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  • Caught up in the Conspiracy

    Last weekend I was caught up in a YouTube spiral watching video after video about Epstein. Most of these were considered ‘conspiracy’ theories because they exist outside the mainstream thought and… are often just batty.  But, you can’t deny the many questions which, connected by awful facts, exist within this story. The stories probed into the origin and dubious nature of his wealth and profession as a financier, transhumanist ideas and worrying connections to the elite scientific community. Together, me on my tiny screen, we dissected the deals which he made. We traced along the lines of his co-collaborators, assistants, royal friends, political strongmen, and celebrities from Alec Baldwin to Courtney Love (?!?)  During this visual gluttony, I listened to the words of well-known commentator and one of the pioneering investigators of the case. They spoke about the “women” involved. The “women” abused and the “women” in many ‘Jane Doe’ cases It’s easy to overlook their mistake: I did at that moment. But, these individuals weren’t women, they were “girls”. The glitterati and stained politicos involved in the story were supporting actors and distractors to history (and present) of a series of horrific events.  In chasing the story, I forgot about the main issue which was that a crime had been committed.  This sometimes happens within organisations, especially when focusing on a significantly emotional event/s. Though policies and procedures are a good means of keeping us on track or maintaining fairness, we should not forget that sometimes they forget the seriousness of the issues at hand It can be hard to realise that following a policy or procedure can at times lead to a worse or nonsensical result. In the Epstein case, we’ve seen how the policy was misused and ignored the emotional havoc that those women (once ‘girls’) had suffered.   As I’ve advanced in my career, I’ve realised that there must always be a fine balancing act between the formality of policies and procedures and the emotional side of working with people.
  • Blue, White& Pink: Men’s Uniform

    Public transport is a great place to people watch Walking down London’s famous shopping street, Oxford Street, you can see the frustration of the London natives. They shuffle side-to-side trying to pass leisurely tourists, that seem to dance around on the pavement.  Similarly, it’s great taking the bus at 03:30/ 04:00 and seeing a cross-section of the capital as they meet one another: you have the younger, drunker, bolder crowd coming back from a merry evening. They interrupt the often ‘invisible’ and sleepy workers — cleaners, guardsmen and transport staff — making their way to early shifts. Both are trying to catch some sleep before their stop.  The underground is a good slice of London’s city and professional classes. If you look closely you’ll notice a trend: Blue, White, and Pink. The three ‘acceptable’ shirt colours for men.  Of the men on the tube, nearly 95% of men seem to do one of these colours. They may be strippy,  dotty or plain, but they do show conformity, and the proper attire we need to wear to be considered professional.   This is just one of the many subtle ways in which we confirm to the needs of the group. I’m still unsure if there is anything inherently bad about this type of sameness. Yes, it’s unimaginative, but it’s a quick identity which we may adopt too.  At times it can be difficult to see this conformity when we are ourselves are a part of it. It’s comfortable to be like everyone else But we should strive to occasionally see beyond this and not be afraid to be like that ‘5% man’. The one that maintains his individuality. The one that wears an orange or purple shirt under his grey suit.
  • Executive Rewards: paying for success

    Some of the biggest British companies have been asked by the officials to justify the extensive pay gap between the executives and their companies’ staff. This is part of the rules that came into force with the Executive Rewards report. The Executive Rewards report examines the Government’s efforts to address the issue of the pay gap between chief executives and employees as it states:  “Over the last decade, chief executives’ earnings in the FTSE 100 have increased four times as much as national average earnings. FTSE 100 chief executives earn around £4 million per annum while average pay is under £30,000. These huge differentials have been baked into the pay system, in part by a heavy reliance on over-generous, incentive-based pay and partly by the weakness of remuneration committees which design ever more complicated and opaque pay packages for their peers” (Commons, 2019).  One leading explanation for this significant gap in pay is that in a globalised and open economy there is an increase in multinational companies. This means that the companies have to pay huge amount of money for attracting top and limited talent. In the majority of large companies, roughly 20 percent of top executives are foreign nations. This figure doubles in the UK where top executives make up to 40 percent reflecting the cutthroat competition for acquiring talent. However, this is not the sole cause for high salaries. According to Nichols, executive pay is more likely to be linked to company profitability and firms have reported a high level of profitability.  These large executive salaries haven’t escaped their fair share of criticism or rebellion. Persimmon, a British housebuilder company asked Jeff Fairburn, its chief executive to leave after outrage over his £75 million bonus. A further 64 percent of the shareholders revolted against the company’s remuneration policy and pay package too. In the case of Royal Mail, Rick Back, its new Chief Executive requested £5.8 million to buy him out of his previous contract with GLS. The UK Government has ordered companies to publish pay ratios between employees and executives. The new Regulations have established that companies with more than 250 employees will be liable for explaining and publishing the total annual remuneration of their CEOs. The current ratio of chief executives to employees stands at 80:1. However, the large differences in pay are concerning. The massive difference in the pay differentials is primarily down to two reasons: incentive-based pay and the inadequacy of the remuneration committees. To improve transparency in the executive remuneration, pay-ratio regulations must be applied effectively. There have been numerous investor revolts back in 2018 over the high remuneration of chief executives of companies such as Unilever, Royal Mail, and Persimmon The significant change the Executive Remuneration report will incur includes a heightened level of transparency and disclosures for payment of employees and executives in 2020. This will involve detail regarding how the salaries, as well as bonuses, are given in companies. MPs have strictly condemned the practice of Persimmon for not giving its lowest-paid staff the minimum living wage. Furthermore, Royal Mail had one of the most significant revolts by its shareholders in the history of the corporate sector in the UK in July when seventy percent of the shareholders voted against the pay policy of the company for the remuneration of chief executives. It is yet to be seen whether this increased level of transparency will make a difference. However, if the Gender reporting is anything to go by then we’re likely to see a spate of stories about the pay gap ‘horrors’. Maybe it’s this public shaming which will force change. 
  • Strawmen: Do you stand with Trump or collapse with Liberals?

    I regularly use straws to protect my teeth and in a bid to remain eco-friendly, I have tried a redundant concept: paper straws. My frustration was shared by Brad Parscale, President Trump’s campaign manager, who has come up with I believe is an ingenious idea, Trump branded plastic straws! The items, according to Parscale, raised nearly $500,000 towards Donald Trump’s campaign, within its first week.  What makes this campaign successful isn’t the innovative product or the use of merchandise to raise funding, it’s what the product signifies. These Trump straws align with the President’s image of saying and doing what others (soft and impractical liberals) are afraid to do. Their strong and bold imagery — American red, marked by strong muscular letters reading simply “TRUMP” — asks the buyer to “Stand with President Trump”. Irrespective of your political bias, this represents a beautiful marketing case study. These straws do more than help you drink, they reinforce identities and are a small way towards creating a community of like-minded people. [The marketing imagery and model choice are also… interesting.] Corporate identities are similar. The companies we work for and the jobs we do also create, reinforce and strengthen who we think we are as people. When it comes to hiring people and how you’re viewed as an employer, this leads specifically to the intriguing field of ‘employer branding’. The term is not new having been introduced since the 90s. But, it is likely to receive a resurgence as firms try to differentiate themselves from their peers to attract talented candidates. If benefit packages and annual leave from most tech companies mirror each other and are converging, what makes one company more attractive than its peers? And what about smaller firms unable to compete with larger Tech giants?  For those smaller tech firms with high ambitions chasing a lean or bootstrapped approach it is their best strategy for recruitment and team growth.  
  • Digital Signature and its uses

    Similar to how a handwritten signature is used to authenticate the document’s originality and the signee’s identity, digital signatures are a popular way of doing this with emails and other text documents sent over the internet.  A digital signature is, in essence, a string of encrypted hashed numbers sent along with the original message with the intent of using the sent digital signature to check against the sent document for signs of any tampering. 

    How Does it Work?

    Digital signatures work on the basis of a public-private key encryption system, like RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman) technique, where the public key is sent to the receiver via the internet while the private key remains undisclosed with the user who generates it. In the case of digital signatures, a hashing algorithm is used to first generate the sender’s digital signature hash number based on the original text of the message, the sender’s details and even the time and place of sending.  This hash number along with the hashing algorithm used is then encrypted using the private key, and this encrypted data is sent to the receiver along with the email to the receiver. The receiver then decrypts the hash signature number with the public key he was provided and generates the signature once again using the copy of the email he received.  If the email was altered even slightly in transit, the resulting hash number would be very different from the one sent and so the user would immediately know the email is inauthentic and cannot be trusted. 

    Uses of Digital Signature

    A digital signature is one of the best ways to check the integrity of the document sent over the internet; if even a character had been moved out of place, the digital signature system would be able to immediately detect this change and report the document as tampered. Digital signatures can also be used to authenticate the sender of a document since all senders have a unique private-public key encryption system and no two users are able to generate the same system. Besides confirming who the actual sender is, digital signatures can even be used as a countermeasure against repudiation; a sender cannot deny having sent an email if the signature on the email matches his unique one. All of the qualities of a digital signature makes it a great tool for use in the finance and banking industries, where authentication and integrity are important aspects of any business deal or transaction. 

    Types of Digital Signature

    There are three types of digital signatures, namely Class 1 to 3 and they differ from one another in the strictness of the system and the relative security they provide. 
    • Class 1 digital signatures are only used to authenticate the sender’s email address and are commonly used to communicate on a professional level by employers with their workers. 
    • Class 2 digital signatures validate the sender’s identity are issued by a central authority, making them a good choice for more sensitive tasks like filing income tax returns.
    • Class 3 digital signatures provide the highest form of authenticity and these are only issued in person with rigorous background checks and validations having already been taken.

    Why are Digital Signatures growing in popularity?

    The need for validating a document’s sender and authenticity is ever-present in the corporate world and with the ever-increasing shift towards conducting more and more of our business online, traditional methods of checking a document’s integrity are quickly becoming obsolete. This has logically led to the rise in popularity of Digital Signatures and their use is being readily adopted by corporations all over the globe Many companies are also choosing to adopt the digital signature system because of the higher security it offers; after all, a digital signature is much, much harder to replicate than a traditional handwritten signature.
  • Cultural Bellwethers

    When working as a People Consultant, often one of the first things that I’d need to do is understand the ‘pulse’ or the unspoken way of doing things within that company. This is most often referred to as the company’s culture. It’s those aspects which are left unsaid and just taken for granted by the company. These often make a difference in how things are incorporated and how any initiatives are best absorbed by the company.  The best method of gauging a company’s culture is to have a culture assessment, usually an employee survey and some one-to-one interviews… but this is time-consuming. This is particularly the case when you need to constantly monitor and assess where the company is. Those I call cultural bellwethers tell you where there might be concerns: they give early warning signs and can be a good starting point when you want to test out new ideas and initiatives. Of course, this works best in smaller organisations or in teams/ departments — not massive FTSE firms(!)  Many management textbooks often point to the CEO, founder or the most senior people as the bellwether of culture. However, my experience has taught me to look just to the side or below a level or two from the CEO/ Founder. Instead, I look at the most called upon people, the most connected and those with usually good enough emotional intelligence to pick-up on the emotions of others. These people are a vital part of any HR person’s work. So, who do you think is the cultural bellwether in your company?   
  • Win-Win Business Philosophy in Interpersonal Negotiations

    The term “Negotiation” at the most fundamental level defines the process of trying to resolve differences between people.  Negotiation is a process that occurs in the day-to-day activities of everyone. This makes the skill of effective negotiation a must-have for everybody. Acquiring this skill is even more important for people involved who are more involved in commercial activities.  Andrea Cordell in her book, The Negotiation Handbook, states, “Negotiation is an essential skill for all those operating commercially on behalf of their organizations. The ability to negotiate quotations, tenders, proposals, internal and external stakeholders, licensing agreements and so on, could form a critical part of any employee’s role, be it on the buy or supply side.”. The book continues by illustrating how important the skill of effective negotiation is. In the process of negotiation, a number of factors are considered. It is important that the opinion of all the personalities involved are considered. However, apart from this, individual demands, interests, goals, and differences should also be considered with respect to the cultural context in which the negotiation is being carried out.  Basically, there are two major approaches to Negotiation: – Win-Win Approach to Negotiation – Win-Lose Approach to Negotiation  This article seeks to explore the Win-Win Philosophy in interpersonal negotiations. A Win-Win solution is an approach to negotiation that seeks to find solutions that work for everyone.  The win-win approach in negotiation involves careful consideration of both your own stance and that of the other participants in a negotiation. After this, all the two parties involved in the negotiation then attempt to find a workable middle ground. This mutually acceptable position allows both parties involved to walk away from the negotiation happy. When compared with the win-lose approach to Negotiation, it was established that while the win-lose approach could lead to a decrease in a negotiating partner’s commitment of relationship-specific assets, the win-win approach can have more favorable outcomes. Companies interested in developing long-lasting supply chain relationships with their buyers and suppliers are often advised to consider the win-win approach to negotiation.  However, finding a middle ground is not always an easy task in win-win negotiations. In order to reach a workable compromise, it is important that both parties give as much as they want. In win-win negotiations, you will find that the other party often demands as much as you are willing to give for the trade and vice versa. In order to ensure that everyone is happy, someone might have to give way in some instances. In this case, it is only fair to negotiate some form of compensation and ensure that both parties are satisfied with the ultimate outcome of the negotiation.  In the win-win philosophy to negotiation, it is important to keep an open mind and pay close attention to the goals of the other party. This way you are able to assess if you can help fulfill these goals. It is also important to establish a strong position at the start of the negotiation. This way it becomes much easier to avoid any conflicts in the course of the negotiation.  In his best selling book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Stephen Covey recommends the “Win-Win” approach to negotiation. Exploring the six paradigms of human interaction: Win-Win, Win-Lose, Lose-Win, Lose-Lose, Win, Win-Win or No Deal, Covey shows that with Win-Lose, or Lose-Win, one person may seem to get what he wants for the moment, but the eventual results will negatively impact the relationship going forward. However, the Win-Win or No Deal option can be used as a backup approach. When we have No Deal as an option in our mind, it removes thoughts of manipulation or promoting selfish agendas. Former Harvard Law School professor Roger Fisher and negotiation expert William Ury developed a workable approach to Principled negotiation in their 1981 book, Getting to Yes  Ultimately, the goal of any negotiation process is to get you what you want at the most affordable cost. With the win-win philosophy, you can achieve this. The beautiful part of this approach is that everybody goes home happy afterward.
  • Women on Top: TMay

    This week Theresa May is stepping down as Prime Minister of the UK. By all accounts, her brief time in the position has largely been unsuccessful: her party, the British public and the wider political family (Trump et al.) and the EU do not rate her favourably. However, May’s leadership (after the baggage around her terms has cleared) might benefit from a feminist analytical approach.  To begin with, female politicians are more likely to be selected to run for a seat that is harder to win or unwinnable that their male counterparts. The PM seat, still warm after Cameroon’s quick departure, was perhaps the most unwinnable seat. Like most women selected for aglass cliffposition, she was set up to fail. The role was set up to fail, that’s why Cameron left. It’s interesting when we compare who made up the leadership contenders for the PM seat in 2016 (when May won) and more recently. In the former, two women (of the five contestants) were part of the final two: May and (Andrea) Leadson. This time as the situation becomes more ‘manageable’ and understood, of the ten nominees, only two were women and they were rejected far earlier in the race.  In the earlier race, at the peak of the Brexit panic: a female leader would have been more favourable. Ryan et al. (2011), best summed this up with the snappy phrases — “think manager-think men” and “think-crisis-think women”. May’s campaign slogans of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘Strong and Stable’ played into this narrative of the caring soothing female leader to a shell-shocked British public. However, it’s unlikely she was fully aware of the secondary reason for her success: she was there to accept blame. Ryan et al’s study found women were often selected into these turbulent roles simply to “take the blame for… failure”, in this case, an almost inevitable one. And though she leaves in 2019, May who never called the referendum and stayed a remainer will be blamed for this calamity well-past her departure from Downing Street.  During the 2016 nominations, another interesting incident occurred. May has received a subtle attack based on her inability to ‘act out’ her sex role. Leadson made a sexist comment questioning May’s ability to properly care for the country as a childless woman. Leadson later withdrew her nomination. For this, she was considered principled (Chris Grayling, the former Home Secretary) and a “good civil servant”  for putting the country before her ambitions. Leadson’s departure plays into the empathetic nature we demand of our female leaders.   Even in power female leaders face another challenge: aggressive outsiders. Recent research has suggested that female-led firms are more likely to be targeted by activist investors with the intent to direct management decisions. Within May’s political tenure as Prime Minister, she faced several activist factions within her party digging at her side to leave. It’s therefore ironic, that one of the most tiresome of instigators, viewed as ruthlessly ambitious and, some say, most incompetent, will replace her. May was not good as a Prime Minister managing these Brexit negotiations, but we also cannot forget the wider context surrounding her election as it reflects the difficulties many other female face.
  • FinTech innovation and scale in China

    A new research report done by McKinsey & Company shows that China’s FinTech companies are significantly outpacing their Western counterparts when it comes to innovation and achieving scale. Chinese firms have long since stopped re-creating Western business models or firms. Instead, they are now leading the way.  The report Synergy & Disruption: Ten trends shaping FinTech shows that there are significant structural differences between Chinese and Western FinTech ecosystems. Western and European startups typically focus on one vertical, such as payments, lending or banking, before slowly expanding their geographic reach. For example, firms such as PayPal and Stripe are almost completely focused on online payments, other firms such as Betterment and Wealthfront are solely concentrated on wealth management. Chinese FinTech firms have taken a very different approach. Most of the successful FinTechs in China are technological behemoths that have developed their financial ecosystems on top of their high-engagement customer platforms. Two best examples are Tencent which provides a great range of fully digital financial services on top of its social platform and Alibaba with their e-commerce platform. With products such as Yu´e bao for investments and Alipay for online payments, Alibaba’s platform has become a one-stop-shop for B2C FinTech solutions.
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    Source: McKinsey & Company Largest Chinese FinTech companies are mostly part of an ecosystem that spans across the full FinTech spectrum. And they continue to grow. With their strong parent companies watching their backs and providing them with financial security, they continue to innovate and scale rapidly because of their “free” access to enormous amounts of data. Companies like  MYbank can use Alibaba´s customer data on lifestyle and habits, to tailor their services in a more efficient and personalized way. Similarly, WeBank has been able to significantly improve their risk assessment efforts by using data from their customers’ social media profiles derived from WeChat — Tencent’s Instant Messaging application. Although the number of standalone FinTech players in China is relatively smaller, those that are successful are massive even by global standards. Financing and lending companies, such as Qudian, consumer credit provider company,  and PPdai, a Chinese online platform for peer-to-peer small unsecured loans, are now public and are listed at $7.9 and $3.9 billion market cap respectively. During Qudian’s 2017 NYork Stock Exchange IPO it raised over $900 million.

    There are three predictions which will shape China’s financial landscape. Firstly, the big players will continue to use technology and available data to provide tailor-made services. They will do this by either going directly to the customer or by offering their services as a white-label FaaS (Fintech-as-a-Service) to financial institutions. Secondly, traditional financial institutions will increase their investments in various digital offerings. This is in order to leverage their brand and their existing customer relationships so they could be more efficient in fighting against pure digital FinTech players. We are already seeing plenty of that within the West.  Lastly, the increasing amount of government regulations will clear the field of non-compliant and all those “doomed to failure” players. As the amount of control in payments and P2P lending continues to grow, it is safe to expect that the market will continue to consolidate in the coming years – really good news for all those large technology companies striving to dominate across the whole landscape. 
  • The Power of Words!

    The first time it happened I had only been working in HR/ People Ops for two-years and it caught me off-guard. A colleague, then twice my age with as much experience, repeated verbatim, my words back to me. She was using my advice as a weapon against me. The fact that these words were taken out of context and used to support a disastrous decision did not dampen my awareness that this was a new moment in my career.  On-and-off people use my words to make decisions, my words: spoken conversations, policies/ procedures, and written text: are followed very closely, often in my absence. Once, to avoid conflict between a department manager and a junior team lead, I suggested the manager have a neutral third party in the most sensitive meetings. For months afterward, the manager used my words to humiliate and bully the junior team lead. She invited the most junior team members, in a careful rotational system, so everyone was aware of some private matters. It taught me a vital lesson about the intention behind communication and to avoid relying on assumptions.  Experience helps to improve the advice I give, but I try to work to a simple principle: – You can pause mid-thought, and change what you’re saying if it will be taken as inappropriate. – Be clear, deliberate and mindful of what you say. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong in changing your mind with new information too. – Sometimes all that is needed is an apology! But, they must always be genuine.

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