Where a growing circle of business leaders comes to share, learn, and inspire organizations to put people first

Whirling Chief


Sesil Pir

Sesil Pir

Redefining Leadership: Ten Commandments for the Digital Age

“Learning is not mandatory; neither is survival!”

Edwards Deming’s assertion many years ago is most relevant in today’s context. The rapid mortality rate of companies in the digital age is ultimately a leadership issue. The success of the digital transformation for organizations depends on how well leaders transform themselves first. Along with a healthy dose of optimism, leaders need to demonstrate unprecedented levels of learning agility. This is crucial because the very survival of their organizations is at stake.

Then, how does a leader develop clarity in the age of digital? Perhaps by doing what Alvin Toffler once said: “by unlearning, re-learning and learning”, and not just about technologies; more importantly about mindsets and behaviors.

I am an honorary alumnus of the Indian Business School in Hyderabad and have the honor of being invited for lectures regularly. I met Rajiv Jayaraman during one of my lectures and we have been following (and supporting) each others’ work since. A TEDx speaker and a thought leader in the space of digital transformation and learning, Rajiv has a keen interest in the psychology and business of learning. As the Founder-CEO of KNOLSKAPE, a talent transformation platform, he works with CXOs and senior leaders of leading organizations to aid their talent transformation strategies in the digital age.

I was thrilled to learn about Rajiv’s new book coming “Clearing the Digital Blur“, which argues there are quite a few things that leaders must unlearn in reach of rethinking talent in the speed of digital.

Below, you can find some insight into his current thinking.

Leadership Unlearning

  1. Digitalization demands a new leadership style

With the emergence of boundary-less organizations and the proliferation of stakeholders, leaders must unlearn old leadership habits anchored around command and control. Leading with authority is passé. Leading without authority is very much in vogue.

An industrial-age leader’s natural response to valuable resources is to hoard. Digital leaders’ natural response is to share. It is in fact by sharing that digital leaders gain their license to influence others without authority.

Continuous collaboration and real-time dialogue between leaders, managers and frontline employees is a crucial success factor in the digital age. Leaders must architect a collaborative, networked organization that responds to internal and external changes in an agile fashion.

Digital also forces leaders to be much more engaged with the external environment of the organization, be it with governments, NGOs or consumer groups.

  1. Digitalization requires a complete re-think of the external business environment

The companies that are likely to disrupt an industry are increasingly unlikely to come from the same industry. The ones that are armed with a digital arsenal from different industries are becoming threats to incumbents. To develop foresight, leaders need to develop a clear understanding of the forces that are shaping not just their industries but also other industries.

Additionally, be it the 4Ps of marketing or Porter’s 5 forces, the traditional lenses for analysing the external business environment have become less relevant in the digital age. It may be useful for business leaders in their respective industries to ask, “What would Google do”? This question brings to sharp focus the re-thinking that needs to be done to be relevant in the new age.

  1. Organizational mission and purpose to be revisited

Leaders may need to revisit the “Why” question for their organizations and question assumptions behind the business model of the organization and the industry. To adapt, they would need to bring the risk of disruption into business planning, no matter how comfortable they may feel at this point about their business performance. The single most important factor that galvanizes the ecosystem partners, customers and employees of the organization is the overarching organizational mission.

Leadership Re-learning

  1. Digital is an organizational capability

Digital is not just a senior leadership issue. Digital capabilities need to be built from individual contributors all the way up to the board. Failing which, severe gaps would likely rear their ugly heads between strategy and execution. To add to this, capability building needs to be an agile, continuous process. Nothing captures this better than Peter Senge’s timeless quote, The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.”

  1. Change must be built into the organizational DNA

The operating principle in the digital world is that if something can be disrupted, it will be. Adapt or perish, the inexorable law of nature is more true today than ever before. Digital has caused tectonic shifts that have displaced individual companies and even industries. Change management used to be a program management activity for companies faced with a massive transformation. Today, leaders must ensure that the capability and motivation to continuously change are built into the very DNA of the organization.

Digital revolution is not so much a technology revolution, it is a cultural revolution. Organizations that have an agile, open and learning culture will thrive and others will fall by the wayside.

  1. Strategy at the speed of digital

There used to be a time when leaders could lock themselves up for weeks on end to come up with their five-year strategic plans. Today, the shelf life of strategy has been drastically reduced, and more importantly, strategy and execution happen “in sync” in a tight feedback loop on the job. It is no longer a closed room exercise.  The ‘Build, Measure, Learn’ cycle advocated by Eric Ries in his book, “The Lean Startup” for product development is also very much applicable to business strategy.

Leadership Learning

  1. Design Thinking: From economies of scale to economies of experience

Leaders who have earned their stripes in the industrial era need to pay attention to Design Thinking. In the industrial age, business decisions were geared towards achieving economies of scale by optimizing operations through a one-size-fits-all approach. Today, digital has empowered individuals in an unprecedented fashion. Consequently, hyper-personalization is expected in every offering, be it with consumers or employees. In other words, one size fits none.

By following a structured design thinking process, leaders can create differentiation for their businesses by crafting exceptional personalized experiences for their stakeholders.

  1. Agility: Fast fish eats the slow fish

In an on-demand world, if organizations are not agile, irrelevance is imminent. To succeed in this new environment, leaders need to empower their managers and frontline employees with enough avenues to take agile decisions and bring information back to the organization to learn about the outcomes. Organizations such as Zappos and Medium are experimenting with holacracy, which is a whole new way of organizing work to enable agility in the organization.

  1. From educated guesses to data-driven insights

Business leaders need to ensure that decisions across levels are guided by data and insights. The successes of many new-age digital organizations show that organized data-driven trial and error process is guaranteed to produce better results at an organizational level than the educated guess of a lone genius.

  1. In constant search of blue oceans

Innovation cannot just be a buzzword. Leaders must champion bold experiments on a continuous basis and help organizations learn faster. This requires leaders to prepare themselves and others for embracing volatility, uncertainty, ambiguity and risk. Searching for blue oceans is no longer a one-off activity, it is part of the daily agenda.

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  • 20 February 2019
Whirling Chief

Featured Video, HR Management

Nº 217

Effective Leadership Behaviors


People leads are a key element of our workplaces: they play a big role in people processes and impact experience creation. They can help employees deliver work at the best level possible and they can become a big blocker, too.

For sure, their influence comes up when we speak about employee satisfaction, commitment, performance, or even turn over. Yet, we asked ourselves do we actually know whether people leads can actually make a difference when it comes to specific outcomes?

For example, according to the Center for Creative Leadership, about %60 of people become leaders of others without getting any proper training. A 2016 survey of 500 managers from micro-learning platform Grovo found that 44 percent felt unprepared for their role. McKinsey studies list “more than 80% of frontline managers are unhappy with their own first-time performance.”

Despite the odds (with or without training), evidence tells us people leaders can make a difference in driving outcomes and they do!

To enable success through growth in the new century, people leaders really need to learn how to support inspiration and meaning in another human being – before they are granted the authority to lead others. AND, there are a few specific behaviors that help them support more positive outcomes.

Today, we share a short, evidence-based video in partnership with ScienceforWork around key leadership behaviors for effective team performance.

We hope you enjoy!

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  • 30 January 2019
Whirling Chief

HR Management

Nº 216

Getting Ready for a Review? Start by Shifting Focus!


“In broaching the possibility of ‘being’ … we have to imagine a world, in which celebration is less suspect than criticism,” wrote psychoanalyst Adam Phillip in Unforbidden Pleasures, published last year.

Q4 and Q1 in business means everybody is preparing for some sort of performance management activity.

It feels odd to recognize the fact that, despite our need to go through the process, most of us involved as employees, people leaders and practitioners will not find joy in the process. For yet another year, this often-annual task will fail miserably to meet the needs and expectations of our workforce.

If you are looking to re-imagine your performance management practices, you may want to check out our article, ‘The Future Of Performance Management: A Redesign Leading To Creativity, Resilience And Collaboration‘ on Forbes.

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  • 14 January 2019
Whirling Chief

Organizational Development

Nº 215

Wishing You A Year of Compassion!


Work is mostly believed to serve as a source of many for all of us: economic gain, social status, a sense of belonging and meaning…

There is considerable research regarding the impact of work on our humanity; however, we tend to pay more attention to the utility drivers. That’s mainly because our current leadership and practices have been developed by economists and modern economists tend to identify rational ends with maximization of utility, which results in welfare. Welfare, however, is not the same as wellbeing. When we over-focus on the rational, our cultures become habitats of arationality. For example, we cover our political motives by politeness while often unintentionally, still end up hurting others. Or we highlight our willingness to cooperate while doing back information from others resulting in decline of trust and collaboration.

We want to shift this focus inside our business communities in and beyond 2019. We equally care to drive wellbeing in addition to welfare for the benefit of our humanities.

Be it at work or outside in our societies, there is a clear need to induce compassion in our daily experiences. As a result, during the initial few weeks of 2019, we will share some details around fostering more meaning at work and the typology of practices that infuse a sense of belonging, trust, and respect inside our workplaces.

Start With Compassion

Over the last year, we made it a practice to ask about compassion during our business discussions. It is surprising how many of us do not have a good definition of this virtue. It is often confused with sympathy or empathy but it is different… I often share the following example to differentiate:

If you were to stumble and fall into an open well walking down the street, someone sympathic would walk by and say “Oh, you fell, poor thing. That must have hurt!” and walk away… Someone empathic would walk by and say “OMG! I have been there, that’s hurtful but wait now, help is coming” or “Anything I can do?!” and walk away… Some compassionate would walk by and say “Oh Lord, I am so sorry for your tripping over. Wait, I am getting a rope to get you out” and ACT.

Compassion develops from growing empathic care and completes its round by us taking an action to alleviate the pain (or suffering).

Of course, it is always better to have sympathy and empathy than none; yet, there is a continuum. If we want to create different – better – experiences for ourselves and others, we have to get ourselves to care first and then yes, act.

Over the holidays, we adopted a cat. Our first time ever, house pet. His name is ‘Hamsi’, Turkish for anchovy. Hamsi came from the shelter, has been badly hurt (by humans, may I say…) and had a leg amputated. He was looking for a loving home. This is the picture I received from one of my best friends’ son, who is 7 and whom I consider being a nephew, the day after we informed them on Hamsi’s arrival, by the following accompanying text:

“Auntie, I may have a solution for Hamsi: I designed him a leg, I think it may help his pain.”

This is what compassion looks like… From a place of distance, in our case from Japan, where our friends reside currently, thinking and developing a solution that one believes may help the other… Of course, the action can not be completed here but you get the point…

If you are going to invest in one thing this year – for yourself as a leader and/or for your organization, let that be compassion.

Self-Compassion Comes First

It is true. Our colleagues Jane Dutton and Monica Worline at the University of Michigan have studied a variety of organizations to understand compassion at work for six years. They found distressed employees who receive a direct compassionate act and/or observe others receive it experience greater positive emotions such as joy and developed higher commitment towards their organizations.

There are many simple behaviors you can engage in to demonstrate compassion, it need not to be grandiose; and you have to start with self.

  • Start with self-compassion. There are three legs to compassion: The ability to give, the ability to receive and self-compassion. As Dalai Lama often says “In order to truly have compassion for others, we must have compassion for ourselves.”
  • Pay attention to employees’ psychological well-being. In a study by Amy Edmondson, it is noted that organizations with higher levels of “psychological safety” are more willing to admit to error and collaborate to find solutions, providing safer environments for others’ to exist. Compassion plays a role in psychological safety because it can enhance trust and fuel generosity, which in turn can have a cascade effect in organizations.
  • Display positive contact. This has become a touch topic in the era of #metoo movement; however, trust that people know to differentiate between a good social contact and other. Initiate open meetings, include everyone for the development of a community.
  • Exercise authenticity and transparency. If we can remain true to who we are and exercise the courage to keep the communication lines open with respect and kindness, we are able to build space and grow internal resources to form an empathic connection.
  • Be generous. In a smile, in time, in taking perspective. This is also known as “cognitive empathy,” or simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. This type of empathy can help in negotiating or motivating people to give their best effort.

No outcome is truly realized without a sense of purpose. There is no doubt that one of our primary motivations as human beings is self-interest and it is a fact that our organizations (corporations, societies, etc.) are fundamentally selfish by design in that they pursue self-interest in a rational way. At the same time, we have a moral obligation to honor our other human motivations and organizational ethics. It is impossible to avoid stress in the current modern lives of ours. It is, however, possible to bounce back from the ups and downs of life with strength and resilience through a touch of compassion.

“Culture” by definition is developed through ethics nurtured through repetition, that becomes a tradition. Go into the year wishing self and others more compassion. Adapt your rationality to embrace compassion. Form nurturing habits that can transmit from one generation to another.

Only then, we can truly start realizing a different set of experiences.

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  • 7 January 2019
Whirling Chief

From Us

Nº 214

Happy Holidays!


From our hearts to yours…

Taking the task of championing humanity into the global workplace has been the riskiest, the most resource heavy and the most fulfilling investment for our company in the past 3 years.

Understanding such a huge mindset and practice shift requires more than a single entity, we have worked really hard to establish credible partnerships over the last 18 months. 

We remain humbled and proud of our joint progress and would like to offer our public thanks to a large community of colleagues, practitioners, clients, who have been most generous with their support.

2018 was a year of growth – discomfort and joy!

We declare 2019 to be a year of nourishment and nurture (of our work, ourselves and our communities). 

As we launch into our annual holidays, from all partners and us, we send you our most sincere seasons’ greetings.

Whirling Chief Team 

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  • 21 December 2018
Whirling Chief

Organizational Development

Nº 213

Human Leadership: What It Looks Like, And Why We Need It In The 21st Century


Over the years I have come to know and work with hundreds of executives.

Some of these executives have tried very hard to do everything right on paper, and yet, when in focus groups, their employees still don’t feel committed to them.

Some struggled with the experience of having to manage a relatively mid-level turnover for sustainable periods of time. Others failed in driving transformative change because they were acting more like a manager than a leader, despite the statutory rights handed to them.

It is a fact that many of these executives were actually promoted into people leadership roles because they were very successful at managing work at an individual level.

We need a different, a revised philosophy to leadership.

In the original Forbes article here, I introduce the concept of human leadership, explain why it is essential for 21st-century business and what it looks like – enjoy!

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  • 17 December 2018
Whirling Chief

From Us, Video

Nº 212

We Have Over 1,000 YouTube Subscribers! ⭐️


Yesterday, we received a note from YouTube stating our channel just passed 1K subscribers,which gives us a whole net set of functionality to serve you all better.

What a happy moment! 🎉

I want to re-iterate that this is a non-profit initiative for all of our partners and us.

Whirling Chief represents not our consulting firm, rather a community of practitioners and leaders, who care to make work better.

ScienceforWork, for example, is an incredible organization that supports us (and you) in research; and you know what? They do so voluntarily and after their work hours.

CCARE is another amazing organization supports us (and you) in grander research and content;and they only operate through grants.

Thrive Global is for-profit born out a need to “take better control of our lives.” They honor NGOs and start-ups like us through their granting so we have the necessary funds to work on new solutions, like the one application we now have in testing.

In return, we dedicate a percentage of our corporate earnings to invest in each research funding, technology build and content development for the benefit of the broader community.

If we are serious about changing our work experiences, we have to realize this is a HUGE task one organization can not undertake alone.

We need the power of our multidisciplinary work.

We need the creativity of science and wisdom together.

We need the voice of our individual leadership and collective humanity.

You can support us and these beautiful organizations through subscribing to our network and/or following us on Twitter.

THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts!

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  • 12 December 2018
Whirling Chief

Organizational Development

Nº 211

Going Back To The Future: Designing Organizational Cultures Of Compassion, Wisdom And Well-Being


On October 25, the New York Times published an article on the misconducts that led to the largest employee protest in the history of Google.

Two days later, my husband, who is a technical leader at the company, came home demoralized. “I thought we were different,” he said. “I feel confused.” Some minutes later he shared, “Thank you for doing what you are doing!”

He understands what I do for a living and my mission to create meaningful experiences for every member of the global workforce always, yet one doesn’t really internalize the value of a purpose until an experience hits home.

It has become increasingly clear to many of us in the global business world that our work-experience story is facing a crisis of confidence. In the current environment, we have so eloquently created, people have become an instrument for fueling capitalism and capitalism alone. If we consider that business was established to develop societies by nourishing our humanity, it becomes less surprising that we find our work experience rapidly losing value as business becomes decoupled from our human identities. Across all industries, sectors and geographies, we find employees feeling increasingly more irrelevant, more misplaced, without intent or safety inside elaborate structures and workplaces.

There is a deep and silent suffering inside our organizations. For more, please visit the original of our article at Forbes.com here

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  • 10 December 2018
Whirling Chief

Featured Video, HR Management, Video

Nº 210

Are There Really Generational Differences in the Workplace?


The working environment has gone through a major transformation over the last decade, particularly in terms of population in the workforce. We have today workplaces composed of five generations:

  • Traditionalists—born before 1946.
  • Baby Boomers—born between 1946 and 1964.
  • Generation X—born between 1965 and 1976.
  • Generation Y, or Millennials—born between 1977 and 1997.
  • Generation Z—born after 1997.

There is a lot of talk around how each generation is different than other and new generations have different expectations as it relates to their work experiences, etc.

So, naturally, together with our science partner ScienceforWork, we turned to research for some validation. Turns out all the affirmations we keep hearing have no solid theory or data behind them!

What do generations want in the workplace?

What we all want… To be seen, to be heard, to be valued and to be recognized for our unique contribution!

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  • 26 November 2018
Whirling Chief

Organizational Development

Nº 209

HR by Love: An Invitation to a Collaborative Future


I have been on the road the past four weeks.

My journey started in California with initiating a US pilot of a collaboration with Stanford University’s CCARE on a program called ‘Awakening Humanity at Work‘. This is a program designed to help awaken core human capabilities available to any one of us supporting our leadership operate from a higher self, rooted in abundance and compassionate love. I was honored then to present a keynote at the first time ‘Compassion & Mindfulness at Work’ conference in the greater Seattle area. Then, I traveled to Lisbon to attend the House of Beautiful Business gathering with futurists, technologists, designers, and psychologists passionate to create a positive vision of technology and humanity together. Finally, together with my dear colleagues Lena Schwerzmann and Timo Plattner, I had the pleasure of hosting the third annual DisruptHR event in Zurich and what a joy it was!

When I am on the road, I have the luxury of open space in time… I seek these spaces out as reflective times and try to cherish it as much as I can by allowing myself to daydream. I have been wondering about the state of HR as a profession and how little I get to observe the effort to collaborate in reach of a vision.

Over the course of this year, several colleagues have asked me whether I feel threatened by the competition and by sharing information openly; whether I worry that others with more commission or visibility would “steal” a concept to make it sell sooner; whether I fear that the community would turn around on me or downplay my ideas.

These are thought-provoking questions I am thankful to have and I allow my conscious to recognize they are all driven by fear.

We, human beings, are social animals. Along with our instinct to self-protect, we have a desire to belong, to connect and an even greater desire to find meaning in our experiences. Our whole evolution has been a product of our ability to survive harsh circumstances due to our ability to cooperate. That’s to say we have learned to observe and understand networks and resources around us. We have come to exchange information and resources in support of each other’s goals and/or a mutual gain.

Going into the 21st century, some of us are looking to advance our ways of cooperation to collaboration, which is much harder to achieve.

Collaboration has become a buzzword, unfortunately, but it is essential to our collective being. It is about working together in hopes of creating a shared vision. For us to be able to collaborate (not cooperate) we need to first shift our mental stigmas to believe that there is no zero-sum but plus-sum instead. We need to believe we are enough and that the pie is enough and there is enough sand for everyone to play in. We need to be willing to make ourselves vulnerable in pursuit of an interest bigger than ourselves.

The problem, however, is that majority of us still aren’t ready to accept the concept of unconditional, compassionate love.

We feel extremely vulnerable and proud to take risks. We choose (for the hundred times) the same solution that has proven ineffective over a solution that’s new and unseen because the first option is presented is a known (meaning everyone else leverages it). The fear of vulnerability, rejection, and failure stops us from caring, connecting, collaborating; and ultimately from innovating.

In HR, we, too, suffer from this tension. More than often, we’d rather be right than to understand or to challenge our realities. We rather ‘think’ of good ideas than to act. We rather please than to upset. As a result, we end up leading by fear, instead of love.

I am completely in love my profession and function; yet, to expect the future to come from a place of comfort signifies that “we mistake the need to think with the urge to know.” So, I can’t help but wonder… Are we not curious about the potential of the future to not take some risk today?

For those willing to take a step forward, here are a few challenges I put out to myself and to our community:

  1. Allow self the luxury of discomfort. Until we learn to grow a sense of comfort around discomfort and exercise our true purpose and courage, no one else will inside our organizations. I invite us to be the leading role models to be well, to do well, to relate well.
  2. Do not accept any mandate out of fear, guilt, the desire of an approval. Extrinsic motivators are important but they are not as much of a fuel to sustainable results and our wellbeing. Trust that we are holistic beings capable to overcome any challenge. I invite us to lead from the heart and a place of loving.
  3. Act with kindness and generosity. Starting with self, exercise compassion. I can’t tell you how many business and HR leaders believe compassion and management don’t go hand in hand. This is untrue. Just because we are unsure how to put the two together doesn’t mean it is not achievable. We can start by assuming positive intent and offering a positive interpretation. Whether it is a smile, some time or offering someone critical feedback for their development, I invite us to be generous in our giving.
  4. Make space for ALL people. When I started my career a wee time ago, I was told HR was designed to be working with employees. Nowadays, I find more organizations asking their HR professionals to focus on management (in hopes to avoid employee claims). I have always argued and will continue to argue HR needs to hold equal space between management, people and organization to maintain justice and equity. I invite us simply to hold the space.
  5. Cherish presence and solitude. Despite how much may be waiting for us at our desks and it is often more than we can bear, we have to remind ourselves day-dreaming matters. We matter. Our wellbeing matters. And people matter equally when we are with them.
  6. Fall in love with learning. It is a fact the majority of our HR colleagues have not been schooled in the field or in business. This IS okay. The concept of schooling is outdated today, too. Not having the right knowledge or skill to lead an organizational design conversation should not stop us from wanting to learn how to. If we want to bring differentiated value to the business, then, I invite us to take hold of our professional expertise.

Future doesn’t exist without a current activity of today. We are all artists of our lives. For those of us in HR, we need to recraft our artisanship in business. We need to collaborate on reconsidering what we create, promote and allow inside our organizations today to design a space of regeneration for tomorrow.

Are we ready to push the boundaries and collaborate towards leading by love?

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  • 14 November 2018