a resource, my insights, and news
The story of women's struggle foe equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.
- Gloria Steinam
There has been so much written on the subject of sexism, misogyny and feminism of late. Three cheers to all those who have written so eloquently on the subject lately without turning it into a competition.
It concerns me however that in a lot of the comments on blogs, newspaper items, tweets and discussions, a number of women start their comment with 'I'm not a feminist, but…' or 'I'm not an avid feminist, but…' while agreeing with the writer or commentator about the deplorable state of affairs for women.
I became a feminist (or at least with the benefit of hindsight, became a feminist) at the age of eight, when I was expelled from Brownies for refusing to earn my badges for sewing, craft, and various other 'feminine' pursuits. Actually the truth is it was probably writing 'Brown Owl is a bum' in chalk on the footpath Brown Owl walked on her way home, after getting into trouble for that attitude that got me expelled but I took a stand. You see the Brownie hut was next door to the Scout Den and they got to build fires and canoes. I didn't understand why I couldn't do that. I can still build the BEST fire but don't ask me to sew on a button.
From a young age I was aware of discrimination — at high school being made to do Mothercare lessons which again I eventually refused to do. I went to university and studied law. In one of my first lectures the male lecturer told us how much a degree would be worth over the course of our careers, but added it wasn't as important for the female students because we could always just marry a lawyer. My complaint to the Dean went nowhere.
The thing is this — no woman should be embarrassed about being a feminist, or worry about being labeled a feminist. Being a feminist is terrific, and is not an exclusive club — all the members of that club are frankly marvellous. So here is my take on it:
EVERY woman who believes that equal work deserves equal pay is a feminist.
EVERY woman who believes workplaces should not be places of fear just because of your gender is a feminist.
EVERY woman who believes promotion should be on merit and nothing else is a feminist.
EVERY woman who believes that girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan deserve the right to go to school without fear of being shot at is a feminist.
EVERY woman who believes that women have the right to choose whether or not to have a baby is a feminist.
EVERY woman who believes no one should suffer through a violent relationship out of fear and want to help that woman is a feminist.
EVERY woman who believes she has the right to walk home after a night out without having to fear sexual assault is a feminist.
AND – EVERY man who believes these things is a feminist too.
You don't need to be feisty about it, grow armpit hair, hold placards or write articles. But you can if you want to. You can call it as you see it without the need to apologise for your views. You can do it quietly or loudly. You just need to do it, and be proud of it.
There are lots of disagreements amongst feminists about what it takes to be one and they are always interesting discussions. These are just my simple rules. I think we're all feminists and I'm proud to be one.
Thanks to Destroy The Joint for publishing this cartoon in 2013.
Happy International Women's Day tomorrow!
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.
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.
Dispassionate objectivity is itself a passion, for the real and for the truth.
- Abraham Maslow
Many organisations, when faced with a complaint of bullying or sexual harassment, or other misconduct, elect to conduct the investigation ‘in-house’. The ‘easy’ path is not necessarily the best one. There are numerous examples of flawed or incomplete internal investigations resulting in criticisms from the Fair Work Commission and in some cases reinstatement following termination. This, to be honest, is just awkward.
There are many advantages in engaging one:
- Your internal resources may be stretched. Investigations can be very time consuming and an external investigator can dedicate the necessary time and resources to get it completed in a timely way.
- It is a stressful process for all involved — complainant, respondent and the witnesses, as well as other senior staff. An external investigator can complete the investigation in a way that reduces the stress for the parties, and your internal HR team.
- Investigations can have an enormous emotional impact on staff when they are conducted internally, when they know the people involved, as well as a strain on them intellectually, if they are not familiar with process and procedure. External investigators are not emotionally invested in the outcome of the investigation, being engaged to investigate and report on the facts.
- An external investigator is completely impartial. Without knowing the personalities of the people involved an external investigator brings no pre-conceived ideas or biases to the investigation. This means it is likely to be perceived as a 'fairer' process.
- Having an external investigator means that your HR Manager, or other senior staff member who would ordinarily conduct the investigation, is able to provide 'emotional scaffolding', if needed, to the staff involved.
- The seniority of the people involved may require an external investigator. If, for example, the complaint involves someone to whom your HR Manager reports, it is not appropriate for that person to conduct the investigation.
- Perceptions of other staff can be more easily managed — internal investigations might be perceived as a ‘white wash’ or a ‘ticking boxes’ exercise, and looked upon with cynicism. Bringing in an external investigator shows staff that management takes the issue seriously.
- An external investigator is more experienced in conducting investigations and able to extract information others may not be able to. Professional investigators are very used to the charmers, the silent aggressors, the blamers, the people who don’t want to be involved and the underminers, and know how to deal with them.
- When an external investigator is engaged, it is unlikely to result in allegations of a lack of natural justice.
- Where recommendations are called for, management can act on them, as advice from the Investigator. This takes some pressure off management in terms of perceptions of staff in how the matter has been handled.
There is always a place for investigations to be conducted internally, but don’t under-estimate the value in having an external investigator deal with a difficult issue 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?
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.
If you know someone who cares more about power and material things than people, watch them very closely. You may be dealing with a psychopath.
- Michelle Parsons
Workplace psychopaths can appear normal. They are also mostly charming, on the surface at least, because charm is one of the many tricks they use to manipulate others, and they lack empathy, meaning that they cannot understand the feelings of others, or put themselves in the shoes of others. They are almost always narcissists as well – making every situation all about them, particularly if something has gone wrong – it becomes about what they did right and everyone else did wrong. These people are walking amongst us!
By the time you recognise an office psychopath it may be too late, as the damage they have done to the workplace will be enormous.
Professor Robert Hare, a criminal psychologist, developed a diagnostic test to determine whether someone is a psychopath or not (called the PCL-R). For more information see the article here.
This is a list of 20 criteria, each given a score of 0 if it doesn’t apply, 1 if it somewhat applies and 2 if it fully applies.
Some of these (and I am not including those relating to criminal psychopathic behaviour here) include:
- Glibness/superficial charm
- Grandiose sense of self-worth
- Pathological lying
- Being cunning/manipulative
- Lack of remorse or guilt
- Emotional Shallowness (genuine emotion is very short-lived, probably fake and egocentric, i.e. it becomes about them)
- Callousness; lack of empathy
- Unwillingness to accept responsibility for own actions
- Tendency to be bored easily
- Parasitic lifestyle
- Lack of behavioural control
- Lack of realistic long-term goals
A score of 30 or more out of a possible 40 would qualify someone as psychopathic, according to Hare.
Recognise anyone with whom you work? Or live with? The latter is potentially scary.
Psychopaths can be fun to work with, for a while – a tendency to be bored can be seen as someone who is always coming up with good and interesting ideas. Being charming means that they are good at giving compliments (even if they are manipulating you by doing so). A grandiose sense of self worth will at first appear to be nothing more than confidence. Impulsivity can extrovert as having a keen sense of fun.
But be warned – a psychopath is a dangerous work colleague or employee. They will never accept responsibility for a failed project; any goals they fail to achieve (no matter how unrealistic) will be the fault of someone else; they will lie to get out of any difficulty; they will turn any success into being about them. If a psychopath is in a position of power and the only one doing the talking to management senior to him or her, you can be sure nothing good is being said about any work colleagues or junior employees. Because they are so charming and often, as I call them ‘kiss up and kick down’ people’, senior management is unlikely to believe someone who raises a concern about their behaviour.
Psychopaths are also unlikely to bully anyone overtly – bullying will take the form of undermining, isolation, exclusion, gossip, and other subtle means.
A recent article listed the top 10 careers for the highest percentages of psychopaths – there are few surprises here (although I was surprised by the addition of clergy on the list).
Of course the good news is that only 4% of CEOs are diagnosable as psychopaths – 4 times that of the general population. But it is important to focus on the positive – that 96% of CEOs are not. Of course where does that leave lawyers who become CEOs? Is that a double whammy?
As an investigator, I am always on the lookout for psychopathic traits that could impact evidence - particularly the tendency to be charming, as they will no doubt try to charm me to influence the outcome. I am not easily fooled.
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!
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:
- 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.
God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another
Belle Gibson, the now disgraced ‘social media entrepreneur’ has become the poster girl for deceit on a large scale in Australia.
Last night on 60 Minutes, Tara Brown interviewed her, to try and get answers out of Ms Gibson as to how, and why, she managed to deceive so many people for so long, about her cancer diagnosis and recovery, through diet and in particular whole foods. Ms Gibson made millions out of a cookbook and an App developed from her cookbook. Worse, she convinced many people to ignore the advice of oncologists and traditional medical intervention on the basis of her miraculous recovery. You can see the interview here. It is clear from the whole fiasco that Ms Gibson is a chronic liar and shameless attention seeker. I still can't believe how few people called Belle Gibson's version of events into question - the whole sorry saga could have easily been prevented. Sadly, like every other narcissist, Ms Gibson blames everyone but herself for the situation in which she now finds herself.
This is unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence and also occurs in employment relationships.
On a smaller scale, I have twice now investigated employees who have been suspected of faking cancer for both sympathy, and to avoid performance management. I still say ‘suspected’ because in both cases, the employee resigned before formal performance management commenced, although many years later they are both still very much alive and healthy.
In investigating this type of issue it is important to tread lightly. While suspicions are aroused for any number of reasons, the truth is that the employee may be terribly ill, in one way or another. However in both of these cases the following issues arose:
- Performance was not at the expected level for the role and this continued for a significant period of time
- The employee was under 30 years of age
- The employee had regular ‘dramatic’ events in life, not related to health, requiring their absence from work, and garnering a great deal of sympathy
- The employee was considered to be very ‘brave’ in coming to work when so ill, and gained sympathy and attention from colleagues, making management of the employee difficult. In one case, other employees had organised fund raising activities for the ‘sick’ employee, as well as home cooked meals
- The investigation started because the ill health suddenly became dramatically worse when performance issues were raised – in one case, cancer which had been in remission for a number of years, suddenly returned as a secondary cancer
- The employee refused to allow me to obtain a report from their treating oncologist as the effect of performance management on their treatment and health. Neither would tell me the name of the treating oncologist, notwithstanding that every other facet of their illness had been freely and embarrassingly shared with other in the workplace
- Lengthy research had to be done in relation to common treatment regimes for the particular cancers which bore little resemblance to the treatment the employees said they had, or were, undergoing
- The employee had gone to great lengths to look sick during work hours (including shaved heads and scarves) yet social media accounts (which were not private) showed them to be enjoying busy social lives which also included heavy drinking and smoking – when challenged as to absence from work on a Monday the reason given was usually treatment rather than a hangover
- An examination of email and work provided mobile phone records proved the employees had lied about their whereabouts at times of medical appointments or other events requiring their absence from work, including occasions when compassionate leave had been granted
- The employee resigned when asked to respond to issues raised with them
I suspect this was a pattern of behaviour - leaving their employment when the deceit was discovered and probably starting the deceit again. It should be noted, however, that at no stage was an allegation put to the employee about having 'faked' being sick. The allegations were about lying about other events related to their employment, but in also asking for details of their treating oncologist, each will have known that suspicions had been raised.
Following their departure from the organisations, further investigations revealed other instances of deceit involving credit, taxi vouchers and various other work related benefits.
The level of hurt and anger in those organisations when the level of the deception was uncovered cannot be described. Staff who had been through treatment for cancer or who had lost a loved one to cancer were among those who had provided support.
Sadly, I believe in one of these cases the employee was psychiatrically ill, but in the other the employee was no more than a narcissistic attention seeker, who was a chronic liar! I don’t know if either sought help, but the most important lesson from this for me was to trust my instincts. I thought something was not quite right from a short time after their employment commenced.
For employers, as with all investigations, policies which allow workplace investigators to review email correspondence and phone records for work provided mobile phones are vital to uncovering the truth. Unlike most workplace investigations which involve allegations made by one person against another, this type of investigation requires a slow and steady approach, particularly as the employee may be seriously ill.
Creating problems is easy. We do it all the time. Finding solutions, ones that last and produce good results, requires guts and care.
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.
Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.
Office romances are as old as, well, office buildings. It is hardly a surprise given the numbers of people who work, and the amount of time they spend there. Often people spend more time with work colleagues than with anyone else, including partners and children in some cases. Throw in a stressful job, a work colleague who understands the pressures, common interests, and romance is sure to follow, at least for those who are otherwise unattached or in committed relationships. One of the most successful relationships that started in the office is that of Michelle and Barack Obama. Michelle Robinson as she then was, was assigned to mentor the young Barack Obama, as a work experience student. On the other side of the Presidential coin however is the more infamous office romance between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
A recent survey by Vault.com called 'Love is in the Air' has some interesting statistics for us on office romances. For both men and women, 8% said they found their permanent partners at work, while about 50% of each (slightly more men) admitted to having a relationship with a work colleague.
So office romance and relationships are here to stay, but unfortunately can give rise to many and varied problems in the workplace - not least of which of course is the secret relationship that is found out in the most embarrassing of ways by ending up on the front page of the newspaper, and as the latest youtube hit. For this unfortunate couple, they learned the hard way (pardon the pun), that in the current technologically literate world, a sexual interlude after business hours, can be caught on camera and shared. Even more regrettable is the fact that the partner and former partner of the two involved (and in one case, children) have been embarrassed by the publicity. And while as a general rule relationships are no one else's business, in this case their employer has been embarrassed as well, by being named. It is likely that because of the way Google works, this article may well be the first that comes up when one searches Marsh Ltd.
While it is unlikely, according to news reports, they will lose their jobs over this incident, it is said that they will no longer be able to work together (and they may still face disciplinary action). Of course the embarrassment and identification of the parties involved may mean that they leave the workplace voluntarily.
Leaving aside infidelity for the purposes of this article, working together is one of the most difficult aspects of office based romances. The emphasis is on the word work, because you are still expected to be able to do your job, while conducting a personal relationship. This is largely because those involved in office romances try to keep it a secret.
So consider this - what is the reason for it being kept a secret? The very fact that you don't want anyone to know indicates that perhaps you think there may be a perception of impropriety.
If you are considering throwing caution to the wind, consider these problem situations:
Is one of you in a position to affect decisions about promotion or salary?
In this situation you need not just to decline to participate in a discussion about promotion or salary, you need to absent yourself from the room. Other people may feel that they can't speak freely if you are in the room. So clearly this is difficult to do if the relationship is a secret.
Can you honestly avoid allegations of favouritism?
Imagine if you have contributed to an important decision about your lover - and it comes to light after the event that you were in a relationship at the time. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the decision, there will always be a perception of impropriety.
Are you in a situation where one reports to the other?
This situation can also lead to accusations of favouritism - the best work, always good feedback, favourable treatment re leave, taking holidays together. Allegations of conflict of interest may arise. Sadly, if the relationship doesn't last, it will be unworkable unless both parties are extraordinarily mature.
If you want to be part of the 8% who meet their permanent partners at work, honesty is the best policy. On that note, be aware that use of company funds to conduct a relationship with a co-worker can lead to summary dismissal. So beware the conference attendance together, flights and miscellaneous lunches that get put on the company credit card, or exorbitant phone bills including texts and phone calls between you. If your employer is looking for a reason to dismiss you, this will be the reason, not the relationship itself.
'Secrecy, once accepted, becomes an addiction' - Edward Teller
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.
There is only one way to look at things until someone shows us how to look at them with different eyes.
In my work, I am often appointed as an independent investigator in relation to complaints of workplace behaviour – most often these are bullying complaints and occasionally sexual harassment. Complaints of sexual harassment are often difficult because without witnesses it is usually a case of ‘he said, she said’. Occasionally there will be a ‘smoking gun’.
In relation to bullying, these cases are difficult for entirely different reasons. I often say that ‘bullying is in the eye of the beholder’. What might be perceived as bullying by one person would not bother another. Regardless of the sensitivities of the complainant, bullying claims all have to be investigated in light of the relevant legislative definitions, which involve what is meant to be an objective test but is in fact the very subjective test of reasonableness.
A few things have been made clear over the course of my work in this area, combined with the work I have done with Diversity Partners recently in relation to inclusive leadership. Inclusion is about how people feel at work, and it is possible to bully by exclusion. So the very behaviours that go with being an inclusive leader can also help prevent a bullying claim.
We often attribute certain behaviours to a person rather than a situation they are in. I can recall starting a new school in year 6 – it was a small school and I started in the middle of a term. There were 16 eleven year olds in the class before I joined. Binna Kandola talks about the effects of ‘In Groups’ and ‘Out Groups’ in his book ‘The Value of Difference: Eliminating Bias in Organisations' and I was very much a one girl member of the out group that year. That group of students made me feel isolated, strange, different and unwelcome. I can recall walking into the classroom and they were looking at my report card from my previous school which had been on the teacher’s desk, and one of them said ‘you must think you’re really smart’. I said nothing. I was very quiet and tried to physically shrink in the classroom. After a while I became angry and my natural extraversion kicked in and I started fighting back verbally. This made it worse of course.
I was then labelled arrogant, rude, and bitchy.
Did I feel bullied? Absolutely. Did they intend to make me feel like that? Probably not.
Children of course don’t think as adults – but imagine the above scenario in a work situation. A new team member starts, and feels excluded, different. She sees the team members looking at her CV or performance review documents and making snarky comments. She goes quiet then gets angry. Does she feel bullied? Absolutely. Did they intend to make her feel like that? Probably not. But the potential for a bullying claim is there.
Had this behaviour been properly attributed to the situation and NOT the person, the result would have been entirely different. Had those school children or the team members chosen to think and act inclusively, the situation would never have deteriorated. So think about your behaviour – are you acting inclusively? Are you inviting this person to be involved, getting to know them, asking how they are getting on, offering to help with the new environment and introducing them to the people they need to know?
Inclusive behaviour, along with reflection on your communication style, will go a long way to preventing a bullying claim
The role of leadership is to transform the complex into small pieces and prioritise them.
Last year a client confided in me that he felt awful because during the course of a firm merger, one of his staff was considered surplus to the requirements of the merged organisation. It transpired, however, that the reason was that the financial performance of the person concerned was, and had been, poor - for the best part of five years. It is always a risk being brutally honest with clients but in this case it was warranted. I said to the client - 'don't feel awful about it now - you should feel awful for not dealing with it five years ago when it was first a problem.' In avoiding a difficult conversation he had denied that employee the opportunity to improve, or move on and find somewhere that suited him.
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!
If you have tears, prepare to shed them now
I have previously given some tips on how to give effective feedback . In giving constructive feedback and in a formal performance appraisal there are some situations that need special attention and require special skills. Leaders and managers know that the ability to have a difficult discussion is crucial to not only their success but also the success of the business. In this post and the next I will deal with some of those difficult emotional responses.
No one likes receiving what he or she perceives to be negative feedback, regardless of how well it is planned and presented. So you need to anticipate an emotional response if negative feedback is to be given. And that emotional response can come in a variety of ways.
Whatever the reaction, it is vital to the successful conclusion of the conversation to:
- keep your own emotions in check;
- not take the reaction or any comments personally and try and remember they are a result of built up tension or anxiety;
- listen – mindful listening assists with positive expressions. Let the person express the emotion first by showing you are willing to listen without interrupting
- validate people’s feelings if you can, by showing empathy. For example, ‘I understand this is difficult for you – let’s work on a way to get back on track’, or ‘ I understand you’re upset – I’m going to give you a moment to calm down so we can continue’
Here are some specific situations and how best to deal with them
There are two types of people who cry when given negative feedback. There is the person who, for what may be any number of reasons, is genuinely upset, and then there is the person who is able to turn on the tears for effect and sympathy. In my years of working with people I have become very aware of peoples’ various idiosyncrasies (good and bad), and believe me when I say that there are those who will cry to avoid or derail a performance discussion.
Regardless of the situation, pause, and find tissues! A clever person who thinks someone might cry will have tissues at the ready. It is also useful to offer to get a glass of water as this can allow time for the person to regain their composure..
If someone is genuinely distressed, for reasons outside the appraisal or work, then I do suggest rescheduling for another time. This is one of the few times I suggest this. For example, if the person is upset because a relative has died, or has been diagnosed with a serious illness (or they themselves are not well), then they are not going to be in a position to discuss things in a rational way. They may have been keeping their emotions in check at work, and this has allowed them to to let the tears flow. It is one of the few times I would recommend allowing the discussion to be rescheduled. In doing so, you are allowing them to recover from their embarrassment, and take some of the emotion out of the discussion. You are also showing that you care.
If however someone becomes upset either as a means to derail the discussion, or to try and attract sympathy, it is important to continue the discussion. As before, pause, offer a tissue and a glass of water, express empathy and suggest that when they are ready you can continue. And sit patiently waiting for that moment to come. I have been in a room with one such person who looked up at me through her tears and said ‘aren’t you going to say something?’ to which I responded ‘I’m just waiting for you to stop crying’. Some might call that harsh, but it had the desired effect – she realised I knew she was putting it on, knew she couldn’t get out of the discussion, and so we carried on.
If the person you are talking to reacts angrily - stay calm yourself. There is a little part of the brain called the amygdala which causes very emotional responses to perceived threats. It hijacks the rational thinking part of the brain. This is useful when there is actually a physical threat; not so much in a performance appraisal. So the person you are talking to is having that happen to them. Don’t mirror them and respond angrily by allowing your amygdala to hijack your own brain. This will escalate the problem into an unresolvable argument and most likely an argument that bears no relation to the discussion at hand.
So if your employee becomes angry, stay calm. Allow the anger to be expressed, even – and this is important – if it involves a personal, verbal, attack on you. If you do respond, keep your voice low, slow , and controlled. Oftentimes a calm response will calm the angry person.
Acknowledge the emotion they are experiencing (empathy again) eg ‘I understand why this might make you angry’ , wait for person to finish, and restart the conversation.
In both examples, it is important to ensure the conversation comes back to the performance issue and a solutions focussed resolution.
And remember – it is a tough job sometimes being a manager of people. Give yourself a pat on the back when you have successfully concluded a difficult performance appraisal.
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