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.