Ovell Barbee is a highly accomplished, visionary Human Resources Executive who has been a client, a subject matter expert, and a friend of our firm for over 20 years.
He has a Masters of Human Resources from Michigan State University and has been recognized as a Top-50 HR Professional, Top-100 Chief Diversity Officer and Most Influential Minority.
We wanted to offer our congratulations on the successful publication of his first book, The Big House: A Human-Centered & Progressive Approach to DEI and Positive Workforce Engagement. It became a #1 Amazon bestseller of new releases.
When we asked Ovell about the impetus behind writing this book, he said, "Most companies invest money, time and energy in diversity equity and inclusion without creating and cultivating a human-centered environment.
"This How To book delivers essential advice to company leaders on how to stop the silence, have difficult conversations addressing race and diversity and learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable to achieve an environment where everyone can flourish."
We know that many companies fail when trying to create and cultivate an environment that truly embraces diversity and its benefits .
In the world of business, where connections shape results and success is crucial, authenticity is a cornerstone trait. It’s a key to building meaningful relationships, establishing trust, and developing as a leader. For executives, authenticity is essential in every interaction, and of course a powerful and genuine speaking voice is a key element to this. We often forget to develop this skill, but it makes a difference to every interaction, whether it’s a phone call, a chat, or a presentation. But how can you put genuine emotions, purpose, and sincerity into your voice?
In the realm of effective business communication, a commanding speaking voice is more than just the manipulation of tone and volume; there is an array of essential factors that contribute to a successful speech, regardless of whether a microphone is in use.
Spontaneity injects vitality into your speech. Embracing your genuine self and speaking confidently from that foundation fosters authenticity, engaging your audience and forging more profound connections.
The skill of modulating tones introduces layers of emotional depth and sophistication to your messaging. These nuanced variations reflect the intricate nature of your thoughts and emotions, enhancing your narrative’s impact when combined with authenticity.
Employing well-calibrated pacing and strategically timed pauses establishes a rhythmic pattern that demands attention. This rhythm captures your audience’s focus and lends gravitas to your message. The integration of genuine emotions and authenticity ensures this rhythm resonates effectively.
Controlled breathing is a testament to vocal mastery. An authentic voice, shaped by the cadence of your natural breath, conveys your intentions precisely, weaving a seamless connection between your thoughts and spoken expression.
For an executive, speaking needs to transcend the monologue. Authenticity is not just about sharing your thoughts but also about listening to and understanding your audience, even as they are silent. Intuitively reacting to their responses guides your communication, allowing for change, emphasis, or further exploration. True authenticity strikes a balance between speaking and listening, making your voice a soundboard for understanding.
In the pursuit of impactful business communication, it’s essential to recognise that the microphone is merely a tool – the true resonance resides within the fundamental quality of your voice. By blending spontaneity, nuanced tones, strategic pacing, and controlled breathing, you create a powerful communication that transcends the need for a microphone. This approach empowers you to forge meaningful connections and make a lasting impression in various business settings, transforming routine speaking moments into remarkable opportunities.
Having an authentic speaking voice isn’t just something you’re born with; it’s a skill you develop through practice and guidance. Just like leadership skills, the art of sincere communication develops over time.
Practising in different situations, refining your tone, and embracing vulnerability are important for authenticity. Having a coach’s guidance can be invaluable. A skilled coach can notice the subtleties of what to improve, give objective feedback, and assist you in bringing your authentic self into your speaking style.
In a world full of digital connections, business jargon, and information overload, authenticity is a rare and prized quality. If you can find a way of making your words and your delivery reflect your true self, then your meaning will resonate. Embrace your voice, nurture it, and let it shape your journey as a genuine and forward-thinking leader.
In today's fast-paced and competitive world, the significance of mental health in the workplace cannot be overstated. We all know that the well-being of employees not only affects their individual lives but also has a profound impact on organizational success. Addressing mental health concerns within the workplace is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic necessity. Based on my talks with various firms, let me explore the challenges associated with mental health in the workplace and discuss effective strategies for promoting a mentally healthy work environment.
As I see, one of the major challenges concerning mental health in the workplace is the stigma that still surrounds mental health issues. This stigma often prevents individuals from seeking help, as they fear negative repercussions on their careers or reputations. Consequently, mental health problems might go unnoticed and untreated, leading to more severe issues down the line.
Moreover, the nature of modern work, characterized by high demands, tight deadlines, home office environment and long working hours, can contribute to stress and burnout. These conditions, if left unaddressed, can lead to decreased job satisfaction, increased absenteeism, and reduced overall productivity. Additionally, the blurring of boundaries between work and personal life due to technological advancements can make it challenging for employees to disconnect, exacerbating stress levels.
Managing and improving mental health in the workplace requires a comprehensive and honest approach that involves both employers and employees. Obviously there are many effective strategies to consider, including:
Employers can take the lead in creating a culture of open conversation around mental health. This involves destigmatizing mental health issues by providing information, resources, and training to employees and managers. Encouraging honest discussions about mental health can help create an atmosphere where seeking help is seen as a sign of strength rather than weakness.
Employers should strive to design jobs that consider the mental well-being of employees. This includes manageable workloads, reasonable deadlines, control of work and the autonomy to make decisions. Furthermore, offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours, can help employees manage their work-life balance more effectively.
Many organisations established already Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or provided access to mental health professionals can offer employees a confidential outlet for discussing their concerns and receiving guidance. These programs can play a crucial role in early intervention and prevention.
We must encourage employees to take breaks, use vacation time, and disconnect from work outside of working hours to help prevent burnout. This can be reinforced through company policies that prioritize employee well-being.
Providing training to managers and employees on recognizing the signs of mental health issues and how to provide appropriate support can contribute to a more compassionate and understanding work environment.
Managers can conduct regular one-on-one check-ins with their team members to discuss their workload, challenges, and well-being. This not only helps address potential issues but also shows that the organization values its employees' mental health.
If you are not confident dealing with this topic as a business leader, CXO or a senior HR person, you may ask for help or advise from a professional. The gains are incredible. This can make your company a healthier, happier, and more productive firm.
We caught up with Nevena Nikolova, from our office in Sofia, who is a prize-winning film maker and a hugely successful head-hunter. Clearly there are parallels between casting the lead and supporting roles for a film and identifying the best possible hires for a corporate client.
Both professions are all about recognizing talent and making the best use of it, making the talent really shine to its fullest potential. The job of a Head-hunter and Management Consultant helps develop transferable skills like influential communication (capacity to convince and inspire) as well project management capability that are very useful for me as a filmmaker.
On the other hand the Directing boosts my creativity, helps me build out-of-the box solutions and support clients and candidates in finding new perspectives and changing their way of thinking or acting. What I experience is a kind of a cross-pollination between the two professions and I find it very enriching. I discover a certain Work-Art balance as the one activity is helping me recover from the other and vice-versa.
My artistic journey started as an actress with stage performances of various fringe shows, but I felt I needed more so the second step was a smooth transition to stage directing and afterwards I jumped into film directing.
My mind naturally produces multiple ideas, images, stories, small pieces of the universe, so writing and directing a movie is a way to share my internal world with thousands of people all over the globe. To feel 'seen' from inside, to experience other people`s reactions, to be able to touch so many souls and minds - this is really powerful and exciting; it makes me feel complete and fulfilled.
Movie Directing is great for upgrading my own leadership skills and style. It requires vision, determination and capacity to balance, align and synchronize the ideas and the input of very diverse professionals, who are often quite opinionated, very emotional and expressive - sometimes ego-driven. When you are an aspiring director, you are full of doubts and it is a huge challenge to keep your authenticity and allow yourself to show vulnerability while nurturing the faith in the project among the crew members. What I discovered while film-making is that it is not necessary to have all the answers and the full picture in order to lead the team, it is enough to be just a couple of steps in front of them.
My first movie MORNING won multiple awards for Best Debut, Best Student Short, Best Silent Film, Best Dance (dedicated to Dance) Film, Best choreography in a Short film, Best actor, Best aspiring filmmaker etc. from international festivals in Cannes, Italy, UK, Mexico, Israel, Chile among others.
The second movie ROOFTOP was recognized for Best Dark comedy, Best lead actor, Best young actress, Best female director ect. Couple of months ago the movie won the Best Independent Short Film award in Silk Road Film Festival Cannes.
Some of my favourite directors are Yorgos Lanthimos, Christopher Nolan, Lars von Trier, Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodovar, Daren Aronofsky, Krzusztof Kieslowski, Jane Campion, Wong Kar-Wai and many others. All of them have inspired my love of cinema but I`m still searching for my very own style as a director.
My business understanding and thinking was influenced by David Ogilvy, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Ray Dalio, Patric Lencioni, and Simon Sinek.
Lovely question! For the younger me I would cast Anna Tayor Joy and Juliette Binoche would be my first choice for the middle aged me.
We all crave good experiences.
We all hate bad experiences.
This increasing trend towards experience is so strong that in 2023 we are seeing Chief Experience Officers (CXO) being appointed to ensure that it is made a foundational element of business strategy.
A recent PwC report noted that it is what every company strives for. Yet so many fall short of expectations – perfectly reasonable expectations.
“Call it an experience disconnect: companies tout the latest technology or snappy design, but haven’t focused on, or invested in, the most meaningful aspects of customer experience”.
Communication. Consistency. Convenience. Speed. Friendliness - and of course the human touch.
As well as Customer Experience, businesses increasingly need to think about Employee Experience as competition for the most talented and skilled workers grows more intense.
Over the past year, we have seen huge movements of talented people, referred to as the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting, as workers reassessed the impact of work and what they want to get out of their lives.
We often see companies try to retain their key employees by offering financial incentives. However, in our experience, many of those employees would have stayed put anyway and others have concerns that money alone can’t address.
Praise from leadership, frequent promotion, the flexibility of hybrid work, a positive company culture and opportunities to lead projects are often more effective in terms of retention than simply cash. Effective leadership-development programs designed to retain key employees identified as being at risk of departure are also hugely effective.
Customer and Employee experience is a critical component of loyalty and, as a result, revenue.
Great brands, great experiences, great organizations.
Declining brands, woeful experiences and toxic organizations.
Two sides of a cultural stick perhaps.
In the old days, structure told us how things were supposed to work – the designed organization. Something was also telling us that structure may not work as intended – the lived organization. We’ve moved a long way to appreciate the organization today as a place of living and expression as much as a place of processes, roles or corporate outcomes (if not more). Ultimately, culture plays a big part in corporate success, and failure.
Culture was a really trendy topic some thirty years ago, before we realized some challenges with validation and organization effectiveness. Maybe more cult than culture! There are more opportunities today to evaluate this critical feature of corporate and working life; more tried and tested methods. So, let’s use them.
The challenge with culture is what we are measuring and why. Is there ‘good’ and ‘bad’ culture? How do we decide on factors to assess values, beliefs and assumptions? And assuming we can identify dimensions of meaningful insights, how does it relate to effectiveness, individuals, groups, leaders, stakeholders and customers? Or, to change and adaptation? Good cultural insights need tailoring. But don’t wait for the crisis. Culture creeps silently, for better and for worse, surviving the quarter perhaps, but eventually…
There are so many issues from culture it seems impossible to ignore. Talent management, succession, retention, collaboration, communications, structure, risk, resilience, innovation, strategic planning…and yes, even profit. Leadership matters because of the ability to be attuned to culture, the intangible yet very tangible force behind success as well as ruination. However, culture can now be a little more visible and a little less reliant on someone’s intuition, speculation or the occasional away day. Cultural diagnosis may be somewhat science and somewhat art. But now there’s more science, which can help with the art of leadership!
Virtually all aspects of strategy, organization development and effectiveness take something from cultural insights. We meet leaders every day and see the situations they encounter – organization culture is definitely one of them. At Friisberg & Partners we are very well positioned to support incoming and existing leadership with rigorous methodologies and tools for cultural diagnosis and change.
As people become more health-conscious and with better healthcare and medical advances, a higher life expectancy is a new reality, globally.
Companies need to understand what this means for them and come to accept and value of an older worker.
They need to rethink their HR policies and put in place systems and processes to leverage the strengths and potential of an older workforce.
Did you know that from an economic perspective, an older worker is a person with more than 15 years of experience, regardless of age?
According to a recent study conduced by the French Association “A Compétence Egale” (which fights against discrimination in companies) an employee is considered to be an older worker from the age of 49.6.
Despite this numbers, it is important to note that the definition can vary depending on the company, the sector, the country and the position of the Recruiter or Candidate –perhaps we can be more generous with an average of 52.7 years.
While France’s employment rate for the seniors has been steadily increasing, it remains low compared to other European countries, particularly in the over 60 age group.
For a European average of 60.5% at the beginning of 2023, the employment rates of older people vary from 43.8% in Romania to almost 77% in Sweden. France is in 16th place out of 27, with an employment rate for older workers of around 56%.
Broadly speaking, we can observe the culture of "regulation by the labour market" in Western countries, guided by the economic situation, the "culture of duty to work and to remain in employment", which is found particularly in Japan, or the "culture of the right to work at any age" in the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, whereas France seems to be more sensitive to a "culture of early exit".
In a particularly tight labour market, this is a major issue linked to demographic change, as people in their fifties represent the main pool of available labour. This raises the question of the respective roles of the different generations in our societies, their place in the production of wealth, the transmission of knowledge, as well as the new forms of solidarity that can unite them.
While the French government is working on new pension reforms, it’s relevant to understand how the situation is evolving, nationally.
In 2021, the rate was 5.8 points lower than the European Union, with a gap that widens to 12 points for the 60–64-year-old age group.
During the 1970s, employment policies encouraged the withdrawal of older people from the employment market in order to favour access to work for younger people. The retirement age was reduced from 65 to 60 years with early retirement schemes, this largely led to a reduction in the employment rate of older people.
The trend has been reversed 20 years later. As a result of the ageing of the population, the increase in life expectancy and therefore the growing cost of financing pensions, the authorities have had to adapt their policy and work to maintain the employment of older people. Many reforms have followed with the effect of increasing the employment rate of older people by more than 8 points in 10 years.
However, in the same period, the unemployment rate of this population has risen sharply, with temporary contracts. Several measures have been implemented, such as the Senior CDD, the employment skills pathway, the cumulative employment – retirement scheme and government subsidies.
In March 2023, a vote was taken to create a new type of contract, an "End-of-Career" contract to promote the recruitment of 60+ employees.
Five reasons why older workers are an asset to organizations:
Mature workers reduce turnover and absence costs. Research consistently indicates that older employees, with their loyalty and commitment, reduce turnover and absenteeism costs in their organisation.
This is probably due to several factors, first of all: the baggage of ambition, courage, and the right to pursue a professional career, which I have carried with me since childhood – I definitely owe this to my mother. I’ve always been driven to do something interesting, exciting, and rewarding. Also, I learn the most from people who are different to me, who come from other cultures, other business sectors, or differ significantly from me, for example, in age. This enabled me to become convinced that diversity is so very important – I have a deep respect for it and see it as a business fundamental.
It is also important that I work in a company which is very open and supports diversity. The presence of such companies in the Middle East instigates and encourages others to follow best practice in business and leadership imperatives and fundamentals, including diversity. It is still difficult to talk about a trend here, as it still may be in developing stages, but I observe a great desire for a change.
Immediately after arriving in Dubai I was elected to the Management Board of the MedTech Companies Association – MECOMED. I also received the Forbes Award for the Most Influential Woman in the Middle East, which gave me significant exposure to both the business world and the wider public sphere. I am now invited to various meetings and I participate in many round-tables, where often I am the only woman at the table, but the message is spreading around the region and I am sure that something is slowly changing.
This is a very important question, and as usual, there is no simple way to address this problem, but it is through embedding a culture of diversity within organizations. It must be processed and consistent. Culture builds powerful organizations.
It is worth noting that at the entry level we have a balance between women and men. We build inspiring development programs, including those focused only on women, but it takes many years for those talents to reach the managerial level, and even more to reach the executive level – unless, of course, it is someone exceptional in terms of performance, leadership, and commitment. Men climb faster, they have time to devote themselves entirely and fully engage. At the managerial level it’s 30% women and 70% men, at executive level the ratio is even worse. Mobility, courage, and openness are necessary to make a career, and women are not so eager to practice those, or at times feels enabled to do so. Also, and all too often, they can be all discouraged by their managers or partners. As I said, building ambition and courage at a very early age plays a significant role, and you need the enabling and safe space to cultivate it.
I am not a big fan of regulations which tell us how to run the business, but as you can see, we did not make much progress the other way. So, I think that is an important step and probably necessary, but it is also important to change the mindset at the executive level. It is important is to teach top managers “inclusive & authentic leadership”.
AUTHENTIC means: “You walk the talk”, you build the trust, you treat your people with respect.
INCLUSIVE means: you are open to different ideas, you learn from your people, you reflect on their point of view, even when and if you do not initially agree, however you still encourage them to be a significant part of important business decisions. It is when you are not biased.
In our company, every VP has a KPI related to increasing diversity as part of their business goals – our assessment of leadership skills depends on it. I have noticed huge progress in this area since this model of appraisal was introduced. At the moment, we are focused on strengthening our talent pool.
I have “exported” a lot of women from my region to the EU and to the USA to develop them further. Having said that, perhaps I didn’t focus enough on acquiring new talents externally – I didn’t close the loop. You have to develop what you have, as well as being proactive and rather aggressive at points, in searching for female talent and inviting them to join your organization.
So what? Our role is to support them to grow even if it is a stretch for them. We can’t be afraid of mistakes, they will happen just like they do when hiring men. It is the part of the game. I believe that if we want to change something we have to start at home with our children: teaching girls that they have right to be ambitious and teaching boys to appreciate that. We also have to focus on building a culture of openness and inclusiveness. If quotas will accelerate this process, we will all benefit from it, not only women.
Mary Keane and Andrea Chladkova, from our office in Prague, had the pleasure to be invited to this inspiring event:
As a main speaker, Niamh Donnelly, Co-founder & CRO of Akara Robotics shared her story of a female entrepreneurship and was leading the discussion on technology trends and necessity of innovations and adaptability.
It was an evening full of insightful discussions with exceptional women, special thanks to those leading the roundtable discussions:
Andrea Olejarova, Mondelēz International, Lenka Axlerová, Microsoft, Eva Prokesova, JTI (Japan Tobacco International), Aneta Martišková, Edenred Česká republika, Marta Siruckova, Katarína Krajčovičová, Tereza Zavadilova, Monika Mašková, Radka Ondráčková, Senta Čermáková, Erin Swan, Eva Čerešňáková, Lenka Šťastná LION.
The event was organised by the Embassy of Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, and Newstream at the residence of the Irish ambassador to the Czech Republic H.E. Cliona Manahan.
Video credit: Newstream.cz
We see policies becoming increasingly important as things like “work-life-balance” take on new meaning. In the post-pandemic era, companies must grapple with different policies necessary to drive behavior. Work policies (e.g., all remote, hybrid remote/on-site, four-day work week) will vary by industry, economic conditions, geography, products or services offered, etc.
As we look to the ever-evolving workplace, we see where leadership style has meaning and much of that “style” will impact how companies fair post-COVID. The manner in which executives lead through this change will impact how their businesses operate moving forward.
Apple CEO Tim Cook suggested in June of 2022 that the shift to more remote work is the "mother of all experiments”. During the outset of the pandemic, Mr Cook suggested he was impressed employee’s ability to work remotely. His style was inclusive and allowed for experimentation and an evolving approach, but he often suggested a move back to in-office model. In April of 2022, Apple policy set out to drive a hybrid workplace suggesting a three-day-a-week in office policy.
Siemens was way ahead of the curve – in June of 2020 (6 months into the pandemic), Siemens established policies that supported “mobile working as core component of the new normal”. Interesting note in the press release suggesting the “model based on transformation of leadership and corporate culture”. This leadership initiative set aside the uncertainty of remote work and recognized the change of corporate culture.
Elon Musk was faced with two different businesses with very different requirements (and ability) to work remote. His message to Tesla was direct – “if you don’t show up for work we’ll assume you resigned”. In January of this year, Musk sent a different message to his Twitter organization suggesting remote work made sense. Mr. Musk knew he had to adapt to each business circumstance, and he delivered forceful policies to support his position.
CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz offered his policy to reinvigorate “collaboration and camaraderie”. While Mr. Schultz openly states he’s annoyed with the fact that employees are not returning to the corporate office, he is aware of the larger social shift and is willing to build policy to support the growth of the business. Starbucks issued a policy that enabled the workforce to participate in the hybrid work model decision.
There’s one theme that we hear consistently in this post-pandemic era – the workforce is changing and it's increasingly important for leaders to listen more carefully to this shift in social behavior. Well thought out strategies and related policies may lead to increased employee productivity, retention, and longevity. It also impacts ability to recruit employees to the business.