KEY PRINCIPLES FOR PRO-ACTIVELY MANAGING THE RISK OF WORKPLACE BULLYING AND HARASSMENT
Earlier today I had the opportunity to catch up with a colleague I hadn’t seen for some time. Our Skype conversation wasn’t purely one of old friends getting reacquainted with personal news - important although that is - it was as a result of a request for input and advice regarding a client interested in developing means to address workplace bullying. In particular, as a result of some recent events, how the client could manage bullying at work effectively. There is no question that bullying at work is a significant drain on creativity, time, productivity, and effective relationships. Anyone who disagrees, I would respectfully suggest, likely has bullying tendencies themselves, has never experienced bullying personally, or has become desensitised to cultural norms around them that have developed over the course of their tenure. Efforts to remove and manage workplace bullying are performance multipliers rather than compliance requirements. Managing workplace bullying is a vast and complex topic enmeshed within subjective personal experience, organisational cultural norms (e.g. is it OK or not OK to show weakness or difficulty here?), time, the strength of collegial relationships, personality (e.g. why does it bother me and not anyone else?), and national cultural differences (e.g. whether speaking up against someone in authority is appropriate or seen as rude and disrespectful). It is this complexity that is often overlooked and only becomes apparent to observers once significant time has passed, acute coping mechanisms used to tolerate the intolerable have become less effective, and either a formal complaint or significant behavioural reaction to a catalysing incident becomes apparent to those not directly involved in what has been developing over time. Breaking this complexity down is difficult but important particularly if there is a desire by a team to intervene earlier rather than latter in an evolving conflict, a desire by an organisation to be in the best position to limit fall out from a continuing clash, and/or a desire by a senior management team or human resource professional to limit strategic loss of knowledge and skills as a result of an entrenched and apparently unresolvable gulf in perspective between individuals in dispute So, to keep things simple, after two decades working in the workplace conflict field in companies big and small, public and private, and across industry groups here are some of the key lessons I have learned that, if mastered and implemented well, will definitely assist any organisation or team manage bullying and other forms of conflict as effectively as reasonably possible Early conversations. I rarely put tips in order of importance because, let’s face it, it can be very hard to justify the order decided but in this case early conversations are by far the number one piece of advice by a long way. The opportunity to clarify expectations, deal with issues when they are merely embers rather than a raging inferno, being approachable, provide an outlet for frustration and a listening ear, and managing assumptions are critical. Too often I have come across situations that, for want of an earlier conversation would have been resolved or, at the very least, significantly lessened. This, of course, requires the necessary soft communication skills, emotional intelligence, and an environment that rewards and supports managing relationships pro-actively (coaching, mentoring, part of our culture) Define bullying as clearly as possible. There is a lot of grey area when it comes to workplace bullying, understandably so given the subjective nature of interpretation of intent and impact. But there is also a lot of black and white that can clarify regarding what is acceptable and unacceptable and, just as importantly, why in the context of the specific work people do, the manner in which interaction takes place and disagreement is managed, and the desired culture the employer wants to promote. The rationale for what is acceptable and not in the workplace is important as it provides a mandate for change that goes beyond personal opinion and sensitivity. Provide behavioural examples and guidelines that assist education, give confidence, and assist communication decision-making. Just because someone feels uncomfortable or doesn’t like a message, for example, is not on its own evidence of workplace bullying Establish a threshold for action. At what point can it be expected that action will be taken, and why? What are the options available? Where does the responsibility lie for action between employee and employer, and how can barriers for effective action be reduced to resolve significant conflict or allegations of significant harm? It may, hypothetically, be a formal written complaint, it may be when a manager or other duly authorised officer is approached in confidence, it may be as a result of an overt argument showing specific characteristics of threat and/or intimidation, or any other threshold indicator. Make this threshold clear, train for and support subsequent interventions, and resource a process that is timely, confidential, and seen to be independent and fair. An important component is to provide opportunity for an issue to be actively managed whether a formal complaint is received or not. Too often a formal complaint is believed to be a minimum threshold for action when it should be a supplement to more discrete (or sometimes quite overt) monitoring and measures to address an issue that have already been taken Don’t be afraid to talk about it, even as a query or point of discussion. Workplace bullying is not a taboo subject or in the ‘too hard’ box. It’s in the uncomfortable box and not providing a mechanism to disclose, discuss and inquire makes it much harder when beliefs become more entrenched as impact escalates. Bullying is very context dependent, and awareness of that context is an important factor for people to consider. It is a real and tangible outcome of behaviour that passes the ‘reasonable’ test as to what constitutes harm – that it would be expected another group of reasonable individuals, all factors being equal, would also likely find a behaviour unduly and unjustifiably harmful. Most of the time such behaviour will cause offense but not everything we find personally offensive, intimidating, or we are in disagreement with constitutes bullying. There is a difference between being uncomfortable, for whatever reason, and case to be made for harm to have been unreasonably caused Treat bullying as a performance matter, not one of health and safety. This can be a bit of a controversial perspective as bullying can be highly subjective and individually-oriented with regards to interpretation and impact. However, it’s strategically important the conversation is moved from personal sensitivity to normalised behaviour that is not desired whether intended to harm or not. Whilst bullying has very real health and safety implications, its placement under the lens of health and safety tends to place responsibility on the victim(s) rather than the individual or individuals who engaged in the behaviour or action(s) in question in the first place Pay attention to culture. Workplace culture is the unspoken amalgamation of what is OK to do and not OK to do around the workplace. It can include symbols and traditions, typical conversations and the way issues are raised and managed. How do we deal with conflict? How do we manage dissent? Are people afraid to speak up, speak out, or speak about? How do we manage performance? Is the way we do things around here, when no one is holding us to account, the way we desire to? Aspects of culture both enable undesirable behaviour and promote desired behaviour, and the way we manage critical business as usual that pushes us away from our towards people is an insight into the culture we have.
NARCISSISM AT WORK: WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
[This article was originally written in June 2016 as a predictive exercise] Of late considerable media attention has been given to a certain un-named (non-NZ) politician and some strong consistent characteristics, particularly around communication and response to criticism, that have been demonstrated by said individual. The terms in the media I have heard used to describe this person include that they are a bully and Narcissistic, and on the surface it is true there are some (at times alarming) similarities with what a psychologist might consider were narcissistic characteristics. Such characteristics are not the exclusive realm of politics, far from it. They exist across the world of work, and most often manifest in a minority of those holding positions of power and influence. It is not power and influence that creates such qualities, it is that individuals with certain traits are often attracted to roles of power and influence, or feel deserving of them. After all, if you really believe you're fantastic you're going to want a position that allows you to show that! However, we also need to be careful of what I commonly see happening - diagnosis by media and public acclamation. We may see a glimpse of someone on television or through an interview on line, or judge someone by reputation and not personal knowledge. As repeated or emotional as they may be, those sources present only a portion of the facts, filtered through the lens of someone else. Narcissism is a classic example of that - a powerful collection of traits that becomes confused with other factors in an effort to explain and make sense of what we are seeing. So let's start with clearing up a few myths about Narcissism, by defining what it is in a broad sense, and then translating those qualities into what you could expect to see if you were dealing with someone who was genuinely Narcissistic at work (or anywhere else for that matter). In broad terms Narcissism is a stable personality characteristic dominated by unusually high levels of self-love, self-regard, conceit, and egotism. It is way beyond self-confidence, not merely someone with who is aggressive, or someone who seeks attention or believes they are particularly talented or special in what they provide. There is a level of belief by someone Narcissistic that, without them, little can and will be achieved of any value - that they are irreplaceable. They seek admiration not just for what they have accomplished but for who they are, because the two are intertwined aspects of their personality. The focus of someone genuinely Narcissistic is on what can be achieved for them, how an endeavour makes them look in the eyes of others (those in positions of 'power' or 'influence'), and what is in their interests (if that aligns with the interests of others then that is fine but not a major consideration). Basically, it's all about them. They are the most intelligent, talented, original, creative and successful person in the room. Someone who is Narcissistic will believe that but they won't tell you it - because they already expect you to know. Hence the offense taken and dismissal of someone's intelligence of worth when that self-belief is not respected People who are Narcissistic can lead very successful lives, have families, have friends, study, have a career and engage with society quite effectively. On the positive side they are confident, often charismatic (because of that confidence), have determination, are pragmatic, are goal-oriented, and have big ideas (often grandiose). They see nothing as being beyond them if they put their mind and will to it. Unfortunately, like any true pathology Narcissistic individuals have what I refer to as fatal flaws. These are flaws that, over time, leave a litany of destruction behind them as they pursue their goals and are 'fatal' not in the sense they are life threatening, but that they are beyond alteration or change with tremendous negative impact on many around them. Eventually, workplace Narcissists are discovered (or maybe uncovered or finally recognised) but not without considerable pain along the way. The following are the most common fatal flaws we can expect to see in the workplace by someone genuinely Narcissistic. 1) Narcissists don't have true friends, they have people who agree with them. And they are very loyal to those who agree with them....as long as they are useful. Friendship is based on mutual admiration, not acceptance of faults. Narcissists have no real faults in their own eyes - mistakes are due to the action of others, incorrect information given, or misinterpretation of the message. 2) Narcissists will learn not through personal recognition of a lack of knowledge, skill or character, but through realising they need to develop a new way to achieve what they want. In this they can be quite pragmatic and will adapt for those they see as their equal or superior and not for someone they see as inferior, which is most people. They see very few as their superior or equal. 3) Narcissists do not listen to others unless they are useful or in a position of influence. Respect for others as a basic principle is lacking and they often treat those below them differently from those they view as peers. They respect what others can do for them that aligns with their goals and perspective. 4) Narcissists struggle to apologise in a manner most would see as sincere. Apologies are provided rarely, grudgingly, and often with a caveat that reduces the seriousness of the incident they are apologising for or avoids taking complete responsibility for an error made (e.g. someone let them down). 5) Narcissists don't get angry they get even. Strong offense is taken against those they believe have done them wrong or harmed them, particularly in regards to their status, influence or authority. They hold grudges and see most criticism as personal. 6) Narcissists tend to employ those who agree with them, follow them, or who will not cross them. They value personal loyalty, will generally surround themselves with that loyalty when possible, and will reward personal loyalty as a consequence but often in an inconsistent way. 7) Narcissists are convinced of their version of 'the truth', irrespective of the facts or objective evidence displayed before them. Contrary evidence is dismissed as irrelevant, incomplete, or based on sources lacking credibility in their eyes. The narrative developed as a result reinforces a worldview that has the Narcissist at the centre. Those seven fatal flaws are probably enough for any workplace to be mindful of.
NETWORKING FOR INTROVERTS
‘Networking’. It’s a word that can send shivers, or at least moderate apprehension, down the spines of some people. The very word for some conjures images of ‘working a room’, engaging in small talk with strangers, clinking wine glasses, attending social functions, doing deals and, for some, spending time in a space well outside ones comfort zone. Nevertheless networking is an important function of any venture, be it business or social. Knowing people, knowing what is going on in the market or a circle of interest, being able to pick up the phone and make contact with someone, and simply selling ideas and products through the people we know is a vital skill. It’s not one that comes easy to some, despite the fact it is important and can also be, personally, very rewarding. Many people will acknowledge that the networking event they were dreading often turns out to better than they expected. All it takes is one contact and one enjoyable conversation to make the time spent worthwhile. Extroverts usually find networking engagements less confronting. Energised as they are by conversation, more talkative by nature, and more comfortable in crowds of people they seem, to their introverted colleagues at least, at ease. They’re not. Some are, true, but many aren’t. They just hide it better and have better natural skills at finding comfort in that networking space. So, in sympathy for my introvert networking colleagues, here are a few tips to help the introvert network more effectively and comfortably. 1) Find the ‘bubble’. Learn to be more comfortable than you currently are being ‘on your own’ in a room. This is difficult, I know, but a very important skill to work on. Don’t fast walk to the corner of a gathering where you don’t know anyone - saunter slowly. This allows to have time to listen to conversations, catch snippets of information, possibly see someone who know and segue over to them, and slows down your heart and respiratory rate. You’re also less likely to say ‘Excuse me’ as you pass by people, finding those natural gaps that open up in a crowd more easily. It’s OK standing on your own, watching and listening. There will be others doing the same. Head over to them and say hello. A few will like being on their own, but most will feel like you and be grateful that someone said hello. At the end of the day the true introvert is more comfortable with the one-on-one conversation anyway. 2) Piggyback. Attend evens with a presentation of some type. This gives you a reason to go and removes the pressure of having to talk in the ‘networking space’ beforehand. The presentation topic, presenter, or venue gives an easy opening for conversation with others, and gives you a reason for being there – learning. We network by ‘piggybacking’ off the learning experience we are there for. 3) Avoid solo flights. Simple - bring along a mate, a colleague, your partner. Fly as a team and engage together with others. 4) Remember that conversation isn’t about talking, it’s about listening. The art of networking isn’t about how many business cards you can get or give, it’s about making an impact on others and ensuring they are comfortable around you. Ask good questions, listen and follow up on what’s important to the others you are engaging with. People enjoy talking about what’s important to them as long as they feel safe to do so and people are interested. Get interested in others. They’ll carry the conversation and you’ll learn a lot. In general, they’ll also want to learn about you too and that’s a great chance to exchange business or contact cards and catch up afterwards to further the contact that’s been made. 5) Bring business cards – let them do some talking. How often have we forgotten business cards? In informal business cultures this isn’t such a big deal but in formal business cultures this is seen as unprofessional, as though you’re not prepared or aren’t serious. Keep half a dozen in your wallet. If someone gives you their card it’s an unwritten invitation, at least in Australasia for you to give them yours. Spend some time looking at it and reading the details, front and back. Don’t just put it in your pocket. It represents someone just as yours represents you. Respect it. There may also be details on it that can further the conversation. 6) Be clear on your goal. What are you attending the networking event for? Is it to meet people, learn, gain contacts, be there because your company has to have someone there, attend a presentation or training event? Whatever the reason it’s important you know what your goal is so that, no matter what happens, you know what you need to do to achieve it and whether you have or not. Time is valuable, don’t waste it. 7) Practice the soft introduction. Put simply I distinguish the soft introduction as one which doesn’t set any expectation of the other person. An example of a hard introduction (I use the term ‘hard’ figuratively to denote something which might require an extension into a discomfort zone for some) might be, ‘Hi, what company do you work for and what services do you offer?’ Not an unreasonable question but one that for some gets straight to business and implies an expectation of ‘correctness of response’ or else ones credibility is negatively impacted. An example of a soft introduction might be, for example, ‘Hi, I’m Jonathan. What did you think of ....?’ accompanied by a smile and some direct eye context. No expectation, just a friendly welcome. In most cases you’ll at least get the person’s name, some body language indicators showing relief that someone started the conversation, a handshake and smile back, and a chance to talk further. 8) Introduce your neighbours. This is very powerful, especially when you attend an event with others. If you know people who are with you introduce them to others in the group you are part of who don’t know them and, if appropriate, some context. For example, ‘This is Sam, he works at such and such’, ‘This is Anna, we came together and work for the same company,’ or ‘This is Brian, he’s down from Auckland [see Brisbane, Edinburgh, New York] for a few days on business and has come along to see how we do things down here.’ It’s a great way to include others into a conversation, take pressure of yourself, and be seen as someone who is inclusive. Remember, the whole point of networking is to make a positive impact and gain name recognition or further opportunity for contact in some way. There are various ways we can do that and the above ideas are very useful tips for the introverted networker.
MANAGING GENERATION Y
Despite the fact that Generation Y has been in the workforce for the past decade or so I still get asked how to communicate with, manage and understand todays ‘youth’. What is clear is that, for many of us, there can sometimes be challenges relating to those a generation or two different from our own. I get asked, just as often, by todays under 30’s how to understand the perspective of a boss who is fifteen years or more their senior. The truth is that there are greater differences in the workplace than generational ones, but that nevertheless generational differences are very real, and have a real impact on whether we understand, respect, and get on with those we work with. In brief terms todays Generation Y’s (Gen Y’s) are those born between 1981 and around the mid-late 1990’s. There are varied opinions on when the cut off points are exactly and, like star signs (but with more scientific basis), some of us on the cusp have characteristics across two generational boundaries. The Gen Y birth cohort, as a result of social and technological change, parental influences and the like, have developed some very distinct characteristics. Here are the TOP FIVE TIPS for creating a more engaged Gen Y employee.1) Get over yourself: A Gen Y wants a boss who is their peer. They look for collaboration, joint decision-making, and a chance to have their say. Their boss shouldn’t be remote and sit behind a closed door all day. They want access, a chance to learn, and opportunities for the boss to share their knowledge and wisdom – providing they have Gen Y’s respect. Let go of traditional views of autocratic leadership (if you have that habit) if you have a Gen Y team. The buck may stop with you and Gen Y’s understand that, but along the way they expect to have a voice.2) Become a mentor or find one: Coming from an education system that has encouraged self-directed learning and a clear pathway to success (ie. receiving a grade or score that denotes success or absence of failure) most Gen Y’s respond to a senior individual who they believe can guide them, support them, and give some time to assist their careers. Mentors are sounding boards, provide an opportunity to reflect on decisions made and decisions pending, and are valuable for Gen Y’s in being able to guide them through challenges at work, in their careers, and in their lives. So what if it means we start to customise our attention to the needs of an employee? It just means we get the best out of them, they stay longer and are more understanding of the business and what it’s all about.3) Include them: Almost everyone likes to have a say, and Gen Y’s are no exception. They seek to be asked, involved, and sought out for their opinion. They have ideas and want to share them. They have knowledge that can be valuable. There is a strong desire among many Gen Y’s to have their views listened to. This isn’t the same as an expectation they will be agreed with. Far from a burden on an organisation this is an excellent opportunity to identify new ideas not hamstrung by old thinking, and discuss with younger employees the why’s and why not’s of decisions made. What better way to educate, show value for input, and encourage a continual desire to be curious and think?4) Give feedback: A myth about Gen Y’s is that they want to be praised and thanked all the time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, younger employees appreciate acknowledgement and recognition for contribution and effort made, as we all do. But, what they are seeking is confirmation that they are on the right track. This is not a sign of general lack of confidence. Rather, it is a sign they value their time and a) do not want to waste it, and b) gain satisfaction by adding value and doing what is meaningful for the business.5) Embrace the ‘Why?’: Why is it that as we age we become less curious? Gen Y’s ask “Why?” more than any other generation, and will probably continue to as they age as well. After all, they’ve been educated to be curious, ask questions and challenge assumptions throughout the information age, and rewarded for doing so. Unfortunately many older employees and managers interpret someone asking “Why?” as a challenge to authority or an established method, process or way of thinking about something. The thing is, there’s another way of looking at the question “Why?” And that is that Gen Y’s just want to know. They are curious to know why something is done a certain way – and that’s it! It’s not a challenge, it’s just a question. And an invitation to educate and maybe learn something ourselves along the way as we try and explain or scrutinize an approach we are simply used to:)
GETTING THE BEST OUT OF STAKEHOLDER AGREEMENTS
Stakeholder agreements are a useful tool to aid the achievement of mutually agreed outcomes in any partnership, alliance or joint venture. Whether between business partners, commercial entities, investors, suppliers and consumers of goods, or a service provider and community user stakeholder agreements allow a framework that confirms the expectations of each party, protocols of operation, and goals or objectives shared by all and to which all parties are, theoretically, aligned. A good stakeholder agreement clarifies roles and responsibilities, informs planning and day to day operations, assists the management of risk, and aids constructive communication. Every stakeholder agreement, however, is merely the start of a journey shared by all those involved. It is not a static document but one subject to changes in market forces and personal circumstances, alterations in financial interest, and movements in political and economic conditions. All too often excellent stakeholder agreements, and parties entering into such agreements with great intentions and a clear vision and understanding, come across rocky shores that with some minor planning can be navigated with reasonable ease. What are some key factors for stakeholders to keep in mind, particularly when constructive working relationships are key to mutual success, to get the best out of their stakeholder agreement?1. Clarify what consultation and inclusion means. Of all the factors I hear most about that negatively impact most stakeholder agreements it is the dual issues of consultation and inclusion. Both are different but related. After all, if you have a ‘stake’ in something this is often interpreted as a degree of ownership and input into the process(s) undertaken, and what the final result and shape of the ultimate objectives looks like, irrelevant of personal direct investment or involvement day to day. Clarifying mechanisms of consultation and inclusion, means of communication, and key responsibilities of parties to the agreement plays a significant role in managing emotion, improving relevance and accountability, and reducing the twin challenges of unnecessary fear and complexity. 2. Provide a mechanism to ensure key assumptions made within the agreement remain valid. Circumstances can and will change. An agreement highly relevant last year may need tweaking now as a result of unanticipated changes to factors impacting the original outcome. Regular review, every 12 months minimum (preferably more frequently), as part of business as usual will ensure a stakeholder agreement that remains current to the best knowledge and ability of the stakeholders involved. Minor alteration now amidst a culture of adaptability and continuing focus on relevance is preferable to radical change two years later when it is clear earlier modification would have been in all party’s interests and has impaired achievement of stakeholder goals.3. Ensure a way to monitor and evaluate milestones and key measurables (both tangible and intangible). This provides a structured opportunity to evaluate progress, ensures sharing of outcome information relevant to all parties, and enables an opportunity for continued stakeholder awareness and involvement, no matter the level of ‘investment’ in the agreement itself. Sample questions might include, for example: What are our measurements of success? What are our key milestones and why have we decided on them? How are we tracking? What is our forecast and what factors are likely to impact that forecast in the short- and medium-terms? How are we ensuring continuing alignment of core values? How are we managing known risk factors?4. Generate an opportunity to clarify core values held by different stakeholders at the start of the process. Clearly this is far more complicated for large and complex agreements between stakeholders with broad geographic, demographic, financial, and cultural variation and diverse objectives (e.g. between a public entity and a metropolitan community). However, it is this very appreciation of diversity and incorporation of it that aids the development of robust and enduring stakeholder relationships. Far more depth in values similarities and differences can be explored where stakeholder agreements exist between a few parties with relatively narrow interests (e.g. stakeholders in a financial investment or business opportunity), some significant personally controllable factors, and greater relative influence on the success and/or failure of the objectives the stakeholder agreement is designed to meet. This is referred to as the ‘Psychological Contract’ and relates to what assumptions and expectations we have regarding how others are likely to think (interpret information), act (information provided and actions undertaken as priority), and feel (the style or manner in which information is passed on or discussed and reaction to disappointment or disagreement). At the end of the day this is about identifying the hidden factors that can pull us toward (build trust) or push us away (distrust) from our agreement partners.
DEALING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE
When we think of someone “difficult” to deal with we typically think of someone resistant, stubborn, disagreeable and unwilling to compromise. At work this might be the employee who regularly sabotages a meeting, a colleague who dominates the team by force of a critical and unsupportive type of personality, a manager who is autocratic and nitpicking, or a good old fashioned bully. People who are difficult, however, also include those who are overly submissive, passive-aggressive, ignore others, and are unmotivated and unwilling to take personal responsibility. The most common workplace difficult people are the inherited problem, the bully, and the ego trip. The inherited problem is typically an employee who has been around for some time and is the dominant personality in the team, but who has learned that they rule the roost. Challenges to their authority are met with resistance, at times bullying behaviour, alienation of the party that offends them, and team politics. Often the team is polarised around their followers and the others. The “others” consist of those who oppose the dominant person and those who want nothing to do with the situation and have become desensitised. A new manager comes along, recognises the problem and tries to tackle it. Unfortunately the manager realises that the dominant person has everyone so cowed and unwilling to challenge them, even top management at times, that the new manager feels out on a limb. The inherited problem has learned that he or she has more endurance than the new manager. The bully comes in various guises. Interrogation, intimidation, and passive-aggressive techniques are their favourite weapons of war. The interrogator is critical and fault-finding, focuses on details and not the big picture, is impossible to please, and their main form of attack is to undermine peoples’ sense of professional competence. The intimidator is personally aggressive in the way they use their body and voice, reacts with hostility to challenge and questions, sees compromise as weaknesses, is territorial and their main form of attack is to peoples’ sense of personal safety and self-worth. What their targets can do is not questioned but who they are – their character. The passive-aggressive bully conquers through division. They are political animals. They can be nice one day and mean the next, and often attack when people are in a weak position and there are few witnesses around. They ostracise, criticise indirectly, and talk behind peoples’ backs but never to their face when others are around. It is this sense of unpredictability and unfairness, and the difficulty victims have in making others understand behaviour they are experiencing, that creates significant health and performance problems long term. The ego trip has a deluded sense of their own self-worth, irreplacability, and importance to the organisation. They may be good at what they do, used to be good at what they do, or never were any good at what they do. The point is that their perception is their reality not matter what hard evidence others give them. They do not react well to those who do not give them their due respect, expect to be listened to, and expect to be acknowledged for their expertise. In their own words, “You don’t know how good I am at what I do.” Ironically they’re usually right but they way they go about it often means that their colleagues no longer care how good they are. The ego trip has lost perspective of what is negotiable and non-negotiable. That is why they argue over the smallest things, because to them they are hugely important and symbolic of their personal and professional status. At the end of the day what unifies all difficult people is that they resist what we want them do either do or think and they do not want to, or are unable to, accept personal responsibility for their actions. In others words, nothing is their fault. There is always a reason for their bad behaviour, whether that’s a bully yelling at a colleague, an employee quietly sabotaging an initiative, or an impossible to please customer. Managing difficult people successfully requires an understanding of three key issues: the difficult person themselves, the situation at hand, and you. People are difficult for a reason and understanding aspects of personality, background, history and expectations provide insights into what is motivating and causing a particular behaviour or pattern of behaviour. The situation at the time can generate a degree of conflict as a result of past experience in similar situations, the personal symbolism and meaningfulness of events for people, and the specific goals of the individuals involved. The final piece of the puzzle is you. How comfortable are you confronting difficult issues and individuals? What expectations do you have of people? What personal issues do you bring to a meeting or casual conversation that affects how you interpret what people say and do? In other words, how we interpret things makes a big difference to getting the outcome we want, even if that outcome is simply the desire to walk away calm (at least on the outside), not to second guess ourselves for hours afterwards, and sleep well that night. Let’s face it, not all difficult people go away and many can only be managed, which comes down to managing their impact on ourselves. For managers and business owners there are a number of strategies that help generate an environment where difficult behaviour is either lessened or makes management of it easier. Firstly, select for fit as well as ability. The old adage that we hire on technical ability and fire on attitude is often right. Willingness to learn, accommodate others, communicate openly, and adapt to the needs of the team rather than the desires of the individual are all important characteristics. Together they minimise the selection of naturally difficult people and help create a group culture where difficult people are less likely to be tolerated. Second, implement a thorough induction process where behavioural standards and expectations are made clear, alongside the consequences for breaching those standards. Doing so, provides little excuse for people to say they were not told what behaviour was appropriate or inappropriate, and removes the danger of making assumptions. In other words, assuming that everyone knows what is expected because it is “common sense”. Third, manage behaviour as proactively and constructively as you manage performance. It is well recognised that the impact of a bully or resistant colleague on employee engagement, innovation, openness to new ideas, adaptability, and resilience has significant impact on staff health and productivity. Everyone who has any team experience knows that the difference between a team that gets on well and respects each other and one that does not is quite large. If managers and team leaders are expected to manage difficult people, then business owners and senior managers need to provide them the training and support to do so effectively. Fourth, make standards clear and reinforce them. Tackle difficult or problematic behaviour straight away, as soon as you have firm evidence. Managing behaviour is problematic because it is grey and vague, subjective, and often un-witnessed by those in positions of authority but it can be done if behavioural standards are upfront and clearly understood by all. Get the advice you need and start communicating to the key people involved as to what behaviour needs to change, why it needs to change, and the consequences to the business and individuals of it not changing. Fifth, up-skill key managers and get the right advice. Managers and business owners sometimes do not have the knowledge and skills to manage difficult people the way they wish they did. They may have the desire, but early experience teaches them that the cost can be high in terms of personal time and energy. The cost of mistakes can also be high in legal liability, ruined work relationships, the cost of replacing staff, and the ongoing impact of difficult people in influencing the development of a negative workplace culture. With all this in mind it is also important to recognise that there is a difference between a genuinely difficult person and someone who is simply difficult for “you”. Lovers, friends, and workmates will always have debates, robust conversations, disagreements and at, times, be on opposite sides of the fence. Yet we would hardly describe those we like or respect as difficult in general. We understand that their perspective is not one we take personally and their communication with us reflects their understanding of our situation, willingness to listen, and consideration of a perspective different to their own. With genuinely difficult people, however, there is none of this. A final tip – plan ahead. Just as a house can’t be built without a plan if you want it to survive more than a few years, the same principle applies to managing difficult people. Planning ensures you think ahead and remain objective. Have courage – and you may just be able to deal with those difficult people better than you thought.
TIPS FOR KEEPING HEALTHY WHEN LIFE IS GETTING HECTIC
Every now and then most of us face a time in our life, usually more than once, maybe more than once a year, where the obligations and commitments we have just catch up with us. We might have over-promised, we might be expected to over-deliver, we might be juggling multiple obligations or dealing with repeatedly complex problems. We might be extraordinarily time poor with not enough hours in the day to do what we want to, when we need to, and take care of ourselves at the same time. The universal thread that combines all of these together is fatigue. We become tired earlier in the day, we become more irritable more easily than we used to, we lack the energy we used to have and we feel like we’re working on someone else’s best day and not our own. In short we’re a bit frazzled and know we need to either have a break or re-think how we are doing things in order to keep our head above water.At times like this it’s useful to take a little time out to recharge our batteries, manage our day a little better, and re-prioritise the time we spend on others urgent needs compared to the important needs of our own. After all, if we take care of ourselves we are in a much better position to take care of others, both personally and professionally. Here are seven tips when we need to self-manage, re-charge, and maintain our energy despite not being able to take a break even if we really want to. None of them are complicated and none of them are new. But when we are hectic we tend to forget about these basic strategies for self-management amidst the busyness of our life, and we simply do not give ourselves permission to do them. Stick with them and commit to them and they’re tips that will change our lives, for the better.1. Go to bed earlier. Just aim for getting to bed an hour sooner than normal. Improved sleep hygiene is critical to allowing us to sleep best, uninterrupted and with better quality deep sleep. Occasionally we stay up late for work and while that is essential sometimes most of the time that’s just bad planning or a lifestyle choice. Wat we need to be cognizant of s the consequence of that choice. Most of us stay up late because in a busy day we lack time to ourselves and late nights provide us that self-time but at the cost of seep. Improved sleep means improved cellular recovery, better energy levels, and better productivity. No electronic devices an hour or two before bed – let your brain switch off. Go old-fashioned – read a book.2. Never schedule more than 80% of your day in advance. Allow some wiggle room in your day; I guarantee you will use it productively in some way. This allows time for those meetings that go over time, the emails that take longer to respond to, and the opportunity to take advantage of positive time on a task or with others that might involve more investment of time than you initially planned for. It is OK and understandable to squeeze in as much as we can, and sometimes we need to do this, but not as often as we think we do.3. Prioritise time for yourself – creating a ‘meeting’ with yourself. There is a saying in business that if we need to spend time working ‘on’ the business, and not just in it. How are you prioritizing yourself each day to spend a little time working on you and not for others. Maybe it’s that first morning coffee quiet time browsing the news, a catch up with a friend, reading something of interest or entertainment, exercise, thinking and reflecting, or simply finding a quiet space to enjoy the solitude. We all need a way to recharge the batteries and work on ourselves in some way. A good way to do this is to create a meeting with yourself. We don’t like to miss meetings with others, so why not give ourselves the same courtesy?4. Breathe. Learn the difference between breathing using the diaphragm (deep breathing) and using the thoracic cavity only (shallow breathing). We need oxygen for many functions in the body including skeletal muscle and brain activity. The way we breathe is one of the quickest things that changes with a busy life, and not always for the best.5. Be aware of negative momentum. That feeling of just go go go and not being able to get off the treadmill. Multiple busy weekends, multiple late nights and early starts, multiple commitments that thin out your engagement and sense of being in control. Reset your day and upcoming priorities. Look at what is within capability and what is beyond or blurring the edges as to what you can do with reasonable quality, attention to necessary detail or true engagement with the people involved. Choose what you can do and excel at; not merely accept commitments and comply by tolerating them. It is not always easy to do this, but for many of us it genuinely is a matter of giving ourselves permission to change some habits and get creative as to possible solutions.6. Get active first. When you rise in the morning do some exercise. Whether we prefer to exercise in the morning or afternoon, middle of the day or evening, get up and do something; anything. Stretch, cycle, some press ups and core work (if there is one thing you do for exercise make sure you do core and pelvic floor work), yoga, a walk or run. If you are not a morning person that is OK, just get active for 10 minutes to wake the body up and prepare your metabolism for the day. You will feel much much better for it. This is important for any age but the older we get making sure the machine that is our body is maintained is critical for our ability to enjoy life and function well physically.7. Limit processed foods. When we are in a hurry we often rush and grab something quick, easy and often processed. Plan ahead and develop some simple routines. Leftovers from the night before for lunch, a quick sandwich/roll and some heathy snacks. Often when we nip out for a bite to eat because we cannot be bothered cooking it costs us more than it would to cook and takes as much time by the time we got in the car, went to the restaurant or fast food chain, and got home again. This isn’t about being the health Police; it’s about making choices that make a real difference. By all means eat processed foods every now and then but try very hard not to use them as our ‘go to’ when we are tired and busy.
There is a reasonably well known scientific fact about frogs; if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water it will immediately leap out. It realises that the temperature of the water is too hot and it is about to scald itself to death. However, if you put a frog into a pot of cold water and slowly bring it to the boil the frog will stay there and, unfortunately, pass away into frog heaven. Now I’m not suggesting for one moment that anyone goes out and tries this. Just take it as fact. This simple truth, however, of the frog being unable to recognise the slow but increasingly deadly change in temperature to its health is similar to what we humans do. We tend to react to the urgent and sudden matters that come to our attention rather than the things that creep up on us over time but can be just as harmful. This applies to business, relationships, finances, and personal health – basically everything in life. A useful way to minimise the likelihood of something, preventable and minor at first, becoming a significant risk to us is to take the pulse of a business, team or venture occasionally but regularly. A practical way of doing that is to have what I call a ‘Frog’ conversation; hence my story about the frog in a pot of water. A Frog conversation is a regular conversation based around 4-5 questions that invite us to reflect on, comment on, and learn from recent experiences and upcoming events. When done regularly it becomes part of our culture and way of doing things and is a very useful way of taking the temperature of the environment around us. In practical terms it can nip issues in the bud, prevent issues from growing, and create an environment that is open to learning, adaptation to change, and teamwork. An example of a Frog conversation at the end of a working week with a team might be, for example (naturally the manager or team leader asking the questions also answers them for him or herself):1. Thinking about what you worked on this week what went well, and why do you think it went well?2. Looking back what’s one thing that, in hindsight, you could have improved how you did and why?3. Looking back what did you learn about our business, our market, our customers or a colleague?4. What have we got coming up that we need to focus on and remind ourselves of in the week or two ahead?5. How could we have improved or done better for you, within reason, this past week as an employee and team member? Or with a team that comes together to work on a project from time to time but doesn’t see each other regularly:1. What factors have helped our teamwork in the past week or so?2. Thinking about what we’ve got coming up on this project what’s the biggest challenge ahead for you, and what do you need from the rest of us to manage that challenge effectively?3. Looking back on the past few weeks what’s one area where we could have done it better in hindsight, and why do we think that?4. Looking back on the past few weeks what’s an area you believe we managed well or poorly - an element of the project, relationships, systems…it could be anything you like – that made us a stronger or weaker team as a result? There are any number of permutations of a Frog conversation. Come up with your own questions. You don’t need many but they need to be relevant, consistent (i.e. the same questions asked in each session), reflective, balanced and regularly scheduled. These five factors create an opportunity for dialogue that shapes culture, builds teamwork, and provides a simple and quick opportunity to avoid being a frog.
CREATING A PURPOSE THAT TRANSCENDS
Looking back and reflecting on a major event that impacted my community around six years ago, I remembered a conversation I had by accident with the CEO of one of the largest infrastructure building companies in Australasia about motivation and purpose. This was in the months after the 22 February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. This particular was about how to create a sense of purpose that transcends politics, team dynamics, leadership ability and individual circumstance. How did this conversation arise? After 10 months of major earthquakes and many thousands of aftershocks disrupting communications, business, life routines, the very viability of vast areas of suburban residential homes and their attached infrastructure in Christchurch, New Zealand, the long hours undertaken by workers to rebuild the city had taken their toll. This toll was typified by decreases in personal patience and tolerance, and increased fatigue levels to a degree rarely previously, if ever, experienced by the workforce – both those local to Christchurch and those who had arrived to help and support their colleagues ‘ down South’. What we had not seen, however, was the associated mistakes – accidents and injuries – we typically would expect from cumulative long hours, few opportunities (or permission from ourselves) to take a break, and ongoing urgent timeframes on minor and major projects. What had maintained the high level of performance with very few accidents amidst such circumstances, of which there is likely to be little respite? Quite simply the answer was motivation; motivation generated by a sense of purpose that transcended the ordinary. While at the time it remained to be seen if such productivity could be maintained, as there is an inevitable cut-off point by which neurology and biology overcome determination and commitment, what was it that created that sense of purpose? If only we could define it and recreate it we would not only be so much more productive but also happier in what we do. After all, one of the key causes of work satisfaction is a clear sense of meaningfulness between what we are doing and a desired outcome (‘paperwork’ may well be valuable but it lacks the sense of purpose one gets when repairing a sewer line that allows a hundred households to flush). How could we manufacture the same sense of commitment we saw among many of those rebuilding Christchurch in ordinary and everyday activities? Was it even possible to do that? It may not be long-term but it might be temporarily. We have seen amazing examples through history of long-term commitment to a cause, fortunately and unfortunately much of this during wartime, and in particular that of total war where the civilian population is exposed to the risks and dangers of conflict. This, in some way, might explain the sense of purpose existing in Christchurch at that time – everyone was affected, the entire community, and there was no escape from it. What, then, are the ingredients of a purpose that transcends? Using the example of Christchurch post 4 September 2010 (7.1 magnitude) and 22 February 2011 (6.3 magnitude) the following elements likely created a purpose that transcended the mundane.1. A clear outcome: A clearly defined endpoint by which we can determine success and/or failure. Knowing how our particular role, skills and efforts are contributing to the larger project we are working on and being able to look back and see, tangibly, what has been achieved by our effort. In other words, the chance to look back and say ‘I did that, and it made this difference.’2. A clear link: Knowing how and in what way we contribute to the bigger picture. How does this task or project matter and fit into the overall strategic direction of what we are undertaking? It is not just the completion of this task that is important but the opportunity to get on to the next one as part of a greater cause.3. Recognition: Spontaneously or planned, timely feedback on work underway or completed that reinforces the appreciation of those who see, use and witness what is being undertaken. This might be internally generated through company initiated awards and acknowledgement or informal team celebrations during- and post-completion. This might be externally generated through public thanks and even spontaneous acts of kindness by members of the public. Whatever the origin the recognition reinforces that fact that this is not a business as usual time.4. A catalyst event: Few leaders can by force of personality, time in history, or circumstance alone transcend individual priorities and dominate thinking across the broader body politic. Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill and Robert F Kennedy were great orators and, in their own way, great men. But their words would have not had the impact they did outside of the environmental circumstances of their time. A catalyst event can be used to generate a need across the broader population, inside a company or outside of it, that starkly re-prioritises what is important and not important in daily life. In other words across a critical mass of the population the ‘big picture’ view changes for the majority of people at the same time. Effective leaders that motivate through a purpose that transcends understand and find an event and/or cause that emotionally engages and is personally relevant to a critical mass of their employees in such a way that it shifts thinking. Without a shift in thinking, behaviour and hence productivity change, will not follow. Such a cause must dominate conversation, inspire hope, create a sense of individual contribution to a greater good, and generates determination to overcome. Without a clear and present danger, of some form, there is no ability to overcome individual priorities and reluctance to self-sacrifice time and energy to a cause. Whilst a natural disaster may generate such a danger automatically the challenge for today’s leaders who wish to inspire greater productivity and satisfaction (they both go hand in hand) is how to communicate the same vision and need greater than the individual to which the individual wishes to be part of.
THE IMPORTANCE OF COLLABORATION
One of the most critical determinants of success in hard times is collaboration, especially with potential alliance partners. Just as we expect our employer to work with us to help us through tough economic and personal challenges, and vice-a-versa, so do we expect the same from the government – initiatives that focus on teamwork and contribution of varous elements that, if taken together, create a win-win situation for everyone involved and helps people and groups to survive (eg, tax and compliance costs). Collaboration, whilst not a new concept, is one that can be used in an innovative way. It comes in two forms – informal and formal. Informal efforts to collaborate are steps taken internally that seek to make things easier for clients and suppliers, employees and managers, but we do not necessarily announce them as they typically form part of the regular response to daily business needs. They are initiatives that might include, for example, lessening demand for immediate payment (nice to have but if we know a client is working well and will survive and grow why annoy them and lose a client that is a good one but struggling at the moment with cashflow), increasing flexible work hours (maybe lessening electricity and other office overheads as part of a team initiative), and being more open on team finances to promote both ownership of expenditure and ideas to both grow and save. The list is long and often takes place as we try and put ourselves into others shoes, pull together, and make things as easy as we can for those we work with. The formal way of collaboration is more of an announced and structured initiative, and often externally focussed. Typically it involves looking at options for working with competitors rather than against them in some areas (e.g. sharing services, brokering referrals for specialist skills, sub-contracting etc), developing initiatives to make things easier such as payment stretched out over several months, and developing alliance partners (e.g. developing work opportunities where we do not have the skills but know a company that does, and referring the work to them in exchange for a percentage or quid pro quo arrangement). Unfortunately it happens least often. Why? Because we expose ourselves (ie. our reputation) to the risk (terrible I know, pride, after all makes us revenue – not!) of others thinking we may be struggling or desperate. We are doing neither. Rather, we are looking for opportunities to find business, grow (survive), and assist others along the way. If done well, with a clear understanding of boundaries, services and skill sets available, collaboration with another company can add significant leverage to growth. So, who can you collaborate with, on what, how and when? Who do you need to approach? What suggestions do you have to make and, most importantly, how can you successfully promote win-win outcomes through cooperation? The best part of collaboration? It is most easily achieved with small companies due to inherent flexibility and doesn’t need to stop when the economy improves.
Communication During a Corporate Scandal
Every corporate scandal has it’s own permutations. Most companies facing a corporate scandal are reputable and respected companies that generally work hard to develop a brand synonymous with reliability and trust. Getting hit by a scandal can have far-reaching implications for a company's brand, customer loyalty, and product/service sales. Rarely do management or staff seek to cover up errors. Occurrences of such are rare. However, quality assurance system inconsistency, indecision, blame and confusion can all combine to give an impression of incompetence or dishonesty.The larger the company and more complex the supply chain and the longer it can take to identify the exact nature and location of risk. A delay of days as staff frantically try to identify all details, confirm them, act on them, and shape them in a manner that can be communicated and understood will rarely take less than several days. These are days over which confusion can reign, fear can take hold, and trust can subside. Discussions over the harm to the economy, the share value, the demand for product, and the credibility of Fonterra will fill many newspaper articles, blog sites, and talk back radio comment for some time to come. Critical at a time like this is the capability of a company to communicate key issues with speed, accuracy, honesty, and humanity. No communication effort will be perfect but some basic guidelines based on communication psychology will assist the rebuilding of trust and confidence among all those affected. 1. Spokespeople must have the ability to emotionally engage, empathise, admit errors, answer questions put to them succinctly (no waffle, explanation is fine, but no waffle) and genuinely want to keep people informed. They must be comfortable in front of a camera, be able to speak in sound bites, have excellent emotional intelligence (understand the need behind a question asked), be calm, and be empathic to the concerns an interviewer expresses on behalf of members of the community. 2. Spokespeople must be well briefed on confirmed facts. Speculation creates confusion. A few known facts at this time, are better than lots of maybes. Criticism of not providing enough information is better than criticism for providing incorrect or misleading information. 3. A company’s leadership must have firm plans for managing the issue that has generated the crisis in partnership with stakeholders (customers, suppliers, regulatory agencies, the wider community). This means a plan for ensuring accurate information flow, genuine opportunity for engagement, and genuine openness to assistance and support. Dealing with everything ‘in-house’ my be desirable and possible given the likelihood of existing expertise within a company, but risks an impression of lack of accountability. External scrutiny and involvement promotes trust and transparency – key ingredients for a successful brand. 4. The company’s leadership must be highly visible as spokespeople. While leadership is often busy managing the crisis, with considerable justification, this must be balanced with access to the media. 5. Fill information vacuums and make access to the latest information easy to obtain – radio advertising, web sites, free calling telephone lines for the latest information and advice, cell phone updates by text etc. The purpose of these is for information that ensures safety and accuracy. 6. Set the tone of communications as soon as possible. While the media will set the tone initially it is important that a company’s communication strategy quickly changes from being reactive to proactive. This can be done through seeking media contact to communicate the latest information, steps taken, information uncovered, and progress made. If the media continue to set the pace of communication over time this will give the impression that without media involvement the issue would not be managed – a No No for any company reputation. 7. Apologise, take responsibility, and focus on recovery and what the company is doing now that is different from before. At the end of the day people understand mistakes are made, even horrific ones. But no brand will ever recover from the perception that no lessons were learned.
Bullying at work: Is a formal complaint necessary?
This is one for the human resource practitioners and senior managers, those who have responsibility for the care and welfare of people but also the authority and mandate, in general, to take action and initiate procedures requiring change, monitoring, or action regarding inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. That is not to say line managers have no capability or responsibility in this area, not at all. By default in most companies, however, it generally falls to human resources and senior management to take steps over and above the norm to address issues – especially in the area of workplace bullying. After all, if we have a complaint where does it go to? Human Resources (also see Health and Safety, and People Capability – same thing). Who does Human Resources consult other than legal counsel? Senior management – keeping the executive abreast, managing risk, needing authorisation, determining desired outcomes and possible pitfalls. This is all fairly normal procedure in most organisations, and is a robust and well-proven path. Increasingly, however, I am coming across a situation where human resources are restricted by the very thought process and habits that generate a clear policy and procedure. In other words the reliance on a formal complaint by an alleged victim to initiate a process of investigation and, hopefully, clarity and fair hearing (not all alleged bullies actually have engaged in behaviour reasonably expected to cause harm), and change (unfortunately some have). This often works well but fails, or rather limits options, when the dominant paradigm of human resource practitioners and senior managers is to rely solely on a complaint in order to investigate, monitor, and manage acute duty of care responsibilities. What happens if someone makes no complaint and yet there is confidence that concerns regarding duty of care have validity? Is absence of a complaint sufficient defence for the organisation even though key members of the organisation are aware of concerns? While I accept that hearsay is insufficient grounds to act, and rightly so, and the process of natural justice must be adhered to surely action cannot be restricted to a formal complaint when there is clear circumstantial evidence (perhaps through informal conversations and passing on of incidents witnessed, exit interview data, staff satisfaction survey data, customer complaints, turnover, sickness absence levels etc) indicating something untoward is happening and repeatedly so. An investigation is not the only action available to human resources and executive management teams when duty of care is likely to have been breached in a way that has directly led to ill-health (ill health as defined objectively and independent of predisposing factors). There seems to be a lack of willingness to take such steps for fear of being accused of over-reaching, constructively dismissing an employee or manager, or acting on incomplete information. Yet these actions are often assumed to be the only ones on the table. They are not. My concern is this: What is the threshold of evidence by which we can justify not doing something when we strongly believe harm is being caused? We seek a formal complaint because that satisfies the need for evidence required in order to act. My contention is that other evidence is sufficient to act in order to preserve and maintain the health of employees and that reliance on a formal complaint process alone is an abrogation of our duty of care responsibilities as corporate leaders. If we do not know what to do if we believe harm is likely being caused but have no complaint then we need to seek advice as to creative options that fall within the law and good management practice. Most of those options require skills we simply have not had to exercise before or may need to acquire, or systems and structures that may expose matters through improved monitoring. Is lack of a formal complaint sufficient justification to not act when we have strong grounds to believe harm is being caused? I doubt it.
Being agile in a Downturn
An economic downturn affects everyone whether the impact be declining customers and confidence, poorer cashflow, less expenditure in development and staff or, even, the identification of opportunities in the market or to address issues at home or work as potentially more time becomes available. One factor long recognised as critical to determining whether a business or team survives a recession is their agility. In other words the inherent ability to adapt, respond, and maintain relevance and focus on what is important and what really matters at the end of the day. Agility comes more easily to smaller businesses and teams. Like a large ship large groups can take longer to move and often are pushed as much by their own inertia as pulled toward something. But smaller groups can also find agility difficult to find and maintain. The following key elements determine a team’s inherent ability to be agile and respond quickly and, therefore, survive and thrive. 1) Honesty. In good times everyone makes money and does well, and problems can be tolerated more easily. In bad times that ain’t so. It is important that issues are not buried and are addressed appropriately, be they about people, systems, or the fundamental aspects of the business itself. Lack of self- and business-honesty is the number one reason why businesses and teams fail. Pretending a problem isn’t there or not recognising it for what it is, does not mean it doesn’t exist. To compete and deliver effective responses to customers, staffing and market challenges must be met quickly and creatively. The key to this is a standardised process, and clear standards and expectations. One of the myths of standardisation is that it prevents innovation but this is not the case if part of that standardized approach is a method for identifying and actioning recommendations for improvement. Shared values and standards allow people to stop wasting time on basic activities and focus on higher order issues and concerns. 2) Collaboration and partnership. Work with others, not against them. Share resources, contacts and ideas. Explore and identify who your business partners may be by engaging your network. The keys to a successful business partnership are shared values and beliefs, and open communication. There is generally plenty of business around but we have become used to working only one or two ways. Learn from others, ask questions, be prepared to help others out. You will be surprised how much it will benefit your business and team. 3) Innovation and point of difference. Be prepared to think outside the square and, if an idea has merit, explore how it may work for you. We are products of our environment, and so is our team. To paraphrase two well known quotes from unknown authors “Necessity is the mother of invention” and “Don’t be afraid of adversity. It may move you in the one direction you always wanted to go.” Be prepared to stand out from competitors by your attitude, approach, philosophy, and branding. In a crowded market these pay real long-term dividends.
Building small team culture
Businesses talk a lot about team culture. If they don’t talk about it they should. It’s a clear performance multiplier. Whatever euphemism we use to describe it – the oil that makes a team work together, team morale, what we value, how things work around here, our mission and vision – team culture is a universal feature of every team. Definitions of team culture commonly include statements around values, ethics, and/or some form of concept of teamwork and how people treat and relate to each other. My own definition, using lay terms rather than academic ones, is that team culture is the amalgamation of individual choices with regards to what is OK and not OK to do around here. After all, team culture is not what we say it is but what others watch us do. That’s culture. Building the culture you want, however, is easier said than done. Most businesses build team culture via accident or design. The former most commonly arises due to lack of awareness of the power of team culture (until something goes wrong) or lack of skill and courage in establishing a desirable one (usually because some eggs need to be broken to make an omelette and there is a reluctance to do that). The latter most often arises by management-led efforts to discuss what is important and why, and what needs to happen to reach the objectives of what has been agreed as a ‘desirable’ culture. That is easier said than done, particularly for small businesses – those with less than 20 employees – that comprise approximately 90% of the businesses in most developed economies. All businesses build their culture based on the examples set by their leaders and the conversations their leaders choose to have. In small businesses, where the leaders reach across all if not most employees, their influence on the development of culture is profound.Recently I spent time with a team that had acute performance requirements. Within a tight timeframe the success or failure of the venture was clearly known in advance. The team was comprised of a range of individuals from different backgrounds, with different expectations, some of which knew each other and others who did not. They were required to operated in an unfamiliar environment without support, and yet in the presence of distraction. Not all small teams possess these characteristics. However, it provides a useful case study in the development of a positive team culture ‘on the fly’ so to speak. Not every team has the resources and time to articulate and design a set of values, or overtly talk about how we treat each other and what expectations are. This is made more difficult when the individuals involved are strong individualists, competitive by nature, and young. The key determinant of team culture in this case, are the actions of team leaders, both those formally appointed and those that informally exist (i.e. more experienced team members or more dominant personalities that others listen to). So, what are the factors that team leaders need to consciously aware of that, over time, creates a positive and desirable team culture? A vision that unifies All teams need clarity as to why they are there and what, ultimately, determines success or failure. We need a way to keep score and evaluate how well we have done, but more importantly, what is required to achieve that. This can be done through group conversations, informal and informal, individual conversations, or even using informal and unplanned opportunities when they it arises to talk about, discuss and reinforce why we are here. The whole point is understanding that despite individual differences in journey, skill, and knowledge we are all unified by a specific goal and we can all contribute to each other’s success through the habits we have operating as individuals and as a team. value diversity Every team brings people together from different backgrounds, different experiences and perspectives. Embrace these, share points of view, welcome an alternative way of looking at a problem. Listen, learn and don’t be alarmed or defensive by variety. A mixed-breed puppy is more resilient than a thoroughbred, and often a lot more fun. clarify how we each contribute in our own way How we behave, how we react, what we acknowledge through what we say and how we say it shows what is important to what we value as a team. Those possible values are many but three or four stated values, values that are real and reasonable, that define how we behave towards others and each other are critical as they give a structure around what we talk about and why we talk about it. Integrity, hard work, respect for each other, a commitment to learning, gratitude, faith, dedication, fun, leading by example….whatever the values the key ones must be stated, defined, and lived by. Those values are broken down to individual process goals that together contribute to the team objectives. embrace opportunities to bring peopleother, discuss what is important andprovide essential information Avoid information vacuums. Doubt provides room for speculation and confusion, and results in energy expended on trying to access information without the understanding of that information or an awareness of its accuracy. Actively work to minimise the rumour mill. Make asking questions easy. Ensure responses are as consistent and accurate as possible in their delivery and meaning. show trust This may seem counter-intuitive to some but it is important that people feel believed in. If you don’t, then the question has to be asked as to why they are there. Look for opportunities to show and demonstrate it. Clear boundaries must be provided, formally and informally as to what is and is not acceptable and why. This doesn’t mean there is no monitoring or scrutiny, but rather that the most effective discipline is self-discipline. And self-discipline cannot be imposed, it must be chosen. early conversations Explore issues before they arise and plant a seed for a constructive conversations after they arise. Get to know each other. Share information, look for opportunities to recognise achievements, embrace moments where we can learn from each other. Make awkward conversations easy. Respect privacy and engage with discretion and consideration for how others might react or what they might be afraid of or worried about. In the case of the team I was fortunate to be part of the above factors were the key ingredients in building a team culture that became one of the most successful teams of its type in the history of the venture it was involved in.
The other day within a workshop I was delivering a client postulated a question about building confidence. Now there are lots of ways to build confidence and writing a blog about building confidence in general would simply be added to the weight of material that already exists on the web on this subject. The context of this question, however, was a little different. The client was asking how to maintain and/or rebuild confidence in an acute situation where someone had taken it away by virtue of something said – a criticism or implied slight – or amidst an atmosphere of extreme pressure marked by complexity, the need to acquire unknown information, a fluid set of known facts, and considerable time pressure. An operational example might be an emergency communications centre, civil defence coordination centre after a major emergency, or a communications dispatch centre managing an evolving event with actual or possible serious harm involved to the public. At such a time how does one maintain and rebuild confidence they have lost, lack, or are worried about losing amidst the scrutiny, pace, and pressure of external demands. 1) Much of the confidence by individuals undertaking such a task comes from appropriate selection, clarity of roles, practice and event simulation, robust debriefing and learning environments, and a strong team culture. This is the ideal, but the ideal is not always possible. Rotating staff, complex events, emotionally charged encounters, unreasonable requests, personal stress, and external scrutiny and questioning (e.g. senior management, political and/or media inquiry and possible interference) can all conspire to undermine existing confidence. No training tempo can completely simulate real-life operational management. In cases where the assumptions about resources, time, relationship management, and information confusion exists what are some of the things we can do and focus on to help stay calm, confident and together? Much of these tips come from understanding how the brain, your brain, works under extreme stress with competing demands and multiple, often contradictory, sources of information and immediate need. 2) Use a filter to assist prioritisation. Whatever filter or series of filters that are used (e.g. threat to life, threat to property, transport, medical access, media management) write that filter in front of you to quickly enable you to apportion importance and urgency. This allows you to keep track of what is being worked on, it’s status, and your role in managing that responsibility. 3) Be clear on priorities and why the priorities in front of you are the priorities. The need to meet external requests for information or input can be a significant distraction and, in the desire to meet those requests, compromise delivery of core tasks. Practice the ability to politely say ‘No’, explain that the request will be managed when possible, or an alternative source of answer that might be available. Note, this latter option isn’t passing the buck, it’s directing someone where they genuinely need to go to obtain what they need. 4) Be clear on your role and understand the impact that role has on those you report to and who report in to you. This is more than simply doing what you are required to it’s about understanding how what you do impacts others. In that way you can add additional value by understanding the implications and consequences up and down the information and activity pathway. 5) Make things as easy as you can for those around you. Be polite, smile, manage your fatigue levels as best you can, manage those annoying individuals who hover around or seem to ask inane questions. They’re doing the best they can with what they have. Others will watch your calmness, be inspired and encouraged by it, and their response will further encourage and support what you’re doing. 6) Resolve conflict early. Seek explanation, necessary information, or an appropriate response earlier rather than later. In a crisis the usual tolerance and patience may not exist, especially if an early conversation would have saved time and energy. Seize the day, providing you have good reason for doing so. Be polite, be constructive, and make the rationale for the earlier conversation to everyone’s benefit. 7) Be clear on progress made, however that is measured. When everything seems so fluid it is very important we remind ourselves what we have achieved from where we started. In a highly dynamic environment where it may be hard to clearly see what we have done or how we have contributed often what we have achieved is setting an effective organisational system, pattern of responses, methods of working, and style of interaction for those who follow and those around us to watch and learn from. Remember, we may not have the answer to everything facing us but we can be part of the answer that evolves with input from the system we are part of. 8) Never lose sight of the bigger picture. What are we here for? Public safety, traffic flow, risk management, media management, liaising with families, support and assistance, delivery of information and aid … whatever it is keep that in mind as what you do must be linked in to those factors. 9) Be kind to yourself. Listen to what your mind and body is telling you it needs. If you need to take a few deep breaths, take them. If you need a little black humour to alleviate some tension, go for it. If you need to go into the bathroom on a toilet break and swear, do it. At the end of the day every organism needs a pressure valve. Courage is knowing what you need to do before it affects us so we can continue to perform to a high level. 10) Learn to take constructive feedback. Every situation is dynamic and lessons always need to be learned. Ensure the way we provide feedback is not personal and focussed on the objective(s) that are important to all. The best teams I know when it comes to dealing with emergencies have each other’s backs but are always to help each other out when someone falls short. Celebrate what is done well; there will be lots of it.