Engaging people's minds may just be a matter of perception

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 October, 2011, 12:00am


Listening to Simon Nowroz talk about his personal life and professional predilections, one can be forgiven for assuming that his nickname is 'Change'.

From an early age, Nowroz seems to have seen and lived through events that others may find crushing. As a boy, he and his family had to leave their home in Afghanistan for the United Kingdom. As a young man, he moved to the United States, worked at motels and even painted pools, and then repatriated himself back to London to work with an airline, before uprooting his own young family to work from the south of France.

'My family life has been very fluid ever since the get-go,' Nowroz says, in typical understatement.

Today, as Asia Pacific president and managing director of Travelport, Nowroz looks after the company's commercial operations in the region, helping connect travel providers, agencies and corporations via traditional and online channels through their global distribution systems, such as Worldspan and Galileo.

Nowroz has a long history in the travel sector, having worked in sales and marketing for British Midland Airways. He also had a stint in land transportation, via Budget Rent A Car, where he handled commercial and partnership marketing for Europe and the Middle East.

He later joined a multinational IT services company, where he led the travel and transport consulting practice. From there, he joined Cendant TDS, which was acquired by Travelport in 2006.

At the forthcoming Executive Summit, Nowroz will talk about staff engagement and how to drive corporate cultural change. The working title of his piece is rather cryptic: 'Heroes, Villains and Growth'. However, given his fascination with change, Nowroz will likely come up with more questions than answers at the summit. Here's a preview:

Where did this fascination with business and change start?

In the mid-80s, when I went to the US to do some bit of travelling and to reassess where I wanted to go next, I came across a couple of business publications. I started reading them and I was absolutely fascinated - and I've been fascinated ever since with business. Because for me, business is the ultimate act of creativity. It's about thinking up an idea in your head that doesn't exist, being able to articulate that in such a way that you engage people to believe in something that has yet to happen. Businesses can change people's lives. As a customer, you can get new stuff that you haven't had before. As an employee, you can have a lot of fun doing new stuff.

How about your insights into staff engagement? How did that start?

I remember walking into a retail outlet in the UK and it was really a boring experience. And I thought the people working there surely could put on a better experience than this. But why not? Why is it that they have that capability but they are not able to deliver?

It then struck me that a lot of what organisations do tends to be built around processing a large number of people through a common set of systems - and that means we tend to go down to the least common denominator rather than, perhaps, lift it to the highest possible level.

If you think about it, we've been running organisations for 500 years. And that's the best we can do after 500 years' worth of learning experience?

What will you be focusing on at the Executive Summit?

I think it's a matter of recognising where the limitations are in an organisation and then undo them a little bit. I think allowing people to be more autonomous in what they do, giving them more choices in what they do, and more ownership of what they do - these are critical areas. Communication is another critical area, as most organisations struggle to communicate in an engaging and effective way.

And the biggest area for me is helping employees. How do you create an environment that stimulates thinking? That's where perception comes in, which for me is such a relevant issue.

Like others, I have been looking for the winning combination behind success. And over time, I've realised that actually, the bulk of what distinguishes success from failure is around perception. It's around how you see things. And I realised that the most critical element of that is something we already have - our brains, it's our mind. And so, from an employer's perspective, how do we deal with perception?