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Lessons from Mother Nature for human nature and Human Resources

Most organisations today are aware of their environmental impact and responsibility. But beyond any legislative requirements, are there lessons from nature that may boost resilience among employees?

And before you cynically dismiss this thought as too ‘touchy-feely’, think of scientist Albert Einstein’s comment “Look deep into nature; then you will understand everything better”. Recruiting and HR professionals appreciate that there have always been (and probably will always be) the darkest of disasters in both Mother Nature and human nature.

Thankfully few of us will ever face tragedy that strikes with the strength and speed of tornadoes and tsunamis, or with the ferocity of floods and forest fires. Yet most of us do indeed confront crises that can instantly change the course of our lives, eclipsing not only our dreams but also our desire to carry on.

I know because I’ve been there.

Misfortune strikes everyone sooner or later. In my case, it was long before I was HR Manager for IBM’s Asia Pacific headquarters in Tokyo. I started life in an orphanage, lost both adopted parents to cancer the year I graduated from university, faced that dreaded disease myself long after my divorce, and fractured a vertebrae to be told I’d never play sport again. Shift happens!

Although the ‘f’ is often omitted, shift happens not only in fault-lines of the Earth but also in the faults and frailties of its inhabitants. Budget cuts, redundancies and takeovers may not be life-threatening for some but rather paradigms shift in both our personal and professional lives. And whether change is referred to as disruption or transformation, it still creates stress that everyone from the CEO to the most junior employee must deal with.

We need to re-charge not just our devices but ourselves.

My own energy always seemed boosted amidst nature. Climbing in the sublime silence of the Antarctic, strolling along a beach or gazing at a beautiful garden all offered their inexplicable breath of fresh air for my soul.

Only while writing my latest book, The Gift of Nature; Inspiring Hope & Resilience, did I discover why. Research from leading universities now offers scientific evidence that time spent in nature does indeed contribute to better mental well-being.

Employees who are mentally and physically healthy are surely happier. And there is little doubt that happy employees yield happier customers, which in turn yield better returns and stronger organisations. And whether you’re a CEO or just joined the organisation yesterday, you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself!

So here’s a few simple nature-related tips to help cope with that feeling of being overwhelmed those of us working in HR have all felt from time to time:

Don’t make mountains out of molehills, play the blame game or make excuses. It might not be fair and it might not be your fault – but it is still your responsibility to deal with it. For perspective ask yourself this: will this matter in five or 10 years’ time?

Do get moving and stop moping. You don’t need to scale the Himalayas but never underestimate the rejuvenating powers of getting out in nature for a walk on a beach, in a park or in your own garden.

Do re-charge your high tech world amidst the high touch world of nature. We’re so busy being busy that we overlook the importance of balance and unless you’re an emergency worker, you don’t need your phone on 24/7.

Do get eight hours sleep a night and sleep on it before making any major life decision. Take time to breathe in fresh air as you inhale the future and exhale the past.

Do talk to a trusted friend or health care professional. A problem shared can be a problem halved and never be too proud to ask for help.

Do fill your mind with positive thoughts. We are bombarded with the worst aspects of Mother Nature (typhoons, tsunamis, drought etc) and human nature (bullying, abuse, corruption, violence etc). So if a beautiful quote or photo from books, music or art resonates with you, put it on your fridge or bathroom mirror as a daily reminder to soothe your battered soul.

When you’re embroiled in the many faceted and increasingly complex world of recruitment and HR, when you can’t see the forest for the trees, when everything under the sun seems bleak and when you think no one else understands or has been there, think again. And know that lessons from Mother Nature can help you weather the inevitable storms of life. Such is the power of nature amidst the random nature of being alive.

And remember, life does indeed mirror nature – some of its tragic but most of its magic!

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Shift happens… Drift happens…

Last week the Financial Review invited me to their two day top-tier business summit – possibly because it was on International Women’s Day and last year they included me in their Top 100 Women of Influence.

As I headed home on the Manly ferry, I reviewed my notes from the array of presentations. Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood had kicked off proceedings, commenting that “no one has the luxury of being passengers on the plane” in our world of constant disruption.

As ferry passengers, we found ourselves amidst disruption of a different kind when the gear box broke and we drifted for about the same amount of time it would take to fly to New Zealand!

This provided more than ample time to reflect on the two days of information. Indeed – shift happens! As drift happened and day turned to night, this baby boomer became somewhat cynical of the rhetoric that had been espoused by the Prime Minister, other political leaders and CEOs of established corporations about infrastructure, and I longed for innovations championed by those in the new economy only hours earlier…

  • David Rohrsheim, CEO of Uber ANZ, quoted that 25% of people under 25 in Victoria don’t have a driver’s licence and prefer a simple click to get a car to take them from A to B. He also undoubtedly thought about Uber afloat, as two strangers and I considered collectively calling a water taxi, but of course there was no safe way to exit the large ferry. Driverless cars – and boats – aren’t far off.
  • Don Meij, CEO of Domino’s pizza, spoke of drone delivery. I spoke at their conference a couple of years ago and emailed him that he might also consider a captive market on stranded ferries.
  • Tim Fung of Air Tasker might have been able to more quickly send a tradesman with the necessary spare parts to repair the ferry malfunction.
  • Michael Cannon-Brookes of Atlassian and Adrian Turner of CSIRO, both with a no-nonsense approach, predicted that 40% of jobs won’t exist in the future, but new ones would emerge.

So rather than vent on Sydney Ferries for a poor contingency plan on this occasion (and to be fair, they’re usually pretty good) we’ll likely only have some nameless/faceless programmer to blame in future.

Ironically, when speaking at a conference to one of the world’s leading technology companies only the day before in a presentation titled “Shift Happens – Seize the Adventure”, I’d cited the need to combine high tech with high touch… old fashioned communication and listening while we surf the waves – or surf the web.

Sometimes the more things change, the more they remain the same, so that’s why organisations need to do more than pay lip service to educating and empowering their human capital. Other information that may be of interest:

  • Jennifer Westacott, Chair of the Business Council – “100,000 Chinese visitors in 2000 and 1.2 million last year” (the two who threw up on the ferry won’t likely return).
  • Angus Grigg, Financial Review correspondent – China is tackling corruption and their leader may soon be more powerful than Chairman Mao. Companies wishing to do business there shouldn’t be seduced by the size of the market or social media, but need to build long term relationships. “Rather than be overwhelmed by 1.3 billion customers there, stick to quality and test market on the local Chinese community here.”
  • Anthony Pratt, Chair of Visy, is the largest Australian employer in the USA and sells boxes to Amazon because they were ready with recycled materials at about the same time as the documentary An Inconvenient Truth was released and businesses had to meet eco standards. He said success wasn’t that complicated: “Look after your best customers. Look after your best people. Make a profit. Collect debt. Be persistent. Listen to the man on the street.” After talking with his factory workers in Ohio, he placed a $100,000 bet on Trump to win weeks before the election and more than quadrupled his money. Hmm, I’m not advocating that, but what I also found interesting about his presentation was that he had hand written notes rather than the slick PowerPoint of many of the major corporates – maybe that’s a difference between a private and a public company in terms of risk taking and speech making.

After three hours on the ferry, most devices had flat batteries, so passengers actually spoke to each other.

Likewise, my key takeaway from the event was a couple of meaningful conversations at breaks, rather than those superficial encounters when someone simply launches into their elevator pitch and thrusts a business card at you like conference confetti.

I missed an 8PM teleconference with Singapore, even though another passenger kindly offered me his phone, of course all contact details were in mine. When it recharged two hours later, the first text was from my bank saying my credit card had been hacked, so they cancelled it, and the auto debit for my WiFi provider was due at midnight, so it was about to be cut off.

Even my Fitbit battery gave up the ghost on the ferry, so by this stage, I wasn’t even sure I still had a pulse!

As my head finally hit the pillow, I recalled a speaker from CSIRO saying they were on the cusp of being able to slow down the ageing process – by turning off a gene – and wondered if maybe we could all, regardless of age, simply slow down… just a little.

Shift happens… Drift happens… Keep your spirits afloat in the turbulent waters of change.

Featured image: Jonathon Hall‏, twitter.com/jon_hall79

 

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‘Fame fades but influence leaves an indelible mark… that outlives those who influence.’

Have you ever stopped to think how much influence you have?

Recently, I was honoured to be named in the Financial Review’s Top 100 Women of Influence in Australia.

It was humbling because I first arrived with a backpack, $200 and one way ticket to a country that offers freedom of speech and countless opportunities for everyone to exude influence.

I first learned of the nomination weeks earlier when speaking in Rome at an international women’s conference. The news arrived on my phone just as others joined the breakfast table, so naturally I briefly shared the moment.

Shortly after, one handed me some tissues and two Disprin: “I am sorry about your influenza.” Smiling but not wanting to offend, I explained that I felt fine and must have spoken too quickly for her to confuse influence with influenza.

Her kindness was a catalyst for reflection… What is influence?

Our influence may be fleeting or lasting but we are all women – and men – of influence every day in every way. We can all influence a neighbour – or a nation; a person – or a planet; a friend or a foe. Will that influence be positive or negative? Constructive or destructive? Healing or hurting?

That spontaneous gesture from a stranger in Rome was indeed a positive influence in my world that morning.

Two days later, I arrived to speak at another conference in the Middle East. Ironically, I was unable to ‘influence’ the airline to deliver my suitcase to the same city! Luckily, most essentials were in carry-on luggage and a Filipino friend loaned me her abaya (floor length black dress) which reminded me of the universal nature of kindness.

Influence is the fingerprint we leave when offering a helping hand. It is the footprint as we walk in another’s shoes. Yet even with the best intentions, we inevitably point a finger wrongly or step on someone’s toes. But the footprint we ultimately leave – with even the smallest steps we take in the direction of courage and kindness, should hopefully leave the world a slightly better place than when we first learned to walk.

Our parents held our hand as we took those first tentative steps. Many other people who influenced me for the better will never be acknowledged publicly – aunties, uncles, neighbours, teachers and role models in the world of work long before I knew that term even existed in the lexicon.

Who are you going to thank for being a positive influence in your life today?

Not everyone is in a position of power within their organisation – but we all have the power to influence. May we appreciate it – and use it – wisely during this frantic festive season as we head towards the New Year.

As William James once said: “The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”

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