Gem: I am your host Gem, and together with my trusty partner, Jason…
Jason: We welcome you back to part two of this segment.
Gem: Just by hearing your story Fiona, we see that you have a huge passion for building culture in the organization. It’s felt in your personal touch, sense of connection, intentionality, and empathy towards all your employees.
Jason: Absolutely, and honestly, there’s only a few CEOs who are like that.
Gem: Indeed Jase, but now that there is a shift from office to home, how do you keep that culture going, especially now that it’s hard to oversee people because of that shift, doing everything virtually as a tribe, and not being physically face to face?
Fiona: Firstly, thank you for your kind words. Being a values-based organization has meant that our office culture gave a good foundation to move to work from home and we really needed to lean in on our value of care, execute and find a way. The key was to increase communication, use technology and create a culture of innovation. Our favorite saying became ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’.
Now, when it first came out, we talked straight, confronted reality, clarified expectations with people, we got the data to them straightaway, in an objective format. We increased our communications to multiple times per day, you know, rolling out the whiteboard, showing the the data, sharing the expectations, it actually helped ease people’s minds so that they can focus on the most important thing, which is actually delivering their results. You know, they have money to feed their families going forward.
Now this then, when we move to the work from home model, we continued at the same pace by doing the daily video updates with all our team members. And if it was needed multiple times per day, then we did that as well, covering the objective facts around COVID-19 crisis, plus infusing that with a personal effectiveness and communication training to actually help individuals progress forward in life.
Interestingly, as we also shared some common words, including ‘don’t let a good crisis go to waste’, it gives you permission to take action in ways that you previously had not done before, and we often said, we fitted a month’s worth of work into a week. Now, the concept of communicating daily via video to the team to keep an update on COVID-19 and inspire through personal development is something that people then turn to instead, look, let’s not change this, and let’s not change the way we’re thinking either. So it’s become our new normal, it’s actually increasing leadership, increasing communication, increasing the quality of connection with our team to help inspire them, and have them grow even more. Now team members asked if we could then share the daily updates with their friends and family, and of course, we said yes, and so now it’s actually on our website. We moved monthly lunch with the CEO, and lunch with me where we present in the office, which was, as you know, was one of the highlights of the month. And now we’ve moved that to an online virtual conference platform. So using software, and previously would supply lunch in-house. So this last month, time goes quickly doesn’t it, last month, we gave everyone an extra 500 pesos in their payroll so that they could buy lunch for themselves, and then also for their family as well. And think of it like as an additional care package. We’ve then renamed it to ‘Discover You’ and so it’s all about helping inspire transformation. Now we’re using that same virtual conference platform, that software to meet virtually for all our clubs. So Bible studies and music club, we’re about to launch a fitness club, and other clubs where people can share their technical knowledge, like a digital marketing club or for finance and bookkeeping, just to name a few, and that there’s more to be rolled out. Our internal team meetings that were held normally once a week, we changed that to daily. And then I personally asked team members when I have the opportunity for one on one, the question, “What is currently stressing you out?” And this gives permission that it’s okay to share how we’re feeling. And often it’s a situation that we can easily resolve for them as well.
Jason: I love that. So what should be the leadership styles and mindsets that BPO owners, executives and managers ought to have in this time of crisis, would you say?
Fiona: We believe in times of crisis, we need to lead with care. You’ve just mentioned that value, it’s our overarching value and I have a simple leadership philosophy, which is to lead from the heart and just be a really good human being. You know, as human beings, we react in one or two ways. We react with love or fear. And fear is the victim mentality of view of scarcity. Love is a proactive approach acting with abundance, and interestingly, our theme this year was ‘Act With Love’. Now previously, it was the ‘Relentless Pursuit of Excellence’, and we couldn’t have picked a better theme this year than to ‘Act With Love’. Now, some people thought we were kind of mad. Some just told us you can’t do that in business. You can’t have “Act with Love” as a strategy. You can’t tell people that you love them and care for them this much, and so we said, how could we not? How could you not have people feeling so cared for and loved and so safe, and today’s knowledge workers require a level of creative contribution that was not required a decade ago.
Today, that’s absolutely the case to problem solve and think analytically, you know, give them room to grow at a high level and inspire them to discover and learn new things versus just being told what to do. As leaders in the BPO industry, everything that we do needs to be totally focused on unleashing the potential of individuals, there’s so much more capacity and greatness inside of every single person. They just need the confidence to let it out. And we as leaders have a role to play, and it’s absolutely unleashing the potential of our people.
As the BPO industry continues to grow, as leaders, we need to look at talent outside of the BPO industry. Encourage those returning to Cebu City or those in industries that have been shut down on a new career path. There are many skills that are transferable. You think about people working in hospitality, you can transfer those skills to customer service. We have technical roles, like construction and engineering drafters or estimators. So these are people that are returning from the Middle East, or maybe have been working in a construction company locally, that’s being shut down. You know, they can get work in the BPO industry, which means that, you know, if they’re returning home, they can actually live locally, and they don’t have to be overseas to have that income for their family.
Gem: People say that we need to have positive thinking, but I dare say it’s much more important to be optimistic. We have to embrace the fact that these are dark times and still see the light at the end of the tunnel. When you see smaller companies retrench, cut salaries in half, shut down offices and all, how would you encourage other leaders in the same standing as you are, to stay strong amidst all these challenges?
Fiona: Oh, great question and it’s a really important one. You need to be clear on your vision. You know, look, after your physiology. Be clear on the vision of the future, where you’re going, because that should never have changed. When we’ve had those hard days, and we all do, and we question what we’re doing, do we want to keep going, can we keep going?
Then we need to go back to our vision and remind ourselves why we’re doing this. And we all know that in strategy, some things don’t play out the way, that we thought that they would, and now clearly more than ever, I mean, this 2020 is not panned out the way any of us thought. But that’s normal, right? And we’re always making changes and adjustments. I mean, what’s really important is that you control your physiology.
Now that means understanding how the brain works, and that you’re no different from your team members, from your employees. And you’re going to have what we call the ‘Oh Crap’ moment. And that’s where the amygdala, the fight or flight response in your brain will be triggered. And you can’t stop that from being triggered. So don’t deny it. Don’t push it to one side. That’s unhealthy. Acknowledge it. Once you understand that acknowledging the fear, the doubt, the worry, the concern, the ‘Oh Crap’, but that’s normal, then you can get on and do something about it rather than being frozen in place.
So we do the ‘Oh Crap’ to ‘OK; speed drill, where you go, Oh crap, this is not good. Oh my goodness, this is not actually the end of the world. Oh, geez. Well, someone’s going to need to do something about it. Oh well, I’m sure something can be done about this. I guess it could be me, too. Okay, I’m gonna get on and do something about it. And it’s the speed of which we can go through your physiology determines the speed, you can move through the obstacles and the challenges. The ‘Oh Crap’ to ‘OK’ speed drill is also like an analogy that I’ve been recently sharing. Think about this: You’re a runner in a race. You’re running around a bend and you see the other runners have stopped. Do you stop or do you push on and keep going to win the race? Once you’re in control of your physiology, you become unstoppable. To be an effective leader in a time of crisis and inspiring entrepreneur and to innovate, we do not follow, we need to be the runner that keeps running. So be that runner, and that’s the leader that everyone needs right now. Be that leader that acts with love.
Now, to act with love, to lead effectively, to pivot fast to keep running, and to make effective decisions quickly, you need to take care of yourself as well. Self Care is not self indulgence, it’s a discipline, that must be part of your daily routine. So for me, I start my day with exercise, meditation and journaling, and even a green juice as well, and breathing.
I’ve got this great, take five, breathing exercise, right, breathe in for five, I hold for five, I breathe out for five, and I do that five times. So stop and take that moment, to take that self-care. Now, Charles Darwin quite sums it up quite well, it’s a very famous quote: “It’s not the strongest of the species that survive. It’s not the most intelligent, but the one that’s most responsive to change.” This is the time to 10X all activities, to innovate, you know, as a leader, if we combined acting with love, persistence to do 10 times more activities than we ever have before, that’s our duty and responsibility to our employees, and to lean into our teams, and the Cebuano community, and it’s very, very powerful.
Jason: If there are a few things adversity has taught you over the years, Fiona, what would it be?
Fiona: Adversity has taught me that it’s growth. Adversity is what we require to grow all the time. It’s taught us absolutely the importance of being persistent. Nothing beats persistence. Adversity is just a challenge and challenges are opportunities.
We use three phrases in our business that sums this up: you are brave, you are resilient, and you are remarkable. And we say this to our teams, and you’ll see it printed on coffee mugs and t-shirts. You are brave, you are resilient, and you are remarkable.
Now no one’s brave. This is a mindset. When we hit adversity and something’s different. It’s normal, because that’s the physiology of the body. It’s designed to do it. It’s a very primal basic component, the human cognitive brain, the prefrontal cortex, it’s the part that allows us to make a choice to move past it.
So when we say you’re brave, we’re reminding ourselves that it’s okay to be scared, and now do it anyway. And when we say you’re resilient, that means that even when you do it, and you don’t get the results that you thought, but you keep trying at it, you keep persisting during that adversity. And that is resilience, and the beautiful thing is, is when you persist through adversity with resilience, you end up always with something remarkable, which is the outcome that you never thought possible prior. Or you might have doubted yourself on why, but you did it. Anyway, you pushed on and you prove that you’ve got what it takes. It is possible. Now you need to be that type of leader or individual that will not succumb to the victim mentality. And you’ll be proactive, and you’ll act with love, and you’ll deliver results in ways that will draw people from miles around to come and see you and be part of what your vision is.
Now beyond that, the other two lessons that I’ve personally uncovered are humility and gratitude. Now, humility is not about being a shy wallflower. Humility is about realizing that you don’t have to be right on everything. And that if you want to achieve something greater than anything delivered before, it takes a whole team of people and the contribution of their ideas together to create something that didn’t exist before, that’s called synergy, where one plus one equals three or 10, or 20. And we get multiple minds together, especially now, when there’s so much stress on the changes that are occurring. The ambiguity actually needs more people’s minds working together to deliver the extraordinary outcomes.
So humility is about saying, I don’t need to be right. What’s your idea? Here’s my idea. Hey, together, what’s your way? What’s our way? Let’s commit to finding a better way. One that we haven’t considered before. You know, as the leader, you don’t need to have all the answers. Now with this also takes a mindset of gratitude, of being thankful. So being thankful in the moment that no matter what happens, we are grateful for what we have. Now, Dr. Demartini has a wonderful quote on wisdom. “Pure wisdom is the instantaneous knowing that each crisis in life is indeed a blessing.” And that in itself is the heart of gratitude, that seeing blessings in everything. You might be in a situation in business where you have been completely stripped apart, and you’re standing there feeling naked at this point in time, vulnerable to the world. See that as a blessing. It’s really hard to do in the moment. The Wisdom usually comes after the fact like bravery. You use that energy and turn it towards creativity by being thankful. If we’re thankful and we show gratitude to whatever is thrown at you, you can move forward. And when we say thank you and we accept it, we breathe in, we release the burden of the moment versus not accepting and being angry, where everything internalizes in a way that only takes you backwards. It’s not progress, progress equals happiness. Be grateful, be thankful for all that’s put in front of you. Now, around 2008, I lost two businesses. One to the GFC, one in divorce. I lost my home, I became a single mom with two really young children, and I had to start again. Now, I survived because my parents taught me the value of humility, and gratitude. I was grateful that I had two healthy children, and I wanted to be a role model for them, and I could be humbled that although I’ve lost so much, I could use that as a time of learning. And if I hadn’t have gone through that time, we would never have created Go-VA, and I’d never be here, living the Philippines, in this amazing adventure.
Jason: There has to be a silver lining in all of this.
Gem: So in your own time of reflection, what benefit has COVID-19 given you personally?
Fiona: Oh there’s been two. Slowing down and personal transformation. So before COVID-19, every week, or every second week, I was on a plane, and I’d either be in Manila, or maybe once a month, I was flying internationally as well. So I’m actually spending more time with my kids. You know, we now have game nights, once a week where we play card games, and we’re able to have lunch together. You know, the experiences that I wasn’t having before. And it’s learning that you’re enjoying the really simple things in life, and your appreciating, you have a roof over your head and food on the table. You know what, you don’t actually need much more than that. And, you know, fortunately, I live in the same village as my brother, Matt, and we can go for a walk in the morning, which we use for our strategy sessions as well. So it’s given me that time to perfect the ‘Power Hour’, where I start my day with exercise, meditation and journaling. Because I don’t have to be in the traffic going to the office as well, and by perfecting that hour, and perfecting doing exercises daily, during the meditation, and during the journaling, it’s my own personal growth that has actually, in this time of pandemic, given me a greater level of confidence and resilience, and I’m truly grateful for that.
Jason: What can you say, Gem? What an inspiring story!
Gem: I agree. There are certainly a lot of learnings shared that our audiences can greatly benefit from.
Jason: Thank you to everyone who joined in with us on our very first podcast session.
Gem: Once again, I am Gem.
Jason: and I am Jason. And this is…
Gem and Jason: All In.
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