“Leave room in your schedule for the unexpected” with Laurent Uberti of Sitel Group

Leave room in your schedule for the unexpected. While it’s easy to plan every hour of your day to max out your time, I’ve found it’s actually best not to plan out your whole day by the minute. Things don’t go exactly according to plan — especially in my business! — every day, and leaving […]

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Leave room in your schedule for the unexpected. While it’s easy to plan every hour of your day to max out your time, I’ve found it’s actually best not to plan out your whole day by the minute. Things don’t go exactly according to plan — especially in my business! — every day, and leaving time for unexpected phone calls, emails or personal life commitments can make those shifts less stressful.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Laurent Uberti, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sitel Group. As a founder, shareholder and president of Groupe Acticall, Laurent worked closely with the Sitel leadership team after the acquisition to combine the two organizations and continue to transform the customer experience management industry. In December 2016, Laurent was named president and CEO of Sitel after holding the role of Executive Chairman of the Board since January 2016. Prior to completing the acquisition of Sitel by Groupe Acticall in September 2015, he co-founded the French start-up Groupe Acticall in France more than 20 years ago. At Groupe Acticall, he was responsible for strategic growth and expansion. With his entrepreneurial mindset, Laurent steadily developed the company over the years and in 2004, Groupe Acticall acquired Vitalicom, a company five times its size and its first strategic acquisition. In 2010, the company started its international and diversified expansion in creating subsidiaries in four areas: IT solutions & apps, digital, consulting and training. For nearly 10 years, Laurent was President of the French Contact Center Professional Association. He is a graduate of SKEMA Business School Sophia Antipolis in France.

Thank you so much for joining us, Laurent! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

Infact, I have a pretty interesting story. I was in business school in France, and two of my classmates — with whom I had become good friends — and I had this crazy idea to start a business together. We were given an opportunity to build a commercial B2B database for a major French utility company, and we founded what is today known as Sitel Group in our little apartment in the city. We began having client meetings out of the apartment as we grew the business. We’re still on this journey today and it remains an adventure!

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

I think as things have become increasingly digital, we are all moving faster and faster, and our attention spans are getting smaller. The feeling of being rushed has absolutely increased in the past few decades as we’ve become more digitally connected. For example, the ability to work from home is a tremendous benefit in so many lives, but at the same time, having our work at home makes it that much more prevalent in every part of lives and that much more difficult to slow down.

One of the biggest problems with rushing through things, both in work and in life, is that it increases the likelihood that you’ll make a mistake. Multitasking is a skill so many people want to fully harness, but the reality is that studies have shown that trying to focus on several tasks at once doesn’t allow you to do any of the tasks as well, and it doesn’t save you time. It can actually waste time because when you switch from one task to another, your brain must refocus. This requires additional time if you’re constantly switching back and forth, compared to if you just focus on one task at a time. In addition, people who rush through their work tend to have higher stress levels, which can lead to more health problems and a lower level of happiness.

Finally, we need to find time to take some distance from our work, to take the high ground and just to think. We are constantly consumed by distractions, and when we take the time to break from the norm, and create room for thoughts to ideate, we will be considerably more productive, healthier and happier.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

It’s easy to get caught up in something and lose sight of the bigger picture when you’re rushing through work or life. I think it’s important to take a step back and make sure we are working toward the right things and staying aligned to the overall vision and strategy. For example, after completing a portion of a project, take time to reflect on the reason you are doing that project to begin with. What are you accomplishing, and how does it help you meet your goals? How can you make sure that future tasks to complete the project are done efficiently, but not rushed? Are there other ways that you may able to achieve your goals while slowing down? This mind shift to a slower life allows you more head space to focus on what gives you joy, rather than rushing through the best parts of life — overall this will make you a happier person.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

1. Start the day with a routine, rather than a rush. For example, waking up a few minutes earlier to take the time to make breakfast, take a few breaths and prepare yourself for the day ahead can set you up for a much more productive, and less rushed, work day.

2. Focus on one task at a time. I do my best to really block out time to focus on one single task at a time, forcing myself to put my full focus on that task so I am executing it more effectively without making silly mistakes.

3. Leave room in your schedule for the unexpected. While it’s easy to plan every hour of your day to max out your time, I’ve found it’s actually best not to plan out your whole day by the minute. Things don’t go exactly according to plan — especially in my business! — every day, and leaving time for unexpected phone calls, emails or personal life commitments can make those shifts less stressful.

4. Take a walk. Stepping away from your desk and moving your body is an important way to help refocus your mind. For example, if you have 10 minutes in between calls, get up and just walk to the other end of the office and back. You’ll be amazed how only a few minutes of movement can reset your mind.

5. Connect with people. Make time for your team members often. Whether it’s an in-person meeting or a video call, try to have a face-to-face meeting with each member of your team as often as possible. Not only is talking through projects more efficient and effective than email, but giving people your undivided attention is critical to building and maintaining relationships.

6. Take time away from your screens. While this can be difficult during the workday, or really at all, it’s important to take time to disconnect. Even if it’s just 30 minutes while you’re eating dinner, this time away from screens gives you clarity that you may not otherwise have. I find that sometimes the best ideas come from time away from your work.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

I would define mindfulness as the practice of being purposeful with everything you do. Making sure you are attentive to one task, and when you’re done, moving on to be attentive to the next. It’s being connected to your brain in a way that helps you regulate your stress and emotions. For example, during a stressful work situation, staying mindful can help you look at the situation with a calm perspective and focus on solutions rather than rushing through to solve the problem inefficiently.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

Slowing down in and of itself is a great way to practice mindfulness in your everyday life. It allows you to focus on what you are actively doing, producing better outcomes, whether it’s working on a business plan or having a conversation with a family member.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

Keeping track of how I spend my time on my to-do list helps me understand when I’m having trouble focusing and need to take a break to refocus my brain. Additionally, I set blocks of time on my calendar when I need to focus on a specific task. It forces me to hold myself accountable to that one task and keeps me from multitasking and spending too much time on one project.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices.

I recently read Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and I enjoyed the different way of looking at business. I think it’s important that as a business leader, I’m mindful of how our business is operating — the things we’re doing well and what we can improve upon. What will make us stronger is the ability to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. This is how we will grow and become stronger as an organization, as well as create new methods and processes that help us take a step forward. Similarly to any major company, we need to be prepared for change and remain agile. Recognizing this fact overall makes that volatility more approachable.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” ― Seneca

This quote reminds me that few things in life are pure luck, but we set ourselves up by competently preparing for every potential situation. While one may get lucky, it’s tough to find success with that luck without already having created a space for this luck to thrive. It’s essential to always be aware of the variety of projects going on around you, and while focusing in on those projects or tasks is necessary, it’s also essential to prepare for the unknown to set yourself up for success when opportunity calls.

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. 🙂

If I were to inspire a movement, I would make a change in the attitude of the workplace. There are so many employees around the world who are afraid of failing or making a mistake, and who don’t understand the value or opportunity for learning that failing can provide. Much of the corporate world does not promote the benefits of failure or provide significant room for improvement. From the top down, organizations need to promote a culture of growth from mistakes, rather than creating an environment where people are so afraid to fail that they don’t provide their best ideas.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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