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Honestly Speaking

Stuart White

I have had a few terrifying discussions in my life. I am talking about those instances when you have a conversation in which you have to tell someone something you would rather not, but feel you have to. Or like owning up to some transgression, not because you want to, but because you know you are going to get found out anyway. Something we all remember from childhood. 

That’s probably why they say an honest man is always a child because, although as children we are taught that honesty is the best policy, we soon learn to be frugal with the truth and admitting our mistakes, absorbing very early on that adults do not always appreciate honesty. From the mouths of babes comes the truth yet as we grow older we shut down this completely natural predisposition so that we are politically correct, socially appropriate, inoffensive or even just popular.  We learn to filter more and more what we tell others; the whole truth, part truth or nothing like the truth, so help me God!

I have just come back from conducting an assessment centre for a client. This is an exercise that companies undertake to ascertain talent in the business as it is considered one of the most reliable ways of assessing people’s capabilities. It is done by putting people through a series of exercises designed to simulate real work situations to see how they perform and in some instances identify leadership potential.

One particularly difficult exercise is when delegates are required to conduct a performance discussion with a difficult, hostile employee who has a blind spot bigger than an 18 ton truck, and a temperament similar to that of a pit bull and then give feedback on those areas of performance which they are unhappy with.  It’s no easy task and not for nothing is it named the Courageous Feedback Exercise.

During the exercise it isn’t unusual to see delegate’s mouths dry up as their fight or flight system is activated and these otherwise usually quite self-assured individuals, break into sweat-pouring, fear-induced anxiety as they have what appears the overwhelming task of, well, being honest really. The combination of the nature of the exercise and the inherent stress associated with the knowledge that you are being observed and assessed is in itself a nerve-wracking situation but add in that most of us find it hard to be truly open and honest (as if its consequence is surely to be disastrous) and what you are left with is an extremely testing challenge. In most of these simulated performance discussions I observe there are common errors:

The manager is passive or aggressive; he or she tries to win the discussion by heavy-handedly dishing out the feedback-call it fight-or completely underplays the problem entirety and avoids the issue, call it flight! Both are driven by fear. Rarely do I see an honest, productive discussion where one acts with ease within the situation. The irony of course is that while the problem is not the manager’s, he/she is the one who ends up so stressed that their angst goes through the roof. The problem lies with the underperforming manager yet he is often left unaffected by the discussion.

This week I was left wondering what is it about giving honest ‘negative’ feedback that makes it so daunting that we would rather stick pins in our eyes than come out and say it and where along the line did honesty become synonymous with ugly confrontation, rather than just being, well, frank?  If I knew all of this, could it somehow help me with my own fear of giving negative feedback and being honest?  Who are we or what are we if we know something to be an irrefutable fact and we don’t say it. Surely that must be one of the cornerstones of integrity?

Is what we have to gain from being honest less than what we have to lose? Indian author  Ritu Ghatourey says that “At the root of every large struggle in life is the need to be honest about something that we do not feel we can be honest about. We lie to ourselves or other people because the truth might require action and action requires courage. We say we don't know what's wrong, when we do know; we just wish we didn't”.

I don’t think I know if I answered my questions but I do know that many of the times when I have received ‘uncomfortable’ feedback mostly from someone demonstrating courage (I am told I am not the easiest person to feedback to), while it has been uncomfortable initially, thereafter its effect has been empowering. As it is precipitated personal growth towards being a better manager, father, colleague, friend and one who is more aware. I also know that when I speak my truth and give others honest feedback I feel lighter and more authentic. Of course I still get a dry mouth, and rush of adrenalin and mounting feeling of fear but that is not even half as bad as tossing in bed at night, wrestling with your demons, knowing you should have spoken out and you didn’t.

How come it is said that “the truth never hurt anyone” and we should “speak the truth and shame the Devil” yet when we do, it always offends the other party and we’re the ones who end up feeling like the bad guy?  And if honesty really is the best policy, why should it seem so antisocial?  Any inter-personal relationship that is founded on half-truths and white lies, no matter how well-intentioned, is doomed from the start. Perhaps the quest for honesty is a lifelong struggle, a full-circle journey back to those innocent days of our childhood when we told it like it was because nobody had told us not to?    To borrow from the words of singer and songwriter Billy Joel:

“Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you.”

Even if I don’t always know it!

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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