a resource, my insights, and news

Being good is not enough

You were hired because you met expectations; you will be promoted if you can exceed them

- Saji Ijiyemi

And if you let someone know what you want

Margaret Jolly


Doing great work and being a good person won’t get you that promotion.

I attended a networking breakfast recently, for recent school graduates, now at University studying law, and the more ‘mature’ school graduates who had been through law school and had established careers.  It was an interesting mix of those of us who had graduated from law school. There were solicitors in private practice, a QC (one of only five female QCs in Brisbane), in house counsel, and me, who works in management.  A recovering lawyer, some might say.

The young women in the room were so full of optimism and enthusiasm it was infectious.  It was amazing what they had achieved in such a short time.  When I was at University the only thing I worked on in my holidays was my tan, but these young women worked - in part time jobs, as volunteers, in law firms, for barristers, or full time in paying jobs to get themselves through university.  It was heartening to know that they still had fun and a social life.

Talk came around to ‘getting to the top’ whatever that might be for different people.  One of the young women said that she thought as long as she did good work, ‘kept her head down and got on with it’, she would ultimately be recognised and promoted.

Unfortunately that is far from the truth.  Being good at your job and a ‘good girl’ will not get you a promotion or a pay rise.  The fact is that SOMEONE has to know what you want and when you want it.  And preferably that person needs to champion your cause.

Ask for what you want. Be prepared to get it.  Being good at your job is not enough.


Discovering your own unconscious bias

This post was first published by Diversity Partners here

Good managers have a bias for action.

Tom Peters

Some time ago, an HR manager told me an incredible story about how she discovered her own unconscious bias, through an ‘aha’ moment.

A few years before, she had been recruiting for a very senior legal role that needed to be filled urgently. One of the criteria was the ability to communicate clearly and quickly with clients in relation to a very complex transaction. When the time came to review the CVs, she was disappointed to discover that, out of 40 CVs, there were only two candidates she felt were worth interviewing.

So she decided to go through them all again in case she missed something. And she had.

She suddenly saw that she had rejected every CV where the applicant’s name suggested Asian ethnicity. In her words, she was very shocked. She told me, firmly, that she was not one of those people who says ‘I’m not racist, but…’. However, something was clearly going on for this to happen without her realising.

Was it the communication issue that caused her to make assumptions and reject so many applicants? The firm already had many lawyers of Asian ethnicity. Many of her friends and acquaintances were of Asian ethnicity. Some had been born in Australia; some had not. None of these people had any difficulties with communication.

She asked one of her staff members to give her a summary of all of the CVs without the CVs attached, removing any reference to age, gender and also removing names. She ended up with a shortlist of 10 people rather than two, basing selection purely on candidates’ experience on paper.

Afterwards, she reflected on the experience and remembered that, many years before, she had been lecturing and tutoring at a university where there was a very high proportion of Asian law students in the classes. Probably half of the students were full fee paying students from overseas who struggled to understand the concepts in English and effectively answer questions on exam papers. She realised then she had allowed this experience from many years before to create a bias in relation to the communication skills of people applying for jobs all those years later.

So the lesson for her (and me, after hearing her story)? From that day on, she never looked at a CV with a name or date of birth on it when she needed to shortlist. She always had a staff member review the CVs and give her a summary with those identifying features removed. This also ensured there was no gender or age bias in any of her recruitment decisions. It also enabled her to go to partners with potential candidates based purely on experience, and she is absolutely confident that they interviewed more and better candidates because of it.

So what has been your ‘aha’ moment? If you haven’t had one, the time will and should come. Your willingness to examine your own possible unconscious bias is a very important step in understanding the concept of unconscious bias and its effect on your organisation.



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 best time is now

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is now"

Chinese proverb

So here I am, 12 months after deciding to leave behind the comfort of a regular paycheck and superannuation, and 6 months since officially starting my own consulting business.

Welcome to Margaret Jolly Consulting and my blog, which I plan to keep regularly updated and hope that the contents are useful, challenging or inspiring - or all three .

I wanted to share some reflections of the last 12 months and in particular, the last 6 months, on the experience of starting my own consulting firm.

I had been working in management in professional services for more years than I dare to admit. In one of those circuitous career paths many people have, I qualified as a lawyer, then moved, almost by accident, into a management role when I was 26 years old. I think that was the last time I officially applied for any job. And I have never looked back. I love working in 'human resources', 'people management' or whatever name anyone wants to call that important business role of looking after the needs of the business, while at the same time looking after the needs of the people working in that business. It is sometimes a difficult balancing act (possibly harder I think than Nik Wallender's crossing of the grand canyon, although not necessarily as lethal).

Photo - Mike Blake, Reuters

But it has been a very personally rewarding career for me - I have learnt so much about people, behaviours, business, challenges, teamwork, resilience, diversity and what drives people.

It was time to step out into my own spotlight.

Courage. One of the most inspiring books I have read of late is Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean in'. I identified with almost everything about which she wrote but one phrase stuck with me, and I remind myself of it regularly - what would you do, if you weren't afraid? It took a lot of courage to start this business. I had thought about it for years but never seemed to have the courage to do it (hence the title of this blog post). Then one day, I just realised the time was right, for a number of reasons - mainly that if I didn't do it, I never would. I remembered reading a poster years ago that simply said 'You know that thing you have always wanted to do? You should do it'. I was at a cross roads in my last in-house role and knew that it was time for me to move on. And I also knew that I didn't want to move into another in-house role. That was a courageous decision and there have been many courageous decisions since then, not one of which I have regretted.

Networking is the bomb! I was surprised by how large my network was. When I sat down and started writing a list of contacts, through all my various roles, friendships, acquaintances etc, it went on for three pages. And that was just the start. I still haven't contacted all of those people. I joined some wonderful business networking groups which have given me inspiration and ideas on how to grow my business, as well as giving me the opportunity to meet wonderful people, and the possibility of workflow.

If you don't ask, you don't get. This is an expression I have used frequently in coaching others about asking for what they want and I had to take my own advice. If someone says yes - terrific. If they say no - you're in no worse position.

Be prepared for knock backs. Having said that rejection is a natural part of asking for work. And something you have to get used to. It's a tough lesson to learn, and one that cannot be avoided.

Generosity is a boomerang. I am a naturally generous person. I'll happily give my time and advice to family, friends and acquaintances if they need it. And here's the thing. There are so many people like me out there. All the time I have given to others has come back to me threefold and I am so grateful to all those wonderful people, mainly friends and other women who had started their own businesses, who so freely, generously and genuinely gave of themselves as I started out. There has been no competition; only incredible support.

Pay for good advice. The caveat to that of course is that is it worthwhile investing in good professional advice, from legal (structure), accounting and MOST importantly, branding advice. The last one is the best money I have spent so far - I love my brand, the colour and the way it all fits together. If you want great ideas for your branding look no further than Melissa Gardner.

Social Media. I love social media and have embraced it with a passion since starting out. And yet I am still far from being an expert, and am learning something new every day. Linkedin, Twitter and Google+ are the main social media channels I use - with room for more. I'm not sure if I'm brave enough to have a YouTube channel quite yet

Keep at it - never ever give up. There is always a new connection, a new experience, a new pipeline of work, (sometimes from the strangest connection or source), something new to learn, and endless possibilities for growth, and new friendships to be made.

I am loving every moment of this ride.

What would you do, if you weren't afraid?

Giving effective feedback

"The more feedback you give to people, the better it is, as long as the feedback is objective and not critical"

- Brian Tracy

We all know the feeling. Someone in your office, or on your team, is not performing to expectations. It might be how they answer the phone, deal with clients or suppliers. They might not be pulling their weight, not keeping filing up to date. Or there may be more serious performance issues. It could be any one of a number of things. It starts off as a bit annoying. You think it will get better - they'll work it out. Then it becomes more annoying or the behaviour actually gets worse. It is starting to affect other people in the office - not just the particular issue, but soon staff are complaining loudly that you're not dealing with it. How do you overcome the very natural aversion to conflict or having a difficult conversation?

This article will give you tips on how to have that difficult conversation you would rather not have. It will not deal with formal performance management, which will be the subject of another article.

  • First of all, remind yourself that performance issues don't get better on their own. If staff are not aware there is a problem they will assume they are doing the right thing. In fact, if not addressed, the problem often becomes worse.
  • Check up on your own concerns about confronting the issue. Ask yourself 'What's the worst that can happen'. They might become upset, angry or completely shut down. If you're prepared for the worst, then anything else is easy to deal with. If you are also the sort of person that likes to be liked, acknowledge that - but also acknowledge that you can still be likeable if you deal with a difficult issue in a professional, and empathetic way.
  • Make it timely - address it early, and preferably close to an example of the problem behaviour. For example if a staff member is required to complete a particular task on a particular day each week, and regularly misses it, address it at the next opportunity. If a piece of work submitted to you is not satisfactory, think about how you will have the discussion and address it promptly - don't wait a week.
  • Get the geography right. Never give constructive or negative feedback in front of others. If possible, try not to have the discussion across a desk as this can impede an open conversation. Even better, if you can get out of the office altogether, it takes some of the office tension away, and also relieves the staff member of any embarrassment. You would be surprised how mush easier one of these conversations is, being done over a coffee, or by going for a walk.
  • If you are able to, give positive feedback to the staff member about their performance first. Feedback given in an environment of trust, with good intentions, where the employee feels valued, is much more likely to be accepted.
  • Focus on the behaviour, not the person. Make sure they understand the impact the behaviour has on others, you, or the business.
  • Make sure you have some concrete examples or feedback from others to support your views.
  • Frame the conversation beforehand - be very clear in your own mind about the result you want to achieve. No one likes receiving negative feedback, and sometimes the recipient will derail the conversation with excuses, blame or denial (more about that in future articles). So it's a good idea, to be very clear in your own mind about how the conversation will start and progress to the result you need, which is the staff member accepting the problem and committing to making some changes. No matter how often you find yourself going off on a tangent, come back to the main issue.
  • Be empathetic if they become upset but firm in the need for improvement, e.g. 'I know this must be difficult for you, but ultimately this is an important issue that needs improvement and I'm confident that can be achieved'.
  • Check their understanding of the issues before ending on a positive note, ie, expressing confidence in their ability to improve. Don't give more positive feedback, as this can be confusing and dilute the message. But it is ok to be positive in closing the conversation, eg 'you're a valuable employee, and I'm sure that now you're aware of our expectations, you will continue to improve'.
  • Be open to taking some feedback yourself - ask if there is anything you, or anyone else in the team, can do to help the situation. It may be that something you are doing or the way the job is structured, is not helping them.
  • Agree to follow up again in a specific timeframe and if improvements are noticed, make sure that is acknowledged in a timely way, even before any formal meeting.

Coming up in future articles - how to deal with objections, the benefits of positive feedback, formal performance appraisals, and performance management.

The greatest of virtues

"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others"

- Marcus Tullius Cicero

A lot has been written over the years about 'employee engagement' — about how to keep employees happy, engaged, at work, and reduce the risk of top performers leaving. A great deal of money has also been spent on engagement surveys and employee engagement programs.

There is an easy way to make sure employees remain engaged and loyal and it doesn't have to cost any money. And that is by saying 'THANK YOU,' and saying it often. Of course, it is one of many tools for ensuring engagement but it goes hand in hand with being respected and valued, and having a supervisor, manager or leader they respect.

Margie Warrell also wrote about this important aspect of leadership.

As a leader, or potential leader, you will have many people doing many different things for you each and every day. Try noticing those things, acknowledging them, and saying thank you. Staff will feel appreciated and are more likely to want to do more for you, feeling acknowledged and appreciated.

Take it one step further than saying thank you — say it out loud in the presence of others, and make it specific. Don't just say 'thanks for that'. Say, for example, 'thanks for getting that data to me so quickly — it really made getting my report to the client on time easier'. Or 'the client was really happy with my report — thanks so much for your input and your quick turn around time'.

I'll give you a specific example of the incredible effect of gratitude. When working in a large professional services firm many years ago, the business development team was working to a tight deadline to get a tender document out on a Monday. A few people were asked to work over the weekend to make sure it was finished on time.

I spoke to the managing partner on the Monday and mentioned the people who had given up their weekend — at all levels. Some worked in BDM, some were lawyers who wanted to win the project, and some were admin staff, responsible for the typing, collating and copying of the document. I suggested he send an email to them to thank them. He asked me to draft a quick email for him. Now I am not one of those people who spend their time wondering if something someone asks me to do is my job or not. In that moment, my job was to make him look good, and make all of those people feel appreciated. So I drafted the email, sent it to him, but asked him to send the email individually, not as a group email, which he did.

He came to see me later — one of the word processing staff had (he had been told), burst into tears when she got the email. No one (NO ONE) of 'importance' in any organisation she had worked for, had ever said 'thank you' to her like that. Acknowledged that, while, she may have been paid overtime, her commitment was what was valued, and her contribution to the firm in getting that job out the door.

He was stunned by this, and the effect it had on her — he went out of his way from then on to make sure he knew when staff had gone 'above and beyond'. And he always thanked them. It became a healthy virus in the office — because other people started acknowledging their work mates and saying thank you.

"No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude."

- Alfred North Whitehead

But the really good news is that studies show that the art of expressing gratitude increases the sense of well being in those expressing it — it is associated with increased levels of energy, optimism, empathy and also creativity. This certainly was the case in the example above. I know he felt like he was a better leader for it, and he knew he was making a difference. And pretty soon I didn't have to keep telling him the good news stories — he found out about them, or noticed them himself.

Ask yourself — do you want to be the person your staff most look forward to seeing when you walk into the office? Try acknowledging them and finding a reason to thank them every day.

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.