Time is precious. You cannot save time - you cannot put a couple hours away in a cupboard to use later when you need them. It seems that time is the greatest enemy of many people. Yet some people seem to get the job done with ease and in time. The difference is, each person's ability to manage their time. It is essential to be aware of how you use your time.

This will be the first of three articles that I will be writing on Time Management or Behaviour Management? Is it really about the time or is it about my behaviours – procrastination, lack of delegating etc that impact on my time? The articles I share with you will include exercises and explanations so that you can practically apply the skills at your desk and create new behaviours.

Let us being.

We are all given 86 400 seconds every day, what did you do with them?

Let me ask you some questions and you can ponder on your responses.

1. You have a task to do that should take you half and hour. However one hour later you are still working on the task. Why?

2. You leave your desk, quickly, to collect something from the printer and you return to 25 minutes later. Where have you been and what have you been doing in that time?

3. Do you monitor the time at your desk or do you look up and suddenly discover that the whole morning is gone and you have not achieved anything?

4. Do you get home at night with the feeling of “I rushed around all day, but I have no real outcomes to show for it”?

5. How often do you have people sitting at your desk that are uninvited and then won’t leave?

6. Do you attend meetings that have no agenda, people are unprepared and in the end you were not really needed?

7. Do you attend meetings where two or more people have the same information but there are other areas of the meeting that have no information and so we need to re-schedule?

8. How often do you take on ‘someone else’s’ monkey” because you think you or helping or it is actually easier for you to just do it yourself?

I can go on and on but I think that the questions above has engaged you and you have become very aware of what you do or do not do with your time during the day.

So where do all these behaviours come from?

We all assume time to be something. All of us were exposed to “different time management habits” while growing up. At school and when we first started working “time” was spoken about but no one really demonstrated the “how” in working with time. So we make assumptions on what we see and what we experience.

Time is personal. Learning to manage your time better is a personal affair. Only you can do it. Furthermore, you can do it only if you are willing to do it, and if you believe you can. Examine all your assumptions. Are they accurate? Are they reasonable? Your behaviour patterns are closely tied to the assumptions you make. Change your assumptions and you will find it much easier to change your behaviour. When your behaviour is consistent with your objectives, you are managing your time effectively.

So let us go and explore what we assume time to be. Below is a questionnaire. Read the statement and mark ‘TRUE’ or ‘FALSE’ next to the statement, based on how you see the statement. 

1. Most people are overworked because of the nature of their job.

2. Your job is unique and not subject to repetitive time patterns.

3. Higher level people with more authority usually make better decisions.

4. Further delay will probably enable you to improve the quality of your decisions.

5. Managing time better is essentially a matter of reducing the time spent on various activities.

6. Your job deals with people, and since all people are important, you cannot establish priorities.

7. Delegating will probably free a great deal of your time and relieve you of some of responsibility.

8. Finding ‘quiet time’ is usually impossible, especially in small offices.

9. Most people can solve their time problems by working harder.

10. Most of the ordinary day-to –day activities do not need to be planned, and most people could not plan for them anyway.

11. It is not always possible to work on the basis of priorities.

12. Finding the problem is easy; it is finding the solution that is difficult.

13. A good way to reduce wasted time is to look for short cuts

14. Most people know how they spend their time and can easily identify how they procrastinate.

15. It is not necessary to write out your objectives.

16. Most of the results you achieve are produced by a few critical activities.

Now for the results!

Numbers 1 to 15 are all FALSE.

Number 16 is the only TRUE answer.

This may come as a surprise and I can hear a lot of questions and disagreements happening right now. Let’s explore the statements and the answers.

1. Most people are overworked because of the nature of their job. FALSE.

It is not the nature of the job, it is the nature of the person. From time to time everyone is overworked. However, if this is a normal occurrence, something is wrong. The something wrong is usually you. Overwork is often the result of failing to delegate, being unable to say ‘no’, failing to establish proper priorities, spending too much time on details or trivia, or having sloppy work habits. The job seldom overworks the person, but people often overwork themselves.

EXERCISE: Take an arm's-length look at your job. What are you doing that does not have to be done? What are you doing that could be done by someone else? Do you have trouble saying ‘No’ to people? – Give examples of where you said ‘Yes’ when you should have said ‘No’? Finding answers to these questions will get you moving in the right direction.

2. Your job is unique and not subject to repetitive time patterns. FALSE.

All jobs have patterns. If your job appears to be non-patterned, you do not know the nature of the pattern. To discover the pattern, you need data - and you need to think about cause-and-effect relationships. An example will help clarify this concept. Many people consider the telephone a major time-waster. Yet they seldom know what pattern is involved in their use of the telephone. For instance, how many calls do they handle each day - at what times, from whom, about what? How many problems or questions are resolved on the initial call? How many require one or more call-backs? Do particular people call about certain things or call at specific times each week or month? With enough data you can identify the pattern. Once you know the pattern you can predict events, and with prediction you can gain more control. Once you can anticipate you can schedule.

EXERCISE: Analyse the various activities of your role and highlight the job patterns that you experience in your position.

3. Higher level people with more authority usually make better decisions. FALSE.

Lower level people are perfectly capable of making good decisions, and their decisions are often better because they are closer to the situation. The assumption that decisions made at higher levels are better can lead to two problems. First, by people may refer too many decisions to superiors. Some decisions should be routed upwards, but most need not be. Often the person believes that people with more authority should make decisions, and that such decisions are automatically better. Second, by people may fail to delegate authority to subordinates. This is often accompanied by the belief that subordinates simply cannot make decisions as well as the manager can. Most often, the real problem is inadequate training and development of the team or assistants. Well-trained people make good decisions.

SUGGESTION: For the first problem, start building your confidence. Start making decisions in minor areas. Work your way up to larger decisions. Succeeding with larger and larger decisions will provide a tremendous boost for your confidence. For the second problem, make sure that the team you work with are adequately trained. Wean yourself from too much decision-making by delegating smaller decisions first, and gradually move up to larger decisions. You will probably be pleasantly surprised at the capabilities of people.

4. Further delay will probably enable you to improve the quality of your decisions. FALSE.

Unnecessary delay seldom improves the quality of decisions. It is simply procrastination. You are probably fearful of making a mistake or have a very strong desire to be right. It is always nice to have complete information before deciding, but in practice that is seldom the case. You should make the decision when you reach the point where additional information is not likely to make a significant improvement in your decision. This point is not always easy to identify. But if you habitually delay decisions until you have every bit of information, you are undoubtedly going too far. Occasionally you can benefit from 'sleeping on' a decision, but if you overdo it you will only have nightmares.

SUGGESTION: For every decision there is a deciding point. Try shortening the time for some of your decisions. Do not become a hasty decision-maker, but do not drag decisions out too long either. A little experimentation will help you determine the proper timing for various decisions.

5. Managing time better is essentially a matter of reducing the time spent in various activities. FALSE.

Managing time better involves spending the appropriate amount of time on every activity. For some task, this means cutting down on the time involved. For other tasks, it means increasing your time commitment. You will probably try to cut down on the time you spend in meetings and casual conversations, in handling reports and correspondence, and similar activities. You will probably try to increase the time you spend in planning, thinking, development, and other important activities. The key is that you must subtract before you can add. Remember, you are spending all your time now.

SUGGESTION: Look at all your activities - analyse these based on the following: How important is each one in terms of what you are trying to accomplish? Where could you reduce your time commitment? Where should you increase your time commitment? Are there things you are not doing at all that should be added?

6. Your job deals with people, and since all people are important you cannot establish priorities. FALSE.

All people may be important, but all the events people wish to involve you in are not equally important. In fact, in terms of your job, all people are not equally important. Are there some people within your organisation that have more influence than others? Do you really treat everyone equally? All people are important as human beings, however, the activities, demands, pressures, and problems presented by various people are not equally important.

SUGGESTION: Learn to separate the person from the issue. Be patient, but persistent, polite but tactful, diplomatic but firm. Managing your time to accomplish important objectives sometimes requires making hard decisions about how to respond to particular people.

7. Delegating will probably free a great deal of your time and relieve you of some responsibility. FALSE.

In the long run, delegation may provide you with more time, but delegation never relieves you of any responsibility. In fact, delegation creates more total responsibility. After delegating a task, you are still responsible, or accountable, to your superior; but now the person you delegate the task to is also responsible to you. If you are not delegating adequately now, learning to do so will take some time. You will have to train others to properly accomplish the delegated tasks. In the short run, this may be more time-consuming than doing the tasks yourself. Failing to delegate, however, is disastrous. Not only do you cheat others but you wind up buried under a mountain of detail.

SUGGESTION: Look at all your activities. Eliminate those that simply do not have to be done. Of the remainder, decide which ones really must be done by you. Then make plans to delegate the balance. This may mean taking the time to train and develop others. It may mean learning to think about yourself and your job in new ways. But, ultimately, everyone will benefit. Delegation is a case of investing time now to gain time later. Take the time to train and begin to systematically delegate greater authority to others.  

8. Finding 'quiet time' is usually impossible, especially in small offices. FALSE.

Almost anyone can find a quiet hour” - an uninterrupted block of time use for concentrating on important things. Why don't more people utilise the “quiet time” concept? Many people simply do not believe it will work in their situation. They believe that they should always be available to their others or that others will resent their “quiet time”. Consider the consequences of not finding a “quiet time” for yourself. Jobs that might be done quickly take much longer with all the interruptions. Your train of thought is broken and your creativity is decreased. “Quiet time” allows you to re-prioritise your day, it allow for changes in planning or just the time to ‘find yourself’ in the hectic day to day happenings.

SUGGESTION: If your job could benefit from “quiet time” now and then, think how to make it happen. Pick the most appropriate time of day. Discuss with others what you are doing and why. Enlist their co-operation and help them find” quiet time” when needed. Pick the most appropriate time of day to schedule your “quiet hour”. Schedule it now in your diary.

9. Most people can solve their time problems by working harder. FALSE.

Could you work any harder? I did not think so! So working smarter always beats working harder. This assumption starts early in life. From childhood you are admonished to keep trying, to try just a little bit harder, to remember that working hard leads to pleasant rewards. "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." The problem, of course, is not so simple. Sometimes working harder is the best way. However, many people never respond any other way. They do not consider that there might be a way to shorten the task, eliminate some steps, combine some parts, and actually work easier while getting more done. Doing the wrong thing harder does not help. The people who believe that the way to get more done is simply to work harder are the ones who work extra-long hours, take work home every night, suffer from stress and tension, punish their bodies needlessly, and still do not obtain results.

SUGGESTION: Work smarter, not harder. Try finding ways to reduce the number of tasks. Make the job easier or quicker. Analyse the workflow periodically to keep things running smoothly.

At this point we need to take a pause as I have another important concept to share with you. We need to be very clear on the definition of the words below in order to prioritse correctly.

What is the definition of Efficient?

What is the definition of Effective?

Efficient is doing “the job right”. In other words you type a document in the correct format, using the correct stationary with no spelling or grammar errors. You were efficient.

Effective is doing ’the right job”. In other words it is about looking at what is the most appropriate use of your time with tasks. If I asked you to type my letter, and you stopped typing the Minutes of the Board Meeting to type my letter, we have to ask which activity was more important? To be effective we must always be doing activities that are the most important at that point.

Let’s add the next level.

In business all we hear is, “this is urgent please, I need this urgently please.” What does this mean?

What is the difference between Urgent and Important?

Urgent is it has to be done now.

Important is something that has a consequence as it is linked to a goal.

So which tasks carry more weight when we prioritise, Urgent tasks or Important tasks? Everything in business today is urgent. How often do you drop what you are doing to help someone urgently and when you go to them with the desired outcome they say something like, “Thanks, pop it on my desk I will look at it later.” But it was URGENT!

Now none of the concepts above will be of any use if you do not have a: GOAL/OBJECTIVE

You need to know what you are working towards daily and monthly so that you can prioritise the tasks as urgent or important so that you can become more effective. You need to know what your department/company goals are so that you can align your activities (priorities) more effectively. That way when interruptions occur or someone asks you to do a task for them you can ask more question to establish the priority and schedule it more effectively into your day, and not drop everything and go home feeling like you have done nothing for the day!

Let us return now to the assumptions.

10. Most of the ordinary day-to-day activities do not need to be planned, and most people could not plan for them anyway. FALSE.

The ordinary day-to-day activities are the ones that need planning the most if you want to control your time. Too many people maintain that their situation is unique ("others can plan their day, but it won't work for me"). Too many people accept crises and confusion as part of their job description. Nonsense. Anything can be planned. Those random, hectic days follow some kind of pattern. Some patterns may be harder to discover than others, but they do exist. Discover the pattern and you have the key for anticipating future events, for scheduling and planning your time. Failing to plan day-to-day activities means settling for random direction. “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Whatever happens takes control of your time. To break the haphazard approach, you must plan.

SUGGESTION: Keep a daily time record to help identify the patterns involved in your job. Then use the information in planning and scheduling every day. Remember, though, to leave room in your schedule for the unexpected. In your planning, emphasise early actions. As the morning goes, so goes the day.

11. It is not always possible to work on the basis of priorities. FALSE.

Not only is it possible, it is essential. You will never gain control of your time unless you approach various tasks on the basis of priorities. Managing your time means spending it in the best way possible. Not everything is equally important. When you fail to establish and follow priorities, you literally guarantee that you will be spending some part of your time on less important activities at the expense of important ones. Learning to work on a priority basis requires planning. It also requires constant attention and comparison. When you are tempted to deviate from your plan stop, and ask yourself, "Is what I am about to do more or less important than what I had planned to do?" If it is more important, go right ahead and deviate from your plan. You will still be on the right track. If it is less important, and this is usually the case, look for ways to avoid it, postpone it, reschedule it, or delegate it.

SUGGESTION: Make priorities a work habit. Continually ask yourself: “What is the best use of my time? What is most important?" Importance is always based on the objectives you are trying to achieve.

12. Finding the problem is easy: it is finding the solution that is difficult. FALSE.

Failing to identify the problem properly is perhaps the greatest obstacle to solving it. The temptation to jump in with a remedy is very strong. The result is that you are busy treating symptoms while the problem remains untouched. To understand the nature of the problem, you will probably have to obtain data. For instance, do not just say that interruptions are a problem. Find out what kinds of interruptions they are - how often they occur, with whom, and for what purpose. With this approach you will find that many problems carry with them the seeds of their solution.

SUGGESTION: Do not confuse symptoms and problems. Collect data to understand the exact nature of the problem. Solutions then become much easier and more likely to work well.

13. A good way to reduce wasted time is to look for shortcuts in functions. FALSE.

Many shortcuts ultimately cost a great deal of time. When constantly pressed for time, we try to shortcut some part of the job. Unfortunately, the things that get cut most often are the important things that only the we can do - things like planning and organising. These and other important functions are often neglected in favour of less important tasks that appear to be urgent. Whenever important tasks wait while urgent ones are attended to, problems arise. Urgent tasks must be done, of course, but not everything that appears to be urgent really is urgent. Nor must urgent tasks necessarily be done by you. Urgent tasks tend to have short-range consequences. Important tasks tend to have long-range consequences. If we try to shortcut important activities we often wind up with horrendous time problems.

SUGGESTION: Review all your activities. Which ones are most important in relation to your objectives? Which ones are least important? Look for shortcuts in the routine, trivial activities. Be sure to make sufficient time available for the really important tasks.

14. Most people know how they spend their time and can easily identify their biggest wasters. FALSE.

Few people really know how they spend their time. If you don't believe this, try reconstructing the last week accurately. Like most people, you will probably be unable to remember many of the things you did. Why? Simply because so much of your behaviour is habitual. Habits are automatic behaviours. When you act out of habit, you are not concentrating on your activities. You follow set routines and patterns. Even if your job consists of unique tasks, you probably approach them in routine ways. When you do not really know your time habits, you can easily spend time poorly. Your time patterns may become inconsistent with what you are trying to accomplish. And, of course, you wind up wasting time. Most people waste at least two hours every day.

SUGGESTION: Keep a time log on yourself. Record your time use for a week or two. Discover your time habits and patterns. Verify where your time is really being wasted. You will be surprised at what you find.

15. It is not necessary to write out your objectives. FALSE.

Writing out your objectives is important for three reasons. First, it enables you to clarify them. If you only make a mental note of your objectives they will probably be vague and poorly defined. You may not remember them exactly the same way each time you think about them. Second, you can keep the goal statement in front of you as a reminder of what you are trying to accomplish. In this way, no matter how hectic your days become, you can keep yourself on track. Third, and perhaps most important, writing out your goals increases your commitment to them. The greater your commitment, the more likely you are to begin accomplishing them. Writing your goals is a valuable motivational technique.

SUGGESTION: Put your goals in writing, and keep the list in front of you. As you write down your goals keep the following criteria for good goal statement in mind. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-limited.

16. Most of the results you achieve are produced by a few critical activities. TRUE.

Vilfredo Pareto, a 19th century Italian economist, first expounded this truth. It is more commonly called the 80-20 rule: '80% of the value lies in 20% of the elements, while the remaining 20% of the value lies in the remaining 80% of the elements'. This means that only a few activities are critical to your success. Can you identify your few high-value activities?

SUGGESTION: Recognise that some things are far more valuable than others in terms of accomplishing your objectives. Examine all your activities to discover which ones really are most important. Then begin to focus on these high-value activities.  

Tips on “Making” more Time

1. You need to work on the basis of priority only. Before just accepting tasks ask as many questions as needed to establish importance, why the task was given to you, what is the desired outcome, by when etc.

2. When someone comes to you and asks for assistance on a task (their monkey) and you are busy with something more important, don’t let them leave the task on your desk. Make sure they take it with them and you can then meet at their desk to assist them. There are two reasons for this:

a. If the task is on your desk it is now your responsibility to do it. In other words you have just taken “ownership on the monkey”.

b. Meeting at their desk means that as soon as you have assisted them you can leave. As opposed to having them sit at your desk and you have to wait or ask them to leave!

3. If you keep having unwanted visitors at your desk who do not leave, remove all chairs so that they don’t feel invited to sit. You can always add a chair should you need one.

4. If someone is really persistent and won’t leave you can always get up from behind your desk, let them know that you need to go and get something and they are welcome to walk with you. It is easier to get them to return to their desk that way than to have to wait for them to leave your desk.

5. Stop through the day and ask yourself this question, “What is the best use of my time, right now?” See what you catch yourself doing and then reprioritize.

6. Ask yourself the following questions:

a. What went right today and why?

b. What went wrong today and why?

c. What time today did you start on your top priority task and why?

d. Could you have started earlier in the day?

e. Did you spend the first hour of your day well, doing important tasks?

f. What patterns and habits am I seeing in the use of my time?

g. What was the most productive period of your day and why?

h. What was the least productive period of your day and why?

i. What accounted for most of your interruptions and what were the reasons for the interruptions?

j. Which of these interruptions can be controlled, minimised or eliminated?

k. What did you do today that could have been eliminated?

l. What were your three biggest time wasters today?

m. How might you eliminate your three biggest time wasters?

n. What activities could you spend less time on and still obtain acceptable results?

o. What activities needed more time today?

p. What activities could be delegated and to whom?

7. Beginning tomorrow, what could you do to make better use of your time?

In my next article we will be looking more at out behaviour and how it affects the use of our time. We will also expand more on the concept of urgent vs important and I will be sharing various techniques that can use in different areas to manage time.


In my last article, I wrote about the ‘taste’ of Diversity. I shared with you points on creating relationships in a diverse team. With this process comes conflict. I thought it would be beneficial to share with you the process we got through in conflict and what we can do to change the outcome and create common ground. The first thing we need to do is identify which level of conflict you are personally working at?

With different situations you could be in a different place on the pyramid. We should look back to the beginning and understand the factors that triggered the conflicts that are sitting in your pyramid.

There are many factors that trigger conflict, to name a few:

  • Selective hearing
  • Ignoring information that contradicts/conflicts with our beliefs
  • In our mutli-cultural society words mean different things to different people. This means you may offend someone unintentionally
  • Our emotions
  • Personality differences (we do things differently)

And MANY more


Explore your conflicts and see if you can pin point what the trigger was or is. So how, you may be asking, does this all come together in a conflict situation?

LADDER OF INFERENCE (Chris Argyris and Prof. Emeritus – Harvard Business School)

Inference – a belief, opinion, conclusion reached through gathering data based on personal/cultural experiences and supported by information assumed to be true.

This is what it looks like. 

  1. Our ladder stands in a pool of endless data, happenings, acts and information.
  2. From that pool we select data that would be relevant to our views of the world or the person we are dealing with, our position in the organisation etc.
  3. We add OUR meaning to that data.
  4. We will in the blanks with assumptions that we have formed based on our data pool and how we see the world.
  5. We then make a decision based on everything gathered on our ladder and we decide how to respond and proceed.
  6. The decisions we make re-in force our mental model and validate our beliefs. Once we reach the top of the ladder with or without care, our beliefs and resolve are unshakable. We take action.
  7. Our actions take effect, results occur and these results become our new “facts”. Our actions are completely led by the “results” of our ladder and so we build one ladder on top of the other with “our truths and beliefs” This can create a vicious circle. Our beliefs have a big effect on how we select from reality, and can lead us to ignore the true facts altogether. Soon we are literally jumping to conclusions – by missing facts and skipping steps in the reasoning process


The regional Sales Manager has just read the latest sales figures. Sales in Don's territory are down – again. It's simply not good enough. He needs to be fired! Most people would agree that the Sales Manager may have just jumped to a rash conclusion. So let's see how the scenario plays using the Ladder of Inference: The latest month's sales figures (reality) have come in, and the Sales Manager immediately focuses on Don's territory (selected reality). Sales are down on the previous months again (interpreted reality). The Sales Manager assumes that the drop in sales is entirely to do with the Don's performance (assumption), and decides that Don hasn't been performing well (conclusion). So he forms the opinion that Don isn't up to the job (belief). He feels that firing Don is the best options (action).

No where, in our ladder, did we stop to ASK, the other person or people involved, if our meanings, assumptions and decisions where a true reflection of the facts.

In a nut shell, when we climb the ladder we often convert what we assume to be objective data into a subjective opinion through lack of effective dialogue. When this subjective opinion becomes the base for decisions and actions we create conflict and reduce productivity.

What we need is Effective Dialogue.

Effective Dialogue has many components. In this case we are referring to balancing Advocacy and Inquiry Dialogue usually refers to a conversation between two people but there can be more than two people involved.

In dialogue, we use:

  • Good advocacy or telling involves providing information and saying how you got from your information to your view of the solution.
  • Advocacy (telling or recommending)
  • Inquiry (asking)
  • Collaboration (working towards a common understanding)
  • Listening (finding meaning and reaching agreement)

Dialogue can Become Discussion…

In a discussion the participants attempt to prove the other side wrong The parties listen to find flaws and make counter arguments They defend their assumptions based on their own truth Good inquiry or asking involves seeking others views, finding out how they arrived at those views and encouraging them to challenge your views. Good advocacy and inquiry involves sharing your views with sound reasoning and inquiring into other people’s views based on their reasoning creating common ground.

Now let's challenge the Sales Manager's thinking by balancing Advocacy with Inquiry:

The Sales Manager came to the sales figures with an existing belief that Don, a new salesmen, couldn't possibly be as good as the "old-timers" who he has trained for years. He focused on Don's territory because Don is the newest salesman, and selected facts that supported what he already believed (that Don wouldn't be doing a good job).

To get back to facts and reality, we must challenge the Sales Manager's selection of data and his assumptions about Don's likely performance.

Although the figures are down in Don's territory, they have actually dipped less than in other areas. Don is actually a great salesman, but he and his colleagues have in fact been let down by new products being delayed, and by old products running out of stock. Once the Sales Manager changes his assumptions, he will see the need to focus on solving the production issues. He can also learn from Don – how is it that Don has performed better than other sales people in the face of stock problems? Can others learn from him?


  • You always only have one part of the story (your part)
  • Reveal your thinking as people can’t read your mind
  • Test your assumptions by inviting people to provide additional information
  • Consider every conversation to be a learning opportunity – a chance to put together a complete picture

The Taste Of Fruit Salad

We have all heard or read the definition of "TEAM" - "Together Each Achieves More". We live in a world dominated by ipods, ipads, iphones and irobots. I realised, one day when working with a difficult group, that we need to add to the definition of "TEAM". We need to focus on the" iTEAM". Because, no matter what we do if "I", the individual, is not committed at the beginning, because they feel left out, unappreciated, or misunderstood because the are “different”, then "TEAM" will be far more difficult to achieve.
As Personal Assistants/Executive Secretaries you need to support and be supported by many different people.  Your iTeam, more than likely, consists of many “diversities”.  One of the aims of any business will be to promote a work environment where all people, regardless of race, ethnic group, language, gender, age, ancestry, marital status, social-economic or educational backgrounds, will demonstrate respect and insight for one another so as to enable them to work better as a team.  In this way each individual can optimise his/her potential to achieve common business goals.  In South Africa, my placed called home, this is a huge challenge for businesses.  I realised that this is not something unique to South Africa.  It is visible all over the world.

But let’s go back to the beginning and look at  “What is Diversity?”  A definition we use in our Diversity Training is:
“It refers to differences in race, gender, age, language, physical characteristics, disability, sexual orientation, economic status, parental status, education, geographic origin, profession, lifestyle, religion, position in the organisation hierarchy, and any other difference.”   In short, any difference between individuals.

So how do we create an inclusive and supportive business culture, leading to profitability, when the definition is so wide?
I would like to share with you some points that I have found to be very effective when working within organisations in South Africa.

  • Ask And Learn About Others

When there is a lack of knowledge, we fill the gap with assumptions and every event that strengthens the assumption is seen as strengthening a ‘fact’.  Only once we are aware of our assumptions, can we make deliberate choices about how we think, feel and behave towards all those that are different from us.  Ask your colleagues why they do things in a certain way.  Learn about the different cultures people come from and what is expected of them in that culture.

  • Avoid Stereotyping

Most human beings tend to generalise and classify people and objects into groups base on direct and indirect experience.  We do this as a strategy to cope in a complex world.  This generalisation about a person or group of people can become stereotypes.   We develop stereotypes when we are unable or unwilling to obtain all of the information we will need to make further judgments about peoples or situations.  In the absence of the total picture, “stereotypes”, in many cases, allow us to “fill in the blanks”.   Our society often innocently create perpetuates stereotypes, but these stereotypes often lead to unfair discrimination and persecution when the stereotype is unfavourable.

  • What Is The Impact Of Role Status In Your Organisation?

Social status is given a great deal of importance in many nations of the world.  Status is often attached to formal organisational roles such as the level of authority in a chain of command.  Thus, in much of the world, men of the majority racio-ethnic group are accorded higher social status than women and minority group men in matters relating to business and economics.  Older people are also granted a higher status than younger people in many parts of the world. 

  • Be Aware Of Role Conflict

A different kind of conflict occurs when roles that a person is expected to perform outside of work conflict with the expectations on the job.  The most obvious example of this is women with younger children who are also engaged in managerial and professional career roles in which long hours, extensive travel, and geographic mobility are expected.  Despite the changes of recent years, women continue to bear the responsibility for the majority of childcare and home care (Powell, 1988).  As a result, job demands for long hours and extensive travel creates severe role conflicts for many people. 

  • Identify Similarities

There are three things that we all want in all areas of our lives, no matter who we are or where we come from.  We want to be:

  • Included  - ask me, invite me, work with me.
  • Respected – what is respect for you will not be respect for me as we come from different backgrounds.  The trick is to find out what does respect mean to me.  In South Africa, an example of this would be for one cultural group the lady goes through the door first.  To another cultural group the man goes first as he needs to ensure that it is safe on the other side of the door before the lady comes through!  I could disrespect you simply because I did not know.
  • Acknowledged – thank me, don’t sell my ideas as your ideas.

When people feel good, they work at their best.  Feeling good lubricates mental efficiency, making people better at understanding information and using decision rules in complex judgements, as well as more flexible in their thinking. 

Build trust and respect  (Stephen Covey)
Behaviours in high-trust organisations:

  •   Information is shared openly
  •   Transparency is a practiced value
  •   Mistakes are tolerated and encouraged as a way of learning
  •   The culture is innovative and creative
  •   People are loyal to those who are absent
  •   People talk straight and confront real issues
  •   There is real communication and real collaboration
  •   People share credit abundantly
  •   There are few “meetings after the meetings”
  •   People are candid and authentic
  •   There is a high degree of accountability
  •   There is vitality and energy—people can feel the positive momentum

The Final Key – The Fruit Salad. 
“Wouldn’t it be easier if we were all the same?”  Think of it this way.  We are all fruit and together we make a wonderful fruit salad with different tastes and textures.  The organisation is the bowl.  It provides us with the boundaries and Business Culture in which we need to be the fruit salad.  This gives you the peace of mind that you don’t need to change to be in the fruit salad.  You just need to follow the boundaries and Business Culture that the bowl requires in order to  create an inclusive and supportive business culture, leading to profitability and productivity.


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