HomeFuture of WorkHR EffectivenessThe Power of Onlyness

The Power of Onlyness

  • 3 Min Read

Bestselling author, Nilofer Merchant was the first to take the stage at the 2018 HRD Summit as keynote speaker. Nilofer, known for talking ‘wild’ ideas and turning them into reality urged the audience to embrace their own power of ‘onlyness’. She defined’ onlyness’ as ‘the spot where only you stand’, she urged delegates to disrupt traditional HR and look to creating value within their organisations by navigating hierarchies and systems.

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Nilofer has launched more than 100 products, netting $18bn in revenues, so understands the power of products. With that in mind, Nilofer shared a personal story with the audience. She described how, at 18 years of age she was arranged to be married – she’d live in America from a young age, but the expectation on her to marry was always prevalent in accordance with her Islamic background.

However, Nilofer had her own plans; she had applied to university. “I was biding my time, figuring out how to get what I wanted, as well as meeting the needs of my family.” She then decided that she was the ‘product’ in this wedding deal and said to her Mother: “Since I am the product you cannot do this deal without me.” This resulted in Nilofer getting her much-desired education, but at a high price – she lost her family because she refused to the arranged marriage. Penniless, and without a family, Nilofer had to work four jobs and eventually got herself back on track. She spoke about what this time taught her: “In one of my first jobs I was in a meeting and I realised that no-one was making eye contact with me – I was ready to contribute, but I was not seen.”

Drawing from her past experiences and the ‘predetermined’ box that she didn’t fit into, Nilofer advised delegates to ‘raise their hand’ and be heard to fully embrace their unique power of onlyness.

She then moved on to discuss how leaders sometimes predetermine what their employees can do within the business, choosing not to see the wider picture. “Putting people into boxes doesn’t allow them to flourish. People want to add something, and drive innovation – we need to enable them to do this,” she said. Emphasising how important the individual is, and how a leader will get the best out of someone – Nilofer said: “If they see the silhouette and not the soul – they aren’t actually seeing you.”

Nilofer ended her session with a small challenge for the audience, “Can everyone to close their eyes and remember a time in their lives when someone really saw them, indicated what you loved and what made you feel curious. You felt seen, appreciated and able to bring that part of you to the world – imagine if everyone in the world could feel like that. Open your eyes… imagine how we could do that.”

“The power of change is interconnected and social – not individual. As HR you need to consider how you could reward, recruit and practice differently,” she concluded.

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