Why focussing on your people will bring your business from good to great

„A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected“, is commonly quoted. In business, this principle of human behavior can bring companies, projects and teams from good to great. And as business leaders thirst for greatness, they are looking for techniques of how to trigger the apprecition-button of employees in order to get the result.

But human beings only feel appreciated when they sense it is about them as an individual. We have quite precise antennas to determine whether someone likes us as an individual or only the contribution we can bring to the P&L.

Therefore, it is true that people who feel appreciated will contribute above expectation level. But this principle cannot be turned into: I use appreciation so that I get more contribution for my project. This is called manipulation.

True appreciation requires real feelings, interaction and interest towards the people you are leading. This appreciation is not tied to an expected outcome. As a leader, this can be hard sometimes as you are investing in people and in the relationship with them without seeing immediate ‚results‘.

Results of a leadership style that incorporates real appreciation play out in the longterm, e.g. positive reputation of you as a leader among the team (hence, free in-flow of applications without long hours at recruiting events), laughter and good mood in team meetings (which has carry-over effects in client meetings that become much easier), extra-miles without complaints (that secures the next deadline without you having to work all weekend)

Even clients will realize when your team truly likes you and when collaboration is based on trust, appreciation and – when grown for a long time – friendship. This is the game changer. These moments will catapult you from ‚some consulting company‘ to ‚preferred partner‘ – as the client likes to have motivated people around who bring in a good atmosphere.

Appreciation is a root cause for those moments. But only when you invest in your people without aiming at the financial goals, you will get the results that make all the difference – even financially. It‘s a paradoxon. Think about it for a while and you will see, it is true.

How to start a consulting career in time of crisis

As the the labor market continues to stay put, the next generation of young professionals is entering the workforce looking for their first opportunity to start their careers. Instead of choosing the best offer among many, hundreds of applications are sent without getting the aspired position. In addition, this time cannot be bridged with the next travel experience or gap year abroad as most borders are closed or at least harder to cross. What a fuck!

While this is extremely frustrating, there are still options that can be done in order to increase the attractiveness of one’s profile for the consulting market. Here are some thoughts from the other side of the fence which skill sets are being searched for.

Know your MS Office toolset by heart

While this sounds extremely obvious, most young professionals stated after their first project that they had thought to know the toolsets well … and were surprised of how much more there is to learn. (And while they had rated themselves an 8 of 10, they were probably a 2 of 10.) In general, it is quite dangerous to assume that you already know everything as it leads to a place where you don’t ask questions, you don’t get better and – at worst – your project leads won’t want to work with you anymore. Therefore, make use of your gap months to dive into free online tutorials and train your skillset.

Enhance your profile by relevant tools and certificates in your aspired working area

Agile project delivery is key in the market. Get acquainted with the corresponding learning journeys, certificates and tools. A lot of information is available for free and when you can drop a few highlights in your CV and know the key facts during your interview, you are much more relevant in the workplace.

Or if process optimization seems to be of interest: find out more about methodologies and frameworks that are available at the market and that are regularly used in those type of projects.

Same is true for project management in general. The market is full of relevant material – and as you have studied in university, it is worthwhile to buy a book on project management and learn the basics.

Good presentation and moderation skills will always help you

Independent from the topic, people rather like to listen to a good presentation – just think of your bright professor who couldn’t deliver the message well. Learn how to speak your mind and to present content intriguing. This skill is essential in consulting and you will need it right from the start in your job interview. Find yourself places where you can present and moderate – maybe in university, in your student job or at the family party. Train this skill and your whole career will have a positive impact by this strength.

Stay in contact with your colleagues of your intern positions

Connect with people on business social media, drop them a line every once in a while and stay connected. Maybe you don’t even want the job they have to offer now, but you don’t know when they are changing positions and their help might come in handy. These people are also the ones that might know when their company is hiring again – and then, a good timing is essential. While your CV gets turned down in one week, the next week they might invite you as the company politics has changed. You hit these moments either by chance or by network.

Take care of your mindset and self-talk

If you belong to the people who graduate now, the past 10 years you have heard and learned that the labor market is increasing, that you can choose from any job you want and that even a very expensive university will pay off quickly. Somehow those promises did not come true. And in a way that can feel very unfair. These are moments when it is crucial that you keep track of your mindset and self-talk.

The emotions in those times have the power to bring in such a negative narrative in your life that it influences you for years. It might even get harder to walk into job interviews with positive expectations. Therefore, use these times of uncertainty as a training for your character and decide on purpose how you want to feel about it. The skills you learn through this training will be needed when you want to do a career.

How to be hated by your team easily

Delegation is key to any management role. Wrongly used, it can break trust and kill the fun at work quickly. Find out how delegation can work in your favour.

“I am looking forward to my promotion as I will be a mentor by then and I can delegate all the tasks I hate to the people assigned to me”, my conversation partner announces proudly. My faces freezes as I am thinking of all the young professionals who will get ‘the tasks he hates’. I am wondering how he has been treated in his first professional years that he actually believes that he should fill his leadership role like that.

A colleague comes to my mind who once said about his boss: “Well, now he just delegated the shit he doesn’t like to me and leaves.” In that situation, I knew the task and the boss – and I came to a total different conclusion. It was a normal delegation of a task appropriate in size and timeline towards the grade delegated to. Nonetheless, the personal story of that colleague was that he got ‘the shit’ and in turn, he was convinced that delegating the unwanted tasks down the line is part of the freedom a higher hierarchical position inherits.

But how to delegate appropriately?

For sure, delegation is a key part in business and as people develop in their leadership role, delegation is a very essential part. This is not only true for the one delegating but also for the one receiving work. As a rookie, you need leaders who assign tasks to you in order for you to grown. Let’s have a look at some hypothesis regarding good delegation:

Delegate only task you would do yourself

This topic doesn’t refer to your willingness to do it but rather the necessity of the task. It is a ‘Does it have to be done?’ consideration. Some tasks probably never will be fun, e.g. keeping track of the to do list. But they are serving a certain purpose and you would do it if no one else was there. Assumably, you have done it in the past and everyone in your area of expertise needs to do it sometime.

When delegating these tasks, bring in empathy. Explain why the task is relevant and what it contributes to. You can be honest in saying that this isn’t the coolest task of all times but make sure that you bring in appreciation for your team member.

Delegate with a learning curve in mind

From my experience, young professionals are eager to learn. They want to explore new things, understand the big picture and become experts in their jobs. As someone delegating tasks, you can make use of that eagerness by explaining how the to do is contributing to the learning curve.

Maybe taking meeting minutes is the job at hand. Even in the most boring meeting, there are learnings. Regarding the document, you could teach how good meeting minutes look like and what needs to be included. Regarding the meeting, you could highlight the roles of each attendee, the interaction between the people and how moderation techniques contribute to an aspired outcome.

It requires some creativity of you and walking the extra mile in terms of not only delegating but also creating a learning opportunity. But the results are phenomenal as people will like to work with and for you.

Delegate with a readiness to give feedback

The privilege of delegating tasks comes with the responsibility of giving feedback. Feedback is relevant for a good quality result. In addition, feedback contributes to the learning curve of the person you work with.

If you regularly shy away from giving feedback, it is a good moment to reflect. What is hindering you giving feedback? What assumptions around feedback to you believe? Are they true? Giving feedback is essential and if you don’t take that responsibility, you cause major trouble in your team – which is invisible to you most of the times.

Delegate with a heart that cares

Overall, delegation is working well when you actually care about the people you work with. Noone wants to work with you if they are used for tasks you hate. But if there is a sense of ‘care’, most people will not only work with and for you but even walk the extra mile.

Why leadership is lacking on partner level

It is obvious: the same type of people become partner in a consulting firm or enter the C-level in big companies. ‘Type’ refers mainly to behaviour and habitus, but it is very often accompanied with specific gender, age, skin colour, academic background etc.. The result of the common career paths in the western hemisphere is so homogeneous that it is obvious that there are patterns at work which are very forceful even if they are not used with intent.

Most people of that specific leadership group don’t like that thought. They are convinced that they only made the way ‘to the top’ because they have been hard working and invested a lot in their career. Some may admit that there was some luck involved at certain stages. But definitely no one feels responsible that the outcome of the career process is a homogenous group. In addition, there is not even a reason from their perspective why this should be changed, since the selection process worked in their favour. And after all, each one of that group really worked hard to achieve the current status.

Let’s pause this thought for a moment and think of a garden. If your goal is to have a lot of green in your backyard, you could plant quick-growing plants that overgrow everything. They are efficient in making your garden ‘green’ within months. But if you compare the result to a well-designed and maintained English garden, you realize that you have the same colour but the joy, relaxation and admiration that the English garden evokes, will never happen in the homogeneous ‘green hell’ that grew in your backyard.

The English garden needed intent, a plan and a lot of work. There is a gardener who decides where to put what plant, who cuts branches and loose ends and who has a long term vision for the areal. The result is a place where people gain energy, love to spend time and find joy.

If you want to turn your backyard from just being homogeneous green into a place where people enjoy being, you need a vision where to go and a plan how to get there. It will require you to cut off leaves of the current plants no matter how big they have become and how much green they bring into your garden. You need to make space for other plants and keep the space for them even if they are not growing at the same speed. You need intent in developing your garden.

I believe, career in business is very similar. Unsteered, it will result in a homogeneous mass of people who will focus on their own best interest – bottomline, it is measured in money. Once your company only has people in leadership positions who are focussing on the money, it is like your backyard that is only ‘green’ – but no one likes to be there.

Therefore, although earning money is a central part in a career for each person, it needs to be put into perspective towards a greater picture. Companies need to think about their future state and what kind of behaviour they want to grow so that people are attracted to that place. ‘You can earn a lot of money here’ won’t do the trick if bad behaviour and attitudes are killing new ways of thinking.

Each company needs a gardener (team). They need to define how the company should grow. At the same time, they are plants themselves. They are part of the game and they contribute to the beauty or ugliness of the garden. And as they are plants in the very same garden, they need to have the courage to cut their own leaves at times when it starts killing other plants. This will mean to put the ego aside, question self-beliefs and personal opinions, decide for the greater good and against the personal benefit at times and walk in a humble mindset. It requires a lot of each person in a leading position and it has an effect on personal beliefs and behaviour.

This is where leadership starts!

I am not too stupid, I am just grieving

Grief is limiting your power. As a high performer, it will be very frustrating to lose your ability to walk the extra mile. Get some ideas how to get through the grieving season – quickest.

“He doesn’t do what I tell him”, the leader complains. “It’s not a hard task… and still the result is poor.” Frustration is all over the place and the deadline is moving closer. A conversation about the situation of the employee starts – and all of a sudden a new story unravels. The team member went through a major loss lately. Emotional chaos and inner turmoil are limiting the ability to perform at best. While the leader is talking about all of those information, a new perspective on the situation evolves. The work is not yet done, but as the frustration leaves, new solution scenarios come up.

If you have gone through a major loss in life, you probably know how it feels not to be at the peak of performance. Details get lost. Deadlines seem insignificant. Colourful job tasks fade in grey.

It is a time when the focus of life shifts. And while some work is very helpful to keep a routine in life, one should not strive for high performance in order to kill the pain inside. Grief is real. Grief is painful.

Did you know that your brain cannot distinguish between the pain of a broken leg and the pain of emotional loss? Pain is processed the same. And you would not work with a broken leg one day after the surgery. Equally, you need to give yourself a bit of grace and rest when walking through grief.

For business people and high performer, this topic is important twofold:

  1. If you are a leader and your team member walks through grief, you need to know how to react.
  2. If you are a high performer walking through grief at any stage of your career, you need to know how to handle that situation.

Here are some thoughts

Tell people that you are grieving

You don’t have to say more or give details. But let your boss, colleagues and team members know, if you are walking through a tough time. “If I may seem absent at moments, it is not because I am not interested, but I am having a hard time at the moment.”

As a leader, you don’t need to help or say anything. A simple ‘I hear you’ is enough.

Go to bed early

If days are awful, make them at least short. In addition, you will need more sleep anyways as grief is taking a lot of energy. Especially if you are continue working … this is not the time for long office hours. Take your rest and you will get through this time quicker.

As a leader, be aware that rest is contributing to recovery. Take your team member out of heavy-fire-situations. Even if that person is requesting to work extra hard – coverage of pain through work is prolonging the healing and might end in burn out.

Have mercy – with yourself

Especially as a high performer, you love being productive and get stuff done. And exactly that skill is limited by grief. So you are not only grieving, but in addition, you feel like being useless.

The immediate reaction is to try to perform again – so that there is only the grief and not the feeling of uselessness. Unluckily, this approach is not successful. Your soul needs some time to let go and say goodbye. And it needs your mind and body to do that. You are one whole human being – and you cannot grief partially and work full-speed partially.

The ‘quickest’ route through grief is facing-the-giant wholeheartedly. Focus on the grief. Write, speak, weep. Whatever needs to be done. You will make it through. And once that time is over, you have your power back for high performing. Promised.

Why leading a few is harder than leading many

When people think about leadership, very often they envision a large group of people. Getting up the career ladder results in many people in their department – corresponding displayed in the income. But is this the place to learn leadership?

From a personal perspective, I learned the most of my leaders when I have been one-on-one with them or in a small group. In these moments I was able to connect to them – and sense what drives them. They shared their heart more openly and I could understand their reasoning and decisions. Yet, they were still my leaders and I was aware of the hierarchy involved.

Same is true for my teams today. In a smaller setting, no one can hide. Not even the leader. There is this ‘scary’ part in there where one is getting vulnerable. As a leader, it can feel very shaky when admitting weaknesses. It needs a lot of trust in a team to speak your mind openly. But if you manage to create that space, trust grows, people start blooming and the learning curve gets steep. These environments are the base for open honest feedback – be it wholeheartedly praise or words for growth.

Creating that team environment needs time and work. As a leader, you are responsible for the team spirit. You decide how much you share and in what tone you set out meetings. Generally, people mirror your behaviour. Give them time to build trust and see you consistent behaviour. Once they have seen you being authentic and trustworthy even under pressure, they will open up and bring in their share, too.

To give you an example: I always start my meetings in a good mood. Smiling and smalltalk is setting the tone – even in stressful seasons. Attendees learn quickly that ‘good mood’ is to be expected and soon after a series of meetings, they come in with the same smile. Once that point is reached, I don’t have to give much energy anymore, because the tone is up and everyone enjoys that style of a meeting. But it still requires consistency and effort by me to keep going and lead in the way I want to be mirrored.

How a ‚well done‘ feedback kills your career

“I only got positive feedback for my slides”, the new joiner smiles at me proudly. He just had the first project weeks with his new manager and the slide deck was the first deliverable he contributed to the project.

As much as I am happy for young professionals to get positive affirmation, I am wondering whether feedback should also include the parts what can be changed!? People contributing in projects without getting feedback that puts them on a learning journey, will stay good but won‘t get better. And as the only-positive-feedback continues, they are assuming that they were lucky this time at best – and, at worst they are learning that they don’t need to develop.

I am wondering if managers are aware of the result of their behavior!?

I understand why someone refrains from giving challeging feedback – it requires thought-through argumentation, love, wisdom, energy and a vision for the person who is being feedbacked. The easy way out is a „well done“ with no further comment. The young professional is happy. The one giving feedback doesn’t have to think. Easy. Yet, there will be no growth.

In consequence, the young professional will only grow to some degree – and that very slowly. So, although a „done well“ sounds pretty to the ear, it keeps you away from growing. And your peers, who get the challenging feedback, will outgrow you soon. They will get the promotion earlier and have the more interesting career with more challenging topics. And that only because they were trained in a harder way and did not get that easy „well done“ too often.

If you want to learn and become really good in a skill, you need to find people who feedback you openly and precise. You need to know what you can enhance and how this can be done. If you only work for people who tell you everything is fine, you are not growing. Maybe you are good enough for your current position, but how do you train for your upcoming levels?

Even worse, you don’t learn how to feedback others yourself. Truth is, giving feedback is harder than receiving feedback. You actually have to think about your opinion. If you have to tell a person that he/she needs to change, you even need to give guidance why the change is necessary and how the change could look like in order to be more successful. Giving feedback puts you at risk to not be liked, too.

Take some time to analyze where you are in all of this. Do you get enough challenging feedback to grow? Do you develop people by giving thought-provoking feedback?

‘Move talk’ – winning the asshole-style

Do you remember the last time you gave a presentation and someone in the room made an inadequate, non-content-related comment? Everyone laughed and you felt overwhelmed. Somehow you got out of concept and your presentation was weakened. Afterwards you were frustrated and you would have loved to say or do anything.

In literature you can find this concept being named ‘high talk’ (content related talk) that was hit by a smalltalk comment. It is done by people in the room who cannot challenge your content but who know how to discredit you as a person or in your role – and if you are not prepared, you lose your technical point to a simple joke. You can answer this type of interference either by a smalltalk comment yourself – or you use ‘move talk’, e.g. walking slowly to the respective colleague and look at her/him without saying anything. Once the silence is there, going back to your professional part.

In times of video calls, communication changes. Due to muted microphones, the classical ‘jokes’ that should intimidate the presenter are vastly eliminated. This is deliberating for all people who are afraid of these comments in the room. I believe, our communication culture gets more inclusive in a way. Even people who are not well trained in public speaking, will be less interrupted when speaking up in video calls.

But when it comes to ‘move talk’, many aspects are still working. This is relevant to know because in classical settings, you could answer ‘small talk’ with small talk or even go to the more intense ‘move talk’. But if the first interference already is in ‘move talk’, the classical communication guidelines and ideas don’t work anymore.

How does ‘move talk’ look like in video calls?

In a smaller group, when all screens are visible, ‘move talk’ can be seen by people ignoring the camera, e.g. demonstratively using the phone. More intense is leaving the desk while still having the camera on. These examples aren’t ‘move talk’ in itself – but when the discussion is requiring attention or a decision by a leader and that person is acting that way, it is a message.

What do you do when hit by ‘move talk’?

It highly depends on who is hitting you in which moment with ‘move talk’. Let’s look at two constellations.

The opponent

There are people who will profit from you failing, e.g. a colleague wanting your topic or position. Unluckily, there can also be people who just want you to fail – not because they want to step in but just because they don’t like you. When these people start using ‘move talk’, they want to disturb, so that you feel insecure and lose your point. In any case, ignore the ‘move talk’. Concentrate on the people, who need hearing you. You will not change the opponent – especially not when talking to them or calling out their behaviour. Walk on, don’t even bother.

The decider

If the person who needs to decide, confronts you with ‘move talk’, it will depend how well you know that person. If you need their concentration and they don’t give it to you, you might wanna ask: “It seems, it is a bad time to address this topic. Should I postpone and find a new date for talking?” Maybe they are having a bad time and a new date will make it better. If you don’t have the freedom to ask for postponement, make your point and end. If you need a decision, you could propose the next steps, e.g. “if I don’t hear otherwise, I will do x, y, z and give you an update afterwards.” This puts you in a position of movement – and the decider would need to get active if she/he really doesn’t like it. From my experience, leaders who are bored and don’t feel entertained enough, will act with ‘move talk’. Although the behaviour is quite annoying, those leaders are easy to play as you have a lot of freedom doing your style. Just don’t expect them to help, support or appreciate you. Just keep moving.

On your own journey of becoming a leader, you can decide how do you want to use those techniques in your communication style. It is good to know them when presenting and being ‘attacked’. Using these methods to discredit others in the first place, should be deeply considered as you are destroying trust in yourself. People will not like working with you, when they are not sure whether you will ‘attack’ them with communication methods.

You can change the world today

Here is a true story from the 70s. We are in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge are in charge and rule the country brutally. Within 4 years up to two million people die. In those years, a baby is found by a swiss lady working for the red cross. The baby lays abandoned near the road to die. The forces of the Khmer Rouge are close and the lady decides quickly: she rescures the little baby girl, takes her to Switzerland and finds parents for adoption.

Roughly 35 years later, that former baby girl is now a highly educated, healthy woman – with a family of her own. She and her husband visit her roots – being in Cambodia for the first time. They fall in love with the country and the people. They decide to move to Cambodia and start an NGO that helps hundreds of kids and teens every week to get education, food and a vision for their life. Hundreds are blessed today, because one lady back in the 70s takes an abandoned baby girl from the street – without fearing the consequences.

I have heard the story many times. I have been to the NGO in Cambodia. And still, I am in awe every time I think of that storylining again. That one woman fleeing the Khmer Rouge changes a whole generation of Cambodian people today who live in that area.

It leads to the question: Are you aware that the decisions you take today can influence many people in the future?

What if the young professional you are training today, becomes the next head of a big department? What did that person learn from you and most likely will use in his/her leadership style?

What if you could speak potential and positivity in your team mates instead of bringing your emotional ‘bad-hair-day’ to work? You have a position today – no matter how insignificant you might feel. And it is up to you how you fill your work day and interaction with clients and colleagues.

Let’s think of this for a moment: Everytime you consider the long term perspective, a lot of the current hustle becomes irrelevant. The emotionally nagging moments get flattened when you think of what good can come out of it.

You lost an important client? – That’s bad. But how do you react? And who is watching? What kind of an example are you?

You could pick a fight with a colleague – or you surrender and ‘loose’ this one argument for winning a favour in the future?

You have an impact on your team mates everyday. You choose what kind of an example you want to be.

Wanna keep your job?

Interestingly, there are some people who will always tell you how much they have to do, how stressful their job is and when coming to complaining about colleagues and bosses the day doesn’t have enough hours to contain their words. It seems, their whole life is awful and punished by the few people around them. Often I am wondering, whether they are aware that one part of their misery is the constant echo of their stressful workday in their private lives!?

But aside from crashing the atmosphere at home, most likely their job isn’t that bad after all – at least they haven’t changed positions or applied for a new role. Most likely, a huge part of their complain is letting everyone know how important and unexchangeable they are in their position. Which opens room for a change of perspective: how does their boss and colleagues see that person? Does he/she contribute to the team success? What is the effect of the complain of that person towards the team mates?

Even the brightest mind and the deepest content of a colleague is overruled by a bad attitude. Someone complaining much – regardless the topic – stresses the team more than the actual work will contribute. People will see and learn from that behaviour – managing around colleagues whose attitude is counterproductive. In turn, when it comes to team size reduction – these people won’t have anyone speaking up for their important contribution to the team success despite their story of having so much stress and hence, being so important.

So, if you want to be part of the crew kept on board, think of this: your teammates and leads need you to do your job. They need you to take responsibility for your tasks so that they can trust you and your results. Very often you can decide what ‘your job’ involves. One major part is fixing problems. Often these problems won’t be part of your initial job description. But if you are known for a mindset that thinks of solutions instead of complain, your teammates and leads will love to work with you and will do anything, to keep you in the team.