Becoming and Being an A-Player

I believe it was Tony Robbins where I first came about the expressions of “surround yourself with A-Players if you want to be an A-Player“. In research A-Players are described from anything of being a workaholic to being a superhero. I am not too sure I am either 😉

However, there is much truth in surrounding yourself with people that help you vs. people that you help. What I mean by that? Simple really, if you ever managed and employed people you should follow one simple rule: employ people that help you push boundaries rather than people that solely do their job. You employ people that are better than you and help you succeed, because if you employ people that you constantly need to micro manage, then you loose too much time.

That doesn’t mean you should employ someone with potential, e.g. people that are, with some coaching by yourself and your team, don’t turn into high performers. Again, the word high performer has to be defined.

Surrounding yourself with people that are better than you will challenge you and help you grow. It also helps the company as boundaries are being pushed.

I have a simple rule when looking at recruitment: people need to be smart, understand the space they operate in and have an understanding of where they and the company want to go. If someone already asks about the future of the project and his/her role in it, then this person is definitely making the last round. They will help me pushing the limits. And if you want to be successful, that is what you need.

Surround yourself with players that help you succeed. You noticed I dropped the A. Somewhere I read A-Players put their job over their family and seek opportunities for their company all the time. High potential, high risk. I am not convinced.

Actually, I am opposing the idea. If someone has family, then this person can still be an A-Player having a great work life balance. As a former boss put it, being away from home one or two nights a week can actually help your relationship. It is good for employees to work longer hours sometimes or travel for work and have some distance to their family and the office. Yet also, it is key for me that employees have a great family ‘back up’. No work at the weekends, being home for bathing their kids on some days of the week (or all) and no late or early hours unless necessary.

Some of you would wonder if I don’t expect a lot more than 9-5 from my staff? I don’t. I expect a lot more from my employees between 9-5. Productivity, excellent work ethics, A-Player thinking, pushing boundaries and constantly contributing to solutions and the progress of the company. If that is happening and the employee has a great work life balance, then this results in better performance than someone working 5-9 who is miserable about their home and family life.

I cannot stress enough that success and performance is not the amount of hours you work but what you get done during your working hours. Everyone can keep busy until late at night, but the output might not be as great. And, whilst sometimes it is necessary to work all night, the majority of time life outside work is to relax and spend time with the loved ones.

Now, to look at “A-Players” (with reference to MaRS) and their key skills:

– smart and asking the right questions

– positive, can do attitude

– entrepreneurial and pushing boundaries

– excellent communicators

– a life outside work

– highly productive and committed

– team players that easily integrate within the culture and team itself

– growth potential

– decision makers

Important is, coming back to your own personal development, that you surround yourself with those kind of employees as they will be the ones taking things forward. Employ people better than yourself, don’t fear competition, as you enable them to grow. They will thank you for that.

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Communication – Productivity of Life (4/4)

Thank you all for the feedback about my communication chapter from my productivity book to far. I much appreciate your input.

There is a part I like to touch on which I call non-verbal communication. Reading people. I have read many books in relation to that and found only one sentence helpful which I remember as: “If someone sits on a swivel chair, turns to the side, crosses his legs and shows you the side of his body, he might not be interested in you or your conversation. Or, he just thought of something and got into a more comfortable position whilst talking to you”.

Body language is down to individuals. I often play with my beard or stretch my legs to feel sensation in them. That does not mean my head is switched off or I am not listening. I am just being comfortable. However, if you do not look into someone’s eyes, or staring can be both off putting or supporting your self confidence if you do not overdo it. Hence shy people who usually do not like looking at someone, do not always make the best sales people. And, I believe you can tell if someone overcame shyness at some stage in their life too. There are a few things I just refer you to the literature where you should be careful of avoiding gestures in a conversation or meeting. Like if you cross your arms you can be comfortable or protective, defensive even. I believe the most known one is showing the bottom of your foot (sole of your shoe) to someone in the Middle East. It is an insult as the sole is already on the ground and the other person is suggested to be even lower. Again it goes in line with cultural differences.

Whilst in the UK it is common to have a drink with a colleague or business partner prior to closing the deal, in other countries you would never socialise with a business partner nor drink with one. In the US you either drink at conferences, but for lunches it is more uncommon as most people have to drive and it is less socially acceptable. Germany serves alcohol free beer at most events, so you don’t have to drink but can be part of the “drinking community”. Each to their own.

One last point to mention is internal communication within organisations. Time zone differences, the above mentioned language differences and internal politics often make it difficult to communicate. An important factor is to find out what your boss wants to hear, who the key influencers are internally and how you can address challenges with them. Make sure you got the right reporting structure and deliver any required information on time. Also, key is to have all the information ready for your boss whenever he asks. Attention to detail. Whether those are the latest figures or your opinion on the market. Some people would summarise it as managing up and across. You need to manage your manager, manage up to him and across to other key stakeholders in the process.

I have seen more than once that communication breaks down and that people do not realise that they talk past each other. The results can be lethal or damaging for the company and its culture. Hence it is more than important to give people room to manoeuvre, understand requirements, listen to your boss and set up a process that fits within the organisation.

And maybe my last personal tip on communication in the workplace? Summarise your pay review, important meetings with clients, miles stones with employers or employees in an email. Sometimes it makes sense to bcc yourself and keep that email for your records. Send it as a follow up, almost like a recording of what has been discussed.

I hope that you enjoyed these four weeks sharing my communication chapter of my productivity and personal development book. There are so many more things to speak about and talk about and show in regards to communication. Some little cultural things, some about how to impress someone with using a white board versus powerpoint/keynote and how to show confidence by doing so. Most probably I should write a chapter about how to communicate your sales pitch confident and successfully. Negotiation could fill a whole other book.

That is for some other time. For now enjoy communication, practise some of the ideas, make yourself consciously aware and maybe look up some basic conversation rules, like how to build rapport or how to come across confident in meetings.

Best of luck and as always, please leave more comments and let me know what you think. Let me know which bits you want me to focus on more.

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Communication – Productivity of Life (3/4)

Last week we started speaking about different languages in Europe, me sharing my communication chapter from my productivity book. If a team speaks English yet only one native English speaker is in the team, this can lead to a challenge. Most people translate from their native language into English and translate or communicate slightly differently.

I worked for many multilingual companies and once actually sold a product focusing on multilingual services. Languages are fascinating. Each language has different pronunciations, slang, meanings etc. I am bi-lingual which means I can read and write German and English proficiently.

For instance this blog and my book are written in English as I think in English. I try to bring my children up talking to them in German. They talk back to me in English because my wife and their teachers speak English to them most of the day and we live in England. I would think of my English being very good, of course I still have an accent I will not lose, but that is part of a multi cultural society in London. Without an accent you almost seem to be a foreigner in London.

Yet there is nothing wrong with that. Just the opposite I find. The drawback is that you sometimes cannot pronounce a word you would like to use or have less words to choose from in your foreign language. But you know enough to make yourself understood of course.

Between the US and the UK, although both speak English, there are differences in language too. “Two countries separated by a common language”, one says. However, if you work with people who have never used English on a daily basis, and this is your corporate language, or people are not conscious of their limitations with the English language, then you have a huge potential communication issue. There are several reasons: The British first of all, and to a certain extent the Americans, are too polite to say to someone that they do not understand them but instead praising people that their English is very good. It took me some time to figure that one out 😉 Then when it comes to daily communication you need have reassurance what they mean. Often emails do not make sense, things are translated literally or via a dictionary or online translation tool, to an extent that they do not make much sense. Here you have to manage very carefully to find common ground as so much could get lost in translation.

A recent podcast suggested to train companies in using common languages, including training non native English speakers in English. I have seen that being done yet not necessarily accepted by some employees as being a time waster or being unproductive. Whilst this might be, it pays off in the long run if you wish to pursue a career within a larger organisation. The language of choice for most business meetings is English.

I was astonished once working for a company where the English spoken training was delivered by people whose first language was not English and unlike myself have never lived in the English spoken world. Whilst it was not a bad training, there were limitations on how the training was flowing plus when it came to exercises they swapped back to their native language.

This is not having a go at former employers but I believe that in Europe, where you have English as the common language for business, you should think of having trainings facilitated out of UK or international companies to eliminate the danger of falling back into their native language. It needs great leadership and acceptance to do that from both staff and managers alike. This is particularly true for companies whose HQ is outside an English speaking country and I worked for a couple of those too. On that note, working for a Dutch company, they grow up bilingual and make their company language, e.g. meetings, presentations etc., all in English. Fascinating.

Enough about language differences and communication challenges across Europe.

Next week we move on to the non verbal communication. Stay tuned!

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Communication – Productivity of Life (2/4)

Thanks for coming back to read this week. I can see through my analytics that more and more people joining the blog and read it on a reoccurring basis. It would be great to get some comments and discussions going too. Do you have communication problems at your work? What do you do to communicate across your organisation?

Also, thank you for sharing my articles on LinkedIn and social media sites. Very much appreciated. So this week we continue with the chapter from my productivity book.

When talking about international organisations, and I had training on that very early in my career, there are cultural and language issues. Cultural are easier to overcome I believe. That is for a number of reasons because the bank holidays, the working hours, the longer lunches in Southern Europe, less holidays in the US and so on are all part of a country’s culture and lifestyle. I don’t believe there is any way to change that.

Simply put: you need to understand and accept those. Which means if you travel a lot, just plan more time to go to the airport or more time for your meetings, or less meetings. This is more about managing your own expectations really. When it comes to local differences on how to do business, this is different.

When I worked in Cairo I was having a Turkish coffee each meeting (8 a day!), it was normal to be late due to the traffic and to present the British business’ seriousness I wore suit and tie in a very hot climate. But if that is what you have to do in order to do business, that is what you have to do. In Dubai people are more reserved and in Spain people are most inquisitive – that is based on my experience. But by all means this doesn’t mean that all Spanish or all people in a certain region are like that. Don’t ever forget that one experience cannot be matched across everyone. Each individual is different, and everyone has a different background and experience. So just because you are working in one country doesn’t mean you will adopt all of its stereotypes, and assuming that would be just plain rude.

Being German I personally find the Germans very black and white which is a great way of doing business, up front, honest and direct. However, living in Britain, people don’t seem to understand that if a Brit says they are interested, they are not necessarily going to buy. You need a lunch, a dinner or a few pints in the pub to work with the British. The Dutch on the other hand are innovative, friendly and easygoing yet reliable and very productive. Those are the cultural differences on a very broad level without going into too many stereotypes and without any prejudices. Because in any culture and nation you find individuals that just won’t fit the bill.

For some fun have a look here, at the Perfect European (http://www.michellehenry.fr/civistereotype.htm). Interesting to think that our little Europe with its cultures and languages is as big as the USA, with one language and one market. Does that make America a better market to work in? I don’t know. I enjoy the beauty of flying into Milan for a business meeting, speaking a different language, eating different food and enjoying some Southern influence 2 hours from home. In the US I couldn’t do that. Pros and cons I suppose.

The diversity in Europe is second to none. Having said that I don’t have any personal experience working or living in Asia which is something I would have loved to do a while back. I don’t think this is now something that will ever be on the agenda again, but I could imagine the diversity of cultures, people and the way of doing business must be amazing.

There are advantage of having one language in the US though but maybe I continue with that next week. If you are living in Europe, what did you experience working with other cultures and working with people speaking to them in English despite neither your nor their first language is English? Did you encounter difficulties? What challenges did you meet?

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