Farsight Knowlege Base

CREDIBILITY AND THE POWER OF OUR BRAND

  Recently I’ve had a number of discussions centred around the concept of credibility. In particular assumptions made that cause others to believe we, as an individual or company, don’t have the necessary skills (or product, capacity or support) and who therefore do not listen or take an interest in an offer of product or service as a result. This originated when having lunch with some colleagues the topic of conversation shifted to frustration at organisations (in different countries) unwilling or unable to take on good advice. It also applies to individuals when we assume someone not from our background could understand or assist (or someone not from our country) and is too small/too large/too hot/too cold/too much of one thing or too little of another to see where we’re coming from and be able to make a difference in some of the fundamental challenges we are facing. Size of economy doesn’t matter, what matters is the capacity to innovate in this regard. It is outcome of the ease with which business can be done (regulations), the open access to essential information (communication technology and attitude to learning), tolerance of diversity, historical degree of entrepreneurialism (cultural values and economic systems), and immediate need (urgency).  Sometimes those assumption that work against us having credibility in the eyes of others are based upon suspicion and rumour (including occupational reputation) and/or known facts that give pause to time spent listening, learning and taking on board what we might have to say. Usually, however, those assumptions are based upon false generalisations and can be summated within the phrase, ‘You don’t understand what we do or know enough about what we do.’ This, of course, begs two questions. First, if an organisation or individual does not themselves fully understand their role, challenges, purpose, and process (a more frequent occurrence than business are often willing to admit simply due to size, complexity or lack of reflection/review) then is it not both foolish and somewhat arrogant that they expect others to? That is the point of fresh eyes and a different perspective. Second, if an organisation or individual does clearly understand these factors then for what reason is it believed that an individual or group cannot add value by improving and providing an alternative view on critical aspects of how an organisation operates, what it produces, its relationship with its market and its strategy for the future? Persuasion against these incumbent mindsets is assisted by  number of factors, a key one of which is perceived relevance and credibility.  Credibility hinges upon the reputation we have. Reputation isn’t a product of how we talk about ourselves but of how others talk about us. For others to talk about us they need to watch us or at least listen to those who have some knowledge of who we are, what we stand for, and the work we do. Credibility is gained through relationship management, time, and the lens through which product, service and interpersonal contact occurs. Corporations understand this all too well – the ability of a brand to be larger than the actual strength of its products or services. This is the assumption that by virtue of visual exposure to a brand image, frequency of product sighting in a market, or brand name entering into regular social and professional conversation the brand must, essentially, be a good one and therefore of value (or at least a viable competitor with a sound promise of value). This is how great brands thrive and become self-sustaining. It is also how former great brands survive long after the product or service they had was competitive in quality or price – through brand inertia and customer loyalty.  The same principle applies to individuals and the concept of an individual brand, based as it is on the work done, how one is spoken about, and the impression we make. Individuals with a good reputation based upon a) sighting of work samples (social media has made this a quick, accessible, and affordable reality), b) frequency of delivering solutions with brand champions (current established brands that have name recognition in the marketplace), and c) the frequency of someone being positively talked about in commercial conversations (professional, knowledgeable, created a solution, easy to work with, ethical) will more easily gain credibility with those they do not know and with whom they have had no previous contact.  These, then, are the three factors individuals need to develop in order to build credibility in a new market they have targeted for growth. A plan building on these factors needs to form a key component of any marketing strategy. It is a long term strategy that turns the individual’s brand into a self-sustaining engine over a period of time. This strategy needs to take ‘known facts’ and clarify their accuracy and relevance. This in turn creates a compelling case to listen and learn, to stop and consider – to reflect on what is deemed important and why, and the obstacles and opportunities for progress previously undiscovered or dismissed. Once we shift thinking, or at least introduce the possibility that current thinking has been surpassed or new thinking will generate different results, behavioural change in processes and systems will follow – all as a result of how we have sown the seeds of credibility.​

MANAGING TEAM STRESS BASICS

  The impact of stress in the workplace is well known, and in an increasingly complex market and society pressure to varying degrees is experienced across all levels of an organisation, no matter the occupation, purpose, or marketplace. The consequences of high workplace stress include poor morale, reduced performance, resistance to change and increased conflict. Longitudinal research has identified two factors, in particular, that contribute to a higher risk of experiencing workplace stress – complexity of role and responsibilities, and time pressure to achieve and perform. It is the obligation of all employers, and by default all managers as agents of their employer, to take reasonable steps to reduce workplace stress and manage it as effectively as possible.  This does not mean stress must be removed (not that it's possible to do that anyway) but that reasonable steps must be made. Managing stress is, at the end of the day, a partnership between the employer and the employee and both have responsibilities. Health and safety legislation highlights, among other things, the personal responsibility of a manager to actively demonstrate their efforts to manage the occupational health of those they are responsible for on premise, to be pro-active, and to take responsibility for team and broader workplace culture. In practice this means that individual managers can be held accountable and raises significant implications for occupational health practice and responsibility. There are a number of simple and effective points to consider when looking at a program that improves managers’ stress reduction capability, and in turn reduce employer liability and promote employee performance, well-being and overall team adaptability.  1. Create a supportive culture Workplace cultures that deny stress is a problem tend to result in extreme reactions when stress does occur. A supportive culture exists when people feel they can talk about stress openly and without impact on their reputation and credibility, and where asking for help is seen as a sign of wisdom not weakness. A supportive culture is a vehicle for discussion and ideas, identification of opportunity, creative thinking and is a sign of resilience.  2. Appreciate people’s differences Everyone is different — whether by personality, background, skills, or outlook. One person’s stress is another person’s welcomed challenge. Ensure the right people are selected for the stressors most likely to be encountered on the job, that each individual is aware of their own warning signs and trigger points, and measures are put in place to enable effective reflection, discussion, and self-management.  3. Develop recognition and awareness of personal responsibility When under stress people react in both different and similar ways. There are various behavioural signs, physical symptoms, and emotional reactions that may indicate unusually high stress levels. It’s also a matter of people understanding what is within their control and what they take responsibility for, and outside of that possibly need help with. Get to know each person’s personality, temperament, preferential style and key experiences and what their individual signs. Encourage and provide systems and mechanisms that allow people to self-manage effectively while balancing performance responsibilities. In other words, instead of reinforcing the responsibilities we all have to manage ourselves proactively companies need to have policies and practices in place that demonstrates support for this.  4. Resolve issues as they arise Try not to let things fester. Focus on early identification and early action. Value the time it takes to discuss, analyse and manage issues. If we don’t those issues will hang around and re-surface later with greater history than we may be able to manage effectively. An earlier awkward conversation is much better than a critical hostile one much later.  5. Build the team Good workplace relationships are a very important buffer to serious stress occurring. Team building that increases knowledge of interpersonal differences, conflict resolution and problem solving skills, appreciation and recognition of individual talents, and the flow of information across team members can be very effective to counter stress. Good consistent communication, sharing, and development of reduced defensiveness (i.e. it’s not about me it’s about the work we are all involved in and I am part of) that is inclusive and involves all team members as best as possible helps a team set, monitor, discuss, and maintain their own standards and expectations alongside some humour.  6. Heighten opportunities for personal control over ones work There is a large body of research showing that control over how a heavy workload is managed is one of the most effective ways to manage stress at work. Strategies may include flexible work hours, working from home, clarifying priorities, use of innovation, and improved devolution of decision making. This doesn’t mean the same as reducing workload, but clarifying what’s negotiable and non-negotiable, and where the areas of most effective personal practice and performance may lie on a day to day and week to week basis.  7. Remember everyone Include part-timers, volunteers, and remote workers in all initiatives alongside full time employees whenever possible in communications and gatherings. If it’s not possible to include everyone then ensure people are not forgotten and included and listened to in other ways.  8. Plan for contingencies If the worst case happens what will you do? Get ideas from the team, or at least key members of the team where possible critical incidents may apply that affect outcomes. Options should be available in a workplace stress policy, and include employee assistance, peer support, medical advice, and stress management interventions. 

10 TIPS FOR BETTER TIME MANAGEMENT 

Ten key tips for improving our ability to manage the time we have available more effectively, reproduced from a paper delivered to the 16th Annual Payroll Conference held in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 27 March 2013. 1) Understand what you’re good at and not good at. What we’re good at we tend to enjoy more and be more efficient and productive at. Give a priority to doing what you’re good at and find others to do what you’re not good at and not so efficient at doing. 2) The stuff you don’t want to do but you have to do get on to it first and as part of a routine. Maybe 8am-9am is your old email clearing time, or maybe you hate doing the dishes so either a) get a dishwasher (some of us call them ‘children’; it’s not easy to get them to do stuff I know but that’s part of parenting – you get to have revenge when they have children) or b) get on to them fairly soon after you’ve eaten. Whatever it may be remember that delaying the time we take to do the mundane just places that time demand somewhere else and creates a sense of non-achievement (because it’s stuff still waiting to be done). How often have we woken up in the morning and walked into the kitchen to find last night’s unwashed dishes on the bench and groaned. We end up using the same time we would have used last night to wash them, but in a tighter and more stressful time frame because we have to go to work. 3) Make a meeting with yourself – regularly. This is your time, maybe to catch up on things, maybe to make some phone calls you need to, maybe to go for a walk or run, maybe to think and reflect, maybe to plan and prepare. Whatever the reason, we don’t like to break a meeting we have made with others so why shouldn’t we use the same sense of respect on ourselves. 4) Let go of trying to find more time. Time is like money. Yes there’s a level below which its availability significantly crimps our basic enjoyment of life but in general it’s not how much you have it’s what you do with it. Identify what’s important to you – family, work, health, relationships, interests and hobbies, or whatever. At the start of each day plan to do at least one thing that contributes to each and prioritise it. Maybe it’s a kiss, maybe a thank you, maybe a smile, maybe some time with others, maybe a phone call or text, maybe some new learning. Whatever it is it means that at least part of each day is you working on making your day great rather than someone else’s. 5) When stuff starts to build up learn to use the Four D’s. Do, delegate, delay, or drop. Enough said. Not everything is critical or needs you involvement in it even if you want to be. 6) Get a diary. Whether you’re a list person or not, organised or disorganised, old or young, old school (paper diary) or electronic (phone app or computer program) don’t rely on memory alone. Memory may give a sense of freedom and a diary may create a sense of impending obligations but the former is one of blissful ignorance while the later ensures we stay on top of what we need to do, with who, when, where, and why. 7) If you have a diary make sure you use it effectively. A diary replaces your short-term memory but like baking a cake it’s only as nice as the ingredients you put in it. What’s more the ingredients need to go in to the cake in the right order. The most important stuff (not what others think is important but that is important to you because it gives you energy or will save you time later on) goes in the cake [and is prioritised in the diary] first. 8) Don’t obsess so much about stuff you didn’t get around to today. When we’re up late at night doing stuff it usually means one of three things: a) we messed around a bit and chose to spend some of our time earlier less effectively than we could have, b) we chose a delayed consequence, or c) we were working on what was important for someone else at the expense of ourselves.  9) Respect what you miss doing and prioritise doing more of it in the future. We let things go we used to enjoy and the consequence is we add to load without any commensurate increase in our performance. Any organism can only take so much load before it squeezes itself dry (figuratively speaking). Often we tell ourselves we keep taking on board more responsibility and tasks because we’ll let others down who have expectations of us. In reality what we’ve done is develop a habit of putting others first. This is noble and admirable but too much of this means we run on empty and before we know it resent all that we have on our plate. We choose what we have on our plate; no one else does. 10) Only ever plan to use no more than 80% of the time you have. The other 20% isn’t wasted. It’s there for Murphy’s Law to arrive in a blaze of trumpets. It’s there for the meetings that go over time, and the telephone calls that take ages, and the emails that take longer than anticipated to write. It’s the elastic in your day.  

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.

LEADERSHIP IN A CRISIS

  Leadership must be one of the most mis-used words in the world of work. A great concept we often try to simplify is a more complicated issue than that answered by a mere paragraph or list of ‘approved’ qualities. The simple fact is that the question “What is a good leader?” is the wrong one to ask. The right question is “What leadership qualities are required for the mix of situations, responsibilities and personalities I have in my team?” Leadership is, as we know from practical experience, fluid. Consistent traits in one situation do not always yield results in another, even though those traits are admirable and worthwhile in and of themselves. Applying what is needed at the time is the hallmark of not just a good leader but an excellent one.  An excellent leader instinctively knows when to shift tack and adapt a different posture or strategy to suit the environment and challenges they are faced with. None more so is this tested than when experiencing a crisis. That out of the ordinary, unusual, unpredictable, often emotional, always unplanned for contingency to which leadership makes such an impact but can sometimes be lacking. Crises are a true test of ‘leadership’ for by their very nature we have not encountered such a situation before or they test us beyond ordinary resources and expectations, and therefore we set foot onto a path untravelled and without a template or limited past experience to follow. Assuming, of course, that past experience is one we have taken some lessons from.  A perusal of international crisis leadership research has identified variations on five common themes that make a significant difference to the impact we have, as leaders, on helping our team navigate through very rough waters. They each are as much about the choices we make around our own coping, as they are about assisting the coping of others and effecting positive change in outcomes, priorities, and decision-making. In no particular order they are:Courage to be calm. When all around is chaos it’s important that others see you as an island of sensibility, rationality, patience, and consideration. Panic is contagious so be the antidote and no matter how tense you may feel, on the outside present a calmness that in turn gives others confidence.Integrity. Do you articulate what you value and behave consistently to those values? The adage of integrity is, ‘What are we teaching by what we are doing?’ Are we seen to walk the talk or just spout it? Set standards, promote them, stick to them, demonstrate we are someone who can be trusted, who is honest and open. These are qualities that can be hard to find when we are under the utmost pressure and temptation to become self-focussed.Decision-making. Effective, relevant, considered and timely. A good leader has the ability to navigate through a mound of information, filter it down to its basics and remain focused on the priorities at hand. Procrastination and panic are the common responses to crises – dare to be different and chart a different and independent course. A leader during a crisis understands rapidly what they already know and the importance of clarity, understands what they need to know and the importance of confidence, understands the impact of time and the necessity of required actions, and isn’t afraid to be bold.A higher purpose. With the old order now in question who leads, defines, motivates and supports a new vision? Be it for our team or the company. Be it just to get us through today or this week. This is not about a ra ra cheer but re-evaluating what is important and what unifies us toward common goals that inspire and are relevant to all team members. In what way do we now ‘make a difference’?Presence: Are you seen? Do you listen and take on board, genuinely, what people have to say and ask? Are you visible. Do you show you care by being around? A quiet word of encouragement, thanks and acknowledgement during times of adversity reinforces that people are not forgotten, are valued, and are appreciated – especially in times where they are called on to work in ways that are uncomfortable, stressful and ignore their own considerations for the benefit of customers and clients. 

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.​

By accident or by design

An interesting question I occasionally ask of clients I coach is this: Are you living your life by design or by accident? For many years now I’ve often repeated a story about a senior executive who came into my office asking for guidance and advice. I asked him what the problem was. His response? ‘I’m not where I want to be.’ My next question was, ‘Well, what are you aiming for?’ To which he replied, ‘Well, nothing.’ My next statement was pretty inevitable, ‘Well done then, you’ve arrived.’ The story often gets a laugh but it has a serious message. In no way do most of us aim at nothing but we tend to have days we wonder whether or not we’re working on our own best day, in a way that suits us, on projects we enjoy, with people we want to work with, with an outcome that makes a difference to us and adds value beyond simply making money, getting through the day, or paying bills.Sometimes we confuse having goals with embracing a vision. Goals are fantastic and they give us a target to measure progress in both our personal and professional lives. We need to be careful, however, to ensure our goals are not mass-fabricated, in other words taken from a list of ‘safe’ options deemed appropriate and normal by our peers. A bigger house, a nicer car, a holiday overseas, school fees for our children, a great social event, personal health, financial security and so on. All these are wonderful and admirable goals and meet some fundamental needs – belonging, security, fun, satisfaction at achievement. But, do they always inspire us?Living a life by design is taking those goals and adding a layer of meaningfulness to who we are, who we want to be, and how we want to live. Naturally these will change based on personal circumstances and experience. My own experience of living in a city devastated by a major earthquake, for example, hasn’t changed my desire for a beautiful home. It has certainly, however, reduced my need for one and the importance I place on bricks and mortar. Everyone is different and there is safety in wanting what others want. After all we can’t be wrong if what we want is also shared by others.If we want a safe life then this is a good path to follow. But if we want a good life, achieving that by following that safe path only occurs by accident and not design. Some good friends of mine are building a new house. Their perspective? Their house will not be designed as a box to contain their family, but as a vehicle to express how they live their life. They are choosing to design their project in a way that suits them. In doing so they will be different from the norm.Without exception every individual I have spoken with, coached, and advised in this area shares a common thread. They have confused setting goals with living life, if they have goals at all. Setting goals is just one component. Do those goals resonate with who you are and what you aspire to be, do and become? Do they remain relevant to who you are, your experiences and the people important to you? Are those goals being fed by inertia and a desire to not disappoint others or somehow look good, and by simply acquiring more stuff? Don’t get me wrong, I’m as materialistic as the next person but if we define happiness as getting what we want then by definition happiness will always be elusive because we’ll always want more. The key to happiness is wanting what you have.What do you want to have? Time, possessions, skills, knowledge, understanding, people, experiences? Are you living your life by your design or by someone else’s? Surely you owe it to yourself and those you love and share life with to sit down and think. And if you’re not living your life in a way you choose to design it perhaps it’s time to do something about it. The first step is giving yourself permission to do so. ​

Are difficult people born that way?

  Well, how long is a piece of string and how long do you have?  The short answer is, No.  Despite what geneticists tell us there is plenty of evidence that while some behavioural characteristics are established at birth it is what we learn growing up that generates our behaviour and perspective, our values and outlook and, just as importantly, our personal baggage.  Our behaviour is learned and it can be unlearned. Unfortunately the older we get the harder it usually is to unlearn some habits we have.  Why?  Well, the answer relates to the two principle differences between child and adult behaviour – as we grow we have more economic independence and more personal baggage.  It’s not any more complicated than that.  The majority of difficult people whether aggressive or overly submissive, stubborn or inconsistent, obsessively driven or too passive have the root cause of their behaviour based on lessons learned while growing up during our formative years of childhood, adolescence and our first career experiences.  Some pretty big lessons regarding how we manage conflict in our lives including frustration, resistance, opposition and disagreement are learned then.  In particular we start to develop what we are afraid of, how we gain attention from others, what we look for in order to feel safe and secure, and we identify our first role models that define for us what behaviours are OK and not OK, that get us what we want and not want.  While we are a product of our environment, however, we are not trapped within it.  The power of individual choice means we can rationalise and change our circumstances, our outlook, and our perspective on people and the situation at the time.  In other words we remain open to learning and, if wise, recognise what baggage holds us back and what pushes us forward constructively when we manage it well.  The key here is the extent to which we are able to remove our emotions from our behavioural choices.  For some of us we remain so emotionally tied up in what our own behaviour and the behaviour of others means that change becomes incredibly difficult.  This is because being “difficult” (or at least the pattern of behaviour(s) that others find problematic) has become entrenched deep in our psyche as the only way we know of staying psychologically safe, even at others expense.  And these people will not change without external assistance or an epiphany – what I call a light bulb moment.  Managing such people – whether a peer, a manager or an employee – is best achieved through two means.   First, ensuring that we are resilient and healthy enough to have the reserves of energy and intellect to handle the emotional challenges of such people when they arise as best we can.  Secondly, realising that although all behaviour is learned and can therefore be unlearned, all behaviour also meets an underlying need.  We change our behaviour when the need it is meeting disappears or when we recognise that that need is best met through another means (whether that need be respect, affection, intimacy, status or whatever).  The only way to identify the needs that bad behaviour is meeting is to understand people more than we already do – a hard but necessary step in giving us the edge in managing the difficult peope around us.  This can be done through getting to know people more than we already do, listening more to what is said and not said, and asking around.  Knowing why people are difficult gives an advantage in managing them effectively.

FROG CONVERSATIONS

  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. 

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