Influencing Tools – Which Ones Do You Use?

Whatever your organization or business the skill of influencing others is becoming increasingly important.  The effective use of influence provides opportunities for increased communication, collaboration, innovation and desired results.

Aspects of influence include

  1. Empathy:

Think more of “What’s in it for them” and less of “What’s in it for me.”

  1. Intent

Define how your desired outcome will benefit the other person, your organization and yourself.

  1. Reciprocity

Give as much as you take.

In business, understanding human behaviour and how the people you are working with will act, or react, in certain circumstances is essential.  That is where developing the above skills will serve you well.

Need greater clarity – contact me to discuss.

Business Change Agent, Marie-Helene Sakowski at


Business Cultural Changes from the 70’s to Now

Over the past few decades a great deal of writing and discussion on the importance of culture in the workplace has been noted.  Just what is corporate culture?  It is has been described as the values, beliefs, principles, and norms of a business organization.  Others have broken down business culture into the areas of retention; work flow processes; and customer satisfaction.

It has been my experience that in an organization or business culture is complex entity.  It is also my observation that cultural is not particularly well understood and that changes to it often take time.

Having said that a recent meeting with a business associate during which we discussed work culture from the 70’s to the present time brought several noticeable changes to light.  Following are the highlights we noted.

  1. Behaviour in Business Customer Service

Working in customer service in the 70’sand 80’s for a telecommunications companies for example was largely a manual process.  Bills were generated by mainframe computers and sent to a customer.  Service representatives spent time addressing customer who called in with concerns over bills.  Typically each desk was equipped with an ashtray and smoking was permitted at your desk.

Cigarette breaks were common.  Extended lunches were okay.  An alcoholic beverage over lunch was not uncommon.  Work spaces were often open with little if any privacy.

Fast forward to 2017 and most workplaces monitor employees time quite stringently.  Extended or extra breaks for smoking are not permitted.  The days of smoking in an office or any building for that matter are long gone.  Consumption of alcoholic beverages during lunch breaks is no longer an acceptable practice.

Work spaces in some businesses remain open.  Others have cubicles allowing for a modicum of privacy.  For many private offices for managers and executives are no longer found.  Instead meeting rooms are utilized and booked for group meetings and private discussions.

  1. Technology

Mainframe systems and punch cards dominated larger corporations in the 70’s.  Smaller businesses relied on manual records.  The introduction of personal computers in the 80’s made a huge difference to workplace efficiency and streamlining of every area from administration to customer service to the supply chain areas.

Today most employees have a computer of some description, and often a smart phone for their use.  Technology dominates the workplace and automation is everywhere from robots to voice recognition software.  Connection to mobile devices is 24/7 and many people live their lives quite openly in an online world.

  1. Business Dress

In the 70’s and 80’s the standard dress for the men was a dress shirt, tie, sports jacket, dress slacks, dress shoes, or a full suit.  Women were typically dressed in dresses or suits, hose, and heels even if they worked in the steno pool.

With the explosion of technology in the 90’s the dress standards for men and women became casual.  Individuals working for tech companies showed up in jeans, tee shirts, and sneakers.

Today some corporate businesses still maintain a more rigid dress standard.  However, it is typical for even bank employees to have casual Friday’s where so called dressier blue jeans may be worn.  There are certainly dress standards in place for most businesses.  They are greatly relaxed from bygone decades with men not required to wear a suit and tie on most days.  Women are free to go to the office without the mandatory hose and heels.

  1. Hours of Work

Hours of business operation in the 70’s and 80’s were typically 9 – 5.  Banks were not open before 9 AM and in some cases 10. Retail hours of operation did not usually include evening or Sunday shopping.  Most employees were expected to be at work at 9 AM and stay until 5 PM.

Somewhere along the way (I first recall this being prevalent in the late 80’s) the hours of work were extended with employees expected to start at 8 AM and work until 5 PM.  Managers were expected to work as required and if that meant no breaks for lunch or coffee so be it.

Today with emphasis on 24/7 connectivity workers and managers alike seem to be expected to respond to queries from the workplace at any given time.  The emphasis on connection at all times has not necessarily resulted in an increase in productivity.  Employees today are highly monitored and workplaces are not as relaxed as they once were.

  1. Gender Specific Roles

In the 70’s and 80’s women were breaking into areas that were once the purview of men.  Women working in prisons as guards, as fire fighters, and as police officers are just some examples of areas where women were becoming more visible.  Men as nurses rather than orderlies were becoming more common place.  Women in executive roles other than HR were also more prevalent.

Fast forward to 2017 and the area that continues to be a common issue is one of pay equity for men and women.  It is a values dilemma that businesses have yet to conquer.  Women remain under represented at the executive level within business.  They are also under represented in the political arena.

Each of the areas mentioned has undergone tremendous culture change over the past 40 years.  Most of the changes have been welcome and have enhanced business operations.  The thorny issues of productivity and gender equity pay remain outstanding.  I wonder if it will take another 40 years for these to change for the better.

Need greater clarity – contact me to discuss.

Business Change Agent, Marie-Helene Sakowski at

Being an Authentic Communicator

Communication – sounds simple and yet we all have had experiences that indicate it is a complex process.  Whether at work or at home being an authentic communicator may present a challenge that many people are not that aware of.

The art of authentic communication is based on speaking or writing for yourself.  That’s right – speaking or writing for yourself.  Much of the time what we try to pass off as authentic communication is actually an attempt to have our audience responds in a certain way.

Messages are carefully crafted to have that audience be taken by the content.  The flaw in this is that we have absolutely no control over how another person will react to what we have written or spoken.

Try communicating for yourself and track the results.  You may find it curiously liberating and find that the message may even carry a greater impact.

Need greater clarity – contact me to discuss.

Business Change Agent, Marie-Helene Sakowski at

To Err is Human – So Be Human

People from all walks of life are apt to be caught up in catastrophizing at some point in time.  Even those of us who think we know better end up doing it often without being conscious of it. Speaking for myself I end up thinking I could have or should have done something differently.  Pretending that what I could have or should have done is not bothering me is counterproductive.

Two methods work when I have erred.  The first focuses on accepting that I made a mistake and to be aware of my inner monologue. Focusing on self-acceptance and allowing my humane side to show through accepting I made a mistake is a far better way to go. Treating myself with respect is essential to saying out of making the situation worse.

The second area that works is to give myself some perspective. I remind myself I am the same person I was yesterday – and that has me level out.  Seeing myself clearly and with compassion allows the human side of me with all of its imperfections to show up without the self-loathing judgement that catastrophizing causes.

What methods work for you when you make a mistake?  Do let me k now as I am genuinely interested.

Need greater clarity – contact me to discuss.

Business Change Agent, Marie-Helene Sakowski at

Optimal Hours to Work Based on Science

Alex Pang of Stanford University uses decades of science to assert that the optimal hours to be devoted to working by people who are knowledge workers is 4.  Yes that is the claim 4 hours.

Science seems to back him up.   He points to a collection of authors and scientists including Darwin, and John Le Carre who devote 4 hours of their days to their craft.  Anthropologists have also claimed that hunter gathers worked for 3 – 5 hours a day to keep everyone fed.

Optimal brain time is 2-3 hours in the morning, with the remaining hour early in the evening.  The question arising is what to do with the other 4 hours?  The answer is mindless administrative work, or spending time learning something new.

For my part the idea of being productive for 4 hours a day and then spending another 4 hours a day acquiring knowledge and cleaning up administrative trivia sound appealing.  What does working in this fashion suggest to you?

Need greater clarity – contact me to discuss.

Business Change Agent, Marie-Helene Sakowski at

Listening Skills – Are you Paying Attention?

When asked most managers and business people would say that they listen well and would probably be able to repeat what has been said verbatim.  The question becomes is that what true listening is?  From my perspective that is not quite what listening is.

Listening only occurs when you are present to the person doing the speaking.  Distraction is common when people think they are listening and includes the following:

  • Being in your head preparing a response;
  • Eager to speak so that you are able to show that they’re wrong or that you disagree;
  • Having an emotional response to what they’re saying;
  • Putting together your shopping list instead of listening openly.

Pay attention to what you are thinking about when you are listening.  People are able to sense when you are authentically being present when they are speaking. Track your results. Let me know what happens.  I am genuinely interested.


Need greater clarity – contact me to discuss.

Business Change Agent, Marie-Helene Sakowski at


Company Culture – What is it?

There is a lot of discussion about company culture these days.  Often the articles focus on the success of giant multinational corporations and their seeming success in having great work place cultures.  On occasion there is focus on these same gigantic companies and their failures in having a functioning and articulated company culture.

Whether praising or decrying a company culture the proposed solutions focus on adapting what worked someplace else to your own workplace.  On the surface that may seem like a reasonable idea.  It is not.

Company culture is dependent on the people who are part of the workplace.  It may start out as an informal set of guidelines that employees at all levels align with it.  Or it may be a more formalized approach setting out the parameters for the tolerance of risk and out of the box thinking.

Your company may have an atmosphere of casual dress, a games room, onsite child care, or well stocked kitchens accessible to all employees at no cost.  These are not cultural features.

Culture is deeper – it is what has formed over time and is based on surviving downturns, upturns and everything in between.   Shared assumptions leading to shared values, and historic data along with people who are rooted in the experience of sharing that data, are company culture foundations.

What is your experience and perception of a finely tuned company culture that employees chose to be a part of?

Let me know – I am genuinely interested.

Need greater clarity – contact me to discuss.

Business Change Agent, Marie-Helene Sakowski at



Management of Change and Resistance

There are 12 common reasons why people resist change in the workplace:

Today the focus is on 4 of those areas.

  1. Job Loss

Any process, technological advancement, systems, or product change will include streamlining, working smarter, cost reduction, efficiency, or faster turnaround times. Staff and or managers will resist the changes that result in their roles being eliminated or reduced. From their perspective change is harmful to their position.

  1. Poor Communication Strategy

An inability or unwillingness to communicate what, why, how, when, who and what success will look like or how success is going to be measured you can expect resistance!  Staffers that do not understand the need for change will have their back up. Especially those staff who strongly believe the current way of doing things works well and has done so over many years.

  1. Shock and Fear of the Unknown

A typical break down of staff reaction to change is 20% being highly supportive, 20% aggressively, and 60% being ambivalent about it. During periods of change some s may feel the need to cling to the past because it was a more secure, predictable time. If what they did in the past worked well for them, they may resist changing their behaviour out of fear that they will not achieve as much in the future.

  1. Loss of Control

Routines provide staff with a sense of control over their environments. Being asked to change the way they operate may add to feelings of powerless and confusion. People are more likely to understand and implement changes when they feel they have some form of control.

Need greater clarity – contact me to discuss.

Business Change Agent, Marie-Helene Sakowski at

Volatility is the New Normal

Many business leaders are grappling with the volatility that suggests a new normal in terms of conditions for the foreseeable future.  It seems that we are all of us are dealing with some form of change and for many extreme changes in the business world and in our personal lives.  Disruption is being heralded as the new way forward.  With disruption comes the unknown and an uncertainty of what is to come.

  1. Economic Volatility

The first reason for stating that volatility is the new norm is the unprecedented lack of predictability in terms of the economic times we live in.  It appears we are in a cycle of change and upheaval in terms of jobs, technology, and business operations.  The old rules no longer apply and the new rules if any are not clear.

  1. Expectations for Stellar Performance From Employees

Employees and managers alike are expected to be plugged in and tuned into work for far longer than the standard work day.  The expectation that texts, emails, and posts will be read and responded to after hours, during days off, and during vacation periods is considered by many to be normal.  In the midst of reading, viewing, and responding to the deluge of information employees and managers alike are required to keep up with their day-to-day accountabilities.   Many businesses are noting an increase in the use of employee assistance programs as the stresses of keeping up accountabilities mount.  Concern over what work will look like in the short term while managing constant change are common.

  1. Conflict between Work and Personal Time

The boundary between work and personal time is blurry at best.  The push to achieve and in some cases do more with less has people working later and starting earlier.  Smart phones and tablets are readily given out with the anticipation that availability is ensured on a 24/7 basis.  Commitments to families and partners may be placed behind the demands of the job.

Finding ways to address the new normal is required.  We are in a paradigm shift and it is imperative that as individuals we find ways to unplug and stay focused in what is for the most part largely uncharted territory.

Need greater clarity – contact me to discuss.

Business Change Agent, Marie-Helene Sakowski at

Body Language Impacts Listening Skills

Attending a meeting yesterday I was reminded of the importance of body language in listening.  Pay attention to what your body is doing to improve your overall communication skills.

  1. Leaning Back

Leaning back signals that you are disinterested and day dreamy

  1. Slouching

Having your body slouch has the appearance of lethargy or lack of energy.

  1. Crossing Your Arms (Or Legs)

Crossing your arms has you appear closed off or unwilling to cooperate.   Crossing your legs can be interpreted similarly so be aware if your legs are visible not to sit with crossed legs.

  1. Feet Point Away

Your feet point to where you want to go. When someone is listening intently to another person, his or her feet will point towards them.

  1. Turning Away

Your body will point to where it is focused.  To make a strong impression, move your body slightly to angle toward whoever is speaking during a meeting.

The shifts you make in body language may or may not be noticed.  Making the shifts will have others think you are a great listener.  Having that realization even at an unconscious level is worth the effort of paying attention to your body language.

Need greater clarity – contact me to discuss.

Business Change Agent, Marie-Helene Sakowski at