In 2019 I decided to take some of my own advice and not work so much.  In particular, I am, once again, reading for pleasure and not just reading for work.

Once upon a time, I read a lot of novels; but not for many years.

However, to the great disappointment of my husband, I read my books on my iPad.  That way I always have it with me, I can read in the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep, and I just find it to be very practical.

And recently I have noticed that my eBook app is cheering me on.  I get these notifications at night congratulating me on meeting my goals (that I don’t remember setting) of reading every day.

And the creators of these apps are clever people; because I look at that notification and feel a little bit pumped, a little bit more inclined to read again tomorrow night.

I have also dealt with some employers who tell me that they don’t understand why they “should” have to give praise to or thank people who are “just doing their job”.  So that tells me that they don’t normally let their team know that they value them. Those employees do not get “seen”.

You can bet your bottom dollar that those employees probably don’t feel like they are valued. They probably feel that they are taken for granted.

I wonder what impact that has on the quality of their work; or their level of engagement.

If the makers of apps recognise that psychologically we are looking for feedback, recognition and a bit of a prod, then maybe we leaders should take a leaf out of their book.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

I saw a great Mel Robbins video the other day about how she doesn’t get nervous before she speaks on stage.

She said that the body’s response to nervousness is almost identical to its response to excitement; except that you can think when you are excited.

This was a real Aha Moment for me.  I do a lot of public speaking, but I often feel nervous or anxious just before I speak.

So, I tried it the other day when I gave a keynote address. I just kept telling myself that I was excited, and it worked. I felt way more confident on stage and I could think much clearer.

The reality was that I was excited. It is very exciting to be asked to speak in front of a group of people; to be invited to share my ideas and thoughts. But I can and have at times unintentionally sabotaged such experiences by getting so nervous that my brain stopped working and I would clamber for basic words or concepts.

As leaders, we can sometimes unintentionally sabotage ourselves by getting bogged down in our fear of failure.  We spend too much time worrying about what could go wrong; looking for errors and anticipating the worse.

How much more likely are we to succeed if we lead with excitement? If we could think clearly and celebrate the extraordinary talents and skills that we possess and that our teams possess?

It is really exciting to lead a team. It is so incredibly exciting to think about all the great things we could achieve when we are engaged and connected and on the same page.

Lead with excitement.  It’s thrilling.

A director of a company, who had just found out that one of his favourite staff members had decided to resign, told me that he would not give this person any more of his time or energy and he would not, therefore, be offering her an exit interview.

He was personally very triggered by this person’s decision to leave.  He felt it was an attack on him. He felt that she was ungrateful and that she didn’t deserve anything extra from him or the company.

He also said that it would be a complete waste of time to conduct an exit interview because if she had a problem, she should have said so before she made the decision to jump ship so that they could have done something to address the problem.

I am confident that this person didn’t speak up beforehand because this director was not very good at receiving feedback. He had the potential to argue the point if people didn’t agree with him.

However, I think he is right… it is too late to try to fix problems once the person has left.  Unfortunately, the bit that he was missing was that this staff member did not feel safe to speak up before she left the organisation and chances are, even if she was offered an exit interview, she would have been unlikely to say very much at the time because what was to be gained?

And Adelaide is a small place; so, you don’t go around burning bridges, right?

However, I think there is real value to be achieved from holding an exit interview but only if they are conducted in a way that is safe.  So how do you make it safe and effective?

I believe that the best person to conduct an exit interview is someone independent from the employer; someone who can give the feedback in a way that can be heard and acted upon.

An employee or leader is too close to the situation.  They may feel ashamed or embarrassed if they discover at the eleventh hour that they have been partly responsible for this person’s decision to leave.  And if we feel blamed, chances are we then go into defensive mode.

But an independent third party can interview the person in a sensitive manner.  They have no emotional attachment to the person leaving or their reasons for leaving.  They can then provide that feedback in a way that can be actioned.

A person leaving your employment has a story to tell about their experience working for you.  That story might be good or not so good.  There are lots of reasons why people move on.  But gathering information about everyone’s stories and experience will help you to constantly improve your workplace and ensure you provide your team with a welcoming and safe place to work.

On a recent red-eye flight to Sydney, the woman next to me put her backpack on her tray table, pulled her hoodie over her head and appeared to be sleeping.

The tea and coffee trolley came and went. She appeared to sleep through it all.

Fair enough – it was really early.

It was a bit of a bumpy flight; the seat belt sign came on about half an hour into the flight and they said over the loudspeaker that there would be no more hot drinks on this flight.

Eventually the woman next to me surfaced. It was just as the flight attendant was going past picking up the rubbish. My neighbour asked if she could have a drink.  A tea… no make that a coffee.

My first thought was “are you kidding me… you’ve slept through the foodservice and you are now wanting the flight attendant to drop everything and get you a hot drink.”  Then my self-righteous good girl persona kicked in and I thought “And you’ve asked for a hot drink and they are not serving hot drinks!”

I was so in a judgemental mood!

The flight attendant “smiled” at my neighbour and said “of course” and disappeared.  Nothing happened for some time.

So about 10 minutes later my neighbour rings the bell and this time two flight attendants turn up.

The senior attendant was brilliant. She didn’t make a judgment at all (unlike me).  She smiled and was calm and said, “are you ok?” And my neighbour said, “no, I have a really bad earache and a migraine, and I think a warm drink might help”.

The flight attendant said that they weren’t serving hot drinks due to the turbulence, but she would get her one if she promised to be really careful.

I felt terrible.  I had been so judgmental of this person. I hope the coffee helped her feel better.

I was sorry I was such a judgmental cow. And I was truly impressed with the level of service of the flight attendant!

The other day a contractor received some feedback on their performance.  An email stating certain “facts”. These facts were the percentages of how much work the contractor had completed in a timely fashion.

These statistics suggested that the contractor was not meeting the standards set by the organisation. Uh oh.

That was the only information provided. No commentary on whether this was good or bad. No checking in. Just “facts”.

The contractor shrugged. This was common. A random email suggesting that their work was not meeting the target. No biggie. This happened all the time. They still kept being given work. This email was a non-story. It meant nothing. The organisation was just ticking a box saying they had provided feedback. Who cares? Delete!

This organisation really needs the work the contractor did to be completed.  It’s difficult work; work that no-one really wants to do. They struggle to find competent contractors. Everyone knows this.

The organisation has all these rules built into the contract about performance and they have extraordinary expectations; most of which are not generally achievable. The organisation occasionally rattles the cage and threatens the contractors that they need to be 100%  compliant to keep being given work, but the contractors all know that the managers are toothless tigers because there is no-one else who is willing to put up their hands to do this work. The organisation is completely dependent on the contractors. And yet they appear to treat the contractors with disdain.

What a wasted opportunity for this organisation. And how difficult is it for the contractors to feel engaged and valued; when there is a real sense that the organisation doesn’t care about them but keeps them around because they need them.

How much better would the outcomes be if the organisation looked after the contractors?  What if the organisation made an effort to have a real and meaningful relationship with the contractors? What if, as a result of supporting the contractors and asking them if they are okay or finding out how else they could support them, the contractors felt more engaged and cared more about meeting the KPIs outlined in their contracts.

What if…?

Photo by Canva Studio from Pexels

A few months ago, Margaret, my nine-year-old Maltese Shih Tzu x Toy Poodle went blind.  She has SARS – some tragic medical condition that middle-aged, slightly overweight female dogs are prone to get. Who knew!

I have felt so incredibly sad for Margaret.  She is a beautiful soul who loves to run and run and run.  The highlight of her week used to be when we would go to this park near us that has multiple ovals and I’d let her off the lead and let her run.

Now she walks tentatively around the house. She regularly walks gently into a wall, using this as a signpost as to where she needs to go next.

When she first lost her sight, she would often get “lost” in the kitchen, not knowing how to find us, particularly if she got very excited because someone had arrived at the house.

We have had to make a lot of adjustments to ensure that Margaret is safe. We can’t move the furniture; we can’t get out a box or a folding chair for a future event and leave it in a corridor. We bought her a special frame that goes on her collar that helps her “feel” the wall or furniture before she hits her head.

But most importantly we need to talk to Margaret.  We need to talk to her a lot.  She needs to know who has come home; she needs constant reassurance that we are looking after her.  She is scared and she is seeking us out all the time wanting to know that she is safe.

But despite this major change in her capabilities she is still our fun-loving, run-everywhere Margaret.

She still runs when I take her for a walk (always on a lead now); even if she sometimes accidentally runs into fences or trees.  Her angel frame doesn’t work that well when she is going fast. I spend most of the walk trying to help her avoid injury.

She still chases a ball if you don’t throw it too far.  She still lets my 22-month-old granddaughter “pat” her without getting grumpy.

And with every day she is growing in confidence; adjusting to this new life without sight.

This experience has taught me so much.

I really struggled when she first lost her sight. I couldn’t imagine how her life could be fulfilling if she didn’t have sight. I questioned her quality of life; because I thought about how I would deal with losing my sight. I had already made an assumption that I wouldn’t cope and therefore she wouldn’t cope.

Then I felt guilty for having this thought. I was grieving. I was grieving for Margaret and I was grieving for me.  My dog, whom I love dearly and whom I know loves me, had lost her sight and our world and everything we knew and were confident about has changed, forever.

Margaret was so low and depressed when she first lost her sight, she had multiple “accidents” in the house. She hid under blankets and in cupboards. She was scared and lost. But three months on and she is slowly adjusting to this new world order.  She is walking more confidently around the house.

She has needed to be “seen” more; she has needed a lot of reassurance.

And I am adjusting too. And we are both still madly in love with each other.

People in your team will go through trials and tribulations; they will get “lost”, they will lose their direction, their circumstances will change, and their mood might change whilst they go through difficult times. But they are still important; they are still part of your team. Sometimes we need to make significant changes to accommodate someone’s needs but it’s worth it.

Because people matter.

The weather has turned. Hooray! Spring has sprung and I had a huge need to do some spring cleaning on our first warm weekend in what seems like forever. 

So I decided to tackle the air-conditioner in the kitchen.  We have an almost flat roof (electricians love us – not!) and so we have to have split systems around the house.  There is an air-conditioning system above the sink in the kitchen.  

The top of the system looked pretty grubby, so I thought I’ll get up there, clean out the filters and just tidy it up a bit.  Then I opened the cover and woah – it was filthy! There were dead flies, even a dead wasp and the filters were putrid. (Sorry – I hope you’re not eating at the moment). 

What I recognised at that moment is that we had unintentionally been putting the unit under significant stress over the last (too many) months (I’m not good at this cleaning gig) and this had not only been inefficient but also probably horribly expensive. 

I also see this in teams.  Everything looks OK from the outside. Nothing to see here.  But then a new person arrives and challenges the status quo.  This usually leads to a fair bit of conflict with a few of the old guard saying things like “We’ve always done it this way” or “so and so has always been difficult, you just put up with it” and suddenly you see that the whole structure has been under significant stress for a long period of time.

Maybe your system needs a cleanup; a bit of spring cleaning.  Maybe it’s time to set aside some time to methodically and honestly work out what is working well and what could we do better. Are we unintentionally putting our team under unnecessary stress? What savings could we make if our people were less stressed? 

Go well. 

I am a latecomer to running and events like fun runs. I did my first fun run in 2014 when I was 51.  Now I have done a few and I collect the bibs with much pride in my achievements. 

In the middle of September each year in Adelaide we have a City-Bay Fun Run.  It is extremely popular. I think the main reason is that is a celebration that the weather has changed.  

My Facebook feed is full of people I know doing this event.  Not everyone runs it; lots of people walk the 12km course. Some people dress up in silly costumes, a lot of people enter to raise much-needed funds for charities or important causes.  And what I see is lots of teams. 

I see people from various workplaces I know or have worked with doing the event together.  They start the event together and then those who are faster and who finish first, stay back at the end and wait for their colleagues.  It is a celebration of starting and finishing something together. It is a great opportunity to bond, to take photos, to be silly and spend time together outside of work – often for a great cause.  It is a shared experience. 

It is a great non-work related team building activity that is about fun and fitness and being active. 

For many of us, we spend more time with our work colleagues than our families.  These relationships are so important to our sense of well-being and having a feeling of belonging.  It is crucial that we sometimes take some time out of our usual work-life to just spend some fun time together with the people we work with.  It’s good for our mental health. 

Find ways to have fun and build a connection with your team. 

Go well. 

 

Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU from Pexels

Recently, a friend of mine was dealing with a complaint.  The complaint did not have a lot of merit. But the complainant was very forceful and dogmatic and the complaints person in this company said that they would follow up the matter with Senior Management. 

Senior Management looked at each other and tried to work out why this matter had ended up with them.  The evidence did not warrant their attention. A lot of time was taken up dealing with a non-issue. 

Which in itself highlights a number of issues: 

  • The Complainant did not understand the process and rules associated with this particular issue. 
  • The Complainant had not been given adequate information from the outset – so they had made some inaccurate assumptions. 
  • The Complaints Officer did not understand the issue properly either and was therefore swayed by the degree of unhappiness of the Complainant. 
  • The Complaints Officer was not adequately trained as a Complaints Officer to be a proper gatekeeper for senior management. 

The consequences of this situation was that:

  • The Complainant spent a lot of time and energy worrying about something that they did not understand.
  • The Complainant may have made a different decision if she had properly understood the process from the outset. 
  • The Complaint may never have eventuated if the Complainant understood the process and therefore save the Complaints Officer from having to deal with it at all. 
  • Senior Management wasted valuable time dealing with an issue that was a non-issue. 
  • The Complaints officer was potentially embarrassed by the outcome and being shown up for not understanding the issue and the process. 
  • The Complainant is now even angrier and their behaviour may now escalate due to the lack of a positive outcome. 

So this non-problem highlighted a number of problems.  But because everyone is thinking that it is a non-problem – except the Complainant – the real issues might not be addressed. 

Conflict is a gift. It tells you there is a problem. Don’t ignore it. 

I am a political junkie. I love politics. I listen to all the podcasts on politics; I read about what is happening in our Federal Parliament all the time.  

So I have been listening to a lot of podcasts over the last few months about the fallout from the last election that everyone – even the pundits – thought the ALP was going to win. 

And it got me thinking.  There would be a lot of people who are very happy with the outcome and there would be a lot of people who were incredibly disappointed and stressed by the result. 

But despite that, there are no protests, no fighting in the streets or pubs.  There is a bit of right-wing/left-wing banter and debate on various media platforms, as anticipated.  But nothing out of the ordinary. 

We accept the outcome. Australia voted and that is what it is. 

And yet the same can not be true of some of the Committees that I have sat on or worked with.  

Often issues are not resolved because everyone talks and talks (or tells them what they think) and they can’t to an agreement so they keep the issue alive in the hope that they are going to come to an agreement, often by attrition. 

Firstly, we don’t have to agree but we do need to make decisions and move on. Not making decisions can create an unsafe environment. This is because there is a constant threat of change but nothing happens. People don’t know where they stand. Not making a decision is often favouring those people who don’t want change. It creates resentment. 

Create a process where people get an opportunity to put their case, to provide evidence and to inform. Give people equal speaking time to talk to the issue. Use a timer so that the process is fair. And then make a decision. Vote. And move on. 

Train the people in the Committee that processes will be followed. Don’t give people false hope. It’s not fair and it’s unsafe.