Want to get the most out of your employees? Know their values – Nikki Bush

Profmed, South Africa’s largest restricted medical aid scheme for professionals, is producing an eight-episode vodcast series that explores how we can take care of today, while simultaneously building a positive vision of the future. The sixth episode features Nikki Bush, an award-winning Human Potential and Parenting speaker and the first and only woman to be inducted into the speaker’s Hall of Fame. As someone who works closely with corporates, Bush explains how Covid has changed our values and how the workplace functions. “Covid is providing us with this reset point. The human resources playbook is going to be rewritten over this time because let’s face it, it was written for profit. It was written for the company, for the employer, and it was never written for the mental wellbeing of employees. It was never written to keep families together. Now we’ve had a taste of what life looks like when we integrate work and life,” she says. According to Bush, employers will need to understand their employees’ values in order to really unlock their potential. – Claire Badenhorst 

On how Covid has changed the workplace:

So you rightly mentioned that Covid has changed everything, and I think it’s brought the focus onto people and so much of my work is about how to keep the human in the middle. It’s always been my work, and I bring the parenting overlay into the organisation. So when we’re parenting children in a family, we are raising potential. We are raising them up to leave us hopefully independent, resourceful and resilient one day. It’s no different when you’re leading a team because you are either the mother or the father of this team. You are raising them up once again. And actually, we should be doing ourselves out of a job – then we are doing true leadership. So on the parenting side, that’s primary leadership and in our workspace, life leadership, but to me it’s all one and the same and it’s all based around building a life of meaning.

That has been around for some time. The millennials, I feel, have really actually put a spotlight on creating a life of meaning, a life of what’s outside the office. You know, is there more to life than just work? And I’m grateful to millennials because they really have made us question that. In some way, Covid is providing us with this reset point. And I think that the human resources playbook is going to be rewritten over this time because let’s face it, it was written for profit. It was written for the company, for the employer, and it was never written for mental health, mental wellbeing of employees. It was never written to keep families together. Now we’ve had a taste of what life looks like when we integrate work and life. When work and life happen in the same space. It’s a different experience.

We are going to go into a hybrid situation. We’re going to ease into that where people might be going back to the office, some part-time, some full-time, some one, two, three days a week. But I’m not sure that many people who are in the small 20% in the world who can do work from home are going to go back to full-time working in the office. We’ve had a taste of flexibility. Now, I’ve had that all my life. For 25 years, I’ve been self-employed. I have built a brand and a business from home with kids. So I get the challenges. I understand that. But what’s interesting is to see how people’s values are changing and how every ExCo member in one particular financial institution that I am working with have all said what a blessing it’s been to see their children growing up during the day doing what they normally do instead of seeing them when they put them to bed at night, and they’ve realised that this is important for them and they wouldn’t want to change that. And that’s a shift in value. What are our values? It’s how do we spend our time, our energy, and our money. That’s where you see people’s values showing up.

On trends that have emerged out of this time: 

I’ve been tracking trends for the last 15 to 18 years around kids, families, and consumerism, and we’ve been through about 15 years of intense materialism and consumer-based culture where it’s a have, do, be instead of a be, do, have, and Covid is challenging that, and I think moving forward, we’re going to see that cash will be tight and so people are questioning how they spend their budgets. You will have families actually relooking at whether they can afford a private school or whether they’re going to shift into some hybrid situation that is cheaper or an online education. So what is of value to us? Then you will have families who say, no, actually, education is a critical value for us, not just because we are doing what the Joneses are doing, but because we really believe so.

Families who used to do takeaways every Friday discovered during lockdown that they can make their own pizzas and they can make their own burgers. And it’s not just that we are making it ourselves, we are A) saving money and B) we are having a family togetherness moment bonding while we make the stuff. We are also teaching life skills to our children at the same time. So you can see the kind of knock-on effect. If you think about maybe the greening movement, so climate change is the next big thing that we’re starting to see coming to the fore. Climate change will also change the way we value things, that we’re going to be prepared to reuse stuff and maybe not go and splash on as much new fashion every season as we would normally. That changes the whole supply chain. You know, the knock-on effect of somebody’s shift in values is huge.

On how disruption shifts values: 

Disruption shifts values and the first point is really about age and stage. Age and stage plays a huge part in what your values are now. So when you are young and not married and you don’t have family, maybe it’s adventure and risk. Those are high on your value system. Then suddenly you become a little bit more mature and you settle down, and I can tell you from being a married woman with children, my values were family and security. Those were my top two values. I became a widow three years ago and my children are in their 20s now. My eldest son was 22 at the time when my husband was killed and my youngest was 18 and that actually was an interesting moment to relook at values because it was disruption.

So we know we’re living in disruptive times. That was a very personal disruption, but also external disruption I did not invite in and about a year after my husband’s death, a friend of mine who is involved with neuroscience and psychology said it would be really interesting if you relooked at your values now that you are a widow. We did an exercise and it was fascinating, partly because I’m a widow and partly because my children are not young and so are not fully dependent on me for every moment of their day. They need their mother’s money and love, but that’s about it. Interestingly, my top two values were joy or our joy and adventure. So in a way, I am in a similar place to a younger person who does not have a family. I’m able to engage in those values and adopt those values because of where I am in my life stage.

Somebody who had lost a partner with young children still to look after would be in a very, very different situation and their values would be very different to mine. So let’s bear that in mind. You were saying, are we going to see people splurging, entertaining, going out? Yes. The younger generation and the older generation who’ve still got money but no kids at home. But that middle band who’ve still got children to look after, things are going to be tight. They’ve had a taste of what family really feels like. They’ve had a taste of observing our children in action every single day, and I think how they use their time is going to be different. How they use their money is going to be different.

On how employers need to understand their employees’ values: 

What are the needs, what’s the purpose for that person right now? What’s their trajectory in life? You know, those are important things. Then we have also an emerging market and they have very different values to a more established market. So, yeah, we do have to get into people’s heads, hearts, and minds, and businesses have to start looking at their employees. What is meaningful for one employee will be totally different to what is meaningful for another. That’s all values-based, based on what we’ve just spoken about, life stages and where we’re at. So how you reward people, how you retain your staff means actually getting to know who is in your team, getting to know their values, getting to know what makes life meaningful, what reward would be meaningful to you and to me could be totally different. So we can’t paint people with the same brush anymore.

That means going back to what I said earlier of keeping the human in the middle, but actually getting to know the individual humans in your team and adapting your communication, adapting your incentive schemes, adapting how you lead that person. I call it being a journeyman. We must journey with each other. We journey with our children. We journey with our staff. But that is based in humanity, in connection, in deep human connection. I, for one, am celebrating that. I’ve been talking about it for years. But I think the world is waking up to the fact that we are human beings first before we [are] human doings. That doesn’t mean we have to rescue people. It doesn’t mean we have to make life easy for them. But we need to find a way to connect deeply with people and that means connecting with their needs and connecting with their values, connecting with what makes them who they are.

On how we will connect with our employees while working virtually:

Well, you have to do it in that hybrid situation. I do lots of work with companies with helping them to actually connect virtually with their teams and that means learning new tools of engagement. I think what’s going to happen is that we’re going to take small groups out of the office. Even if that office is virtual, we’ll take small groups out, maybe groups of 10 or five and do stuff face to face in a socially distant, safe way. Then we will put people back into the virtual space and we’ll take another few out and we will be building those connections intentionally. You see, we can’t build them incidentally, anymore. We were relying on building them, incidentally, in the hallways, at the water cooler, over a coffee in the office. Because we can’t do that now, it is becoming quite intentional, which on one level is a good thing because it’s really making people sit up and think about how do I care for and lead this team. In another way, it’s a bit sad that it’s all premeditated and intentional and there’s no by the by. I think that will come back, but in a different way to how we’ve done it before.

On how to avoid burnout in this new hybrid workplace:

There is a difference between depletion, complete depletion and burnout and fatigue. So when we fatigue, we’re tired, we go to bed, we have a rest, we feel better. When you’re completely depleted or burnt out, no amount of rest helps you. And what I’ve been doing with my clients at the moment is encouraging them to go and stock the pond and fill the well. Our brains actually work on visual imagery and when you’re stuck in the four walls of an office or a home office and you’re not traveling and you’re not getting out, your well is getting dry, your pond is understocked, and when you’re fishing for ideas, for creativity, and for problem-solving, you might be coming up short. That is exacerbating that feeling of fatigue and burnout.

I think the awareness is growing that we do have people within our teams who are overworking for a number of reasons. 1) The fear of will my job exist tomorrow? Will the company exist tomorrow? 2) The need for attention – nobody notices me anymore because there’s no water cooler. 3) The need to control our environment. We are not feeling in control. We are out of control. The powers that be are in control right now. We still haven’t regained full control and that means we are in the mists of not knowing and that’s scary for human beings. Fear is not a good energy generator. It’s actually a thief. It’s an energy thief.

But the plus side of where we’ve been in the past year is the fourth driver right now of this overwork and possible burnout and proving that we are worth our salt is mastery. We’ve all been on a very steep learning curve. The sense of mastery of learning new skills to cope with the hybrid or the online world – I actually found it quite stimulating having to learn new stuff. How to use eight different virtual conferencing platforms, number one. Number two in my own home office, getting my own camera angles right and my sound system and all of those things and actually having to reinvent what speaking looks like as a professional speaker and learning new audience engagement tools and learning that you actually can have a fantastic presentation online. Instead of having 500 people in a room, I can have 6,000 people in a room. So it’s not all bad stuff and we need to acknowledge and celebrate our teachability, what we’ve learned and that that learning process, although it’s been challenging, has felt quite good, too.

On the issue that most companies need help with now:

So this disruption that we’ve been through is prompting people to ask me not for team building, but how do we help our teams reconnect who’ve been away from each other for a whole year and now may be connecting, you know, once a week or once a month. So the word I would use is bonding. I’m calling it team bonding, not team building. We’re doing this thing of taking small teams out, doing a face-to-face intervention for half a day or a whole day, and then going back into that online world.

We talk a lot about frameworks for reframing where we find ourselves. We talk a lot about grief and loss and in between that, we do processes around supportability, around team, around togetherness, and around feedback. Feedback is critical at this time. So courageous communication is another one. How to handle feedback, how to give feedback, because 99% of people want feedback but 75% of managers don’t want to give it. And therein lies that connection moment, that connection possibility.

There are three questions that every human being asks nonverbally every single day of an important other, whether that is their boss or their partner at home or children asking these questions nonverbally of their parents. 1) Do you see me? 2) Do you hear me? 3) Am I important to you? And we as leaders at home or at work need to be answering those questions through our actions, through our understanding and feedback to people’s value system so that they know that they’re being seen, they’re being heard, and that they do fall on our urgent, important list somewhere, because then people come to the party, they invest themselves, they contribute. Otherwise, if you’re not giving that positive feedback – and it doesn’t have to be, ‘you are such a superstar at work’, you know, that’s empty. It’s proper feedback that we [are] wanting and if people are not getting meaningful feedback, what happens is that they resort to negative attention-seeking behaviour. Exactly like children – absenteeism, not contributing, sabotage of the team. There’s so many ways that people show up in negative ways when they’re not receiving feedback. So anybody who’s leading a team, feedback, feedback, feedback, you need to learn the art of feedback.

Managers and team leaders are having to turn into coaches and facilitators. Very, very important shift that we’re seeing because of disruption. And those are soft skills. There’s going to be a lot of work for trainers and facilitators in teaching leaders how to be trainers, facilitators and coaches. It’s an interesting space that we need to watch.

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