Saturday, August 24, 2013

The fun has started!

Over the past six weeks I have had the crucial task of recruiting "stars" for my new team who start in September. 

I thought finding a fresh team for an exciting new part of our business would be daunting, yet sitting in front of the interviewees and asking our questions, listening to their experiences and then picturing them all together into the team and company "fit" has been one of the highlights of my year. I have a vision of us already at our launch party! 

The process has also been an insight into what drives people, what motivates them in todays employment climate. Funnily enough, it reassures me that I'm on the right track with my own thinking. 

I'm fortunate to have the help of a lovely and professional HR manager who has had the thankless task of filtering the hundred of resumes that have come through her inbox to send me candidates she thinks would be suitable for my team. 

And so far, I feel like I've won the lotto. I've interviewed close to 30 great people for 11 roles and even though I would love to take them all, I'm fortunate to have the pick of a very fine bunch! It's made me feel energised and back-in-the game and reassured me that "I can do this" - as long as I have the right people doing this with me! 

But back to the team. 

It's interesting to see what motivated many people to apply for the roles we're offering. 

What makes one person jump from one role to another (both internally and externally) and more importantly, what are the drivers I can identify that will make them want to stay? 

Ironically, for most of the candidates, they are not coming for the money. 

Being a start up business unit in an established company is exciting in itself. It means we have an opportunity to build and mould our own values, team culture, roles and impact. 

Being in travel emergency assistance, it also means we get to make a difference to someone's life. 

And aside from that, the major motivator for people applying is the company culture. In todays market - good candidates can afford to be picky. They want to work in an organisation that is flexible and fun because lets face it, spending a long shift in a sterile environment with people you don't like is soul destroying!

I've had people do tours of the office and ask me about the "buzz" and the "energy" of the company and why is our company so different to all the others? I can't really put my finger on it. I felt it when I first went for an interview, there was energy and noise and smiles - I think it's just the fresh mindset of the people who work there. And that resonates from top down. 

When I ask candidates what their ideal work environment is, I'm not surprised when they give me an answer that is already aligned with our current company culture. 

We're not corporate and we don't want to be. 

So for my new team who join me in a months time, I can't wait to start working with you all. 

We can do this!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

What would Melissa Do?

I've had some pretty fantastic mentors in my career. My current manager is collaborative and throws me in the deep end enough to challenge me without putting too much pressure on me. He's also a really nice guy, similar to another manager I had a few years ago. They were great managers and mentors because they believed in me and led me to positive career growth. 

Apart from these managers, I've been fortunate enough to have some wonderful "invisible" mentors showing me the way. 

A few years ago I worked with a truly professional lady who held herself with grace and dignity in every situation. Her senior position in a male dominated industry meant that she had to win people over with a first impression but then hold their respect through knowledge of the product/industry without being too "ballsy" or "soft". 

She made it look easy. 

Melissa was pleasantly approachable, and seemed genuinely interested in other people. She remembered the names of her colleagues children. She remembered birthdays and special events. She knew the right questions to ask, and when to ask them. 

The way she dressed was impeccable without the superficial polish. 

But what I most admired about Melissa was that she didn't partake in office politics. She somehow floated above the gossip, the nastiness and the backstabbing; without saying anything she turned it around and rose above it. 

I'd love to be in a position to say that I followed her lead back then, but I didn't. Thats not to say I was instrumental in gossip, rumours, nastiness or politics. I wasn't. But whenever I was presented with negativity, I didn't have the skills or emotional maturity to deal with it. Until recently....

I started a new position in a great organisation much smaller than the one I was in with Melissa. My role is extremely rewarding and I am key to a major project which is about to launch and I am very excited about it. With this comes a great deal of politics which means it also comes with an opportunity to deal with it professionally. 

My mantra of the past few months is: "what would Melissa do?"

There are some key players who are very passionate about my project in very different ways. I've found it difficult dealing with different viewpoints without buying into either, and to hold my ground on what I know is right. Confrontation does not come naturally to me and I don't want it to, yet I know these conversations are crucial to making my project a success. 

I have found the way to deal with being caught in the middle of opposing viewpoints is to do what Melissa would do. She would not buy into gossip. She would not raise her voice or be confrontational. Melissa would motivate with positivity and an energy that confirmed her belief in the project. And she would be respected for it. 

Most of all, I know Melissa would believe in the project and my skills and would influence the others in the team and lead them to success. 

I really cant wait to launch this exciting new project with a very expensive bottle of champagne. I might even invite Melissa to share in the success with me! 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The best gift of 2012 - A lesson in life

The saying goes something like this: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" and I now know this to be true.

I don't have a lot of enemies, in fact I don't think I have any. But I do have one or two people who are not on my Christmas card list. For those who know me well, they'll tell you that I get along with everyone. From the bus driver to the prime minister (if we ever met), I really like everyone until I have a reason not to. Miss Congeniality? That's me. 

Except this one time.........

I didn't get along with a colleague. Neither of us liked each other and try as we might to mask it, it was evident to all who knew us that there was no love between us. A lot of barbed wired, but absolutely no love. 

A few years ago I was sitting in a coffee shop (theme of my life) ranting to my husband about my colleague who I really didn't have much respect for. At the time, this particular person was making my life hell. She was actively bad mouthing me and spreading vicious rumours attacking my credibility in the workplace. It was toxic. She lied about me, and seemed intent on making sure that my career with that company was not longstanding. I really didn't like her, and it consumed me. I felt bullied and prejudiced because she had friends in higher places than I did who listened to her without questioning the validity of her venom.

During my coffee shop morning rant to my husband, another caffeine loving patron overheard and gave me some advice. "She is your teacher - let her teach you something."

At the time I didn't appreciate his Buddhist views on my nemesis, but now - two years later - I am thankful.

While I may not have had much respect for the way she behaved, I was able to admire some of her successful attributes from afar. She had presence. She could walk into the room and immediately be noticed. It didn't matter what she said, it was how she said it that commanded respect. She also dressed the part. Her interior was tough and toxic, but her exterior was soft. She wore bright colours and soft fabrics which absolutely contradicted who she was. It was like a little trick to give her more appeal. It worked. 

Once, we were sitting in the board room and she was being yelled at by the managing director about something she had done. The MD was a scary alpha male and his ferocious public attack would have made most people run crying from the room. But not her. She kept her composure by looking him directly in the eye - no emotion and no facial movement. She just looked at him and said nothing. It was the most powerful thing I have ever seen another person do. And she pulled it off. The MD stopped his rant and moved on to the next topic. 

When she had presented other peoples work claiming it as her own and was publicly "outed" for it, she maintained her stance and moved on. Her love of plagiarism was accepted because she refused to let it be made into a big deal. I personalised it, its not something I would ever do and it infuriated me that she got away with it. But what I did like was that she didn't react. Not openly anyway. 

She made mistakes. A lot of them, but she glossed them over or blamed other people. I discovered the finger had been pointed at me many times for her errors, and I raised them to the MD directly - on reflection with too much emotion. I will always own up to a mistake I've made, I'm like that - so I wont follow her lead in blaming others. There is still a lesson though, sometimes we learn from others in what they do "wrong" so we don't have to make the same mistake.

The MD gave me a pep talk once and told me that there will always be people in my life that I don't like or get along with - I just have to learn to work with them. Its true. 

These are the gifts she gave me that I am eternally grateful. 

 - Actions speak louder than words. 

 - Be true to yourself. 

 - Crucial confrontations and crucial conversations are my new mantras. 

 - At work, the best interest of the business comes first.

 - After work, there is a life to be lived. With people who matter. 

 - Say it with conviction. Confidence is king

 - Leave emotion at home. Passion is good, but emotion can be damaging. 

 - Maintain eye contact in the board room. Even when you're being called names. 

 - Dont play into the hands of politics. It only leads to tears. 

 - A job is not the be all and end all. If its toxic and cant be changed, move on. 

And if ever another person ever tries to discredit me again, I will stand my ground and it will be professional. 

Through these lessons I have kicked much better goals in my new job, and I am reminded everyday that my old colleague who had made my life hell has paved an easier and much better road for my future. For this I am thankful. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

We Have To Let You Go

Firing someone is one of the hardest thing a manager has to do. This is when true leadership comes into it, because its not the "act" of firing someone, its how you deliver it that matters. 

In my previous life I had to "let go" quite a few people for various reasons, and because I worked in a large corporate organisation there were strict rules on how it was to be done. I didn't necessarily agree with it, but was led by corporate policy and enacted the job according to the guidelines. There, I came across many managers who gloated about being known as the "terminator" or even how they silently enjoyed the job because it was "cleansing". I never really understood it. 

While I wasn't fired from my position, but made redundant, the company still applied the corporate policy when delivering the news to me. It was horrible, archaic and very impersonal. I was taken out of a client meeting and up to HR where I sat in a small room with the Managing Director, the HR Director and my manager. My manager awkwardly delivered the script written in front of him, his discomfort was obvious. I was asked to hand in my blackberry immediately which was the only communication device I had for many years, and which held every contact detail of my family members and friends. I was then escorted to my desk to collect my personal belongings before being walked out of the building. In front of my colleagues, my ex staff and my peers - like a criminal. 

How did this effect me? Well lets just say I don't have a lot of respect for that organisation any more. Their methods and policies towards their greatest assets - their "people" are really just words printed on their walls. Resentful? Yes of course, and its been over a year! 

Could they have done something differently? Absolutely!

I made a promise that if ever I was in the position of letting someone go - I would deliver it with courage and ensure that the other persons dignity was upmost paramount. 

Ironically just over a year to the day that this happened to me, I was in the position of sitting down with a staff member and explaining to her that her employment with us was no longer required. Even though I agreed with the business decisions, I still agonised the entire weekend with broken sleep and nightmares. I wrote down what I wanted to say, and was absolutely aware of how I wanted to say it. To me it wasn't about the words but about how I made her feel. 

And I think I did a good job. 

After I delivered the news to her, I then asked if she would like a chance to go back to her desk, say goodbye to her colleagues and take any personal information from her work phone before handing it back in. After a bit of time, she went back to her desk silently and gathered her things. I gave her a cabcharge card so she didn't have to catch public transport home. She then had a chat with her colleagues to let them know, wiped her personal emails, downloaded her photos and personal contacts from her phone, and then gave me a hug for being professional and kind about the way I handled it. I sent an announcement email out immediately afterwards thanking her and wishing her well and ensured that the rest of the team didn't feel vulnerable because of what happened. 

I really do hate the job of letting people go - but this is one of those areas that separates the managers from the leaders. 

I'm a fraud!

I have a confession to make. 

I'm employed and I have been since September last year - I just didn't recognise it officially. 

It's only been the past couple of weeks that I saw myself as being in the right role, and in the right company, and sadly by not recognising it sooner I devalued what I was bringing to the table. 

Last September I asked my husband if I could come in and help out in his IT business. It wasn't that I wanted a hand-out, I just wanted to keep myself busy while looking for my next career. I don't know anything about IT, but I am a damn good operations manager and an exceptional leader. I've also been tagged as the process queen and I knew that I could add my skills to the company and it would be a win-win. 

Still, in my mind this wasn't a "job". It was a place to park my butt and keep my skills fresh until something else came along. 

It's a small company, with a close team and a great attitude. The hours fit in well with my family life and the stress levels are relatively low. There are some flaws, as in any company - but they are nothing compared to where I came from. This is a safe place to bring ideas to the group, and to be given the power to implement them. There are some politics, but having swam with sharks for many years in the corporate world, they are manageable. The company is growing, and becoming industry leaders. Across diverse product lines and industries! Everything that was on my list as the perfect place to work is right here. 

But because I didn't see this as my end game, no one else saw it either. And this meant I lost track in gaining the buy-in and acceptance from the team. 

I made a decision a couple of weeks ago that I would make a commitment to the company and remain there indefinitely. And it felt right. I know its now up to me to do some work to get the team to see me as something other than the bosses wife, or an ex corporate player and to get them to start seeing me as part of their team. I'm up for the challenge!  

I am in the place I need to be right now, and it feels fantastic. (But I don't know how to change the name of my blog!)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Redundancy: The Best Thing That's Ever Happened to Me

As the Australian news breaks that more than 2000 workers in the media and over 5000 in the manufacturing industries will be made redundant, I reflect on my past 11 months since the velvet hammer of redundancy hit me square on the head.

When I was growing up, the big scary word was “redundancy” and it would find its way into Sunday afternoon barbeques and dinner parties. The grown ups feared redundancy. The kids had no idea what it meant. The politicians suggested we needed thousands of “redundancies” so we could have the recession we had to have. Emotions and stakes were high during that time and as a child there was very little positivity about a workplace act that affected our families in such a major way.

Being great at my job in an organisation I was extremely loyal to, I never thought it would happen to me.

The days and weeks following my redundancy I found freedom in catching up with old friends, some of whom had been through a similar experience. All of them told me that I would look back on being made redundant as the best thing that could have happened to me, and at the time I found this difficult to believe.

Until now, 11 months and two weeks later.

Redundancy has afforded me time to reflect on where I was at in my career and to start to work on where I wanted to head. Instead of looking at the losses, I looked at the gains of which there are many.

I was given a very generous pay-out, so I paid off our debts. The freedom of being able to sleep at night knowing that I didn’t owe a cent to anyone felt fantastic. And I still had some left over to play with.

The financial freedom of leaving work and not being forced into looking for another income immediately also meant I could review my goals and make some plans on how I wanted to achieve them. I still ask myself what I want to be when I grow up and I still have no idea, but I do know what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to work for an organisation that devalues its staff and doesnt recognise my right to a healthy work-life balance. I don’t want to go back into the corporate world of cut-throat politics where I am constantly watching my back. This is not my ideal reality, and I am now fortunate enough not to be forced back into that.

I have added to my love of travel in the past year. I volunteered on a house building project in Cambodia, I floated around Indonesia on a make-shift boat that are sometimes used to carry asylum seekers. I snorkeled off the coast of Java with my youngest son. I spent time in a gorgeous old cabin on Rottnest Island in WA to celebrate my husbands coming of age (he was a late bloomer!). I have shopped and dined in Melbourne on more than one occasion. I explored Komodo Island to find some dragons. I ate amazing local delicacies (not Komodo Dragons).

I enrolled in a writing course - for fun!

I collect my son from school every afternoon and I have energy to help with homework and reading. I now enjoy time on the weekends to lounge around in coffee shops. For hours, you can find me reading the paper and indulging in social media. And meeting new friends over a Zambian skim flat white (also known as networking).

I’m putting my learned skills to good use by working in a smaller company who can't pay me as much as I’m used to, but who genuinely value the skills and experience I bring. I’m really enjoying working in an organisation that is fairly stress-free but also challenging at the same time. Its not where I see myself in a years time, but right now it’s exactly where I want and need to be.

Basically the redundancy has allowed me to take back control of my life, I now have the power to do with it what I want.

So for those employees at Fairfax and News and Toyota etc who are facing the barrel of the unknown with a redundancy, I give you the advice I was once given.

Redundancy will be the very best thing that has happened to you - if you let it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Playing Politics

Being political in an organisation is a strategic move. You have to know who the players are, what they stand for and who is most likely to win in order to choose the right political side. You also have to be very good at the game.

Its a bit like choosing a sporting team. If you’ve ever played competitive sport, you’ll have an idea on who the players are, what strengths and weaknesses they all have, and what kind of loyalty they have to the team.

In social circles, there are politics as well. Every person in the group will play a certain role. Some groups are extremely supportive of one another and some are so toxic and divisive that it’s a wonder they have a group at all.

In the workplace situation, politics can be both positive and negative; it just depends on how its played out. A negative political environment is one where there is a lot of division, backstabbing and gossip. A positive political workplace is where there is career development, open communication and internal support

In my recent organisation, there were strong political plays throughout the organisation and it was difficult to understand who the players were and what they stood for. I didn’t consider this a positive environment, or conducive to retaining good staff. There was a lot of confusion on where the goalposts were and also who the good guys were. My intention is not to be negative about the company - just merely making an observation on the behaviour. Being in this environment where the leaders are actively gossipping, it’s difficult not to join in. It takes a very strong person not to partake in the office gossip. While I was aware of the political nature, I tried to avoid playing the game. Sadly there were times when I was unknowingly roped into a conversation or situation that I couldn’t avoid, and I didn’t like myself very much afterwards. Thats a sure sign that the organisation may not be the right one to remain in.

My current organisation is a small company and there are three main departments where everyone seems to get along really well. Sure its hierarchical, but the leadership is strong and the staff are aligned and have bought into the vision. The direction is clear and set out early on, with all communication transparent and honest. To date I have not witnessed any kind of gossip or backstabbing and everyone seems very respectful of each other. Invitations to social events are open to all and often attended by most. This is not a workplace that encourages hungry ambition at all costs, but allows individuals an open forum to grow gradually. I am yet to identify any kind of political agenda here, perhaps I have my blinkers on?

It's a very good lesson to learn. I have since considered alternate ways to playing the political game and hope to be able to put them into use in my next career.