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2016 - make a resolution, or have resolve?

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.



She is just being 'oversensitive'.

The most introspective of souls are often those that have been hurt the most

- Shannon Alder 


One of the many reasons I love Foxtel is the fact that on any given day there is at least one episode of Law & Order or CSI I can record to watch at some later point.  I quite enjoy the forensic nature of this stable of shows (for obvious reasons).  In addition, I quite enjoy seeing rapists,  murderers and child molesters get their come-uppance.  It’s very rare that I don't have a wide selection of these shows on my planner to watch at my leisure.

In Law & Order: Criminal Intent recently (Ok , it was a repeat, as are most of them) – a show called Baggage – Goren and Eames were investigating the murder of a female supervisor at an airline.  The woman supervised a number of  baggage handlers, all men, some of whom had been sexually harassing her.  At the risk of spoiling the ending, the murder actually had nothing to do with the sexual harassment, but her promotion to a management position.

This was a fictional story, yet it was easy to imagine this happening in real life

I found my blood boiling though at some of the detail of her claims of sexual harassment and bullying and how they were investigated.  The victim had kept a journal detailing the harassment, which included:

  • physical intimidation (standing in her way in passageways, requiring her to brush past them, standing over her desk)
  • organising team drinks at strip clubs
  • putting up playboy posters next to her locker
  • sexual, anonymous phone calls
  • unwelcome text messages
  • comments on her clothing and looks
  • threats of rape if she reported the harassment
  • urine and semen on her belongings in her locker

As well as her journal, she had told her father about the harassment.  His advice was to ignore it, and it would go away.  Which of course it didn't.

Regrettably, the HR Manager did not engage an external, independent investigator when the employee raised her concerns.  In the words of the Manager, it was determined, without investigating thoroughly, that she was ‘over-sensitive’ and exaggerating. 

Investigations involving sexual harassment are often difficult when only the complainant and the respondent have their versions of events. If this were a real case, a good investigator would have been able to speak to the father, would have seen her journal, and accessed phone records to back up claims of the harassing phone calls and texts, without pre-judging the issue based on personalities or biases.

Lawyers and the ripple effect of poor work environments

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.


World Kindness Day in the workplace

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?



Power, Position, Prestige - and deafening silence

Every closed eye is not sleeping, and every open eye is not seeing.

- Bill Cosby

I used to be a huge Bill Cosby fan.  I was a fan long before his days as Dr Cliff Huxtable, the patriarch of the Huxtable family in The Cosby Show (it never occurred to me to query then why it was called The Cosby Show when the main character was Dr Huxtable, but I suspect narcissism is the answer.  But I digress...)

When he was just a comedian, I used to listen to many audio recordings of his comedy routines including Fat Albert (“Fat Albert had a car”) and his hilarious take on parenthood (“I ran out of petrol, just shutting the car door”).  When he starred in The Cosby Show as Dr Huxtable, the head of a household of five children with a working wife (a lawyer, no less) it was both hilarious and honest, and he became much admired as not just a comedian, but a successful TV star and an admired family man.  Many grieved when his only son was killed in a tragic accident, because they felt they knew him.

Sadly my fan girl days for Bill Cosby are long gone with the increasingly long line of women alleging sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape at his hands.  At last count there were more than 50 women who have come forward with these allegations.

I am far from a fan of trial by media; however even if only 10% of the claims are true, they are horrifying.  It is not a numbers game — that figure of 10% is to answer the many people who are asking 'why now?', and 'are they just in it for the money?'.  Let’s assume for a moment that all of the claims are true (and note that none of these claims have yet been tested in Court) —  how is it possible for a man to avoid prosecution or publicity over the course of  such a long career of harassing women?

The answer is that power, prestige and position engender silence.

Clint Smith (educator and poet), in an excellent, and short, TED talk on the danger of silence, said:

“Silence is the residue of fear.”

He was not talking about sexual harassment specifically, but his words are very true.

In my work as an Investigator, I find that very often women who claim to have been sexually harassed have been reluctant to make the allegations, and this is largely borne out of fear.  They are still fearful even once they have plucked up the courage to come forward- and that decision is not taken lightly.

Fear takes many forms.  One of them is fear for your job.  For example, I once listened to a single mother of two children who was, or had been, on probation in a new job when she experienced sexual harassment.  She said at the time that she feared being terminated while on probation if she raised the issue at the time.  She said “What chance did I have of succeeding in bringing this to a good resolution, when he could have terminated me at any time, and for no reason?  I had two children to feed and I needed that job”.  Unfortunately she tolerated sexual harassment and, from what she told me, sexual assault for fear of being sacked, until she found another job and left.  She left, and her boss is probably treating someone else the same way.

Another very genuine fear  for women is job prospects.  If the person doing the harassing is someone with decision making power over salary or promotions, raising an allegation of sexual harassment can put someone in a difficult position, particularly when there was no one else able to make that kind of decision.  Also, in a structure where the perpetrator is the only one 'talking up' to his immediate supervisor, the likeliood of support is perceived as low.

In Bill Cosby’s case, many of the women were young actresses hoping for a “break” in the industry who needed to work, and the old adage that “You’ll never work in this town again” was no doubt going through their minds at the thought of raising an allegation against the much loved Bill Cosby, after the shock of discovering that the person they were meeting with was not the loveable Cliff Huxtable, but a sexual predator.

Fear of not being believed is  another very genuine fear that women have.  And this is more relevant where the perpetrator does have power, prestige and position.  Who would believe that Dr Cliff Huxtable, the loveable father of five (and note Bill Cosby was also a “happily married” father of five children at the time) could be responsible for such despicable acts?

The same goes for senior men in organisations who appear to have a lot of power and prestige that goes with their position.  When men put on a public face of being happily married, a good boss, kind to animals, or whatever else they want people to believe, it is hard for people to believe they could be capable of assualt or sexual harassment.  In fact, peopld don't want to believe it.

At work, as much as in Hollywood, women fear not being believed, fear losing their jobs or fear that their careers will stall if they speak up.

Silence can be deafening.  Shame associated with the events surrounding the allegations can also be responsible for the silence around this issue.  In cases where alcohol or drug use is involved, after hours, many women feel partially or completely responsible for what happened and do not want the spotlight turned on them, questioning their own behaviour and their contribution to the events that transpired.  This is so akin to victim blaming in rape cases it’s not funny — it's just a question of degrees.  In the words of Beverly Johnson in Vanity Fair:

“I sat there still stunned by what happened the night before, confused and devastated by the idea that someone I admired so much had tried to take advantage of me, and use drugs to do so.  Had I done something to encourage his actions? …

For a long time I thought it was something that only happened to me, and that I was somehow responsible.  So I kept my secret to myself, believing this truth needed to remain in the darkness.  But the last four weeks have changed everything, as so many women have shared similar stories, of which the press have belatedly taken heed.”

Shame is easy to come by; hard to get rid of.  A client I spoke to recently said that she once offered to drive her very drunk boss home from a work function, and that he made a pass at her in the car — at the time she was embarrassed but made no complaint.  However, having rejected his advances, she then became the target of bullying behaviour.  When she plucked up the courage to speak to HR, the first words she was greeted with was 'Why on earth did you get into a car with him?'.  The first reaction was to somehow hold her responsible for his actions.

What is interesting is that in the Bill Cosby case, once someone came forward, other alleged victims of Bill Cosby have also come forward and their stories are disturbingly similar.  In workplaces, it is unlikely that someone who indulges in the sexual harassment of female employees does it only once.  Whilst silence can be golden, it can also mean that the act goes unpunished and other women will suffer the consequences.

Break the silence.  Tell your truth.



Fair Work issues first order on bullying

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time

- Maya Angelou

Since 1 January 2015 the Fair Work Commission has had the power to issue 'anti-bullying' orders and until recently had not issued one.  This could be for any number of reasons - the employees have left their employer, so there is no risk of the bullying continuing in the workplace, the parties settle the matter privately, or no bullying is found to have existed.

The parties involved in the matter were not identified.  The behaviour complained of included:

  • belittling
  • swearing and yelling
  • undermining the work of others
  • physical intimidation
  • threats of violence
  • attempts to incite the applicants to victimise others

An internal investigation was conducted; and  the employer conceded that the behaviour amounted to bullying.  The alleged bully made concessions and supported the outcome, which was a contributing factor to the non-identification of the parties.

Commissioner Hampton said

The contribution of the parties, and their support advisors and representatives to that final outcome, bodes well for the re-establishment of safe and constructive working relationships upon the applicants’ forthcoming return to the workplace.


In this case, it appears that self awareness on the part of the alleged bully, and a willingness to comply with the orders, with support from the employer, has contributed to a successful outcome.

The full text of the decision can be  found here.

Collaboration from all parties assisted in the resolution of the matter.



Performance management - A coaching mindset

Creating problems is easy.  We do it all the time.  Finding solutions, ones that last and produce good results, requires guts and care.

Henry Rollins 

I recently spoke at an ALPMA (Australasian Legal Practice Management Association) seminar on the subject of Managing performance through a coaching mindset.  It is a novel concept for some supervisors.  

Performance management is a term that is thrown around a lot and is mostly seen as a negative term, and one that strikes fear into the hearts of those on the receiving end  - the penultimate act before termination of employment. A bit like going into the departure lounge at the airport prior to getting on a plane to go somewhere else - without the excitement of a new destination or the drinks at the bar.

I view the words slightly differently in the sense that managing performance is something that needs to be done with all staff – even your star performers – to make sure you are getting the best out of them, and that they are engaged and committed to your goals and the firm goals, and achieving their own goals as well. 

And this requires ongoing coaching and mentoring of staff, and treating staff as individuals rather than an amorphous group of people with the same skills, attitude and mindset. 

However, in the context of poor performance, performance management is a process which is often used as a ‘first resort’ rather than a last one, where there is perceived under performance – and the news often comes as a surprise to the employee being told they are not performing.    This is largely because those difficult conversations  when performance issues are first noticed, have not been had, for whatever reason.

There are many causes of poor performance or perceived poor performance.  I use the word 'perceived' deliberately  because it is sometimes one person’s perception and not another’s.  However, a coaching mindset can alleviate performance issues before they become insurmountable problems.

Coaching helps to lift the employee’s performance and increase the likelihood that the performance will meet or exceed your expectations. Coaching sessions provide you and the employee the opportunity to discuss progress toward meeting agreed standards and objectives. 

Some of the common causes of under-performance include:

  • expectations not being communicated - you cannot expect employees to provide exceptional or consistent performance if the stage has not be set for them to be successful.  Talk about what your expectations are, what you or your clients want from them.
  • Comparison - are you really comparing apples with apples?  I have lost count of the number of times I have seen employees set up to fail because a numebr of years ago someone else performed better.  Think about what the person is doing and what the expectations are for that role.  Are you being fair?
  • Promotion comes with a new set of responsibilities - has your promoted employee been given any direction as to what is expected of them?  Have they been performing above expectations and now flailing?  How can you help with a coaching approach?
  • Fear of failure - this fear is very real for some people, and can cause professional paralysis.  Is your employee avoiding taking on more responsibility or only doing things they know they will succeed at?  This will limit their potential, and you can help
  • Mental health issues – most people hide a diagnosis for fear of being judged harshly and the effort of dealing with a mental health diagnosis as well as trying to maintain their work performance will ultimately cause problems

  • Recruitment not meeting reality - have you over or under sold the position and is this affecting the employee's ability to perform?

A coaching mindset - one where you commit to challenging your employee to improve performance, and where you don't shy away from having a difficult conversation- will not only support your employee but will ultimately improve your own skills and the bottom line.

Coaching is not a disciplinary process (nor should performance management be, strictly speaking).

It has to be made clear to the employee that the process is coaching with the intention of assisting the employee to grow and develop,  not formal performance management – the coach needs to understand their role is to guide and challenge the employee to improve; not discipline the employee as a supervisor.

In order to coach effectively it is important to do and be some things.  Coaching is coaching but in a work environment,  the coach is also the supervisor there are some things that need to be done differently than would be done with an external coach.  There is not the objectivity that there would be with an external coach, and the supervisor as coach has more than the usual interest in making the employee succeed.  It is more personal for the supervisor.  

It is very easy to try and ‘fix’ things for the employee by telling them what to do or rescuing them; a coach however has to help the employee work that out for themselves.  

Coaching is a skill that can be learned -just as employees might need help to improve their performance, so too might supervisors need help to become better at coaching.  But the right mindset at the outset will work wonders with management of performance. 






Career lessons from Winston Churchill

Success is not final, failure is not fatal:it is the courage to continue that counts.

- Winston Churchill

This last weekend saw the 5oth anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century - the man who was Prime Minister twice, and most importantly during World War II, showing great resilience, purpose and strength of character.  He came to be a symbol of steadiness and strength for the population, while enjoying a few eccentricities which endeared him to a nation while PM and long after.  One wonders with the advent of social media would those eccentricities be tolerated today!

Churchill was a prolific writer, both of his personal memoirs and history.  He once famously said 'History will be kind to me for I intend to write it'.  He was also a great orator and his stirring speeches inspired a nation, and the world and are still used today as examples of great speeches.

I want to share with you some of my favourite Winston Churchill quotes and how you can apply them to your career.

Success comes from going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm

I use the word failure here in the generic sense, and also in the sense of how we perceive ourselves.  There will be many times we feel discouraged and disappointed with ourselves and consequently feel like a failure.  It is how we deal with that which determines whether or not we succeed.  I have written about this in more detail previously.

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference

How you approach your career, your life and even relationships can impact the result.  Accentuating the positive and having the right attitude, even in difficult circumstances is important to your success.  If you are holding a leadership position, or aspire to one, your attitude is all the more important because those you lead will take their cues from you. If you have a negative outlook, whether temporary or permanent, this will affect your team, and therefore your results.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen

Sometimes, the most courageous thing you can do is to take onboard constructive or negative feedback and not argue the toss about whether it is right or wrong.  Effective listening when someone is speaking is hard - our natural instinct is to fight back when we feel threatened and being told you have done something wrong or that your performance is not up to scratch is perceived as a threat by our brains which goes into fight or flight mode.  Learn to quiet those responses and listen to what is being said.  Even if you don't think it is right, deal with the perception.

Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential

Keep at it - your career is a marathon not a sprint.  Applying yourself consistently to your work and setting goals on a regular basis will get you further than just being clever.

Criticism may not be agreeable but it is necessary.  It fulfils the same function as pain in the body.  It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things

Similar to the quote above, we will never improve without honest discussions about what we can improve.  Developing a growth mindset - that is, knowing that our intelligence and skills are not set in stone but can be improved - means that every bit of feedback, from colleagues, supervisors and clients, will make us better at what we do.

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

Philanthropy is a good thing, and I have written before about the benefits of gratitude.  But think about this - when you reach a point in your career when you can mentor someone junior to you, do it.  Mentoring brings great rewards not just to the mentee but for the mentor as well.  There is something intrinsically satisfying seeing someone you have mentored succeed and develop in their own career.

A lie gets half way around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on

Stay out of office politics as much as possible and don't involve yourself in gossip about other people.

Difficulties mastered are opportunities won

Often our supervisors take the path of least resistance, delegating work to the person they know can do it, a 'safe pair of hands'.  Sometimes we are reluctant to take on new challenges for fear of making a mistake.  This will cause stagnation, and ultimately boredom.  Ask for challenging work if you have mastered a particular task or work type.  Challenge yourself and you will be surprised at the opportunities this will bring.

And finally, I will leave you with my favourite Winston Churchill quote

Every day you may make progress.  Every step may be fruitful.  Yet there will stretch out before you  an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path.  You know you will never get to the end of the journey.  But this, far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.




Workplace Conflict Resolution 101

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.

Be prepared

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.

Be impartial

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.

Follow up

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.



10 easy ways to show gratitude

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:

  1. Say thank you. Look them in the eye and say thank you.

  2. Leave a surprise post it note on their desk or computer.

  3. For a team thank you, organise a cake for morning tea one day.

  4. Make someone a tea or coffee without asking them.

  5. Tell someone else, in your staff member's hearing, what a great job they did.

  6. 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.

  7. Start a seasonal tradition and have a small celebration.  Or a big one.

  8. 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.

  9. If someone has been working longer than normal hours, surprise them with a 'get out of jail free' card to leave early one day.

  10. 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!



Leadership and career lessons with Rosemary Vilgan, Telstra Business Woman of the Year 2013

Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about inspiration—of oneself and of others. Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. It is an attitude, not a routine

Lance Secretan


I had the pleasure recently to sit with Rosemary Vilgan, CEO of QSuper and the winner of the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year award for 2013, and talk to her about her career and experience as a leader.  Rosemary won the Queensland award along with the state awards in Government and Innovation before being announced as the national winner in November 2013.

photo courtesy of QSuper website

One of the things that brought Rosemary to the attention of the judges was her drive to introduce a different strategy for superannuation, based not on a comparative rate of return against other funds, but results for individuals, or groups of individuals. From the QSuper website:

Driven by hearing fear in the voices of people whose superannuation savings were slashed by the GFC, Ms Vilgan said the retirement plans of many Australians were left in disarray… With board support, Ms Vilgan and her team introduced QSuper Lifetime, a product that she says is designed to give members “dignity in retirement.” It provides a more tailored investment strategy based on the age and savings of a cohort of individual members and the economic cycle, integrated with financial advice.


You can read more about the award and Rosemary at the Telstra website here .


Q: What went through your mind when you found out someone wanted to nominate you for the Telstra awards?

A: I was first nominated nearly a decade  ago and at the time I was, of course, flattered and I felt a great sense of obligation to the person who thought so much of me to nominate me for this award, rather than impressed with myself!  I did reach the State finals at that time.  Telstra continued to write to me to go into the running, and last year I felt different about it – I had achieved so much more personally and professionally in the Superannuation industry since then that I felt it was worth re-entering.


Q: You won three awards at the state level (government, innovation and the state award) and then the national award. How did that feel?

It was a very different experience winning the state award, and in some ways more thrilling.  We had a number of tables at the first event, and my husband, children, my sisters and their families were all there.  For me, having my family there as supporters , including my own children and nieces and nephews, was wonderful — it wasn’t just about me, but about them seeing such an incredible group of women achieving in all different areas of work and in their communities.  That’s really what the awards are about.  But yes, for me, of course it is an incredible honour, particularly in light of the work I had done in challenging the way the superannuation industry operates.


Q:  Aside from your leadership in terms of the superannuation industry changes was there anything in particular you think helped with the award?

A:  It is quite an intense process in preparing the proposal itself in terms of the details required.  I thought very carefully about selecting the people who would be my referees — along with my own boss (Chairman of QSuper), I asked my head of HR because I thought it was important that anyone who wins an award like this has to be known as someone who treats their staff well, as well as having pure business skills and leadership skills. Because good leadership is all about having and developing good people.


Q:  I remember reading an article that said in a presentation to staff you said something like ‘decisions we make today will affect what people eat in their retirement’.  What did you mean by that?

A: For me, it’s very important for our staff to realise that financial performance IS about the people who have entrusted us to make  decisions about their superannuation fund for when they reach retirement age.   It is about human beings.  It is not just about how we are doing compared to other funds.   When the GFC hit, we had to radically rethink how we made decisions and became market leaders as a result.


Q: Did you have a career plan?

A: Not as such, at first.  After graduating from University with a Bachelor of Business (QUT)  I worked in both the Public Trustee’s office and the  Premier’s Department.  I  moved to the Government  Superannuation Office in Treasury when superannuation became compulsory, as I knew then that there would be great possibilities for career growth.  I decided to undertake a  Diploma in Superannuation Management, of which I was dux.  And that was the start.


Q: Did you have a moment when you realised you were a leader or was it pointed out to you?

The then CEO approached me when I was 29 or so and said he thought I had potential to be CEO.  At the time I was head of Policy, and it had honestly not occurred to me.  But he made sure that I was then exposed to a broad range of skills development  to give me well rounded experience. I knew it was going to be a big step if it was going to happen.

Through my role as head of Policy, I also became involved at a national level through the Association of Superannuation Funds Australia.  When the position of Chair of the Board became available, two colleagues on the Board nominated me for the position and I believed then that I could do it.  I may not have put my hand up myself for the role, so I’m glad they nominated me.


Q:  Was this a point where self belief became more important?

A: Yes – this was recognition from industry peers not just work colleagues, which is not to diminish their importance in my career or development — it was just different having people outside my own organisation believing in me.  It opened up incredible opportunities for me.


Q: Did your organisation have career development programs for women?

A:  Not as such, back in those days.  Once I had a clear vision of where I might go (i.e., to the CEO role), the then CEO made sure I got even more exposure and some Board experience.  I went onto our  audit committee which was fantastic experience and I can highly recommend audit committee work to any woman aspiring to leadership or Board positions because you learn a while new skill set.


Q:  What are the best lessons you have  learned as a leader?  

A:  There are three things:

1.     Deal with the ‘big rocks’ first.  What is the big goal?  If you keep the big goal in mind, all the smaller transitions and actions that are needed fall into place so you remain focused on that big goal.  And that big goal has to be regularly and clearly communicated.

2.     Don’t let fear drive decisions, but love.  If what you are proposing is the right thing to do, go with it. Fear (whether of failure, of what people will think) will limit effective decision making.

3.     I talk to my staff a lot — it is important for me to make sure all our staff understand what we are here for, and I make it very human, using real people as examples of why what we do is important.

I believe these things, and having a good team of people in senior management roles,  are the reason our organisation has exceptionally high levels of engagement on every level.



Thank you Rosemary - a remarkable woman and quiet achiever in very important industry.



Leaders come in surprise packages

Though she be but little, she is fierce

William Shakespeare

I was saddened today to hear of the death of my first high school principal, Sister Julian, who was headmistress at St Aidan's Anglican Girls' School during all of my high school years.   Sister Julian was my very first experience of witnessing first hand strong leadership, and I consider myself very fortunate that this experience was with a woman and one such as Sister Julian.

Sister Julian was, to be blunt, small in stature.  At 13 she seemed to me to be ancient, but was probably not much older than I am now.  She would have been considered technically blind, and it always seemed a small miracle that she got through school assemblies (where, I might add, you could have heard a pin drop), reading, as she did through thick glasses, with additional help from a magnifying glass.  As someone said to me 'she might have had poor eyesight, but nothing got past her'.

The Shakespeare quote above is not to suggest that Sister Julian was fierce in the strict sense of the word. She was a very gentle person.  She was small, yes, but quietly fierce in the sense that she knew what her values were, the values of the Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Advent, what was expected of her, and in turn what she expected of her staff and students.  She was dedicated to her faith, which guided her actions.  Always authentic, and trusted.  When I was a school leader, I, and the other prefects, knew if that we were troubled by what to do in a situation, she could be relied on to give us her opinion, but she always made it clear she was there to guide us, not to dictate to us, trusting that we would make the right decision, and stand by it.  

She spoke very softly and calmly, even when cross.  This alone is a valuable lesson for all leaders, as one had to listen very carefully to make sure you heard what was being said, assuring attention, and retention, of the message.

She did not instil fear; but I remember fearing disappointing her, such was the loyalty and respect she engendered. She took an interest in each student, remembering their names, and personal history.  Parents were always impressed by her ability, even with her limited eyesight, to remember, and engage on a personal level, with everyone with whom she came in contact. She cared deeply about all the students; truly empathetic and compassionate.  Rules were expected to be obeyed, but discipline was administered fairly taking into account severity as well as the personal circumstances of the student involved.  And she also knew when to literally turn a blind eye to minor infractions.

Years after I left school I felt the need to confess to her that I was sometimes taken out of class by a young novice, and fellow cat lover, ostensibly on important business, and we would skive off across and down the road to a lady who not only bred cats, but looked after abandoned kittens to help them be rehomed. Whenever new kittens were there, we would visit.  Sister Julian laughed and said she knew exactly what we were doing as we had to walk past her office to go out the gate, and she would watch us go.  She said that if she had thought it was affecting my school work she would have put a stop to it, but given that I was leaving class to do what she called 'community service' in helping to feed the poor abandoned kittens, and something I loved doing, she thought it was harmless and a secret she could keep.  She made me laugh that day, and I have never forgotten that and other valuable lessons in life and leadership from this extraordinary woman.

She will be remembered with great fondness by many women like me, who grew up at a school, lead by a woman such as this.  How lucky we were, to be able to have our first experience of leadership, and female leadership, with Sister Julian in that role.

Vale Sister Julian.  Rest in Peace.

Per Volar Sunata (born to fly upwards)



Top tips on giving constructive feedback at performance appraisals

It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises but only performance is reality

Harold S Geneen


For some organisations it is coming up to end of year performance appraisals. Both sides of the desk tend to dread performance appraisals with good reason if there is a history of poor execution of the discussion.  Here are some tips for managers for a successful performance appraisal discussion.

Before completing the appraisal document keep these common problems in mind for the ratings scale:


  • Halo Effect: This is the tendency (or bias) to rate a person who is exceptionally strong in one area, high in all other areas. Particularly when the area in which they are strong is important to you personally
  • Horns Effect: This is of course the opposite of the Halo Effect – a tendency to rate a person who is especially weak in one factor, low on all other factors.
  • Middle of the Road:  This is where a manager avoids both high and low extremes, rating someone  in the middle category, for example a ‘3’ on a 1-5 scale.
  • Mini Me: Some managers have a tendency to give higher ratings to employees who are similar to them.
  • Easy road: This is where managers are aware that the employee has rated themselves highly, the manager disagrees but moves their own rating up higher to avoid a difficult discussion.

In conducting the appraisal, keep these things in mind:

  • Venue – make it private, and allow sufficient time to cover off all the issues.
  • Make sure you have read the appraisal document first!  Preparation is very important particularly where constructive feedback is required.
  • Review any previous appraisals prior to the meeting.
  • Obtain feedback from others if relevant, for example if your employee has worked in another division, ask for feedback from their previous supervisors
  • Prepare your discussion – make sure you have a list of specific things you want covered off, and examples,  to give your employee.
  • Allow your employee to speak about their views
  • Talk through the appraisal document from start to finish and openly discuss any differences in perception

If it is largely a ‘good news’ appraisal:

  • Congratulate your employee on their achievements to date and talk through some agreed goals for the next 6-12 months
  • Allow them to talk about their personal goals
  • Make sure any goals set are both specific and achievable
  • For top performers, suggest stretch goals, particularly if they are keen to be promoted or moved into a different area
  • Ensure that behavioural issues, if any, are covered off regardless of financial or other achievements - be careful about the message you are sending if financial and other targets are met but behavioural issues affecting others are an issue and not dealt with


For appraisals that require giving constructive feedback, frame the conversation carefully:

  • You want the employee to become Aware of the performance issue, Accept the issue and agree to Action to remedy the situation - the Triple A of performance management.
  • Staff will accept feedback if the person offering it is reliable and has good intentions and the process is fair (eg make sure you have concrete examples, and give them the opportunity to express their views).
  • Start with positive feedback – what they do well, and often, and that they should keep doing it.
  • Move to constructive feedback – but frame it as what they could do better if possible.
  • Ensure the clarity of your message – plan what the message will be.
  • Use examples from your own experience or feedback from others.  Make sure you do have examples – they are critical to the success of the discussion.
  • Explain the impact of the behaviour or skill level on colleagues or the business.
  • Echo back their concerns about the feedback, show empathy then…
  • Ask for acknowledgement.
  • Check their understanding and willingness to accept the feedback – give the employee time to think and respond, & provide action strategies if they don't come up with any.  People are more willing to accept and commit to a solution if they suggest it themselves
  • Set goals for improvement, or agree a solution to the problem
  • Agree on a time frame, and regular check ins on progress
  • Don’t ‘sandwich’ feedback with more good news as this is confusing and may give mixed messages, particularly if all they remember is the last thing you said.  But do end on a positive note eg, certainty the employee can improve, offer of support to achieve goals. 


Ending the appraisal

  • Be brave enough to ask for feedback on your own performance as a manager generally or on the conduct of the appraisal



Making a Flexible Work Arrangement Work

"Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach."

Tony Robbins

This post was first published by Diversity Partners.

I am often approached by people seeking advice on obtaining approval for a flexible work arrangement and also advice on the best way to make it work.

My advice is very simple – treat this as you would a project for a client. Say, for example, you were assisting the client to produce a tender to win some government work.  The client needs to convince the procurement officer they have the best tender to win the work. Your supervisor or team leader is, in effect, the procurement officer.

  1. Read the policies and procedures back to front. It is vital that you understand the rules – read the  firm policy, what type of flexible work is possible under the policy, and how the  policy works in practice.  Find out how others have made it work.  Make sure the flexible work arrangement you are proposing fits within the terms of the policy.  If it doesn’t, for example you may be seeking a combination of part time and work from home but the policy only allows for one or the other, be pro-active and suggest amendments to the policy, but in the meantime ensure your proposal fits the policy.
  2. Be very clear about what sort of flexible work you are seeking – being vague or proposing a number of options does not give the person making the decision clarity about the decision they have to make.
  3. Prepare a business case – treat your proposal as a business document.  Set out clearly the benefits, both for you and the firm, address how colleagues, clients or suppliers will be affected and how you will deal with that, include communication strategies that will need to be put in place, other support you may need (eg technology).  The Victorian women Lawyers’ association has an excellent suite of protocols dealing with the various flexible working arrangements, which are useful guides in preparing your business case, whether you work within the legal profession or not.
  4. Prepare for objections – answer any anticipated objections or questions in your proposal. Try and think of every possible problem or question that may be asked and make a pre-emptive strike in your proposal.  If for example, there is a regular team meeting on a day it is proposed you are not going to be in the office, and for whatever reason it cannot be changed, can you be available to attend by phone or by skype?
  5. Make sure your expectations around career development are clearly enunciated -  cover off expectations you may have in relation to career development opportunities (eg education and training, salary reviews).
  6. Build in review/allow for change – if you are working in a team or group that has not addressed this before, or your supervisor is perceived as being potentially unsupportive, suggest a review period (eg three months), and allow for change. Make sure that the proposal covers off situations where you are unable to alter your arrangement – eg child or eldercare commitments if you are working flexibly for family reasons, exam time and study block if you are working flexibly for study reasons.
  7. Discuss with team members confidentially -  seek out team members you trust and seek their input into the proposal and if appropriate and with their permission, put their support, or the fact that you have addressed their concerns, into the submission.

Once successful…

Assuming you are successful in your quest, how do you make it work?

  1. Seek out a mentor – find someone who has successfully made this work as a mentor.  Better still, start up a peer mentoring group,  if none exists,  for those working flexibly.  Become a leader for those people.
  2. Reciprocity  - I am a big believer in reciprocity.  If you are successful in achieving your goal of working flexibly, make sure you are prepared to give back some flexibility.  If possible, help out others in the team.  If someone is for example answering phones late in the day because you’re leaving early, offer to do the same if that person needs to go to a medical appointment during the day.  Always look for ways you can give back.
  3. Over communicate – Always let people in your team know when you are unavailable and make sure you ask for feedback as to how it is working and address any concerns directly.  And say thank you to those who are helping you to make it work.

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept

"The standard you walk past is the standard you accept"

- Lieutenant General David Morrison

This post was first published by Diversity Partners. Imagine going to work every day, knowing that a colleague has taken photos or video of you, of a sexual nature, and distributed them not just to other work colleagues, but via work email, sent them outside the organisation, and published them on the Internet. Imagine then, if you had no way of raising this with a person in a leadership role, or worse, doing that and having nothing done about it. I imagine I would leave that organisation knowing the humiliation would last a lifetime.

I have been involved in many workplace disputes, investigations, conflict resolution, and discipline around inappropriate behaviours – from what some would perceive as minor to the very major. It would be a rare organisation, which did not go through something like this at least once. There have been many public examples as well.

The very worst cases, the ones that generally make the media, have been those where the complainant has felt let down by their employer in either not dealing appropriately with the situation when it was brought to their attention or having no means by which they felt able to raise a concern. The army is no longer prepared to be one of those employers.

If only every CEO of every organisation could take a leaf out of the book of Head of the Australian Defence Force, Lieutenant General David Morrison.

Recently, the Australian Defence Force has been the subject of very public sexual harassment claims, and allegations of inappropriate conduct. Lieutenant General Morrison made an announcement regarding his attitude to this sort of behaviour and the culture of the ADF for all its employees - view the full Message from the Chief of Army. He makes absolutely no bones about his attitude to this behaviour and what he thinks of those who not just perpetrate it, but those who know about it and do nothing. It makes me want to join the army.

Take a moment to think about that incredible speech. Replace the word 'army' with the name of your own organisation. Think of this speech as if it is also referring to bullying or any other kind of harassment or discrimination, towards anyone, male or female. Any CEO who honestly wants a diverse, inclusive and safe workplace should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest his words. And live them. Here are some of my favourite quotes (taking out the reference to the army). This is true leadership in action:

"Every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of [your company] and the environment in which we work'

'If you become aware of any individual degrading another then show moral courage and take a stand against it. No one has ever explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others enhances capability or honours the tradition of [your company] and the environment in which we work'

'I will be ruthless in ridding [your company] and the environment in which we work of people who cannot live up to its values and I need every one of you to support me in achieving this'

'The standard you walk past is the standard you accept." That goes for all of us but especially those who ...have a leadership role."

The entire speech is inspiring but the reason these are my favourite quotes is that Morrison entreats his entire workforce to join him in this cultural revolution of the army. And it is not about how men treat women. It is about how people treat other people in the organisation. It is not just him but each and every member of the ADF who will take responsibility for living the values. Great leaders cast long, deep and broad shadows - their influence reaches beyond those with whom they come into direct contact because they are symbolic of the values of the entire organisation. Lieutenant General Morrison already has a long shadow.

We can all learn from this speech. And we can all do something to show our respect and care for others today and every day.