December 18, 2008

Prisoners make fab workers

Ex- prisoners can struggle to find employment once they are back in the real world again. Faced with the benefit they find themselves turning back to crime to be able to afford to live. The cycle continues – back behind bars they go even if they sincerely wanted a fresh start and a life free of crime. They need employers that are willing to give them a chance. Getting a job could turn their whole world around as they form a new identity – that of a hard worker and EX-crim.

A lot of employers are too scared to give prisoners a go. They worry they’ll steal, take drugs at work, scare the customers or just be ‘scary’ to be around. If they put worry to the side for a second they may see that prisoners are even better workers than their ‘normal’ ones. They NEED this job, they WANT this job – and they will work their butt off, committed to you. For a lot of people this is the “too hard basket” – they leave it to someone else to help them out. I think it would be hugely satisfying. Giving someone an opportunity to change their life and build self esteem. Through their work they can see that they are important, they are valuable and they are employable. I am sure they would be very loyal to that business/boss that gave them their ‘in’ to the real world. If there is the odd one that needs to be fired because they were naughty then so what – they won’t all be that way.

The Department of Corrections details the ‘Release to Work’ scheme here. It seems they manage the process well and give lots of support. They are also looking for instructors that can teach prisoners skills and trades.

Roading company Fulton Hogan took on 20 prisoners through the prison system's Release to Work scheme to help build a new motorway through the Auckland suburb of Mt Roskill. The company says they have proved more reliable than many workers employed through labour hire firms, and six are still working on State Highway 20, months after leaving jail. One inmate said he used to lose sleep over no one wanting to hire him when he got out. He knew he’d have to turn back to crime if he couldn’t get work. Inmates' earnings are held in trust until they leave prison, giving them a useful nest-egg to start their new lives.

Fulton Hogan is doing this country a huge service by helping our inmates and ex-prisoners. Businesses that take on such employees are reducing crime one person at a time – and get to see someone go from ‘naughty’ to absolutely flourishing. Maybe investigating the Release to Work scheme could be a great ‘to do’ for your business in 2009.

December 15, 2008

Don't let staff go to waste

As a boss you may spend more time with some staff members than others. You may know a handful of staff really well, and know little about some others. Does this mean that when opportunities come up, those you know best get first dibs? Perhaps the people that you don't know very well are actually BETTER than those you do? What if they have many skills, passions and ideas that are going to waste because you don't know they exist? If these people aren't regularly given the time of day by the boss, they may never speak up about what they'd like to do and what they are capable of. What a waste! It is important to know all staff quite well - what they like most in their job, what they like least, where they want to head in their career. You also need to know about stuff that can affect their focus - sick kids, moving house, divorce etc. If you know what is happening for them personally you can cut them a bit of slack where required. Especially since you have humans working for you not machines!

There may be some staff that come across as a little unusual or bizarre - maybe they dress differently, believe they were dropped here by aliens or only ever eat walnuts. That doesn't mean they aren't amazing at their job and should be overlooked when allocating a project or promotion. So what if they are socially awkward - they could be sales geniuses! They need just as much of your time and understanding. The better you know them, the better you can utilise them.

I read a great blog entry titled "Never judge a person by how they look" which is a similar kind of thing. Whether different in appearance or personality it doesn't matter - you need to know all your staff equally well. If you don't, make the effort and change this. It will be great for culture, performance and engagement.

December 11, 2008

Disgruntled employees=bad management

I’ve spoken time and again about LISTENING to your staff. CARING about what they say and ACTING on it. Working for a company that didn’t listen (but boasted constantly about how much they did) is how I got into staff surveying in the first place. It is UNBELIEVEABLY frustrating working in a place where your voice has absolutely zero significance, yet management bleat on and on about how much it does. Talk about out of touch with reality!

One employee did something about it. Ex-Virgin Blue employee Torsten Koerting designed a board game using Virgin Blue branding that criticises his former company's decision-making process. It is a modified version of "Snakes and Ladders" and was attached to a farewell email to his colleagues. That turned out to be just the beginning as the media found out about it (I read about it here) and boy did they love it! It seems Torsten isn’t the only disgruntled employee – but he is the only one that has spoken up about it.

The question now is what is Virgin Blue going to do about it? Will they use it as an opportunity to have a frank discussion with staff and find a way to make sure that convo is constant? From the outside looking in, Virgin Blue in Aussie and Pacific Blue in New Zealand have always seemed to exude a fun, funky culture – perhaps that was so at the beginning but it has dwindled now? Maybe the fun times of being thrown in the river are over?

Virgin Blue is just the one of gazillions of businesses full of unhappy staff that are sick of not being heard. 2008 and STILL companies haven’t got this right. What’s worse is that it is not expensive, difficult or time consuming to fix. All you need is a CEO that actually cares, not just says they do. It might however be scary for some. If the thought of listening to your staff scares the heck out of you then (sorry but) HAHA! It means you’ve been so lazy with listening for so long that things have really gone to the dogs. You really deserve the scariness.

If you want to figure out if your company is at risk of being thrown around the worlds media and blogosphere because one of your workers has hit the headlines, ask 10 random staff members “What is it about this company that frustrates the crap out of you?” If they can rattle off 5 things without so much as taking a breath you are in trouble so sit down, shut your gob and turn your ears on! Ignorance is NOT bliss!

December 8, 2008

Staff won't mop up your tears

I refuse to be negative and panicky about all this recession stuff. Sure it is impacting our world, but it is certainly not the end of it as the media can sometimes lead people to believe. The more that people walk around with crappy negative attitudes the more negative things happen. If people smile, keep their head up and KNOW tomorrow will be a better day – it actually will be. I’ve read some similar “enough with the glum” blogs of late:

“This afternoon I was at the hair salon and next to me a stylist's client was loudly hemming and hawing about how "bad" things are getting with the economy. And honestly I'm rolling my eyes, because here is a well-dressed woman dropping over $200 on her hair color and who valet parked her Mercedes out front. "Bad" - for most of this country - means you have one less flat-screen TV. "Bad" in some other countries means you could be living every day in fear of dying through starvation, or being tortured or murdered. THAT is bad. WE don't have it bad.Please, stop listening to "news", whose job it is to make you feel like everything is going to hell in a hand basket. TV news is not a "public service". It's a business. Fear attracts ratings, and ratings sell ads. If they told you "all is well" you wouldn't have to watch anymore. And you must NEVER forget - there is no better way to maintain complete control of your life and income than being an entrepreneur! In fact, some of the greatest fortunes have been made during historical "recessions". (You don't hear about THAT on the news.) The GOOD news is, there are ways you can not only maintain your revenues during these times, but make MORE money than ever!” (Online entrepreneur Alexandria K. Brown publishes the award-winning 'Highlights on Marketing & Success' weekly ezine with 36,000+ subscribers. Subscribe at

"It's getting pretty crappy out there. People are getting scared and grumpy. Your job: Stay positive. Be friendly. Smile. This will turn around. It always does. That's why they're called "cycles." It sucks when you're in the down side, but it will absolutely, definitely turn around sooner or later. People will flock to be with you (and do business with you) if you can focus on the eventual upside, and have a positive attitude. People will shun you (and your business) if you are a whiny grouch. Your job: Show your community a path back to the better place. Give people hope and they will give you the support you need to make that hope a reality." (From )

If as a boss you are sporting the "boy the shi-et has hit the fan" attitude and are down in the dumps your staff probably won't want to stick around and help mop up your tears. They'll find someone who knows they can cope with market changes. Positive energy is contagious, negative energy is boring and draining.

December 3, 2008

A fun boss at Christmas

I was at the NZ Post Shop the other day and asked the lovely lady “what is with all the confetti on the carpet?” She said the boss had gone mad before they opened the doors this morning and run about sprinkling confetti because he is so excited about Christmas. She told me I’d see him coming with his flashing Santa hat and hear him coming with his Christmas carolling. It really made me laugh because a) he sounds like a hoot of a boss that goes mad bounding about the place with confetti and b) I have never heard of a MALE being that excited about Christmas at work. All the blokes I’ve ever worked with were SERIOUS Christmas grinches. I’m not just talking about grinch bosses – but male staff of all levels. In one workplace we were not allowed to play Christmas carols until Christmas Eve and even then they got switched off after an hour or so because “they got annoying”. It was just as well I don’t mind overriding authority – I pushed play again in no time.

I found this NZ Post Shop bosses excitement so refreshing – I think the staff member I spoke to appreciates his genius more now I told her my stories!

It’s a funny time of year. A lot of businesses are super busy, the customers are stressed, the staff may be feeling financially stretched and there are a million do’s on. I think creating an atmosphere of cheer, fun and excitement should be a priority to stop stress running the show. The Christmas grinch attitude doesn’t serve anyone. I know there are plenty of female grinches out there too “I’m NOT wearing a stupid Santa hat” “Those Christmas lights are flashing in my eyes”. If you are stuck working with one don’t let their negative energy drag you down – don your hat, get singing and enjoy this fun wrap up of 2008!

If anyone has any great workplace Christmas stories do share!

P.S. Sorry about the dead links in my “Managing without Managers” post, if you go here the links all work.

December 1, 2008

Managing without managers

A while back I blogged about ROWE - results orientated workplaces and a fab book called "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix it". ROWE is based on the radical statement "adults deserve to be treated like adults". I've come across a Brazilian company that is living its own ROWE. They like to "manage without managers". They too believe that their staff are grown ups. They encourage people to change seats everyday so people can't monitor "who is here and who is not" - because they are not supposed to. They don't care how many hours staff work, they care about what they are going to deliver this month. Every employee has full access to all financial statements (which are also presented in cartoon format) and everyone votes on their business units spending. One business unit brought cheap chairs as they wanted to budget for something more important to them. There are also 2 spare seats at every directors meeting available on a first in first serve basis.

Every six months employees set their own salary. Ask for too little and you'll be told to set a higher price. Ask for too much and you risk fellow employees sacking you. If they feel you don't work hard and you are not worthy of a share of the business units profit share you'll be shown the door. There is peer pressure on bad behaviour - everyone holds everyone to a high standard.

Before you decide cartoon financial statements are just madness, listen to how much this company makes! Further proof that those that are sticking out, being crazy and totally unafraid are truly succeeding. Our workplaces shouldn't even be as they were 5 years ago - times have changed so much. It is time to stop being so scared of sharing the 'control panel'.

Click here to see a 14 minute video about this awesome workplace.

November 27, 2008

Employees REALLY don't trust senior managers

I came across an article that proves (yet again) it is definitely time for bosses to try something new - their current approach is NOT WORKING. In the article it states that employees don't trust CEO's and senior managers. It's rather blatant statistics say that:

CEOs and senior managers don't care about employees (chosen by almost 50%).
CEOs and senior managers don't mean what they say (chosen by around 40%).
CEOs and senior managers don't value the contribution employees make (chosen by around 40%).

YIKES!! That's a bad report card. It continues...

"More than a quarter don't think their CEO is honest and truthful or that they deliver on promises. But a third of respondents say the above is also true for senior managers – actually placing them below CEOs when it comes to trust from employees." This is not good news (and is probably a bit of a shock) for senior managers! I think some factors to consider when it comes to trust are:

Hierarchy - when the boss still believes he is "a cut above" trust is harder to earn

Being free of BS - total honesty required, if you say you are gonna do something - DO IT

Telling all - total transparency, no secrets or things "staff aren't important enough to know"

Loving the yuck - don't avoid scary problems, staff know you are worth your weight in gold if you aren't afraid to tackle them

Chucking "do your employees trust you" into Google yields some good advice. One article suggests MBWO, translation = Management by Walking Around to build trust. "Not only are people more apt to approach you in "their territory," but you will hear and see things that never make it into the reports that come into your office. Besides, when your employees see you walking around, they begin to see you as a person, not just as "the boss." It's a lot easier to mistrust "the boss" than to mistrust an individual."

How are you going to change as a boss?

November 24, 2008

Is your company a scaredy cat?

How would you feel about letting every single employee have authority to post items on the company intranet? I’m sure there are tonnes of companies that would freak out at such a suggestion. There are others that are doing it though – and very successfully. They see it as two-way communication – instead of management using the intranet to tell employees stuff employees can now do the same to management. The management teams that allow this are sending great messages: we are all equal, your voice is just as important as ours is, we trust you, we care about what you have to say.

Equal rights rule – and it shows through in the workplace culture. Companies that keep ‘secrets’ from their staff are (most unknowingly) seriously shooting themselves in the foot. They are proving employees aren’t ‘important enough’ to be told. Or they feel they are ‘protecting’ them from something when really they are not. Really ‘now’ companies know there is no reason to keep anything from staff. It is these same companies that are not scared to allow staff authority over the intranet.

A great example here is about Coke. Their employee in the example knew the exact profit margins on the product which allowed them to give a great customer experience. The employee wasn’t some clueless dude whose job it was to fill the machine – it was someone fully part of the company who knew its profit margin ‘secrets’. I know there are a lot of businesses that would never consider sharing their financial details with their team, especially small or family owned businesses. If they did though they may find staff are shocked – they thought the boss walked away with X million in their pocket every year which is why they were so peeved when they got only a $40 bonus. Transparency can bring new awareness to the team culture – when they see you don’t make the gazillions they thought you did. Perhaps they’ll be thrilled now with their hourly rate instead of thinking it should be doubled. This Coke story highlights how a bit of profit margin knowledge among staff helps them, you and the customer.

Whether it’s being transparent with numbers or sharing the ‘power’ of the intranet companies that are not scared of anything and are willing to see their employees as equals will always win. Such companies are also more human and more fun to work for and buy from.

November 19, 2008

Is your 'A team' truly the best?

Every year at high school we’d do netball grading. A handful of mothers involved in school netball would watch lots of us play and grade us – choosing the teams A, B and C and mixing the rest up. I found it odd, that every year the children of those women doing the grading made it, without fail into the A team. They filled the rest of the team with ‘popular’ kids and the ‘A team’ was miraculously formed. I’m not sure if the parents had their rose tinted glasses on or if they truly believed their kids were a cut above the rest. To us ‘average’ lot, their netball skills were just as fine as ours. They weren’t special, they didn’t have X factor, they just played the game like the rest of us. It seemed at our corrupt and biased netball trials it was all about ‘who you know’ or how blatantly obvious your mum was prepared to be about favouritism.

Favouritism took a serious turn in the NZ army. ‘Show ponies’ were sent on important missions only to crumble under pressure. The mission commander learnt a lesson about choosing for the right reasons the hard way. Their silly choices actually put lives in danger.

As a boss you need to get real about choices you make. Even when you believe you have chosen based 100% on skill, you could totally be kidding yourself. Your employees could be reeling about the corruptness and favouritism they are sure they are seeing. If you feel you should choose the ‘better qualified’ person for a task, but you choose the slightly less qualified one instead, you may be wonderfully surprised with the results. If you don’t give a variety of people a go, you’ll never know if they are up to it. Delegate authority but KEEP responsibility – if it all goes wrong YOU wear the blame.

Back to the netball team, I am glad I wasn’t one of the ‘chosen ones’. I wanted to achieve through talent, not through dodgy grading. The kids that made the A team, are still around, many now VERY used to things being delivered on a silver platter. If I ever do netball grading I think I’d be a parent who’d put their kid in the crap team – to teach them about hard work. If they want to make the A team they won’t do so because of me – they’ll have to get themselves there.

November 17, 2008

How to become a great boss by watching TV

Every day my DVD player automatically tapes the best show in the world. It’s a show that if I miss an episode there is a chance I will sink into a deep depression! It is a show that is crazy, silly and totally random. Yep, the Ellen De Generes show is a HUGE lovemark of mine. In NZ it is on TV1 at 3pm weekdays. The first time I watched it though, I thought it was very weird…. I’m sure lots of first time watchers feel that way…. I’d never seen dancing on a talk show before! She comes out, does a short spiel then dances with her audience before taking her seat on the stage! She also interviews awesome celebrities, has hilarious games, finds everyday people doing amazing things to get on the show and does things that I say “would only ever happen on Ellen”. They have a DJ and have awesome music (she had Obama and his wife in a ‘dance off’); they also have lots of live performances – singers, talented kids, magicians etc. She often leaves the studio during live filming to wander over to George Clooney’s office which is next door. She wants him on her show, but is having trouble tracking him down. She set up a cage to try and trap him, sent all the Miss USA contestants over, a troop of sexy dancers and more – hoping to entice him! She also randomly buys her audience lotto tickets and gets the newsagent to deliver them – who is now a bit of a regular on the show.

Bosses that want to be awesome could learn A LOT from the Ellen show:
It is fun and so engaging, viewers aren’t just viewers – you feel 100% part of it
Very fast paced, ready to adapt
Innovative, borderline crazy at times, full of original hilarious ideas – not scared of breaking the mould
Very very LIVE – anything can happen; she just rolls with it and makes fast decisions
Ellen is totally authentic; you know she is always honest – she shares what is happening in her world. One day she started the show in tears as something terrible had happened in her life, and she couldn’t hide her pain so she didn’t.

I think Ellen viewers see life differently. They feel they can take anything on – and with a huge smile. Ellen’s team and show have an AMAZING culture which you feel as you watch and see when she interacts with her camera men and stage manager. Any boss that can create what Ellen has within her team would be a bloody awesome one!

November 12, 2008

How to eliminate mindless complaining

A few glum people can drag a whole workplace down. We’ve all met people that even if they won a tonne of dosh in the lottery would still be sporting their ‘woe is me’ face because they didn’t win first division. Negativity doesn’t have to be huge and loud to deeply impact the workplace culture either. Subtle messages and attitudes can form an atmosphere of glum.

Dwight Cooper, the CEO of PPR, a nurse staffing company that was voted one of the best places to work by The Society for Human Resource Management, asked himself what he could do about negativity and his answer was a company policy he called “The No Complaining Rule”. Cooper decided to deal with the subtle negativity that acts like a cancer in an organization. The rule states that “Employees are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their co-workers. If they have a complaint they can take it to a manager or someone who can do something about the problem, BUT they must also offer one or two possible solutions.” The intention is to eliminate mindless complaining which leads to a toxic work environment and encourage justified complaints that lead to new ideas, innovation and success.

It can be the small stuff that translates to the big problems and like attracts like – one person moans, another person moans and soon everyone is wandering around feeling blue. A system, a plan or a ‘no complaining rule’ gives everyone a guideline about ‘how we do things around here’. By setting up such a guideline the culture can feel as though it has changed overnight. The team may not have realised how the little negative comments really add up, but they really notice the difference when they are gone. A key feature of the system Dwight Cooper set up was also staff offering one or two possible solutions. This means they must be proactive and take responsibility. They can’t just stomp their feet and yell “FIX THIS”. It becomes a team effort. Try a ‘no complaining rule’ in your workplace – you won’t know how much you need it until you see the huge difference it will make.

November 7, 2008

Seize the moment at work!

When I was a kid I had a friend who lived opposite the beach. On hot days we’d cross the road for a dip. My friend’s parents would come to supervise us as there were no life guards around this area. On this particular day, my friends mum decided it was a gorg day, and she too should take a dip. She hadn’t fore planned it so didn’t have her togs. Rather than nip home for them, she stripped off her clothes and trotted into the surf in her bra and knickers. My friend was absolutely mortified (as you are when you are 11) that her mum was wearing nothing but her ‘intimates’ in front of her friend!

I on the other hand thought it was hilarious and lots of fun (as did her hubby who was keeping a pervey watchful eye on his lovely wife from the shore)! I admired her zest for life, the way she ‘seized the moment’ and just did it. Which is why I remember it to this day many years later. So many people are too conservative, shy and ‘sensible’. They don’t act on impulse EVER, they would never get involved in a water balloon fight (their clothes would get wet), they would never schedule something at the last minute as they weren’t ‘prepared’. More people getting involved makes life more fun! Her running into the sea to have fun with us, made the swim so much better. We were laughing and our energy was sky high.

It is the same at the office. Impulse could be the boss doing a random coffee shout on a Friday morning – watch peoples collective energy and motivation soar then! It could be deciding to close early for drinks because there is something to celebrate, or better – just because. It’s about not being scared to break the mould – doing new and different things.

RE: more people getting involved, it can be demonstrated with the boss pulling up their sleeves and getting into it when staff are under pressure. The boss demonstrates they are REALLY part of the team. It is so motivating for workers to see its ‘all for one and one for all’. They see the boss isn’t ‘a cut above’. At the end of the stressful day, the boss really does understand what life was like for the workers.

Where can you harness the energy of impulse and ‘seizing the moment’ in your workplace? (Just don’t strip down to your undies!) What opportunities to do this have you missed in the past?

November 3, 2008

Do your employees deserve milk?

There are plenty of workers around who think it’s a bit crap that their employers buy the cheapest coffee and tea possible for the staff room. It makes them feel cheap and unimportant. These feelings were even stronger at one workplace where there was special ‘managers coffee’. No I’m not lying, I wish I was! The managers were allowed to use this much nicer coffee while the workers could only gaze at it up on the shelf and dream.

As if this wasn’t enough ill feeling for the staff room of this workplace, then came the ‘milk episode’. In effort to save money, be assholes and show the workers who is really boss a sign was attached to the fridge that said “Milk is for tea and coffee only. Any use on cereals or for general drinking is forbidden”. Oh dear! So the workers who pay a fortune for an overpriced car park, that is still miles away from work, who leave home super early to get to it and then walk the extra 20 minutes to the office are no longer allowed to finally have their cereal for breakfast in the staff room upon arrival.

I love horrifying people with this story, because it demonstrates a workplace attitude that is so common. The words this story brings to my mind about these managers are mean, heartless and thick. That is not a ‘family’ based workplace. Where people are happy, comfortable and treated like humans. It is stern, cold, lonely and sad.

What topped this story off was the fact that this workplace was a newspaper. One of their columnists wrote a fantastic piece highlighting all of the above troubles. I’m thinking the only reason it made it into print was the managers were so busy policing the fridge, they didn’t have time to make sure word didn’t get out about how nasty they are! Something as simple as cheap and nasty coffee does affect morale. It is a message to your staff. Something as rude as ‘manager’s coffee’ is an even louder message to your staff. The bosses here were a cut above, and not part of the real team.What practices are in your workplace that are similar to ‘cheap and nasty’ or ‘manager’s coffee’? See that they don’t survive the week.

If you want to see what notes other workplaces have stuck up on noticeboards see this website

October 28, 2008

"We have an open door policy"

I was trying to get in touch with the HR manager at a particular company recently. I emailed the general email address stating why. I asked if I could please have their name, email and phone number. I received the following response:
Dear Allison, Unfortunately we are unable to assist you as the information you have asked for is sensitive and we are not able to share it outside of the organisation. I am sorry we are unable to assist you in this endeavour, however should you require assistance with another matter please feel free to contact us. Kind regards, Customer Care Representative

There is a time and place for this type of response I’m sure – i.e. if I was trying to sell them a vacuum cleaner or ‘enhancement’ pills. Luckily for me and them, I am not in those businesses! Yet the person I wanted to make contact with was ‘off limits’ and ‘untouchable’. Before I bothered pausing and letting out a sigh, I wandered my person over to google, and within a few seconds had the info I wanted and made contact.

Admittedly I DID want to email customer service back and bleat on about approachability and also tell them I’d had about 30 other companies respond with all the info I’d asked for without any drama. I wouldn’t have minded also slipping in the fact that I’d found the details in two seconds on google. But decided I’m far too grown up to do such ‘tongue poking’. I also thought this may invoke a response of “well why didn’t you do that in the first place?!” I knew the person on the end of the email was simply following instructions.

I was surprised that companies are still sending out this message of “you are not worthy enough” to gain contact with our managers. I of course know about email overload and spam, but plenty of other companies seem quite happy giving this “sensitive information outside the organisation”. They make their managers available to those who ask. I hope the companies that don’t aren’t the same ones that say “we are consumer driven”. If consumers aren’t allowed to talk to you, you are not consumer driven!

Many companies are still guilty of doing this internally. Not allowing staff to speak up about what and to who they want. Imagine giving the above email response to a staff member – how grossly unimportant they would feel. It may as well be rewritten as “since you are only a staff member you are not of enough significance to speak to the executives. Your ideas, thoughts or concerns are without consequence. Please go back to your desk”.

Open door policies have to be TRULY companywide to be successful. Companies that want to become disgustingly successful don’t keep anything ‘off limits’ – to consumers or staff. All cards on the table is the ticket. That’s why we have so many avenues to share: blogs, twitter, email, intranets, newsletters, meetings, instant messaging etc….. No secrets, no hierarchy’s just pure truth and fun!

October 24, 2008

Why no one is listening to the CEO

A person is told a song title and asked to tap its tune to another person who has to try and guess what it is. The tapper is asked beforehand if they think the person will be able to guess it from their tapping – almost all say yes. HOWEVER only one in forty people actually guess it correctly. Why is this? It is because when you are told the song title you instantly hear its tune in your head (unless of course you have an “I can't remember how that song goes” moment!). The person trying to guess cannot ‘hear’ anything. They can’t hear the background tune you can. So while the tapper thinks they’ll be able to communicate the song no trouble – they fail! Before this turns into a music lesson, let me explain how this applies in the workplace. Let’s say the CEO wants to make a huge announcement. He calls all the troops together and shares a new goal the company is now chasing. “We need to maximize shareholder value” he says with gusto. Huh? The CEO can hear the tune in his head, of what this means – how, why, when, its effects etc. The workers are going “what the hell does that mean?!” and “why would we want to do that?” There is no link between that statement and their daily roles and responsibilities. They walk out of the meeting scratching their heads, while the CEO is thinking “That went fantastic! Boy we are going to overhaul this company”. Needless to say the shareholder value doesn’t end up ‘maximized’.

So how do you ensure EVERYONE can hear the tune playing?
First, use language a four year old could understand. NOT because your staff are imbeciles but because why overcomplicate things?
Second, put yourself in their shoes. Should they actually care about your message? It is super important to you as CEO because if you achieve it you get a $500k bonus at the end of the year….. workers probably don’t!
Third, make the message come alive. Not by creating an even fancier powerpoint presentation but by putting it in black and white and finding an innovative way to make it exciting. You can’t keep it alive by distributing an internal memo or putting it on a gold plaque at the door.
Forth – demand questions. Let staff absolutely grill you if they have to. By tearing your message to shreds, it will become evident if it really has legs and will succeed.

October 22, 2008

When it’s the staff who are crap

The Boss Benchmark talks about how to be a fab boss, but what about when the staff aren’t up to scratch?! Employees that are in roles they don’t actually enjoy can be a drain on company finances, the culture and productivity. There is plenty a boss can do to fix that. The saying “people leave bosses – they don’t leave jobs” is very true. It seems the boss is a bigger influence on an employee’s happiness than the role itself. In workplaces that have a fantastic culture total fulfilment tends to not actually matter as much. Some people stay in roles for years simply because they enjoy the team and atmosphere. It doesn’t matter if the job is disgusting, boring or full of hassle. How do you create such a culture? Well, in tonnes of ways! 35 in The Boss Benchmark to be exact. A few of them are:

Remember your workers are human
They have lives outside work. There are plenty of things that can happen in workers personal lives that need attention during work time. It is about building trust. If you have your ear to the wall to check if that is “yet another personal call” you won’t be getting the best from your worker. Leniency when workers need it the most will be remembered and inspiration to work harder when they are back. A company that insisted EVERYTHING personal must be done outside work hours failed miserablely. Staff were totally unfocused (worrying about things) and also took many more sick days to get these things done. Workers are humans’ first, workers second – that’s why they didn’t hesitate taking tonnes of sick days. A bit of trust would have gone a long way at this company.

Don’t tolerate tension
It is not always the big stuff that causes the most tension – sometimes the little stuff is MORE detrimental if not addressed. In one workplace a couple of workers with bad attitudes ruined the productivity of the whole team. The other workers lost their motivation to work hard because management were allowing such low standards of behaviour to continue.

Stop whispers in the corridors
There is no room for secrets in a super successful company. If gossip is how workers at your company find out ‘what is really going on around here’ then something is very wrong. Few workers feel they are TRULY in the know about what is happening at their workplace. A really decent communication strategy makes gossip redundant.

Don’t avoid the yuck
Don’t look for the best things within your company – look for the most terrible. Then fix them. Constantly seeking out the weakest parts of the business then doing something about them is simple but genius. Too many people would rather ignore the yucky bits. I suppose that is the difference between any ol’ company and one with true ‘X factor’.

October 17, 2008

Life changing questions

Questions are powerful. They get your thinking on the right track. They bring to attention things you had not before considered. They open your eyes and help you start to consider new realities. Some great questions I read on a blog recently are:

*Is what you’re doing RIGHT NOW consistent with your #1 goal?
*If everybody did exactly what you said, what would the world look like?
*What personal skills have you not tapped into yet to build your business and/or add value to your customers?

The Boss Benchmark is also full of questions. It is the pondering of those questions that can help you become an amazing boss. Some from the book are:
*What is most important in your role as a boss?
*What is it about you that makes you really worthy of being looked up to?
*What do you need to improve on? Where are your skills lacking?
*Where do you rate on the kindness/courtesy scale when stressed?
*What are your values? What are your personal standards?
*Are you an asshole?
*How often do you stretch your ‘know it all’ muscles?
*What are the positive and negative stressful influences in your workplace?
*What small stuff should you be sweating?
*What questions do you really need to ask staff?
*What issues in your workplace are you trying to pretend don’t exist?
*How much gossip goes on at your workplace and why?
*In what areas are you hesitating to give staff responsibility and control? What is this costing you?

Take the time to ponder your answers to these questions, you may be shocked what you learn about yourself and how you can grow.

October 14, 2008

Steve Irwin: best boss in the world.

I adore Steve Irwin. I think that if we all had a bit of Steve in us the world would be a much better place. Anyone who isnt enjoying their job or hasn’t found their passion needs to just look at Steve to see what life can be like. I wish Steve opened a ‘boss school’ before he was taken from us too soon. He could teach bosses a thing or three. I have a mental list of people that I believe are totally authentic. Steve is at the top of that list. He was never hiding anything. He didn’t hold anything back. You never wondered if he was telling the truth. He was real. Such deep authenticy is not that common – which is why my list is quite a short one. If you want a 200% example of passion, drive, energy, fun, truth, excitement, action, great strategy, clairty and knowledge just look at Steve. Any boss that can also sport that list would be a fab one. An interviewer once asked Steve about his energy. He asked if he ever drinks coffee. Steve quickly answered “nah mate the top of my head would blow off”. Classic! Our work is supposed to get us as excited as Steve always was. If you are in the right role then it is possible. It is the bosses job to also get staff so pumped in their role they resemble Steve. I think when Steve was here we thought he was funny, intelligent and great to watch. Now that he is gone, I think we’ve realised SH*IT that guy is a genius. We need to live and think like him. Of all the people that have impacted our world and lives, I think he is the one that can change our world the most. Especially in our work.

To get more Steve into your life:
* Brainstorm what ‘being like Steve’ means to you.
* If Steve were the boss in your workplace, how would things be different?
* Think about your role and what about it makes you ‘Steveish’
* Forget all this doom and gloom crap and be positive - it is a choice.
* Imagine what it would be like if all your workers were like Steve (performance and profit would be through the roof) then figure out what it will take for you to make that happen.

Crikey! The world just became a much brighter place.

October 13, 2008

Is confidentiality negotiable?

A previous blog entry about when I started in the workforce reminded me of something I would rather have forgotten. But since it is not forgotten, I may as well share it! I was sixteen years old and working as a teller in a bank. I had been in the role only a few months but knew already it wasn’t what I was put on earth for. I liked the bank though. I wanted to know what else was available within it. I knew there had to be some cool department I had not heard of before in the big building in town. If not, perhaps I’d find my bliss amongst the even bigger offices in Auckland and Wellington. Unfortunately for me the only career advancement I was welcome to was the ‘normal’ progression from teller, to insurance/accounts/automatic payments to lending consultants. You had to follow the branch ‘steps’. I decided that if head office knew of my drive and passion they would surely want to utilise it. So I did what any sixteen year old thinking outside the box would do. I did a ‘project’. I call it that because that is how I embarrassingly remember it. I spent many a night at the family computer nutting up what was about a six page document. In it I introduced myself to the recruitment manager. I explained my ‘skills’, goals, ideas, and excitement about finding the right place for me within the bank. I explained that the branch network wasn’t for me and that I really wanted to know WHAT was out there, WHAT positions were available within this huge brand. Working in my own wee corner of the bank I had no knowledge of departments such as marketing, PR, credit control, sponsorship, learning and development etc. All I wanted was to be told what was out there – so I could ponder, see and dream about where I could head. I thought my special ‘project’ would knock their socks off. Especially the page that had “What I have to offer” written in a bubble in the middle and my personal qualities scattered around it looking all flash. I thought this was hugely innovative at the time…..give me a moment - I need to cringe in embarrassment! My cover letter to this had one clear request. Please don’t tell my manager I approached you. I was newish and I didn’t want them to know I was already looking for my out. Simple enough request I thought. People do it all the time when job seeking – confidentiality until the right moment. Anyway a week or so past and I was called to my supervisors office. In her hand she clutched at my special project. I was so embarrassed. I got the ‘career progression’ talk – load AP’s, sell insurance and then you lend. I felt a lot like a naughty school girl who had been told off by the principal. She wasn’t impressed with my project! She didn’t like that I’d approached recruitment instead of following the only, stiff, unappealing progression plan available to branch staff.

Needless to say the recruitment manager who I sent the project to didn’t adhere to my simple request of speaking to me only! She didn’t call, she didn’t email, she didn’t write. She just sent the whole thing to my boss and said ‘sort this out’. I was guttered. I was just as clueless as before the launch of my ‘innovative’ reaching out. No “well we have marketing, PR, IT….”. Not even a call to say “speak to your supervisor”. Just a readdressing of the project, which from that day on was kept in my HR file.

Anyway, my point and I do have one is this: how much weight do workers words have with you? If someone asks you to keep something quiet do you do it? Or do you (with complete disregard of their feelings and trust) do whatever you want? I didn’t know why she couldn’t have simply called to talk about it. I had clearly requested to keep my supervisor out of it. To this day it baffles me why she would SEND THE WHOLE DARN THING onto her. I felt so unimportant. Why was I so valueless that my simple (and common) request was ignored so blatantly? Can you identify with any of this waffle? Does it remind you of anything your staff want or need from you that you arent giving?

October 10, 2008

“People get to be people all the time”

More and more experts are starting to say work-life balance is no longer 'the thing'. We now need work-life intergration, as work and life should be in harmony.... therefore removing the need to 'balance' the two. Makes a lot of sense. Scott Ginsberg of commented recently on the question he is frequently asked at airports "travelling for work or pleasure?" To which he responds "both" or "no difference for me". Having your work be a natural and enjoyable extenstion of yourself is how it should be. We need to create workplaces where "people get to be people all the time". I've just finished a book written by two wonderful ladies who are taking on that mission! It is called "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix it". Cali and Jody have created a framework called ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) which they have implimented in US Fortune 100 company Best Buy very very successfully. Staff are paid for work done, not hours worked. These women are fantastic and doing to the workplace what it called for years ago. I hope they conquer the world fast! I love how they think. They say millions and millions of objections have been thrown their way about ROWE but they have never had anyone disagree with the radical statement "adults deserve to be treated like adults". Damn right they do! ROWE requires trust, new thinking, commitment and open mindedness. Some people do get very anti this kind of movement, which I'd personally put down to fear or lazyness. Scared of what could happen, or too lazy to make it happen. They can't hide from the fact that this is where the future is taking us. We just need to tackle such workplace innovations (or revelations!) the same way you eat an Elephant. One bite at a time.

Cali and Jody believe it is not the bad boss or unfair break policy that makes people keep switching jobs. It is the very nature of how we work, which is flawed. These days we don’t have to wait until the store opens to buy something or watch TV when it airs or come down from Mt Everest to make a phone call. Yet at work we have given up all these freedoms. The nature of our workplaces force us to be slow and tradition bound at work. 20 years ago you had to go to the office because that is where the resources, phones and liquid paper was. This has been not the case for quite some time now.
A powerful insight for me from the book was "flexi time can make work suck more". As "Nothing can make you feel more out of control than to be given the illusion of control." There is a story of a worker who achieved flexible hours but: got stressed, questioned her own competence, had colleagues say sarcastically every time she was in the office "oh your here..." and being left out of decisions. It appears flexitime is not the answer! The workplace has outgrown it already.

ROWE also kills presenteeism (being in the building but not working) as slackers cannot hide in a ROWE. I highly recommend this book. It is the future of workplaces. It is powerful and fun. It is laden with fantastic real employee examples that illustrate what it is like in a ROWE.

October 7, 2008

Save the world…. one workplace at a time

I kept seeing the same issues popping up in workplaces. No matter the industry, product or team size. Three poignant points (well they seem to be the most poignant in the moment I write this) were:
*Hearing gazillons of workers complain about their boss being incompetent
*Knowing lots of bosses got into positions of power through promotion without properly learning how to lead
*Seeing that a lot of bosses are so busy doing the bosses work they forget to lead

I wasn’t sure if my learnings could really add value to bosses, but since I personally found my discoveries OVERWHELMINGLY interesting (!) I decided to pen them in the hope they would positively influence workplaces. I started writing, and two days later I was done. The guts of my lessons were on paper. I made certain not to shudder in fear that all I know took only two days to pen! I decided it was better to decide I was simply a genius, with killer writing skills! It did however take another 3 months to get the book edited and edited and edited, designed and finally printed. I am thrilled that awesome Kiwi Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi liked it enough to let me splatter his name all over the cover (and order 45 copies for his management team). Right now it’s a waiting game. I sit by my letterbox (aka computer) waiting to hear what all my readers think of The Boss Benchmark. Was it a waste of my two days? Is it inspiring? Did it open your eyes? Did it wake you up? Do you disagree with everything in it? Was it the best thing you’ve ever read and you are going to say so to every person you meet? Perhaps even stop strangers on the street?! Were you hugely disappointed? Did you love the real examples or were they a waste of space? TELL ME! I want to hear it all – especially the less than desirable comments because I DO take my own medicine and adore the ‘yucky bits’. They will help me make my next edition better.

After a few ‘storytelling’ posts to start my blog off, I intend to use it now to keep in touch with my readers, discuss the 35 points in The Boss Benchmark and discuss anything and everything else ‘workplace’ that can add value to you and your role as a modern/awesome/I’ve reached The Boss Benchmark boss. Now, let us don our Superman cape’s and save the world…. one workplace at a time!

October 6, 2008

Am opinionated...will question authority!

I knew I wanted to help businesses and some how, in my own little way, make the world a better place. After a few false starts I found my niche in staff surveying. I decided that making staff happier and bosses better through it was my little way of “changing the world”.
It was perfect because as a Gen Y I’ve always been opinionated and known that authority desperately NEEDS to be questioned – not because I am a brat, but because it is the questioning and discussing that drastically improves things. This attitude is not overwhelmingly popular, as there are plenty of old fashioned people and businesses who prefer things “like they used to be”. There is DEFINETLY a time and a place for ‘things as they used to be’ – I’d definitely prefer a delish old school cookie “like mama used to make” than those rubbery wee things Subway pass off as ‘cookies’! Business, workplaces and bosses however need a mix of old and new - the best of both worlds. I found that despite suffering high staff turnover, performance problems and the costs involved in these things, bosses still hesitated before doing a staff survey. I don’t know what they were scared of, but I did know what they were missing out on. Most staff surveys do not ask the right questions, nor are the answers interpreted correctly. In one case of the extreme I came across a survey that no matter how staff answered the questions, the responses came out glowing. Staff were bitterly, bitterly unhappy – yet the survey results boasted passion, engagement and commitment. More surprisingly it was run by an external professional survey company. I knew something was wrong. The right questions were not being asked and the staff not being understood. My surveys sent me in to bat for the ‘little guys’. I was on the staffs side – I knew no one else was. I also knew what it was like to feel powerless. Where the company isn’t interested in what you have to say, nor is the boss. I would go as far to say that not listening to your staff is the most ridiculous, stupid, toxic, mammoth mistake mediocre businesses are STILL making day after day. I loved batting for the staff, but I loved EVEN MORE the look on the bosses face when I presented them with insight. The results that told them all they have ever wanted and needed to know about what is going wrong and why. I think they found freedom in the results – they regretted ever being scared and wished they’d had this info in their hands years ago. I’ll explain how all I learnt doing surveying lead me to write my book The Boss Benchmark soon.

October 3, 2008

I am IN LOVE with workplaces

I don't know why I have not started a blog earlier. My book has given me proper reason to now, so I can keep in touch with my readers. I think I should have had one all along, would have really helped me with my book writing - being able to hear other peoples views on my beliefs about what 'being a great boss' entails. Anyway I'm here now! The first thing I want to say, and need to say is that I am in LOVE with workplaces! Why? I am not sure really! I started work in a bank at age 16... I was full of energy, excited about a paycheck, very eager to learn, happy about meeting all kinds of people (adults no less)! Being Gen Y I was sure I would make my mark and make it big (and very fast!) I was sure I'd find a role in the bank that made me so excited to get out of bed everyday and really make a difference (not too mention pay me a fortune). But then something happened. I looked around and realised nobody was passionate about what they were doing. People spent a lot of time wishing they were on their break, wishing it was home time, wishing it was the weekend, wishing their holiday would come around quicker. I was SHOCKED. (Oh the naivety!) I refused to let my career turn out like that, ESPECIALLY because I had at least another fifty years work ahead of me. So I did something about it. I got a book. Yep a book. It changed everything! It is called "The Work We Were Born To Do" by Nick Williams. It showed me it is possible to love what you do. It is possible to be so excited about your career you are up yoga-ed, showered, dressed and fed by 6am! That was seven years ago now! I will fill you in about what happened between the day I discovered that awesome book and today in my next entry...