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There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
I’ve never been one to make a long list of New Year’s resolutions. Mainly because it is so easy to fail at them – the lofty ideals we set at this time of the year; when we are looking back at the year that was and what we want to be different somehow in the coming year. The only resolution I made in the past (which I have now stopped making) was that I would be ‘serene’ the next year. I don’t think that is ever going to happen completely, but bit by bit I am learning. Honestly. Delegation appears to be key.
F0r 2016 I am quietly determined not to read the comments on public facebook pages or on twitter, and participate in the discussions. I really don't need to participate in the outrage industry social media seems to breed these days and correcting grammar and spelling on the internet has lost its sparkle.
Resolutions are very different to goals made with resolve. Goals can be broken down into achievable parts. ‘I’m going to lose 12 kilos’ as a resolution often fails at the first hurdle when one hypothetically wakes up with a hangover on New Years’ Day unable to get off the couch to get any exercise. Yet having a goal of losing 12 kilos in the next 12 months can be broken down into losing 1 kilo a month, by exercising 5 days out of seven, by reducing your calorie intake so that output is higher than input and so on. Possibly even giving up wine, if one was so inclined. And every month that goes by and you see your goal reached is a mental tick in the box that you’re doing well.
And while resolutions come and go; resolve is easier to maintain, especially when you set yourself a goal and have a clear picture in your head, and written down on a piece of paper of what you want to achieve and how you are going to achieve it.
So think about your career and life goals for 2016, and how you are going to measure your success at achieving them. Do you want a new client? What steps do you need to take to win that work? Then keep it? Do you want to achieve a certain financial target? What changes do you need to make to ensure that happens? Do you want to move into a different area? To whom do you need to speak? Do you want start your own business? Where are you going to start and who can help you? Do you want to get a promotion? How do you find out about the criteria and who makes the decision? Do you need to make more time for yourself? What has to change to make that happen? Do you need to give up control of some things? What are you going to give up doing that has been distracting you?
Each of these questions is a whole blog post on its own, (especially the last two) but I want you to think about one important thing where we can all maintain resolve.
Is there a difficult conversation you have been putting off having with someone, whether it be a supervisor, colleague or junior employee? If you are doing reruns in your head of what you could have, should have or would have said to someone, that is a sign that a difficult conversation needs to be had. Plan it, frame it, and have it. Nothing changes unless you have those conversations – in particular the enormous space those thoughts are taking up in your head, and the energy expended in thinking about them. If you are a manager of people one of the most important skills you can learn is how to have a difficult conversation. I have yet to meet anyone who has dreaded a difficult conversation at work, but who has regretted finally having it, regardless of the outcome.
But back to the concept of serenity. I will never be Princess Grace (assuming she was serene and not just faking it). And most people with busy lives will have difficulty achieving serenity. I am however learning to be mindful. And so can you. I am day by day learning to focus my attention, to pause between tasks, and take a deep breath before moving on to the next one. And so can you. Trust me, it works.
And in 2016, let’s all practice gratitude and kindness regularly ( have written about gratitude previously), and be the person people look forward to seeing when they come to work. Gratitude and kindness, however small the act, are never wasted.
Happy New Year everyone any may your 2016 be successful, whatever success means for you.
It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver
- Mahatma Ghandi
A recent study by Dr Rebecca Michalak of PsychSafe, has shown that the legal profession has the lowest levels of health and well being of white collar workers, and that they are also the highest users of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. In fact substance abuse is approximately double that of other white collar workers. You can read a summary of her report here.
It is no secret that the very nature of the legal profession is inherently stressful — long working hours, the tyranny of time sheets and budgets, demanding clients, competition, and a pessimistic view of the world as a result of always having to look for the worst case scenario and plan for it, all contribute to stress, which over a long period of time cam lead to many health problems. These health problems include many physical illnesses and also mental illnesses.
Sadly, substance abuse can be a by-product of mental health issues as those suffering from it attempt to self medicate, rather than admit to it.
Dr Michalak said that rather than teaching resilience, to cope with stress, law firms needed to take proactive, preventative measures around the systemic failings and work environments to prevent it happening at all.
I agree with Dr Michalak - at present the legal profession has almost double the rate of mental health diagnoses as the general population. This is a systemic issue not a personal one.
Disturbingly, her report also found that:
Lawyers were also more likely than other professionals to be exposed to toxic behaviour in the workplace, including verbal abuse, mistreatment, bullying, competition, and destabilisation from colleagues, as well as sexual harassment
The ripple effect of poor work practices and environments is large, and getting bigger.
What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?
- Jean Jacques Rousseau
Friday 13 November 2015 is World Kindness Day. This day is part of a World Kindness Movement (WKM) that started at a conference in Japan almost 20 years ago.
The mission of the WKM is "to inspire individuals towards greater kindness and to connect nations to create a kinder world".
This is the WKM on a macro level - changing the world. We can, however, all make a difference by practising kindness every day and on this day, consciously practising kindess in the workplace. Imagine if we could change the world by changing one workplace at a time.
Kindness does not have to be a grand gesture. Nor does is have to cost money. Kindness can be a small gesture, genuinely made. Some of the simplest acts of kindness in the workplace are:
- holding a door open
- offering to make someone a cup of tea
- answering someone's phone and taking a message
- offering to get extra materials from the stationery room
- keeping the lift doors open when you see someone rushing to catch the lift
- remembering colleague's birthdays and acknowledging them
- taking an interest in peoples' interests
- showing genuine empathy to someone who is upset
Empathy is one of the best character traits to have - it makes the practice of kindness easy. And authentic. Practising kindness because you 'have to' is emotionally exhausting. Authenticity is essential.
The really good news about kindness, however is twofold. First, is that is is contagious. We take our cues from other people. When we witness or experience someone showing us kindness, we experience something called moral elevation - an emotion we experience after witnessing an act of kindness, compassion, understanding or forgiveness. We are more likely to be kind and helpful ourselves in that state. If leaders show kindness, their employees are also more likely to do so.
Secondly, practising kindness gives another person the opportunity to express gratitude, a very underrated virtue. In turn, having someone say 'thank you' gives us a good feeling and also increases the well being of the person expressing it.
When you think about it, kindness creates a giant warm circle of happiness. What's not to like?
The events of childhood do not pass but repeat themselves like seasons of the year.
- Eleanor Farjeon
Bullies are everywhere. I don't know of a single person who has not experienced either first hand bullying or witnessed bullying, whether it be in the classroom or the workplace.
Real bullies have an enormous impact on their victims - from developing lack of confidence, to anxiety and depression, and sadly some of this behaviour and the results of it start at school. Studies have linked the onset of depression in adulthood to being bullied as a child - you can read more about that in this Forbes article.
I am a fan of the show Seinfeld, and recall an episode in which a lost school library book comes to haunt Jerry, by way of a large fine. In his quest to recall what happened to the book, and discovering along the way that their bullying gym teacher was now homeless, and living on the street outside the library, Jerry and George remembered the treatment dished out to them at school - George and Jerry's gym teacher referred to George Costanza as 'Cantstandya', which the jocks at school of course enjoyed. But the epitome of the bullying was 'the wedgie' where the jocks would give them a wedgie (pulling one's underpants up through the shorts). An 'atomic wedgie' occurred when the waistband was ripped off. Elaine is quite horrified by this and the conversation goes like this:
Elaine: Boys are sick
Jerry: What do girls do?
Elaine: We just tease someone til they develop an eating disorder
Cue the canned laughter! The delivery of these lines make it funny but the reality is that for the victims of bullying it is no laughing matter, whether as a child or an adult. While I have no doubt atomic wedgies could still be 'a thing' in some workplaces, they are hopefully very uncommon. Other forms of school room bullying which are still very common in the workplace include:
- Name calling
- 'Ganging up'
- Withholding information
- Withholding invitations
- Physical intimidation
- Actual physical violence
- Gossiping - spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
- Use of social media to humiliate and intimidate
At school, a bully may invite the whole class except one person to a party. At work, a bully might invite the whole team to drinks after work, except one person. At school, a bully may stand over a classmate and threaten to hurt them if they don't hand over their lunch or lunch money. At work, a bully might stand over a colleague and threaten to hurt them if they don't do something for them. At school a group of students might 'gang up' on a classmate and tease and humiliate them. At work, a group of workers might similarly 'gang up' on a work colleague.
Of course, to be bullying the behaviour has to fall within the legal definition of bullying, but you get the idea.
When you think about it, adult bullying is incredibly childish. It is the same as schoolyard bullying - the only differences are in demographics and geography. The impact on the victims is the same, if not worse. It is a source of hope that the many programs being introduced in schools will see a positiove impact in years to come in workplaces. If not, perhaps bullies in the workplace should be treated as children - give them detention, groundings, suspension and expulsion!
A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other
- Simon Sinek
More and more in my work as an investigator, the use of social media is brought into complaints about behaviour, predominantly as evidence of bullying or other misconduct.
A recent investigation into bullying produced an interesting turn of events. A witness produced a screen shot of a Facebook group message sent to her and others in the workplace. She said she had felt uncomfortable about it at the time, but had mentioned it to no one at the time at the time either, not wanting to 'get involved'. She told me that she had not participated in the conversation and had 'left' the conversation once other messages came in so she only had the one screen shot. What was telling, was that the respondent to the bullying allegation had sent a group message saying:
'I can't stand that stupid bitch. I am determined to make her life so f***ing miserable that she'll wish she had never applied for the job in the first place. Who's with me?'
Case closed? Not so fast, unfortunately. Bullying has to happen 'at work' for it to be considered to be workplace bullying, so the usefulness of this one Facebook message, between several people from the workplace, sent at night outside work hours, only goes so far. It is important to note that no name was mentioned in the Facebook message, even though the witness said she understood it to be referring to the complainant.
The behaviour complained of 'at work' needs to meet the litmus test, on the balance of probabilities, that it is bullying. The screen shot however was useful as supporting material as to intent, and the probability that the behaviour was unreasonable. The evidence of bullying was such that it was proven, on the balance of probabilities, to have occurred, over several months and in several different ways. The person who sent the message was the respondent, and the behaviour complained of commenced at approximately the same time as the message. But the message itself, was not sufficient.
The important lesson for both employees and employers is that even if Facebook pages and other forms of social media are set to 'private', it is still possible to access this information. Others may copy or print off posts or forward them to other people, in the workplace and to a wider audience. Technological advances also mean that employees with smart phones provided by their employer may have their private social media presence monitored from time to time. Employers must review their policies on a regular basis to ensure their policies keep pace with technology, and that staff are aware of those policies. This client also amended their policy to include a 'bystander' clause to encourage those who witness inappropriate behaviour to step up and support the recipient.
Of course, the number one lesson is that people should always treat their work colleagues with respect - it is not that hard to be kind, to be honest.
Social media has many advantages but it comes with great responsibility as well. Anything you post, even if you think it is private, can still be used as evidence against you, and others in some cases, in an investigation
You must always be able to predict what's next and then have the flexibility to evolve.
- Mark Benioff
I recently wrote an article for the Law Society of New South Wales on Making Flexible Work, work. and work well. When I first started to write the article I thought the best place to start would be with the many colleagues and friends I had who I knew had, or were, working flexibly. My plan was to cheat a little and use their experience to write my article, specifically asking what plans and processes were put in place to ensure part time really was part time work. This was not as clever as I thought it was as most of their responses were not what I was looking for exactly and included:
- I could tell you but then I would have to kill you.
- Oh boy, this is a can of worms
- This is the reason I have not gone to a nine day fortnight, as much as I would love to. I already bring home too much work :(
- This is my current assignment topic - sources say it is not possible
- Very hard to do MJ when we have all worked full time plus managing family/home. I think we all struggle to say 'no'! Clear goals and agreed expectations in the work place is the key.
- Flying around like an idiot and being surgically attached to my phone. I can do anything in the car park at football training!
- I gave up and started working full time- sorry, probably not helpful
- Epic fail here too
?So far, not so good. But then I finally had this gem:
Flexibility goes both ways if you have to put in extra time on days off ensure you are remunerated. The employer needs to be flexible in allowing this type of employee slack to attend to other commitments, change days while being able to manage clients and customers in a way that is real given part-time status. It has to be OK to tell clients someone is working part time and discuss how a matter can be managed in that time frame. Set very clear boundaries. When I'm with my child I'll do my best, but may need to negotiate a different time frame or assign the task to someone else. The type of work is important - discuss what types of work have longer or more flexible timeframes and give this work to part-time employees. Support systems, technology and staff need to be set up to assist part-time and flexible workers. Support staff need training on how to support part-time workers and the broader team. Value value value - ensure the genuine attitude is 'we're lucky to have you' not that 'we are doing you a favour'. The supervisor needs to express openly appreciation encouragement and support and ensure promotions, pay increases and training opportunities are dealt with in the same way as with other staff. These things have been critical to me working part time for the last 10 years - I hope it's helpful.
Indeed it was, as it refelcted my own views of how flexible work must work.
Most importantly, communication is key.
You can read the finished article here.
If you want to bring an end to long-standing conflict, you have to be prepared to compromise.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Very few workplaces are conflict free. Everyone is different in some way — the way we think, act, and react is often different to that of others. Our perceptions of things that are said can vary from not only what is said but the intention of what is being said. Communication breakdowns because of this are very common.
I am often asked to assist in mediating between two employees who have been experiencing conflict. Often, it has been an ongoing problem for a while so that the problem, whatever it was originally, is forgotten and it is just two people who can’t ‘get on’. The word 'personality clash' is then used to describe what is actually a communication clash.
As an external consultant, the skills I use to assist in resolving this tension and conflict are skills that you can learn. Here are some quick tips:
Know your role
The role of a mediator is not to solve the problem (tempting as it might be!). The role of the mediator is to help the people involved resolve the conflict, in a collaborative way, themselves.
Find out as much detail about the issue and the people involved as you can before attempting to mediate. Talk to both people separately, getting an idea of their major concerns, what they are prepared to compromise on, what, if anything, they can see from the other person’s perspective. And plan, as far as possible, how the meeting will go.
This is particularly important if you know and work with both parties — you might know one more than the other, work more closely with one than the other. One person may be a senior manager and the other a junior employee so a perceived power imbalance, if you too, are a senior manager, can lead to perceived impartiality. Perceptions of lack of impartiality will cause a mediation to fail before it even starts.
Agree ground rules, or what I call 'terms of engagement'
When you bring both parties together, set and agree ground rules, including:
- The role of the mediator is not to dictate solutions, but to encourage the parties to find their own
- Confidentiality – keep the matters discussed between the parties, subject to the mediator discussing the resolution with HR or management
- One person to speak at a time — no interruptions
- Each person is to be truthful about their concerns and willingness to find resolution
- Active listening — each party is to listen to what the other person is saying
- Don’t use pronouns ('he', 'she'). Use each other’s names at all times
- If voices are raised the mediator will ask the person speaking to stop, take a deep breath and speak calmly
- Avoid blaming language
Finding a solution
Finding a solution can be easy when two people talk calmly together, but is often not. Each party will have their own view of events and the relationship breakdown. When listening, ask questions to find common ground. The mediator must give each person the chance to speak openly and honestly, and without judgement, while at the same time ensuring that both parties avoid blame and accusations, and accept responsibility for their part in the problem. Find out if they can see the issue from the other person’s perspective. After they have both spoken find out what they can agree on. There might be many things, there may be few. But if it is looking like few, try and find one. Even if it is both that they enjoy working for the organisation, that is a good place to start. You’ll be surprised once one piece of common ground is found how it can lead to others.
Compromise is essential — especially when it seems they are poles apart. The trick is to bring their perceptions closer together.
Remember people are more likely to stick to a resolution to a problem if they come up with the solution themselves. A mediation conducted well will also rebuild trust between the parties and their trust in the organisation, having been supported in this way.
Once agreement on a way forward is reached, it is vital that you check in with both parties to make sure it is working and that both are sticking to their side of the bargain.
Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.
Henri Frederic Amiel
I have written before on the subject of gratitude and how important it is in the workplace.
Here are 10 simple and easy ways to show the people you work with how much you appreciate them:
Say thank you. Look them in the eye and say thank you.
Leave a surprise post it note on their desk or computer.
For a team thank you, organise a cake for morning tea one day.
Make someone a tea or coffee without asking them.
Tell someone else, in your staff member's hearing, what a great job they did.
Start an ABCD club — awards (monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, whatever works for you) for staff who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
Start a seasonal tradition and have a small celebration. Or a big one.
Celebrate big wins or good jobs for clients and customers with the whole team and make a big deal about the fact that it is a thank you to the team effort not celebrating the fee or profit.
If someone has been working longer than normal hours, surprise them with a 'get out of jail free' card to leave early one day.
Start a tradition for those with children starting school for the first time that they can either have the day off or work reduced hours that day.
These are just a few simple ideas to help make your staff feel valued, appreciated, and most importantly, engaged. But the possibilities are endless!
"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is now"
So here I am, 12 months after deciding to leave behind the comfort of a regular paycheck and superannuation, and 6 months since officially starting my own consulting business.
Welcome to Margaret Jolly Consulting and my blog, which I plan to keep regularly updated and hope that the contents are useful, challenging or inspiring - or all three .
I wanted to share some reflections of the last 12 months and in particular, the last 6 months, on the experience of starting my own consulting firm.
I had been working in management in professional services for more years than I dare to admit. In one of those circuitous career paths many people have, I qualified as a lawyer, then moved, almost by accident, into a management role when I was 26 years old. I think that was the last time I officially applied for any job. And I have never looked back. I love working in 'human resources', 'people management' or whatever name anyone wants to call that important business role of looking after the needs of the business, while at the same time looking after the needs of the people working in that business. It is sometimes a difficult balancing act (possibly harder I think than Nik Wallender's crossing of the grand canyon, although not necessarily as lethal).
Photo - Mike Blake, Reuters
But it has been a very personally rewarding career for me - I have learnt so much about people, behaviours, business, challenges, teamwork, resilience, diversity and what drives people.
It was time to step out into my own spotlight.
Courage. One of the most inspiring books I have read of late is Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean in'. I identified with almost everything about which she wrote but one phrase stuck with me, and I remind myself of it regularly - what would you do, if you weren't afraid? It took a lot of courage to start this business. I had thought about it for years but never seemed to have the courage to do it (hence the title of this blog post). Then one day, I just realised the time was right, for a number of reasons - mainly that if I didn't do it, I never would. I remembered reading a poster years ago that simply said 'You know that thing you have always wanted to do? You should do it'. I was at a cross roads in my last in-house role and knew that it was time for me to move on. And I also knew that I didn't want to move into another in-house role. That was a courageous decision and there have been many courageous decisions since then, not one of which I have regretted.
Networking is the bomb! I was surprised by how large my network was. When I sat down and started writing a list of contacts, through all my various roles, friendships, acquaintances etc, it went on for three pages. And that was just the start. I still haven't contacted all of those people. I joined some wonderful business networking groups which have given me inspiration and ideas on how to grow my business, as well as giving me the opportunity to meet wonderful people, and the possibility of workflow.
If you don't ask, you don't get. This is an expression I have used frequently in coaching others about asking for what they want and I had to take my own advice. If someone says yes - terrific. If they say no - you're in no worse position.
Be prepared for knock backs. Having said that rejection is a natural part of asking for work. And something you have to get used to. It's a tough lesson to learn, and one that cannot be avoided.
Generosity is a boomerang. I am a naturally generous person. I'll happily give my time and advice to family, friends and acquaintances if they need it. And here's the thing. There are so many people like me out there. All the time I have given to others has come back to me threefold and I am so grateful to all those wonderful people, mainly friends and other women who had started their own businesses, who so freely, generously and genuinely gave of themselves as I started out. There has been no competition; only incredible support.
Pay for good advice. The caveat to that of course is that is it worthwhile investing in good professional advice, from legal (structure), accounting and MOST importantly, branding advice. The last one is the best money I have spent so far - I love my brand, the colour and the way it all fits together. If you want great ideas for your branding look no further than Melissa Gardner.
Social Media. I love social media and have embraced it with a passion since starting out. And yet I am still far from being an expert, and am learning something new every day. Linkedin, Twitter and Google+ are the main social media channels I use - with room for more. I'm not sure if I'm brave enough to have a YouTube channel quite yet
Keep at it - never ever give up. There is always a new connection, a new experience, a new pipeline of work, (sometimes from the strangest connection or source), something new to learn, and endless possibilities for growth, and new friendships to be made.
I am loving every moment of this ride.
What would you do, if you weren't afraid?
"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others"
- Marcus Tullius Cicero
A lot has been written over the years about 'employee engagement' — about how to keep employees happy, engaged, at work, and reduce the risk of top performers leaving. A great deal of money has also been spent on engagement surveys and employee engagement programs.
There is an easy way to make sure employees remain engaged and loyal and it doesn't have to cost any money. And that is by saying 'THANK YOU,' and saying it often. Of course, it is one of many tools for ensuring engagement but it goes hand in hand with being respected and valued, and having a supervisor, manager or leader they respect.
Margie Warrell also wrote about this important aspect of leadership.
As a leader, or potential leader, you will have many people doing many different things for you each and every day. Try noticing those things, acknowledging them, and saying thank you. Staff will feel appreciated and are more likely to want to do more for you, feeling acknowledged and appreciated.
Take it one step further than saying thank you — say it out loud in the presence of others, and make it specific. Don't just say 'thanks for that'. Say, for example, 'thanks for getting that data to me so quickly — it really made getting my report to the client on time easier'. Or 'the client was really happy with my report — thanks so much for your input and your quick turn around time'.
I'll give you a specific example of the incredible effect of gratitude. When working in a large professional services firm many years ago, the business development team was working to a tight deadline to get a tender document out on a Monday. A few people were asked to work over the weekend to make sure it was finished on time.
I spoke to the managing partner on the Monday and mentioned the people who had given up their weekend — at all levels. Some worked in BDM, some were lawyers who wanted to win the project, and some were admin staff, responsible for the typing, collating and copying of the document. I suggested he send an email to them to thank them. He asked me to draft a quick email for him. Now I am not one of those people who spend their time wondering if something someone asks me to do is my job or not. In that moment, my job was to make him look good, and make all of those people feel appreciated. So I drafted the email, sent it to him, but asked him to send the email individually, not as a group email, which he did.
He came to see me later — one of the word processing staff had (he had been told), burst into tears when she got the email. No one (NO ONE) of 'importance' in any organisation she had worked for, had ever said 'thank you' to her like that. Acknowledged that, while, she may have been paid overtime, her commitment was what was valued, and her contribution to the firm in getting that job out the door.
He was stunned by this, and the effect it had on her — he went out of his way from then on to make sure he knew when staff had gone 'above and beyond'. And he always thanked them. It became a healthy virus in the office — because other people started acknowledging their work mates and saying thank you.
"No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude."
- Alfred North Whitehead
But the really good news is that studies show that the art of expressing gratitude increases the sense of well being in those expressing it — it is associated with increased levels of energy, optimism, empathy and also creativity. This certainly was the case in the example above. I know he felt like he was a better leader for it, and he knew he was making a difference. And pretty soon I didn't have to keep telling him the good news stories — he found out about them, or noticed them himself.
Ask yourself — do you want to be the person your staff most look forward to seeing when you walk into the office? Try acknowledging them and finding a reason to thank them every day.