Farsight Knowlege Base

Building Team Resilience Long-Term

  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, unreasonable resistance/insecurity when experiencing major change, increased low-level conflict, and poorer personal health outcomes. 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. For many jobs these factors are a necessary requirement of a role, but how they are managed is the key. 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. Commensurate with those obligations are the positive benefits of effectively managing expected and unexpected work stress to reduce long-term harm.  This does not mean stress must be removed 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, wellbeing and overall team adaptability.1.   Create a supportive cultureWorkplace cultures that deny stress is a problem tend to result in extreme reactions when stress does occur. Similarly a culture that has a habit of being dismissive and demeaning of those feeling vulnerable or struggling can generate an obstacle to effective request and delivery of genuine and valuable support. 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. Stress, after all, is not an either or. We are under stress all the time – that’s part of life. But occasionally it can rise above our ability to manage it the way we should be or need to, and how we manage it and the decisions we make around it are what’s important.2. Appreciate people’s differencesEveryone 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 responsibilityWhen 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 ariseTry as much as possible to not let a matter fester, especially when its impact on an individual or a group is apparent. One of the universal truths around managing stress in all its forms is earlier conversations about it. 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 often 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 or highly resistant one much later.5. Develop the team by design not by accidentGood 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. Building the team skills in these areas develops resilience and, operationally, the ability of a team to adapt and bounce back or evolve over time to new circumstances and expectations.6. Heighten opportunities for personal control over ones workThere 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 everyoneInclude 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 contingenciesIf 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.9. Constructive feedbackEnsure feedback provided is two way and focuses on being constructive, relevant, specific, helpful and forward thinking (rather than overly dwelling on the past). Feedback is critical to clarify, explain, discuss and expand understanding of intent and impact. Lack of feedback or poor feedback is often cited as a key cause for stress that is avoidable, and impacts understanding of expectations and early resolution of issues when they are relatively minor. The keys for constructive feedback? Timely, relevant to the objectives of the role, non-personalised, enables opportunity for discussion and explanation, honest, specific, and focuses on opportunities for growth and development.10. Respite planningPay attention to rest and recovery. Plan ahead for work load and organisation of work demand and timelines, value time out, celebrate success and what it means to an individual and the team as a whole, and enhance autonomy when possible and necessary for individuals to manage their choices around individualised moments of rest and respite from major critical events and ongoing unusually high demand that can be unexpectedly fatiguing.

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.  

INFLUENCE STRATEGIES: THE MULTIPLE DOOR THEORY OF INFLUENCE

  When it comes to communication we often tend to think tactically rather than strategically. What I mean by that is the tendency is to think short-term - the next conversation, our next email, the next telephone call. There is no question this type of thinking is both necessary and valuable. It’s a skill set for another blog; in fact many more than one. After all planning the next step is important, as is responding to immediate needs. Every meeting or conversation, however, takes place within a larger context. It is within that wider context of personal brand, expectations and assumptions, values that are shared and different, and agendas known and hidden that such conversations take place. This is where the skill of 'influence' lies. Not in the meeting or conversation itself but within the perspectives people have prior to, or after, contact between people.  When it comes to trying to get people to understand our point of view it is vital to be willing to listen even if only to disagree, generate goodwill, or build a relationship. These are all medium- or long-term endeavours. Rarely are they short term unless the nature of the relationship is very immediate and purely transactional. Increasingly I’ve been asked to give advice as to how to do that - whether it be to develop a team, resolve an ongoing employee dispute, or improve an existing relationship. Whether one-on-one coaching, running a workshop or giving advice at a strategic HR level there needs to be a way to think strategically around how we build influence at work. Several years ago I developed what I came to call the Multiple Door Theory of Influence. It was a way for people to step away from thinking about the next point of engagement with an individual or a team, and see how those points of contact fitted within a bigger picture. As a result we can form a strategy of influence, playing the long game, and identify where and in what way we can gain the most leverage in terms of building the influence we want, over who, and with regards to what. That's a short summary of an involved process.  The Multiple Door Theory of Influence uses the simple metaphor of a house with three doors – a front door, a back door and a side door. Each door represents the three key means by which influence typically develops, whether that be at an individual or group level. Each door creates an opportunity to set precedents, establish boundaries, clarify issues, and convey what is important and unimportant. This gives us three options, or combinations of options, for building influence using a simple model easily applied across a range of circumstances and over whatever time frame suits our objectives. With the model we can plan where we apply our efforts, in what way, with who, when and where. Naturally, as with any plan, flexibility is essential. The long-term nature of the model allows for that flexibility and shift of focus when required.  Put briefly the front door represents conversations, be they one-on-one or with a group. They may be informal or a robust meeting of minds. Whatever their nature they are face to face. Planning revolves around what the content of the meeting(s) needs to be (as opposed to what we want it to be), who is involved and why, the lead up to it and the follow up afterwards. The side door represents influencing people through others. Every team has those within it more influential than others. Those people listen to, look up to, admire; the informal social leaders who mentor, train and show others what is unacceptable and acceptable around here. It is these individuals who in turn influence others and without their support, conscious or otherwise, introduction of change and establishment of what is OK and not OK to do around here is much harder to implement. The final door is the back door – team culture or team brand (impression giving and emotional connection). Team culture, very simply, reflects the norm as to how we do things around here. It may be how conversations take place, how mistakes are treated, how feedback is given, how customers are served, how colleagues are managed, what behaviour is supported, or what behaviour is unacceptable and how that is defined and managed. It defines a team and what is really important because it reflects how we behave towards people and what we think. Two factors more than any other help determine culture within a team. They are observations of a) how conflict is managed (reduced), and b) how poor performance is managed (expectations clarified). Master those two core leadership functions and any leader places themselves in a strong position to determine the culture they have through design and not accident.  There it is, put simply, the Multiple Door Theory of Influence.

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.

MANAGING A MASS CASUALTY EVENT: TIPS FOR A SENIOR LEADERSHIP TEAM

  On 15 March 2019 the city of Christchurch, and the country of New Zealand, was devastated by the actions of a single individual who entered two Mosques during Friday prayers for the singular purpose of advancing an ideology of hate, ignorance and division. Using multiple firearms he chose to shoot and kill as many individuals as he could who looked differently, spoke differently, and prayed differently to himself and the beliefs he held. Innocent New Zealand citizens and visitors who were praying peacefully had lives and bodies broken, and families were devastated. A community continues to weep, grieve, and reflect on the wider ramifications of such an act for the city of Christchurch and the country as a whole. March 15 was an event so far outside most peoples’ expectations in New Zealand it compounded the shock and personal impact, but also the determination for it to not divide but unite, to learn and address what can be done in wider society to ensure the safety of the community as a whole no matter the faith, nation of origin, or language spoken. In this New Zealand will continue to reflect for some time, and the ripple effects of the worst mass casualty event in modern New Zealand history will continue in individual, interpersonal, academic and media dialogue for many years.  Putting aside the political, social, and individual trauma – but not taking from it – an event of this type has significant implications beyond those directly impacted as victims, witnesses, and friends and family of those injured and killed. Ongoing mass media imagery, social media commentary, conversations between friends, contributions from commentators, and daily reminders ensure a continuing exposure to the events that have taken place. In many respects the impact of these reminders can be positive – sharing, connectedness, validation, provision of necessary and desired information, empathy, support, love and security. At other times they can prove offensive or harmful over time – re-experiencing, recriminating, blameful, unsupportive, prejudiced, ignorant. No matter the immediate impact the events of a mass casualty are lasting and go beyond those initially affected and to which support and attention is typically addressed. This is made moreso when such an event triggers reminders of previous trauma (e.g. Christchurch earthquake cluster late 2010-2011), even if historical events have been largely resolved and managed effectively for most but still with significant impact as one would expect.  There is much in such events that can effect businesses and organisations, often in a way they may not have expected if the business is not directly involved in some way (e.g. physical proximity, staff involvement directly and indirectly, sale and movement of equipment and/or supplies). While the emphasis is often on individual recovery, organisations are collections of individuals who might be immediately involved, impacted in different ways and who are undertaking tasks that may be directly effected by what has taken place (e.g. change in transport routes, loss temporarily or permanently of a key member of a team, unavailability of information/services due to changes in priorities of stakeholders, impact on the community in which we live and work). No matter the situation, preparation undertaken, or specific impact there are some key pointers and principles all organizational leaders need to be cognizant of when planning how to support their staff post an event of such magnitude: 1) Deal with immediate needs: Don’t think too far ahead least it hinder initial response priorities. The immediate needs are individual safety and dealing with injuries, physical security of our team members, obtaining accurate information as to what has happened (seek corroborating sources), communication between team members and families, and managing initial confusion and intense emotion. The first 48 hours are critical in enabling the ability to plan a response, ensuring our team is taken care of, and clarifying who is directly impacted, how, and what is needed to assist their immediate needs. Clear and consistent communication from executive management is critical, but no educated guessing even if well intended.2) Manage fatigue: Responding to a major emergency is exhausting both physically and emotionally. The initial adrenalin, need for information, support provided, confusion, and desire to be available and be present is only possible for so long before performance degrades. Look to rotate staff and manage rest and recovery. It’s easier said than done as we often don’t want to ‘not be involved’, may be in a critical position of responsibility or are motivated by the emergency nature of what has happened at the price of appropriate rest (happens more than people realise).3) Make use of flexible psycho-social support systems: Yes, this includes EAP (Employee Assistance Programmes and similar types of services) but make psychological health professionals available but not mandatory early on. Psycho-social support includes provision of information (including educational material about recovery and self-care), taking care of physical needs, enabling support of colleagues, ensuring opportunities for sharing and contact with others. It also requires the ability to connect culturally, linguistically, and empathically with individuals who have had a rare and significantly impactful experience on themselves and/or their loved ones. Support isn’t just seeing a psychological professional, although that’s an important part. It can also include things such as peer support, shift debriefs, care packages, social gatherings, and connectedness between individual friends and family that adds value to those impacted and those who care about them that reinforces sharing, safety and positive coping.4) Plan for on-going support: Everyone responds in different ways and significant personal impact often occurs after initial attention has waned. In-depth educational sessions after 2-4 weeks are usually better than early on when initial response and adaptation dominates, and the key information needed is around what is required to fulfill responsibilities and basic reminders and reinforcers around self-care and care for others. People will respond in different ways, including to an event triggering maladaptive coping for those already carrying a big load, so don’t be surprised if psycho-social support services are accessed down the track that are linked to an event you thought everyone had basically moved on from. Individuals impacted medium- or longer-term can feel isolated as the nature of conversations around them change and it is important to ensure they feel accepted and connected as best we can.5) Triage those directly impacted: Identify based on involvement and needs and ensure support continues and is available. A planned and mandated semi-regular check-in with a psychological professional, with protocols in place for what is reported to human resources (health information is private but the workplace has a role in being aware of work-related health needs in a discrete and agreed upon manner) is recommended. This is to ensure coping and recovery is on track and if off track that specific support and adjustment made. Often people think they’re recovering well, and they are, but get much more out of a regular check-in with a psychological professional than they realise – reflection, monitoring, self-care-accountability, safe space to disclose and discuss, and mandated self-time that they rarely prioritise for themselves.6) Don’t over-pathologise initial responses: While it can be tempting to focus on early signs of poor coping and possible early indicators of long-term pathology it is best to enhance positive recovery and adaptation strategies during early stages. Symptom check lists and screening tools can be very helpful but are best utilized selectively and after initial needs have been met. Blanket application early on can generate expectation by some that may not be warranted on later reflection, but it’s good to have screening tools available to meet individual triage needs and monitor adaptation and recovery. Long-term development of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder are very dependent on the context of the event and the nature of the individual involved and their level and type of exposure. The combination of involvement, impact, support and recovery protocols in the initial two weeks play a significant role in mitigating ongoing trauma-type reactions of a debilitating nature.7) Leader self-care: Leaders are human and have limits too. Leadership involves a lot of discretionary time and voluntary commitment when done well. During a critical incident the role of leaders as decision-makers, information providers, colleagues and counsellors, and wise heads takes more energy and time than is often expected. Don’t forget to practice when you can what you are encouraging other team members to do. None of us are immune to fatigue, grief, doubt, anger, or distress.8) Beware of over-reliance on emails for information: Email is efficient and effective but sometimes a human touch is needed. The transactional nature of emails has a place, especially when key information is needed to be mass delivered quickly, simply, and reliably. But, don’t underestimate the benefit of meeting people in person, education sessions with leaders present, and the value of sharing, discussion, and connection that comes with humanizing our communication delivery.9) Enhance existing coping and positive self-management: While there can be a temptation to intervene with support services early on, and there is some merit in this (better to have a resource and not need it than need it and not have it), the most effective approach is to identify how existing coping and positive self-management can be maximised and enabled, and apply resources in this area. That may mean changing established procedures to allow more flexibility, autonomy and alterations to the way things are normally done to allow adaptation to immediate needs. People are inherently adaptable – sometimes poorly but most of the time effectively over time – and we need to consider how we enhance and empower that adaptation rather than interfere with its natural course. Some professional guidance and advice in this space is advisable with regards to those showing early signs of poor adaptation, especially after the initial emergency response period has been completed. Listen to what your team needs, enable positive self-care and decision-making (including by yourself), but ensure there’s an awareness and safety net in place for those who are struggling so we can support them with what they need.10) Pay attention to pre-existing levels of personal and work stress (load and complexity): The largest determinant of post-event psychological functioning tends to be an individual’s level of pre-event psychological functioning. There are, of course, exceptions to this based on level of involvement, direct impact and existing vulnerability that an individual may or may not be aware of (e.g. previous trauma experience and/or the personal salience of an experienced event). However, as a general rule of thumb pre-existing levels of stress, patterns of coping, and health status are the best predictor of long-term recovery providing that the event response and recovery protocols implemented are methodologically sound, appropriately resourced, adaptable to circumstance, and meet individual needs.

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.

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