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Overwhelmed? Gratitude as a business strategy.

Running your own business can be challenging and life itself can be overwhelming. I’ve said it here before.

Last week I was named in the Top 50 Small Business Leaders of Australia by Inside Small Business magazine. It was an absolute honour and a surprise. Females in Food is less than 6 months old and already being recognised for the problem it is solving – to empower women manufacturers of food & beverage products and associated services to pursue their creative pursuits and look after their financial well being. I was tired of seeing women (40% of single Australian women retire in poverty according to Australian Industry Super) choose either their creativity or their financial well being when really we can have both with some planning and the right support.

What running a business means, however, is long hours, often the remuneration not commensurate with the effort and a lot of juggling the development of tactical solutions with strategic thinking. The latter not a mean feat given the skill set and capacity to do both at the same time is incredibly difficult and not for the fainthearted.

Many people experience busyness, life challenges and the fretting of making the right decision, regardless of what the decision may be. Last week in amongst the recognition from the business and Females in Food community, I was still confronted by the amount I wanted to achieve. Achieve for my consulting and coaching clients, my Females in Food community, for the team that work with me, for my intimate relationship, my home and my family.

Not that different from anyone else.

The truth is, however, it really began to get me down. I was now feeling overwhelmed by my to do list. It seemed never ending and for someone like me who demands so much of myself I wondered where the light was going to get in. It reminded me of that incredibly powerful Leonard Cohen (RIP) song Anthem and the verse that says,

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Cohen was the master of capturing the beauty in the challenges of life. He having experienced financial betrayal by one of his advisors; he rose to meet the challenge by getting back on the road and rebuilding his music business by reconnecting with his fans as he toured the world after a long hiatus.

What I started to think about in my moments of silence was how much I actually have, how much there is to be grateful for.

I could not imagine being anywhere else right now, doing anything differently and with anyone else other than the people I am doing it all with. I had a moment of saying to myself, “Hang on a minute! Look at what you have and be grateful”. Thank goodness I got it in that moment.

Gratitude made me refocus and remember the extraordinary opportunities and work afforded me.

For many of us when we complain we say, “first world problems” and we laugh it off, but I believe it is all relative and no matter what “world” we live in, the challenges we face feel very real to us and we must give them the light they command, but all in moderation. Sweeping problems under the carpet or minimising them because we live in the “first world” doesn’t work either, however, what does work is remembering how fortunate most of us are and what opportunities we have before us.

Being grateful for what we do have, and when times are overwhelming perhaps just remembering to be grateful for the small things afforded to us each day can be helpful, even if it just may be that the sun came up today.

In some of my training I refer to a well known psychologist who works in the field of relationships, Dr. John Gottman, of The Gottman Institute. Dr. Gottman refers to relationships that work well as “masters” and those that don’t as “disasters”. The key difference that I like to refer to is the notion that the “masters” are always recognising what they have whilst the “disasters” tend to focus on what is lacking.

A practice that many find helpful is to write a gratitude list.

Next time you are feeling overwhelmed or challenged, take a moment and write down a list of all the things you may be grateful for, and as I said, it may just be that the sun came up today. Here’s my list for today;

  • I am living on purpose
  • I have awesome clients
  • I am supporting an inspiring community
  • I witness the profile and confidence of women I work with grow, and I get so much more than I give
  • I have an amazing support crew
  • I have a lovely home in a great neighbourhood
  • I had a refreshing swim at one of my favourite Sydney harbourside beaches yesterday.

 

Chelsea Ford is presenting at Slade Chats in partnership with Females in Food on Thursday 19 October 2017 at 5:30pm. Click here for full event details. 

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Challenging questions about change

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor E. Frankl

Have you ever wondered why the subject of change can provoke strong emotions?

Back in the fixed-line age of last century(!) when timed local calls were first floated by our national carrier, there was a tsunami of public rejection. Just five year later when Motorola and Nokia were offering us the new-new thing, that same ‘public’ jumped on board without questioning the fact that they would be billed on the basis of timed local calls.

I’ve heard individuals describe themselves in interviews as either good or bad at handling change. Typically it’s not as black and white as that, as we all respond to change differently, and how change per se is introduced to us, can impact our emotional and cognitive response.

  1. Do you understand your response to change?

When reflecting on your past responses to change, both in your personal and professional spheres, are you aware of what underpins your behaviour? A move interstate, a teenager pushing back, a new housing development going up next door, a relationship breakup, a new boss, a bad accident? In ‘work speak’, I’m alluding to our motivators, those forces that drive our individual and team responses to change that impact productivity.

This is a great question to ponder separately, not only when you’re interviewing a potential candidate for your organisation. Consider how you personally affect change in your organisation, how change affects your team, or broadly others in your workplace.

I often challenge candidates by asking: “When you do decide to embrace change, are you pretty loyal to that change… particularly when you are convinced it is the right decision?” I might also pose a behavioural question such as, “What is your best example of a time when you have embraced a significant change, only to discover that you might have been better off taking a more measured approach?” This is a great way of helping an individual recognise that of course, whichever way they manage change, it’s likely they handle it differently to others.

When you challenge yourself on this question, you might also find it helpful to consider how your motivations are orientated. For example, are they past, present or future orientated? What impact might that have on how you embrace change and help others embrace it as well?

  1. Talk it over or lose the advantage

When we remember that we each hold different motivators, it helps us to understand how we respond to change differently. Research such as that presented by Abraham Maslow and Deci & Ryan, also tells us that what you expect and believe are critical to your ability to embrace or reject change. Your experience, skills, knowledge and sense of self-esteem are also important factors.

Do you know what truly motivates you when it comes to change? What about your team members? Most of us think we know what motivates our behaviour and therefore, how to motivate others we work with. I wonder if we do really know, or just think we know.

Having insight into your own personality, in turn helps you to understand others, particularly on the subject of adaptability to change. At the senior leadership level it goes much deeper than personality profiling; research by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan suggests personality informs approximately 30% of how we are motivated at any given moment. Context is ‘king’ when we talk about change, which means deeply exploring the situation in our conversations with candidates or colleagues.

How do others rate you and your team when it comes to leading or embracing change? What assumptions might you or others be making, and how do these impact the wider organisation?

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Thinking of asking for part-time hours? Read this first!

Having spent the last eight years working three days per week, I have firsthand experience of the benefits of part-time working arrangements, particularly when raising three young children. Those pesky medical, tradesperson and personal appointments can be slotted into my ‘off’ days, I save on childcare and travel costs and it’s great to only have to wear corporate attire for three days!

BUT there are key considerations when contemplating a move to part-time hours, which often are only realised after you’ve already moved to a part-time role.

You are likely to still need to ‘check-in’ on your non-working days

This is particularly relevant if you are providing a service to clients (internal or external) and/or you perform a time critical function that requires a timely response to achieve the desired outcomes. Even if you job-share your role, unless you have airtight handover discussions with your job partner on a weekly basis, expect the inevitable calls or emails. Often the fact that work emails and phone messages still accumulate on your ‘off’ days means that you may need to check-in spasmodically, at least to alleviate the workload when you return.  People considering part-time hours may fantasise about switching off their mobiles when they leave and having a clear break (similar to an Easter long weekend), but given that work still comes in, the reality is quite different.

You are unlikely to get promoted

Like a Faustian-type bargain, most part-timers that I have met have reported that career advancement chances have reduced in favour of their permanent counterparts, particularly if they work less than four days per week. A fellow part-time peer was told by their manager that leading teams, especially if they are full-time predominantly, was better suited to a full time manager. Whilst agile working practices and technology have started to change perceptions that employees always need to be present in the office to be productive, from a leadership and promotion perspective, there is still a long way to go.

For those individuals who do hold key leadership roles and work part-time, has it been easy or difficult to achieve? I’d love to hear from you to gauge whether there are any trends arising across sectors or numbers of days worked.  

Time will not be your friend

Unless you job share, squeezing all your work into your shortened week will be a constant consideration. On a positive note, you will (hopefully) evolve to be more efficient in your work practices, but the casualty can often be the casual interactions that you have with your work colleagues, which help build personal relationships and can improve the team culture. You are likely to be moving from one appointment, obligation or deadline to another with minimal downtime, which can also result in burnout and forfeit the benefits of part-time work in the first place.

Events and functions won’t always suit your schedule

Unfortunately, it is highly likely that there will be events, conferences, training, company meetings and/or team building events that won’t fall into your set work days. There will be a need to attend some of these functions and you may not get paid for your attendance.

All-in-all, I’m still a fan

Despite the above, I am a strong advocate of the benefits of part-time work, as it does facilitate quality time with family, whilst still balancing a stimulating role and work environment. Whilst generally people reflect on the financial repercussions and broad work/lifestyle aspects of part-time employment, consideration needs to be given to the above factors when determining whether it is truly your own employment nirvana.

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EVP now means a partnership, with flexibility and the opportunity to contribute to a bigger picture

We’ve moved on from the Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Certainly a great working environment, progressive organisation culture, and the right level of remuneration with associated benefits are attractive to highly talented individuals. However, more and more I am seeing both organisations and candidates searching for the ultimate partnership between employer and employee.

Organisations want talent who can deliver, no matter what the situation. At executive level, there’s an expectation of availability (or at least to be contactable) 24/7, no matter what time zone and what time of the year… my New Year’s Eve phone calls are still ringing in my ears! Top performers are keen to have greater flexibility and accountability, including the hours, locations, scope of work and the projects they have the opportunity to work on. Working together embraces all of these ideals and both parties have a critical responsibility to adapt their approach to work in today’s marketplace.

Increasingly our life is more about want-want-want – just ask my teenage kids who want more than I can provide! As a consumer society, we often lose focus on the importance of empathy, compassion and giving. Nevertheless I believe we all want something that we can connect with, whether that be emotional, spiritual, financial or another reason. Going to work every day for a higher purpose is fulfilling. I am literally hearing from candidates the need to work in an environment where “I know I can make a difference”. To facilitate this, you must have an environment that places the bigger picture at the heart of its purpose, right?

Last year Salesforce was awarded the highest honour of #1 Best Place to Work in Australia. It’s worth asking, what do they do differently? The company adopts the Hawaiian spirit of Ohana (meaning ‘family’), which obviously resonates if you’ve ever met someone that works there or read some of their employee testimonials. Along with their 1-1-1 Corporate Philanthropy Model, where 1% of tech staff are allocated to supporting not-for-profit enterprises in Australia, Salesforce has also taken a stand on social issues, including gender equality and marriage equality.

Let’s not forget that understanding the customer is also paramount. We should aspire to achieve great partnerships with our clients, as well as our colleagues and our employer. Observing an organisation who values both the needs of customers and its own people will attract like-minded talent who are also a good cultural fit. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

If you’re a candidate, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there on what your real EVP looks like (I’m hinting it’s probably not a slide in the office). Employers, give and you shall receive in spades.

What’s unique about your value proposition as a candidate or an employer? How has your organisation adapted to these changing dynamics in the world @work?

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The nuances of effective feedback

When Robyn, a great candidate referred by a trusted source, crashed and burned in an interview, I asked if she might be open to discussing how she felt about the interview. “Yes please!” This led to a great two-way conversation. But what if I had said, “You were terrible at interview and you have to take on the feedback I’m about to give you.”?

One of the most important skills we can all acquire is the gift of masterful feedback, both giving it and receiving it.

Instructive feedback encompasses both constructive feedback and informative feedback. The most useful feedback is both mindful and effective in empowering and influencing others. It is honest, unbiased and requested, rather than being thrust upon you. When you receive effective feedback, with no personal attachments and no hint of persuasion, it is all the more credible and importantly, able to be embraced and or even acted upon.

Uninvited feedback on the other hand, resulting from a reaction or response, can interrupt thoughts, kill motivation, learning and/or be annoying or even destructive, as it erodes trust and builds barriers. It can be particularly hurtful when it is directed at the other person’s values and beliefs or their judgements.

“The only fully legitimate feedback we can give a speaker is information about the state of our own cage.” – Mackay (1994)

Uninvited feedback can come from well-meaning friends, family or work colleagues, who believe it’s somehow their duty to tell you their observations or opinions to help you. Consciously they are trying to change you or maybe even communicate something about themselves, how they feel, think or respond. Subconsciously they may also be trying to sell their ideas, their experiences or get you to like them and be influenced by them.

It’s hard to accept uninvited feedback and take stock of the messages people dish out.  Receiving effective feedback is very different.

Effective feedback is provided in the most appropriate way so other person finds it useful and beneficial. A leader coaching their team or a peer, may use effective feedback to project back a particular perception, emotion, word, or experience observed. This could simply entail repeating back a certain word or phrase using active listening and recording a conversation.

When we clarify to capture meaning it also assists in the feedback process. It’s a bit like having another set of eyes and ears to help you gauge the message behind your words, your tone and feelings. Science tells us that we tend to operate more in the subconscious mind, than our conscious mind.  It’s clear that many of us go through life not being very aware of how we are perceived, the power of our thoughts and words, or their translation by others.

Successful executive coaching is underpinned by the use of effective feedback for this very reason; it creates increased clarity, trust, confidence and support. When a leader is able to regularly engage with feedback that is positive, that’s acknowledgement. When a leader is relaying feedback that has a negative effect, this can be referred to as feedback with judgement, which can often be received as criticism.

The more you pay conscious attention to how you and others provide effective feedback (clarification and or questioning without a tone of judgement) the further you empower others and yourself in your role. When you create a positive mindset for ongoing feedback in all its forms, you create greater synergy, trust and awareness.

How are you engaging in effective feedback in your world @work?

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EOFY – trivia, observations and reflections

I’ve just finished an interview with an accountant… (insert your joke or comment of choice)… for a Financial Controller role. Actually it’s a great opportunity with a small private investment company.

I generally start an interview with an easy general question like, “How’s work?” In this case the response was, “Flat-out! I’m super busy because of EOFY (End of Financial Year).” Makes sense and I’m sure there are thousands of accountants around Australia who are saying the same thing.

According to that font of all modern wisdom, Wikipedia, Australia is one of only a small list of countries that use 1 July to 30 June as the financial year. Others include New Zealand, Japan and Egypt. In comparison the US use 1 January to 31 December and the UK is more unusual, being 1 April to 31 March for government. UK businesses can choose any 12 month period.

Given that much of Australian law and business practices have British origins, you might expect that we would have a similar EOFY. Some sources suggest that our reverse seasons compared to the Northern Hemisphere mean more Australians are on holiday in January and at work in the winter months. I’m not a Mythbuster, so I’ll just say that is plausible.

In my patch of the recruitment world, financial services, three out of four major Australian banks have changed to 30 September as their EOFY. Most other financial services organisations that I work with ie. industry superannuation funds, fund managers, smaller banks, investment consultants and private wealth managers, use 30 June as EOFY.

What I’ve seen in the last few months is lots of strategic planning for next financial year and establishment of budgets. Generally I’d say recruitment intentions are quite positive.

For many of us EOFY is a busy time, trying to complete work. Now is a chance for a quick spot of reflection and strategy refinement: What worked, what didn’t and how can we improve?

OK reflection done, there’s calls to be made!

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The changing face of the CEO

You may think you know what a CEO looks like – those of us who regularly work with senior people in other organisations or at a strategic level within our own – can picture some of the qualities common to those individuals who have been successful in business leadership roles. Yet it strikes me as an executive recruitment consultant who is regularly engaged in the hiring process for C-Suite roles, how the expectations for a CEO’s capability has changed in recent years.

Of course there are underlying leadership behaviours that have not changed: setting the vision, developing a daily dialogue, being clear about expectations… What I’m really talking about is the changing marketplace of the consumer – customer behaviour is forcing companies to do things differently, while evolving work styles have put pressure on CEOs to alter their tack.

Looking at trends in the C-Suite over the last 20 years, PWC reports, “Another interesting trend is that disruption is increasingly prompting boards to turn to external hires, rather than internal candidates, to fill CEO positions. They hope to capitalise on the experience and skills that these individuals bring from another organisation, or even another sector.”

While that’s good news for those of us in the recruitment business, it’s a timely reminder of the need to constantly reassess our hiring practices. Here is a sample of the types of questions that are (or should be) on the table, from my recent discussions with selection panels for senior hires:

  • Can this person build relationships with stakeholders to prioritise our key objectives for the next 12 months?
  • What digital, social media and other technology capability can this person bring to the role?
  • What exposure has this person had to gender equality and other diversity initiatives when acquiring talent and team building?
  • What global network do they have to drive capability within the organisation?
  • What recent experience does this person have in engaging, managing and motivating a high performing team?
  • How much does this person know about modern performance management processes?

In the current market, intangible qualities are increasingly highly valued. As organisational culture expert John Burdett reminded me in a seminar I attended earlier this year, successful CEOs need to be effective communicators. They must be authentic, engage the whole organisation in a meaningful way, not just report at Board level. They are storytellers who can articulate how things will be achieved in detail – jargon old or new, simply won’t cut it. Enthusiasm for the job and a sense of humour won’t go astray either.

What changes have you observed in the face of senior leadership in recent years in your world @work?

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How sports coaches use world class leadership to create winning teams

Before I elaborate, I have a confession to make… I’m an ex senior AFL player, now a football coach and more recently, a professional recruiter.

To outsiders, a senior coach is the face of their club, much like a hiring manager is a window to their organisation. They are engaging and genuinely passionate, or as cold as stone.

The strengths of a good coach are universal, but let’s tackle the sport I’m most familiar with – AFL football. Consider the 2016 reigning premiership coach, Western Bulldogs’ Luke Beveridge.

Beveridge walks the fine line between instilling confidence in his players, and holding them accountable for their actions and behaviours.  All the while, he demands exceptional on-field performance.

It is well documented that since commencing his tenure as Senior Coach he has focussed on open and honest communication. He’s built strong relationships with the players, the club, its supporters and a wide range of people associated with the sport, including commentators, the media, and sponsors. These are not unlike the types of relationships we aim for in business when interacting with our clients or customers (who for me in recruitment are candidates), colleagues, suppliers and even competitors in our professional networks.

Much like recruitment, in professional sport, and AFL football in particular, nearly every transaction includes working with the uncontrollable elements inherent in dealing with people. In sport and recruitment alike, those without the qualifications or the requisite experience to pass judgement, often shout the loudest and voice the most criticism.

For Beveridge his clients are predominantly made up of both existing and potential club sponsors and members. These clients have made financial commitments and naturally want to see a return on their investments. In this context a winning performance as a coach could mean a cohesive team, with high levels of morale amongst players, who have the motivation to attend training and associated club events, and are well supported by family. It may translate to increased membership, a higher media profile, greater sponsorship and other opportunities. A winning team is more than match winning performances – think of the otherwise poor practices of the West Coast Eagles circa their 2006 Premiership.

High level sport, in some aspects, is not much different to the corporate sector. We’re juggling all manner of expectations from various parties. There are set timeframes (seasons) with efficiency targets (statistics). In business and sport, we all have to consider best process and methodology. Importantly, just has Beveridge does, we have to establish a culture and live the values, brand and standards of our organisation. Sound familiar?

Some players, as with corporate talent at the top of their game, are hot property.

In other cases some candidates are like promising young players; potential but struggling with form, gaining experience but not quite good enough – yet. How Beveridge manages the pool of talent in his playing group is his greatest challenge, because although he understands the industry and his client demands, his players output and abilities will often predicate game results.

So, would Luke Beveridge be the sort of manager you’d like to have in your organisation? Based on the attributes we’ve explored, I think so. His stakeholder management skills and ability to communicate with a broad range of people and personalities would be a strength. He has the proven experience in implementing a game plan, follows process, allowing him to work efficiently and consistently. Lastly, and I think most importantly, it would be his character and the impact he has on his organisation’s culture. His confident and engaging personality, combined with his strategic thinking, willingness to provide feedback and people management skills would make him successful in a non-sport leadership role. I’d like to recruit him.

Which qualities do you value in a manager? Who would you like to recruit to for your team?

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