On a busy weekday, Khurram Latif, the CX & OD Trainer at COLABS is earnestly speaking to his team of young crew members about the importance of making women feel safe at work.
“You must be polite and respectful,” Khurram says, “Make eye contact once, acknowledge what someone’s asking or telling you, but don’t continue staring…it will make a woman feel uneasy, and you never want to do that.”
Seated in a studio at the COLABS flagship, 36-year-old Khurram has been spearheading a series of trainings and team-building activities for his team of 46 crew members, housekeeping staff and operation managers throughout the month of September and October.
Over the course of his 15+ year career, this is where he finds a sense of joy and meaning: by mentoring an organization’s often overlooked, ‘invisible’ workforce in the hopes to better their lives.
“I remember once in my career, I was asked by a superior if I ever felt insecure about training my team members so well that it may put my role within the organization at risk, Khurram chuckles, “He said, ‘Aren’t you worried about someone replacing you?’ But you can’t mess with someone’s career by holding back on training them, it’s your duty to help set them up for career growth. If you’re in a managerial position, you have a big role to play in someone’s destiny: it’s a question of their future.”
Initially starting out by doing the night shift in an organization after graduating from Punjab University, Khurram promised himself early on that he wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes he saw those around him making in senior positions.
“No one focuses on our invisible workforce; the people who work in the background to keep organizations running smoothly. Who is there to train and mentor them? Also, tomorrow, if a manager leaves, the system shouldn’t collapse without them. No matter where I’ve worked, I’ve made every effort to make my team feel so self-confident that there’s no room for feeling demotivated or helpless.”
For Khurram, it’s important to focus on the little things too, such as how to speak to clients, body language and teaching his crew members to have more trust in themselves.
“There’s such a big gap in our society between the haves and the have-nots. It has been my life’s mission to bridge the class divide. One way for people like me to do that is to adopt the role of a mentor. If employees don’t have mentors in organizations they’ll always be directionless. And when employees are directionless, there’s zero growth.”
Born into a joint family system in Lahore, Khurram saw his self-made father struggle to make ends meet as an electrician for a majority of his life. Lugging around heavy equipment from one location to the other, come rain or shine, having to deal with bad-tempered customers and on top of it all, having to work in locations without zero safety gear and equipment, Khurram saw his father suffer enormously.
It was a life of piercing anguish, but the kitchen had to keep running, the bills needed to be paid, and Khurram and his siblings needed to go to school.
“I was 16-years-old when my father sat down with me one day. ‘Son, here’s a screwdriver and here’s a pen, it’s your choice now,’ my father had said, ‘Do you want to live the life I’ve led as an electrician, or do you want to work in an office?’”
Today, having trained over 400 individuals who now work as managers, Khurram smiles shyly when speaking about what it’s like to meet his ex-team members who fondly refer to him as their ustaad.
“When you trust your team, you can delegate effectively and at the same time, empower them in the process. There’s a direct link between trusting and taking ownership. It’s part of the same chain,” he says.
But is there any hope in making a ‘bad’ employee turn over a new leaf into an effective employee?
“There are two ways to deal with an employee like that; the aggressive route where you give them a harsh warning, or, the other approach is with empathy. For instance, ask them why they keep coming to work late – are they stressed out about something? Is there a personal issue they can discuss with you? The choice is yours…give an ultimatum or find out the root cause for bad performance.”