Author Deborah Sawyerr: “My philosophy is that an appreciated team is the brainbox behind every excellent manager.”
…Thank you — as a manager, nothing beats saying a simple thank you to your team. I don’t mean the lip service type of thank you. I mean thank you that shows a genuine appreciation for your team and their effort. My philosophy is that an appreciated team is the brainbox behind every excellent manager.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Sawyerr. Deborah is an expert Money Literacy Educator for kids, young adults and adults. She educates learners and clients how to be financially fit through simple everyday savvy tips, tricks and strategies. She is the brand owner and brains behind of Sawyerrs’ House and Sawyerrs’ House Foundation for Young Persons. Her brand is becoming a household name in the field of financial literacy and entrepreneurship with her primary focus being financial literacy and education. She is also a public speaker, a money blogger and podcaster. She is of African descent and a British national based in the U.K. Deborah is a published writer and author of three financial books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Lulu Publishing. As a Money Literacy Educator, she has had public speaking engagement in the US, UK and Ghana. She is a devoted mum to her two young daughters who were instrumental in helping her write her first childrens’ worksheet booklet and flashcards called Play Your Cards Right — a book designed to help parents teach their children how to be money literate. She divides her spare time spending it with friends and family, enjoying all things holistic living coupled with being an avid tennis fan. Her ultimate vision is to give back to Africa by educating market women traders in money literacy. Her tagline is Spend BETTER. Save BIGGER. Invest BRAVELY.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a young adult living and working for public sector housing organisations in the UK, I worked with vulnerable families who struggled with managing their day-to-day finances. As a result, priority bills such as paying their rent became non-priority for them, resulting in the loss of their homes. By the same token, I had the opportunity to rub shoulders with work colleagues who were savvy and advised me to take a number of wise financial decisions when I was young. Fast forward to my late 20s, I found myself in a marriage with financial problems which resulted in domestic violence. My marriage sadly collapsed. It was my wake-up call to start Sawyerrs’ House. I had no doubt that there were many families out there who need to financially literate to combat many of the situations I had come across professionally and personally. My career path was birth from my pain.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It never ceases to amaze me and the response I get every time people who I meet for the first time ask me what I do. It goes something like this:
New person: So, what do you do?
Me: Take guess?
New person: I want guess that you are into fashion, maybe fitness or something along those lines.
Me: No. I am a Money Literacy Educator for kids, young adults and adults.
New person: Wow, I think what you are doing is amazing. Yes, kids need to learn about the value of money. Even as an adult, I did not learn anything about finance. I wish someone taught me about money when I was young, I’d be a better person today.
So, there you have it. If I had £1 for every response like this, I think I’d be a millionaire today. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. Perhaps I should have a game called, Guess What I Do — and if their response is just as I expect, they can donate £1 towards helping a child learn about finance.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am always working on exciting projects as a creative.
My brain is always concocting new ideas. Well, I am currently in talks with a financial institution that has links with local schools where I live. It would be nice to collaborate with them to get financial literacy into as many schools as possible. I truly believe in the saying — Local To Global!
I also have my eyes set on one or two Fintech brands which I would love to work with and promote their brand. Let’s see how things pan out.
A new concept in the world of TV has been brought to my attention from a nearby European country which I am exploring.
It’s all very exciting for me and my brand.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
Now, I must say although I have never lived in or permanently worked in the US, I do hang out with a large number of Americans in the online space, who previously worked in corporate American and who have since become entrepreneurs. I would like to think that the number is so high for a number of reasons.
First, there is the pressure on the workforce to produce results at the expense of employee work/life balance. For example, the study shows that some employees gained weight whilst in their jobs despite having access to wellness programs. The onus is also on the employer to create an environment that motivates employees (in practical ways) to be active. Overweight or not, being active is known to release those good endorphins which I have no doubt can help with productivity.
Another reason why I think the number is so high is employees are fed up with being sidelined when it comes to that job promotion which they have applied for, for the umpteen time. Their frustration simply forces them to quit.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Like I said earlier, an unhappy workforce is unlikely to give their very best whilst at work. There is a tendency to simply do the bare minimum and leave it at that. In effect, the company productivity is bound to suffer.
Of course, company profitability and productivity go hand in hand. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you have a company which offers a fulfilment solution. The company also has an unhappy and unproductive workforce. Undoubtedly, their unhappiness and unproductivity will result in mistakes being made with the packaging of customer orders. We all know what happens when a customer receives the wrong order. There is also the cost of returning such unwanted items — not forgetting the cost to the company in having to resend the order for the second time. Unproductivity has a knock-on effect on profitability.
In terms of the impact it has on employee health and wellbeing, it goes without saying that a happy workforce is a healthy workforce. I made that up by the way! Think about it though. An employee who is unhappy is likely to comfort eat as a way of cheering themselves up. An unhappy employee is unlikely to take up a wellness program because they have reached a point where they want nothing more to do with the company they work for.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
Oh yes I would be happy to share my take on this:
- Thank you — as a manager, nothing beats saying a simple thank you to your team. I don’t mean the lip service type of thank you. I mean thank you that shows a genuine appreciation for your team and their effort. My philosophy is that an appreciated team is the brainbox behind every excellent manager.
- Team Building days — team building is so important in improving work culture. This can be either be team building during or after working hours where staff can let their day down. Something as simple as spending just hour at the start or end of the day to share some drinks or food can be effective.
- Dress code — what we wear has a great impact on how we feel at work. I would much rather have a team member who prefers to wear casual clothes to work versus one who is forced to wear a suit or high heels to work. Comfortability over image any day.
- Be Vulnerable — positivity within the work environment is great but being vulnerable as a manager goes a long way to showing that one is human. Managers should pretend to be superhumans or robots.
- Raising Managers — I find it strange with a manager feels like their nose is being put out of joint when a team manager applies for a senior role (or even the same job that the manager has applied for). A fantastic work culture can be created by encouraging your staff to strive to move up the ladder.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
I totally agree. Well, society as whole needs to fully appreciate the hard work which those in the work environment do. Think about this way. The people within the work environment are part of society. Therefore, they need to appreciate themselves more. I know it sounds a little cliché. If I don’t appreciate myself, how can I expect anyone else to?
Of course, we also have society out there that is not part of the work culture. However, we are being serve by the people within those work environments. Our job is to make it a little easier for them whilst they serve us. We can be kinder and more patient so that our own societal culture does not negatively impact theirs. What I am saying is that there is always a cause and effect.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
To be quite honest, I do not have a leadership or management style per se. Well, at least not one that you’ll find in any leadership or management textbook. I simply lead by example. I would never expect or encourage my team to do as I say but not do I as do. I have had some great people who have led me, therefore, I emulate what they have successfully done and replicate it. For example, in my early 20s, my very first manager was a man who always had an open-door policy. He was never too busy to speak to any team member who knocked on his office door. In addition, because his office was a fair distance away from his team, he always made sure that he showed his face in the office where his staff were based. I felt that he took the time to build a professional relationship with his team. As a result, I found it easy to talk to him about work or personal issues.
From a management standpoint, I identity the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, however, and unless a team member simply does not desire to turn their weakness into a strength, then I would pair up a staff with another who was able to help turn things around. It just makes sense. It goes without saying that working on ones strength can become beneficial not only to the team but the individual in other areas of his or her life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Absolutely. I am very grateful to my coach Bukola Oriola who was instrumental in helping me write my very first two financial books, one of which is on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble — Money: The Root “Curse” of Domestic Violence. I learnt so much from her even though we are in opposite sides of the world. She is in the U.S whilst I live in the U.K. She certainly thought me a thing or two about the life of an entrepreneur especially in the area of becoming a published writer. I remember the days when we would be on the phone at ungodly hours of the night due to the time difference between us. There were times when I’d fall asleep whilst I was on the phone with her. She’d say, “Deborah, Deborah, are you still there”. Suddenly, I would wake up reminding myself that I needed to finish writing the books as I had a deadline of when I wanted the books to be published by. I am eternally grateful to her and her family.
My coach and I met during a virtual tele-summit which was organized by an American entrepreneur who were knew in common. During the summit, Bukola, I and several other US based entrepreneurs were guest speakers sharing what our brands and businesses had to offer the world. I was quite new in the business world at the time. I brought these six pieces of coffee stained A4 paper which I had scribbled six money concepts on. The concepts were put together by my two young daughters and I to help educate kids about money in a fun way. Actually, each of the sheets had these words written on them — Bring Nice Wellies But Stay Indoors.
Anyway, during the summit, I showed the pieces of paper to the attendees. I think Bukola picked up on this and made a comment about me putting the concepts into a book format. That was the beginning of our coaching relationship which led me to become an author of not just one book, but two — and a third book later that year after I had stopped working with her.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I know what you are asking here, but I would like to answer it from a slightly different angle. Just being in business and building a brand is success to me. With that being said and to date, I have successfully educated 270 kids, young adults and adults in financial literacy. I am sure the numbers are higher than that as I have not included those who send me messages asking for guidance. I would certainly say that has brought and will continue to bring goodness to the world. I feel very humbled by it all.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. There is also the title of a book written by the internationally renowned author Susan Jeffers. I read this book many years ago even before I knew I was going to become an entrepreneur. I can’t quite remember exactly why I got the book but there must have been a reason though.
I have had the book since 2009. I still have it in my possession as a resource for me to use whenever I feel that fear as a mother, sister, daughter, friend or businesswoman. Fear is not the devil. It is a real emotion. I simply choose not to live in fear and the book helps me to deal with any fears that I may encounter.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I love this question. I am going to be greedy here by mentioning two movements that would bring the most amount of good. First, I want to continue to inspire young people to believe in the power that they have within them. The power to be whatever she choose to be, particularly when it comes to nurturing their creativity and turning it into a business. Not every young person desires to go to university and this can be an alternative (or complement) to higher education. I believe every young person is talented in one way or another. I also believe that young people are fearless. However, the world of social media has unfortunately increased the level of peer pressure so much so that they can become too fearful of being different or stepping out of the box.
The second movement that I would inspire, which is also a vision of mine, is to be able to financially educate market traders who are women and are based in Africa. I feel that they can become even bigger and better businesswomen with the right skills and action taken when it comes to their finance.