that is process driven, streamlining products and services to create profitable business models. Some of these environments unfortunately demand that employees are expected to come to work, do a job and leave their emotions at home. It is frowned upon if someone dares cry or show emotion in any form – anger is almost better accepted than sadness!

Boardroom bullying is something we witness daily. I’ve picked up and heard many stories where individuals, usually an authority over a victim, use intimidation to get what they want, refuse to listen to opposing views and dominate in the boardroom. They often operate within the rules and policies of their organisations, so it is tough to deal with these situations. The problem with it is that if it is not addressed, staff morale goes down, trust is low, fear is high and it sets the tone and becomes the culture of a company.

Most employees came through an education system that is geared to create functional adults that comply perfectly in business environments. In my school, which was very Afrikaans, strict and traditional, we were taught to follow instruction, keep quiet, never question an adult and to really just listen and do – never challenging concepts or thinking. The focus was on IQ rather than EQ and unfortunately, I think in most schools, this may still be the case.

With the return of kids to school and parents going back to work and life in general returning to normal, this got me thinking that the kids of today are in fact employees, and customers, of the future in training. Rather than wait until we have amazingly clever adults to ‘re-train’, I was wondering what our world would look like if we could teach kids some basic life skills other than just general good manners, reading, writing and the sciences – before adulthood. If we could focus on the employee and customer of the future now already we can teach them to be better human beings. It makes sense to me that we consider starting at the source…to start small, with big results.

Here is my mandatory addition to the current school curriculum: This applies to both kids and adults…

1. Reading

Let’s not only teach the ABC of reading, but also the ABC of reading people better.

When we listen to others, we tend to do so in a discussion-oriented way, thinking about “what will I say next”, rather than listening to the other with full presence and attention.

Research studies indicates that if you really listen to someone without judgement or interruption the quality of their thinking increases. It makes sense, as they have time to really think things through and can get to their own answers or solutions.

Confession time – I am sometimes so stressed in certain situations or really want to sound clever that I catch myself missing a whole piece of a conversation, because I was focusing on my response rather than being fully present. Has this ever happened to you?

Nancy Kline’s 10 Thinking Environment principles may be helpful steps to follow:

1. Attention – listen with respect, interest without interrupting

2. Equality – treat each other as thinking peers

3. Ease – be fully present without internal rush or urgency

4. Appreciation – offer genuine acknowledgement of a person’s qualities

5. Encouragement – give the gift of courage

6. Feelings – make space for any feelings that comes up

7. Information – supply all the facts

8. Diversity – welcome differences

9. Incisive questions – remove assumptions that limit your ability to think clearly

10. Place – create a physical environment that is conducive to conversation

The hardest part of active listening is to be quiet and have quiet pauses in conversation – we feel uncomfortable with it, but the power of silence is what gives the person speaking, time to actually think deeper and find new answers. It is hard, but if you really focus on the way you listen and practise it daily, it will become easier. It is in your power to gift someone with space to think.

2. Maths 1+1=3

The math of life does not always add up.

Let’s teach our kids that the counting of individual needs and expectations, emotions and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and others is not an easy task.

We all see people’s faces, but we struggle to ‘see’ each other’s hearts.
Teach kids to start telling people what they need – not just working on assumptions we make about people and situations. Or teach them to tell the stories they tell themselves about themselves when things happen. I’ve started to teach my kids this method. I remind them, many times over, to be specific about what they need.

A discussion with my eldest son would sound something like this: “Tell your brother what you want him to stop doing, don’t just say stop. Stop. Stop. STOP! And then there is a fight. Your brother may not know what he should stop. Tell him that his foot tapping the chair is distracting and irritating and ask him to please stop tapping his foot”. It may sound really simple, but it is effective as little brother does not always know what he should stop doing.

Another example is when I ask my kids to do something and have to ask 5 times, I usually explode – I am only human after all! So now, when I do get upset I talk to them (after I calmed down) and tell them that when I have to ask them to pack away something 5 times I get mad, because the story I tell myself about myself in my head is that I have failed as a mom to teach them something basic – “I am a terrible mom”! Then I tell them what I need from them in future, so my expectations are clear – there are no assumptions to be made. The math adds up. They know, that when Mom asks me to pack away my toys once, I do it before she has to ask me twice otherwise there are consequences that we agreed on together. We are all happy. 1+1=2.

To avoid sticky situations:

1. Be clear on your needs and expectations

2. Find out what the needs and expectations of the other party is

3. Communicate clearly

4. Don’t make limiting assumptions

Being clear on expectations avoids making limiting assumptions. The math of life is much less complicated than SinCosTan. Although it is simple, it is hard. Keep on going. Try, fail and try again. You will find the algorithm that works for you in the end.

3. Science

Unlike science that is very structured with many rules and regulations, tables and columns – people are really messy.

Our brains, and hearts, are an extremely complicated science. But, we can teach our kids that we can train our brains to form new pathways. In fact, it has been scientifically proven that if you practise gratitude regularly, the part in your brain that is active when you are happy physically grows! Like a bicep that you curl at the gym. When you have 20 minutes spare, check out this amazing TEDtalk on happiness that will blow you away.

Happiness is a choice. But, with it comes the responsibility of taking accountability and ownership over your actions and life. You will be influenced by others and the choices they make, but you do have power over how you react to what happens to you in life. In science experiments, there usually is a base element, and when a catalyst is added to it there is some sort of a reaction. Life is similar – the only difference is that in science there is only one outcome. In life, you choose the outcome of your reaction to situations – whether negative or positive.

For example, I have a choice to get upset and curse at someone that drove like a maniac in front of me in traffic and stay upset for the rest of the day making everyone I encounter during the day’s life miserable. Or I can be upset for a moment and choose not to allow it to upset me and ruin my whole day.

Try the following challenge for the next 21 days

1. Wake up a bit earlier and write down 3 things that you are grateful for

2. Share your knowledge, skills or time with someone you know without expecting something in return

3. Give 5 minutes of your time to help a stranger

4. Reward yourself with some ‘me time’

5. Ask for what you need

6. Take 5 minutes to focus on your breathing. Breath in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 4 counts and exhale for 4 counts. Repeat this exercise 3 times.

7. Declutter – get rid of the things that do not serve you or brings you joy

8. Never stop learning – read a book, watch a Youtube video or talk to people you admire

9. Have fun and remember to laugh!

By changing your daily habits, you choose happiness

4. Humanness

We are all human.

We all have stories. We all have internal narratives. I learned with a shock that the way I speak to my kids will someday become their internal narrative and that is both scary and a huge responsibility. But, also a great opportunity…

Let’s teach our kids some life skills to cope better. Let’s not wait until they are adults working day in and day out in hostile environments where people are treated and treat others like robots. Let’s equip them now already to cope with life and the messiness that comes with it. But most important of all – let’s show and teach kindness and gratitude making the world a much better place for all of us. I would like to leave my kids with a legacy of love and kindness – nothing more and nothing less.

My challenge to you as leaders, craftsmen and parents is this:

· Read people intentionally

· Listen to people deeply

· Ask kind questions that will make people think

· Help people to become the best version of themselves

· Look at the intention of your words and actions – are you building or breaking

· Ask yourself – is my words true, necessary and kind?

· Be aware of limiting assumptions you may be making

The employee of the future is growing up fast. Let’s start small to make a big difference!

Mareli Smit
An Experience Architect and Prophet for Purpose, Mareli builds substance and significance into human-to-human, brand-to-customer, and brand-to-employee relationships. Skilled in marketing, corporate communications, coaching, facilitation and dry humour, Mareli is experienced in designing meaningful customer and employee journeys that inspire, unite and align both brands and people. With knowledge on both consumer neuroscience and the fundamentals of organization and relationships systems coaching, she helps brands arm themselves with unique tools to transform their internal culture.


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