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That time when I learnt the real meaning of respect

Late Middle English: from Latin respectus, from the verb respicere ‘look back at, regard’, from re- ‘back’ + specere ‘look at’.

Aren’t word origins a little bit awesome sometimes? I guess most of us feel like we know what the word respect means, but when you break it down to the origins something even more fabulous appears. Respect quite literally means to see again, as if to see as the first time. So re-spect really is about seeing people afresh, each and every day, letting going of whatever baggage you might have with them and what things you might feel you know about them.

That surely has to be the essence of actual respect right? How different might our relationships be if we were able to see one another afresh each and every day? I can’t lay claim to unearthing this little gem personally, this was something shared with me by Atif Sheikh at the Businessfourzero offices this week.

When we meet new people, whether personally or professionally, we have an opportunity to see them truly afresh. I wonder if it’s possible to create that opportunity as a relationship evolves; to meet one another time and time again without judgment and with total re-spect.

Relationship building is a bit like walking on thin ice: one wrong step and you lose your foot, perhaps even a whole leg, into an icy pool. When that happens, it can take quite a lot to thaw out and bring things back on track. It takes love, it takes care, it takes patience and a whole lot of re-spect.

When we find ourselves in a new role in a new organisation, or joining a new team, with the smorgasbord of triggers, emotions and reactions that come with relationship-building, it’s super easy to become a shadow of who we really are in the process.

When both sides of the equation are forming all kinds of assessments and judgements about one another it is more important than ever to be bringing your whole self to work. People need to have the chance to meet and connect with the truest version of you.

“I don’t like new people”

Human beings are a funny old bunch and we really don’t differ that greatly to one another. The spectrum of emotions we experience when we meet new people usually falls within a fairly safe spectrum of sameness. Things like:

The dark art of putting someone up on a pedestal, supported and enabled by that old foe, imposter syndrome. It’s not equal and it’s not cool. Plot reveal: we are ALL equal but it’s up to us to give ourselves the permission to be.

We can find ourselves tripping over our words and preening for the attention and affection of a new person. When we put ourselves at a lower status level to other people, we step away from ourselves and start making choices from something outside of ourselves.

Another might be ego driven fear. We go into protection mode and feel like the world is out to get us. We try to keep ourselves and our work separate so we don’t risk attack. Truth is, that energy only works to ostracise us further from the place that we really want to be; part of the community of humans we want to spend time with.

Whilst all these reactions are completely normal. They definitely get in the way of us being who we really are and can cause reactions to one another both physically and mentally. Perhaps there’s another path, and one that means we get to establish our rhythms a little sooner.

Building trust

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; good relationships are born (and borne) in love. Yep. All of them. Even the workish ones.

The fastest way to establish trust between two humans is to allow the space for you to see one another as you really are. Because what you really are is incredibly similar creatures, likely with a lot of the same worries and concerns, even if they manifest in your behaviours slightly differently.

When people don’t know you yet, you have to make sure you give them a chance to do so. Find the opportunity to see and be seen.

Perhaps it’s a walk to get lunch, perhaps it’s a commitment to a coffee break. Perhaps it’s just living there in the middle of the day to day melee; a five minute hello that says “how are you really?”.

As quickly as possible I try to find a way to look deep into a person’s eyes and allow them to do the same with me. The quicker we can really see one another, the quicker we can see each other as human.

Let’s also not forget re-spect here. Try as often as possible to start afresh with each person each day, forgive quickly and keep your focus on relationship building.

Dial up on your sense of self

As a newbie, this is the time to double down on your commitment to you. How can you make sure that you are giving yourself your absolute best during that crucial bedding-in period? What are the things you need to feel truly whole?

If you can spend as much time as possible operating from your truest sense of self, you give the people around you the best opportunity to get to know the real you.

We have total responsibility for our part in the interactions that populate our lives. If you aren’t having a great experience in a relationship, the simplest thing of all is to consult the person in question and see whether you can co-create a better one with them.

I find a straightforward feedback or relationship reset conversation works wonders here. It helps to be as straightforward as you can about what your intentions are when arranging it and be as honest as you can whilst in the moment. Openness begets openness. Love begets love.

Before you know it, who knows, you may just find yourself in a joyful workplace, surrounded by friends who are all rooting for each other. That doesn’t mean that things don’t go wrong, but when they do, we love and re-spect one another enough to fix them.

That time I officially got engaged

One thing struck me almost the moment I landed at Onfido; just how vocal our people are about what the business is doing and how the business is doing it. It stood out to me instantly as it’s something I’ve seldom come across before to such a high degree. You find it in pockets for sure, but never in a way that encapsulates all teams within the business in quite the way it does here – at least in my experience.

Let’s be clear here, this is a very great thing indeed.

Voices and challenge mean one thing and one thing alone: the team care and are invested in the business and are determined to help facilitate its success.

As part of my early audit of the business and my role within it, I set myself the challenge to unearth what the things were that make this so, and I managed to boil it down to one thing: involvement.

Put simply: people are consulted, communicated with and taken on the journey. Even in the times that this hasn’t been executed brilliantly, a genuine attempt is made. The business strongly sends the message as often as it can; we care.

The Founders ‘show up’ in all senses, and work tirelessly to try to get things right. As a leadership team we invite challenge and embrace all the different voices that help us stay on the right track. This starts with the Founders, who know the business and the people within it inside out, and care deeply about the imprint they are making in the world.

These are the same Founders that decided to hire an HR person as employee number 12; which is incredibly rare in a startup of that size. Also the same Founders who made the call to invest heavily in communications by hiring their first Director of Internal Communications last year. It’s a huge deal for such an early stage business to care enough about the involvement of its people to make this kind of investment so early on.

We’re still learning how to get things right, and iterating on what we share and how we share it, but for a business of our size and age, it’s pretty comprehensive stuff. Company wide goals are set via crowdsourcing data from company wide sources. Ideas and decisions are socialised via well thought out communications channels.

The business stands, for the most part, as one cohesive unit. Most work and projects are delivered by cross functional ‘squads’, which is by no means exclusive to Onfido, but it does mean that the wider community gains greater understanding of what one another’s challenges are by working together first hand. This is something you truly miss out on when you operate in silos.

We survey our teams regularly and we have a laser focus on continuous improvement. We take feedback and we act on it. We also make sure that our reward demonstrates our commitment to our people. This year we launched Onfido Balance, a flexible benefits offering that gives people support for the head, the body and the heart, we have a squad working on what we offer to parents as a business, and all employees have share options and flexible working.

Whether by accident or by design, Onfido has effectively provided the right platform for high performance working; namely igniting greater levels of employee commitment and involvement to achieve high levels of performance, productivity and ultimately profitability. This comes in the form of building skills and creating opportunities for innovation and creativity and is achieved via greater involvement and commitment of employees, which in turn leads to greater overall job satisfaction and motivation. Total win.

The question has been raised over whether you can truly establish a firm relationship between high involvement in work practices and overall firm performance, and perhaps it’s simpler for me to say a resounding yes to that, as I get to witness that first hand at Onfido, and the energy that’s created by working in this way.

The impact created by garnering the full commitment of your people can truly be your competitive advantage.

That is what we have seen at Onfido. The teams self manage in many respects, and our best ideas as a business come from them. They set their own goals mostly and consistently meet and exceed them. Where they don’t, it is typically as there has been another deliverable that has become more important. Because of their high involvement with us as a leadership team, and us with them, we get to see all of this first hand.

Allowing the space to innovate and create means that you can shape shift as a business to maintain or create a market leading position, and I for one can’t wait to see where Onfido go next.